As a boy, I remember once telling my mother that I thought the government should provide certain basic needs to everyone, so that everyone could live their lives and be happy. If everyone had a house and a car, I said with wide-eyed innocence, we could all focus on other things, because we had the essentials. I’m sure I didn’t say it quite that simply or articulately, but the message was clear enough. My mother looked at me tolerantly and said, “Do you know what that is, Phillip? That’s communism.”
That is my earliest memory of an understanding of the concept of communism. My childhood was dominated by the shadow of the Soviet Union and the specter of nuclear war, painted in garish colors and with fairly crude special effects in movies like “The Day After” (and a slew of other nuclear holocaust films that were all the rage back then). The Soviets were the heavies in countless movies and a staple of men’s adventure fiction, some of which I went back and read later in life when the books were long out of print. The Soviets, the communists, were the evil empire, and they stood opposed to everything that was good and right and true in the world. The Cold War was at its robust height and, if nothing else, those in the United States understood that they had a serious national rival.
With the collapse of the Soviet Union as a superpower, we in the United States became complacent, at least to a certain degree. I think we have forgotten what it is like to live each day knowing that there is a nation on Earth working just as diligently against our interests as we work for them. In the post-Cold-War era, that nation is communist China. The battlegrounds on which we prosecute a not-so-cold war with China are not proxy conflicts in third-world nations; they are the twin fields of endeavor most vital to continued human progress. These are technology and industry.
Anyone familiar with the state of contemporary manufacturing is familiar with how things are done in China. From photocopiers to pocket knives, anything and everything that can be made is made by Chinese manufacturing facilities. For the longest time, the factor holding the Chinese back in the world market was the critical issue of quality control. The Chinese have largely overcome this, however, and now an American company farming out its manufacturing to China can essentially pay for the level of product quality it desires. The Chinese will simultaneously, quietly copy anything and everything submitted to them for manufacture, of course; this is expected and even tolerated, if not appreciated.
While in the short term this state of affairs leads to a loss of American manufacturing jobs, an increase in cheaper consumer products of at least adequate quality in American stores, and perhaps a gradual normalization of the relationship between nations that trade with each other, in the long term there is a very real threat represented by Chinese technological development. The only thing stopping this communist nation from being the rival (and hostile) superpower the Soviet Union was to us is that it lacks the technological sophistication to compete with us directly. This is rapidly changing, and evidence of that fact is all around us. It starts with the slow but steady increase in quality control of consumer goods made in China (which a few years ago were cheap, yes, but very shoddy). It ends with … well, we don’t know where it ends, but it continues with the ChiComs in space.
CNN reported Monday that China’s first lunar probe has landed on the moon in a “controlled collision,” the first in what is apparently three stages of the nation’s mission to the moon. This emphasizes the fact that China is in a very select club of space-traveling nations, of which the United States and the former Soviet Union are members. All you have to do to join the club is put a manned spacecraft in orbit. China did so in 2003.
The space program is, of course, of tremendous national importance to China, which has a chip on its shoulder and something to prove to the rest of the world. Specifically, it wants the respect normally afforded a technologically advanced industrial nation. This is why the 2008 Olympics in Beijing were so important to China; successfully hosting the Olympics was seen (or at least touted in the mainstream media) as proof that China was indeed an advanced, industrialized nation competitive with the West, and not a largely backward totalitarian prison-state that ruthlessly tramples the human rights of its citizens. Ignored at the time, of course, were the various little scandals that cropped up, such as when China cut off access to iTunes to the entire country because some Olympic athletes downloaded a free Tibet album – not to mention the quickly covered-up stabbing death of an American in town for the games.
Even as it makes industrial and technological gains in less oppositional endeavors, China is also building up its military. DoD Buzz reports that China’s fleet of more than 50 attack submarines conducted twice as many patrols in 2008 as it did in 2007. Chinese attack submarines are shadowing our aircraft carriers; we would be foolish to dismiss them. China’s conventional military force is, of course, the largest in the world, owing to China’s large population.
Right now, the West holds a technological edge on the equipment the Chinese military uses, just as it holds a lead on the consumer and industrial technology used in China. These leads are all shrinking, and shrinking fast. Continued trade with an increasingly technologically advanced China may indeed be the best means of preventing an eventual war with this large, powerful, communist nation. We must, however, treat China as the rival that it is – and the threat it represents.