This 1920 article named China as the country most threatening world peace. As the Chinese-originated COVID-19 disease shuts down life and economies across the globe, that prophecy appears prescient.
Indeed, President Trump has increasingly and controversially taken to calling it “the Chinese virus.” However, many medical experts including the World Health Organization have called on him to stop:
But aside from the coronavirus, is China otherwise the country most threatening world peace today? That’s hard to say — depending on who you ask, that ignominious title probably goes to North Korea, Russia, or Iran. China is likely up there, but probably not #1 in most experts’ minds.
Or maybe the country most threatening world peace is actually America? A 2017 Pew research poll found that globally, 35% of respondents thought America’s power and influence was a major threat, compared to 31% who said the same of Russia and China.
This 1920 article about China was written by Theodore E. Burton, a Republican former U.S. senator from Ohio. (He would later return to the position again for less than a year in 1928-29.) Burton suggested that China had massive potential, but that its poor economy and lack of national unity at the time would hamper it.
The result of all these conditions is that the Chinese are a people, not a nation, an aggregation of families and clans, so distinct in their aspirations and interests as to create almost insuperable obstacles to unity and political organization. With most of them life is a constant struggle for daily bread, and in that struggle the obligations of each day are primarily to relatives and neighbors. Thus loyalty is not to any Government, but to family and friends.
Since then, China’s economy has skyrocketed thanks to its partial embrace of free-market principles, and its national unity has also soared ever since the Chinese Communist Party’s takeover in 1949.
Burton quoted former Secretary of State John Hay about China: “Whoever understands this mighty empire, socially, politically, economically, and religiously, has the key to the world’s politics for the next three centuries.”
Yes and no. China has absolutely surged as a global power, now claiming the world’s largest population and second-largest economy. But the country that truly became the “key to the world’s politics” between 1920 and 2020 was less China and more the U.S., which a century ago was certainly a major player but arguably not yet the global superpower, as it would become in earnest post-WWII and especially post-Cold War.
China Chief Problem in Maintaining World Peace: Country Is Backward Politically Because Its Gaze Is Backward, and Its Enormous Natural Riches Are a Temptation to Stronger Powers
Published: Sunday, March 21, 1920
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