I have been late to the party on the what appears to be a run up to war with China. I have tried to put the current events in a context that can explain why the Chinese might take such a reckless path.
It was considered orthodoxy in in the 1980’s that China could never liberalize under Communist Party rule. The general view was that, whenever China attempts to advance economically, a middle class would emerge and demand more political power. Rather than allow power outside of the Communist monopoly, the Party would crush the upstart middle class.
I was taught this orthodoxy, in part, at Smith College by the esteemed China expert Steven Goldstein PhD in the mid 1980’s. Then later, in 1989, I will never forget seeing Prof. Goldstein standing with Dan Rather in Tienanmen square in front of the statute of the Goddess of Democracy. He had apparently forgotten his own thesis and was celebrating Democracy taking hold in China. Then the PLA tanks rolled and crush the students.
Disregarding most of the Stalinist/Marxist economic development model, China has grown a massive capitalist economy rivaled only by EU and the U.S. By imposing harsh control over dissent, the Party has maintained its grip on power. But with a growing flaw.
China has advanced its economy in a sea of corruption. Mao rejected capitalism and called the wealth it generated “Silver coated bullets.” Xi’s apparent move to stem corruption has removed from the Chinese military the means by which these party stalwarts could share in the the economic success. The only thing left to the military is to end the move towards more capitalist based power and stop China’s assent within the capitalist world. For the PLA, cut out of the ability to share in the economic success, war with the US, with the resulting destruction of the Chinese economic experiment will end the source of temptation. The Silver Coated Bullets. For the PLA, it’s Better to reign in Hell, than serve in Heaven.*
*John Milton, Paradise Lost. 1667.