The Underestimation Game

The Chinese attack at Chosin

As US soldiers and Marines moved closer to China in November of 1950, General Douglas MacArthur - and many top American military and government officials - refused to believe Mao. The Chinese leader had repeatedly warned that dire consequences would befall American forces threatening his border.

Few listened. And those who did had no sway over MacArthur.

By late December 1950, UN Forces had retreated from North Korea. The Chinese had delivered a near-knockout blow to US Marines trapped in the snow-covered North Korean mountains. But the Marines had escaped, inflicting devastating casualties on the Chinese at the Battle of Chosin.

Through it all, we had underestimated the Chinese. And today we’re doing it again.

Xi Jinping at Beijing military parade commemorating the 70th anniversary of World War II’s end. (Courtesy CNN, 2015)

Despite promises, pledges, and constant assurances from China’s Xi Jinping that his country stands for open trade, peace, and prosperity for all, he’s not telling the truth. He’s lying and so are millions of his Communist Party cronies (there are over 80 million CPC members).

Today, as Nobel Peace Prize laureate Liu Xiaobo slowly dies from cancer in a Chinese hospital surrounded by security forces and police, Xi Jinping refuses to let the pro-democracy dissident get medical treatment in the West. Xi won’t even allow Liu’s wife to talk to the press or stray from surveillance officers who monitor the family's every move. Liu, who's been in custody since 2008 for criticizing China's government, was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize while in prison.

The Chinese leadership, meanwhile, does nothing. The last time a Nobel Peace laureate died in jail was in 1938 - in Nazi Germany.

China has cranked up its propaganda machine to keep the world’s attention away from Liu, but it’s not working. Xi is embarrassed. For him and the Communist Party, the sooner Liu dies, the better. (This blog was written five hours before his death - RIP Liu Xiaobo).

So much for free speech and human rights in China.

When it comes to peace and prosperity, we should also be clear where China stands.

The Chinese are exerting their military and economic might across the globe. In Hong Kong, a new Chinese aircraft carrier was sent as a show of military force against democracy activists trying to stem the tide of authoritarianism; in the South China Sea, military bases and airstrips have recently been built on disputed man-made islands; in Djibouti on the Horn of Africa, China's first overseas military base just opened this week; and in South Korea, an economic boycott over the deployment of the controversial THAAD missile system has severely impacted the Korean economy. According to Xi, there’s more to come.

If that isn't enough to set off alarm bells, China is now trading with neighboring North Korea more than ever. Why not? China has no interest in seeing Kim Jong-un’s puppet regime - which they’ve staunchly supported since coming to the DPRK’s defense during the Korean War - collapse. One of the last things China wants is democracy on its border. We should have learned that in the winter of 1950.

It’s time to stop playing the underestimation game.

(Photo: Reuters/Steven Saphore)
(Photo: Reuters/Steven Saphore)
Chinese aircraft carrier, Liaoning. (Photograph: Anthony Wallace/AFP/Getty Images)
Chinese aircraft carrier, Liaoning. (Photograph: Anthony Wallace/AFP/Getty Images)

Top photo: Chinese attacking at Chosin, 1950 (public domain photo)

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