Review of The Hundred Year Marathon China’s Secret Strategy to Replace America as the Global Superpower by Michael Pillsbury:
I hesitated to read this because I have seen Michael Pillsbury on TV and he comes across as a China basher. But unlike some other Trump advisers, Pillsbury has studied Chinese and has traveled frequently to China over many years, where he spoke to many men in the Chinese military and intelligence. He gained insight into China’s “hawks” and has useful insights into their perspectives.
That said, he overlooks some obvious problems. Yes, Chairman Mao said back in the 1950s that his goal was to overtake England and America in economic strength, but under him, China spent thirty years mired in poverty and ruinous political infighting. Pillsbury makes much of the Chinese military references to the Warring States period, with its focus on deception, but that period (475-221 BC) was destructive and ended with unification under the Qin dynasty, which lasted only 15 years. He also quotes Henry Kissinger about China’s strategy in fighting a war in Vietnam in 1979. But since that time—for 40 years—China has not fired a single shot outside its borders, while the United States ran up a huge deficit by fighting several ruinous foreign wars. China’s “peaceful rise” is not just propaganda; it’s fact.
More important, this book, published in 2015, influenced Trump’s combative policy toward China and caused many US conservatives to take as gospel truth the book’s thesis that China has a “secret strategy to replace America as the global superpower.” If that is indeed China’s strategy, it’s such a secret that China’s leaders deny it and never mention it as their goal, which is to become a “fully developed nation” by 2049. And Trump’s policy has produced exactly the opposite of its intended effect: instead of strengthening US world leadership and our ties with allies, Trump has caused China to double down on its goal of becoming strong and self-reliant. By treating China like an enemy, Trump has changed the mindset of many in China, who now regard us as one.
The book is worth reading to understand the thinking of China bashers, but its net effect on US policy has been disastrous. It bamboozled the Trump Administration and possibly a whole generation of China watchers.