The patient game

China is making use of its long-honed method for military dominance on the USA:

What is peculiar to China’s political culture, and of very great contemporary relevance is the centrality within it of a very specific doctrine on how to bring powerful foreigners—indeed foreigners initially more powerful than the empire—into a tributary relationship. Specialists concur that this doctrine emerged from the very protracted (3rd century BCE to 1st century CE) but ultimately successful struggle with the Xiongnú (匈奴) horse-nomad state, just possibly remote ancestors of Attila’s Huns, but definitely the inventors of the Steppe State political system that would be replicated by all their successors, and more adapted than replaced even by the Mongols….

The method forms a logical sequence:

  • Stage One: start by conceding all that must be conceded to the superior power including tribute, in order to avoid damage and obtain whatever forbearance is offered. But this in itself entangles the ruling class of the still-superior power in webs of material dependence that reduce its independent vitality and strength.
  • Stage Two: offer equality in a privileged bipolarity that excludes all lesser powers, or “G-2” in current parlance. That neutralizes the still powerful Other party, and isolates the manipulated soon-to-be former equal from all its potential allies, preventing from balancing China with a coalition.
  • Stage Three: finally, when the formerly superior power has been weakened enough, withdraw all tokens of equality and impose subordination.

Until the Chinese government decided—very prematurely I believe—to awaken the world to its classically imperial territorial ambitions by demanding the cession of lands, reefs, rocks, and sea waters from India, Japan, Malaysia, the Philippines, and Vietnam (demands that disturb and damage the concurrent Tianxia narrative of an alternative and more harmonious state system, disseminated even within the confines of Stanford University), it was making much progress towards Stage Two, the stage of equality preparatory to the final stage of subordination.

For all its weaknesses, and they are many, one thing that must be kept in mind is that the Chinese always play the long game. The Han have been playing this game and winning at it for a very long time; they are considerably more successful in historical terms than other ancient cultures such as the Greeks, the Romans, or the Jews. China is less than 70 years into its long-term struggle with the USA and has already reached the point where it is able to challenge the USA on a regional level; I very much doubt that its strategists are unaware that it took 147 years to subdue the Xiongnú.

Meanwhile, the USA is sinking into weakness and amalgamation with lesser, non-European cultures. I would expect Stage Two to be reached within the next 20 years. If the USA thought in similar terms, it would go to war with China now, while it still has the advantage. But US leadership doesn’t think further ahead than the next presidential election, or, as the rise of ISIS in the void of conquered Iraq demonstrates, in grand strategic terms.