The Los Angeles Times
Perspectives on China, 31 October, 1997

Andy Messing Jr.

Army Is Key to the Chinese Puzzle

Congress passed most favored nation trade status for China this summer after a bruising debate. Turmoil was then generated because of the threatened acquisition of the former U.S. naval port at Long Beach by a front company for the Chinese military. Hearings continue in Congress about how Chinese money was injected into our political process. Chinese President Jiang Zemin was targeted for demonstrations by a coalition of religious and human rights groups during his summit with President Clinton, who hoped to discuss severe trade imbalances and major security problems generated by China. All these problems and more are causing America and communist China to slip into a point of major confrontation.

The main reason for this increasing tension is that America does not fully fathom China's complex design. Just breaking it into three digestible power spheres gives a small measure of its intent. The first is the political/diplomatic sphere centered in Beijing. It placates our government with words of cooperation and good relations while ignoring treaties on things like nuclear test bans and proliferation. The politicians' soft conversations create an illusion of diplomatic cooperation, even though their actions are different.

The second is the business/commerce sphere of Shanghai that Wall Street kowtows to and gets taken by. This economic abuse is graphically illustrated by our $44-billion annual trade deficit with China. Our business sector seems blinded by the sheer greed of Chinese markets with nebulous "free and fair" business opportunities, while in reality the markets are manhandled by free and unfair trade practices.

The third sphere is the unrestrained communist military/industrial complex, whose sense of manifest destiny and anti-Western, antidemocratic leadership is the tail that wags the dog in this contemporary Chinese power structure. This leadership is much like Japan's xenophobic military/industrial complex of the 1930s.

It appears that our two countries are in an accelerating low-grade conflict now. Futurists are predicting confrontation, around 2005 to 2010, with our forces being defeated in a sea, air and space battle.

Since 1988, we have slashed our military budget 27%. At the same time, China has increased its detectable military budget by 54% and is in a focused modernization program. And the Chinese numbers do not include advances through industrial espionage, "super weapon" proliferation and conventional arms trafficking. Ironically, American businesses have naively assisted the Chinese through technology and material transfers in areas like aerospace and super computers of the 2,000-plus MTOPS (millions of theoretical operations per second) type.

The Chinese military/industrial complex has a long memory of alleged and real transgressions by America predating the Vietnam and Korean wars; some even go back as far as the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1881. While Beijing and Shanghai talk peace, cooperation and trade, the military openly denounces and intrigues against the United States. This militarist sphere is articulating its preparation for an imbroglio with us for the premier position of world leadership. This is confirmed in top secret intercepts by multiple intelligence services and in speeches by Chinese military leaders. And the Chinese have aligned themselves with such anti-Western powers as Iran, North Korea and Libya.

To counter this threat, we must understand Chinese thinking. This means learning the strategies of the ancient warrior-philosopher Sun-Tzu, who wrote "The Art of War," a text memorized to this day by the Chinese military. "Control others without being controlled," he wrote. And, "When you wish to do battle, make it appear that you do not."

F. Andy Messing Jr., a retired Army special forces major, is executive director of the National Defense Council Foundation.