by Sam Huntington
Even a shrew will attack when it feels as if there is no other way out. China today offers the United States a daunting strategic challenge. We haven’t actually cornered China, but our artless foreign policy may certainly give China that impression.
There are two aspects of our relationship with China that I’d like to discuss: military posturing, and economic strength. Before I get to that, we need an appreciation of the history of Sino-US relations.
Older Chinese still recall the “bad old days” of China’s evolution from feudal state to a modern power. Foreign subjugation began with the Opium Wars in 1848. Western powers, including the United States, more or less helped themselves to Chinese resources. At the beginning of the twentieth century, China suffered increasing frequency of internal upheavals; these were mostly the result of the central government’s inability to do anything about the presence of foreign powers that sought to enrich themselves at China’s expense. On more than one occasion, the United States sent military and naval forces to China to protect its diplomatic legation and to demonstrate American power.
China achieved a republic in the early 1920s, but one that was politically unstable. A civil war lasted from 1927 to 1937. The civil conflict was interrupted by a Japanese invasion and World War II. Civil war resumed in 1945, lasting until 1949. Thus, from the mid-1800s to 1949, China experienced warlordism, internal upheaval, starvation, and national degradation. The Chinese call this their century of humiliation. Twenty-four million people suffered and died.