The assumption of compatibility between Chinese and American interests in the Middle East is the residue of an otherwise defunct strategic belief system. Call it harmonic convergence." Harmonic convergence is dead.

The assumption of compatibility between Chinese and American interests in the Middle East is the residue of an otherwise defunct strategic belief system. Call it harmonic convergence." Harmonic convergence is dead.

From Presidents Nixon in 1968 to Obama in 2016, American leaders mistakenly assumed that globalism would transform China into a kinder, gentler communist power.

This theory began with the basic recognition that the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) faced extraordinary pressure to grow its economy to create jobs for an exploding population.

By necessity, therefore, Beijing had no choice but to accept several core components of capitalism, chief among them the flexibility that only decentralized decision-making can provide.

As China decentralized its economy, so the thinking went, a new middle class would rise and demand more say over government policies. Full-blown democracy might not ensue, but relations between rulers and ruled would become ever more consensual and transactional.

The iron laws of market economics would transform the CCP from a tyrant into the largely benign technocratic manager of a giant outsourcing park for Apple and Nike.

What China’s heavily bureaucratized one-party state lacks in the capacity to innovate and solve real-world technical challenges quickly, Israel has in spades—along with a unique ability to see inside and understand the capacities of the American techno-military complex.

“Harmonic convergence” assumes economics to be the main driver of human affairs, and it sees the “liberal international order” as the product of the immutable laws of political economy—universal laws that would shave the rough edges off communist China just as they had shaped Europe, America, Australia, Japan, and South Korea into modern liberal states.

For decades, successive American presidents from both political parties worked to integrate the economies of China and America, turning them into conjoined twins.

The dynamics on which harmonic convergence focused were real enough. But the theory’s exclusive focus on economics blinded American leaders to countervailing factors—cultural, political, and demographic—of equal or greater weight.

Culturally, China sees itself not as one country among many, but as a great civilization that is central to humankind.

Politically, the CCP has proved more capable than anyone ever dreamed possible of adapting single-party rule to the demands of a modern economy.

Thanks, in part, to the rise of new technologies, the CCP now manages to efficiently surveil 1.4 billion people, permitting them latitude in their economic affairs while ruthlessly policing their political life and social interactions.

CCP oppression of the Chinese people would be troubling but manageable if China were a middling actor on the world stage. But size matters.

In 2010, Chinese foreign minister, Yang Jiechi, stormed out of an international conference in protest over U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s criticism of aggressive behavior by the Chinese military in the South China Sea.

He subsequently justified his rage with this terse observation: “China is a big country and other countries are small countries, and that’s just a fact.”

China resents the efforts of the United States to defend and support “small” countries in order to sustain an international order China had no say in creating and whose values—liberalism, democracy, free speech, free and transparent markets—it sees as daggers aimed at the CCP’s continuing rule.

Beijing is therefore determined to break the liberal capitalist mold that the West built for it, and its heft gives it the power to succeed.

Of late, some analysts have taken to identifying the source of China’s hostility to the West as “communism.” Though anachronistic, the term is not entirely inaccurate. To be sure, no one in China still believes in the hidebound tenets of Marxist economics.

Still, the CCP continues to rely on the one-party state structure and the traditional communist party tools of repression, subversion, and ideological warfare—including, to name just three, the secret police, a global system of front organizations and espionage networks, and a colossal propaganda machine—to advance nationalist ends.

In foreign policy, the CCP remains dedicated to international revolution. The new world they envision, however, is not a Marxist paradise but one in which China will replace the United States as the dominant power in a Sinocentric world order.

Our thanks to:

Michael Doran is a Senior Fellow at the Hudson Institute in Washington, D.C.

Peter Rough, the former director of research in the office of George W. Bush, is a Senior Fellow at the Hudson Institute in Washington, D.C.

See the next article about China in the Middle East coming soon, here in PLM: China News.