So, is China planning an invasion any time soon??
December 31, 2010 8:55 PM   Subscribe

I'm having dinner with some friends tonight, one of whom is convinced China is the next great evil superpower. However, he is open to debate so what are some concrete arguments I can use to shut him down?

I think the idea of China up and invading anywhere is ridiculous since they're having too much success with their economic domination, and if they were interested in a military conflict with anyone they'd be doing more than just posture about Taiwan.

Or am I naive?
posted by Silentgoldfish to Law & Government (26 answers total) 8 users marked this as a favorite
I think you're a little naive. They've certainly used horrific tactics against Tibet and against ethnic Uyghurs, among others. And being an "evil superpower" does not necessitate military conflict - quite a lot of the evil America does (to cite one example) has nothing to do with exerting military force, but pushing other strategies, such as having others do their dirty work, refusing to negotiate international treaties in good faith, funding dictators and various evil plots, enforcing unjust and criminal economic blockades, and on and on and on.

China's already doing a lot of that, too.
posted by Dee Xtrovert at 9:16 PM on December 31, 2010 [6 favorites]

Is your friend really thinking China will invade the U.S. at some point (per your question title) or is he just talking about them being an opposing superpower in a general bogeyman sense?

In U.S./China relations, China has a lot of financial power, but they rely on the relationship being mutually beneficial rather than antagonistic. They would have nothing to gain, and a lot to lose, by engaging in any kind of Cold War-esque threats or behaviors.

People who are equating the U.S./China relationshp with the U.S./Soviet Cold War era are either extremely paranoid, or indulging in warporn fantasies, or some combination of both. Or maybe they're just playing too much Fallout 3.

If you really want some ammunition to debate your friend about the issue, can you tell us more about exactly what he's claiming/arguing about regarding his views on China-as-superpower?
posted by amyms at 9:20 PM on December 31, 2010 [1 favorite]

Well, to play devil's advocate (both to you and your friend, in a way): every empire that's ever existed winds up having to acquire and defend markets and territory, from the Romans to the Mongols to the Hapsburgs to the Brits to the U.S. It's built into the nature of imperialism. Exactly how that will manifest as China continues to assume hegemony in the 21st century, I can't say -- I will leave that for people far better versed in contemporary Chinese politics to comment on -- but invasions and wars are always an option (and a popular one, at that) for nations and empires looking to secure, defend, and expand their political, economic, and territorial interests.

This doesn't mean that China necessarily has some top secret "Invade America by way of Vancouver" plan in a drawer in Beijing right now, but neither does it mean that China's not going to defend its interests from whomever is seen as a threat by whatever means seem useful in a year, or ten years, or fifty. And (on preview, as Dee Xtrovert succinctly points out), it's not like China's been shy about subjugating whole territories and peoples to begin with.
posted by scody at 9:21 PM on December 31, 2010 [2 favorites]

I'm of two minds, for one thing, China already has their conflicts that they're gnawing away at. They're struggling to hold on to Tibet and the far west Uyghur territory, and they still have a hate on for Taiwan. If you wanted to pretend China was analogous to Nazi Germany (which it's not), China would be a Germany still struggling to integrate the Saarland, Sudetenland, Alsace, Lorraine, and Austria after many years facing a lack of cooperation on the part of those territories.

On the other hand, China isn't equivalent to Nazi Germany, and in the post-WW2 (and more importantly post-Cold War) landscape invasion isn't really how it's done. China wants markets, not land. It would be fascinating if the need for markets translated into a move for land, in a total reversal of conflicts like the Opium Wars. But that's all speculative, as far as I can tell.
posted by Sara C. at 9:35 PM on December 31, 2010

It's not exactly a scholarly debate, but the heated China issue made for an amusing plotline for a recent episode of The Office.
posted by TheSecretDecoderRing at 9:37 PM on December 31, 2010

I think the guy isn't wrong. "Evil" in this sense is always a matter of policy and politics, so yeah, I can see China being the next "evil," or neo-Cold War opponent, or what have you. As goes the NY Times and Fox, so goes the nation. You should probably beg off any vectors toward 9-11.

However, invading? Like the U.S.? This isn't 1953. As for anybody else, they certainly don't need the land or resources, so aside from regional bits like Tibet and the Uighurs and probably some others, what's their casus belli? Maybe just to be dicks. Obviously I'm not well versed, but still.
posted by rhizome at 9:47 PM on December 31, 2010

While it doesn't invalidate anyone's argument, but the poster is in Australia so this "debate" likely does not center around China invading the US specifically.
posted by mreleganza at 10:13 PM on December 31, 2010

You want to 'shut him down' because you think his claims are 'ridiculous' but have no 'concrete arguments' of your own? How did you come to arrive at your current position in the first place in the absence of said arguments? You point to China's economic success. Can you really not think of any economically successful nation coming to adopt expansionist foreign policy?
posted by obiwanwasabi at 10:21 PM on December 31, 2010 [10 favorites]

The US is the worlds "evil superpower" - our foreign policy is deadly. As far as our government in comparison to China, we are a few executive orders away from being IDENTICAL to China. We have as much freedom as we are allowed to have. The only real difference between the two nations is in the way it's government exploits its populace. Think Eurasia vs. Oceana. There is mutual benefit to what is going on, in the way that it is going on.
posted by brownrd at 10:23 PM on December 31, 2010 [8 favorites]

I just read the other day about how China is buying up mining and mineral rights all over the world -- particularly in Africa -- in an effort to own and control precious metals (among other things). At the moment, their in-country mining operations supply 95% of the worlds precious metals (e.g. neodymium) which are used in everything from cell phones, to medical and military equipment, to lithium batteries. Next year, they are drastically lowering export rates in an effort to force foreign manufacturers to move their operations to China.

Make of that what you will. Scary stuff, if you ask me. But then again, not any more scary than the Middle East controlling most of the world's oil, I guess.
posted by buckaroo_benzai at 10:45 PM on December 31, 2010 [1 favorite]

(My point being, "invasion" can be a subjective word)
posted by buckaroo_benzai at 10:45 PM on December 31, 2010

China may or may not be the next big superpower - such a development is at least decades away and I would argue that for the forseeable future we will live in a multilateral world, however arguing about military intervention is just silly.

Talk to your friend about opportunity cost - in short, the costs of China going to war with anyone far, far outweigh the costs of not doing so.

For proof, look to Chinese diplomacy and activity in large swathes of Africa, Indonesia, Papua New Guinea and Oceania, and even Taiwan. They are super active, and quite successful at getting what they want. The costs of achieving the same thing via war are huge. No, if - big if - China gets involved in a military conflict in the next twenty years it will be either as part of a coalition against North Korea, or internally, probably in the western part of the country - but every passing day sees that scenario becoming more unlikely too.
posted by smoke at 10:50 PM on December 31, 2010

Best answer: China will need to overcome the following obsticals to be the next superpower:
1-A rapidly aging low skilled workforce. A large segment of the aging population is very low skilled. It is difficult to retrain a 40 year old subsistence farmer. There is a labor shortage in china of highly skilled workers able to do higher value labor. Thus chinas ability to move from low skilled manufacturing to design and high value added services is limited by their ability to grow that segment of the workforce.
2-ghost cities - Seriously huge cities that are totally empty. A real estate bubble has grown there that makes our recent meltdown look tiny.
3-single party rule -- no country has lasted long under this kind of rule. It works for a while, but it has not proven to be as successful a democratic states over the last 100 years
4-the neighborhood-- the US benefits from having friendly neighbors and stable borders. Sure the Mexicans have some crazy violence going on, and there are some tensions there over immigration but we havnt fought a war between eachother in over 100 years iirc. Meanwhile you have Japan, the Korea's, Vietnam, Russsia and India who've all had shooting going on in the last 60 years or so. Heck even afghanstan is on their border
5-domestic troubles - Tibetans and Weigars in the west rebelling and becoming more militant. Not to mention the hong Kong vs Beijing vs Taiwan situation and the Cantonese vs Mandarin divisions. It just isn't that simple. Tough to be aggressive internationally when you end up fighting at home.
6-crazy stepchild in the attic with nukes -- they cant even contain North Korea and thats their BFF in the whole world.
7-environmental catastrophe. If they are not careful the whole country will become a huge superfund site. It is really bad, I was in Bejing a able back and I found myself cleaning my glasses every time we went outside because the polluoon was just putting crud all over them.
posted by humanfont at 10:51 PM on December 31, 2010 [7 favorites]

their in-country mining operations supply 95% of the worlds precious metals (e.g. neodymium) which are used in everything from cell phones, to medical and military equipment, to lithium batteries.

Just a little reality check here. There are tonnes of "rare earth" minerals all over the world. They are, in fact, not that rare. The reason why China has a lock on the market is because they can do it cheaper than anyone else, largely because of poor wages and lack of safety requirements. Should the price go up too far, the rest of the world would simply start mining and processing these elements elsewhere. This rare earth stuff has probably been some of the most successful propaganda the CCP has put out in the last year. I see people everywhere repeating it.
posted by smoke at 10:54 PM on December 31, 2010 [7 favorites]

Some of the more neocon types that I'm friends with tend to think of China as the next Soviet Union -- the big bad who is diametrically opposed to the US. I'm guessing this is probably where your friend is coming down.

It's a tough argument to make: the US did a little business with the USSR in the 1920s and '30s, but not much, and that largely stopped pretty quickly. You probably won't see China calling for the total demise of the US a la the USSR in its heyday. The country is just too inextricably bound up with our economy. They probably won't be threatening to nuke Washington over a blockade of Cuba, f'rinstance. They probably won't be marching into Mongolia and setting up a puppet government, or "liberating" South Korea or somesuch.

But there are maybe a few parallels. You have your fairly high degree of internal repression (the Internet, the Uighurs, Tibet, dissidents in general -- see the Nobel Peace Prize this year). Your friend is probably more concerned about China's fairly muscular foreign policy: their interests lie pretty much counter to ours on, say, Sudan, where Chinese interest in access to natural resources is lending support to a pretty unsavory government. That's the case with China's dealings with a lot of African governments, and maybe you could argue that it's the case with Venezuela as well (depending on your take on the unsavoriness of Hugo Chavez). You also have increased belligerence over various territories claimed by China -- tensions with India over their border and with Japan over islands claimed by both countries. It's not unreasonable to expect China to try to match the US on a foreign-policy basis, or to try to undercut our diplomatic efforts, and they're having some real success there.

It depends on what you're arguing for. China is most certainly a regional power now, and unless its economy tanks (and its economy may be shakier than it appears, but that's another thing altogether), it shows no real sign of going away or losing influence soon.
posted by wandering steve at 11:00 PM on December 31, 2010 [1 favorite]

Also, what smoke says above re: opportunity cost, especially regarding Taiwan -- it just doesn't make sense to invade, for all the sabre-rattling.
posted by wandering steve at 11:02 PM on December 31, 2010

OP did not mention the US - why on earth would China invade the US? If China are going to invade anywhere, I would assume they would invade their neighbours first, and they seem pretty busy with Taiwan and what not at the moment.

I used to know people in the 1980's who were all conspiracy theory about Indonesia invading Australia. One of these people was also convinced that aliens built the pyramids and earth had a mirror plant on the other side of the sun. You want to shut this guy down? I think you are naive to even bother engaging in this debate. Either arm yourself with more knowledge than you get in an afternoon on AskMeFi or just smile at him & change the subject.
posted by goshling at 11:03 PM on December 31, 2010

Best answer: I've read a lot on China and lived in the country for a year in 2006. While China is indeed a powerful country, the Western media really likes to write China puff pieces that portray it as the next Soviet Union and/or 80s Japan. Usually these articles also have some clever Confucian quote like "may you live in interesting times". These articles usually focus on some narrow aspect of China's rise, like it's growing trade surplus or how it's exports surpass Japan.

The first suggestion I would make is to read James Fallows' blog. He's one of the more nuanced reporters that have written on China. He's lived there in the 80s and recently in 2008. His observations of the country are basically that it has achieved a lot economically, but it is not the unstoppable juggernaut that it is portrayed as. He points out that China is still very diverse in terms of ethnicity, regionalism, and economic development. It's been a long time since I've read them, but he's also written some articles in the Atlantic newsmagazine on China.

Picking up some random things I found in my Google Reader:

Chinese trade surpluses hide a lot of value added by other countries
Estimated that in the last 30 years, 40 corrupt officials have fled China with $USD50 billion
China is more economic fat than muscle
More on Corruption
Map of world water scarcity, a HUGE chunk of China is affected.
US's recession and how it affects views on China

Hopefully that helps. If you'd like any more specific information, just ask!
posted by Jack Uphill at 11:43 PM on December 31, 2010 [5 favorites]

the poster is in Australia so this "debate" likely does not center around China invading the US specifically

You're right. I hadn't clicked through to the OP's profile, and I apologize for my US-centric assumptions. I do hope the OP comes back, though, to give us some more specifics about what kinds of things his friend is saying regarding China's rise as a superpower. Relevant answers will depend on whether the friend has rational concerns versus fringe paranoias.
posted by amyms at 12:20 AM on January 1, 2011

3-single party rule

We have a single party in the US too: the corporate party. It has two facets, "liberal" and "conservative" that fight over stupid issues to keep the populace distracted from real issues.
posted by jockc at 1:24 AM on January 1, 2011 [3 favorites]

China is the next great evil superpower.

Well, I wouldn't exactly say their hands are clean.

China's support is primarily the reason the brutal regime of North Korea continues to exist.
posted by The ____ of Justice at 2:11 AM on January 1, 2011

Response by poster: Thanks for the information! I am in Australia but my friend's from the US so the US centric point of view isn't discouraged. He was coming at things from a wingnut position of the next major military conflict being with China which is what irked me - thanks for some excellent counter-points.
posted by Silentgoldfish at 5:49 AM on January 1, 2011

China does not appear anywhere near as interested in exporting its ideology as the USSR was. China's interest in expansion has a very long history and (stop me if I'm wrong) has always included controlling its "natural" borders and not going beyond them (that suck if you are within whatever it has defined as its natural borders, but it still puts the brakes on them at some point).

China likes Chinese people (specifically, Han). They have enough problem with ethnic minorities as it is. Why would they invade, for example, Korea? They already have Korean Chinese living within their borders who make trouble. Why do they want more?

Finally, China is very engaged economically with the outside world and aggressive wars of expansion can hurt that. If your friend wants to claim that China is the evil economic super-power then I think that's a much tougher thing to refute, but remember than China is coming from a position of extreme poverty relative to the Western world. When you start off way behind it's easy to make huge strides in economic growth just by getting more of your population working and bringing your infrastructure up to the level that the rest of the world already has. That only works for so long.
posted by It's Never Lurgi at 8:44 AM on January 1, 2011

On the other side of this coin, the US has had an (almost?) unbroken line of Major Enemies leading back to Plymouth Rock. Al Qaeda isn't going to be around forever, so canny nationalists are looking ahead to the next one. I believe that China can be viewed as an emerging object lesson in (paraphrasing) "if an enemy didn't exist, we would have to create them."
posted by rhizome at 11:26 AM on January 1, 2011

The Chinese government's primary objective is for the CCP to remain in power. Almost everything they do -- whether it's the good stuff like coming down on abusive local officials or trying to improve the environment or the bad stuff, like coming down on human rights activists and minorities -- is all about keeping the CCP in charge of the country. Stability is key here. If the CCP can't maintain stability -- and the improvement in life style for a large enough number of people -- then they'll be in serious trouble. Any major cracks in the system could blow up quickly, and they know it.

An invasion of the US or any war could seriously undercut stability -- at least as things are the way now. Obviously war can also have a way of bringing people together, as it did in the US during WWII. But I don't think they want to risk that. The CCP is nervous enough about its own power in the country without worrying about controlling any other country.

And I definitely second what Jack Uphill said above. Everything you read about China being light-years ahead of us in almost every respect needs to be taken with a grain of salt -- the people who are saying that have some kind of agenda (usually to make the US/the West look bad in comparison. We do have things we need to work on, but I don't like that we make China into something it's not in order to try to achieve this). I've been to China several times -- each time before I've gone to China I read all this stuff about how they're basically living in the space age over there. And then I go there, and yes, many amazing buildings have been built and there are some fast trains, etc. But the people who write those things don't seem to travel beyond the business/tourist districts. Most Chinese people are not living the way described in those pieces (I'm thinking in particular of this recent Tom Friedman column). Most people can't afford to take those trains or shop in the fancy new stores or buy a BMW. There's still a staggering amount of poverty. I think the difference is that Chinese people generally get a sense that their country is on the upswing, while we feel like we're stagnating (or worse). Things are getting better over there in many ways, and many more people can afford to live a comfortable life, but some people, like Friedman, are really making things look better than they are.

In some ways, the growing wealth is a major concern -- it means that China's wealth gap is becoming very serious. This could pose a major problem in stability and security. And it's becoming harder for more people to make it -- the job market for college grads over there is very tight, much worse than in the US. Your kooky friend might say -- well, doesn't that mean they'll want to invade other countries to provide jobs/opportunities? My answer . . . unless China or the globe is hit with a crisis much worse than the Recession, no. They are not going to risk de-stabilizing what they have going over there now.

In short: the CCP is concerned about stability over everything else. If anyone is interested in reading more about this, I would suggest Susan Shirk's China: Fragile Superpower. She suggests the the CCP also desperately wants to avoid a war with Taiwan because they recognize that this could cause serious damage to the economy and to political stability. But they are sort of slaves to the people on this one -- they know that if Taiwan declares independence, the Chinese people would clamor for war and the CCP would have to give it to them, even though they seriously wouldn't want it. According to her, if China invades any country it will be because the CCP feels it must do so in order to maintain power/legitimacy with the people. But they are working very hard to try to prevent that from being something that the people demand. I think the CCP doesn't want to be in a position of giving the people that sort of say in politics -- because who knows what they would demand after that.
posted by imalaowai at 1:00 PM on January 1, 2011

In addition to the above, consider this: twenty years ago everyone in the U.S. seemingly was convinced that Japan would come to rule the world economically.
posted by yclipse at 3:05 PM on January 1, 2011

« Older Nervous about sex   |   Steaming my shirts and pants. Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.