David Goldman offers an interesting take on the competition between the United States and China for global influence in his latest book, You Will Be Assimilated: China’s Plan to Sino-form the World. He focuses on technology and points toward how China is moving ahead of the United States in those technologies essential for the fourth Industrial Revolution – particularly 5G technology. China’s hero in this story is Huawei.
Goldman’s basic point is that the United States does not need to worry about China conquering the world through arms but should instead worry about the Chinese conquering the world through integrating the world into a network of Chinese telecommunication infrastructure and then leaping ahead in the technologies that this infrastructure will facilitate. In this techno war, the United States risks being outflanked and confined to irrelevance in a Chinese-dominated world.
His treatment of military affairs is fascinating. He describes a range of technologies from hypersonic missiles, attack submarines, anti-satellite weapons, and the like, that make American intervention in the South China Sea or defense of Taiwan very perilous, if not certain to fail. He does not paint China as an aggressor but an aggrieved party that has used technology and maneuver to defend its territorial claims. One needs to consider whether this narrative is true and whether it imperils America’s alliances in the Asia-Pacific. Has the balance of power shifted to the defender in 21st century warfare?
In some ways, this is good news. Would we wish the United States to fight China in the South China Sea? Would we want the United States to decapitate the regime in Beijing, plunging China into a civil war? Probably not. If China maintains a purely defensive stance, this should not harm American interests, and the US and its allies should continue to treat the South China Sea as international waters.
After outlining threats to America’s abilities to project force into Asia and American technological superiority, Goldman calls for an industrial policy increasing the country’s expenditures on basic science with military and civilian purposes. Increasing this spending is the one way to avoid the technological obsolescence that Goldman perceives as our future.
Goldman taps into narratives about how Judeo-Christian values that place an ultimate value on the individual are threatened by a Chinese techno-bureaucratic state that views our core values as irrelevant political theory from the past that the Chinese have transcended. This disregard for our core values should motivate us to make sure we do not lose our technological advantages to those who will not respect the rights of the individual. This narrative may be a bit Manichean, but is it an incorrect summation of what conflict with a party-state is?
Goldman’s book has an interesting nuance. He tries to strengthen a Western alliance without igniting an overtly militaristic attitude toward China – our strategic competitor. He argues for strengthening America’s ties with Israel and other states embracing Judeo-Christian values as a cornerstone for America’s geopolitical strategy. We certainly will need to keep our technological edge if we expect the world to continue to follow American leadership. I am curious how compatible our Judeo-Christian values will be with a world increasingly driven by high tech. Will the search for technological supremacy lead us to embrace China’s vision of governance by a technologically sophisticated bureaucracy, and what does that mean for individual rights and dignity?
The work is filled with typos and one does not need to be an exegetical Sherlock Holmes to find them. Goldman’s ideas deserved better editing.