Eastern promise, Eastern threat


“I’ve come to the conclusion that we are headed for a clash with China,” author Michael Levin announced at International House Tuesday night. “If there is going to be a war,” he went on, “it’s going to be in the next five to 20 years.” In a discussion of his book, The Next Great Clash: China and Russia vs. the United States (Praeger Security International, November 2007), Levin—who has worked at the Asian Wall Street Journal in Hong Kong, at Diagnostic Products Corporation in China, and as a management consultant to the World Bank Project Coordination Unit in Moscow—predicted that a coming war with China would engulf the entire world in flames.

He argued that Harvard government professor Samuel P. Huntington’s much-debated “clash of civilizations” thesis, that the West will continue to be locked in conflict with the Muslim world, supports a “West versus the rest” scenario where a “China-Islamic alliance” will be fueled by trading “guns for oil.” Additionally, American debt to China is “tinged with vanity and hubris and threatens American authority all over the world.”

Levin also pointed to Chinese politics and history as cause for concern. Chinese history, he noted, has been marked by 700-year-long “cycles of expansion and retreat” that, according to the calendar, now find China “in the beginnings of an expansionary phase.” Furthermore, Chinese “hyper-sovereignty” over issues like Tibet and Taiwan hold potential dangers should the United States try to intervene.

Out of this competition, Russia has positioned itself as a Chinese ally. “China and Russia are closer” than they have been since the 1600s. Such an alliance to counterbalance American power, Levin concluded, will surely locate the next great clash in Northern Asia.

In a question-and-answer session, Levin was reticent to provide ways to avoid the impending crisis, saying, “I was afraid someone would ask that.” He did provide three suggestions that might prevent the next great clash: a national campaign to spread Chinese-language education in America, a larger Peace Corps to expose more Americans to the world, and military conscription, which might make policy officials less eager to go to war.

Ethan Frenchman, '08

Photo: Michael Levin discusses the causes of a coming war with China and Russia.

April 16, 2008