Imperium Sinarum Delendum Est


On June 7 and 8 President Obama will meet Chinese president Xi Jinping at the Sunnylands estate in Rancho Mirage, California. The meeting is being billed as an informal, “shirtsleeves” summit with a minimum of ceremonial distractions, allowing the two leaders to focus on the issues dividing their respective nations.

Make no mistake, this meeting of the uncrowned emperors of East and West is serious business. The world’s sole superpower and its up-and-coming rival are jockeying for prestige and influence around the globe. Remarkably, it is a mystery just which side asked for the meeting; neither wants to appear to be a supplicant. Yet for the moment at least it is we who are more in need of the other side’s help. Obama’s national security advisor, Tom Donilon, was in Beijing from May 26–28, laying the groundwork for the summit by speaking to Xi and the vice chairman of the Central Military Commission (roughly equivalent to the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff), General Fan Chanlong. Donilon and the president are seeking Chinese cooperation to —

  1. Halt the People’s Liberation Army’s repeated hacking of US computer networks, and the theft of US intellectual property and government and industrial secrets.
  2. Persuade North Korea to cease its highly provocative behavior toward South Korea, Japan, and the US.
  3. Obtain a negotiated settlement to the Syrian civil war and the removal of the Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad.
  4. Further tighten the sanctions regime imposed on Iran because of its nuclear program.

That the Chinese are playing us on all these fronts is patent. After temporarily halting the cyberattacks when the US government went public about them in February, the PLA’s notorious Unit 61398 resumed operations (using somewhat different techniques) in May, on the very eve of Donilon’s visit. The Chinese then agreed to hold “talks” with us about hacking! (What’s to talk about? Stop the hacking!)

On North Korea, the Chinese are supposedly putting denuclearization of the Korean peninsula above their concerns for stability there. The Chinese have described this as a “big gift” to the US. In fact, the change has been merely rhetorical. North Korea depends upon China for its economic survival. China has the power to dictate to North Korea; it refuses to do so because it fears a collapse of the North Korean regime. China’s biggest concern is that a unified, democratic Korea will bring US troops and weaponry even closer to Northeast China. Verbiage aside, it prefers to leave the North Korean thorn in America’s flesh.

China has in reality been most unhelpful to us on every big issue affecting our bilateral relations. Nor should we expect any real changes.

As for Syria and Iran, China’s role has been anything but helpful. China has important economic and military ties with Syria, and supports the continuation of the Assad regime. And although it voted for the last round of United Nations sanctions against Iran, it continues to enjoy valuable economic relations with that country (particularly in the energy field), and will never put these in jeopardy. Two months ago its foreign ministry publicly deprecated the idea of “blind” (i.e., more comprehensive) sanctions.

China has in reality been most unhelpful to us on every big issue affecting our bilateral relations. Nor should we expect any real changes as a result of this summit. China, although wary of US military power and political influence, sees itself as ascending toward its rightful place as the world’s leading state, the Middle Kingdom reborn. Its economy will eventually surpass that of the US to become the largest in the world. Its military spending has been rising dramatically, though still far below that of the US. Its self-confidence is clearly growing. A recent New York Times article (“Chinese President to Seek New Relationship With U.S. in Talks,” May 28), contained the following paragraph:

It is a given, Chinese and American analysts say, that Mr. Xi and his advisors are referring to the historical problem of what happens when an established power and a rising power confront each other. The analysts said the Chinese were well aware of the example of the Peloponnesian War, which was caused, according to the ancient Greek historian Thucydides, by the fear that a powerful Athens instilled in Sparta.

Contemplate for a moment the bizarre notion of China, an authoritarian, reactionary, and (if truth be told) semi-barbarous state, comparing itself to Periclean Athens. The true historical paradigm for the current US-China relationship is the Anglo-German rivalry in the years leading up to World War I. Fortunately, our position vis-à-vis China is somewhat more favorable than the one Britain found itself in before 1914. But we are in danger of squandering the important advantages that accrue to us. We must, first and foremost, recognize the true nature of present-day China.

The Han Chinese empire is the last great colonial empire on earth. About 40% of its national territory is non-Chinese. Tibet and Xinjiang are truly captive nations, ruled from Beijing with an iron hand, exploited and colonized by Chinese carpetbaggers. But Chinese ambitions extend far beyond the current imperium. Already eastern Siberia is being quietly converted into a Chinese colony (on this, and also Tibet and Xinjiang, see Parag Khanna, The Second World, 71–84). China’s most important long-range task is not the recovery of Taiwan, but rather the conquest and colonization of sparsely populated and resource-rich Australia. This obvious objective for an overpopulated and resource-hungry China goes unmentioned in conventional diplomatic and media circles today because it remains a distant prospect, and a frightening one. But its logic is irrefutable.

We should be cutting defense for the sake of our own economic wellbeing. Victory without war is the goal, and it can be achieved.

Without question, China’s long-range goal is to dominate the area between Hawaii and Suez. Its economic penetration of Africa and Latin America continues apace. Ideally, from the Han point of view, the later 21st century will find Europe (geographically a mere peninsula extending from the Eurasian supercontinent) and North America isolated in an otherwise Chinese-dominated world. If China can achieve this, the fate of both Europe and America will, of course, be sealed.

Like those of all past would-be world dominators, China’s ambitions are fantastic and unlikely to be realized, assuming we take the steps necessary to prevent their realization. The Obama administration has made a good first move in the global chess game with its pivot to Asia. In ten years’ time most of the US Navy will be based in the Pacific. But much more needs to be done. I am not talking about war or even an arms race. War with China is the last thing we should want. Nor should we burden ourselves economically by trying to spend China into the ground, as Ronald Reagan did with the Soviet Union. Indeed, we should be cutting defense for the sake of our own economic wellbeing. Victory without war is the goal, and it can be achieved.

The following steps would constitute a rational program to contain China and, eventually, break up the Han empire:

  1. Recognize that the Middle East is of dwindling importance and that East Asia is now the focal point of world affairs.
  2. Tighten America’s military and economic bonds with Japan, South Korea, the Philippines, Australia, Vietnam, and India with the objective of establishing a cordon sanitaire against Chinese expansionism.
  3. Apply economic pressures (naming China a currency manipulator, tariffs against dumping, etc.) designed to throw a wrench into the Chinese economic juggernaut.
  4. Initiate an active propaganda campaign designed to foster internal dissatisfaction with the Communist Party’s monopoly of political power, highlight corruption within the Party and the PLA, foster tensions between Han Chinese and other ethnicities, and encourage Muslim and other religious opposition to the atheist regime.
  5. Cyberwarfare should be reserved as an ultima ratio should the Chinese persist in their impertinent hacking.

While it would be going much too far to describe China as a giant with feet of clay, the Chinese state has its weak points. Corruption is rife and the rule of law mainly absent. The political class is inbred and largely divorced from the population. Economically, the state capitalist model that China is following, while superior to socialism, contains serious flaws and inefficiencies that would be periodically flushed out in a freer market. Environmental and other necessary regulatory regimes are in their infancy, or yet to be established, with consequences in terms of pollution, disease, and manmade disasters that dwarf anything seen in the West. Tensions between Han Chinese and the subject peoples are real, and probably growing. Centrifugal forces lie just beneath the surface of Chinese society. We should be working to bring these forces to life.

World politics in the so-called Modern Era (16th century to the present) has been marked by a series of political-economic-military struggles between the English-speaking peoples and a succession of powers seeking world domination. Spain, France, Germany, and Soviet Russia all failed in their efforts to master the world, foiled as much by the political aptitude and coalition-building of the English speakers as by the latter’s economic and military power. Until 1917 Britain bore the main weight of these struggles. In 1917 and 1941, when Germany proved too powerful for Britain to defeat, America weighed in with what proved decisive effect. In the Cold War against the USSR, America took the lead, with Britain a junior partner. Now, in the 21st century, the last in the line of would-be world dominators is reaching for global supremacy. This does not mean war is inevitable, or even likely. But a political and economic struggle is underway from which one side or the other will emerge triumphant.

What was practiced upon the Soviet Union must be practiced upon China as well. Containment combined with economic and political steps to weaken and finally break up the Han empire should be our policy in this struggle that will decide the fate of the world, probably for centuries to come. The idea that we can allow China — a corrupt, repressive, and brutal imperium, an evil empire whether we care to recognize it as such or not — to dominate the world, is unthinkable.

Share This



New revelations coming from the NSA scandal indicate that the US has been cyber hacking China.

Restrictions on "dumping"? HMMM What ever happened to libertarian belief in free trade? Are we now the champions of "free and fair trade"...because it is China?

Next thing you know, we will be glorifying the restrictions of copyright and patents, because it is, after all, China.

I guess libertarians also have to destroy the free market in order to save it, because, after all, it is China.

Jon Harrison

Brendan, if you read Liberty with any regularity you'll know that I don't allow myself to be bound by a rigid definition of libertarianism created by others. I've many times written things that could be defined as being in favor of "free and fair" trade. I also believe, generally, in the restrictions imposed by copyright and patent law.

I didn't need the recent revelations to know that the U.S. has not simply been standing by as China hacks our systems. Although I am and have been very critical of U.S. foreign policy, I am an American and not a lover the Red Chinese.

Liberty chooses to publish stuff I send them. If you want to get out your Nolan chart and urge my removal from this site, well, you won't be the first. Good luck.


Recent revelations make Liberty's promise that the "content of this field is kept private" laughable, but before I'm shipped off to Guantanamo, here goes.

Jon Harrison concluded his June 6 editorial with reference to "a corrupt, brutal, and repressive imperium, an evil empire . . . [and to allow it] to dominate the world, is unthinkable."

I want to thank Mr. Harrison for pointing out that he was referring to China; otherwise another nation would have been my first guess here.

Love to read opinions I find disagreeable, so keep up the good work!

Best regards, Me (If you need my identity, check with the NSA)

Jon Harrison

"Love to read opinions I find disagreeable, so keep up the good work!"

At least you do read them. So many people nowadays will only read or listen to opinions that confirm their own prejudices.

Fred Mora

Kudos for a good geopolitical analysis.

Containment is indeed an obvious strategy for US. Of course, this assumes that a mainland China without the Party at the helm would have a different international policy than its current government, and I am wondering if this is true.

One of your proposed steps recommends supporting the Muslims and other opposition against the ChiComm.

Other opposition? Besides Islam, the largest religious group in China is Christians.

I know Christians in China who run what can be described as an underground church. I assure you that raising up against the government is the last thing on their mind. If anything, they are less inclined to grumble than the average Chinese. You might attribute this to Christianity being heavy on guilt trips, or to the give-back-to-Caesar teachings. Or maybe Christians self-select themselves from the meek turn-the-other-cheek crow. In any case, they don't seem like revolt material, to the contrary.

This leaves only Islam as the ferment of religious discontent. It is, I believe, a bad idea to help Islam expansionism. Last time the US tried that, it gave us Afghanistan. Islam goes like a knife in hot butter into the minds of a population that has been forced to ignore religion. Exposure to other religions creates resistance to indoctrination by new cults, and most Chinese lack this mental immune system. If allowed to raise above a critical mass, Islam would take China by storm. China's hearts and minds could very easily be taken over by a combative Muslim ideology, without much changes in its current political and economical organization (at least at first).

We think the Chinese are a problem now, wait until they start building mosques everywhere. You are decrying the perspective of a brutal Chinese imperium plundering the globe -- do we want to add Jihad to their motivations?

Jon Harrison

Islam will never take China by storm. However, it's true that stoking the fires of Muslim opposition to a secular/Communist state has its risks. As for the Christians, they may behave differently under different conditions.

I don't assume that mainland China without the Party at the helm would have a different international policy. I would favor breaking up the Han empire even if they became a Western-style democracy. A too-successful China is a threat to the West, no matter what its form of government might be.


Last I checked, "imperium" is neuter.


You're right. We've changed the headline accordingly. —Stephen Cox

© Copyright 2020 Liberty Foundation. All rights reserved.

Opinions expressed in Liberty are those of the authors and not necessarily those of the Liberty Foundation.

All letters to the editor are assumed to be for publication unless otherwise indicated.