The book, China’s Vision of Victory, authored by Jonathan D.T. Ward, 316pp, Atlas Publishing, March 2019 was reviewed by Tanner Greer in a review article, Can American Values Survive in a Chinese World?, published in Foreign Policy, pp 68-70, Fall 2019 (foreignpolicy.com, 10/12/2019). Dr. Jonathan D.T. Ward is a multi-lingual China-India relations specialist with a doctorate from the University of Oxford. He had spent over a decade living and traveling in Russia, China, India, Latin America, Europe, and the Middle East. He speaks Russian, Chinese, Spanish, and Arabic. Dr. Ward, a frequently invited speaker, founded the company, Atlas, a consulting firm advising American companies doing business in China, etc. He was interviewed on Fox News but as usual the questions were brief tailored with Fox’s current interest such as the Hong Kong protests rather than getting into his book. Tanner Greer, a writer and strategist residing in Taiwan, on the other hand, did make some analysis of Ward’s book with his own opinion in his review. However, Greer’s opinion and America mass media’s narrative (such as Fox, CNN, ...) on China’s foreign policy often contain a deep bias revealed by Ward’s book and visible in Greer’s review. Hence, a review on the review and the book is meaningful.
Ward with his credentials as a keen observer of Chinese politics operates his political consultancy from Washington. His book title certainly catches attention of many people concerned with US-China Relations. With China rising rapidly gaining wealth and power relative to her peers in the world, what do the leaders in China hope to achieve with the nation’s new found clout is the central question posed in Ward’s book. Greer said that Ward’s simple answer to the question is ‘supremacy’. Greer cites Ward’s book as a useful anecdote to “the delusion that Chinese leaders seek nothing more than to roll back U.S. hegemony in the Western Pacific (or just satisfied by becoming the dominant East Asian power). Ward guided readers through many Chinese official documents to show how wide-ranging the Chinese leaders’ ambitions are, from projecting the strength of People’s Liberation Army (PLA) to be second to none by 2050 to a China-centered future where the U.S. led system will be discarded and a community of common destiny for mankind will emerge.
Ward traces the Chinese desire to shape the future of all mankind to a notion being taught to schoolchildren: China was once the center of the world (the mother of invention, the seat of wealth and the beacon of civilization) - China’s natural role in the world order - a role disrupted by a century of humiliation, foreign invasions. The age of suffering is over and now comes the “national rejuvenation”. Ward stresses repeatedly that the popularity of national rejuvenation ideal lies much more outside of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP). However, Greer expresses objection to Ward’s view by claiming that Ward is wrong about CCP not being the driving force behind China’s foreign policy. Greer discounts Ward’s conversations with common folks and his findings in Chinese books and think-tank reports, rather Greer claims that the critical issue is what the Chinese leaders in Zhongnanhai believes on which Ward has nothing to report.
Greer technically agrees with Ward’s implicit question throughout his book: whether the U.S. should acquiesce to China’s vision of victory? Greer’s reasoning is plausible since he says that the U.S. is a strong nuclear-armed nation blessed with rich resources, with positive influx of immigrants, and situated between two oceans with no near-enemy. China would not pose a credible geopolitical threat to the U.S. However, Greer raised the issue of ideological threat that the Chinese leaders are locked in what Xi Jinping has called “fierce competition” ... in the ideological sphere.” “The Chinese leaders assert that this ideological competition threatens the existence of the CCP and to national rejuvenation.” Greer further writes, “This is the root motivation behind the “interference” and “influence” operations conducted by the West.” These operations are not just about shaping the opinions of foreign policy elites in China but also aim at the enemies China’s leaders fear the most, from Christians and Ulghurs fleeing from religious persecution to Taiwanese, Hong Kongers, etc. who live in America. Ideological threat may be greater than geopolitical threat, however, Greer is outdated and wrong in emphasizing CCP’s fear of ideology threat and CCP being an insecure regime, as I shall explain below.
Greer’s above logic may be acceptable when the Communist China was just established. The U.S. being the strongest nation was holding the anti-Communism flag and leading the world against Communism. Mainland China was a new Republic facing an opposing regime retreated to Taiwan. The Ideological threat of ‘Democracy against Communism’ was genuinely felt by CCP, but China experimented with Communism with failures and bitter lessons for nearly three decades. Then China changed her ideology by gingerly embracing capitalism and reforming her own socialism. The U.S. later recognized China acknowledging Taiwan as a part of China. The U.S. engaged China causing the collapse of Soviet Union in 1990, a victory year for ‘anti-Communism’. China went on with her reform and economic development to become world’s second largest economy, but the U.S. still held her anti-Communism flag even though the number of Communist countries dwindled significantly. So the ideology battle of ‘Democracy vs Communism’ is gradually replaced with the inter-nation competition and geopolitical conflicts.
Among top twenty high GDP countries, fewer countries are democratic. China’s rapid rise certainly cannot be attributable to Democracy neither attributable to pure Communism. After three-four decades of continuous economic growth propelled by China’s political/economic reform, CCP certainly deserves credit for her hard work and success. At the same time, many Western democratic countries went into turmoil some bankrupted. Therefore, it is China who cannot understand why the U.S. is still obsessed with ideology threat or fear of Communism which had been abandoned in Eastern Europe, Southeast Asia and Latin America. China proclaims “non-interference” doctrine in her foreign policy but she gets plenty of problems coming from external influence and interference. China was able to lift several hundreds of millions of people above poverty including Tibetans, Ulghurs and other minorities living in the western part of China. The ever self-confident Chinese (billion people) are wondering why the strongest U.S. is insecure and wants to interfere and influence China’s domestic issues? No wonder, Ward finds Chinese people so positive about national rejuvenation. Greer said correctly that geopolitical threat is easy to handle but with the wrong argument. Geopolitical threat boils down to national economic interests, problems solvable with economic solutions or money. For instance, South China Sea islands disputes, the involved countries are finding solutions barring external political interference. So are the India-Pakistan-China or Korea-Japan-China problems all solvable if external political influence were removed. I would say Ward’s book can shed some light for the American foreign policy elites if they remove “the ideology threat” bias. From foreign policy point of view, the U.S. should not use ideology as an excuse to influence and interfere in other nations’ domestic issues. What is the real justification for wasting so much resources on soft power, interference and influence operations in the name of ideology threat to topple other regimes?
Take Hong Kong’s protest as an example, Hong Kong citizens enjoy more freedom and democracy than most people in Asia, even more freedom than US citizens judging on how Hong Kongers got away with riot for four months. Americans can never get away with any violent protest. China is gaining self-confidence every day; Hong Kong situation will be remembered as a political lesson for her citizens. The U.S. and China are simply two great nations in competition, neither affordable to have a war. If both sides remove insecurity from non-existent “ideology threat”, any conflicting problems can be avoided. Most American Values can survive in a Chinese World since most Chinese are used to adapting beneficial American values through their system reform. The U.S. can also benefit from China’s rejuvenation.
Ifay Chang. Ph.D., Inventor, Author, TV Game Show Host and Columnist (www.us-chinaforum.org) as well as serving as Trustee, Somers Central School District.