Will China become the world’s sole superpower?
Remarks at the International Democrat Union (IDU) Forum
I remember as a young man reading a science fiction book that described the world in 2100. It referenced the United States as a once powerful country that had been eclipsed by other great powers.
 
My reaction was that that could never happen—the author was just trying to shock us.
 
It’s hard for us to recognize that conditions as we have always known them, could change in dramatic and fundamental ways.
 
The difficulty is even greater when we fervently don’t want things to change, when the specter of a sharply different world is frightening and ugly.
 
It is human nature to give troubling developments the most beneficent interpretation for which the Chinese Communist Party has long been a beneficiary.
 
Vice President Biden remarked at the beginning of his campaign that: “[The Chinese] aren’t bad folks..they aren’t competition for us.”
 
Mayor Bloomberg offered the same somnolent view on China last week.
 
I believe that a dispassionate analysis of China leads to three possible outcomes:
 
First, China becomes the sole global superpower—economically, militarily and geopolitically— by the middle of this century.
 
Second, China’s ascension will be disrupted and halted by internal turmoil.
 
Or third, China will be dissuaded from seeking global domination and instead becomes a responsible member of the global order.
 
The first scenario is the most likely because of what China is doing and because of what we are not doing.
 
China has a comprehensive, rigorous strategy to achieve global domination. The tip of its spear today is economic aggression. We are all aware of its practice of forced technology transfer for any company seeking to access its market. We are also broadly aware of outright technology theft. One stark example in my state involves a manufacturer of integrated circuits. The company, Micron, has developed processes so competitively powerful that it decided not to publish them in a patent application but instead, it guarded them as trade secrets. Chinese spies stole the technology, then patented it in China, then brought suit against Micron for violating its patents.
 
Cyber spying is also one of China’s tools. American companies endure literally thousands of hacking attempts every day. How many of these hacks are successful we really don’t know but the F-35 example is instructive. The development plans of our most advanced fighter jet were successfully hacked by the Chinese for two entire years.
 
Counterfeiting is another vehicle for technology theft. Another Utah company reported that its medical devices are copied by Chinese businesses, then packaged in identical containers, complete with that company’s own logos and serial numbers, and sent to markets around the world as if they came from that company itself.
 
One insidious vehicle for technology theft is China’s Thousand Talents program. Chinese students attending college in the west are paid to regularly transmit technology and trade secrets to China. The Chinese media describes this theft as “picking flowers in foreign lands to make honey in China.”
 
Predatory business practice is another dimension of its economic strategy. China subsidizes target industries with high growth or military potential. These businesses are introduced into the west with prices well below the cost of their western competitors. The Chinese businesses inevitably take over the market, driving the western companies out of business. 20 years ago, China had 5% of the world steel market; today it has 50%.
 
Chinese predatory practice has other forms. It recently purchased a stainless steel company in Indonesia. Indonesia has 80% of the global supply of nickel, an essential ingredient for stainless steel. Following China’s investment there, Indonesia announced that it would no longer export any nickel. Guess what that means for the price and availability of nickel for China’s competitors in the west?
 
Belt and Road may not yet be fully predatory, but it will surely be in the future. China owns and has built 42 ports in 34 countries and it is building roads throughout Asia, the Middle East and North Africa. These secure the rare earth materials that are essential for the production of high tech products.
 
The ports also have obvious military purpose as they are often located at major choke points of global trade.
 
So while we are stalled in a trillion dollar effort to upgrade our domestic infrastructure, China is already spending a trillion dollars building infrastructure in foreign countries. I can assure you that they aren’t doing this out of compassion and charity.
 
China endeavors to lull our complacency about their ambition by establishing Confucius Institutes at our Universities and High Schools. Our colleges get free professors and buildings from China; China gets eyes and ears to track Chinese nationals here and to spread placating propaganda among our youth.
 
China is quietly building its military strength. I take no comfort in the reports of our relative military budgets. First, they don’t report all that they are spending. Second, most of our spending is on personnel—salaries, housing, healthcare, maintenance, and the like. They don’t pay their soldiers what we do. They are spending their money on technologies and weapons that they believe would blind our satellites, shut down our aircraft and sink our ships.
 
China’s path to domination is eased by what the west is not doing. The only way a relatively small country like us can confront a much larger country like china is by linking arms with our friends. But rather than linking arms, we are shouting America First. We are squishy about NATO. We abandoned the TPP. Nationalism is all the rage. Like Russia, China understands the effectiveness of “divide and conquer,” and we are merrily following their playbook.
 
One last comment about this scenario and about China’s actions which I have described. China is being smart. They’re doing exactly what they believe is right for China. I don’t intend to blame them or to disparage them. No, I want to wake us up; it is up to us to convince them that there is a better path than the one they have chosen.
 
The second scenario for China’s future is a disrupting discontinuity due to China’s domestic problems. China’s population and workforce will shrink, a lot. They are addressing this by investing heavily in automation. China lacks energy and raw materials. They are addressing these with their belt and road. And China has a history of revolution. This they are addressing this in ways reminiscent of repressive regimes in world history, but armed with modern technology.
 
Recently leaked documents reveal the extent and the horror of China’s persecution on Uighurs and other ethnic populations; they are imprisoned in concentration camps with brainwashing and forced labor. Children are separated from their parents. When fathers are taken, Chinese men are sent into their home to “monitor” their wives. There are approximately one million Uighurs in such camps.
 
Everyday Chinese are assigned a social score. This score is adjusted based upon what someone views on the internet or who they talk to and what events they attend as identified by facial recognition cameras. Low scores mean low paying jobs, or worse.
 
Opinions and news are shaped by state-run media and by censors hard at work, keeping their people from hearing that revolutionary, Wolf Blitzer.
 
Chinese leaders fear religion. Accordingly, China insists that crosses be removed from churches and that they are replaced with the Chinese flag, that the national anthem is sung in all church services, that church officials are approved by the government, and that the only legal Bible that may be purchased is the one the government has re-written.
 
So while China faces potential internal turmoil, it is relentless in preventing and crushing it.
 
The final scenario is a China that is a great but responsible player on the world stage. This result will require us to act.
 
Rather than withdrawing from the world and attenuating our alliances, we should engage in the world and strengthen our alliances. We should confront China together—not alone— on its trade practices, insisting that counterfeiting, technology theft, predatory pricing, subsidization, market denial, and all other predatory practices cease immediately or lose free access to our markets. Products with military application, should be sourced only from free countries. Insisting on fair trade practices is not hostility, it is sanity.
 
And as the leader of the free world, we should lead the development with our allies of a comprehensive strategy designed to convince China that it is in its best interest to change its ambition from dominating the world to instead collaborating and competing in the world.
 
We are a long way from entering the path I have suggested. Our citizens are unaware of the threat we face and too many politicians think only about winning the next election. How to change these realities is a great challenge we all face.