THE CHINA DREAM: GREAT POWER THINKING AND STRATEGIC POSTURE IN THE POST-AMERICAN ERA
By Liu Mingfu
CN Times Books, $24.95, 288 pages
For decades, China analysts have been asking the question, “What is China’s Grand Strategy?” Nowhere, it seemed, had PRC officials ever publicly discussed their country’s future place in the world.
Those who were sanguine about China’s rise took the absence of a clearly articulated Grand Strategy as evidence of a lack of Grand Ambitions. Just give China a stake in the existing world order, they told us, and it will be content to join it. There might be a little pushing and shoving as the newest great power takes its seat at the table, they admitted, but in the end things will work out.
Those of us who were less inclined to hug the panda were not convinced. We knew that the Deng Xiaoping had ordered his successors to “bide their time and hide their capabilities.” We believed that China’s leaders had consciously gone into a kind of stealth mode so that they could advance militarily without alarming the United States and its allies. Better to let the sleeping eagle lie, they seemed to be saying, while China built up its strength.
With the publication of “The China Dream,” that debate is now over and done. The cuddly panda stands revealed as a fearsome dragon determined to remake the world order in its own image. Col. Liu, you see, makes it perfectly clear that the “dream” of China is to “dominate the world.” And in order to do so, he writes, China needs to revive its “warrior culture” and remember its history of “offensive warfare.” The world needs to wake up to the fact that, as the Col. Liu writes, the Chinese are “not afraid of war.”
Those who dismiss such statements as the blustering of a lowly PLA colonel are making a grave error. For his views are shared not only by the hawks in the People’s Liberation Army, but also by the vast legions of the Chinese Party-State itself.
Since the first appearance of his book in Chinese in 2010 the colonel has achieved rock star status in the People’s Republic.
Chinese Communist Party General Secretary Xi Jinping — known as Big Daddy Xi to the Chinese masses — has referred to “The China Dream” in his speeches and endorsed its ideas.
As a result, the phrase itself has become a national patriotic slogan, plastered over the print media, splashed over the Internet, and celebrated in the schools and universities. There are even popular songs (promoted by the state, of course) about the goal of realizing the “strong China Dream” of China “Dreamers,” namely, world domination.
If China’s leaders are “dreaming” that it is China’s manifest destiny to dominate the world, then a lot of their recent actions make more sense. This sense of historical entitlement would explain why China, according to its latest defense white paper, is building several aircraft carriers to project power into the oceans of the world. It would explain why it is making absurd territorial claims to the South China Sea over a thousand miles distant from its shores. And it would explain its construction of militarized artificial islands in what is effectively open ocean.
Still, I would warn readers of the English edition — published by a New York offshoot of a Beijing publishing company — that they will still not be getting the unadulterated truth about China’s ambitions. The uber-patriotic stridency of the original Chinese seems to have been toned down somewhat to avoid alarming the Western reader.
Take the book’s subtitle, for example, which in the original Chinese read, “China’s Objective, the Road [to achieve it], and the Strength to Believe in Ourselves.” The cover also proclaims that “The Road [We Take] Will Determine Our Destiny; [Our] Dreams Help to Drive a Restoration [of National Glory].”
This has now been replaced by “Great Power Thinking and Strategic Posture in the Post-American Era,” which makes the book sound as if China’s dreams consist of bland and boring academic speculations.
Still, enough of the pungency of the original survives to make it clear that China is in the game for keeps. “It has been China’s dream for a century to become the world’s leading nation,” writes Col. Liu.
Fifteen years ago, I wrote that China not only had a Grand Strategy, but that it was to be consummated in steps, with the PRC dominating first Asia and then the wider world.
For the sake of my children and grandchildren, I wish it were not so. But don’t say I didn’t warn you.
• Steven W. Mosher is the author of “Hegemon: China’s Plan to Dominate Asia and the World” (Encounter Books, 2000).