On January 28, the Atlantic Council published “The Longer Telegram: Toward a new American China strategy.” The author is a former senior government official who remained anonymous. Modeled on George Kennan’s historic 1946 “Long Telegram” on Soviet grand strategy, the “Longer Telegram” aims to furnish the Biden administration with a U.S. strategy toward China. The single most outstanding recommendation from the 85-page-long document is this: The “US strategy and policy toward China must be laser-focused on the fault lines among Xi and his inner circle–aimed at changing their objectives and behavior and thus their strategic course.” The author believes the China problem lies with Xi Jinping, the country’s paramount leader. The author further states, “If such a strategy is successfully followed, then Xi will in time be replaced by the more traditional form of Communist Party leadership.” In other words, if we were living in a pre-Xi Jinping world, we would be care free and China would no longer be a significant threat. Is that really so?
At a press conference during the recent fourth session of the 13th National People’s Congress, China’s rubberstamp parliament, the government spokesperson said, “China’s U.S. policy has always maintained a high degree of stability and continuity.” This is very true. At different times, Xi Jinping, and his predecessors including Deng Xiaoping and Jiang Zemin, have talked about a central theme in the communist doctrine: the demise of capitalism and the triumph of socialism. This topic appears frequently in government papers and research articles. Here the meaning of “capitalism” is unambiguous. It is the American led Western world. The reason is simple: the existence and thriving of American values is a serious threat to the legitimacy of communist regimes. Driven by a deep sense of insecurity resulting from having observed the collapse of the former Soviet Union, each and every CCP leader has strongly advocated Marxism-Leninism and has launched campaigns to demonize and delegitimize Western democratic ideas. Ever since day one of the formation of the People’s Republic of China, hundreds of millions of Chinese people have been fed a never-ending barrage of anti-American propaganda.
The two leaders before Xi — Jiang Zemin and Hu Jintao — inherited Deng Xiaoping’s guidance of “hiding your capacities and biding your time (韬光养晦).” Hu coined a nice term — “peaceful rise (和平崛起),” and Jiang put it bluntly — “making a fortune silently (闷声发大财).” Jiang and Hu, viewed as “pragmatic” or “traditional” in the West, chose to keep their heads down so that China could surreptitiously amass economic, military, technological, and geopolitical power without drawing much attention to their tactics or any intervention to their quest.
Xi’s “China dream,” the “Belt and Road Initiative,” the destruction of Hong Kong, and his “Wolf warrior” diplomacy during the covid-19 pandemic all pose a direct challenge to the American-led world order. It is exactly because of these acts that the world has awakened to the true nature of the CCP and the world’s major democracies have begun to grapple with the massive China threat. It is bad, but not yet too bad: people are at least awakened and making an effort to stem the CCP’s expansion.
Imagine what would happen if the CCP leader instead continued to play a deceptive game, kept a low profile and build up its strength while keeping the world in the dark. In ten, twenty or more years, when the day finally came when no single power in the world had the strength or determination to challenge Communist China. Wouldn’t that be an even scarier scenario? Do we want to wake up only after we find out it is too late?
Make no mistake, many practices and operations that exploit the American society to the benefit of Chinese expansion were already in place long before Xi’s reign (2013 – today). The notorious telecom giant Huawei launched its business in the U.S. as early as 2001. The Beijing-controlled Confucius Institute first arrived on the campus of the University of Maryland in 2004. In 2001, the mouthpiece propaganda machine, China Central Television, later renamed the China Global Television Network (CGTN), started entertaining American households with 24-hour English programing. The lucrative Thousand Talents Program that entices scientists to act in secret bringing their knowledge and innovations to China was established in 2008. We also have to mention the Chinese government’s almost two decades of abuse of the WTO by heavily subsidizing domestic companies, manipulating currency, and stealing intellectual property.
The western media have depicted Xi Jinping as powerful, autocratic, nationalistic, and assertive, as if he were more evil or in other ways different from any of his predecessors. Of course the reality is that Xi cannot flex his muscles without the wealthy and powerful country that Deng, Jiang and Hu bequeathed to him. When we talk about the China threat, we are referring to the mass of economic, military, technological might and global influence, which could not have developed under any single leadership. Achieving the “the demise of capitalism and the triumph of socialism” is never personal for any CCP leader. It is a necessary and collective goal of the party.
As long as the CCP rules the country, the China problem is not a problem of the individual leader. It is a CCP problem.