With all the talk about Russia these days, one might forget that there are other countries that pose a threat to the United States — a far greater threat, perhaps.
That’s the point Victor Davis Hanson, a visiting scholar from the Hoover Institution, made last Thursday during the Alexander Hamilton Society’s first event of the year. Hanson spoke about the future trends of Chinese-American policy to more than 50 Hillsdale College students, faculty, and guests in the Heritage Room in Mossey Library. He made the case that China’s threats to the U.S. economy and national security are far more concerning than anything Russia has done thus far.
Hanson attributed China’s threat to the American economy to decades of lenient policies under the Reagan, Carter, and George H.W. Bush administrations. He said that in an effort to improve economic relations with China, America ignored its record of foul play and espionage.
“We thought that the more a country liberalizes its economy, the more affluent it becomes,” he said. “When it’s relieved of a Neanderthal need to survive one more day, it has the option of becoming a liberal society.”
Instead, Hanson explained, the strategy backfired. Within 40 years, China had the second largest economy in the world, and its nine-percent growth rate surpassed the U.S., emboldening it to see itself as our rival.
Hanson also discussed the danger of China’s growing military strength and its appeal to rising nations around the globe.
“They go to our allies and say, ‘People haven’t appreciated you. Make the right choice. Start dealing with us,’” he said.
And it works. In addition to sympathy, China offers a generous overseas program, an indifference to human rights, and little specification on form of government to discontent countries. It also promises protection under a defense system specifically designed to deny the U.S. proximity to it and its spheres of influence.
“If you look at their strategic doctrine, it’s quite brilliant,” Hanson said.
Even more disturbing, he said, are the Chinese nationals who’ve embedded themselves into the U.S. educational system by tapping into America’s obsession with diversity and anti-Russian sentiment. Hanson estimated that some 300,000 Chinese students live in the western United States. The majority work in the fields of science, engineering, and math, giving them a front-row seat to America’s latest technological developments and risking our national security.
“It’s one of the most sophisticated propaganda campaigns,” he said.
Carly Fisher, a freshman pursuing a career in foreign policy, said this intrigued her.
“He did a great job of talking about a lot of things I didn’t know about, especially the fact that China is stealing so many U.S. secrets in technology and innovation,” she said. “The whole concept of leap-frogging with technological advances I found really fascinating.”
But under the Trump administration, the era of laxity with Chinese relations may be over. Hanson pointed to a shift in America’s economic attitude toward China for proof.
“We have an administration that believes that trade surpluses are advantageous for our country and trade deficits are not,” he said.
This development has led to a change in priorities, he said. While cheap Chinese products help keep the inflation rate down, local mom and pop stores contribute a cultural and social benefit to the community that foreign products can’t replicate.
A similar shift has occurred in America’s national security strategy, particularly in China’s relationship with North Korea. Hanson said the Trump administration has informed China that everything is “on the table,” and as long as China remains complicit in North Korea’s threats, America may encourage Japan and Taiwan to go nuclear.
Senior Nathanael Cheng, secretary for AHS, said this surprised him most about Hanson’s lecture.
“That’s not something you hear often, especially from the government,” he said. “It’s interesting to hear what’s going on behind the scenes.”
The speech concluded with a lively question-and-answer session in which students, faculty, and guests engaged with Hanson.
Cheng expressed gratitude to Hanson for sharing his expertise with the group.
“China is becoming more and more important, especially in policy-making circles,” Cheng said. “The economic, defense, and political sides are all very important and as China continues to rise and continues to develop, it’s important that people, broadly speaking, have an awareness of what’s going on in China. It has the ability to affect what’s going one — even in a place like Hillsdale.”