The Possibility of China’s Collapse From the U.S. Perspective (The First Part)

How do the experts who drafted the policies that led to the collapse of the Soviet Union under the Reagan administration see the future of the Chinese Communist regime? (Interviewer: Satoshi Nishihata)


John Lenczowski
The Institute of World Politics Founder

Dr. John Lenczowski

A former director of European and Soviet affairs at the National Security Council from 1983-87. He was President Reagan’s advisor on Soviet affairs, developing policies that led to the collapse of the Soviet Union; in 1990 he founded the Institute of World Politics, a graduate school of national security, intelligence, and international affairs.


――When I saw your lecture “U.S. Strategy for the Growing China Threat” in January 2020, I was very impressed by the way you looked at the impact and threat of China on the U.S. and formulated a comprehensive strategy. What is your greatest concern about the China issue now?

I am particularly worried about how many people in influential positions in the United States China owns. When I say how many they own, that means how many of them are subjected to potential Chinese pressure.

For example, if you are the CEO of a business that depends upon manufacturing things in China, and it would be very difficult for you to shift your manufacturing to another place, then you may be beholden. If you depend upon selling your products in China, you may also be beholden to them.

If you have a business in America that has a joint venture with a Chinese company and your company and the joint venture get into some kind of trouble, then you are going to need political assistance in solving your problem. Then you may go to your local congressman in the interest of getting his help for your company. You will end up serving Chinese interests in addition to your own interests. And the congressman, in the interest of serving his constituents, may end up serving the Chinese Communist interest.

Then you have our academic institutions which are incredibly dependent upon Chinese students who pay full tuition. Many of these academic institutions get donations from China ostensibly for various research projects or just as gifts.

They gain access through Chinese graduate students to our science, technology, and engineering departments and many of these students already have degrees from Chinese universities. Why are they trying to get a duplicate degree? They do so because they need to get access to the cutting-edge technological innovations that they may not know about in China but that they can find in our academic departments here, and all the better to acquire them either for commercial reasons or for espionage reasons.

Of course, every single one of the students who is over here, as well as business executives from China, are beholden to the Chinese intelligence services who can require them to share the information. So the universities are permitting all of this type of de facto intelligence collection to be going on in our science, technology and engineering departments, and it is harming our national security and our economic competitiveness.

You have all the people in the various finance companies and banks on Wall Street that have investments in Chinese companies. American capital is going to finance activities that may be supporting the Chinese armed forces and Chinese military technological development, space weaponry, the weaponization of artificial intelligence and quantum computing, and so on.

The Chinese have publicly stated that Wall Street is very much in their corner and traditionally was able to influence American presidents and Congress. They found it much more difficult to get Wall Street to do so during the Trump administration because it was more independent of Wall Street than other administrations.

I should also mention another thing which has been a matter of longtime concern. This is the disturbing number of former secretaries of state, secretaries of defense, intelligence agency directors, and even senior military officers who, when leaving government, decide to cash in, and gain greater riches by doing business with China and opening doors for American corporations in China.

These are people who are either directly or indirectly on Beijing’s payroll and they consistently downplay any threat from China because China is the source ultimately of their very high income.

――How do you evaluate the Biden administration’s policy towards China?

I was frankly surprised that Secretary of State Blinken agreed with the previous administration that the Communist Chinese regime has been conducting a genocide towards the Uyghur population in Xinjiang province of China.

I believe that what seemed to be a fairly firm initial position against China has been gradually eroding in this administration. It’s only been a little over a year, and we still need to see how everything goes. But the Biden administration has not taken particularly a leadership role in alerting the nation to the threat from China. It’s been really fairly silent about these matters.

Deterrence works but deterrence involves sending signals of political, moral, diplomatic strength, and the acquisition of arms as a sign of one’s will to defend oneself. It’s a sign of seriousness of purpose. If this administration undertakes a diminution of our military capabilities – especially relative to those of China, this will be seen as a sign of weakness by Beijing and that can only embolden them, for example, to take action against Taiwan.

I think it is a very dangerous period and we continue to maintain a remarkably ambiguous and even weak position on the Taiwan issue. Although we have been supplying some arms to the Taiwanese, I think a much more vigorous policy of supplying ever greater and more capable arms to Taiwan would send a very good signal to Beijing that it should not be tempted to take any kind of such aggressive action.

――What kind of policy or strategy do you think that US, Japan, and other free and democratic nations should adapt against China?

First of all, it is vitally important for the political leaders and the foreign ministers and the defense ministers and everybody involved to make a distinction between the Communist regime and the Chinese people. This is one of the most important points that can be made.

Because during the first couple of decades of the Cold War, Americans were very sloppy about calling the Soviets the “Russians.” This was a big mistake because although many Russians were Communists, many more Russians were victims of communism.

The principal victims of communism in China are the Chinese people. The Chinese Communist Party is trying to co-opt the Chinese people by appealing to their nationalism. That’s how the Soviets tried to co-opt the Russian people and the Soviets did it particularly by constantly pointing out the victory during World War II.

In World War II, the Soviets called that war “the Great Fatherland War.” They didn’t call it the Great Class War, the Great Socialist War, the Great Communist War. This is because they were trying to exploit Russian patriotism. Russian patriotism was like the horse that the Communist Party harnessed in order to fight that war and the Chinese Communist Party is doing the same thing. So they have their own version of what could be called “National Socialism” today.

There are many Chinese people who, because of the rise in the standard of living, are not as alienated from China’s Communist tyranny as they might be if they were all living in the kind of poverty that they used to live in. Nevertheless, there are something like 75,000 civil disturbances in China every year.

These are usually demonstrations against local Communist Party corruption. But most of the people involved are unaware of the degree to which the same kind of thing is going in other localities.

This distinction between the regime and the people is vital because our strategy has to be to get the people to change the nature of the regime. That’s the only way there’s going to be peace.

The great Soviet Russian scientist Andrei Sakharov, who was the inventor of the Soviet H-bomb and became a human rights activist, said to the Kremlin that there is no way that the Kremlin will have peace with the West until it has peace with its own people. That means that they have to respect their human rights. So, there is no peace without respect for human rights.

That’s only going to happen when the Chinese Communist regime dissolves and is replaced by a non-totalitarian political order of some kind. So, it is really important for us to connect with the Chinese people and to make sure that they don’t feel alone, that we sympathize with the fact that their inalienable rights are being violated regularly by the regime, and that we let them know that we understand that they live in a totalitarian police state. Those are the first steps in helping the people build up the courage to resist the tyranny they must endure.

The Possibility of China’s Collapse From the U.S. Perspective (The First Part)
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