The Chinese Communist government does not have so much a strategy to translate its economic ascendance into global hegemony as several strategies. All of them are brilliantly insidious.
On matters of trade, China is always flexible in responding to critics of its asymmetrical, 30-year mercantilism. In the initial stages of Westernization, China was exempted from criticism over serial copyright and patent infringement, dumping, and espionage. Western elites assumed that these improprieties were just speed bumps on the eventual Chinese freeway to liberalism. Supposedly the richer China got, the more progressive it would become. Huge trade deficits or military technological appropriation were small prices to pay for an evolving billion-person Palo Alto or Upper West Side.
After a time, the now-worrisome huge trade deficits and Chinese cheating were further contextualized as “our fault.” The Tom Friedman school of journalism chided our clumsy republican government as lacking Chinese authoritarian efficiency that could by fiat connect new planned utopias by high-speed rail and power them with solar-panel farms. The Wall Street–investor version of this school saw flabby, pampered Americans getting their just deserts as more productive and deserving Chinese workers outhustled and outproduced us. In such tough-love sermonizing, the more Michigan or Pennsylvania rusted, the quicker culpable Americans would either emulate China or die. China of course again agreed.
Then there came a third phase of Chinese contextualization — one of Western arrogance that confused China’s emulation with supposed admiration. We were not to worry about China, because they love buying our rich homes, visiting Stanford, and going to Disneyland. In short, they love being us.
Somehow, we forgot that nations that copy the West do not do so out of empathy or veneration. More often, they pick and choose what to buy, steal, or copy, entirely in their own interest.