View Full Version : China as a US enemy

27-04-06, 12:20

27-04-06, 15:27
China as a US enemy
China: The Gathering Threat by Constantine C Menges Buy this book

Reviewed by Dmitry Shlapentokh

Author Constantine C Menges, who died of cancer at age 64 in July 2004, was clearly a knowledgeable person with broad experience in the field of foreign affairs, as can be seen by his long-term work for the Central Intelligence Agency and other US government agencies.

He completed the manuscript for China: The Gathering Threat just before his death. The book, published last April, demonstrates not only his erudition but his ability to draw a big picture in which past, present and future are connected in one integrated whole.

The focus of the book is communist China and the geopolitical threat it constitutes for the US in the long term. Menges regarded China as the only real threat to the United States' existence.

Even the events of September 11, 2001, some of which Menges witnessed, seems not to have changed his mind. He wrote the book as a sort of political testament to fellow Americans who, he implied, could well not recognize the imminent threat posed by China. One of the major reasons China constitutes such a threat is that - in contrast to other enemies of the US, except perhaps the Soviets in the past - it has a well-defined plan to achieve global predominance.

The author was sure he knew this plan, and the beginning of the book provides a clear outline of it: domination of South Asia, transformation of Russia into a Chinese appendix and, finally, global predominance and subjugation of the US.

Developing this major point, the narrative starts with the rise of communist power in China, its consolidation during Mao Zedong's time and its increase up to the present. In recent history (starting with the 1990s), Russia has played an essential role in the increasing power of China. It has done this - at its peril in the long run - because of the authoritarian/totalitarian proclivities it has not been able to overcome despite the anti-communist revolution. In fact, the rising Chinese/Russian axis constitutes a threat that could make the Chinese dream of global predominance quite possible.

The general outline of the book makes a good point - in this the author was not alone in seeing China as dominating globally in this century - but the general analysis hardly exhibits much sophistication. This, for example, can be seen in the analysis of the Chinese-US relationship. While the Russians are regarded as great helpers of the Chinese in their rise to power, faulty US policy toward China has been equally responsible for making possible its transformation into a geopolitical colossus. In fact, one can assume the author believed that America's own foreign policy, more than anything else, is responsible for the almost imminent US geopolitical debacle. The problem is that members of the US elite are either blind to the real threat or plainly politically venal and ready, if necessary, to forget the country's national interests to promote their political careers.

To be sure, the author saw the problems with Republican administrations, as president Ronald Reagan was not able to understand fully the dangerous totalitarian essence of the Chinese regime - the source of China's global ambitions. But at least he fought against the "evil empire" and made a record of Chinese civil-rights abuses. The problem was more serious with president Richard Nixon and Henry Kissinger, his major foreign-policy guide. The Kissinger/Nixon rapprochement with China could be partly explained by the desire to counterbalance the USSR, but Menges implies that it went too far. However, the most serious problem was with Democratic administrations.

President Jimmy Carter and his advisers were totally naive, and the author scorns his national security adviser, Zbigniew Brezhinsky, who arrived in China "laden with gifts". The major thrust of his criticism is directed against the Clinton administration. In his view, president Bill Clinton's cozying up to China was not just naivety but worse: Clinton was absolutely cynical and helped the Chinese just because they helped his political career. This cynicism and, implicitly, the shortsightedness of the US business elite, drenched in greed, were the major reasons for the growth of the Chinese geopolitical and economic clout.

One might add that, in this vision of the Democrats as cynical power seekers who lead the United States to perdition, Menges was actually similar to Brezhinsky, who also attributes America's growing problems to the US elite.

The author's limited view of why the US has been engaged in rapprochement with China and is increasingly threatened by its geopolitical/economic might - reducing everything to naivety or the low moral caliber of the US elite and ideology as the driving force of international relations - explains his rather simplistic prognosis for the future and his vision of international relations. For example, because Menges believed that totalitarian/authoritarian regimes always gravitate to one another, he thought China and Russia were almost destined to join hands to fight the US, at least until Russia was absorbed by China.

The assumption that geopolitical interests and not ideology bind states together pushed the author almost to ignore that, regardless of the Chinese/Russian rapprochement in the past 15 years or so, the two countries have a deep distrust of each other. And their alliance is just one of many possible options that may depend on the US global posture and the health of the US economy. The captains of that economy tolerate Chinese economic expansion not out of naivety or even pure greed - the Chinese are not less greedy than the Americans - but simply because the US could not exist without extensive borrowing from China.

With all these shortcomings, the book is nevertheless worth reading, not just because it provides a wealth of information and sound observation, but because it provides insight into the world of the neo-conservative Washington elite. It explains a great deal about their planning of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and their belief that destroying the authoritarian/totalitarian regimes would solve all problems and ensure the global spread of the benign Pax Americana.

Dmitry Shlapentokh, PhD, is associate professor of history at the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences, Indiana University South Bend. He is author of East Against West: The First Encounter - The Life of Theistical, 2005.

China: The Gathering Threat by Constantine C Menges. Nelson Current (2005), ISBN: 1595550054. Price US$27.99. Hardcover 554 pages.

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