The Grand Strategy Summit: American Leadership in the 21st Century
After the Fall: The United States and China After the Soviet Union
Patrick M. Cronin, Michael Pillsbury, Arthur Herman (moderator)
The Ritz Carlton, Washington, D.C.
November 11, 2022
Full Transcript Below
Jim Byron: Ladies and gentlemen, I invite you to take your seats as we begin our second panel of the day. We’ve just discussed how to approach issues of great strategic importance with China, but in true Nixonian fashion, no thorough discussion would be complete without studying how we got here. President Nixon details in his memoirs why and how he made early moves for rapprochement with China when he entered office in 1969. The issues were purely strategic and resulted in unbelievable additional positive results.
That relationship grew exponentially throughout the Cold War period and was realigned and began to be built on economic terms largely after the fall of the Soviet Union. President Nixon gave an interview in the early 1990s, not long after the fall of the Soviet Union. In it, he essentially said that if democracy and post-Soviet Russia under Boris Yeltsin were to succeed, the Chinese will take note. If democracy in Russia fails, a despotism worse than communism, one rooted in authoritarian expansionism will take root in Russia, and the hardliners in China will take equal note.
Clearly, he was onto something. One cannot attempt to shape a better future without understanding the past. So, to analyze the relationship that has grown and evolved since the fall of the Soviet Union, to pave the way for the future, please welcome, Dr. Michael Pillsbury, director for Chinese Strategy at the Hudson Institute, an author of “The Hundred-Year Marathon”. He has worked in the administrations of Jimmy Carter, Ronald Reagan, George H. W. Bush, and Donald Trump. Patrick Cronin, he’s former senior advisor and senior director of the Asia-Pacific Security Program, specializing in Asia-Pacific Security and US Defense. And Dr. Arthur Herman will moderate the discussion, a senior fellow and director of the Quantum Alliance Initiative at the Hudson Institute, an author of nine books. Please welcome our panel.
Dr. Herman: Hey, good morning. Listen, everybody, here… I’m Arthur Herman, by the way, Senior Fellow, Hudson Institute. Everybody here deserves a mark of gratitude for having defied the weather to come out here today for our event. Obviously, your thirst for knowledge and insights is so fierce that you decided that even the downpour taking place in the D.C. streets was not gonna keep you away from what was gonna happen here and what’s gonna unfold. And if you wanted to see a display of the intellectual power of the Hudson Institute on China, we don’t aim to disappoint.
My colleagues and my panelists, Michael Pillsbury, here in the center, long-time “China Hand,” as they used to be called, author of the international bestseller, “The Hundred-Year Marathon,” which has been read and translated in Beijing and in the capitals around Asia and Europe as well. Patrick Cronin, Asia-Pacific security chair who has traveled extensively around the region, South Asia and Southeast Asia, talking to security officials, defense officials, statesmen, economic experts. Patrick, I don’t even know what your frequent flyer miles must look like at this point going forward. These are gonna be, I think, two figures who are gonna give you a lot of important insight into where an American Grand Strategy with regard to China should be headed. What are the main points? Where should the focus be? How do we understand what the roots of Chinese conduct in the world today are, and how the U.S. needs to respond and what must be done in that direction?
One of the things I also want to do as we get this panel started is to get us thinking about the role that President Richard Nixon played in the development of U.S.-China relations from its very beginning. And I would remind you that in October of 1967 in a magazine article in “Fortune,” that Richard Nixon expressed an interest, although he didn’t think the United States should recognize Red China, as it was called then, and felt that China was still at that point a threat to world peace, that at the same time, he argued that United States could not ignore China anymore. That when China, although China was in, at that point, a deep freeze, the throws of the culture revolution, it was still a nuclear power now, the most populous nation on earth, that the United States has a responsibility now…that things were gonna change in China, and United States had a role to play in all that.
And then the week of the New Hampshire primary in 1968, in a conversation with Ed Cox, who is here, by the way, who can back up and confirm this story, he was asked, “What are you gonna do about Vietnam? What’s your plan after Vietnam?” And Richard Nixon said, “I will go to Peking and Moscow.” So, the idea that the opening to China was somehow something that was concocted as a Kissinger plan for Grand Strategy and that Nixon simply went along with what Kissinger saw as the future for U.S. as a global power is typically not right. This was Nixon’s view and his insight, and one that policy would carry forward and lead, finally, to the breakthrough and the visit to China as well.
Now, with all of this, in terms of the roots of where American policy lies with China, I think it’s also important for us to think about where the roots for China’s policy with regard to the United States are. And that’s where I’m gonna turn to our first panelist, to Michael, and ask him about this. You know, the paradigm always for a grand strategic approach to dealing with a principal antagonist has been the “Long Telegram,” George Kennan’s “Long Telegram” about how to deal with the Soviet Union.
And one of the most important aspects of that telegram, that long discussion that Kennan brought his expertise to bear, was the idea that we also have to understand the historic roots of Soviet conduct. That this was not just simply the result of the impact of Marxist-Leninism and Stalin’s own ambitions in the growing tensions that would lead to the Cold War, but it was something that was also rooted in Russian history. From your perspective, as an historian, as someone who’s been working on China and China’s history for so long, how do we understand, how do you understand, how can you explain what the historic roots of China’s conduct is right now in the world and where President Xi and his policies are gonna be headed?
Dr. Pillsbury: Well, this is a big debate going on among American policymakers and scholars. Whether China’s motivated by Marxism-Leninism, which is the majority view, we’re dealing with a communist power, and, therefore, specific things that have to do with how to stop a Marxist-Leninist power are all relevant to China. I don’t share that view. I have a few supporters of my view as well, but we’re in the minority. We say this is really a Chinese power. The Marxism-Leninism is so different from the Soviet brand that a lot of scholars, and especially a CIA analyst at the time, Jim Billington, who was librarian of Congress later, but he’s a CIA analyst who wrote a very important paper on the Sino-Soviet conflict possibly being a cause of war, but also because of their different interpretations of Marx and Lenin. And you think, “Well, what can that be?” You know?
And it turns out that Mao, when he was just becoming chairman of the Communist Party, 1936, 1937, he put forward the theory that ancient Chinese Daoism, aspects of Maoism, some other Chinese stories of how dynastic founders created new dynasties, that all of this was the predecessor of Marx, Engels, and Lenin, and that the Russians had Russified. He used the term in Chinese, it means to Russify Marx. And he said, “We are going to Sinify, Chinesify Marx, Lenin, and Engels.” And he created something which is still alive in Xi Jinping’s thought, which Xi Jinping brought up in his two-hour speech at the 20th Congress. And that is like a strange kind of dialectical materialism, which everybody who goes to the middle or higher ranks of the Communist Party in China has to learn what I’m about to say. Always seek out the principle contradiction, then try to exploit it, because every contradiction will lead to a new set.
And each… This is where the Daoism comes in. If you’ve seen that picture of the Yin and Yang, there’s a little dot of the yin and a little dot inside the yang. This sounds like hippie, you know, new thinking bizarre attitudes. No. This is the core of Xi Jinping’s thought, that if I can exploit the main contradiction of the time, almost like riding the wave and surfing, which Mao had never done and doesn’t mention surfing, but it’s this concept that Xi Jinping thought tells us what to do and it’s an action program. That’s somewhat similar to George Kennan and the idea in the West of Grand Strategy that you have to do something. You don’t just say, you know, the Soviet Union will collapse if we are resistant to it all around its periphery for 20 or 30 years.
That was not what George Kennan did. He actually had specific items to form, and other people did too. He gets fired. It’s very little known that we all worship George Kennan, the great Grand Strategy, the “Long Telegram,” he gets fired and replaced by his hardline deputy, Paul Nitze. He gets fired for some weird ideas he put forward, that we need to neutralize Germany, both Soviet and American troops need to pull out. And this neutralized Germany will be the core of the new Europe, no troops for NATO, and bring American troops home from Germany.
So, if someone tells you, “George, Kennan, the Long Telegram,” it was referenced last night. You have to say, “Well, why was George Kennan fired then?” Well, because he drew the wrong conclusion from his larger Grand Strategy diagnosis. And that’s a problem we face today with China. We have to get our diagnosis of what China is up to, right, or we will have the wrong prescription and the wrong solution. So, what I see at, being at this, as you alluded, for 200 years or more, the study of China, what I see is, and this is where Attorney General Barr put it very well just now, I see a kind of sluggishness, a kind of paralysis in American policy toward China.
Everybody agrees China is saying and doing bad things, stealing technology. It’s like a list of 20 things. The Chinese all know this. It’s not a big surprise to them. Their attitude is, “Okay, so what are you gonna do about it?” And so far, it’s almost nothing. They were scared of the Entity List at Commerce Department. Three hundred companies are put on the list. No American can deal or sell anything to these companies. But then Commerce announced, “Well, there’ll be exceptions.” You get a license if you come in and ask for it. And the vast majority of companies that asked got the exception.
So, Chinese are not stupid. They see things being done for effect, for the American politics, for whatever purpose. But real-world activity such as the Eisenhower administration started with covert action in a variety of countries around the world, a huge expansion in CIA that began under Truman to the point where one Chinese story… I did a lot with Chinese generals where we were selling them weapons and Syrian intelligence back in the ’70s and ’80s. One of their favorite stories is, they’d say, “Dr. Pillsbury, we forgive you.” And I’d say, “For what?” They’d say, “We know the CIA was with the Dalai Lama leaving Tibet and going to India. And the CIA even got him a visa to get into India. And he had a radio provided by the CIA which was with him.” And I thought, “No, no, no, this is the ultimate conspiracy theory.” Quite recently, Arthur, the Dalai Lama’s older brother has written a book called, “The Noodle Maker of Kalimpong”, which is a city in India. And he tells the whole story, he was the liaison with the CIA.
So, you see how long and specific the memories of the Chinese are? So, their idea of our Grand Strategy is, you Americans wanna overthrow the Communist Party of China. Why else would Pompeo go out to the Nixon Library and sort of talk that way? And our government says, “No, we do not have. This is not our strategy. We don’t seek to overthrow the Communist Party.” It’s bad, but how are you gonna convince the Chinese about the Dalai Lama’s older brother? And that’s one of 20 stories they have where United States took covert action against China in Hong Kong, on Taiwan. There’s still the issue of, and Patrick, you can hopefully tell me if I’m wrong, during the Kissinger-Nixon negotiations, it wasn’t revealed for 25 years what happened on Taiwan’s status. It’s a big mystery because Kissinger wrote four books saying Taiwan barely came up.
It was all about the Soviet Union and working together and China joining the equilibrium. But then a lot of key documents were declassified, 2000. Seven historians wrote books. You know them all, Nancy Tucker, James Mann, and they all criticized Kissinger’s integrity because the documents show the main topic was Taiwan. Not that it never came up at all, it’s that it was the main topic and the key demands China had were all met. Number one, take out the nuclear weapons from Taiwan, the American nuclear weapons. Well, who knew they were even in there, if you’re a think-tank outsider?
Number two, break off all contact with Taiwan’s military, no trading frequencies, no joint war plan, no joint training, agreed to. Never mention again that Taiwan could be independent or its sovereignty status is unclear. That had been the previous American position for almost 50 years. Taiwan status is undetermined because the way the San Francisco Peace Treaty left it out. No more mention of that. I won’t go through the long set.
We had a command in Taiwan. I was studying Chinese there for two years. We had a command in Taiwan, underground command post, headed by a two-star admiral, war plan, exercises every year. Everybody knew everybody else. The war plan told who would do what. There was no strategic ambiguity. It was a real live war plan tested. China knew all about it. That has to go. American position, you would think somebody would say, “Well, no, we need to have something there. You know, we’re a superpower.” American position, “Agree.” That underground command center today, I went there to visit not too long ago, Arthur, it’s a Mongolian barbecue and next door is the Taipei City Art Museum. And I asked some of the people on the street, “Do you know what you used to be here?” And one old guy said, “Yeah, it’s where the war center was when you Americans cared about us.”
Dr. Herman: Yes.
Dr. Pillsbury: So, yes, you know, I heard Matt, and I hear all this talk about Taiwan, we have to be tough on Taiwan, or they have to do more, all this goes back to the ’70s and its Grand Strategy. The decision was made, “We’re going to take a risk. The Taiwan won’t be invaded by agreeing to China’s terms.” But this negotiation was not revealed until 2001 when the documents were released and some were still not revealed. Dr. Kissinger legally made a rule, certain documents will not be declassified, made public until five years after his death. And the second set of documents will not be declassified for 25 years after his death. So, I’m too old, but Patrick, hopefully, will be looking into it. So you wanted some ancient history and some Grand Strategy?
Dr. Herman: And some Grand Strategy. You know, the other school… Then I’m gonna ask Patrick about strategy and Grand Strategy. The other school of thought, Michael, is that and we know some of the prominent scholars pushing this idea, is that China is about to collapse and that the Coming Collapse of China means, ultimately, that the U.S. can pursue, let’s call it a containment strategy. But basically, that the contradictions within the Chinese economic system and political system themselves are on the way to disaster and that, that Coming Collapse means that the pressure is off for us. And every time there’s a downturn in the housing market in China, that these are all indications that the whole house of cards is about to collapse.
Dr. Pillsbury: This theory is wonderful if you’re a panda-hugger, because what does it really say? No matter how bad Xi Jinping may be, he could put Jimmy Li in a public torture cage. And Maria Bartiromo would say, “You can’t do that to Jimmy Li. You know, he’s my hero.” Then they could execute Jimmy Li on live TV, and people would go, “Oh, my God, Xi Jinping is so evil.” We have people who say this kind of thing, also believe in the collapse theory. There’s two versions of it, Arthur. One is the slowdown theory, the permanent slowdown. And if you want to have some fun, there’s an “Economist” magazine website you can go to. I confess to having done this more than once, Patrick. On this Economist” website, it lets you pick what they call the crossover point for when the Chinese GDP will cross over the American GDP. That were either PPP or nominal. And you put in the inflation figure and what the growth rate is. You put in America, you know, 2.5.
For China, if you put in 3, it still takes 20 years. Very comforting. Because if you pick a little bit higher figure like 4.5 or 5, and you put America down a little bit and you increase inflation in America, then it becomes 2027. But even then, the Collapse theory, what was… And I have this on “The Hundred-Year Marathon”. The book not only has declassified U.S. documents, but it’s got some interviews in China. And they were first known to present this to foreigners, to American delegations in 1996. I remember coming to China earlier where China was on the rise, and they’re very proud of it. And all of a sudden, there was this sharp shift and foreign delegations were told, “No, China is on the decline. We will never surpass you.”
Then we got hold of some interesting internal documents that they had done an assessment of the top six dynasties, the dynasties that last 400 years. They’d done books and studies by order of the top. What goes wrong if you try to create a new dynasty? Well, if you tip off the hegemony, the old hegemony, this is before Graham Allison and Thucydides Trap, if you tip off the old hegemony, you’re out to kill him and his concubines and take over the palace, he will prevent you from doing that. And they’ve got a series of proverbs, one of which is, “Don’t ask the weight of the cauldrons, “because you tip off the emperor, and he will take you out.
So, we began checking the other trip delegation reports, and every delegation from the U.S. was being told, China has insuperable problems, water table, food, environmental pollution, cancer rates. And it got to the point where we could tick off the 10 factors. Mike Pence said, Hudson, I think you were there, Mike Pence in his Hudson speech 2018 said, “You know, in 2001 when we first began to hear about collapse, China’s GDP was X. Twenty years later, it’s 900% bigger.”
Dr. Herman: Some collapse.
Dr. Pillsbury: So, it’d be wonderful, you know, if this theory were true. But it has an enormous impact. And you often hear people saying on TV, “Because China’s going to collapse, we have to really put pressure on them now.” But then the actual pressure is never applied. So, again, Bill Barr’s comment that we’re doing almost nothing on China, I strongly support that. It’s just, don’t wanna say hopeless, but we’ve paralyzed ourselves with these arguments in conflict about what China is doing. Remember he used the word “Sputnik” moment? There’s been no Sputnik moment. There’s certainly been no Pearl Harbor.
Dr. Herman: No. Patrick, certainly the countries around China in the region, both in the Indo-Pacific, but also specifically in East Asia, they are not waiting for China’s collapse. They’re not anticipating this is about to happen. From your meetings and your discussion, where are countries like Malaysia, Vietnam, the Philippines, and others, where are they in terms of understanding what the U.S.-China dynamic looking like, what the outlook is, and what kinds of things are they looking for in the United States in terms of a Grand Strategy in dealing with China?
Patrick: Well, Xi Jinping coming out of the 20th Party Congress is talking about his new era again. And I think the region is looking at, how will he implement this new era for them? And we’re gonna see a lot in just the next 10 days because there are three major Southeast Asian-hosted conferences beginning in Cambodia. In fact, ASEAN leaders, the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, 9 of the 10 leaders are meeting in Cambodia. Remember a decade ago was when Cambodia in the chair then of ASEAN, failed to put forward a communique that would say critical things about China’s aggressiveness in the South China Sea. It was the first real setback of ASEAN unity in a while for the ASEAN leaders not to be able to do that.
This time, one suspects that Hun Sen is as serious as his word about unity because he knows he needs a balance of power. Even though he’s under the shadow of China, even though many see him as doing the bidding of China, and he’s a fellow autocrat as Xi Jinping, nonetheless, he wants a balance of power. So, the fact that President Biden, who having hosted Hun Sen at the White House in the past year, will now be meeting with him in a bilateral meeting, is a sign that behind the scenes where we don’t find out the record until much afterward, there’s a lot of discussion going on about, can we settle the rules of the road of the South China Sea conflict? China pushing for a surprise agreement and United States making sure that we block it. Reminding them that, if you don’t remain unified in Southeast Asia against this kind of assertiveness, against China’s vision of great rejuvenation and what that really implies for your neighbors, then you’re gonna regret it. And Southeast Asia is nervous about it.
So, on the surface, it will be all peace. Beneath the surface, there will be a lot of angst about what China’s doing. When you think about Northeast Asia, of course, that anxiety is ready and present. You see it in Japan stepping out with their new national strategy at the end of this year, trying to increase their defense spending up toward a 2% GDP and NATO kind of mark here in the next 5 to 10 years. We’ll see how well they implement it and what they count in those 2%. But, nonetheless, the trajectory is clear where Japan is going, their concern is clear. And now you have the new evolution that South Korea, at least under this conservative government and President Yoon, is almost equally concerned. And we’ve seen this in public opinion polls in Korea too. The downturn, it’s not just four out of five Americans who see China in an unfavorable light, the majority of Koreans see China in an unfavorable light.
So, in Northeast Asia, there is tremendous concern about this. And yet, there’s also much more reluctance though, on the part of Korea to be seen as poking Beijing because they don’t want the economic repercussions and sanctions that they suffered over the THAAD deployment back in 2016, 2017, when the South Korean government of President Park was responding to North Korea’s ICBM test and nuclear test then by introducing a new layer of missile defense system. And yet, President Yoon is going all out on missile defense, is going all out on a Korean missile defense system, integrated air, and missile defenses. And there’s a Trilateral Summit tomorrow or this weekend, at least, among Japan, Korea, and the United States leaders in Cambodia as another sign of how serious they are about, not just North Korea, but a latent alliance for a growing China.
When you get into the broader Indo-Pacific region, Arthur, of India, there’s no doubt that India’s extremely concerned about China in the Indian Ocean. And China is a border challenge. There’s no doubt where Australia is going, even under the Labor government of Prime Minister Albanese. Although it’ll be interesting to see because Prime Minister Albanese is supposed to be meeting and having his own bilateral summit with Xi Jinping in Bali just as President Biden will, on Monday in Indonesia, on the margins of the G20 Meeting. We’re gonna know a lot more out of Indonesia, Cambodia, and then Thailand, where they’re hosting the APEC Summit, which includes Taiwan, one of the very few international forums that includes Taiwan. President Biden will not be there though, it’ll be Vice President Harris. And there, one expects in the gamesmanship of geopolitical tussle that’s going on between China and the United States, China’s likely to put forward more of their economic packages in that APEC setting because they know the United States comes with relatively empty pockets in terms of new initiatives, in terms of what we’re able to do.
We’re currently focused on an Indo-Pacific economic framework that has more to do about the digital trading rules than it does trade. And they know there’s political gridlock, frankly, in the United States on both parties, on being able to move smartly on things like the Trans-Pacific Partnership, which we pulled out in the last administration, and there’s no sign that we’re going back into that kind of trading rules. So, this is taking it from the kind of, what are the drivers of China’s Grand Strategy that Michael so eloquently put forward? Because I think he’s right, Marxism-Leninism, or even ancient China, there is no one explanation. It is a uniquely Chinese-long evolution of what’s been developing here. I think you never did though, say, Michael, what you thought China was seeking. I take them at their word in terms of the great rejuvenation.
I mean, I think they are telling us what they want. They’re not telling us how they’re going to get it exactly. They’re keeping all their options open. As you say, they like to exploit those contradictions. And this is one of the points I’ll make relating that to Southeast Asia right now and relating it to the Taiwan crisis question, if the United States only emphasizes military deterrents. And if you look at the new national military strategy, there are three key levers they’re pulling on, which is, we’re gonna have a denial strategy, we’re gonna try to have basically the hardware to stop them from invading Taiwan, we’re gonna sharp lunge at Taiwan. Secondly, we’re gonna be able to impose costs so that the risk-reward ratio continues to be in the risk category. That’s hard. It’s subjective. But that’s what they’re trying to do. And then, thirdly, they’re trying to make our very vulnerable networks, think cyber, think quantum in the future, you know, all very vulnerable. They’re trying to make resilient, those starting with semiconductor chips in Taiwan. So, those are three things they’re trying to do. That’s a good strategy. But the problem…
Dr. Herman: Seems very over-subtle.
Patrick: It seems very over-subtle. In Southeast Asia where they’re worried about us getting instigation of a conflict, you know, China will be portraying the United States as the source of the problem. So, this is where you get into the psychological warfare and the information warfare game with China, and they will want to portray us. That’s why it’s so important for the United States to invest heavily in a strong military. And Nixon and Kissinger knew this well, that you need to have primacy or at least a stronger military as you can, but then make sure you’ve got all the tools that you’re using in a strategy. And we can talk about strategy and how we do this.
One other point I’d like to make, Arthur, that plays off of what Michael’s excellent points is, yeah, I don’t think the CCP is going to collapse anytime soon. Gordon Chang was, you know, not only 20 years premature, he’s still got a lot of insights on China’s frailties, and they’re worth watching. I just wanna go back to Nixon and Kissinger and Schlesinger and other members of the Nixon administrations, given this conference, and talk about their assessment of the Soviets Union. And this also speaks to the fact that we’re never gonna know China well enough. Not even Michael Pillsbury knows everything that Xi Jinping is thinking, and I don’t know anybody who knows China better than Michael Pillsbury. Right? I remember Ezra Vogel writing his great magnum opus about Deng Xiaoping saying…
Dr. Herman: There are rumors that Michael was the last lover of the Empress Dowager.
Patrick: I’d heard that rumor, but I don’t put any stock in that. I think literally…
Dr. Pillsbury: You go to China and bring torpedoes for their submarines…when you go to China and deliver torpedoes for their submarines under orders from President Ronald Reagan, this creates a certain fondness for you in the Chinese military, which has never gone away, I would think. I keep thinking, can you give us some more stuff?
Dr. Herman: Good. Finish your point.
Patrick: Just one brief economic point, I’m sorry for going on too long, when Kissinger brought in Andy Marshall, somebody that Michael’s worked for, and we all know so well and remember so well, the impact in setting up net assessment. And then Schlesinger brought him over to the Defense Department to basically internalize that, institutionalize that body, the critical analytics for strategy were embedded in that. Remember Andy Marshall had written the secret RAND report in 1970 on the framework we needed for competition with the Soviet Union. So now, you needed to take and build a new framework for China. But one of the things Schlesinger and Marshall and others got right was the economic frailty of the Soviet Union. China doesn’t have that same economic frailty. Obviously, they’re part of the global economy, they have frailties, but it’s very different. It’s much more complex. But they knew that.
So, they knew that if we pressed our strategic competitive advantage in a strategy toward the Soviet Union and we played upon their proclivities to try to build down and build more military when their economy couldn’t support it, they knew they would collapse. My father-in-law was in the embassy. He was our defense attaché in the ’80s. He knew the collapse was coming of the Soviet Union, right? This is in ’85, ’87. So, you could see this coming under Gorbachev. When it finally collapsed in ’91 and dissolved, he and Fritz Ermarth were a couple of the very few people who really saw that coming.
But the point is that, actually Andy Marshall and Nixon and Kissinger and the analytics they put together politically helped to make sure the government, the United States could see this coming and make this happen. Then the question becomes though, after the fall of the Soviet Union, did we see the long game that Michael Pillsbury saw that we were gonna be playing with China? And the answer is no. We were in a unipolar moment. We were too optimistic. We thought power politics were over. We didn’t see the long-term competition coming. So, that’s where we are with the strategy game in the 2020s now, you know, not the 1990s or not the 1970s.
Dr. Herman: Right. You mentioned the South China Sea. So I wanna ask you both, what happened with regard to Chinese aggression and activities in the South China Sea? There were those of us who warned the Obama Administration that this was no small change that was underway here, that China had a long-term plan and that they were gonna militarize the South China Sea. And those warnings were largely ignored or pushed aside. What are the lessons for the U.S. that proceeds from what happened with the South China Sea and what lessons has China learned from, I think, we have to call it their success in dealing with and setting up the South China Sea as a Chinese defense perimeter? And I could even use the term “The Chinese Lake.” Michael.
Dr. Pillsbury: I happen to have a great debt to the Nixon Foundation, and especially the Nixon Presidential Library, which is highly organized on China, and South China Sea is one of the topics that came up. There’s a fascinating, now declassified memo that Kissinger gives to the president and has a stamp on it. President has seen. Over the South China Sea, the U.S. has a reconnaissance aircraft. This is April, 1970. The idea of the trip has now started, but there’s no real planning yet. And the intelligence community is told to give us details, not high-level stuff, but specific details about Chinese behavior toward our assets. So, income is this highly classified at the time document. The Chinese have scrambled two jet fighters, it appears to be the intention to shoot down this American reconnaissance plane which is 60 miles off the coast of China. And Kissinger adds his insight, which I think was correct, this must mean there are still radicals inside the Chinese leadership at the very top who are able to conduct this kind of operation which would make it impossible for us to have the opening to China.
Now, I thought I had seen everything. I thought everything had been more or less declassified. But when I saw that relatively recently, I then, with the help of the archives and the Reagan Library as well, I started zeroing in on the radicals, the anti-U.S. faction inside the very top. Not, you know, scholars at Shanghai University, people with access to the Polar Bureau. And it turns out there’s a treasure trove of material that all along the way, Nixon and Kissinger, and then later on, Jimmy Carter and Reagan, they’re warned, “There are these sensitive points, that, for whatever reason, China may even use force to protect its interests. We’ve gotta be careful about these points unless we really want to have the South China Sea for ourselves,” which nobody did. So, when you raise one particular geographical area, it just reminds me of this sensitive nerves project Andy Marshall and I undertook to do a classified warning memo on, “These are the things you would not think, you and American presidents would not think this would be important, but the Chinese do think, and here’s the intelligence that shows what they do about it.”
And I think we scared ourselves with this memo because we began to realize a bigger problem is misperceptions between the two sides. That we tend to assume that Chinese are pretty much like us. And when there were 700 Pizza Huts opened and 1500 Kentucky Fried Chicken opened, and more than 2,500 McDonald’s opened, who cannot think, “Well, the Chinese must be just like us. They love fast food.” And the PLA adopted American-style uniforms instead of the old Soviet-style or the Gorilla Warfare uniform. So, this, to me, the South China Sea is a dangerous topic, in part, because of the misperceptions. And I drilled down on this one time at a conference with some Chinese leaders. I said, “What is the big deal about the South China Sea?” Speaking Mandarin comes across quite more sophisticated. And the answer was very long. It was the cubic meters of natural gas that everyone knows are at the bottom of the South China Sea. And I said, “That’s not true. There’s never even been a survey.” And the guy said, “We’ve done a survey, and we think you have too.”
So, they had turned this into a natural resource contest that we were secretly backing. They suspected us even then of backing the Vietnamese with their… And they eventually pushed them out. But South China Sea is one example of where you need a Grand Strategy and know what the other side’s Grand Strategy might be before you can interpret little things. There was a professor at Georgia Tech named John Garver, or University of Georgia, who wrote an article in the late ’70s. Andy Marshall funded his research. He showed they were after the South China Sea for the previous 15 years. I hate to keep making my case, but the role of ancient history and history in general, and whether there are misperceptions between our two countries, this could be a cause of war in which we’ll all be going afterwards, “Why didn’t we concern ourselves with those Chinese misperceptions?”
Dr. Herman: Because we didn’t understand the stakes that were involved for China. But, of course, in the South China Sea, it’s not just U.S.-China confrontation, it’s all the other nations that ring the South China Sea and that had territorial claims there, Patrick. In terms of what the U.S. action or inaction with regard to the South China Sea in dealing with China, what kind of a ripple effect, or what was the impact in there and perception about where U.S. stood vis-a-vis standing up to China or dealing with China in this, to them, very sensitive region?
Dr. Pillsbury: And bringing the British and French and Indians into it. This is what the Chinese have been telling me, this whole idea now that we have successfully, I supported this under the Trump administration, Biden’s continuing it, we’re now inviting other countries to join us on…
Dr. Herman: To participate.
Dr. Pillsbury: … Naval patrols in the South China Sea.
Dr. Herman: Right.
Dr. Pillsbury: Plays on a Chinese raw nerve of a coalition forming against them.
Patrick: That’s absolutely right. The network security of trying to bring as many like-minded countries into sail through, to fly through the international waters and airspace of the South China Sea is part of a longer-term strategy of multiple administrations now. To try to stand up to the fact that, as China’s resurgent, it wants to claim more control over the region than it’s had in the past, it wants to reclaim that rejuvenated position as the middle kingdom. And neighbors are frightened. So even Vietnam, and even though Vietnam’s communist leader was the first one to go to Beijing to pay homage to Xi Jinping as he began his third term as general secretary, you can be sure that Hanoi is very careful about the need for a balance of power. And they’ll be playing out this next week in Vietnam, their latest South China Sea conference, which continues to grow support internationally from European countries, not just from allies and partners in the Pacific for the United States on how to maintain that deterrence and stability and build up Vietnamese capacity.
The Philippines, under President Marcos, has been a surprise in terms of moving away from Duterte, his predecessor. Not sharply to alienate China, but clearly, in terms of trying to now implement the Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement that will allow the United States to preposition in Northern Luzon, which is over the Bashi Channel, which is the critical southern entry potentially to a Taiwan scenario. And Japan, our key ally in Northeast Asia, is right at the front of helping to build up the Philippines and build up Vietnam. Indonesia, which is the biggest, you know, Southeast Asian country and wants to be a leader of its own of the Global South, nonetheless, is very worried about the tuna islands and the fact that the Chinese have effectively made Indonesia a claimant state. I mean, it’s not a claimant state to the South China Sea dispute proper, but by talking about the waters that China control within their nine-dash line, they have made it essentially a claimant state, and Indonesia’s worried. Malaysia continues to be worried, but they’ve got both challenging politics, and they’re China’s biggest trade partner in Southeast Asia. So that keeps them very muted, even though behind the scenes, they continue to be very cautious and worried about it.
I think the South China Sea, as Michael has just pointed out, we have to have a strategy for dealing with China and recognize that South China Sea is still gonna be one of the geographical crossing points, but it is a critical one that could escalate, maybe the critical one, even before a Taiwan scenario. And that’s why the Biden-Xi Summit in Bali, you can be sure that the thing that the U.S. will be putting on the table first, second, and third, will be rules of the road for crisis management because they are worried about the hothead pilot, you know, starting and instigating something that could escalate. But because China knows that we’re worried about it, there’s leverage in that too. So, there’s no easy way to play the Chinese, they’ll be playing us first and second. Nonetheless, we have to engage in this kind of discussion if we’re trying to, at least, reduce inadvertent escalation.
Dr. Herman: One of the elements that we know in China’s Grand Strategy is leveraging advanced technologies, high-tech, we call it. Weaponizing high-tech. And whether we’re talking about artificial intelligence, whether we’re talking about quantum technology, whether we’re talking about hypersonics, robotics, biotech, and nanotech, social media. I’ve written a number of columns about TikTok threat, came up yesterday, last night with Robert O’Brien’s discussion about a possible ban on TikTok that Trump administration had tried to implement and that the Biden administration rescinded. The possibilities also, too, and I’ve got a column, I’ll be doing shortly on what TikTok’s impact on the midterms were, for example. All of these questions come up.
So my question for you, Patrick, is you’ve studied China’s strategy with regard to, we think about, we can just find it as the information domain which is more than just cyber security or more about just the mechanics by which we communicate in the World Wide Web and in advanced electronics, but that it’s a much broader strategy that includes information as well as cyber. And, Michael, in terms of understanding where China sees and understands these advanced technologies as part of its rejuvenation, how do we use that and use that understanding to think about a counter-strategy and how we should be thinking about advanced technologies? I’m gonna give it to Patrick first, and then I’ll come to Michael.
Patrick: Sure. Well, one new book that I highly recommend is Tai Ming Cheung’s book, “Innovate to Dominate” or “Dominate to Innovate.” I’m not sure which one, “Innovate to Dominate.” And the thesis of Tai Ming Cheung’s book, Professor of University of California, San Diego, longtime watcher of Chinese military-industrial complex, is how Xi Jinping, in particular, has accelerated the return to Mao’s idea of really investing in techno-supremacy and techno military state. So, the middle period of China’s development was all about using technology to develop the economy. Now it’s gone back more to Mao’s purposes in terms of wanting to be a nuclear power and wanting to be a great power. And I think there’s no doubt that Xi Jinping has, if you read this book, I mean, just the timeline of documents that have been produced, especially by the end of the first five-year term of Xi Jinping.
You know, by 2016, the Made in China 2025 strategy becomes apparent for all, about the Chinese wanting to dominate across these sectors. I wanna relate that now to the sort of, how do we worry about the information space, because information, we live in a digital revolution in which it’s hard to explain how information permeates everything we do and what we won’t be able to do if that information is cut off or what it does when big data is collected, as in TikTok, from a young age, over time, to know your proclivities, to know your interests, and how that feeds into the algorithms and super intelligence databases. I know this sounds a bit paranoid, but, unfortunately, that’s what big data is all about. I mean, I’m already paranoid enough when I see, you know, if I shop for a new sofa and I get sofa ads the next moment I read the “Wall Street Journal” online, you know, that creeps me out.
But imagine if they just have all of the data that you’ve been putting out there for years openly on TikTok, and suddenly, TikTok is no longer that benign toy that my daughter thinks is just a wonderful kind of gimmicky thing because she sings and she can do, you know, short skits, it’s actually something that can be used against us. And that’s sort of the dark side of globalization as well, right? This was where the 1990s, again, after the fall, if I can take it back to this panel’s title, the Soviet Union collapses in December in ’91, and we think there’s a new world order. Well, there is gonna be a new world order, but not the one we think.
Dr. Pillsbury: Not the one we thought, no, by China.
Dr. Herman: It’s not defined by us.
Patrick: And so we go toward globalization. We have China entered the WTO, even though that’s really, it’s supposed to be about market economies, and China’s not the market economy we think it is. And now it’s less so today than it was before as you think about the big tech companies being gobbled up right now by the state-owned enterprises. A very alarming trend. And that’s how they’re gonna use this big data. That’s how they’re gonna keep their national champions ahead of ours and try to whittle away where we have our lead in some technologies until they have that techno-supremacy so they have the option to use it in whatever way they wish. That may not be an invasion of a lot of places. Nonetheless, it could have serious consequences for our economy, for our freedom, for our allies and partners and for our way of life.
Dr. Herman: Michael.
Dr. Pillsbury: Just thinking of your question as a historian’s question.
Dr. Herman: Yeah.
Dr. Pillsbury: When did the Chinese drive for technology from us begin? Because just Chinese technology to be stolen from each other, they were doing that in the Warring States 2,500 years ago. It was a means of raising what they call, “Zhan Guo Qin Li,” teach you a little mandarin. Zhan Guo Qin Li, comprehensive national power, which has many indicators, the biggest one of which is technology and using technology to dominate the other state. As early as I could find, there’s a set of documents in 1978 to 1979 unearthed by an INR analyst named, Carol Hamrin. And the documents show that we helped China with the idea of stealing American technology as the path to greatness. And I read these documents…
Dr. Herman: How so?
Dr. Pillsbury: … I read these documents with disbelief. They’re in “The Hundred-Year Marathon.” The editor said, “This is too detailed, so put some of it back in the footnotes.” But there was something called, “The China 2000 Study,” 22 years in the future, in ’78. And they brought in the World Bank, they brought in a professor from MIT, they brought in some equations. There’d been a study for Jimmy Carter of America in 2000, including the technological pathway forward for America. So, the same people who did that study got hired by the Chinese and then China did its own classified separate study of Chinese officials only. And this is the moment when “The Hundred-Year Marathon” begins. Many of my book review critics, say, ‘How can he say in 1949, you know, the Chinese didn’t even have shoes, they just took over.” No, I never argue that. I argue, “The Hundred-Year Marathon” is a phrase the Chinese use for when they take over China. But they accept that Deng Xiaoping is the one, and through his daughter, as a matter of fact, who’s in the embassy here, she’s married to the Defense Attaché of all things.
So, they bring this back to Beijing, they start this study, and it causes Deng Xiaoping to claim he has made a major contribution just like Stalin, and Mao, and Lenin to Marxism-Leninism thinking, this is like the Nobel Prize and the Academy Awards all put together. If you make a major contribution to Marxism-Leninism, what was it? The role of science and technology is the most important in national comprehensive power.
Dr. Herman: This is Deng Xiaoping?
Dr. Pillsbury: Yes. So, they began to build the infrastructure in the early ’80s, and they had a specific program. They had a set of ministries that were involved, and we knew all this. It’s in the Reagan Library. You would think the Americans would say, “You can’t, you know, steal our technology and become greater than we. We’re Americans, we wanna put up with that.” No, there’s a huge file. We reached out to the Chinese team. We said, “You need some World Bank economists to help you. You’re gonna have to create a ministry of science and technology. We will set up a National Science Foundation office in Beijing. And if you sign this agreement, we will transfer all-new American scientific discoveries to you for free, for world peace and the goodness of mankind.”
And the Chinese were a little skeptical, like there must be some trick. No, there wasn’t. And it got even more impressive after that when our side, the Reagan administration, reviewed what Nixon and Kissinger had done, which was impressive, and some of it still classified, and how we helped them with deterrents against the Soviet Union. I helped write a memo. This is declassified now, thank God. I wrote a memo, which became the basis of Kissinger meeting with the Chinese military, November, ’73. “You have too many bombers all on one airbase. You need to be able to scatter them when you get tactical warning.” This is Kissinger talking now to the head of the Chinese military. “We will hook up our satellites in space so we can provide you early warning within minutes that a Soviet attack is coming and you can disperse your bombers from your airfield and then you’ll survive.” And that’s just the beginning of the conversation.
So, we got deeply involved in military technology, not just civilian. That is strange enough. But then we start saying, you know… This actually happened, I was in the meeting, “Your MiG-23 fighter bombers don’t have enough radar accuracy to shoot down a Soviet Backfire. That’ll be the main kind of attack the Soviets will launch. If you send your MiG-23s, 50 of them to Long Island, we will upgrade them all so they can shoot down.” Now, what would the Chinese say? “Of course.” Then the torpedoes, then counter-battery radar that they could put on the Vietnam border, see where the Vietnamese artillery was coming in and fire back and kill the Vietnamese artillery crew before the shell landed in China. Yes, we sold them a bunch of those and U.S. Army teams to go in and teach them how to use it to be able to beat the Vietnamese. Pretty long list. I haven’t even finished. So, the story of, you often hear it today, “How outrageous, how dare the Chinese steel our technology?”
Dr. Herman: We opened the door.
Dr. Pillsbury: We opened the door, and we still won’t close it now. This is one of the problems President Trump had. President Trump thought, his advisors, including myself, we thought, if we put the tariffs at a high-enough level, Bob Leitheiser paragraph for technology theft, there’ll be kind of a court system in China to prosecute technology theft and make people pay fines. And Western companies can sue. Chinese agreed to that. After a lot of back and forth, they agreed. Now, they won’t implement it. And I have, on one trip with Susan, I asked them, “What would be the maximum punishment, suppose you steal something really important from an American company and you get caught and the jury says you’re guilty?” They said, “Well, the maximum punishment will be $5,000 fine.” So, this is our puny efforts so far other than getting upset that they’re stealing our technology.
Dr. Herman: Not a great deterrent. Speaking of deterrent…
Dr. Pillsbury: Do you like my historical stories?
Dr. Herman: Very much. They illuminate a lot and they help give us the idea, again, that this relationship between U.S. and China is kind of shrouded in a certain ambiguity. On the one hand, in the context of the Cold War, in the context of the Vietnam War, that the opening to China and reaching out to find a way to develop a strategy of triangulation between Beijing, Moscow, and Washington, made a good deal of sense. And it was a way in which to gain control of a situation in which the global order was severely threatened, and the domestic order here in the United States was. But that by making that series of decisions, we also left hostages to fortune or checks that would come due later on, and that we would have to deal with and that the succeeding administrations would have to deal with decades on, decades later.
You know, I often think about this, the relationship with the United States and China today is almost like the parable of Dr. Frankenstein, isn’t it? Of Dr. Frankenstein who wants to give life, to rediscover the principles of life. And who has found this lifeless body in which he’s installed a brain and he’s restored a nervous system and so on. And that this is this great work for humanity that he’s carried out, you know, bringing China into the family of nations again, making it part of international community, sharing our technology, including our military technology, joining the WTO. And that what he expects then is that he will have created this great partner, a servant, for humanity. This will be great chapter for humanity. But what he’s forgotten is that the brain that he put in is that of a maniac.
Dr. Pillsbury: Are you gonna give the punchline?
Dr. Herman: And instead of creating a great partner and a great boon to humanity, he’s created a monster.
Dr. Pillsbury: Okay. Nixon to Safire said, Safire published this in a column, talking about China as his greatest achievement. Nixon allegedly said in quotation marks, “I may have created a Frankenstein.”
Dr. Herman: Interesting.
Dr. Pillsbury: To me, that’s one of Nixon’s glorious insights.
Dr. Herman: That’s interesting.
Dr. Pillsbury: He didn’t say Henry. He didn’t say American.
Dr. Herman: No, no, no. He said, “I’.
Dr. Pillsbury: He said, “I may have created a Frankenstein.” He made Frankenstein’s monster.
Dr. Herman: That’s interesting.
Dr. Pillsbury: Get the word monster off. Have you seen that column? It’s worth reading.
Dr. Herman: No, I haven’t. As a matter of fact, that’s very interesting.
Patrick: The context is important. And, by the way, if you go back to someone like Brent Scowcroft, he worked for Kissinger as his military assistant, then his deputy. And he said that he had great respect for both Nixon and Kissinger as strategic thinkers, but he thought that Nixon was the bigger strategic thinker, was interesting comment that Scowcroft made. But, you know, in defense of Kissinger and what was happening with technology flow to China…
Dr. Pillsbury: This is gonna be good.
Patrick: Well, it’s just remembering the context, right?
Dr. Pillsbury: Go ahead.
Patrick: So I mean, there are two parts to this. The context in which these decisions were happening was dealing with the implacable of a nuclear-armed Soviet Union that was building up its strategic arms. And that was the big threat. So, Nixon and Kissinger kept their eye on the ball, even with the Vietnam War going on, that, that was the big threat. And they also knew that there was a potential opening here of splitting China from the Soviet Union. And they did that. Where this fell apart is after them, really. It falls apart because U.S. policy doesn’t continue to understand all of those strategic decisions and why they were made and why they should be limited or how they should be brought back in if things change.
So, it was our failure to change afterward and adapt. They didn’t fix all the problems of the world. They were trying to fix the balance of power as it stood then and keep the United States a strong power. And I think they succeeded in doing that on international stage through, you know, concerted diplomacy, through strategic analytical tools like the Office of Net Assessment and the NIEs that were really advancing then. Comprehensive strategic power for the United States, that’s at least what they were looking at. So, they did a lot of things that were right and yet tragic, you know, unintended consequences. You know, the Frankenstein Effect, if you will.
Dr. Herman: In that regard. In the time that we’ve got left, I’m gonna raise two questions, which I know will be on the minds of our audience and ties in with what we’ve been talking about here last night and then also this morning. The first one is COVID. You mentioned, Patrick, the dark side of globalization. Certainly, the COVID pandemic is another aspect of that dark side of globalization. What lessons do we need to take away from the whole COVID experience? The question of where it originated in Chinese labs, in China’s decision to lock down China itself and allow the virus to spread to the rest of the world in the fall and in the winter of ’19, 2020? And then what is it about this that…is this a moment because of the devastation that COVID caused? Is this an opportunity to get, not just American public opinion, but world public opinion to really deal realistically with the real threat that China represents and what kind of regime we’re really dealing with? I wanted to get your views, both of you.
Dr. Pillsbury: I can give some history for you.
Dr. Herman: Love that.
Dr. Pillsbury: The CDC of America was the front line of defense against COVID. And back in the Reagan administration with U.S. funding and expertise, we helped create the CDC of China. We actually funded something called, “The Bacteriological and Virus Detection Team.” And its duty was to locate new viruses that were dangerous and report them first to the Chinese CDC and then to WHO. In parallel back to America, which had created the Chinese CDC, almost nobody I run into knows this. They think somehow China’s over there, you know, and it’s different. No, we also created the Chinese Environmental Protection Agency, by the way, in the very same way. And the DARPA, we figured they didn’t have a Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency.
So, we took them to DARPA. I was with the team. We went into the DARPA building, the Chinese were stunned, “What’s this?” Well, you know, your best scientists included biological warfare. So, when the first signs come, I remember a Council on Foreign Relations meeting, open to the public with video, Dr. Fauci was there. He said, “Yes, I’ve been talking to Beijing, trying to get information, get a copy of the genome.” He’s very positive in confidence, these are his friends. He’s got their phone numbers.
And then as the whole thing plays out over the next two years, we begin to find out they’re not calling back. They’re not gonna open their Wuhan Laboratory records. Dr. Shi, we called her “bat lady.” She likes the term. She’s been to the U.S. a lot. Dr. Shi tells a story that goes online around the world, a mysterious person comes to her on New Year’s Eve and says, “Could you please check this virus sample against your Wuhan Laboratory library of viruses?” Now, I didn’t know that there were libraries of lethal viruses in the Level 4 lab, but there are. Turns out we do it. You’re allowed under the Biological Weapons Convention to keep a sample of these things. We’re paying for this. And Dr. Shi tells the reporter, “Thank God.” She doesn’t quite use that phrase in Mandarin, but she’s very relieved. The virus that the mysterious person got her to examine, the COVID virus, was not among her samples in her library.
So, China’s hands were clean. Now, that’s as far as we’ve ever gotten to some sort of responsive comment. So, American leverage on something as important as this is not very high. So, what’s our leverage going to be on, “Please come to the nuclear arms talks in Vienna?” President Trump invited them to come to Vienna. We put out these Russian flags. Russians agreed with us, by the way, bring China to the nuclear arms control talks. Date was set. Russian flag, Chinese flag, American flag. Chinese, at the last minute, “Sorry, we’re not coming.” We have no leverage to get them into arms control talks. This came up with Biden’s press conference two days ago. And, in fact, we just announced, the Biden Nuclear Posture Review just announced indirectly, we’re going to guarantee China’s second strike and not build missile defenses or other means to neutralize the Chinese nuclear forces. That’s a huge present we just gave them. Now, what did we get in return exactly?
Dr. Herman: Nada.
Dr. Pillsbury: So, President Biden in his press conference said he believes China should engage in strategic stability talks and they should come to arms control talks. But my fear is, that’s gonna go the same direction the request for the COVID notes at the Wuhan Laboratory. He’s just gonna be ignored. We are not a powerful dominant country that can order China around. The Chinese will tell you with great pleasure.
Dr. Herman: No. And it seems that our attitude is let bygones be bygones. Let’s move on. Patrick?
Patrick: Well, I mean, picking up on that, because we don’t have that kind of leverage, we have to be very careful how we use our accusations against China. It doesn’t mean we shouldn’t make them, especially if we’re trying to ferret out the truth and force them in an uncomfortable position that they’re covering something up, but we do have to recognize just as the consulate in Manchester, in the UK, you know, when they beat up that Chinese national. They brought him in and they beat him up. And then they defended it by saying, “But he insulted our leader.” I mean, it’s like the cult of personality in China these days where Xi Jinping has gone back, you know, above Mao. And it’s just a reminder that if you’re gonna challenge China on something that is so sensitive as to where this virus came from, and you don’t have the hard evidence, be prepared for a harsh reaction.
This is where Prime Minister Albanese, as he goes to a summit, he’s trying to lift the $13 billion trade ban that China imposed because they had the courage to call for an independent inquiry into the COVID-19 origins. That was the right thing to do. That’s what we do in the Enlightenment. We try to investigate and ferret out the facts and make transparency and figure it out. And the Chinese, the fact that they weren’t willing to go along with us speaks volumes. So we don’t know the hard evidence, we can’t prove it, but they’re telling us in effect, “You will not be able to see our secrets, we’re not gonna share them with you, and we’re not gonna tell you about this.” The implications for this get more dire when you think about where biotechnology is heading, and it’s heading fast.
I mean, that’s the scary part. Just as you’re looking at quantum in so much detail, the biotech world is gonna transform the rest of this century. And so COVID will look like, you know, just child’s play compared to the kind of threats that could disseminate in the future. So, we have to make sure we’re working with like-minded countries on critical biotechnology. And then we have to engage China on areas where we think there’s an obvious common interest. Because if it’s in their common interest, they’ll talk about it. But if we think we’re gonna impose, you know, something on them to agree because it’s the right thing to do, because it’s part of what liberal democracies do, they’re not gonna do it. So, we have to be realistic about what we can engage China on.
Dr. Herman: Yeah.
Dr. Pillsbury: Or increase our leverage.
Dr. Herman: Increase our leverage.
Dr. Pillsbury: Find ways to increase our leverage.
Dr. Herman: No, I agree with Patrick, I think COVID is gonna turn out to be the biplane era in terms of what biotech is gonna be bringing and bringing us. We’ve got about three minutes left. Is it okay to ask you both to provide some sound bites, what’s gonna happen with regard to Taiwan? What’s your view on where this U.S.-China relations is headed on Taiwan?
Patrick: The intensified pressure on Taiwan will not let up. Even while China in this new diplomatic push that we’re now gonna see this month, especially in Asia, wants to play a softer line. They’re not gonna give up on Taiwan. And that’s why if you saw the new Rhodium study that talked about if there’s a blockade on Taiwan, the annual cost to the global economy is almost two-and-a-half trillion dollars a year just from a blockade. China will continue to prepare their military to be able to execute that sharp lunge that the military strategy out of the Pentagon this past couple of weeks says we’re trying to prevent through denial strategy and cost deposition and resilience.
So, that’s where we’re headed. We’re headed toward more competition. This thing is closing in. We’re headed toward the economic scenario being more of a fear because that’s what really would… And then if China decides, if Xi Jinping decides that he wants to use force because it’s the only way to get his way or because there’s a huge opening, he thinks that we’re looking the other way, he might do it. But I don’t think he’s gonna do it by taking an offshore island, he’s just gonna do it. We have to make sure it doesn’t succeed.
Dr. Herman: Michael, you have the last word.
Dr. Pillsbury: In “The Hundred-Year Marathon”, Arthur, I opened a chapter with the first wargame that I could find and I was in it on a war over Taiwan, and it was military officers playing the different teams. It was supposed to be a classified wargame except the scenario. And the results were called off in the last few minutes because the admiral in charge, your relative was head of the wikkle. [SP] It’s not this story. That’s a different story. So, the game was called off because the American side lost. And the way we lost, Americans think of aircraft carriers, you move them forward, first as a signal of deterrence and then for striking power. So, the American team did that and the Chinese team correctly received from the umpire permission to have a certain number of missiles that were accurate and to SYNC the carriers and the supporting ships and do some other things. So, the umpire said before he was shut up, he said, “Well, obviously China wins.” So that’s 1990…
Dr. Herman: It’s over before it began.
Dr. Pillsbury: That’s 1994.
Dr. Herman: 1994.
Dr. Pillsbury: 1994. So, since then, you heard a little bit about this last night from Robert O’Brien, there’s a long list of things we have not done about deterring China not to use force against Taiwan. We’re required by law to have the means to stop coercion of Taiwan. But this long list, I mentioned the Mongolian barbecue restaurant, we don’t have a command center on Taiwan. We don’t have a China Defense Command anywhere. It’s sort of subsumed under Pacific commander. But if you’re a PLA general and you go to… And they do this, you go to Honolulu, you know, “Where’s your Chinese defense team? I wanna meet them, see if they know how powerful we are.” We don’t have a Chinese defense team. So, there’s quite a long list of things we are not doing, and my fingers are crossed that by not provoking Beijing over the arrangements agreed to by Nixon and Kissinger, we will still have peace. But as Susan can tell you, I have increasing doubts about this as the number of exercises China surrounds Taiwan with bombers…
Dr. Herman: Including the last ones.
Dr. Pillsbury: … as they do more and more and more, is our answer to send Nancy Pelosi? I don’t think that deters China. In fact, it seems to stir them up. So, one thing President Trump did, which was secret at the time, then it was leaked to the “Wall Street Journal” and then Taiwan’s President confirmed it, it’s an idea that Bridge Colby and others have had, Taiwan needs some kind of resistance in case we can’t get there in time and the Chinese invasion gets started. And who does that in our system? Well, the Green Berets, the Special Forces in Fort Bragg. So, I and others talk to the Special Forces, “What can you do?” Sir, it’s our specialty.”
So President Trump approves a small Special Forces, Green Berets team going to Taiwan with the theory that we would not tell anybody, but China would learn about it. It’s the first American military deployment to Taiwan since Kissinger and Nixon pulled the nuclear weapons out and all the troops. And I believe the Chinese noticed that. They didn’t need the “Wall Street Journal” to tell them what had happened. And I believe that’s when this process started that you see now in the Chinese media that America is destroying the “One China” policy.
And we’ve done other things since then. But if Nixon were alive today, I think he would have doubts about this. Do we really want to have a regular NATO-style defense in Asia, which some people are calling for? We need to have alliances in the NATO, and, you know, have deployments on Taiwan. There’s a logic to doing that. It’s European-style logic, “My forces are bigger than your forces, you better not attack”. But that’s not how the Chinese see strategy. They see indirection, deception, messages being sent back-channel.
And my fear is that right now, and we’ll learn about this if Biden releases any of his talk with Xi Jinping on Monday, I think Xi Jinping is gonna warn him. It’s not gonna be Biden saying, “Don’t steal our technology and close those Confucius Institutes.” No. Xi Jinping is gonna say, “You don’t seem to understand, this is Chinese territory. Do you agree or not?” And Biden’s answer could go either way. Legally, he’s supposed to say, “Not. Taiwan is not part of China.” But that’s the cause of war right there. Or does he say, “Well, yes, Taiwan belongs to China,” which is legally not correct, but it’s politically prudent?
Dr. Herman: Prudent, of course. We’re gonna have to leave it at that. I think we should thank our distinguished and very insightful panel.
Watch the panel:
About the Grand Strategy Summit:
Fifty years after President Nixon’s historic diplomatic trips to China and the Soviet Union, great power competition has returned. To address America’s challenges on the world stage —only days after the hotly anticipated Midterm Election results— the Richard Nixon Foundation convened its inaugural Grand Strategy Summit: American Leadership in the 21st Century on November 10 and 11, 2022 at The Ritz Carlton, Washington D.C.
The Grand Strategy Summit is dedicated to establishing a consistent approach to a national (as opposed to a partisan) foreign policy, a long-term strategic direction for American statecraft —what President Nixon called “the long view.”
Considering the election results and the balance of power in Washington, summit participants discussed the pursuit of policies in America’s national interest, including how to manage the relationship with China as a major power in the 21st century, weigh the impact of ongoing Russian aggression in Ukraine, and project Western influence in the Middle East.