Book Reviewd by Mr Anil Supanekar, Member, PIC
Rated as #1 National Bestseller in 2015 by the Washington Post, the Hundred-Year Marathon by Michael Pillsbury is a must-read for those who want to gain insights on China’s recent rise and the reasons behind it. In fact, the title says it all. Though the book debuted a few years ago, this subject has become more relevant today.
Author Michael Pillsbury is an expert on Sino-American relations with his fluency in Mandarin and various influential positions that granted him access to China. His assignments included Director of the Centre on Chinese Strategy, Hudson Institute, Washington D.C., and consultant at US Department of Defense (DoD), among many others.
Pillsbury also participated in President Reagan’s 1986 decision that ordered the CIA to arm the Afghan resistance with Stinger missiles. Pillsbury used his connection with China, which has been described later in this summary. He has also been called ‘China-hawk’ and the architect of Trump’s signature policy on China. In December 2020, the Trump administration appointed Pillsbury as the chairman of the US Department of Defence policy advisory board.
The United States has played a crucial role in China’s development with a somewhat noble intention (according to Pillsbury). They believed that modern China with its democratic values and global amicability will ensure cooperation, diplomacy and free trade for the US. However, America has been totally unaware of the Chinese mindset, intentions and strategy. America’s wishful thinking was based on assumptions that underestimated the influence of Chinese hawks. The US treated China as a fragile flower and a nation on the pathway to democracy.
Based on the information gathered from Chinese defectors and newly declassified national security documents, ‘The Hundred–Year Marathon’ reveals Chinese strategy to not only to displace America as a world superpower but also to change the world order and re-establish China as the economic, social, and military superpower by 2049. The significance of 2049 is that it’s the one-hundredth anniversary of the formation of the Peoples Republic.
According to Pillsbury, China believes that Americans and their leaders are barbarians who will eventually become the architects of their own demise. Unfortunately, the American Government has willingly, unwillingly, or unknowingly helped China realize its dream. Pillsbury urges for a change in US policy towards China. He recommends more competitive strategies and a realistic view to gauge China for what it really is instead of what the Unites States hopes it to become.
During 2012-2014, when the author met scholars at major think tanks in China, they openly mentioned that the rejuvenation of the world order was even faster than anticipated because the US economy got battered during the global financial crisis of 2008. The Chinese believed that their long anticipated decline of America had already begun.
The Chinese marathon strategy is largely the product of lessons derivedfrom the Warring States period of ancient Chinese history (475 B.C. to 2 B.C.). The nine principal elements of Chinese strategy form the basis of the hundred-year marathon. According to some of these principles, the Chinese believe that success requires extreme patience as victory is never achieved in a single day. Also, the importance of stealing ideas and technology from opponents is a valid strategy for winning. Lastly, China believes that military strength comprises less than 10 percent in the ranking of the World’s superpowers.
The book also reveals some covert operations undertaken by the CIA. For example, Kissinger gave China detailed classified information about Indian troop movements against Pakistan, as well as America’s approval of Chinese support for Pakistan by distracting Indian troops. In order to achieve this, Kissinger asked for Chinese troops to move closer to the Indian border and hamper India’s efforts to dismember Eastern Pakistan. To appease China, America also stopped helping Dalai Lama.
In 1972, Alexander Haig, Kissinger’s deputy, offered help to China in neutralizing border tensions with Russia. In Feb. 1972, Nixon visited China and shared details on various nuclear targets. Furthermore, in a bipartisan effort to please China, President Carter also provided sensitive information about Vietnam to China during their conflict (post-America-Vietnam war) to the extent that shocked even Henry Kissinger.
During Reagan’s presidency, the US secretly worked with China to provide military supplies to the anti-Soviet Afghan rebels of the Khmer Rouge and America purchased two billion dollars worth of weapons from China for these rebels.
Further, the book also mentions the intelligence failures of the CIA such as not anticipating Chinese intervention in the Korean war, deployment of missiles by the Soviets to Cuba and the undefeated position of the Shah of Iran against Ayatollah Khomeini.
The book also provides a fleeting insight into how India should face the ‘China challenge.’ Some experts predict the future world as bipolar with China and America as dual superpowers, while other experts predict it as a tri-polar world with China, America and India as the major players. But in every possible scenario, China will be the dominant player.
Incidentally, patience, which is China’s key policy towards other nations, has also been strongly recommended in the book, ‘Rising to The China Challenge: Winning through Strategic Patience and Economic Growth’ authored by PIC trustees and experts.
Considering the similarities in Indian and American diaspora and the significance of patience as mentioned in the fables of the Warring Nations period, India should be watchful of Chinese strategy which will evolve in the Hundred-Year Marathon style.
(Mr. Anil Supanekar is currently based in the US and has about 50 years of active involvement in various industrial and business activities in engineering. He is a fellow of the Institute of Valuers and Indian Council of Arbitration. Mr. Supanekar is a Trustee of Pune International Centre.)