You know how when you buy a new car you all of a sudden see a ton of those cars on the road? I feel like I’m experiencing something similar with Michael Pillsbury. Starting about a week ago, a number of my firm’s lawyers (from both our international trade and international law groups) started mentioning “the importance” of Michael Pillsbury in determining how President Trump will negotiate with China and what terms he will accept from China in return for a trade deal.
Then all of a sudden I start seeing Michael Pillsbury everywhere, with the media pronouncing that he has President Trump’s ear on China and so what he thinks will be key. In The China hawk who captured Trump’s ‘very, very large brain, Politico highlighted Pillsbury’s crucial role and the New York Times did the same in A China Hawk Gains Prominence as Trump Confronts Xi on Trade. Many articles on the G20 meeting highlight Pillsbury’s influence on the U.S.’s path with China.
Who then is Michael Pillsbury and what is his position on China? Pillsbury has a long and foreign policy record, with a long history of dealing with China. He played a large role in the United States’ initiating military and intelligence ties with China in the early 1980s. But it’s his 2016 book, The Hundred-Year Marathon: China’s Secret Strategy to Replace America as the Global Superpower, that catapulted him to the attention of China Hawks (whose ranks have soared in the last few years). In that book (which I just ordered but have not yet read), Pillsbury posits the following:
For more than forty years, the United States has played an indispensable role helping the Chinese government build a booming economy, develop its scientific and military capabilities, and take its place on the world stage, in the belief that China’s rise will bring us cooperation, diplomacy, and free trade. But what if the “China Dream” is to replace us, just as America replaced the British Empire, without firing a shot?
Based on interviews with Chinese defectors and newly declassified, previously undisclosed national security documents, The Hundred-Year Marathon reveals China’s secret strategy to supplant the United States as the world’s dominant power, and to do so by 2049, the one-hundredth anniversary of the founding of the People’s Republic. Michael Pillsbury, a fluent Mandarin speaker who has served in senior national security positions in the U.S. government since the days of Richard Nixon and Henry Kissinger, draws on his decades of contact with the “hawks” in China’s military and intelligence agencies and translates their documents, speeches, and books to show how the teachings of traditional Chinese statecraft underpin their actions. He offers an inside look at how the Chinese really view America and its leaders – as barbarians who will be the architects of their own demise.
Pillsbury also explains how the U.S. government has helped – sometimes unwittingly and sometimes deliberately – to make this “China Dream” come true, and he calls for the United States to implement a new, more competitive strategy toward China as it really is, and not as we might wish it to be. The Hundred-Year Marathon is a wake-up call as we face the greatest national security challenge of the twenty-first century.
Is Pillsbury right? If so, what does this mean for US-China trade negotiations and for the future of US-China relations? Or maybe the better question isn’t so much whether Pillsbury is right or wrong, but whether his views are now the views of the US government. And if that is the case, how will those views influence US-China foreign and trade policy (to the extent those two things have not become one and the same) going forward?