The main idea of this book is to raise alarm about Chinese intentions, which CCP is not particularly shy to declare, to become the hegemonic power of the world with all other countries including USA being subservient to. It supposed to be achieved by obtaining and developing superior technology in a few important areas such as 5G, AI, new materials, quantum computer processing and so on. When this is achieved CCP leadership believes that real full-scale war would not be necessary. Author’s secondary objective is to propose steps that would help USA maintain its technological and military superiority. These steps are mainly modeled on American success against Soviet Union in 1980s: government support for science, high technology, and implementation of industrial policy.
Introduction: Everything You’ve Heard About China is Wrong (or Not Right Enough)
In introduction author goes through pretty much complete list of current media reports on China and kind of manage to both confirm and deny them at the same time. Example would be:” You’ve been told that China has “a secret strategy to replace the US as the Global Superpower.” Author confirms that China does has strategy to overcome USA, but states that there is nothing secret about that.
Then he proceeds to present his main thesis:” we’re up against Mandarin elite, cherry-picked from the brightest university graduates of the world’s largest country. America faces something far more daunting than moth-eaten Marxism: a five-thousand-year-old empire that is pragmatic, curious, adaptive—and hungry. China’s regime is cruel, but no crueler than the Qin dynasty that buried a million conscript laborers in the Great Wall. China always was and remains utterly ruthless.” This intellectual elite is much more sophisticated and smarter than American elite and is dedicated to getting technological advantage over USA in all important areas, especially military and then dictate new order when world would be subordinate to CPP. Autor also discusses what he calls five western myths about China:
Myth #1: America’s Economy is Bigger Than China’s
Myth #2: “China is a Poor and Backward Nation”
Myth #3: “China Can’t Innovate”
Myth #4: “China’s Economy Will Be Crushed by a Mountain of Debt”
Myth #5: “China has Devalued its Currency to Gain Unfair Advantage in Trade”
Finally, he discusses and rejects both: idea of Thucydides Trap and what he calls Don Quixote charges against CPP.
Chapter One: An Empire of Emperors: What Is China, and Why You Should Worry About It
Here author discusses what he believes is true and unchangeable nature of Chinese society: social contract between population and elite when elite is, at least partially, open for best and brightest from all layers of society via formal selection process of difficult high stakes testing, This arrangement provides stability and protection by elite using all means necessary including unsurpassed cruelty. In exchange people provide loyalty to the emperor as long as conditions of bargain are met.
Author the discusses nature of Chinese society as polyglot society of many people speaking different languages, but united via written language. However, it is society where everyone can have unlimited ambition and clear way to satisfy it. Here how author characterizes one of the key differences:” China is a ruthless meritocracy. Americans say, “No child left behind”, but the Chinese say, “Only the exceptional survive”. A high school student with a top score on the Gaokao will attend Peking University, Tsinghua University, or another elite institution, with a clear path to a top career in government or business. University admission depends only on examination scores. Top officials and billionaires can buy admission to Harvard for their children, but not to Peking University.”
Author also stresses role of family in the world where one cannot expect support from anywhere else. At the end author discusses geographical and economic reasons for Chinese society to become the way it is, its tragic history, and implication of China’s turning around towards the world.
Chapter Two You Will Be Assimilated: China’s Plan to Take Over the Global Economy
Here author discusses Chinese intention to take over global economy via superior technology, specifically using example of Huawei and its 5G technology. Bottom line – who controls networks controls data in this network.
Chapter Three World Domination, One Country at a Time
This chapter is about China’s attempt to export its economic model: CCP top down control with technological and business management at the bottom. Author reviews situation in different countries of developing world, discusses China’s investments and plans of IT domination and presents graph of Global connectivity:
Chapter Four America’s Losing Tech War with China: The Biggest Strategic Disaster in US History
This is another chapter on Huawei dominance and author reviews multiple points of recent technological history and concludes that:
At the inception of the Fourth Industrial Revolution, the United States has three strikes against it.
- The US is dependent on imported chips, whose security it can’t guarantee.
- The US lacks a national champion in the critical sector of telecommunications hardware.
- The US has a regulatory system that impedes rather than encourages 5G rollout.
It’s no wonder the United States lost the first round of the tech war. Without an aggressive and comprehensive change in US policy, there may not be a second round to contest.
Author also finds American response to this challenge inadequate.
Chapter Five: The Twilight of the Spooks: Quantum Cryptography and the End of American SIGINT Hegemony
Here author moves into military area- cryptography and finds situation pretty bleak:
- China Gets to the Holy Grail of Cryptography First
- It’s Not Only That China Might Steal US Data—It Will Blind US Signals Intelligence
Chapter Six: Thucydides Claptrap: How China Plans to Win Without Firing a Shot
Here author reviews Graham Allison’s thesis that China as raising power and USA as declining power are bound to clash and even possibly military. Author rejects this idea, but not before claiming that China already has local military superiority. Author also suggest that it will increase, especially via technological advantages and eventually USA would have to retreat due to massive imbalance caused by China concentrating on high tech capabilities and USA fighting expensive and meaningless low-tech wars, while wasting resources and falling behind.
Chapter Seven: China’s Sovereignty Tripwire in Hong Kong
This chapter about China and Hong Cong was written before takeover, so it is already outdated. Author seems to expect CCP to back down a bit after massive riots in order to keep Hong Kong as example of “one country two systems”, but in reality CCP just took it over. Author also provides a bit of history on British sell-out of Hong Kong to CCP.
Chapter Eight How America Can Remain the World’s Leading Superpower
The last chapter contains author’s recommendations how to overcome this difficult situation and eventually prevent world takeover by China. It pretty much comes down to somewhat nostalgic solution to implement industrial policy with heavy government investment into fundamental science and military technology that author believes would eventually spill over into general economic performance, as it did in 1980s. Here are functional areas that author want to be paid more attention:
• Defeating the current generation of Russian air defense systems
• Enhanced use of drones in place of manned aircraft
• Hardening of satellites against prospective enemy attack
• Cyber warfare
• New physical principles in computing (e.g., quantum computing)
• Quantum communications and encryption
• Detection of ultra-quiet submarines (the present generation of Chinese diesel-electric boats are practically undetectable, and submarine drones could be used to deliver nuclear weapons to coastal cities)
• Detection and defeat of the next generation of hypersonic missiles
• Countermeasures against anti-ship missiles (rail guns, laser cannon)
MY TAKE ON IT:
I pretty much agree with author about Chinese intentions and the level of danger they represent. However, I am much more optimistic about future probably because I know how socialist economy and technological development in such economy works, which would make any amount of investment ineffective. This ineffectiveness is due to bureaucracy, fear, and lack of individual freedom, all of which are huge impediments for any effective action. Author clearly understand that Chinese economic and technological success so far is to big extent occurred because their access to Western markets, technology and people. Good example is Huawei which employs huge number of western scientists and engineers. If western governments cut off this access, Huawei would be by far more damaged than just cutting off access to chips. It is not because Chinese are any less smart, educated, or even experienced, but because they are much more stifled by communist bureaucrats, and limitations on their quality of life, which are inevitable consequence of the lack of freedom. In short, I think that as bad as western bureaucracies are, communist bureaucracies are always worse. However, I completely agree that it is time to act now because however temporary would be Chinese technological superiority, West could not have enough time to recover. One always should remember lessons of WWII when it took 2 years to match Japan power in Pacific and 4 years to match German power, even if these countries were much weaker economically than USA. We just may not have these 2 or 4 years this time.