Guns and Butter?

China has two overarching and interrelated imperatives.  Provide improving economic and personal opportunities for its citizens, and reestablish its historic dominance in the Asia Pacific, by opportunistically diminishing the position of the US [military and commercial] with its allies.  Unencumbered by the electoral constraints of democracies, China can take the long view – often measured in decades.

Within the last ten years, China has accelerated huge and very expensive initiatives [Guns]:  the Belt and Road – transportation and commercial links to more than 80 countries, the String of Pearls – more than 10 dominated and managed ports for military and commercial purposes extending from Hong Kong to Piraeus in Greece, and development of a “global” electricity network based on a backbone of ultra high-voltage transmission lines.  Domestically, 39 nuclear power plants are under construction, and in 2015 the “Made in China 2025” blueprint for modernization and innovation of manufacturing transportation infrastructure was begun.

In parallel, the transition from a defensive infantry military to a sophisticated power projection capability is well underway.  Under development:  an underground Maritime Military installation on Hainan in the South China Sea eventually capable of housing 20 Nuclear Submarines,  hypersonic anti-ship missile defense systems.

Potentially acting as a restraint on these ambitions, Premier-for-life Xi has to provide increasing quantities of Butter to a society burdened by massive inequalities, air pollution, water shortages, a rapidly aging population and attendant rising demands for social security and health care.  All within the context of a very fragile financial system.

Assessing developments in China will mean keeping this tension foremost.  Howard W French argues very persuasively that the “push for global power” will consistently dominate this tradeoff.  His book,  Everything Under the Heavens is reviewed here.

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