Beijing's dangerous intentions
Geoff Metcalf interviews China expert Steven W. Mosher

Last year, Geoff Metcalf interviewed Steven W. Mosher, the author of a compelling book called "Hegemon: The Chinese Plan To Dominate Asia And The Rest Of The World". Mosher makes a compelling case that the leaders of Communist China are dangerous people, that they don't like the United States and regard this nation as their enemy.

Recently, Metcalf spoke with Steven Mosher again -- before the current midair incident and subsequent hostage taking had occurred -- and his insights merit another look at the reality of the China threat.

By Geoff Metcalf

Question: Chinaís honchos have spoken with President Bush and told him not to give any weapons or defense hardware to Taiwan -- donít put up a missile shield. The Taiwanese have been leaning on the president saying, "Gimme, gimme, gimme." What is going to happen?

Answer: Well, I hope the Bush administration is going to be more sensible about China than the Clinton administration was and recognize that this is a brutal one-party dictatorship which rules its own country by violence and the threat of violence and eventually will treat its neighbors in the same fashion. It is almost, by definition, a threat to its neighbors and to the United States.

Then youíve got the missile build-up. Youíve mentioned the missiles already, but then youíve got the submarine force of China which is the largest in the world. China has a huge fleet of diesel electric submarines. Our own Navy tends to discount diesel electric subs because they like nuclear submarines -- the diesels have a short range. But they would be perfect -- these diesel electric subs -- for a blockade around Taiwan. Then what are we going to do? Weíd have another Cuban missile crisis. Do we run the blockade and risk war? Or do we allow Taiwan to be slowly strangled?

Q: China has made it very clear -- you have quoted them in your book, Bill Gertz quotes them in his book -- they are not being shy about what their long-term plans are. They see us as the enemy and, eventually, they anticipate they will be at war with us.

A: And this is not new news. Back in 1991, following the collapse of the Soviet Union, America turned to China -- the elder Bush turned to China -- and said in effect, isnít it wonderful the Soviet Union is now collapsed, you donít have to worry about the Hegemon to the north. And Deng declared that there was now a new cold war -- not between the Soviet Union and the United States, but between China and the United States. That was ten years ago. We have had ample warning that China thinks of us as the dominant power to be overthrown -- the power that it [China] is going to replace in years to come as our [U.S.] military and economic and cultural decay continues.

Q: I have asked you this question before but, come on -- the people in the Pentagon, the people in the State Department, they are not stupid people. How can they be confronted with the obvious facts already in evidence and think, well if weíre nice to the Chinese, if we accommodate them, eventually they are going to get more democratic in their approach -- and we want their markets -- so if we just play nice with them, eventually they are going to be a good trading partner?

A: Well, I donít think most of the people in the Pentagon think like that. And under Donald Rumsfeld, I think fewer and fewer will if they want to keep their jobs.

Q: Thereís a new sheriff in town?

A: Yeah. And Iíve recently spoken with the FBI and, let me tell you, they are very, very concerned about Chinese espionage in the United States. They have a large and growing counter-espionage force specifically targeting on Chinese agents, trying to prevent this massive theft of nuclear technology, of missile technology.

Q: What else is there for them to steal? They have either been given or stolen everything they need, havenít they?

A: They have gotten a lot of the pieces of the puzzle. Hopefully they havenít quite put it together yet. I went a couple of months ago and spoke at the Central Intelligence Agency. This is the organization that is supposed to be in charge of watching foreign threats to the United States and reporting to the president on those threats. I have to tell you that they are terribly understaffed. I mean we had a thousand people watching the Soviet Union at its height. We had 500 watching military affairs, we had 500 watching social and cultural and political indicators. We have a few dozen people watching China.

Q: Is that a function of policy?

A: I think so. It is a holdover of days when we sort of thought of China as our junior partner in a quasi-alliance against the Soviet Union. But those days are over. Deng Xiaoping announced that over ten years ago and weíve got to grow up and weíve got to listen to the threats coming from China. Weíve got to augment our forces watching China so that we donít have to wait until a missile base off of Taiwan is completed before we discover its existence -- when we should have known as soon as they broke ground.

Q: When you were at the CIA, you didnít bump into the ghost of Wild Bill Donovan did you?

A: No, but we had a full house and a lot of people taking notes. There are a lot of good people who are waking up to the China threat. I think we control our own destiny here. I think there are things we can do to stop Chinaís military build-up in its tracks.

Q: What?

A: Well, first of all, China is very aware -- very aware -- that the Soviet Union collapsed because it tried to outspend us on military affairs. It tried to build a bigger military than the United States. Weíve got by far the largest economy in the world. If we convince China that we are serious about building a missile-defense system, about matching their military build-up step by step, about increasing our forces in Asia -- that we are not a power in decline, weíre a power with staying power and weíre going to be in Asia for decades.

Q: Slow down a moment, Steven. Can the administration sell that to Congress and to the American people that we are going to get into another arms race?

A: I think this is precisely the way to avoid an arms race. Because, right now, China thinks if they devote a lot of resources, tens of billions of dollars to a military build-up, they can surpass the United States. We have to let them know that that investment is worthless because we can stop their missiles with a missile-defense shield, we can sink their blue-water navy with our carriers, and we can meet them across the board and defeat them.

Now, if they are convinced of that, they will not go into an arms race with us because they are concerned that they might follow the same path as the Soviet Union and collapse. They are very concerned about not overspending on the military. If we can raise the price too high in this poker game, we can bluff them out of the game. But weíve got to up the ante.

Q: It has been a few years since Iíve looked at it, but I have looked at the models from the Navy War College and the Army War College and they all predict the same thing: That somewhere between the years 2007 to 2014, Communist China will be a military might superior to that of the United States.

A: Those studies were done in the days of the Clinton administration, when our military was declining in capability from year to year, when equipment was rapidly approaching obsolescence, when military morale was down in the depths. Hopefully we can turn that around -- we must turn that around.

Q: Is Rumsfeld the "Rainmaker"? Is he going to kick butt and take names?

A: I think so. I had some friends go with the secretary of defense to China a couple of years ago. The Chinese were saying to him at every opportunity, you know, the United States canít build a missile-defense shield -- it will be destabilizing, it will cause an arms race -- and he simply looked them in the eye and said, "Look, weíre going to build a missile-defense shield, get used to it." And that was the end of the discussion. I think he is absolutely sound on that point. Heís also someone who has been here before. He was secretary of defense during the Ford administration, when military morale was in the tank because of Vietnam.

Q: What did he do then?

A: He traveled around the world -- he boosted military morale -- he got in the face of a hostile Congress and he got an actual increase in the Pentagon budget. This during the years when there were deep cuts.

Q: He was also selected by Forbes magazine as "one of the ten toughest bosses in the country."

A: And a seasoned administrator. So I think he can turn the Pentagon around. I donít think thatís where the problem is going to be. I think the problem is going to be with the State Department. I think the problem may be at the National Security Council. I know the problem may be with our intelligence agencies, which arenít taking China seriously.

Q: Do you see a sea-change about to take place in the intelligence community about China? I mean, at the same time, we have Russia rattling sabers too.

A: Weíve only got Russia rattling sabers because we mismanaged the Russian relationship over the last ten years and we now have to repair that. We squandered a great opportunity with the collapse of the Soviet Union to firmly wed Russia to the West, to bring it into Europe the way it has always looked longingly to Europe. And now, ten years later, we are falling back into hostile rhetoric.

Q: I take a very cynical view of that. The Chinese had money to give to Clinton and the DNC and Russia didnít -- Russia was only taking money.

A: Well, you know, China is not only a threat to the United States, but it is a threat to Russia because the day will come when China looks north and says those were once our territories and we want them back again. And besides, the Russian population is small and declining and dying and it wonít be that hard to take them back again.

Q: I have frequently observed that this alleged "strategic partnership" between the Russians and the Chinese is one of convenience and neither one trusts the other. It is not unlike the deal that the Nazis made with Stalin.

A: And it could be -- like that deal -- broken at any time. Basically the Chinese are taking hard currency they make from their trade surplus with us and using it to buy weapons from Russia which is starved for hard currency. So, yeah, it is a marriage of convenience.

Q: What is the short-term prognosis for what will happen with China? The conventional wisdom is within five to ten years they are going to take Taiwan back.

A: I think that is true. In fact I think that is so true that Iíve published another book -- this one a novel. Itís called "China Attacks."

Q: I have interviewed Chuck DeVore.

A: Chuck DeVore is a wonderful writer and a specialist in military intelligence. The book is a fascinating account of how China might go about actually invading and conquering Taiwan.

Q: You brought it up a little earlier than I intended but, since you did bring it up, "China Attacks" -- how close do you think that scenario is to something we may soon seen in the future?

A: It is as close as the president of Taiwan making a verbal misstep and talking about independence. I think itís as close as any indication that China might get from the United States that we might sit out a conflict, might not intervene right away. I think the plan is for an invasion by 2008 or before. That is what was reported by the Hong Kong press, which is normally reliable on this subject. As for those who say China would lose 100,000 men in taking back Taiwan -- or maybe two or three times that number -- what does it matter?

Q: They donít care.

A: What does it matter to a regime that has taken millions of lives in the "Cultural Revolution," lost 45 million in "The Great Leap Forward"?

Q: They have killed more than that themselves.

A: Yes.

Q: So what could America do -- or what should America do -- to preclude this taking back of Taiwan? Or do we say, "Hey, they took Hong Kong, let them have Taiwan?"

A: Weíve got a very important decision coming up in April. Taiwan has asked for weapons to defend itself, including Aegis-class missile destroyers. And we ought to sell them -- not give them, this is not charity -- we ought to sell them the means that they can use to defend themselves.

Q: As I recall, those Aegis destroyers they want will take about eight years to get them there?

A: Itís going to take a long, long time. So there is that window of opportunity that China will have where Taiwan will not be able to defend itself.

Q: And should a free people have the right to defend themselves?

A: Of course they do. They are here with hard cash ready to make purchases and weíre going to listen to the propaganda of a one-party dictatorship who does not wish them well and not sell them weapons? That makes no sense at all to me.

Q: Bush met with the Chinese leadership. What do you suspect will happen?

A: I hope he sees through the language. China alternately talks tough -- and takes off the glove -- and then puts on a velvet glove and tries to stroke us and convince us that they are not really a threat, that all they need to get along with us is the assurance that we wonít arm Taiwan. But Taiwan is only the beginning of what I see as Chinaís march back to glory to recover their lost grandeur.

Taiwan is at the top of the list, but it wouldnít stop with the recovery of Taiwan -- it would continue with the South China Sea and the territories in the East China Sea and the North China Sea. It would continue to the south as they beef up their military presence in Burma. You know, theyíve reopened the Burma Road between China and Burma now. They are the principal supplier of weapons and arms to the military dictatorship in Burma. It will continue with a naval presence in the Indian Ocean -- which makes our friends in the country of India very, very nervous by the way. It will continue in the Middle East with closer and closer ties with radical Islamic regimes.

Q: I have heard it posited that two principal threats to the United States are the Islamic radical regimes in the Middle East and China. An obvious question is which one is the greater threat?

A: I really see them as one threat. Because Chinaís best allies in the world are countries like Iran and Iraq and Syria, youíd better believe when the day comes that there is a crisis over Taiwan there may also be a crisis over Kuwait. There may also be a crisis over Syria and Israel. There may also be a crisis involving Mohamar Ghadaffi and Libya.

Q: Strategically, thatís where we get caught by the short hairs. We are not right now capable of dealing with two separate theaters (if, in fact, we could marshal for one).

A: We canít possibly respond to crises in several parts of the world. Weíd be hard pressed to respond to a Taiwan Strait crisis if everything else was calm and peaceful.

Q: Back in the 1920s, Russia kept signing all those non-aggression pacts with all their subsequent satellites. It struck me that in the 20s, the quickest way to guarantee Russia was going to invade you and take you over was to sign some kind of a treaty or non-aggression pact.

A: (laughing) And there they were at your front door a few months later.

Q: It appears now that the Chinese are following that same model.

A: The Chinese have gone into Central Asia and theyíve signed non-aggression pacts with all of the Central Asian republics. That happened a few months ago. I look at maps of China in history and I remember 200 years ago, much of Central Asia was under Chinese domination. So that non-aggression pact may well be the first step in increasing military presence in Central Asia.

Q: What happens with the Chinese leadership -- which is more than a little long in the tooth -- if these old guys start dying off? Will it result in any appreciable policy change?

A: The old guys have been dying off for decades. Mao, the original "old guy" -- the great leader, the great helmsman -- died in the mid 1970s and everyone said thereís going to be a new generation of leaders coming along.

Q: Yeah, but the new generation were in their seventies.

A: But the new generation is always in its seventies because the old guys donít give up power until they are practically in their graves. So every time you get someone new coming to the fore, he is a seasoned bureaucratic insider, a believing communist and official who wants to preserve his power, an official who has been absolutely corrupted by the absolute power the Communists have -- and it is just more of the same.

The only guy in recent Chinese history who was a true reformer was the head of the Chinese communist party in the late 1980s in the time of the Tiennaman Square demonstrations. He was a voice for moderation. He said, letís negotiate with the students, letís sit down and talk out our differences, letís move in the direction of ending corruption in the party, letís let the people have a say.

Q: What happened to him?

A: He was crushed by a conservative avalanche in the halls of power. He was opposed uniformly by everybody -- the old communist ideologues united with the opportunists, united with corrupt officials hungry for power -- and they just put him under house arrest.

Q: Steven, as thoughts finally turn to even thinking about rebuilding our own military, the cruel reality is we donít have any real domestic manufacturing base. Unless we start making our own steel, our own electronic and mechanical parts and components so that we have a reliable domestic supply of spare parts for our military and the civilian sector, we as a country are, frankly, dead in the water.

A: When the day comes that key components in our military equipment -- in our spy satellites for instance -- are outsourced to foreign countries like China ...

Q: Hey, right now, we have components to our jet fighters where the only place in the world we can get the necessary mineral component is in Communist-Red China!

A: Well, getting the mineral is one thing but getting the actual component is another. They would be unlikely to sell us those components in the event of a war. But our infrastructure has been hollowed out -- we would be hard-pressed to engage in the same kind of military build-up we engaged in the early years of the Reagan administration because we donít have the hardware available from domestic sources.

Q: After every big war there is always this big demobilization. After World War I, the "war to end all wars," we scaled down to virtually nothing. In World War II, we were able to build up because we had this magnificent monumental manufacturing might. We donít have that anymore.

A: And a lot of that manufacturing ability has gone straight across the Pacific Ocean to China. And the flip side of the fact that the Chinese military is building refrigerators is this: That it has a huge military-industrial structure in place that it can use to turn out missiles and tanks and planes.

Q: Which is exactly what we did when the Second World War started, in converting plants into manufacturing military munitions.

A: We couldnít do it again today.

Q: How much of a security risk is it that we have such a huge trade deficit with China? What is it -- about $83 billion a year -- 1.5 billion dollars a week?

A: I certainly think so. China is practicing mercantilism -- a beggar thy neighbor policy -- which means you sell as much as you can to your neighbor and you buy as little as you can in return. That generates a huge foreign currency surplus and weíve talked about how China is using that to buy weapons from Russia. But not only that -- itís using it to invest in other countries, itís using it to fund a huge espionage effort in the United States and, of course, to make campaign contributions.

Q: At what point does China reach that diminishing return? There has to be a point at which they have to slow down. Can we catch up or is too late?

A: I think the Chinese system is self-limiting. You can only go so far with a one-party dictatorship. Eventually, Chinaís people are going to wake up to the fact that if they desire not just freedom but continued economic development they are going to have to get rid of the old-line communists in Beijing -- theyíre going to have to establish a system of checks and balances, a government that is responsive to their wishes.

Q: Whoa, wait a minute -- didnít they try something like that in Tiannaman Square?

A: They did and they were shot down in the streets like dogs. And Iím not saying itís going to happen anytime soon. I think weíre decades away from any serious movement toward any respect for human rights and democracy in China. Meanwhile, the military build-up continues.

Q: Hereís the catch-22 though: Maybe, just maybe -- some point in the far distant future decades away -- China through either epiphany or transition may change. But in the meantime, theyíre talking about in the next seven or eight years going to war with us -- and they are building up to that and we are not.

A: Thatís right. The Internet is not going to save us, trade is not going to save us -- the only thing that is going to save us is an understanding of the nature of the threat and a commitment to meet that threat on its own terms.

Q: What hope do you have for the new administration? Weíve got some good people and weíve got some people who are politicians.

A: You do. And it is unclear how all that is going to sort itself out in the end. Youíve got Dick Cheney who I think is a serious person and who understands the need for us to defend ourselves. Youíve got Don Rumsfeld, weíve talked about him already. Then youíve got some people -- I was thunderstruck a couple of weeks ago when we had Secretary of State Colin Powell say he thought of China as "an occasional regional competitor."

Q: Yeah, but how long did it take for the boss to slap him upside the head?

A: Bush said that China was our "strategic competitor" and that is precisely what it is -- strategic meaning global, worldwide, on every continent.

Q: There was much made of the semantics of Bush referring to China as a "strategic competitor" versus Clintonís reference to them as "strategic partners."

A: You had Clinton saying that we were "strategic partners" with China which was just utter nonsense because the only thing strategic our relationship with China is their missiles pointed at our cities and that is not a partnership. Then during the campaign, of course, President Bush said China was not our "strategic partner," it was our "strategic competitor," and a lot of us cheered because that represents a far more accurate view of China than his predecessor.

So I was taken aback that his secretary of state would depart from that line and I hope that the Bush administration holds the line and stays focused on the fact that China does not wish us well. China wants to break our back in Asia -- to expel us from Asia -- and wants to recover its lost position as the central power, the "Middle Kingdom," the all-dominant power. We have to remember that because the Chinese elite havenít forgotten it -- and they wonít forget it because that is what they are working for -- and we need to bear that in mind everyday.

Q: China has routinely and consistently planned really long-range. Iím not talking about the next year or even five years -- I mean decades out in the future. Americans tend to want instant gratification right now. Explain, please, how China is "working the plan."

A: They do have long-range thinking. One example of that was the recent declaration by the government of Communist China that it was going to continue the one-child policy for another fifty years -- not one or two or five or ten, but a half century. The Chinese people will be limited in the number of children they can have and they set a goal of 1.6 billion people in China by the year 2050. Now that is long-range planning. Thatís not just your Soviet five-year plan -- thatís a communist Chinese fifty-year plan. The Chinese do have a long historical memory and they think in terms of historical cycles -- the rise and fall of dynasties that lasted hundreds of years. And they think that the last 150 years have been a sort of dark night of national humiliation. They have been at the bottom of the cycle but now they are on the rise again.

Q: They want payback.

A: They want payback. They want to rectify those historical grievances -- they want to punish those nations that humiliated them and they want to be back on top. Not tomorrow, but within the next few years and certainly by the middle of this century they want to be the dominant power in the world -- they want to be the Hegemon.

Q: One thing I have never understood is when you have Chinese honchos saying to their people "we are going to go to war with the United States within five years" -- be prepared -- when they talk about and threaten us with lobbing a nuke at Los Angeles. There is a trend -- there is a consistency to the rhetoric. Why the heck arenít the folks in either the CIA or folks in the State Department going absolutely ballistic? I donít get it.

A: I really donít understand why we seem to be so all-forgiving. Where this harsh Chinese language is concerned, where these threats -- these consistent threats, not uttered by one or two officials but by a whole range of officials over a course of years -- are not taken seriously. These threats are made in plain, unmistakable language that easily translates into English and should scare the socks off of all of us.

Q: Do you think the intelligence community is going to have a sea-change and the kind of attention and focus that one time was showered on the Soviet Union will now be redirected toward China?

A: It took us about ten years in the late '40s and early '50s to develop the first cadre of sovietologists -- the first people who really understood the Russian psyche, who spoke Russian and read it like natives and could really penetrate the Soviet mind and figure out what they were doing. We are way behind the curve when it comes to developing a new generation of China experts.

When I spoke at the Central Intelligence Agency, I used a Chinese phrase -- there were 140 people in the room -- I used a Chinese phrase and I said, "How many of you speak Chinese?" and one lonely hand went up in the air. That means that weíre dealing with the Chinese leadership and their statements in translation. We donít get inside the Chinese mind. We are dependent on translations of these critical statements to try to figure out what Chinese communists' intentions are. I think that is a very, very dangerous position to be in. We have to move quickly to make up for that gap.

Q: One of the more dangerous things is, and I think it goes back to Henry Kissinger, is just about everybody in some high-level State Department position after they leave office -- who do they end up working for?

A: Well, thereís the revolving door, isnít there? They go to work in the China trade and make lots of money off consulting contracts by helping negotiate joint ventures between foreign firms and Chinese firms. And that changes your perception of things a lot too, doesnít it?

Q: The last time I spoke with Bill Gertz, he was talking about this aggressive espionage campaign aimed at America. That ought to get somebodyís attention?

A: It is getting the attention of the people to actually have to cope with Chinese spying on the ground in places like San Francisco and Los Angeles.

Q: In Billís last book, he actually had an internal Chinese document exposing how Beijing is willing to launch a nuclear attack on the U.S. if we defend Taiwan.

A: Yeah.

Q: Weíve got a law on the books that says we have to defend Taiwan.

A: Well we do -- and we should morally, itís the right thing to do -- strategically itís the right thing to do too. Because Taiwan would only be a stepping stone and we need to stop Chinese communist aggression there rather than have to meet it later on in Southeast Asia, or in Russia or in another part of the world closer to home.

Q: Please speak to the reports of the Chinese building bases in the Spratley Islands?

A: This is the South China Sea. It stretches 1,200 miles south of the province near Hong Kong -- all the way down into Indonesia -- and it is claimed lock, stock and oil reserves by the People's Republic of China, which ignores the claims of Vietnam and the Philippines and Malaysia and the many other countries around the South China Sea.

And China has unilaterally begun building military bases there in defiance of the calls of the five other nations that have territorial claims there as well to sit down and negotiate a peaceful resolution of their differences. So this is another flash point. Itís important not because of the Spratley Islands. Theyíre just little outposts of rock over vast stretches of ocean. Itís important because this is where the oil goes that feeds the industrial machinery on Taiwan, on Korea, and on Japan. And if you have the ability to cut off that oil supply you have Japan and Korea and Taiwan by the throat.

Q: Do you think the United States can do anything within this probable seven-year window we have to impede the Chinese from achieving their goal of Hegemon?

A: Oh I think absolutely we can. The waters that divide us from our goal are deep, but not impassable. We can build up our counter-espionage effort in this country and slow down the transfer by stealth of our military dual-use technology to China. I think we exert some leverage on Russia -- you know weíve propped up the Russian economy with loans from the World Bank and IMF for ten years. Let us say to the Russians that their selling of military weapons to China is a threat to us that we donít look kindly on and if they want international aide they are going to have to slow down or at least get approval from us before some of those weapons transfers are made.

I think there are lots of things we can do. The most important thing we can do is to start working on a missile defense shield. It doesnít have to be perfect. Even if it intercepts only half of the incoming missiles, it introduces uncertainty into the calculations of the Chinese strategists. And it may lead the Chinese leaders to think, why should we spend tens of millions of dollars that the U.S. missile shield will render useless and valueless? Why not put those tens of billions of dollars into economic development and into building up our infrastructure? And thatís what we want them to do. We want them to make that choice.