- The Washington Times - Saturday, April 11, 2009

ANALYSIS/OPINION:

COMMENTARY:

In 1983, a long quarter-century ago, I made my first trip to China and found a country barely emerging from ancient days. Outside the major cities, I slept, rather comfortably actually, on bulky straw mattresses in many local hotels. China was not clean at all in those days — we wondered how the Chinese could possibly get so many dirty fingerprints inside the water glasses in our rooms.

Beijing itself should have been called Drab Inc. It was gray and sandy, without the relief of contrasting colors because the sand poured seemingly without surcease into the city from the deserts that surround it. Even old Shanghai, now ablaze with lights, melodrama and international intrigue, was a gray, unimposing city.

After dinner, when there was little to do, particularly in many of the smaller towns, I would sit on my straw mattress and read “The Art of War” by Sun Tzu, the great Chinese military strategist of the third and fourth centuries B.C. In sharp contrast to the strategists of the West, who believed in the all-out destruction of the enemy’s cities and people, the discreet and thoughtful Sun Tzu urged extensive use of deception, of psychological war and of nonviolent methods of “warfare.”

“What is of extreme importance in war,” he wrote, “is to attack the enemy’s strategy.” Above all, “To subdue the enemy without fighting is the acme of skill.”

Now, perhaps I have grown a little crazy (or crazier?) in the past few months as our financial world has collapsed — and with that collapse have come many threats to our social and psychological well-being — but it seems to me that Sun Tzu has a lot to say to us today. China unquestionably is rising — but it is rising in exactly the way the ancient strategist advised and in the manner that always was so natural to the Middle Kingdom.

China, after all, literally owns the United States. In contrast to the dreary droopiness of Western economies, China is still growing at 6 percent to 8 percent a year. China’s banking system is valued at several trillion dollars, and more than 100 million credit cards are in use in China. Even before the gathering of the Group of 20 of the world’s richest countries, Beijing was warning the United States to take proper care of its $1 trillion in Treasury holdings through responsible policy and suggesting a possible new global currency to replace the dollar as the world standard.

Some elements within China are up and ready for an all-out ideological assault on the West, expressed nowhere more prominently than in a new Chinese book, really a collection of scholarly essays, the provocative “Unhappy China.”

The authors argue that China has been too deferential to a Western world that has been hostile and unfair to China, and they have gained quite a new audience for Chinese nationalism. But the most amazing thing, given China’s colonialist history and American financial sloppiness, is that this new nationalism does not seem to be the principal reaction in the country to the Western meltdown. Look instead to that old and trusted sage Sun Tzu.

While the new China, which began in the late 1980s with the quasi-capitalist measures inspired by Singapore’s brilliant founder Lee Kuan Yew, carried through by the pragmatic Chinese leader Deng Xiaoping, remained stubbornly communist and anti-West, the country’s leadership was dutifully carrying through Sun Tzu’s complex and gradually revelatory dictums.

They were not going to attack the West (God forbid!); they were not even going to attack Taiwan, even though they claimed it as an integral, historic part of China — oh no, nothing so Western barbarian! To the contrary, they were going to discreetly, slowly, gradually “win.” They would target the West’s — and particularly America’s — vulnerable “center of gravity,” which was not its military, but its arrogant and wasteful financial system. And so they gradually bought us up, just as Sun Tzu advised those centuries ago, to steadily disarm and outlast the enemies of China.

Take the revealing example of the mainland and Taiwan. For years, everyone thought China would overtly attack Taiwan. Indeed, it set up missiles along the coast facing the island and threatened cyberwarfare. Today, however, it appears far likelier that China will simply absorb Taiwan peacefully, and perhaps even happily.

After a prominent delegation of the conservative American Foreign Policy Council went to China this winter, the council’s Ilan Berman wrote in the official report of China’s attitude toward the ultimate inevitability of reunification:

“There appears to be good reason for Beijing’s optimism. Since mid-2008, China-Taiwan relations have improved markedly. … Fully a quarter of all Taiwanese are now estimated to have visited the Mainland, and tourism from Taiwan is increasing at a rate of roughly 30 percent a year. … These warming ties are viewed by Chinese officials as part of a lengthy and ongoing process. … Based on these developments, Chinese officials now say that movement toward reunification is ‘unstoppable.’”

None of this means, of course, that Beijing will not, or could not, or would not respond violently outside of its borders, just as it does against protesters within. We already have the cases of the takeover of Tibet and the destruction of Uighur nationalism in Xinjiang province. But when it comes to the United States in particular and the West in general, China’s response is likely to be a continuation of the Sun Tzu ideas.

This may seem like cause for rejoicing, but the United States should think carefully about uncorking the champagne. More than likely, the Chinese already own the bottle.

• Georgie Anne Geyer is a nationally syndicated columnist.

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