In China, many younger military leaders view America as the ultimate enemy

In China, many younger military leaders view America as the ultimate enemy

Summary: Mainland China is a rapidly evolving world powerhouse, poised to become a competitor, a threat, or both.


Mainland China is a rapidly evolving world powerhouse. As the country gains power, moves its population more fully into the 21st century, and learns to compete and win against Western nations, China is poised to become a competitor, a threat, or both.

I started my China studies as part of my research for How To Save Jobs. China, as it turns out, has rapidly entered the world economic stage, is undercutting traditional industrial nations not only in manufacturing, but in IT, and has an almost infinite hunger for more -- more of everything.

Over the last few years, I've started to developed a rather nuanced psychographic meta-model of what makes China tick. No matter how you run the numbers, the single biggest factor to keep in mind is the country's population, which is the largest in the world.

It's the size of this population that colors all other decisions and policies coming out of China. The country gives birth to more babies each year than the entire population of Canada. China has more honor students than we have students.

While many Chinese people are still dirt poor (and, in fact, live in huts with dirt floors), more and more of the Chinese population are leaving poverty and gaining an education. These Chinese citizens are both smart and aggressive, and are often the offspring of parents so poor, they make most of America's worst impoverished seem almost wealthy by comparison.

Militarily, while China has historically shown up on our radar, they haven't really been a direct threat. Oh, sure, as I discussed last month in Is China gearing up to start World War III?, China has always has a "thing" about Taiwan and has often conducted exercises intended to send a message to the world about their sense of entitlement regarding the small nation.

Overall, China hasn't posed much of a threat to us.

This was, in part, because of China's perception of a Soviet threat. To some degree, the elderly Chinese leaders in power considered all of the West a threat, but other than making sure they had some nukes, the threat was generally theoretical in nature, while the Soviet threat was very tangible, indeed.

However, an article in The New York Times has added a new factor to the meta-model of China: younger vs. older leaders.

As Michael Wines describes it, younger Chinese military leaders don't have a decades-long history of looking to the Soviet Union as a major threat. While both the Soviets and the Chinese shared a Communist heritage, China has always felt somewhat threatened by the old Soviets' empire-building proclivities.

Although China was somewhat protected to the north by Mongolia, their north western border was with the former Kazakh Soviet Socialist Republic (now Kazakhstan) and on the north eastern border, their direct neighbor was Russia itself. Since the Soviets had a history of invading and annexing their neighbors, the perceived threat amongst older Chinese leaders wasn't just unfounded paranoia.

These old school Chinese leaders subscribed, at least to some extent, to that old saw, "The enemy of my enemy is my friend" and felt somewhat more secure with American interests because they knew most of our cold war military strategy was geared towards the Soviets.

But there's a new generation of leaders coming into power.

The current Chinese leadership are people in their late 60s and 70s (think Michael Bloomberg and Joe Lieberman) while a new generation (think Barack Obama and Sarah Palin) are just coming into power.

While some of these younger leaders can actually see Russia from their windows, they have never really had to consider the Soviet Union as a threat. Instead, to them, their biggest direct threats are economic and logistic.

While older leaders were content to let most of their population fester (or at least had little motivation to change the status quo), the younger generation of Chinese leaders know that moving their population into the middle class is the key to creating a powerhouse nation. But they also know that a huge middle class population will consume excessive amounts of food, oil, water, and other resources of all types. I modeled this growth patten in How To Save Jobs and it's not pretty.

While these younger leaders see America as a market in much the same way their elders did, the younger leaders also see America as a competitor for increasingly scarce resources that they need in ever increasingly large quantities.

They also don't trust us.

While older Chinese leaders had long seen America conduct Cold War relations with a predictable level of severity, the younger leaders have seen us invade sovereign nations and they've seen our capricious governing style. They've seen how our poor economic management can have worldwide repercussions. And they've seen how willing we are to mortgage our future for a few votes today.

To these young Chinese leaders, America seems like the dangerous old bear, not Russia.

There's another difference between younger Chinese leaders and older ones. The younger leaders, while not quite young enough (yet) to be digital natives, are still quite tech savvy. They understand computers and computer networks. They understand hacking. They understand cyberwarfare.

They understand how a cyberattack could disrupt a nation or a company.

They also understand traditional military. That's why China is not only building its own carrier, they're also investing in carrier-killing technology.

And, they also understand that they can undercut Americans for jobs and provide similar work output for a tenth of what American IT workers can afford.

These younger Chinese leaders need to be watched.

Unlike their elders, these young leaders and young warriors are not just capable of playing on the traditional military battlefield, they're also fully prepared to battle us economically and even across the Internet.

Terrorists are one thing. But a fully empowered China, testing us politically and in cyberspace, while at the same time loaning us trillions (with all the resulting entanglements and obligations) -- that's almost terrifying.

As time goes on, more and more younger, digital generation Chinese leaders will come into power, and the United States will have to alter its policy to take their changing attitudes into account.

Topics: CXO, China


David Gewirtz, Distinguished Lecturer at CBS Interactive, is an author, U.S. policy advisor, and computer scientist. He is featured in the History Channel special The President's Book of Secrets and is a member of the National Press Club.

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  • RE: In China, many younger military leaders view America as the ultimate enemy

    China in IT? I'm sceptical, not because I'm Indian, but India would rather feel the pinch of IT competition from China.. Or maybe they're making higher end software I'm not aware of.. Mind clarifying that?
    Rahul Mulchandani
    • RE: In China, many younger military leaders view America as the ultimate enemy

      @Rahul Mulchandani But India is our friend, China isn't.
      • RE: In China, many younger military leaders view America as the ultimate enemy

        @Tiggster India is not our "friend" and I don't know where you get that point of view.
    • RE: In China, many younger military leaders view America as the ultimate enemy

      @Rahul Mulchandani "Sceptical?" Ah! "'S'eptical!" :D

      Sorry, but I couldn't resist since I said "septical" instead of "skeptical" instead. :)
      Grayson Peddie
    • RE: In China, many younger military leaders view America as the ultimate enemy

      @Rahul Mulchandani China is poised to crush India in IT. Your garbage-strewn rural areas, your caste society and it's maltreatment of the poor pretty much guarantees it.
  • China loaning "us" trillions shackles them.

    They'd love to diversify away from Dollars and T-Notes, but the Euro is hardly a safe-haven (thanks, Greece), and the fact is that there's no other serious choice (Besides, without a consumerific US economy China is still screwed). So, they can't get into too big a tiff with the US because they have a very large vested interest. In the same way the US can't put too much pressure on China to do things like free political dissidents or let the Yuan float freely because all foreseeable US governments will need Chinese financing of their budget deficits. Generals and Admirals on both sides may bluster, but as long as civilian politicians on both sides are running the show it will be business as usual.
    • RE: In China, many younger military leaders view America as the ultimate enemy


      I agree. China loaning us money is a trick to manipulate currency markets, but it doesn't oblige us to China. Our debt relation to China right now is more like what these people with underwater homes are doing. If we decide we don't like it, we can just default. It will hurt our credibility, but we'd probably get away with it. Why? Everyone hates China. The U.K. for instance would probably keep loaning to us because they would believe, quite rightly, that we wouldn't do the same thing to them.

      btw, China is actually investing just as much in the Euro and the in Greece. As you pointed out, clearly these are neither good nor safe investments. The only rational conclusion is that China is pumping cash into foreign currencies to increase their purchasing power and preclude the formation of local low cost labor markets.
  • RE: In China, many younger military leaders view America as the ultimate enemy

    Stop the xenophobia already, NO ONE is this world is as enamored as Americans are with America, if we don't want others to see us as threats, then stop being so GD aggressive and greedy toward everyone else. Believe it or not, not everyone wants to have the Walmart way of life.
  • Haha

    Iraq was Americas friend during Irans American citizen kidnapping crisis. And what happened then...
    • Another boogeyman from David Gewirtz

      He is the new Joseph McCarthy
      • Clearly he covets at seat at the Hoover Institution

        @nomorebs The problem is that his international analysis leaves quite a bit to be desired.
      • RE: In China, many younger military leaders view America as the ultimate enemy

        @nomorebs spot on. Mr Gewirtz "researches a book" that stinks so badly he has to give it away. That makes him a Pundit?
  • RE: In China, many younger military leaders view America as the ultimate enemy

    Lincoln said, "as a nation of free men, we must either live through all time or die by suicide." I think he was trying to say that, at our best, no nation would ever conquer us from without but that we might well conquer ourselves from within. Frankly, I don't worry much about China and the America we have been for much of the past 2 centuries. I do, however, worry much about China (or some other self described enemy) and the America we seem to be fast becoming.
  • View as a threat, and have the capability to act on it.

    China already has about 30 missiles that can deliver nukes at a 12,000 range, and warheads for all of them. Just a small nuke is all you need to stop an aircraft carrier; and frankly, we don't still don't have a real reliable anti-ballistic missile defense, even with the upgraded patriots. They may posture a bit, but they are NOT going to nuke one of our carriers while we can still clean their clocks with sub-launched missiles, ICBMs, and B-2 bombers.

    Our problem with a nuclear response to China isn't so much their blowing up any of our citys as it is that we eat the long range fallout, and everyone will have to put up with the global cooling that will accompany it. (Maybe we should blow them up anyway as a means of correcting AGW?)

    China does not hobble their economy the way the U.S., or even Europe does with restrictive environmentalism. Wipe out the red tape of impact permits and studies and we could double our economy in a year.

    If you've read Sun Tsu's, "Art of War", you'll see that China is unlikely to commit to military actions of any kind without being sure of success. And they won't use military action if political and economic pressures gain them what they want without violence.

    The big 3 economic monoliths of 2010 are The U.S, China, and India. Russia is monolithic, but nowhere near the volume; and while EU is in the volume range, they're hardly monolithic. And Russia and the EU are both also suffering from the currently depressed economic conditions.
    • M.A.D. take 2

      your comments about cleaning each other out clearly point to it.

      Welcome to cold war 2.0
    • RE: In China, many younger military leaders view America as the ultimate enemy

      @Dr_Zinj I have read the Art of War and if the Chinese followed it strictly you are probably right, but that is never the reality. Superiority breads confidence and confidence often skews ones real view of the world, causing them to make mistakes.

      As far as the restrictions, beyound the fact that I like living in a country that does not require masks to walk to work, or bottled water to keep from getting sick, there is a logistical advantage to environmentalism. When the Middle East runs out of oil and China's precious metals dwindle and populations are so great that they consume all livable area, the US will still have the resources, the land and hopefully better breathable air. I can never see why people do not see this, guess they are always living in the now where I am always thinking of retirement so all my thinking is about where I will be in 20 years, so I drive a old car while people that make the same as me drive audi's, BMW's, Lexuses etc. When I retire I will get to do what I want and I do not have to wait until I am so old I can't do anything.
      I wish that is how our policticians thought, that is one thing I like about Obama, he seems to think more of the future and sustained growth and not so much with making things good now. To be honest America has been living beyound it's means for quite some time, we should feel lucky it is only 10% unemployment, it could be a lot worse. More often then not slow gowth is more sustainable and reliable to a quick upshot in growth then layoffs.
    • Nuclear Subs


      Unfortunately for China, the US has a terrifyingly advanced nuclear submarine force; which means that, even if they did attack the US, their largest cities would be obliterated in a matter of hours.

      Our nuclear sub force has one major purpose: to instill in a potential enemy the knowledge that any nuclear attack on the US means their ultimate destruction.

      You also have to remember that - in time of nuclear war - China's large population becomes a detriment.
    • You're talking oranges and tangelos.

      @Dr_Zinj Those 12,000 mile missiles are strategic ballistic missiles, and the odds of one successfully hitting anywhere near, let along within killing distance of, a Carrier Battle Group are laughably slim. A tactical nuke is a different story, but even then it's an improbably long shot.

      The U.S. and China will probably never shot at each other [i]again[/i], most people forget that the U.S. spent more time fighting the Chinese in Korea than the North Koreans. If we [i]do[/i], I think it will escalate fast, and the U.S. will settle a lot of "family business" rather quickly. B-52s from Diego Garcia, B-2s from Guam and cruise missiles from the 3rd, 5th, and 7th Fleets will set the Chinese economy back to something Chaing Kai Shek might recognize. Again, it's something I doubt would ever happen, but consider this, the U.S. owes China trillions of dollars. Other wars have been started for far less.
      • Here is the problem: We want to be the "good guys"

        @matthew_maurice After 28 years of military service, deep in my heart I still want the United States to be the "good Guys". Whether others see us that way or not is irrelevant and I don't care if they do or not. That is why reliance on nuclear weapons for our defense is so problematic. Supposing that the Chinese drop a tactical nuke on a carrier battle group - a purely military target. Does anyone really think that the appropriate response would be to obliterate China with nukes? Including it's civilian population? There has to be some more measured response available than MAD (mutually assured destruction).

        This is why, in my opinion, an effective ballistic missile defense is so critical. If you can stop the missile from hitting its target in the first place, then the president doesn't need to kill a billion or so people in response. And if we do need to make a military response, there needs to be some high tech way for us to respond without setting the Chinese economy "back to something Chaing Kai Shek might recognize" and of course prompting China to respond with it's own strategic nukes.

        Finally, all that said, when you are in business, going to war with your best customer is not really in your best interest and I think the Chinese are aware of that.
      • RE: In China, many younger military leaders view America as the ultimate enemy

        @matthew_maurice Because the USA *USED* to be the world's biggest exporter of oil, oil is priced in US$. Which means that if you want to buy oil from Saudi Arabia or Venezuela, you have to pay then in $$$. Result, there are a LOT of promissary notes floating around the world - all issued by the US treasury - which the USA never expects to repay. China doesn't NEED nukes: all it has to do is insist on paying for the oil it buys in something OTHER than dollars. Maybe flatscreen TVs?! Result, those trillions of dollars (no longer needed for oil purchase) come flooding back to the USA. The US$ value in the international currency market drops to parity somewhere around where the Italian Lira used to be: of almost no value ANYWHERE BUT the USA. That's the point at which a smart (foreign) investor starts to buy stocks, in the fire sale that Wall Street would turn into. When a share that's worth $100 is also worth 10c Canadian... The corporation rapidly gets bought by foreigners. Why nuke the USA when you can simply BUY it?