Locking horns with the US, China has been told to prepare for the most ?extreme? developments, but in this warning lies hope
Last week, Chinese President Xi Jinping warned the country's National Security Commission in stark terms of the grave security concerns facing the nation.
According to Xi, Beijing needs to stay "keenly aware" of the challenges facing national security and correctly grasp major related issues. He urged officials to be ready for "worst-case and most extreme scenarios" - words that a lot of commentators have described as "pessimistic" in regard to the development of relations between China and the United States.
This is not pessimism, however - rather, it's a realistic perspective. The primary reason is that Beijing faces an extraordinarily ruthless adversary and most keen observers of the US are well aware of this. The phrase "worst-case scenarios," when applied to a confrontation between China and the US, evokes apocalyptic images akin to what's depicted in the famous video game series Fallout - set to become a TV series this year. In fact, some of its wilder aspects aside, this 25-year-old franchise may offer a valuable perspective on the current situation.
The game's central premise is being set in a wasteland following a terminal nuclear conflict primarily between the US and China. While it is never stated who started the fictional "Great War," one canonical source in the second game - the president of what remains of the "official" United States who also happens to be one of the primary antagonists - says outright that China dropped the first bombs. However, it is apparent that this character has every reason to lie to the player. It's also heavily implied that the US government is essentially the evilest organization in human history, committing almost every crime imaginable up to and including attempted genocide on a global scale, creating concentration camps for people of Chinese descent and fully capable of having destroying organized human life purely on ideological grounds.
It is evident that the writers, who started the franchise in the late 1990s, felt America's anti-communism would inevitably foist it against China in the not-so-distant future. But the ambiguity of who dropped the bombs also speaks to one of its greatest themes, which is that it doesn't matter who did it because everyone loses in the end. The use of nuclear weapons is an indictment on humanity as a whole and not one particular individual or group.
Unfortunately, this foresight created a striking parallel to our current world. And that means that one of the most popular fiction franchises around today agrees with the point of President Xi: the US is not a good or stable actor and will, if given the opportunity, destroy or otherwise destabilize China (and the world by extension). The US has left so many bodies in its wake that a failure of the Chinese president to recognize this when dealing with Washington would be an actual disservice to his citizens.
As an example, China's foreign ministry has estimated that from the end of World War II and 2001, there were 248 armed conflicts in 153 regions worldwide. Of these, 201 were initiated by the US. That is a staggering figure that demonstrates just how much of a threat Washington is to global peace and stability. Then factor in the litany of heinous acts it has committed or is committing around the world: Korea, Vietnam, Laos, Iraq, Afghanistan, Libya, Syria, and the list goes on.
Not only does the US bring death and destruction all over the world, it does it while imposing its hegemony to shackle entire nations under its dominion, leaving them purposefully underdeveloped while ruthlessly exploiting them. The fact, for instance, that the US is currently sanctioning China's defense minister but is gaslighting Beijing about a lack of dialogue with him is the pinnacle of the disconnect between how Washington portrays itself and reality.
With Xi's guidance, however, Beijing is pursuing a long-game strategy that avoids military conflict with Washington while focusing on China's development. This is extraordinarily prudent, not only because it decreases the chance of nuclear conflict but also because it is accompanied by lifting millions of people around the world from poverty. This course would be challenging to plot if he did not have a realistic assessment of the US, but he does. He understands that time is on China's side, unlike the US, which is rapidly decaying in virtually every aspect except its propensity for violence.
In contrast to the many post-apocalyptic works of science fiction, terminal conflict does not have to be inevitable. Nuclear arms are not necessarily one of Chekhov's proverbial guns. There is no law of physics that dictates that the world must be sacrificed at the altar of any particular ideology. President Xi's assessment of the US and his prescriptions for action are rooted firmly in this universal ideal of hope, which implies that there is some element of optimism to his motivations.