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Former Ambassador to Afghanistan Offers Unique Perspective on China During Latest SGL
U.S. Navy photo by MC2 Michael Ehrlich

Former Ambassador to Afghanistan Offers Unique Perspective on China During Latest SGL

By MC2 Michael Ehrlich


Retired U.S. Army Lt. Gen. Karl Eikenberry speaks to NPS students, faculty and staff in King Auditorium on the complexity of China, and the history that has led to the Far East nation's current strategic goals, during the latest Secretary of the Navy Guest Lecture, Jan. 18. During his distinguished career, Eikenberry has served as the Assistant Army Attaché, the Defense Attaché in the U.S. Embassy of the People's Republic of China, and most recently as the U.S. Ambassador to Afghanistan.

"There are several historical factors that play very important roles in shaping China's world views, their strategic culture, and its thinking about the United States," said Eikenberry. "Although I have it framed as historical narrative, you can think in three different contexts – one is culture itself, second is nationalism, and the third is ideology."

Eikenberry continued to describe the spectrum of culture that exists in China through a series of questions.

"Are we talking about the China that is projected in 2020 to have the nominal GDP that will surpass the United States and become the world's largest economy? Are we talking about the China that is the largest emitter of pollutants and carbons into the atmosphere?

"Is it the China with a space program that has goals to put a space station up with continuous manning, and a continually crewed lunar mission and an unmanned mission to mars? Or is it the China where 45 percent of the population lives in rural agricultural areas?

"Is it this China who's Navy has kept a small flotilla on patrol combating pirating and smuggling, which cooperates with a U.S. led task force and European Union led task force? Or is it this China who has been on an island building campaign in the South China Sea area, building seven islands creating 3,200 acres of new real estate, on which they have built long airstrips capable of landing any fighter or bomber or transport aircraft?

"The answer to this is all of the above. This is all of China, and this is the complexity that is understanding the country, and more specifically when you come to defense and military planning, this is part of the complex mosaic you will be looking at," added Eikenberry.

The esteemed diplomat continued on to describe several historical events that have shaped the Chinese culture, government and ideology. From opium wars in the mid 1800s to the First Sino-Japanese War to the Boxer Rebellion, Eikeneberry describes a China steeped in nationalism, and prosperity for its people.

"By 1912, a nationalist China with these mottos is established – nationalist, democracy, livelihood and people. Wherever you are, these are three things that if you are going to have a persuasive ideology and action program, whether you are communist or any other party, these are what will resonate with the people," Eikenberry said.

Eikenberry shared an analogy for how he understands the current actions China is taking with regards to the Korean Peninsula based on their history in the region. Understanding China's military and government today requires an understanding of their history and their efforts toward security, he explained, providing economic welfare for their people, and for their aspirations toward autonomy.


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