The Soviet Union did not collapse because of some brilliant covert operation by the CIA. It did not disintegrate in the aftermath of a Third World War and a titanic tank battle on the plains of Germany. We spent it into the ground.
I have mixed feeling about Ronald Reagan. He did some tremendous things. He did some, like Iran-Contra, that were stupendously stupid and illegal. If there is one thing he got exactly right, though, it was his assessment of the state of the Soviet economy. He understood that if he picked up the pace, reignited the arms race and challenged the Soviets to keep up that they could not answer. They could try, but they simply did not have the economic power to compete.
He was dead on. The Soviets did try to keep up, and that attempt doomed them. By the end of the 1980′s Eastern Europe was breaking free. By the early 1990′s the Soviet Union itself was dissolving.
In the aftermath of that dissolution, we congratulated ourselves on having won the Cold War. We thanked God we had avoided a global nuclear war. We looked forward to a new era. And, in the process, we forgot that there was another major Communist nation still in existence, and, perhaps most importantly, we forgot what it was that had enabled our victory over the Soviets.
The Chinese did not forget. They did not fail to understand. They saw exactly how the Soviets had been defeated, and they adapted.
The Chinese are not our friends. I do not mean that as an attack on the Chinese people themselves, who are, like most people everywhere, decent, hardworking and focused on family and day to day existence. I mean it as a characterization of a regime that continues not only to oppress its own people but to actively work to frustrate our national policies around the globe:
- North Korea is, by virtue of its instability and unpredictability, perhaps the single most dangerous nation on earth. China is the primary supporter of the North Korean regime. China is North Korea's main trading partner, supplying it with arms, fuel and food among other things. Without Chinese support the North Korean regime could not survive and, yet, despite the continued provocations and erratic behavior by North Korea, China has made no serious effort to rein in the behavior of what amounts to a clients state.
- Burma is one of the most oppressive regimes on earth. It is dominated by a military regime that brutally crushes any democratic opposition and wages war on tribal groups within its territorial boundaries. Burma also continues to survive largely by virtue of its relationship with China. The Chinese provide arms, economic assistance and investment, all in direct opposition to the efforts of the United States and other nations to force the Burmese to enact reforms.
- In the Middle East, Iran poses a massive threat to regional stability. It is bent on a seemingly relentless quest for nuclear weapons. Iran and China are major trading partners, and a huge percentage of the weapons with which the Iranian military is armed come from China. China actively opposes United Nations efforts to expand sanctions against Iran. This while the United States continues to attempt to contain Iran and while direct Iranian support to the Taliban in Afghanistan is becoming increasingly well known.
I could list any number of other examples of Chinese actions abroad, but I think those above suffice to make the point. The most critical element of all this is, however, that Chinese influence abroad is expanding, not contracting or remaining constant. As the Chinese continue to grow economically and amass ever greater levels of wealth, they are putting this money to use in expanding their influence abroad:
- In Africa the Chinese have invested billions and involved themselves in infrastructure projects in nations such as Algeria, Angola, Gabon, Nigeria, Sudan and Zimbabwe. In Sudan, for example, the Chinese now own 40 percent of the national oil company.
- In Latin America, the story is similar. In Venezuela, a regime hostile to the United States, the Chinese have provided 12 billion dollars in money dedicated to economic development projects. In Ecuador they have spent at least a billion dollars on a hydroelectric plant. Brazil's national oil company has received 10 billion dollars in Chinese loans. That amount alone is almost as much as the total amount of financing provided in 2008 by the Inter-American Bank, a Washington-based entity, which in the past has been a keystone of American influence in Latin America.
All of this money buys China access to key raw materials, principally oil. It also, of course, buys it a tremendous amount of influence. Nations desperate for financial assistance find themselves now beholden to Beijing and subject to all of the political influence that implies. In areas of the world where once we worried about what Moscow might have in mind, we now find ourselves having to worry about Beijing's intentions.
China is rapidly expanding its military capabilities. Chinese defense spending will increase by only 7.5 percent this year, but that is after a staggering 14.9 percent increase last year. Chinese defense spending has, in fact, grown by at least 10 percent a year for the last decade and is now second only to that of the United States. There are over 7 million people in the Chinese armed forces. There are a total of 2.3 million men and women in the armed forces of the United States, both active duty and reserve.
In 2007 in a demonstration of a new and ominous capability China shot down a communications satellite with a missile. In 2008 satellite imagery revealed that the Chinese were constructing a massive submarine base on the offshore island of Hainan. The Chinese Navy, previously confined primarily to home waters, is now deploying vessels operationally as far from its shores as Somalia and the Gulf of Aden.
Where's the money coming from for all of this effort, for the support to North Korea, for the arms that are going to Iran, for the massive defense buildup? It's coming right out of the pockets of ordinary Americans, now reduced to working two jobs to buy Chinese goods at Wal-Mart and, in the process support a hostile and oppressive Communist government.
I hope we recognize what is happening before it is too late. I hope we act to change our trade and industrial policy and eliminate the imbalance in our economic relationship with China. I hope we have the good sense and the foresight to understand that the Cold War is not over and that we can still lose it.