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BOOK REVIEW | 'Embracing Communist China: America's Greatest Strategic Failure' 

In their new book, James E Fanell and Bradley A Thayer bring welcome theory and practical experience to an important subject that has lacked a solution.

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Book cover, "Embracing Communist China" (Courtesy of Skyhorse Publishing)

Before I discuss this new book by James E Fanell and Bradley A Thayer, let me explain its importance. It was at a security conference in Berlin in March 2017, after I gave a presentation on the Senkakus calling for Japan to finally stand up to China and the United States to re-recognize Japan's sovereignty over the islands, that I noticed how timid the world had become in the face of China's bullying. After the talk, one of the participants called my ideas "dangerous." She was a European, but I sensed some of the Americans and other participants felt that way as well.

The conference was sponsored by a foundation and attended by academics and think tankers. Some of them had or continued to have close ties to China. That has been an unfortunately common aspect of the think tank world and universities, particularly in the United States. 

Nevertheless, I was still dumbfounded by the reaction. "Can't you see what China's doing?" I wondered aloud, without a satisfactory answer.

I have been bothered by that interaction over the past seven years. In part, it was because I was unable to understand why those in policy and academic circles could turn a blind eye to China's aggressive behavior in the East China Sea, the South China Sea, and other places. 

Were they afraid? Or were they being intellectually dishonest? Cautious? Were they "bought off" by China, or were their home institutions corrupted? Uncurious? Uninformed? Were they simply naïve? Uneducated about the threat? Did they want to work in a future US administration and did not want to rock the boat?

Bringing a New Perspective

Embracing Communist China: America's Greatest Strategic Failure (Skyhorse Publishing, 2024) is a new book by retired US Navy Captain and intelligence specialist James E Fanell and Bradley A Thayer, a well-published scholar of strategic studies. Their book allowed me to begin to understand the 2017 interaction in Berlin. It will also help readers understand the situation the world finds itself in with China becoming a regional and increasingly global hegemon.

Chinese Coast Guard vessels fire water cannons towards a Philippine resupply vessel Unaizah. March 5, in Philippine waters near Second Thomas Shoal in the South China Sea.(©REUTERS/Adrian Portugal)

Numerous treatises have warned about China's rise, but many were written for the layman in generic terms. This book may be, however, the first to provide the theoretical framework to explain China's rise. It is both analytical and anecdotal and organized in a helpful chronological way. 

The coauthored work also discusses the practical implications of the US failure to prevent a peer competitor, China, from rising after the end of the Cold War. Moreover, it discusses what we need to do about it.

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'Threat Deflation' in the China Models

The theoretical model the book uses is called "threat deflation." That refers to a model by which a country's threat is underestimated or downplayed for one or usually more reasons. 

In the case of what the authors expertly describe as America's "greatest strategic failure," three major reasons are given for the underestimations: 

  1. The US national security community failed. 
  2. Greed and finances dominated policy-making and corporate and government behavior, and 
  3. The People's Republic of China was "an exceptional strategist" (p 4). 

These reasons are described in greater detail in Chapter 2.

Chinese President Xi Jinping met with US Secretary of State Blinken on April 26. Intended to awe, the venue was the Great Hall of the People in Beijing. (©Xinhua/Kyodo)

Condensed Into Five Chapters

The book is divided into five chapters. 

Chapter 1 is entitled "The Roots of the Problem." It discusses the central arguments, structure, significance of the book, its assumptions, and methodology. 

Chapter 2 is the heart of the theoretical discussion. It is titled "The Causes of Threat Deflation and Its Consequences: Analysis of the Change in the Distribution of Power, the 'End of History,' and Deng's Political Warfare Strategy." 

Chapter 3 is "Implications for the United States." This presents a stinging indictment of the failings of the American elites who have guided US policy toward the People's Republic of China over the past four decades. 

Chapter 4, titled "What the US Must Do," is the shortest of the chapters. However, it provides nine concise recommendations to address the problems of elite capture by the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) and a China policy promoting "engagement," in part "out of fear of provoking the PRC" (p 117). If there ever was a "swamp" to be drained, it is indeed the pro-People's Republic of China (PRC) engagement forces in Washington, DC, and the United States overall. 

However, this book can and should be read by everyone with an interest across the globe. The problems we face vis-à-vis the PRC are generally similar. You need to know that the PRC is not your friend. Indeed, it is your enemy.

The conclusion is in Chapter 5: "Which Side Are You On—the CCP's or America's." It argues that the CCP is "an illegitimate polity with feet of clay." Furthermore, it calls on Americans to "be united in their understanding of the threat and their confrontation of it" to bring about the downfall of the CCP with the help of the "Chinese people [who hate the CCP] and the people of goodwill around the world" (pp. 138-139).

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Overcoming the Damage of 'Panda Huggers'

Expressed throughout this book is the absolute (and widely shared) contempt for the "panda huggers" and "China-engagement school." Among them are politicians, government officials, think tankers, academics, and others who for a variety of reasons have not only ignored or downplayed the threat but proactively lied about it. They have even sought to smear those who were raising concerns, both ethical and security-based. 

For this reason, Fanell and Thayer included as an appendix "Stay the Course on China: An Open Letter to President [Donald] Trump," published in July 2019. To be fair and open, this writer signed that letter, calling on the then-president to continue "to confront Xi [Jinping] and selectively to decouple the US economy from China's insidious efforts to weaken it" (p. 142). (The original letter can be found at: Stay the Course on China: An Open Letter to President Trump | Journal of Political Risk (jpolrisk.com))

The volume also includes an Executive Summary laying out the book's arguments and covering what needs to be done. As well, the Foreword is written by former President Donald J Trump strategist, Stephen K Bannon, who enthusiastically endorsed the book and strongly seconded its warnings. He even hosted the authors on his show, War Room, earlier in 2024 before the book was released. [Fanell And Thayer Preview "Embracing Communist China: America's Greatest Strategic Failure" (rumble.com)]

This book is timely as it will serve as an important guide for the next president if he is willing to take on the CCP and those who benefit from relations with it domestically in the United States. If the next president does not do so, the US may very well be doomed. It has already willingly let a peer competitor get the better of it for too long.

Book cover (courtesy of Skyhorse Publishing)

About the Book:

Title: Embracing Communist China: America's Greatest Strategic Failure

Author: James E Fanell and Bradley A Thayer 

Publisher: Skyhorse Publishing (March 12, 2024)

ISBN: 9781648210594 and  9781648210600 

Format: Hardcover : 216 pages, March 12, 2024, $26.99 and E-book: 256 pages, March 12, 2024, $17.99

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For further information: Or to purchase, see the publisher's homepage.

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Reviewed by: Robert D Eldridge, PhD
Dr Eldridge is a former political advisor to the US Marine Corps in Japan, and author and a 2024 Taiwan Ministry of Foreign Affairs Fellow at Tamkang University.