Historically, the demise of an Empire and the rise of another have always been accomplished through direct military confrontations. In the thermonuclear age however, this long-established tradition may have come to an end seeing that a war for supremacy between two nuclear-armed great powers will bring total destruction to both sides. Indeed, it was the specter of probable annihilation of both antagonists of the Cold War (the United States and the Union of Socialist Soviet Republic) that prevented a military showdown for global supremacy from 1949, the year the USSR became a nuclear-armed power, to 1991, the year it ceased to exist.
Fittingly direct military confrontations have been replaced by a new reality, and that is implosion. It involves the disintegration from within of an adversary’s social, political and economic structure that naturally benefits the other. It happened to the now-defunct Soviet Union in its struggle with the U.S, and may well happen to the US in its futile attempt to thwart the inevitable rise of China. Not surprisingly, U.S policy makers and academics remain oblivious to that possibility; they presume it could only happen to other side because the U.S is and will remain the ideal political system in the world for generations to come. Unsurprisingly, as China has replaced the Soviet Union as a respectable or potential U.S adversary for global supremacy, U.S policy makers and academics are concentrating on finding faults with that country’s political system rather than looking at the US’ own.
In that regard, reports emanating from U.S Think Tanks and intelligence agencies always put the accent on China’s lack of political freedom which, the pundits believe, will ultimately prod the expansive Chinese middle-class into challenging the communist system. Indeed, a politically forceful middle-class, along with the unfulfilled needs of China’s enormous underclass, could conceivably be potential sources of troubles for Beijing. This dogmatic assessment of the inevitability of social and political unrest in China somewhat failed to take into account the Confucian character of Chinese society.
From the perspectives of the U.S, which never experienced armed peasant revolts or revolutions and has been a popular Democracy since its inception (1776), the dire prediction about the demise of China’s political system may seem reasonable. It is however fundamentally flawed. China is an old civilization that has been through all conceivable social turbulence ranging from the tedious process of unification to peasant revolts, dismemberment, civil wars and foreign occupation. The Chinese are conscious of this burden of history that has cost their nation 1.5 square kilometers of territory under the treaties of Aigun (1858), Peking (1860) and Tarbagatai (1864), notwithstanding the additional territorial lost in the first Sino-Japanese War (August 1894-April 1895), which included Taiwan. Hence, the Chinese (leadership and people) are naturally not amenable to following foreign concepts which, they suspiciously believe, are intended to destroy their ancient civilization.
The western concept of political participation and inclusion (Democracy) may be universally appealing, but does not constitute the panacea to solving the everyday issues of common folks, whether in China or any other part of the world. Though it is fair for U.S policy makers and academics to assume that China’s expansive middle-class aspires to more political freedom, it is also necessary for them to ascertain whether the Chinese are willing to abandon a system that works in favor of one that may bring their country back to the era of factionalism and irrelevancy.
In contrast to the now-defunct USSR, where penuries and oppression created a dysfunctional society, China’s political system, albeit closed to the vast majority of Chinese, is orderly and far-reaching in its social and economic development. Therefore, the imperious notion that China’s political system is slated to suffer the same fate as the defunct Soviet Union is as shallow as the contention that the undervalued Yuan (the Chinese currency) is responsible for the trade imbalance between China and the US.
The Chinese leadership, mindful of the middle-class/peasant ratio that currently favors the latter, considers China a poor country despite its technological and economic advances that put it at par with the western countries, the U.S included. For that reason, the leadership will not, like the Soviets, embark on military adventurism that could put China in a premature military confrontation with the U.S, in regard to Taiwan, or even with a subdued Russia over the territories lost to Tsarist imperialism in the 19th century. Though Beijing considers Taiwan a renegade province and vows to use force, if the Taiwanese were to declare their independence, its saber rattling on the issue is a bluff. Its leadership is counting on the implosion of the U.S (the world’s only Superpower), an ominous event which will help China achieve its strategic goals without having to prove itself militarily, as many empires has done before the advent of the nuclear age.
The assessment of China’s weaknesses is good strategic thinking, as it allows Washington to formulate policies that benefit the U.S or help it manage the pace of China’s inevitable ascent as a Superpower. However, Washington cannot continue on ignoring its shortcomings (decrease productivity, a monstrous debt, political stalemate, crumbling infrastructure and over reliance on military might) while expecting China and other nations not to challenge the status quo. How the country that has accumulated the greatest concentration of power in the history of the world ended up having the shortest span of dominance will baffle historians for centuries.

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