Book Review: China: The Gathering Threat


by Constantine C. Menges

Nashville: Nelson Current, 2005. Pp. 565. Notes, references, index. $27.99. ISBN:1-5955-5005-4

With much US foreign policy and military planning currently focused on trans-national Islamicist terror groups, it is wise to also keep tabs on the country of one billion in East Asia. The late Dr. Constantine C. Menges ably performs this task, warning of the threat currently posed by Communist China and showing how the US should respond.

Menges’ scholarly tome recounts the history and factional antagonisms of Communist China as well as Russia. One must be understood in relation to the other. Sino-Soviet relations were often acrimonious, nearly coming to a full-fledged border war in 1969. Yet now, Menges’ sees the Chinese and Russians as standing together against the growth of US economic and military power abroad. In 2000, Russia and China publicly stated their mutual foreign policy objectives were to oppose and contain the United States. Russia has also sold advanced military technology to China, including supersonic anti-ship missiles and hard-to-detect diesel submarines useful for blockades. Thus, to address the gathering threat of this book’s Churchillian title, Western policy makers need to coordinate the response to both powers. Furthermore, the US and its allies must consider the traditional Chinese view that “the world needs a hegemon - or dominant state – to prevent disorder. … The Communist regime believes China should be that hegemon and it is threatened by the United States seeking to be that hegemon.”

Menges argues that the stated aims of the Chinese Communist government flow from the aforementioned notion of Chinese manifest destiny, and include,

  • Normalization of economic relations with democracies
  • Asian regional persuasion and coercion with global geostrategic and economic positioning
  • Taking Taiwan and becoming preponderant in Asia
  • Becoming dominant in Asia following the end of the US/Japan alliance
  • Neutralization of Western Europe
  • China takes Russian Far East and dominates Russia
  • Global preponderance for China
  • Global dominance for China

These goals, when read in light of current events, suggest that regional military conflict is within the realm of possibility for the future. Menges expertly recounts the acts of espionage the Communist government has used to pilfer Western military technology, which they are using to improve their ICBM and regional power projection capabilities. China’s ICBM threat may be at least credible enough to hold Western powers at bay while it undertakes acts of coercion or outright violence against its regional neighbors. Yet, Menges reports that military planners in both China and the US do not think much of each other’s capabilities. Such mutual miscalculations in the past have caused untold suffering.

To lead relations with China in a more peaceful direction, Menges proposes a policy of “realistic engagement” based on strict reciprocity, scrutiny, rewards for demonstrated obedience, and assistance for pro-democratic forces within China. In other words, China must deliver on reform and human rights promises before getting economic benefits, unlike the current, appeasing policy of “constructive engagement”.

Of course, the US needs to take prudent military precautions to counter China’s growing armed forces. But Menges’ recommendations are aimed more at bringing about true reform to the Chinese government and true freedom to Chinese society. Says Menges, “…nowhere has political democracy simply emerged from the process of economic modernization and growth. It has to be sought, struggled for, and established by individuals who have reached a firm decision that this form of government would be better for their country than the current dictatorship and who have decided to take action to bring about a new system of governance.” The role of the US, he continues, is “…giving encouragement and the practical assistance that helps the individuals who seek to liberalize the political system. “

Reviewer: Travis Fell    

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