Brian Birdnow

Two separate news reports this week heralded, once again, the arrival of China as a major player on the world stage. These reports should serve as an official corrective to those optimists who insist that China’s emergence as a colossus is a force for good in the world. First of all, a security report delivered the startling news that a Chinese missile strike could destroy five of the six American air bases in East Asia with minimal risk to themselves. In addition, China’s feverish build-up of her surface fleet, bombers, rockets, and submarines has paid off in the sense that she can threaten American naval forces as far east as Guam.

The second disquieting news report came from Beijing itself, where, according to the New York Times, “…China, emboldened by its rising economic might…appears determined to confront the West…and to mobilize China’s citizens against what it views as an assault on its political system.” What the Times is referring to is the stark communist Chinese warning to the world that the Nobel Committee’s decision to award the Peace Prize to noted Sino dissident Liu Xiabo is a slap in China’s face, and, if carried out, will result in extreme Chinese displeasure. The news clips concerning Chinese military capabilities and her intense touchiness about “internal affairs” has puzzled many supposedly deep thinkers who assured us that the Chinese leaders were all jolly good fellows, who wanted cordial relations with America and the West. It now appears clear to these former optimists that containing China may be to the Twenty-First Century what containing the Soviet Union was to the period 1945-1990.

A closer look, however, at Sino-American relations over the last forty years reveals a clear pattern of aggressive and provocative Chinese behavior as the pitiful, wallowing giant of East Asia grew stronger and richer. The Chinese interest in cozying up to the USA in the early 1970s was clearly a reaction borne of fear of the Soviet Union. While President Nixon and Henry Kissinger talked of “playing the China card” against the Soviets the Chinese smiled and simply played the “American card” against the Russians. It seems never to have occurred to the American foreign policy, diplomatic, and intelligence establishment that we were not using the Chinese against the Russians but that they were using us!

Brian Birdnow

Brian E. Birdnow is a historian and teaches at a university in the St. Louis area.