As far back as 1279 AD, under the rule of Khubila Khan, the Chinese have been conquered and ruled by foreign powers. China’s early experience with foreign governments left a bad taste of economic colonialism in its mouth. Autonomous regions and concessions, which carved up China’s sovereignty, led to forced trade and an opium war. Territory was lost and the national treasury depleted to indemnify the victors for war reparations. China, historically, has been harried by foreign powers-exposing its industrial weakness and national vulnerability. Where self-importance once reigned, doubt and a national inferiority complex permeate the Chinese consciousness.
Today, while maintaining the largest standing army of approximately 2.3 million soldiers (contrast with America’s 1.4 million) and a comparatively credible nuclear arsenal, China has taken another “Great Leap Forward” in the modernization of its security forces to counteract this national psychosis.
There are two schools of thought as it concerns China’s regional and global intentions China’s silk road economic belt. The first suggests that China has no hegemonic interest-that she has never ventured, for conquest, outside her borders and any interest she might communicate in this arena are for regional stability and noninterference, and to impugn China in any other fashion or to paint China as a regional/global menace-is to make her a regional/global menace. “… [B]elligerent policies risk creating a self-fulfilling prophecy-treat China as an enemy and it will be one.” (Ross 33)
The second suggests that China has always had revenge in mind, for historic indignities, and an evil/godless resolve to eventually dominate the world. Every shift she makes in policy, strategic or economic, must be viewed with this intent in mind. “… [C]hina’s willingness, even eagerness, to improve the Sino-American mood represents a tactical gesture rather than a strategic one… Beijing has tempered its confrontational rhetoric and retreated from some of the actions that most annoyed Washington… ‘For a relatively long time it will be absolutely necessary that we quietly nurse our sense of vengeance,’ General Mi Zhenyu, Vice Commander, Academy of Military Sciences in Beijing wrote. ‘We must conceal our abilities and bide our time.'” (Bernstein/Munro 20)
To further this objective, China has made every attempt to acquire technological advantages the United States might offer into its military portfolio. To this aim, accusations of espionage, dubious, if not illegal, Chinese campaign contributions, and a fifth column at the White House reverberate throughout the conservative political spectrum. Waving this bloody shirt of political corruption the opposition party has conjured images of a Manchurian Candidate with the inscrutable Chinese as the queen-of-diamond protagonist.
Against this backdrop the questions are manifold and the assessment difficult as to the military course China has plotted. Towards which two objectives has her ship of state’s compass been boxed? Is China’s military buildup warranted as a regional power or does she have global ambitions? Is China’s military capability commensurate with her strategic interests and does it represent a threat or legitimate growth? A definitive answer to these questions would require the deftness of Houdini and the clairvoyance of Kreskin; however, a culling of the two positions might ferret out suppositions that could lead to reasonable conclusions.
Position one hypothesizes that China, for centuries, has remained within its borders, and has never posed a threat to any of her neighbors. The Great Wall, built to prevent the Mongol hordes from entering China, exemplifies her defensive posture. Moreover, China has historically shunned contact with the outside world, neither desiring nor seeking trade or the capacity for exploration on the high seas. China’s egocentric thinking can be underscored by her name-the Middle Kingdom. Where all roads once led to Rome, China simply believed itself to be the center of the world with no need to venture out from its shores.
Ironically, because China enjoyed her isolationist position with no penchant for empire expansion, she unwittingly opened herself to foreign devils looking to expand their global tentacles. The opium war of the 1840s was such an example. The British, suffering from a trade imbalance due to their insatiable appetite for Chinese tea (through their East Indian holding company), sought to traffic in opium with the intent of creating such a demand by addicting enough people to a substance that could be easily manufactured for trade; thereby, reversing a disastrous trend of trade deficit to a trade surplus. When China interdicted this drug trafficking of British opium, her inferior junks were no match for the superior steam-propelled British frigates resulting in the defeat of China’s fledgling fleet. As punishment, the Chinese were compelled to indemnify the British, to the tune of hundreds of millions of dollars, and transfer possession and control of Hong Kong to England.