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Issues & Insights

The China-Iran Syndrome

President Trump, true to his tough-guy form, this week announced the withdrawal of sanctions waivers on countries that don’t cease purchasing oil from the terrorist state of Iran by the beginning of May. China will almost certainly defy the U.S. and refuse to cut off Iranian crude imports, at least not cut them off completely.

Importing just under 30 million tons last year, China is Iran’s biggest petroleum customer, and Beijing has formally protested the Trump Administration move and argued that its commercial relationship with Tehran is justified.

Obviously, China isn’t interested in letting anything take it off track from its objective of permanent global economic dominance. Less obvious, however, is Iran’s sinister role in the rise of China at the expense of superpower America.

Speaking to the Wilson Center last fall, Henry Kissinger, sounding very much like his old, detente-designing, Nixon Administration self, expounded on his strategic views of the U.S. and China, over 45 years after engineering the opening to the long-isolated Communist regime.

Unexpected Consequences

“I visualize China as a potential partner in the construction of a world order,” Kissinger said. “Of course, if that does not succeed, we will be in a position of conflict, but my thinking is based on the need to avoid that situation.”

Kissinger sought to develop a relationship with Beijing during the Cold War in no small part to bring to bear a counterweight to the Soviet Union. The post-Cold War consequences were unexpected, however.

“As time evolved, China developed economically at a pace that was much faster than anybody predicted. And at the beginning, we made a number of deals which, in purely economic terms, seemed to be balanced in favor of China. But we made them because we thought growth in Chinese strength compensated for that imbalance in the Soviet Union.”

China’s domestic embrace of market economics was widely viewed in the West as good news, a likely prelude to democratization and the ultimate neutralization of China as a military threat.

But Kissinger had already made it clear he didn’t buy into this concept in a famous essay in 1969. “In every advanced country, political stability preceded rather than emerged from the process of industrialization,” he wrote. “In fact, the system of government which brought about industrialization, whether popular or authoritarian, has tended to be confirmed rather than radically changed by this achievement.”

In an even more famous article in 1979, future U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Jeane Kirkpatrick made the point with sharper clarity. “Although most governments in the world are, as they always have been, autocracies of one kind or another, no idea holds greater sway in the mind of educated Americans than the belief that it is possible to democratize governments, anytime, anywhere, under any circumstances,” she wrote, attacking then-President Jimmy Carter’s dangerously naive foreign policy.

“This notion is belied by an enormous body of evidence based on the experience of dozens of countries which have attempted with more or less (usually less) success to move from autocratic to democratic government,” she added. “Many of the wisest political scientists of this and previous centuries agree that democratic institutions are especially difficult to establish and maintain – because they make heavy demands on all portions of a population and because they depend on complex social, cultural, and economic conditions.”

Not Freer, Not Less Malign

So China’s economic ascent, it has been clear for some time, has not made it freer or less malign. On the contrary, its threat to the U.S. and the world, and its inability to be changed for the better from within, is ever more glaring.

And for all its lawless economic warfare, like cyber-theft of hundreds of billions of dollars in intellectual property, it is the far-from-new Iran connection that is most alarming.

One might be tempted to think a long game of reaching global dominance and respectability would mean taking the high road and refraining from equipping Islamofascist thugs. In fact, Beijing has not only helped Tehran build its nuclear weapons program; for decades it has been on a mission to expand nuclear proliferation into a chaotic Third World.

“In the early 1980s, China transferred a nuclear weapon design package to Pakistan’s A.Q. Khan. The latter then reconveyed that information on to Libya, Iran, and others,” U.S. government nuclear weapon engineers Thomas Reed and Danny Stillman noted in their 2009 history of atomic proliferation, The Nuclear Express. “Since 1991, China has been assisting the raw materials side of the Iranian nuclear weapons program with the shipment of uranium (from world sources), advice on the mining of uranium within Iran at Saghad, instructions on the design of an ore-to-hexafluoride conversion facility” plus an enrichment facility.

In 2002, China transferred missile technology to Iran, and Beijing “has been using North Korea as the re-transfer point for the sale of nuclear and missile technology to Iran, Syria, Pakistan, Egypt, Libya, and Yemen,” Reed and Stillman point out. “China has overseen the North Korea-Pakistani trade of missiles for nuclear equipment.”

Until the Bush 43 administration used the U.S. intervention in Iraq to convince Libya to abandon its nuclear program in 2003, “China was training Libyan missile experts at Beijing University while transferring other missile data directly to Tripoli.”

What strategy could possibly be behind arming the world’s worst actors with nukes? Reed and Stillman, the latter of whom visited China’s nuclear facilities nine times in the 1990s, warned that “some within the government of China might not object to the nuclear destruction of New York or Washington, followed by the collapse of American financial power, so long as Chinese fingerprints could not be found at the scene of the crime.”

No wonder Beijing continues to love President Obama’s 2015 Iran nuclear appeasement deal.

Going Forward Indefinitely

At the Wilson Center, Kissinger pointed out, “China has a conceptual approach to policy. They look at it as a process, going back a certain period and going forward indefinitely.”

That approach ranges from economic warfare to distributing the tools and knowledge for nuclear terrorism, and even, beginning in 2014, to building artificial islands in the South China Sea, through which at least a third of the world’s shipping passes, and utilizing the islands as military bases with runways deploying Chinese fighters. China also has a strong hand in the governance of the Panama Canal.

Retired Gen. Jack Keane in February told Fox News’ Mark Levin that since the U.S. “lost that bet” that economic growth would bring political reform to China, “China has doubled down on authoritarianism.” At the same time, China conducts what Keane calls “‘gray zone operations’ … below the level of conflict that will get them the same results that conflict would get … Geopolitical control and influence. So South China Sea, East China Sea, areas around Japan and Taiwan are all about intimidation, coercion, undermining civil society, undermining governments, taking over media operations as a spin that they want as far south as Australia. This is a major campaign.”

Add to that China’s coercive investment in emerging industrial economies, with the objective of economic control, and its naval base in Djibouti in east Africa at the southern entrance to the Red Sea with the potential to control the approaches to the Suez Canal; plus another base it’s developing in Pakistan. The strategic objective, Keane warns, is to “in the late 2030s, early 2040s, replace the United States as the world’s global leader.”

Will we die as the world’s lone superpower unwittingly digesting China’s slow poison, these so-called “gray zone operations”? Or will the end come suddenly, by acts of nuclear terrorism to which China is the invisible accessory? As welcome as a trade pact with Beijing may be economically, this regime’s ultimate designs must not ever be overlooked.


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Thomas McArdle

Tom McArdle @MacArdghail, longtime Senior Writer for Investor's Business Daily, was a White House Speechwriter for President George W. Bush, National Political Reporter for Washington political columnists Rowland Evans and Robert Novak, Managing Editor of Human Events, and has worked as a writer for CNN and the Catholic League for Religious and Civil Rights. His work has appeared in National Review, the American Spectator, The Hill, the Washington Examiner, Newsmax, and the National Catholic Register. He has appeared on Fox News and numerous talk radio programs. He is a graduate of Trinity College, Dublin, M. Stanton Evans' National Journalism Center in Washington, Cardinal Hayes High School in the Bronx, and at 17 was one of Curtis Sliwa's original "Magnificent 13" Guardian Angels.

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