You don't need a fortune cookie to learn that China isn't playing straight with the rest of the world. The men in Beijing may be taking some of their clues from the most important page of Mao's Little Red Book: "Every Communist must grasp the truth, 'Political power grows out of the barrel of a gun.'"
We've been lulled into thinking the Chinese brand of "free markets" will move that country toward democracy. Maybe someday, eventually, it will. But free markets must be accompanied by personal freedoms and representative government, and that isn't happening. In fact, there are disturbing signs of a military build-up and deception about it at the highest levels of the Chinese government today.
Secretary of Defense Don Rumsfeld has returned from Singapore where he delivered the keynote address to a conference of defense ministers and military analysts in Asia, and noted that China's military budget ranks behind only that of the United States and Russia. "Since no nation threatens China, one must wonder," he said. "Why these continuing large and expanding arms purchases?"
This was new from an administration that until now criticized, mildly, China's human rights violations while urging China to prod North Korea back to the six-party talks about what to do about its nuclear weapons program. But it's the Chinese armory that concerns the defense secretary. "I just look at the significant rollout of ballistic missiles opposite Taiwan, and I have to ask the question: 'If everyone agrees the question of Taiwan is going to be settled in a peaceful way, why this increase in ballistic missiles opposite Taiwan?'" Newly purchased submarines, fighter jets, assault ships and missiles not only pose a threat to Taiwan, but to the United States if we honor our treaty commitments to go to the aid of our old friends there.
The Rumsfeld speech reflects the buzz of the China watchers in Washington, where the publication of a new book expands the latest thinking. "China: The Gathering Threat," by Constantine Menges, takes its title from Churchill's famous warning about the lessons of World War II: "There never was a war in all history easier to prevent by timely action . . . but no one would listen. We surely must not let that happen again."
Mr. Menges worked inside the White House and at the CIA for many years and was something like an Old Testament prophet, with prescient pronouncements of bad things to come. In 1977 he warned President Jimmy Carter that Iran was in imminent danger of being transformed from a friendly country to unfriendly Islamic state. The president didn't listen, and two years later that happened. Mr. Menges died last year, and the book, published posthumously, brought reporters, policy makers and friends (like myself) together at the Hudson Institute to consider the way China's rapid economic growth supports cynical military ambitions in a nation that describes the United States as its "main enemy."
The discussion by China watchers was chilling, taking its theme from the Constantine concern that we're naively allowing businessmen to dictate a China policy of "unconditional commercial relations." A pure business model is concerned only with how to make a buck, which is a legitimate concern, but political leaders who govern from a business plan are fools. Economic engagement is not a substitute for political engagement. He left the prescription to do more to promote democracy inside China, work with political reform groups (such as Solidarity, which we supported in Poland) and offer greater support to pro-democracy Chinese exiles in this country.
William Hawkins, who studies national security issues at the U.S. Business and Industry Council, argues that China has learned from Russia's mistakes, dumping Marxism, but merely moved from "communism to fascism," using the energy of capitalism to animate the ambitions of a tyranny.
The heads of corporations and heads of state met last month in Beijing under the auspices of Fortune magazine's Global Forum to talk about the most pressing issues facing world business. They concluded that "China will overtake the U.S. to become the world's largest economy by mid-century."
The panelists at the Hudson Institute forum last week noted that China controls more than $200 billion of the U.S. national debt. Al Santoli, president of the Asia America Initiative, suggested that the Chinese have a master plan for the United States to become "a vassal state, as China buys up our debt."
Don Rumsfeld wants to visit China next year. If he does, he should take two books with him, Constantine Menges' "China: The Gathering Threat," and Chairman Mao's Little Red Book. Mao warned his followers not to wait "until problems pile up and cause a lot of trouble before trying to solve them." He didn't always follow his own advice, but we should if we know what's good for us.