China’s unrelenting pursuit of global economic dominance facing off against our unshakeable resolve not to relinquish it may well define war in the 21st century. It would be a bloodless conflict, but the stakes could not be higher. The new war is not one of combatants but one of competitors. And it will be won not on might, but on cunning.
Ironically, the Chinese have given us the key to a winning strategy, “The Art of War,” an ancient treatise on military strategy generally attributed to Sun Tzu: “So it is said that if you know your enemies and know yourself, you can win a hundred battles without a single loss. If you only know yourself, but not your opponent, you may win or may lose. If you know neither yourself nor your enemy, you will always endanger yourself.”
A this moment, the Chinese have a distinct advantage over us in that regard. They have the entire history of the rise of western capitalism to study and guide them around the early pitfalls. And they have the momentum of a strong emerging economy, riding the second wave of fordist growth.
We, on the other hand, are in the post-fordism stages, in which growth stabilizes around a more gradual but steady rate. We have no map to follow and no clear sense of who we are as we set out in uncharted waters.
It would be foolish to confront China head on. Although the sheer mass of our economy may assure us many early victories, we should heed Sun’s warning that “anyone who excels in defeating his enemies triumphs before his enemy’s threat become real.”
China’s real threat comes from their being free from the constraints of established dogma. As do entrepreneurs, they intend to win not by being best at playing by the rules but instead by simply changing the rules.
The strategies that got us to where we are today are no longer of any use. The opponents have our game book. As long as we remain unwilling to abandon many of our cherished tenets we will be playing into China’s hand.
Our real enemy, it turns out, is ourselves. Past laurels only hold us back from sustaining the greatness that can still be ours.