Home/Daniel Larison/Don’t Fall for Bannon’s China Fear-mongering

Don’t Fall for Bannon’s China Fear-mongering

Steve Bannon (GageSkidmore/Flickr) and China’s Xi Junping(plavevski/Shutterstock)

Following up on the launch of the alarmist Committee on the Present Danger: China, Steve Bannon warns about China’s desire to be “the global hegemonic power”:

The United States’ fight is not with the Chinese people but with the CCP. The Chinese people are the first and continuous victims of this barbarous regime.

The central issues that must be faced are China’s intentions on the world stage and what those ambitions mean for U.S. prosperity. With our country at a crossroads, it is more important than ever that Trump follow his instincts and not soften his stance against the greatest existential threat ever faced by the United States.

Bannon and his would-be New Cold Warriors are eager to portray China as an “existential threat” to America, but with the possible exception of the Soviet Union at its most powerful this description has always been a gross exaggeration of the danger that other states pose to our country. Throwing around the phrase “existential threat” tells us that the person using it is trying to scare his audience into submission. It is not an accurate assessment of the threat posed to the U.S., but then it is not intended to be one. The reality is that China is a significant great power competitor, but it does not aspire to global hegemony and does not threaten our survival. There are smarter and dumber ways to compete with China, and among the latter is the sort of confrontational, zero-sum rivalry that Bannon advocates. Hard-liners declare compromise futile because they can’t stand the idea of settling a dispute rather than exploiting it to increase tensions.

Whenever a hawk professes to care about another country’s people, it is usually a good sign that he is arguing for policies that would impoverish and harm them. Bannon’s rhetoric about the Chinese people is indistinguishable from the rhetoric Iran hawks use when talking about the Iranian people, and it is just as disingenuous. Hawks are always saying that their fight is not with the people, and yet they invariably demand policies that target and hurt the people much more than the regime. If our experience with Iraq, Iran, Syria, Yemen, and Venezuela is any guide, the greater our government’s hostility to the regime that rules a country the more damage that our policies do to the people that reside there. Hawks generally have no problem inflicting enormous suffering on the people as long as they can try to shift the blame for their plight to their own government. Even as they impose collective punishment that deprives the civilian population of basic essentials, they keep repeating the lie that the people are not their enemy.

Regime changers are always dangerous, but they usually limit their ambitions to knocking over third-rate dictatorships that can’t effectively fight back. Picking a similar fight with a major power such as China is much more perilous and much more likely to turn out badly for the U.S. One important element in ensuring continued American prosperity is not wasting our resources in a truly futile, self-defeating rivalry with our largest trading partner.

about the author

Daniel Larison is a senior editor at TAC, where he also keeps a solo blog. He has been published in the New York Times Book Review, Dallas Morning News, World Politics Review, Politico Magazine, Orthodox Life, Front Porch Republic, The American Scene, and Culture11, and was a columnist for The Week. He holds a PhD in history from the University of Chicago, and resides in Lancaster, PA. Follow him on Twitter.

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