Declawing Pooh or... stopping the threat from Xi's global aggression
We must collectively out compete Xi, all along the BRI... or else
TAT friends and followers,
Over the weekend I decided that a short (as possible), succinct summary is in order for last week’s, complex and knowledge dense, two-part series on the threat posed by Xi’s aggression. It would seem that our last few days of eye-popping, “balloon stories” have demonstrated the urgency of developing a far more effective strategy to hobble Xi.
Parts I and II were the foundation and today’s summary should make them both fit more succinctly into a comprehensible narrative. The reason for a two-part series prior to today’s is because the sheer scale and complexity of Xi’s threat, is massive.
Part II: Denying Xi, his worst instincts
The first two parts were the simplest expressions of this massive and are both underpinned by several embedded links to broaden the knowledge base. The parts themselves were narratives of the base knowledge. Today is just the most plain-spoken version, derived from all that has preceded it. Since Xi’s aggression impacts so many aspects of the lives of citizens here and abroad, the sooner that the masses understand the threat, the better off we all are.
What follows will be broken up into three sections.
1. The Threat Defined
3. Recommended national security focus intended to diminish the threat
The threat defined
Xi’s dream, by definition is not only a US threat but a global threat. This is based on his China Dream, Great Chinese Rejuvenation strategy, largely unveiled a decade ago. After years of research, the embodiment of Xi’s so-called “dream” as determined by deep, narrative analysis is:
The world, All-Under-Heaven, is one, with China / the “Middle Kingdom” at the center and at the pinnacle, is an Emperor or “Son of Heaven”, the sole interface with heaven with no peer. The Han are the “enlightened” while everyone outside is “barbarian” and seeking a tributary relationship with enlightened China for commerce and protection. Those who do not voluntarily seek tributary status must be persuaded or conquered militarily. This will unify All-Under-Heaven under the Chinese paradigm of world order.
Asia Power Watch
The plainest, English language translation of this narrative-derived paragraph is that Xi, intends global domination by the 100th anniversary of Communist China and his dream. Although his public releases say that he seeks the highest level of “socialist” society, make no mistake, there will be nothing socialist about it. Despite the uniformed railing by the uninformed, there is nothing communist or socialist about modern China’s quest for power.
Xi’s hunger to become an emperor is really about becoming the “son-of-heaven” or the only mortal who can interface with heaven. In other words, the only person on earth that matters. All others are more or less, subjects of China’s intended, “tributary governance” system. This just means that every nation will be subservient to and have to pay tribute to, a China that is all Han or Han-dominated.
In order for any of this to come China proper (the Middle Kingdom), needs to include all lands that Xi believes are part of historical China, must be recovered and that those lands must be Han, or exclusively Han dominated. The most visible demonstration of this is the actual and cultural genocide of the Uyghurs and other independent minorities. An interesting an critical underlying aspect of this racial purity it that only the Han are enlightened and all others on earth… are barbarians.
The threats to the world, derived from these narrative identity markers and based on, over 4,000 years of Chinese history come together in the final part of the narrative. This threat is best defined in Xi’s narrative goal. This says that all nations are barbarian who must seek enlightenment and to pursue permission from the Son-of-Heaven, to do business with and seek enlightenment from China. Those who do not conform to this paradigm, are to be brought forcibly into the fold. In other words, by 2049, China will be demanding and getting tribute from all barbarian nations. Every bit of this tribute goes to the Son-of-Heaven who alone knows best what to do with it. This is because he is the only person on earth, that can interface with heaven and understands the wishes of heaven.
All of this may sound like a fairy tale to the West but he’s deadly serious about this. Please reread this last sentence. Xi isn’t chasing a fantasy, in all ways, he is pursuing an actual strategy based on extreme coercion. In my opinion, disregarding this distinct narrative’s seriousness is playing with fire. Those who don’t understand and still depend on faulty western understanding of the East, especially China is putting the nation and world at risk. We have long suffered from western arrogance about other cultures. Unless we abandon our arrogance and reliance on faulty, antiquated doctrine and operating principles, we end up like all life that doesn’t evolve apace our adversaries. We become extinct. If this doesn’t scream urgency, nothing does.
Our Balkanized, US national security community, based on antiquated approaches to national and hence, global security is fatally flawed. While that Xi, fluidly prosecutes his strategy of conquest with every aspect of Chinese power, we still fail to even clearly define the problem, hence our inability to build an agile, well-informed and sustained strategy that reflects ours and universal values. We pay attention to things like DIME and academic views of GPC, Great Power Competition without ever seriously considering that these exclusively western paradigms require rethinking from a broader, more narrative-centric perspective. No, not narrative that most falsely interpret as a story, but the actual merits of narrative, discussed previously in Part I and other writings by me and other colleagues at our think/ do tank, Narrative Strategies.
Those who actually understand narrative within the US national security community are few and very far between. They have little to no impact on anything because tired old experts are still hired by the community to produce results. These are the same experts that have been extremely well-paid by US tax dollars for decades for producing little but failure. Incestuous contracting within the US contracting world continues to produce our failures for the past few decades, like Iraq, Afghanistan, Somalia, China, Russia, etc.
Those who’ve read Part II, recognize that I’m a dedicated fan of Einstein, the philosopher who often said something along the line of: “you cannot solve a problem with the same thinking that you used when you created the problem.“ Yes, I know that this is paraphrased. Please accept my apologies.
The summary of the problem is best summed up by just saying, “we don’t understand the problem.” Add to this that we have zero ability to prosecute a campaign of ethical influence, across the spectrum of required focus and the old saying about: “being up the creek, without a paddle” rings deadly accurate.
I may not be the sharpest knife in the drawer, but in my first career as a custom builder, I learned that, although certain rules apply to engineering, there are few standardized practices for taking on a new concept and successfully solving for a solution, let alone actually successfully tackling it. There are countless dedicated and brilliant contributors to many parts of the Chinese threat resolution. There is also, virtually no way to, get there from where we are now. This should be sobering to anyone that accepts my premise.
As noted in Parts I & II, his BRI expansion is characterized by being a bully to achieve his goals. The three most prominent trends of his coercion/ bullying are:
· Military intimidation
· Human rights abuse
· Coercive, predatory economic practices
Xi uses these three, high-profile assaults on the world to force nations, especially those who hold important roles and terrain, along the BRI into a tributary relationship. Yes, this is how ancient Chinese emperors did it too, when they were expanding the Middle Kingdom.
The BRI is actually a collective of SRs, the Silk Roads of Marco Polo fame. The wide array of types of SRs covers all things necessary to expand the Middle Kingdom as well as dominate them. Once dominance of the SRs is complete, Xi has the basis for his first target of regional hegemony in 2035. Through his aggressive practices, he pigeon-holes subservient nations into the tributary role that fits his narrative. This is why he focuses first, on neighboring nations. India, being his primary regional competitor bears the brunt of this as evidenced by Xi’s pursuit of territory around the LAC.
For example, Xi also moves stridently to control water sources high in the Himalayas and other regional ranges. This is one way that he puts pressure on nations like Vietnam, who has no love lost for China. China tried invading Vietnam in 1979 and had their noses bloodied, humiliatingly. China has long but persistently had an eye on Mongolia and eastern Russia as well. There are more indigenous Chinese living in Eastern Russia than actual Russians connected to the old Imperial Russia or even the Soviet Union. Inner Mongolia is already part of China, and the fairly weak state of Outer Mongolia is a ripe apple for Xi, ready to be picked.
While that an endless array of experts claims that Xi’s focus on Eastern Russia is a myth, I firmly disagree. Eastern Russia is rich in precisely the type of raw materials that are critical to Chinese industry. China is the primary investor in infrastructure to acquire the vast fossil fuel riches there. This causes an influx of Chinese technology and workers that Russia can’t support due to corruption and a fatally flawed foreign policy.
China is hell-bent on reaping the rewards of the Arctic, including the NSR, northern sea route. The NSR is also critical to feeding, powering and the commercial exploitation of it’s shorter transit time, shipping goods west. Most claim that it’s a peer relationship between Russia and China but without China, Russia, especially now while engulfed in their losing war against Ukraine, could not make these investments profitable.
I’m not claiming an all out shooting war between Moscow and Beijing, but when your methodology of conquest is bullying via military dominance and predatory economics, who needs bullets? China is a world class bully that threatens the existing paradigm of the world order. In many ways, Russia is already shows signs of becoming a tributary state to Xi. The war in Ukraine is merely highlights the trends for all of us.
Another implied threat along the BRI is that everyone being confronted by Xi, knows all too well that he will commit or allow any form of human rights abuse along the BRI if it brings him closer to his objectives. Look no further than Xi’s dedicated support to a genocidal junta in Myanmar and Putin’s genocidal invasion of Ukraine. Xi doesn’t care about human rights. He simply needs Putin and the Junta to be successful in maintaining peace along their corridors of the BRI.
To put an recognizable face on Xi’s strategy of intimidation, just compare the defining characteristics of Xi’s pursuits to those of gang competition in marginalized, big-city neighborhoods. There, we have payday loans, extortion and murders of retribution. Bullying your way to success only changes in scale on a global scale. The tactics are much the same
How do we stop Xi?
Now that we understand the threat and, our current inability to be able to successfully mitigate it, let’s talk a bit about a strategy that I believe, is equal to the task. In reading, please remember that we cannot “get there from where we now are.” If we don’t rethink and adapt/ evolve, the threat will grow.
I will be the first to admit that Xi’s strategy for chasing and achieving his “dream” is a very good one. The only thing holding Xi back, has been his own poor, strategic, decision-making. Thank goodness!
So, the key to Xi’s success, now waning somewhat is the BRI, Belt and Road Initiative. This is precisely how he intends to expand his tributary system regionally by 2035 and globally by 2049. The foundation of our defense is ridiculously simple, out compete Xi collectively all along the BRI, especially at chokepoints. In all actuality this offensive influence campaign is the only way, short of all-out war to diminish his threat. At the moment, Xi is largely unopposed, across the global network of his aggression.
The answer now should be all apparent for anyone who defines the problem accurately and builds solutions of expert narrative weaving of all available truths, especially those revealed by the predictable behavior derived from expert, NI, narrative identity analysis.
The blunt truth is, Xi cannot impose his will unless he imposes his narrative all along his Silk Roads, especially the choke points described in Pt. II. More simply, if Xi cannot continually expand outward from “Han China” or the Middle Kingdom in a dominant fashion, he cannot impose his narrative.
Whether anyone likes it or not, the world is irrevocably globalized now. This genie will never go back into the bottle. Technology, modern commercial shipping, instantaneous global communications and a hundred other factors mean that business, diplomacy and all else, are globalized.
The US, our allies and partners have the upper hand here, if only we would use critical analysis to solve for solutions, not try and force the round pegs into the square holes of antiquated problem-solving processes. Most of these processes are linear while the problem is dimensional. This calls for dimensional, greatly expanded solutions. In this case, the dimensional solution is work collectively with the RBIO, rules-based, international order to establish international law, norms and policies that impede the hallmarks of Xi’s aggression.
As we’ve seen during the peak wave of populism and rabid nationalism that swept the globe for the past couple of decades, laws don’t matter if they are not enforced with consequences. If laws are not enforced, there can be no carrots either in the proverbial “carrot and stick” motivational paradigm. If Xi cannot wield his three methods of bullying, no one will sign up to be part of his system, if they understand it.
So, in short, if we’re using the current fad language of GPC, Great Power Competition we must begin effectively competing. We are just now beginning to do so within US national security circles but our current processes are so flawed, progress is halting at best. The good news is that our current NSS, National Security Strategy is in my opinion, a pretty darn good narrative of US national security. The problem is that it still needs to reflect the more precise definition of Xi’s threat and that the entire doc needs better narrative construction. At least, we are on a good track.
The remaining issue and fatal flaw of this narrative is that the current architecture of DOD, the IC and the community at large don’t have language or processes to make a difference. We must evolve, before it’s too late. We made these errors leading up to both WW I and WW II. Why must we do it again when in theory… we know better? This issue will be a long multi0-part series in the future.
The US and our allies that their entire governments have tools in their toolbox to compete effectively. Some of the best deployed assistance I had for certain combat zone missions was the US Department of Agriculture, helping Afghan farmers learn and employ best practices to further their success. The other examples are endless. In Iraq I had the opportunity to employ countless engineers, foreign and domestic to help rebuild Baghdad’s infrastructure to help a city of over 6 million become more self-sufficient. This is the baseline of resilience against oppressive aggressors. Where we failed then and as we do now is that we are virtually incapable of bringing all of our tools of ethical influence to bear.
Now, it’s time for the US to sit down will all of the regional players and develop a strategy for using the BRI as what DoD describes as “a targeting diagram.” The opportunities are endless. A collective effort means that we and our partners can invest in infrastructure and dominant corporate/ business relationships all along the known routes of SRs. Corporate entities of value often enable opposition for selfish reasons but also because we fail to have a system that welds private and government interests together in a synchronized effort. The sad line here is that these corporate interests will fail overseas if Xi gets his way. Once he is firmly in control, he will have zero reason to care about someone’s corporate bottom line. History of the oil industry should have a clear picture of what this looks like. There resources and investments were nationalized by the Mexican government on March 18th, 1938.
We must begin by intensely backing and defending these investments at BRI “chokepoints.” These investments which can, but not necessarily be dominated by military assets are the key to stopping Xi. The fact that the investments are collective means that no one nation, must stand up for rule-of-law against Xi by themselves. Remember the truth about bullies… they are cowards in the face of overwhelming resistance.
Over reliance on military posturing has long been a failure. All of the focus on FONOPS, BTFs, loud and bold declarations from senior leaders and PAOs, amid the geo-political showmanship of large-scale exercises have failed. We know this because if they had worked, Xi would not be doing what he’s been doing since 2012, rapidly expanding and exploiting his military’s intimidation tactics. An arms race, without the balance of exercising well-formed and executed campaigns of ethical influence, is merely provocation for an armed conflict somewhere down the line.
There are a plethora of fine research works that detail opportunities for investment along key corridors of the BRI that would cripple Xi’s strategy. Still, this focus seems a difficult to understand concept of the NSC, National Security Council, especially in regard to the DoD. The modern Pentagon is Byzantine maze of ineffective and pathetic staffing exercises that spend more time on the format of a PowerPoint slide than they do on the content of the slide.
Outside of DoD is no better and often avoids DoD like the plague. There is virtually no effective coordination mechanism across the spectrum of the US national security community to decide on an effective strategy, let alone execute it. I will be intentionally blunt here because of the severity of this deficit. If General Eisenhower himself came back to lead this effort, it would not be possible. That is just how far our national security apparatus is broken. Until we accept this, we will not be able to hobble Xi nor any other specific, severe threat.
I’m not throwing rocks at the community for any other reason than, “tough love.” I dearly miss my years in uniform with extraordinary colleagues. Like me, they were and still are undercut by our own leadership both in and out of uniform. These fine Americans are dedicated, motivated, often brilliant and bleed the words of our oath of service. We as a nation, especially primary leaders keep them out of the game for a variety of reasons. They cripple them with processes better suited to General Pershing a hundred plus years ago. Our leadership has defanged the effectiveness of our natsec community. That has left our nation more vulnerable than a world full of Xi’s and Putin.
The short bottom line here is: if Xi cannot dominate the BRI, he cannot achieve his goal of ruling the region in 2035, let alone global domination by 2049. If the RBIO improves on collective and ethical strategy, it will pay enormous dividends on many other critical, global issues. If we don’t invest in all possible forms to deny Xi, dominance along the BRI, we are imposing his dominance on ourselves. The additional benefit for nations and the private business sector is that collective action now, ensures profitability far past China’s attempted purchase of nations and corporations now. Yes, it is just that simple.