The Western world, in the midst of being primed for a war with China, often has a limited understanding of who this supposed enemy is. Is it a communist force ready to challenge the U.S.’s capitalist and hegemonic structure? Is it an economic ally providing an indispensable factory floor for our corporate interests? Or is it somehow a combination of both? Joining host Robert Scheer this week on Scheer Intelligence is Suisheng Zhao, professor and director of Center for China-U.S. Cooperation at the University of Denver Josef Korbel School of International Studies, who hopes to provide clarity to these ever growing questions.
His new book, The Dragon Roars Back: Transformational Leaders and Dynamics of Chinese Foreign Policy, attempts to frame China and its history for today’s moment in time. It demonstrates that it was never just communism that drove China to be the world power it has become but rather nationalism. Zhao focuses on three leaders in China’s contemporary history, who serve to represent this dragon that has roared back to the world: Mao Zedong, Deng Xiaoping and their current president Xi Jinping. Zhao and Scheer go back and forth, diving into the nuances of each ruler’s time and their relation to the international order.
“[The Chinese leaders] are all first nationalists, then Communist Party members. They all share the same dream to make China prosper and [be] powerful and also redeem the so-called century of humiliation,” Zhao says. These are the dragons roaring back, and under their leadership, China will not be denied its place in the world. This place was once respected and a sort of peaceful balance was achieved during the era of Nixon and Mao. Fast forward to today however, and, despite successful economic interdependence being achieved between the two countries, the U.S. has rejected the possibility of a multipolar world with its advances in Taiwan, and this can of worms that Nixon and Kissenger worked to quell has suddenly burst again.
Scheer and Zhao agree on what The Dragon Roars Back strives to clarify: “I think what your book challenges is the centrality of the enemy that we had after World War II, of an ideology of communism, and says the real problem is nationalism and that China, with its great history and its importance, is driven by nationalism, which is now threatening our view of the world,” Scheer says. This nationalism and enormous success under Xi, Zhao responds, is now challenging U.S. predominance in the world, which perhaps the U.S. cannot accept.