The hope through these years was that a more prosperous China would also become more democratic and tolerant at home, and less aggressive abroad. But as foreign affairs journalist James Mann pointed out in his 2007 book, “The China Fantasy,” and as longtime Kissingerian Michael Pillsbury wrote in his 2015 book, “The Hundred-Year Marathon,” China’s leaders weren’t interested in following this script.
On the contrary, Pillsbury argued that they had their own scenario, in which China would embark quietly but steadily on a long-term race to world supremacy by 2049, the 100th anniversary of Mao Zedong’s victory over Chiang Kai-shek.
China would use strategy and tactics laid out by Sun Tzu 2,500 years ago and restore the state to the primacy it enjoyed before the civil wars and invasions that started with the Taiping rebellion in 1849 and ended with Mao’s death in 1976, costing millions of Chinese lives. Before this strife, China had 40 percent of the world’s population and economic production, and an emperor reigning 60 years, who reportedly told the British envoy Lord Macartney in 1793, “Our Celestial Empire possesses all things in prolific abundance” and has “no need to import the manufactures of outside barbarians.”
Xi Jinping, as he disapprovingly watches peaceful marchers in Hong Kong week after week, perhaps feels similarly. His attempted crackdown on the independent judiciary Hong Kong was promised until 2047, and abolition of his 10-year term limit amounts to jumping the gun on Pillsbury’s 100-year-marathon finish line of 2049.
Presumably, Xi has the power to squelch the Hong Kong demonstrators as his predecessors squelched Tiananmen protesters 30 years ago. But not without significant economic cost, which he may be willing to pay. The economic ties symbolized by “Chimerica” are already unraveling. They could be completely split if the Red Army ravages Hong Kong.
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