America is not a country that understands revenge. We have never really lost a war and have never truly been humiliated by foreign powers. We have never seen our country carved out into zones of influence by rapacious foreigners. We have never made the transition from global superpower to regional weakling in the space of just a few generations. We have never been exploited and violated by those we deem inferior.
It is because of our blessed past that we fail to appreciate the power of revenge as a motive for state action. We are willfully denying the evidence that we see before us because too many today lack the resolve to accept the consequences. The People’s Republic of China is the greatest threat to peace today, whether we like it or not. Should we fail to adapt our policies to this reality, we will have the blood of hundreds of millions of innocent people on our hands.
For 2,000 years, China was the superpower in the world it knew. They called themselves “The Middle Kingdom” because they believed that they were literally the center of the universe. The characters for China best translate as “all under heaven,” not “our home,” as some would prefer us to believe. The Chinese emperor traditionally demanded, and received, assurances of fealty from all his neighbors. Thus we see the cause of the ancient and ingrained Han chauvinism in Chinese culture.
This condition lasted until the arrival of the Europeans in the first third of the 19th century. Unfortunately for China, they were experiencing a decline in the quality of leadership their Manchu rulers were able to provide, which meant that unlike the Japanese, who were able to adapt, modernize and retain their independence, the Chinese were gradually but systematically subjugated by the foreigners, first through opium, then by Christianity and then by railroads.
The greatest humiliation, however, was the loss of the Sino-Japanese War in 1895. It is one thing to be subjugated by strange-looking foreigners with guns and battleships, but it is quite another thing to lose a war to a former vassal state. Japan’s continued rise has infuriated Chinese patriots ever since and explains the source of what to many seems irrational and petty bigotry. We would be wise not to underestimate the power of this hatred.
China’s goal has been, and continues to be, revenge. China wants to replace the United States as the predominant global power and thereby regain its “place in the sun.” They have been systematically pursuing a policy designed to augment their own power at our expense. They have enslaved us economically and distracted us diplomatically, and soon they will threaten us militarily.
China has been accumulating our debt to make us beholden to them while using the foreign exchange reserves to depress their currency so that we buy more and more of their goods, which we pay for on credit, which increases our indebtedness. For now we enjoy purchasing cheap goods with free money. The price we have paid for our profligacy and imprudence, however, is our sovereignty.
While we fritter away our resources on “democracy promotion” and “nuclear non-proliferation,” China has been filling the void we left as the protector of small states across the globe. They have been using North Korea as a means to distract us from the real threat in Asia: themselves. Meanwhile, China has, in the manner of the old dynasties, been pulling the Central Asian states into her orbit with offers of lucrative investment contracts. We are in a competition for resources and dependents. Right now, they are winning.
We cannot ignore their almost unprecedented peacetime military buildup. They claim that they need a larger navy to protect their merchant fleet, yet why are they building hunter-killer submarines, ships better suited for destroying aircraft carriers than interdicting pirates? If China truly has no hostile intentions toward her neighbors, why invest in anti-satellite weapons, whose purpose can be only to thwart American assistance to beleaguered allies? If China really believes that the Taiwanese are like brothers, why do they delight in threatening them with annihilation at every opportunity?
Few in Europe anticipated the destruction and horrors of the First World War. While many did expect a war, they believed it would be short and that their civilization would be left largely intact. They were wrong. The Europeans failed to anticipate the danger that imperial Germany posed to the international order. An ancient people with a newly ascendant state intent on reclaiming past glory is always dangerous. The Germans also were committed to rapid industrial development and the construction of many submarines. They, too, were territorially ambitious and coveted the lands of other sovereign peoples. And the international community failed to stop them when it had the chance. Let us not repeat their mistake.
Matthew Klein is a sophomore in Berkeley College. He is the floor leader of the Right of the Yale Political Union and a vice president of the College Republicans.