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– China, Growing Superpower

China’s ‘100-year marathon’
by Babe Romualdez

Despite China’s assurances that it will not build structures on Panatag Shoal, majority of Filipinos are deeply skeptical, judging from the emails we have been receiving. One of them was very emphatic and warned against an “attitude of defeatism and indecisiveness” as far as the disputed maritime territories are concerned, positing that China’s real agenda has “nothing to do with friendship towards neighbors. They have embarked on a long-term plan to become absolute rulers, one way or another,” the email sender stressed, pointing to the book The Hundred Year Marathon: China’s Secret Strategy to Replace America as the Global Superpower written by Michael Pillsbury.

Pillsbury is considered as a foremost China expert who has had significant senior positions on national security starting from Richard Nixon – whose visit to China in 1972 opened the door for formal diplomatic relations between the US and China. In 1988, I accompanied then-vice president Doy Laurel to visit Nixon at his home in Saddle River, New Jersey where we actually discussed relations with China.

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To my surprise, the former US president was actually interested to hear my impressions about my first visit to China in 1974 as part of the Philippine delegation headed by my father's older brother, former Ambassador to Washington Eduardo “Danding” Romualdez. We embarked on a mission of “basketball diplomacy” – so called because we had with us some of the country’s top basketball players at the time – and my task as outlined by then-Executive Secretary Alejandro Melchor was to report on everything I could about the country and Chinese leaders Deng Xiao Ping and Chou En Lai. I was absolutely thrilled as a news reporter for Channel 9 at the time to absorb as much as I could during that historical visit.

China then struck me as rather bucolic, and the only existing hotel in Beijing at the time was called the Friendship Hotel which was a converted 1950s Russian complex with stories about ghosts haunting the rooms because of the number of people who died there during the Cultural Revolution. When I next visited China in 1983, I could notice the gradual changes that were happening – an effect no doubt of Deng Xiao Ping’s decision in 1978 to open up China’s economy to the rest of the world. In 2005, I went to China again with our dear friend, Max Soliven. Shanghai by then had become a bustling commercial hub with five-star hotels and high-rises dominating the skyline – a sleeping dragon that has been awakened.

I glanced over the book of Pillsbury – who was confirmed by my Washington associates as a current national security consultant at the Pentagon and adviser to President Donald Trump – and his assertions are disquieting, to say the least. According to the author, China has embarked on a secret strategy to supplant the United States as the world hegemon (super power) with the target timeline of 2049, the year when China celebrates the 100th founding anniversary of the People’s Republic of China.

For someone who was once a “panda hugger” (as Pillsbury describes himself with a tinge of irony) who believed that China can become a democratic and peaceful power, the author has since become a pragmatist (if not a hawk) who is convinced that China is bent on becoming the only global power – ironically with the help of the United States.

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According to Pillsbury, American leaders from the time of Nixon have been mistaken in the belief that as China achieves economic development, it would become more liberal and democratic. Unfortunately, China’s steady rise has only strengthened its resolve to pay back the western world and Japan for a “century of foreign humiliations” between 1839 and 1949 where China suffered a number of political, military and cultural embarrassments. This was famously depicted in political cartoons that showed China being “sliced like a melon” by Britain, Germany, Russia, France, Japan and the US.

China has not forgotten, and its deep-seated suspicion of Western intentions has not diminished. Its strategy for global hegemony started with the transfer of western technology and scientific knowledge; next is to become an economic superpower and over the next three decades, grow and expand Chinese military power and capability. In the past few years, the world has seen China’s gradual buildup of its military with double digit budgets for defense spending (recently scaled down to 7.1 percent), the launch of its first aircraft carrier and the construction of the second one (expected to be operational by 2019).

Pillsbury’s arguments are underscored by the increasing assertiveness that China has indeed displayed in the last few decades, changing its strategic policy in the South China Sea and seeking control of what analysts call the “first island chain” composed of major archipelagos in Japan, Taiwan, the Philippines, Borneo – from the Yellow Sea to the South China Sea and East China Sea in order to incapacitate American bases and aircraft carrier groups from engaging in defensive maneuvers should China decide to launch a pre-emptive strike.

Pillsbury however believes that the US can take on several steps to keep China from dashing to the finish line of its “hundred-year marathon,” among them to encourage the moderates and pro-democracy Chinese who are just keeping themselves under the radar. He also suggests a more effective strategy on economic competitiveness.

Actually, President Duterte is right that the US is partly to blame for China's aggressiveness in building structures in the disputed seas. But when all is said and done – we still have to make a stand on what is rightfully ours no matter what the consequences. Right is still might!

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