Simone Gao: China’s economy has been hit hard by the trade war. And now it is also forced to compete with the U.S. on weapons and space. Plus Xi Jinping won’t give up his Belt and Road Initiative, which cost a fortune. So do you think this moment of China can be compared to the 1980s when the Soviet economy nearly collapsed in an arms race with the U.S.?
John Lenczowski: It’s a good question. I think that China’s economy is much, much stronger than the Soviet economy of that period. The Chinese communists learned a lesson from the mismanagement of affairs by the Soviet communists. The biggest crisis in the Soviet Union was a crisis in the military economy. They had a crisis in their consumer goods economy starting all the way back in 1917. China has avoided this problem. However, although China has developed a great capacity for technological innovation compared to the Soviet Union, it still depends heavily on theft of new inventions from the United States. If the United States gets serious about restricting technology acquisition and technology theft by the Chinese communists, then there could indeed emerge some serious strains within China. In the Soviet case, when we denied them technology, when we made our own military buildup, the regime was forced to try to either engage in domestic economic reform or to seek a bailout from the West to get financing and technology from the West. And the internal reform was never going to solve their problem. They needed the acquisition of technology from the West. If we choke off the technology from China, and if they decide that they can no longer present themselves to us as an enemy and as an oppressive power against their own people, then maybe political change can take place. But that’s not our decision. It’s the decision of the Chinese people.
Simone Gao: What do you think President Trump’s whole plan is towards China? Do you think his goal with China goes beyond balancing trade and creating a level playing field?
John Lenczowski: I don’t fully know. I know about people within the administration. And I know that there are those who believe that Chinese behavior towards us has reached the level of being intolerable. I believe that the president wants to restore reciprocity to the relationship. I don’t think that he wants to have a cold war. But if China is going to behave in a cold war fashion toward us, we don’t have much choice.
Simone Gao: So do you consider China a communist regime still?
John Lenczowski: Oh, yes. It is completely a communist country.
Simone Gao: So you think the U.S. and China are fundamentally incompatible?
John Lenczowski: Yes. China has been in a cold war with us ever since the triumph of the communists in 1949. They have been in a cold war with us this whole time. And we are only beginning to wake up to realize it now. Up until Deng Xiaoping and Kissinger’s desire to play 19th-century balance of power politics by pitting Beijing against Moscow, you know, this was a fundamental misunderstanding of the nature of the Chinese regime.
Simone Gao: I don’t know if Kissinger’s view has changed?
John Lenczowski: No. He’s too invested in all of that.
Simone Gao: But he does not have nearly as much power over this administration as over the previous administrations.
John Lenczowski: No. No.