[This review was published in the St. Croix Review, April 1992, pp. 60-61; and in Conservative Review, Jan. 1992, pp. 39-40.]
Hegemon: China's Plan to Dominate Asia and the World
Steven W. Mosher
Encounter Books, 2000
Steven W. Mosher has for the past quarter-century been one of America's leading "China watchers." Before he became president of the Population Research Institute, he was Director of the Asian Studies Center at the Claremont Institute in California. Although we are told that he was "the first American social scientist invited to do research in post-revolutionary rural China," he also has the distinction of having been "the first to be asked to leave when he angered the communist government." This is important, because most "China watchers" from a prior generation were sycophants first for the Maoist revolution and then for the totalitarian regime that followed. Mosher has long given an unvarnished perception, not steeped in ideology and illusion.
His most direct discussion of Western delusions was in China Misperceived. His other books about China include Broken Earth, a study of rural China; Journey to the Forbidden China; and A Mother's Ordeal, about China's population policies.
In this, his fifth book, he is mainly concerned about the rebirth of the historic Chinese desire for "hegemony." He observes that for 2,000 years China was the center of its world, a role from which it was eclipsed in the nineteenth century when it became a virtual semicolony of the Western powers. This loss of centrality, Mosher tells us, is "still a subliminal matter of shame for all living Chinese." The desire for a national reassertion after a century of humiliation is a driving force behind the strong nationalistic fervor that is now in evidence. (A national humiliation, followed by a fire-in-the-belly passion to come back stridently from it, has a familiar ring to it to students of the twentieth century.)
Mosher believes that false images still dominate outsiders' perception of Chinese reality. His description of the situation inside China differs markedly from a wishful supposition that China is being radically transformed by its encouragement, in recent years, of market capitalism.
What has been adopted has been a sort of "marketized Marxism," and Mosher tells us that "China does not just suffer from crony capitalism, but from a full-blown case of communist kleptocracy." Even though "the official ideology of Communism is in headlong retreat," the economic reformers don't admire an open society; the Chinese political system is now a Party-state resting on military power.
What is perhaps most significant is that the "democracy movement" seen in 1989 at Tiananmen Square is no longer a compelling force among the younger generation: Mosher tells us was crushed completely, leaving an apolitical middle class, an elite that controls everything either directly or indirectly, intellectuals who in the Chinese tradition are largely sycophants for the state, and a younger generation that is intensely nationalistic. The nationalism nurtures deep resentment toward the United States and supports the current power structure. The United States, although seen as in decline, is felt to be denying China, a superior culture, its rightful place.
The thrust of this book is that China seeks "hegemony" in keeping with its historic dominance. Mosher speaks of three phases of hegemony: "basic," involving the absorption of Taiwan and control over the South China Sea; "regional," extending to a domination of East Asia; and "global," contesting the primacy of the United States for world leadership.
Something of which this reviewer had not been aware was the extent to which Chinese regional power may come to be advanced by demographic extension. The Russian Far East has been a part of Russia only since it was ceded to Russia in 1860; it encompasses an area almost as big as Canada, but is occupied by only eight million aging Russians. Up to a half-million Chinese migrate to the area each year, with the well-nigh predictable result that China will before long come to have a commanding presence there. It is important to note, also, that "sixty million wealthy overseas Chinese... occupy key economic roles in a dozen Asia countries." In Malaysia one-third of the population is Chinese, and they control about two-thirds of the economy. Chinese control about 75 percent of the economy in Thailand; and in Indonesia they constitute only two percent of the population, but own some ninety percent of the economy.
Thus, the factual underpinnings of Mosher's book are informative and important. Some disputable issues arise, however, from the concepts he applies to the facts. The title's subheading is "China's plan to dominate Asia and the world," but the extrapolation to world domination turns out to be, as it must, highly conjectural. Mosher uses the word "may" a lot, and readers need to realize that this can lead to alarming extrapolations that are speculative at best.
This, though, is not the main conceptual question. Mosher calls for a policy of "containment" toward China, and, speaking in terms of the "universality of human rights and representative government," clearly sees the United States as the guarantor (the "policeman," if you will) of non-Chinese interests throughout Asia. This is evident when he asks, "Which democratic states will we watch being devoured by the Hegemon? Taiwan? Kazakhstan? Mongolia? Thailand?" Championing the ideals of a free society, Mosher speaks of "American primacy": "We need make no apology for striving to maintain America's global primacy, the chief threat to which is the emergence of China as a hostile superpower. America's continued preponderance over China, as well as other states, brings with it important advantages for Americans. The benign American order carries benefits to the wider world as well...."
Others who are equally devoted to the ideals of freedom are entitled to question this. China has a population of somewhat over 1.2 billion people, and this is expected to grow to 1.5 billion by 2025. It has since 1992 been experiencing what Mosher calls "phenomenal economic growth, with the GNP increasing at a rate of between eight and twelve percent per year." Given these facts, and adding to them the facts about the demographic spread of a highly successful Chinese population, is there any possibility that China will not tower over East Asia as a regional power?
To set American policy against that is to position it for failure. The policy will almost certainly lead America into a Quixotic belligerency and ultimate defeat. In today's world of billistic missiles, biological and chemical warfare, terrorism, and cyberwar, this strategy, based on an illusion of power where effectively there can be none, is unspeakably dangerous. And it is dangerous precisely to the one nation that serves as the world's primary bastion and exemplar of freedom. Isn't this at odds with the very things Mosher believes in most?
When the discussion moves to China's advance toward "global hegemony," a thoughtful reader is prompted to ask what this implies. Mosher speaks of "their hegemonic desire to become, once again, the largest, most powerful civilization on earth." He adds that "the unspoken goal is to... end America's reign as the sole superpower in the world." This is very different from a prediction of world conquest (which is just as well, since that would be ludicrous). The questions: How can any nation of a billion and a half people, highly affluent, not become a superpower? Can anyone prevent that? And what will it imply, in practical terms, for that nation to be "the most powerful" if it exists in a world with other superpowers? What will have to be done to keep clipping its wings? Won't the United States once again – if it stakes out a claim to sole primacy in what will inescapably become a multipolar world – be adopting a policy that will demand decades of angry facing-off and potentially cataclysmic danger?
To mention these questions is not to criticize Mosher any more than the countless others who today assume the efficacy of a rightful American interventionism throughout the world. The United States changed direction to take on global responsibilities in 1898. The questions simply suggest that it is now imperative to have the wisest possible discussion of fundamentals. The query: what best will serve the cause of freedom?
Dwight D. Murphey