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COMMENTARY: Ancient strategies lead growth

April 13, 2009

Winning without the need for violent warfare
The Washington Times
By Georgie Anne Geyer
April 11, 2009

In 1983, a long quarter-century ago, I made my
first trip to China and found a country barely
emerging from ancient days. Outside the major
cities, I slept, rather comfortably actually, on
bulky straw mattresses in many local hotels.
China was not clean at all in those days — we
wondered how the Chinese could possibly get so
many dirty fingerprints inside the water glasses in our rooms.

Beijing itself should have been called Drab Inc.
It was gray and sandy, without the relief of
contrasting colors because the sand poured
seemingly without surcease into the city from the
deserts that surround it. Even old Shanghai, now
ablaze with lights, melodrama and international
intrigue, was a gray, unimposing city.

After dinner, when there was little to do,
particularly in many of the smaller towns, I
would sit on my straw mattress and read "The Art
of War" by Sun Tzu, the great Chinese military
strategist of the third and fourth centuries B.C.
In sharp contrast to the strategists of the West,
who believed in the all-out destruction of the
enemy's cities and people, the discreet and
thoughtful Sun Tzu urged extensive use of
deception, of psychological war and of nonviolent methods of "warfare."

"What is of extreme importance in war," he wrote,
"is to attack the enemy's strategy." Above all,
"To subdue the enemy without fighting is the acme of skill."

Now, perhaps I have grown a little crazy (or
crazier?) in the past few months as our financial
world has collapsed — and with that collapse have
come many threats to our social and psychological
well-being — but it seems to me that Sun Tzu has
a lot to say to us today. China unquestionably is
rising — but it is rising in exactly the way the
ancient strategist advised and in the manner that
always was so natural to the Middle Kingdom.

China, after all, literally owns the United
States. In contrast to the dreary droopiness of
Western economies, China is still growing at 6
percent to 8 percent a year. China's banking
system is valued at several trillion dollars, and
more than 100 million credit cards are in use in
China. Even before the gathering of the Group of
20 of the world's richest countries, Beijing was
warning the United States to take proper care of
its $1 trillion in Treasury holdings through
responsible policy and suggesting a possible new
global currency to replace the dollar as the world standard.

Some elements within China are up and ready for
an all-out ideological assault on the West,
expressed nowhere more prominently than in a new
Chinese book, really a collection of scholarly
essays, the provocative "Unhappy China."

The authors argue that China has been too
deferential to a Western world that has been
hostile and unfair to China, and they have gained
quite a new audience for Chinese nationalism. But
the most amazing thing, given China's colonialist
history and American financial sloppiness, is
that this new nationalism does not seem to be the
principal reaction in the country to the Western
meltdown. Look instead to that old and trusted sage Sun Tzu.

While the new China, which began in the late
1980s with the quasi-capitalist measures inspired
by Singapore's brilliant founder Lee Kuan Yew,
carried through by the pragmatic Chinese leader
Deng Xiaoping, remained stubbornly communist and
anti-West, the country's leadership was dutifully
carrying through Sun Tzu's complex and gradually revelatory dictums.

They were not going to attack the West (God
forbid!); they were not even going to attack
Taiwan, even though they claimed it as an
integral, historic part of China — oh no, nothing
so Western barbarian! To the contrary, they were
going to discreetly, slowly, gradually "win."
They would target the West's — and particularly
America's — vulnerable "center of gravity," which
was not its military, but its arrogant and
wasteful financial system. And so they gradually
bought us up, just as Sun Tzu advised those
centuries ago, to steadily disarm and outlast the enemies of China.

Take the revealing example of the mainland and
Taiwan. For years, everyone thought China would
overtly attack Taiwan. Indeed, it set up missiles
along the coast facing the island and threatened
cyberwarfare. Today, however, it appears far
likelier that China will simply absorb Taiwan
peacefully, and perhaps even happily.

After a prominent delegation of the conservative
American Foreign Policy Council went to China
this winter, the council's Ilan Berman wrote in
the official report of China's attitude toward
the ultimate inevitability of reunification:

"There appears to be good reason for Beijing's
optimism. Since mid-2008, China-Taiwan relations
have improved markedly. … Fully a quarter of all
Taiwanese are now estimated to have visited the
Mainland, and tourism from Taiwan is increasing
at a rate of roughly 30 percent a year. … These
warming ties are viewed by Chinese officials as
part of a lengthy and ongoing process. … Based on
these developments, Chinese officials now say
that movement toward reunification is 'unstoppable.'"

None of this means, of course, that Beijing will
not, or could not, or would not respond violently
outside of its borders, just as it does against
protesters within. We already have the cases of
the takeover of Tibet and the destruction of
Uighur nationalism in Xinjiang province. But when
it comes to the United States in particular and
the West in general, China's response is likely
to be a continuation of the Sun Tzu ideas.

This may seem like cause for rejoicing, but the
United States should think carefully about
uncorking the champagne. More than likely, the Chinese already own the bottle.

* Georgie Anne Geyer is a nationally syndicated columnist.

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