The Hundred-Year Marathon: China's Secret Strategy to Replace America as the Global Superpower
, by Michael Pillsbury.
Release Date: February 3, 2015.
Reviewed by Wendell Minnick, Asia Bureau Chief
TAIPEI - Defense News was given a sneak peek at the manuscript of Michael Pillsbury's new book, "The Hundred-Year Marathon: China's Secret Strategy to Replace America as the Global Superpower", due for public release on February 3.
This book is a mixed genre of memoir, analysis, and history. The author, and it is indeed Pillsbury (I can hear his voice in my head when I read it), uses the first-person in much of the book. Pillsbury describes his involvement in US-China government issues, relating his ties with the CIA, FBI, and Pentagon over a 40-year career of China-watching. In many ways, it is shameless self-promotion as Pillsbury inserts himself into history with redundant "I, me, my" injects throughout the text. Those interested in a far more critical analysis of Pillsbury's modus operandi can go no further than Soyoung Ho's "Panda Slugger" in the Washington Monthly in the July/August 2006 issue.
One central thesis of this book is that the hawks in China have successfully persuaded the Chinese leadership to view the U.S. as a dangerous hegemon that it must replace.
Pillsbury claims it took the artsy firebombing of a Christmas tree at Washington's National Mall to raise his curiosity as to why the Smithsonian's Sackler Gallery was honoring famed Chinese artist Cai Guo Qiang, who designed the bizarre fireworks display in November 2012. It further baffled Pillsbury as to why then Secretary of State Hillary Clinton was presenting the same man with a gold medal and a check of $250,000, courtesy of the taxpayers, for an event dubbed the "Black Christmas Tree."
The debris from the event, which he witnessed, took two months to clean up. "I don't know if any of the guests contemplated why they were watching a Chinese artist blow up a symbol of the Christian faith in the middle of the nation's capital less than a month before Christmas," but it is obvious the event caused him to rethink America's relationship with China.
Begging to know more about Cai, Pillsbury went to work digging through Chinese-language websites and archives trying to learn more about the artist. What he discovered further infuriated him. "The artist raised eyebrows when he said that the terrorist attack of September 11, 2001, was a 'spectacle' for the world audience, as if it were – in some twisted sense – a work of art." Pillsbury further discovered that Cai had proclaimed that his favorite book was "Unrestricted Warfare: War and Strategy in the Globalization Era, a work of military analysis in which two Chinese colonels recommended that Beijing 'use asymmetrical warfare, including terrorism, to attack the United States.'"
Pillsbury concludes that Americans must finally come to grips with a clear understanding of what China has in store for us. In addition, this must begin by facing down false assumptions America has with China.
False Assumption #1
Engagement Brings Complete Cooperation
For four decades now, Pillsbury claims that he and many China watchers in Washington believed that "engagement" with the Chinese would induce Beijing to cooperate with the West on a wide range of policy problems. Well, it has been a failure. Trade and technology were supposed to lead to a convergence of Chinese and Western views on questions of regional and global order. This has also flopped. In short, China has failed to meet nearly all of our rose expectations. Instead, China has done everything it can to thwart reconstruction efforts and economic development in Afghanistan, it has provided support to anti-Western groups in Sudan, Iran, North Korea, and the Taliban.
False Assumption #2
China is on the Road to Democracy
There is no evidence China is moving towards democracy and that the Chinese Communist Party is on the verge on extinction. China is moving towards "authoritarian resilience" and the Party could survive for decades without change.
False Assumption #3
China, The Fragile Flower
Many China watchers have expressed worry that if the United States pressed China too hard to have elections, free dissidents, to extend the rule of law, and to treat ethnic minorities fairly, then this pressure would lead to the collapse of the Chinese state – causing chaos throughout Asia. The worst parts of the Bible.
Yet the fact is that China's already robust GDP is predicted to continue to grow by at least 7 or 8 percent, thereby surpassing that of the United States by 2018 at the earliest. "While we worried about China's woes, its economy more than doubled."
False Assumption #4
China Wants to Be – And Is – Just Like Us
"In our hubris, Americans love to believe that the aspiration of every other country is to be just like the United States." There is no evidence in today's China that they seek to match and mirror our society. However, Chinese visitors will often cite their love for our country and a deep interest in our culture and lifestyles, Pillsbury warns that Chinese literature and writings indicate this is based on a strategy of deception. "Whereas Americans tended to favor direct action, those of Chinese ethnic origin were found to favor the indirect over the direct, ambiguity and deception over clarity and transparency."
False Assumption #5
China's Hawks Are Weak
Pillsbury claims that over time he discovered proposals by Chinese hawks (ying pai) to the Chinese leadership to mislead and manipulate American policymakers to obtain intelligence and military, technology, and economic assistance. The hawks have been advising Chinese leaders since Mao Zedong to avenge a century of humiliation by the West and to supplant the West as the next global economic, military, and political power.
According to Pillsbury, the plan has become known as "the Hundred-Year Marathon" from 1949 to 2049. "The goal is to avenge or wipe-clean (xi xue) past foreign humiliations." Then China will set up a world order that will be fair to China, a world without American global supremacy, and revise the U.S.-dominated economic and geopolitical world order founded at Bretton Woods at the end of World War II.
What Pillsbury must confess to is that he was very much a supporter of all five of these assumptions over most of his career. He claimed that he wore the "panda hugger" badge of honor for decades. The term "panda hugger" ("red team") is often ascribed to a person who serves as an apologist of China's more diabolical activities and policies. Pillsbury does not reveal the opposite, which is known as a "dragon-slayer" or "panda slugger" ("blue team").
Pillsbury is convinced that after decades of studying China, these hard-line views are not fringe, but are very much in the mainstream of Chinese geostrategic thought. The strength of the Hundred-Year Marathon, however, is that it operates through stealth. To borrow from the movie Fight Club, the first rule of the Marathon is that you do not talk about the Marathon.
But the Chinese are beginning to talk about the notion more openly – perhaps because they realize it may already be too late for America to keep pace, he writes. When the U.S. economy was battered during the global financial crisis of 2008, the Chinese believed America's long-anticipated and unrecoverable decline was beginning.
Now with a new robust leader in power in Beijing, President Xi Jinping, all the assumptions of America's China apologists could be coming to an abrupt end. Like John F. Kennedy, Xi has a "China dream" that places a resurgent China at the rightful top of the global hierarchy. Xi has picked up the hawk's mantra of fuxing zhi lu or "the road to renewal."
Pillsbury believes that after China achieves a win on the economic marathon, it will push towards a win in the military marathon in what could be a four-to-one military advantage over the U.S. "The world's largest economy will need a force more powerful than any other – one that would eventually render American military power obsolete."
Pillsbury looks to the Warring States Period of Chinese history as the template for today's hawks in Beijing. The nine principle elements of Chinese strategy include the following:
1. Induce complacency to avoid alerting your opponent.
2. Manipulate your opponent's advisers. "Such efforts have been a hallmark of China's relations with the United States."
3. Be patient – for decades, or longer – to achieve victory.
4. Steal your opponent's ideas and technology for strategic purposes.
5. Military might is not the critical factor for winning a long-term competition. "This partly explains why China has not devoted more resources to developing larger, more powerful military forces. Rather than relying on a brute accumulation of strength, Chinese strategy advocates targeting an enemy's weak points and biding one's time."
6. Recognize that the hegemon will take extreme, even reckless action to retain its dominant position. Pillsbury writes that in today's context – "the United States will not go quietly into the night as its power declines relative to others."
7. Never lose sight of shi. Pillsbury writes that the two elements of shi are critical components of Chinese strategy: "deceiving others into doing your bidding for you, and waiting for the point of maximum opportunity to strike."
8. Establish and employ metrics for measuring your status relative to other potential challengers. "Chinese strategy places a high premium on assessing China's relative power, during peacetime and in the event of war, across a plethora of dimensions beyond just military considerations. The United States, by contrast, has never attempted to do this."
9. Always be vigilant to avoid being encircled or deceived by others. "In what could be characterized as a deeply ingrained sense of paranoia, China's leaders believe that because all other potential rivals are out to deceive them, China must respond with its own duplicity."
To further emphasis his points that the hawks are dangerous, Pillsbury said that while studying Mandarin as a young man, "we memorized a well-known proverb intended to sum up Chinese history: wai ru, nei fa (on the outside, be benevolent; on the inside, be ruthless)."
He writes that the reason the Warring States Period is a perfect metaphor for today is that the period began with a tale of two neighboring kingdoms, one rising [China], one falling [U.S.] in relative power. The victor wins the war after the enemy asks the strength of his armory, which reveals his intent to attack him. The lesson is famous, he writes, "never ask the weight of the emperor's cauldron's." In other words, do not let the enemy know you are a rival, until it is too late for him to stop you. "On the international level, if you are a rising power, you must manipulate the perceptions of the dominant world power to not be destroyed by it," Pillsbury writes.
China rejects the idea common in the Western world that mercantilism has been rendered obsolete by the success of free markets and free trade. Instead, China embraces mercantilism by maintaining a system of high tariffs, gaining direct control of natural resources, and protection of domestic manufacturing, all designed to build up China's monetary reserves.
Additionally, the Chinese intelligence service routinely steals technology and competitive information to assist its corporate leaders. In the U.S., it is deemed unethical and often illegal for the CIA to provide American corporations with intelligence to increase the nation's economic growth. "In my forty years in the U.S. government, I have never heard of a case in which the U.S. intelligence community was tasked to attempt to increase America's GDP in such a way.
Pillsbury suggests that CIA translator and Chinese double-agent Larry Wu-Tai Chin provided Beijing "countless classified U.S. documents regarding China to the Chinese government" and paved the way for Beijing to best facilitate Nixon's secret negotiations to their advantage.
The book also overviews the various joint covert military cooperation between China and the U.S. over the past fifty years, including a joint signal intelligence program along the Soviet border, supplying Chinese weapons to CIA-backed rebels in Angola, Cambodia, and Afghanistan during the 1980s.
Pillsbury and colleagues were concerned Chinese weapons could be used by Afghan rebels for commando raids into Soviet territory. However, Pillsbury was "taken aback at the ruthlessness of Beijing's ambition" when Chinese officials said that it was not a problem. CIA lawyers were against the raids arguing it could result in "outright assassination" and that the local CIA station chief "might end up in handcuffs." Therefore, commando raids into Soviet territory were killed, even though they were "favored by the Chinese as a way to bring down the Russian hegemon." The Chinese viewed them as a "useful psychological shock effect on the declining hegemon."
Pillsbury introduces the reader to a variety of Chinese defectors who gave insights into Beijing's strategic thinking, one of which he dubs as "Mr. White" and "Ms. Green." White revealed broad plans by Beijing for sweeping promotion campaigns that would boost nationalism and eradicate any further Tiananmen Square style protests, debates over the positive aspects of democracy, and question Party leadership. White revealed that since Tiananmen all Chinese textbooks have been rewritten to depict the U.S. as a hegemon that, for more than 150 years, has stifled China's rise and destroyed the "soul of Chinese civilianization." This reeducation is innocuously dubbed the "National Patriotic Education Program." China also uses the Confucius Institutes located in American universities to promote positive views of China and discourage discussion about Taiwan, Tibet, and the Tiananmen Square massacre.
Unfortunately, Pillsbury said the U.S. intelligence community quickly dismissed Mr. White's insights in favor of Ms. Green's. Opposed to Mr. White, who asked for nothing in exchange for his views, Ms. Green demanded $2 million. She asserted the hawks were "fringe thinkers, out of the mainstream, quite elderly, and rapidly losing what little influence they still had." Unlike Mr. White, she did not reveal the names of any Chinese spies in the U.S., but too many people in the intelligence community found her convincing as she supported a growing consensus that China was a struggling nation in need of American understanding, as it became a mature and productive partner in international affairs.
Pillsbury makes one mistake that leads to Ms. Green's identification to the reader. Though he never mentions her name, he does give the date of her arrest for working as a double agent for China – April 9, 2003 – the same day that Katrina Leung (aka Parlor Maid) was arrested. Leung single-handedly destroyed the FBI's China counterintelligence section, according to David Wise's 2011 book on the scandal, "Tiger Trap: America's Secret War with China."
The mismanagement of the FBI's counter-intelligence section is also well documented in two unclassified US Justice Department reports, "A Review of the FBI's Handling and Oversight of FBI Asset Katrina Leung" (2006), and "A Review of the FBI's Progress in Responding to the Recommendations in the Office of the Inspector General (OIG) Report on the FBI's Handling and Oversight of Katrina Leung" (2013).
The 2006 report revealed that her FBI handlers had both been involved in romantic trysts. Over an 18-year period the FBI paid her $1.7 million before discovering she was a double agent. According to the 2013 document, "The OIG found that the FBI was aware of serious counterintelligence concerns about Leung, but did little to follow up on the warning signals." In exchange for her cooperation, Leung never served any prison time for her actions and continues to live in the United States.
Pillsbury calls for the FBI to release classified damage reports on her activities, and until that happens, "the public cannot know which was worse – the secrets she gave China or the reassurances she gave Americans."
Chinese propaganda efforts in the U.S. are extraordinary. Chinese companies are providing money to U.S. think tanks, academic institutions, lobbying firms, and individuals who can trumpet China's message that it is a rising power in need of understanding and patience. There are 350 Confucius Institutes on college campuses around America. Agreements between the Institutes and individual universities are labeled secret and non-disclosure, which is a significant event in the transparent world of academia.
China uses four strategies to influence U.S. media organizations to report positive stories about China, writes Pillsbury.
- Direct action by Chinese diplomats, local officials, security forces, and regulators, both inside and outside China. These measures obstruct news gathering, prevent the publication of undesirable content, and punish overseas media outlets that fail to heed restrictions.
- Employing economic carrots and sticks to induce self-censorship among media owners and their outlets located outside mainland China.
- Applying indirect pressure via proxies – including advertisers, satellite firms, and foreign governments – who take action to prevent or punish the publication of content critical of Beijing.
- Conducting cyberattacks and physical assaults that are not conclusively traceable to the central Chinese authorities but serve the Party's aims.
One strategy of concern for Pillsbury is China's development of "Assassins Mace" strategies, which are a David and Goliath approach using asymmetrical warfare. These include cyber warfare, jamming enemy communications, directed-energy weapons, electromagnetic pulse weapons, smart bombs, anti-radar systems, electronic warfare, anti-satellite weapons, and anti-ship ballistic missiles (dubbed "aircraft carrier killers"). Later in the book, Pillsbury writes that China has begun to build "parasitic microsatellites," which are small devices that would "cling to an American satellite and either disable it or hijack the information it gathers."
Pillsbury believes that China is prepared to use what it calls a "warning strike" that would increase shi and tilt the flow of events in China's favor. "While China has historically not used force for territorial conquest, it has instead done so for political motives of a different sort: to achieve psychological shock, reverse a crisis situation, or establish a fait accompli," as evidenced in surprise offenses in Korea (1950), India (1962), Soviet Union (1969), and Vietnam (1979).
"Today, the greatest likelihood of military confrontation between the United States and China may come through a similar misunderstanding, and a calculation by Chinese leaders that a shock strike will not lead to a broader escalation."
On China's senior political decision-making system, Pillsbury, quoting Robert Suettinger, a longtime CIA analyst, writes it is "opaque, noncommunicative, distrustful, rigidly bureaucratic, inclined to deliver what they think leaders want to hear, and strategically dogmatic."
Pillsbury projects to the year 2049. To a world the U.S. no longer leads. China's economy is three times that of the U.S. The U.S. dollar is no longer the leading currency, sharing space with the Euro and the Renminbi. China's military will outspend the U.S. on weapons and influence. "It will be able to exert over its neighbors and allies the robust influence that America has enjoyed for decades."
Pillsbury makes numerous recommendations for the U.S. government to implement.
- Keep Track of Your Gifts – every year the U.S. taxpayer provides a variety of programs and assistance to China. Much of this aid is low profile and unnoticed by the media. "This is done intentionally." There is no available accounting of all the activities funded by the U.S. taxpayer that aid China. "Not only is America funding its own chief opponent; it doesn't even keep track of how much is being spent to do it." He suggests the U.S. Congress enact an annual reporting requirement of all agencies and departments of their assistance to China.
- Find Common Ground At Home – A coalition should be formed in the U.S. with the common mission of bringing change to China and altering a harmful and outdated U.S. approach to promoting reform in Beijing. "This means that Americans who champion the Dalai Lama should ally with U.S. defense experts who promote spending for the Pentagon's AirSea Battle program." He also suggests that human rights advocates should work with American businesses to protect intellectual property.
- Build a Vertical Coalition of Nations – The U.S. should build an alliance amongst nations in the Asia-Pacific that give China "pause and temper its bellicosity" particularly in the South China Sea and East China Sea.
- Protect the Political Dissidents – During the Cold War the U.S. safeguarded and promoted the idealism and aspirations of dissidents who had escaped the Soviet Union and East Bloc. The same should be done for Chinese dissidents who escape and those who remain in prisons. The U.S. President should tie China's human rights achievements to issues Beijing cares about, such as trade relations. Pillsbury is critical of President Obama's handling of this issue. "The Obama administration did not even include human rights in the Strategic and Economic Dialogue, the establishment of which was announced in April 2009 by President Obama and President Hu Jintao."
- Support Prodemocracy Reformers – Returning to the Cold War example, Pillsbury writes that the U.S. should revive support for democratic and civil society groups within China. "China's concern when it talks about a new Cold War is that the Americans will revive their Cold War-era programs that helped to subvert the Soviet Union from within by using the power of ideas."