China’s Hubris

Back to blogging after supporting a military exercise in Japan. Working as a defense contractor with our allies provides insight you don’t get from the media or foreign policy journals. Most of us, however, do it to reconnect with our armed forces, active and retired.

Discussing China, Tom S., a retired Marine colonel, related his war college trip to Peking in 2000. The soldiers in the elite, palace guard unit in the capital, set up static displays of weapons and equipment for the class. Being a light armored vehicle guy, Tom snuck around the guard and looked inside an armored personnel carrier. He was amazed at how primitive and lacking were the internals. So bad, in fact, he concluded the thing was probably towed to the site. A classmate and Navy captain, the CAG of an aircraft carrier, had similar observations about the Chicoms’ answer to the F-16. Looking at the controls, he found seventies era avionics and a disjointed cockpit layout.

Whatever the Chinese allow for foreign consumption is meticulously measured and rehearsed. Unless the Chicoms were channeling Sun Tzu–projecting weakness to hide strength–our officers took home different lessons than intended. First, that the Chicoms suck at public relations. Displaying crappy equipment to your greatest adversary, like the cheesy Top Gun footage of their new stealth fighter, and the fake Olympic fireworks, speaks for itself. Second, and more importantly for their prospects as global power broker, they don’t know what they don’t know.

Projecting power and influence is something the United States has done for decades. It requires a sublime harmony to nest the instruments of power with national goals and operational art. It’s like spiral development of software, except on a national level with proportionally greater complexity. And no system does that better than nations with cherished histories of individual liberty and free markets. Here, whether by temperament or inclination, the Chinese are amateurs who believe a temporarily surging economy will buy global power status. And they believe their time is now.

The Chinese say the United States is “fierce of mien, but feint of heart,” a paper tiger. But China should take counsel of another ancient people. It was the Greeks who defined hubris as a human condition. The last time the People’s Liberation Army tried to project power on a large scale, the battle tested Vietnamese spanked them. Despite the weakness and indecision of the current occupant of the White House, the Chinese would find testing the U.S. a task of considerably greater magnitude.

Considering China, one is reminded of the famous observation of the Bourbons of France: despite their long reign, they managed to learn nothing and forgot nothing.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: