A few weeks ago Armchair General ran an e-poll on the likelihood of armed conflict between the US and China within the next ten years. Actually, I prefer to think of it as a quiz rather than a poll, and here are your grades:
Very Unlikely (24%) A
Somewhat Unlikely (34%) B
Don’t Know (5%) C (points for honesty and humility)
Somewhat Likely (26%) D
Very Likely (11%) F
Pretty good, class. Almost 60% got a B or higher. Now what do those 58% understand that the other 42% of you are a little foggy on?
A good friend of mine is married to a Chinese lady who moved here from mainland China a number of years ago. About half of her extended family did as well, with the other half still in China. Many in this second half visit on occasion. This gives my friend some unique insights into the Chinese, and one of the most interesting observations he made was: “Every culture except the Chinese thinks they’re superior to everyone else; the Chinese know it.”
On a certain level it’s pretty hard to argue with; China has been around for a LOOOONG time and developed a vibrant and sophisticated culture far in advance of Western Europe. Interestingly enough, this aspect of Chinese . . . let’s call it self-confidence instead of arrogance . . . is a major reason we are unlikely to become involved in a shooting war with them in the near future. That’s because the Chinese simply do not care about the things that spark conflict in the modern world.
First, they don’t have this neurotic need to be loved by everyone on the planet. They don’t stay up late making lists of people who like them and people who don’t like them. Sure there was this vague hope that everyone would fall in love with Beijing during the Olymics, but for the most part their self-image does not depend on the opinions of non-Chinese. They just don’t care.
The very Anglo-American idea of “supporting our friends around the world” is not a significant component of Chinese foreign policy. Think it is? Okay. Name three of China’s “friends” it would go to war to protect.
Admittedly, there is also a xenophobic ultra-nationalist contingent in Chinese politics (as there is most other places) but for now they are a powerless minority, and failing a major and pronounced economic downturn, they are unlikely to gain much ground. But you never know. Anyone who says they know all the answers ususally doesn’t know any.
Second, they don’t step on anyone’s ideology because they are basically ideology-free. They are the ultimate pragmatists and care about advancing China’s welfare – as they see it, of course. Although Lou Dobbs invariably refers to it as “Communist China,” I’ve been to Congregationalist churches that are more communistic, in any meaningful sense, than these guys are.
Who hates China in the Middle East? Nobody. Because the Chinese don’t have a dog in that fight, and they aren’t likely to pick one, because they just don’t care. They need oil, but they buy it on the world market, and they’ll keep buying it there no matter who pumps it.
They need markets and are investing a lot of capital – both financial and human – in Africa. But they aren’t picking sides in Africa’s internal struggles. They don’t care who wins; they just want a piece of the economic action, no matter who comes out on top. This ideological neutrality is an enormous asset.
Finally, it’s worth mentioning that the US and Chinese economies and financial systems are now so completely entangled that any war between these two countries will economically destroy both and lead to a global financial melt-down that will make our current problems look like a little bump in the road. Why are they entangled? Because the Chinese only care about what’s good for China, and the US has been a great investment.
Will the Chinese start trying to decouple their financial system from ours? Probably. Their investment portfolio could stand a bit of diversification. But they will only do so to the extent that they see it advancing their interests. They aren’t interested in paying any sort of price to hurt us.
Not because they like us. Because they just don’t care.About the Author: The major landmarks in Frank's historical interests range from ancient Persia through the Crimean War, World War II, and the modern U.S. Armed Forces, with a lot of stops in between. Frank is fascinated by the unusual, the overlooked, and the surprising. He is the New York Times number one best-selling author of the Desert Shield Fact Book (1991) and he is currently writing an historical novel on Alexander's conquest of Persia – from the Persian point of view.