Two established hawks of the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) have warned against confronting the United States, signalling rifts inside the Chinese elite on Beijing’s current policy of opening multiple points of military friction in the Indo-Pacific. Dai Xu and Qiao Liang, both Generals at National Defence University (NDU) of the PLA have written articles, which argue that the balance of power in China-US relations is not in Beijing’s favour.
China, therefore, needs an urgent course correction. While Dai, Professor at the Institute of Strategic Studies, NDU, has listed concrete factors that explain why China will be decisively second-bested by the US, Qiao focuses on the derivative of the adverse power equation with Washington. He points out that a military attack on Taiwan when the world’s attention is diverted by Covid-19, would trigger an energetic blowback. The two military intellectuals point out that under the current international situation, the Wolf Warrior mentality—the name given to China’s current in-your-face military and foreign policy—will pull Beijing into serial disasters.
The subtext of the arguments is clear. Rather than pursue an aggressive policy that has been currently adopted by Chinese leader Xi Jinping, Beijing should retreat to the lie-low-and-grow pragmatism of Deng Xiaoping, the country’s former leader and architect of China’s reforms. Dai points out that China needs to urgently re-evaluate its understanding of the US. He warns that unless Beijing re-tunes its ideological perceptions of the US, China will be in danger of making serious mistakes.
The veteran general asserts that China should neither underestimate Washington’s power nor the loyalty of American politicians to their country. “Don’t think of Imperial America as a “paper tiger”. It‘ s a “real tiger”, that kills people,” warns the general. He adds: “Don’t think of American politicians as gentlemen. They are not philanthropists. They are extremely loyal to their country and voters. They are not easily bought. They are only loyal to their voters. They will do everything to satisfy their voters.”
Second, the Americans are fully capable of learning from their mistakes and capable of carrying out a radical course correction, if required. “All Presidents have their own governing ideas and methods, but their principles remain the same.
One of the significant characteristics of Imperial America is that once a national strategy goes wrong, a new government will make an 180-degree change to it without hesitation, changing their policies faster than flipping a page in a book.” Dai also points out that the Chinese need to understand that the Americans are unbending in zealously guarding their economic and trade interests, and Beijing must attune itself to this reality. “The key goal of American Imperialism is foreign trade. So don’t take too much advantage of the Americans, especially do not pursue trade surplus blindly. When you’re making millions, make sure to be at their service, share the profits, and don’t pocket it all alone!,” counseled the general.
Fourth, the military academic recommends that China should learn from Japan. It should therefore keep a low profile and not announce that, “I shall surpass you, replace you and be the world’s number one”. The context of the pragmatic general’s observation is significant, as it ties with President Xi’s address in October 2017 at the end of the 19th congress of the Communist Party of China (CPC). During that twice a decade conference, Xi announced a road map, meant for China’s unrivaled global ascendancy by 2050. “Even if you are ambitious and capable of doing so, you should disguise it and keep a low profile.
The American Imperialists are particularly worried about themselves being replaced and the Japanese have a better understanding of this.” Dai also nails that it is fruitless for China to try and engineer rifts between Washington and its allies. “Therefore, do not flatter the American Imperialists or its allies. Its allies only have close bonds with the American Imperialists. They will never be truly friendly to you; business is business, especially do not play the buddy-buddy card.” The remarks are important following China’s sustained charm offensive, including Xi’s frequent visits to Europe—Germany, France as well as Central and Eastern Europe.
The hard-headed General calls upon his countrymen to avoid hubris, and accept the US as the world’s “number one”. “Imperial America controls far more resources than we do. We can ‘overtake on a corner’, but it’s temporary. We still need to catch up on a ‘straight road’. Imperial America controls high technology.
We are only in digestion and absorption of their technology. Do not tout ‘digestion and absorption’ as ‘innovation’. It won’t fudge the American Imperialists, but you will mislead yourselves.” He also warns that China should stop talking about “sharing technologies” as this will deeply affront the US, which pays special attention to protecting its intellectual property. “Do not talk to them about the ‘Internet economy’ either. It’ll be like teaching your grandmother to suck eggs.
The internet you’re using was invented by Imperial America. You’re building a house on someone else’s foundation, so don’t claim the ownership of the property. One won’t die being low-key, but bragging scares people,” cautions the general. Dai stresses that China should not hope that in case Donald Trump is removed from the Presidency, the US will soften its approach towards the Middle Kingdom. “The core strategy of Imperial America never changes.
‘Make America Great Again’ isn’t just Trump’s personal idea. Rather, it reflects America’s national ideology. Imperial America’s electoral system allows adjustments to the strategy, but their national interests decide that they are in seek of hegemony.” He also sounded the alarm that the US is a master at playing “strategic games”. So once Washington considers you as their “enemy” then you are in big trouble, for they “will never stop until their goal is reached”. General Qiao, sharing his colleague’s realism argues that China shouldn’t think of the coronavirus pandemic as an opportunity to seize Taiwan by force. He anticipates that it was unlikely that the US would engage in a direct war with China.
Instead, “the Americans will form an alliance with Western countries to impose blockades and sanctions on China, particularly using its sea and air superiority to cut off China’s maritime lifeline, blocking China from importing resources needed for the manufacturing industry or exporting commodities”.