It wasn’t China that sold out generations of yet unborn Americans to feed the military Industrial complex to the tune of nearly a trillion dollars/year. It wasn’t China that bailed out the criminal bankers for trillions more dollars.
“Know your enemy” is one of the 36 strategies from the “Art of War” It was written by Sun Tzu 2600 years ago during the Warring States period in China. It was a treatise on dealing with war and conflict. I was almost entirely unaware of the writing during my first two years in China. That was 45 years ago when I was a foreign student at University in Beijing. I studied the language, the history and literature as a way to understand this fascinating and ancient culture. Doubtless the Art of War was not unknown in China, but I never recall it being quoted once in any modern context.
I was first acquainted with the work in earnest, not in China but in America. In 1979 after leaving China, I attended a leading business school in America in pursuit of an M.B.A. It seems that the Art of War was enjoying a rise in popularity, and was required reading at all the major American business schools. These leading business schools were grooming the next generation of American business leaders. Most of my classmates went on to be lawyers or worked on Wall Street. In many cases both. And they carried the lessons of the Art of War with them.
And what were the lessons that they extracted from this ancient work?
Business is war. Every deal has a winner and loser and for you to win, someone else had to lose.
It is the Wall Street model. For every winning trade, there is a counterparty that loses. It is zero sum thinking. The pie is only so big, so when I want more, someone has to do with less.
It fostered a mind-set, a callous one, one that has endured and intensified to where we find ourselves today. And it is not just Wall Street, the mindset dominates in all major U.S. companies. For an example look at how corporate America off shored its supply chain to low-cost countries. It knew it was destroying the American economy, hollowing out a once thriving manufacturing sector that built the middle class. It knew what it was doing, it just didn’t care. And of course, Wall Street loved offshoring. Any company that moved its production to China received the intended stock boost. A win for Wall Street meant a loss for Americans.
In 1980 I moved back to China as V.P. for a major oil company, (based more on my language and cultural knowledge than any business expertise I possessed at that time.) Only then did I begin to understand the diametrically different business philosophies between the two nations. Not once did I hear any reference to Sun Tzu or anything that suggested that the Chinese considered business to be about conflict and competition. When business was referred to via metaphor, it invoked Confucian or Taoist philosophies, based on mutual benefit and co-operation. At the time I considered this just Chinese “business speak”. I was wrong, as I was to go on to learn in later years.
Many may consider the “win-win” thinking described above to be merely idealism. Americans are rightly cynical when a government professes good intentions. But let’s examine the evidence. China in the last few months has signed the two biggest trade deals in history- one with the EU and one with A.S.E.A.N group. This co-operation has pushed America to 3rd place among China’s largest trading partners. More significantly, the Belt and Road initiative involves 140 countries across four continents. In each country, China has a different arrangement specific to that country’s needs. In some they are building not just high-speed rail, but dams, power stations, roads, telecommunications with more to follow. In other countries they are just building transit routes (for now). Financing is provided by the Asian development bank, in some cases with 100 year interest free self-paying loans. How could this have been achieved if not through the Chinese way of mutual benefit, or win-win thinking? It could not.
The Western anti-BRI narrative is that it is a new form of Chinese imperialism and a debt trap. Let’s examine that. Of the 140 participants in the BRI at least 120 have in the recent past emerged from, (in some cases centuries of) foreign imperialism. China, Indonesia, Malaysia, Macau, Korea, Philippines, all of Africa and most of South America. All of these countries suffered under brutal, repressive western empires. Post WW2 the Independence movements began in earnest, across the previously enslaved world. It wasn’t easy. The western empires of Britain, France, and Holland all were intent on regaining their former colonies and launched further destruction on the ex-colonies. But eventually most broke free.
China has a unique political and economic system. It is based in Confucianism and it is unique to China- it’s challenges and it’s culture. It wouldn’t work elsewhere.
The Chinese know that and are not trying to export their system. Suggesting that the 140 participants are all hapless dupes who don’t know what is happening is both insulting and ill informed. They have all suffered terribly under “empire”. They all know very well what it looks like, and this isn’t it. Non-interference, self-determination and independence is the dominant motivation for all these countries. As to matter of “debt traps”, again all the post-colonial countries have been well schooled in the subject. With Independence, came the need to develop their countries and build economies. That required Investment and along came the World Bank, IMF and the American model of neo-colonialism, under a financial guise. This was a debt trap that many are still struggling to free themselves from.
So what does China get out of all this? What is it’s “win”?
What China needs is continuous growth. It graduates six million students a year from its Universities (60% of which are in scientific and technology studies). It needs them to be able to pay for the demographic crunch that is coming as a result of the now-abandoned one child policy. China needs a thriving middle class, and social stability. That can only be achieved in a high growth economy.
One area of growth is its domestic economy, which still has tremendous unexploited growth potential. The other will be the new economies that will evolve along the BRI. They will be markets for Chinese goods, technology and infrastructure expertise. All have the potential for productive development after years of suppression under colonialism.
The Chinese rarely speak of market share and instead choose to focusing on a “a share of the pie”. They are baking lots of new pies.
China needs more from its BRI partners. China has 22% of the world’s population. It has less than 6 % of the Worlds arable land. It cannot feed its people without imported foodstuffs. The BRI will allow the undeveloped World to exploit their agricultural potential and allow it for the first time to access the world markets. Win-win.
China also needs huge quantities of the raw materials essential for its manufacturing industries.
By providing the missing infrastructure, it is allowing the African and South American countries to economically extract those resources and get them effectively to market. Win-win.
So back to America, where war is a business, and business is war.
It wasn’t China that sold out generations of yet unborn Americans to feed the military Industrial complex to the tune of nearly a trillion dollars/year. It wasn’t China that bailed out the criminal bankers for trillions more dollars. Money taken from the tax-payers and given to the banks to lend back to the public at interest.
Nor is China responsible for America’s crumbling infrastructure, or it’s failing school system. The culprit is a corporate culture that believes the world is full of winners and losers, and to that system, if you are not an greedy corporatist, you are just a loser.
There have been a reported 3000 attacks on Asians in America in recent months. Doubtless this has appalled the majority of decent Americans, as it has people around the world, particularly in Asia. It has been said, War is when your Government tells you who the enemy is, Revolution is when you figure it out for yourselves.
Americans, know your enemy, and it isn’t the Chinese.