Without a doubt, China has become the greatest adversarial threat to the United States’ global dominance. While China’s resurgence may surprise those in the West, it comes as no surprise to the rest of Asia. China’s rich history dates back to the Shang Dynasty over 3,000 years ago, making it one of the world’s four oldest civilizations along with Mesopotamia, Egypt and the Indus Valley.
China has the longest continuous history of any country in the world. While in the West, we might think of it as a nation of people lagging behind, China’s slow and steady pace is perhaps what has permitted it to outlive all other ancient civilizations.
China’s resurgence comes at an interesting time as the dynamics of a global superpower are somewhat up for grabs, as the United States faces multiple internal conflicts that threaten its position as the world’s superpower. This internal conflict couldn’t come at a more significant time for China. Some experts refer to it as the “Chinese Marshall Plan, a 21st-century silk road,” borrowing its name from the original Marshall Plan, also known as the European Recovery Program. This U.S. initiative provided aid to Western Europe following the devastation of World War II. The plan was enacted in 1948 and provided $15 billion to help rebuild efforts across Europe and ultimately helped to cement the U.S. as the world’s superpower. This was undoubtedly a momentous effort, but consider this: 1948 was only 74 years ago. This absolutely pales in comparison to even the shortest-lived Chinese dynasty, and while there are starch differences, the point remains that our culture pales in contrast to that of the Chinese. It is that advantage of adversarial competitions that bodes well for China, and its Asian neighbors are fully aware of it.
The advantage of an old civilization should not be underestimated. Its values, culture and heritage have been slowly perfected over thousands of years and are baked in every Chinese man, woman and child. The pride in their rich cultural history and their hunger and aptitude for education is one of the main reasons China’s progress has been amazingly rapid. Contrast China’s rich history to America, where people are spending time debating how many genders exist, and it’s no surprise that we find ourselves closer and closer to a faceoff with this rising power.
As China continues to climb, so do its global ambitions, starting with it seeking to reclaim the territory of Taiwan, whose independent political status was determined as a result of World War II, the second phase of the Chinese Civil War and the Cold War. Despite this, China remains that Taiwan is Chinese territory and belongs to China. This friction has caused the United States, an ally of Taiwan, to go on the offensive. Most recently, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi visited Taiwan, making her the most senior U.S. official to visit in 20 years, which received a strong rebuke from China.
Following Pelosi’s trip, the United States Navy sent two warships into the Taiwan Strait, making it the first U.S. naval transit in the waterway since tensions have spiked between the U.S. and China. China has since stated that it was “ready to thwart any provocation,” which shouldn’t be taken lightly by the U.S. What happens if things between the U.S. and China do escalate? If China ultimately decides to invade Taiwan, will the U.S. really provide direct military protection to the small island nation? Are we truly ready for escalation to a war with China, which has the second-largest military in the world? Such a war would be of epic proportions, the likes of which we haven’t seen since one of the major world wars. With technological advancements, the lethality of all attacks would make World War I and II look like child’s play.
The United States should not and cannot continue to be the sole protector of every small nation facing threats by a larger adversarial nation; it’s not in our domestic or international interests. Military conflicts would be prolonged, have a significant toll on the economy, and result in tens of thousands of casualties, and there is simply no appetite in the U.S. for such a massive conflict.
With that being said, there are other ways that we can challenge China. We should begin focusing on increasing our educational standards, specifically in math, science and technology. Leading the world on that front and renewing our interests in creating innovative minds and helping developing nations come of age through technology, education and economic progress is a way to win without war. That is how we challenge and ultimately beat the world’s oldest civilization today. War and military conflict aren’t the solution. Instead, altering our strategy for a more extended play would come as a great surprise to China, which likely views the U.S. as a nation only as capable as its military might. While there may be some truth to that theory, military strength cannot be the only tool in our toolbox.