Can American Values Survive in a Chinese World?

Greer does not agree with Ward that the source of China’s global hegemonic ambitions is traditional Chinese nationalism rather than the communist ideology of China’s rulers, but he adds:

There is, however, a more serious problem in viewing the challenge posed by China’s growing power in purely national terms. The implicit question posed throughout Ward’s book is whether the United States should acquiesce to China’s vision of victory. Can Americans live in a world where the Chinese possess the largest economy, greatest industrial base, most powerful military, and the leading centers of technological and scientific innovation?

Greer notes that Communist Party leaders believe they are locked in what Chinese President Xi Jinping has called “fierce competition … in the ideological sphere” with the West. “They assert that this ideological competition threatens the existence of their party and imperils the road to national rejuvenation.”

Ward’s dismisses the importance of China’s “influence operations” – the use of social media in the West to influence public opinion and political discourse – but Greer argues that these influence operations cannot be understood in purely geopolitical terms. Rather, “These operations are not just about shaping the opinions of foreign-policy elites but about controlling and coercing enemies of the Communist regime who live outside China’s borders.”

So-called influence operations are aimed at the enemies China’s leaders fear most: the ones who pose an ideological, not a geopolitical, threat to the Communist Party. These are the hostile forces that threaten the stability of the Communist regime, and many of them—from Christians and Uighurs fleeing religious persecution to Taiwanese, Hong Kongers, and others of Chinese descent who dare imagine different futures for their people—live in America. As long as these groups can safely assemble and freely speak within the United States, America will be seen as a threat to the Chinese party-state. Similar fears have already led Beijing to demand ideological fealty from its foreign debtors. China’s leaders do not ask clients to change their system of government but to squelch criticism of Chinese communism inside their borders. Thus, the leaders of Muslim-majority countries pretend that their faith is not being crushed in Xinjiang, and the Thai government turns a blind eye to Chinese security kidnapping dissidents inside its borders. The Chinese leadership does not compel the same behavior from the United States only because it lacks the power to do so.

Greer concludes:

Accommodating the geopolitical ambitions of the Chinese people is comparatively easy. Easing the ideological insecurities of the Communist elite would demand far more drastic changes to U.S. politics and society.

Ward asks readers if they are willing to live in a world where China is the supreme economic and military power. It is a fine query, but the hardest question may be whether we are willing to live in a world where dominant economic and military power is wielded by an insecure regime whose leaders believe that the same authoritarian techniques used to control enemies within their society must be used to surveil, coerce, and corrupt those enemies outside it. American values might not survive a world where the possessors of such power view U.S. institutions and civil society as a destabilizing threat. China’s Vision of Victory asks readers to consider the ambitions of the Chinese elite. To craft sound policy, however, we would be wise to pay just as much attention to their fears.