China and the Art of War – Part 1
By John D. Turner
12 Mar 2006

“To capture the enemy’s entire army is better than to destroy it; to take intact a regiment, a company, or a squad is better than to destroy them. For to win one hundred victories in one hundred battles is not the supreme of excellence. To subdue the enemy without fighting is the supreme excellence.” – Sun Tzu, The Art of War

The United States sits in a position where few in history have sat. Global military power, global economic power, global cultural power – we currently have it all. For many of us, it seems the natural state of things; indeed, many of us have known nothing else.

Global military power means that our armed forces can strike anywhere in the world to protect US interests and allies. From aircraft and ballistic missiles, to naval ships and grunts on the ground, we have the capability to put force on target pretty much wherever we may wish.

Global economic power means that, when it comes to world trade, the US dollar reigns supreme. In many countries, the dollar trades freely as a “secondary currency”. In some, it is the primary currency, or the primary currency is pegged to it. Oil, the lifeblood of the world, is traded in dollars.

Global cultural power means that you can find American cultural artifacts just about anywhere you go. Blue jeans are ubiquitous, as are t-shirts and bikinis. While it may not be haute cuisine, you can find McDonalds in most countries; and Coca Cola and chewing gum are everywhere. American words are creeping into languages across the world. This is especially annoying to the French, who have a government office tasked with the job of “purifying” the French language, by inventing new “French” words to replace the American ones. American music, and American-style music can be found in dance halls and discotheques, and on radios and TVs across the globe. Prior to the end of World War II, the English taught in foreign countries was British English. Today, it is overwhelmingly American.

The language of commerce is predominately English. Air traffic control, world wide, is done in English. The Internet, developed in the United States, is run by American companies, and standards used on it are predominately developed here. English is the predominate language on the Internet. Even in foreign countries where English is not the primary language, businesses, major news organizations, and government entities usually have an English version of their website too.

Few Americans, born and raised in this cornucopia of plenty, can conceive of life any other way. To most, it is the natural order of things.

Our shelves are always stocked. Our stomachs, for the most part, are always full. Even our poor, in this country, have an obesity problem - along with microwave ovens, washing machines, color TVs, telephones, electricity, and a car or two in the driveway.

This abundance of plenty means that when we want something, it’s there. Sacrifice is not a word in the vocabulary of most Americans, at least not in the sense that it once was, and still is for much of the world. Sacrifice today, means not being able to catch the latest episode of your favorite TV show because you had to take your kids to a soccer game instead. But not to worry; it isn’t really a sacrifice, because you can catch it later on TiVo (without the commercials, no less!), assuming, of course, that you can make time in your busy schedule to do so.

We live in a culture ruled by the 15-second sound bite; where all life’s problems can be solved in a single 60-minute TV show, or, if they are too big, in a miniseries, movie, or two-part episode; where last weeks news is “so last week”. This cultural attention deficit disorder spills over into the political arena as well. We’ve come a long way from President Kennedy’s “ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country”. Now it’s not simply “what have you done for me lately”, but rather “what did you do for me today”?

Long-term thinking simply isn’t a cultural norm in our society. If you look at the way we handle things in this country, it’s pretty much crisis management. Our government systems tend to be reactive in nature. We get attacked, we attack back. If something happens we don’t like, we pass a law. If a hurricane, tornado, flood, or some other natural disaster strikes, we clean up the mess but we don’t plan ahead to mitigate the disaster before it occurs.

Even if we do generate a long-term plan, it’s likely that, before we get to that end, it will have changed, mutated beyond recognition, or be canceled altogether. It has been said that the landing of a man on the moon is one of the greatest accomplishments in the history of the human race. I have my doubts that we could put such a program together today. It is my belief that we would lose interest and reallocate the funding for it somewhere else to pay for another pet government project before it could come to fruition.

We even have trouble remembering why we are fighting a war on terror. For many of us 9-11 is so five years ago.

However, not all countries have the same myopic view of things as we. A good example of this is China, a country that has been around for over 1200 years. A country where the word “new” applies to things that are older than the United States itself. A country that takes the long view of things, where planning 10, 20, even 50 years into the future is the norm.

It is fashionable to think of China these days as our friend. Other than Cuba and North Korea, it is the only remaining bastion of Communist worker’s paradise, so beloved by liberals, remaining on the planet. Which probably explains why, although liberals get all worked up over what they call “sweat shops” in third world countries providing low-cost goods to “greedy capitalist industry-types exploiting the workers by not paying them enough”, they don’t even raise an eyebrow when it’s China supplying the low-cost goods, by virtue of not only low-cost sweat-shop labor, but of “free” slave-labor as well! It’s OK, if the exploitation comes from “peace-loving” Communists in the worker’s paradise, after all.

Most may consider it to be a bit of a stretch to call China our “enemy” at this time, although that may change in the future. It certainly would be correct to consider China an adversary however, and from the Chinese perspective, for them to consider us an adversary as well. China has its own set of ambitions and goals, many of which are at odds with ours. A big one, which the United States has thwarted for some time, is the conquest of Taiwan, which they consider to be a rebellious, break-away province, ending once and for all the civil war in which they deposed the Nationalist Chinese government.

This has been a difficult proposition for China since it consolidated power on the mainland in 1949, and the remains of Chiang Kai Shek’s Nationalist government fled, to what was then called Formosa, in exile. The United States supported the Nationalists, and signed treaties promising to come to their aid if attacked. Much in the way of military equipment – aircraft, ships, submarines, and other defensive systems, have been sold to Taiwan to enable them to retain their independence. And in the process, Taiwan has become a prosperous, democratic “country”, despite the fact that every time they sound like they want to formally declare themselves an independent nation, instead of a government in exile, the 900 pound gorilla on the mainland threatens them with forcible annexation.

Each time there has been a crisis between China and Taiwan (and there have been many), the United States has come to the rescue, typically, by sending one or more carrier battlegroups to the area. In the past, China has been unable to do anything about it, as they have not been able to realistically pose an invasion threat. The Taiwanese air force, while inferior in numbers, has had superior aircraft and training; attaining the air superiority needed to force an invasion has been problematic. In any event, China hasn’t had an invasion fleet with which to attack, much less a blue-water navy sufficient to protect it and to deter an American response. While they do possess nuclear weapons, and are willing to accept some level of damage to the Taiwanese infrastructure (inevitable in any conflict), they want to capture Taiwan, not reduce it to a glowing wasteland. And up until recently, these nuclear weapons didn’t figure into the equation when it came to deterring the United States, as their targeting systems weren’t up to the task of hitting our naval units, and their missiles didn’t have the range to strike our mainland.

But things have changed. And while China is a long way from becoming a military superpower in the manner of the United States, they are well on their way to becoming a regional military “superpower”. And they are making great strides at challenging us on the economic front as well. As a country that does take a long view of things, and plans, rather than reacts, China has been and continues to lay the ground work to eventually achieve the goal of what they refer to as “reunification”. Preferably, as Sun Tzu has said, without firing a shot. And beyond that…

As I said before, China thinks long term, and time is on their side. In the history of the world, no nation or empire has stayed on the top of the heap indefinitely. Is it time for the United States to relinquish the top position? I sure hope not. Whereas the liberal might think it fine, as long as no one impacts his or her life, history shows that this is seldom the case. Imagine a world where Saddam’s Iraq was the superpower; Or Stalin’s Russia; Or Hitler’s Germany; Or Osama’s Muslim caliph; Or even France…

“The clever combatant imposes his will on the enemy, but does not allow the enemy’s will to be imposed on him.” -- Sun Tzu, The Art of War