China Is Most Likely Spared from a Second Cultural Revolution | Zooming In China

Hello, everyone. Welcome to Zooming In China Tea Time. I’m Simone Gao.

Last week, the Sixth Plenary Session of the 19th Central Committee of the Communist Party of China formally adopted the Party’s third historical resolution. It is a landmark document that the CCP is using to project the “great glories and victories” of China in the past and to come and most importantly, Xi Jinping is using it as a launchpad for his third term in office. 

What this 27,000-word document doesn’t cover is notable. As the Taipei Times mentioned in their November 21st coverage of this resolution, “While a crisis at China Evergrande Group—which many call the bedrock of the Chinese economy—affects millions of Chinese invested in and dependent on the company, the sixth plenary session…declared in a landmark resolution…that these very people are enjoying the best years of their lives.

Meanwhile, the coal industry that once powered the country has dwindled in capacity, leading to widespread power outages…None of these major domestic issues that affect ordinary Chinese—not to speak of the sheer number of international issues the country is facing—are mentioned in the resolution. The CCP under Chinese President Xi Jinping seems oblivious to the things that directly affect the people it governs.”

Given that glaring oversight of anything that seems deeply relevant to the Chinese people, it would be easy to assume that this was a document to glorify Xi Jinping, one simply rubber-stamped by the Party. While this document does praise Xi exceedingly, it is not a full win for the dictator. A close reading of this resolution proves that it is a compromise reached between Xi Jinping and the Central Committee, with Xi gaining what he most wanted while still allowing for some compromises to influential Party members. 

Clearly, the core purpose of Xi Jinping’s third historical resolution is to lay the foundation for his third term in office. As I previously reported, in March of 2018, the National People’s Congress passed a constitutional amendment removing presidential term limits. While this removed constitutional barriers to Xi remaining in office for life, social barriers still exist. To continue his reign, Xi must convince Party leadership, and the Chinese people, that his is the vision that will carry them into a prosperous future. That he is the leader who will keep them from harm. To do so, Xi Jinping sets himself not just side-by-side with but above other storied Chinese leaders, including Mao Zedong and Deng Xiaoping. 

This resolution divides the history of the CCP into three major stages. The first stage contains the “new democratic revolution” before the establishment of the People’s Republic of China as well as the socialist revolution and construction stage after the PRC’s founding, both overseen by Mao Zedong. The second stage is one of so-called reform and opening up, a stage of socialist modernization that is overseen by leaders Deng Xiaoping, Jiang Zemin, and Hu Jintao. In marking the second stage as one involving three distinct leaders, this resolution weakens the position of Deng Xiaoping and leaves only Xi Jinping standing on par with Mao Zedong. 

The third stage features Xi’s self-described new era of socialism with Chinese characteristics. The intent of this section is to enhance the status of Xi Jinping and position him alongside Mao Zedong, each leading a critical stage of Chinese history alone. 

It is important to note that the plenary communique shared just after the Sixth Plenary Session of the Central Committee had five stages, not three. In that earlier draft, each of these leaders was highlighted as an equally important figure in a key historical moment. It is only in the post-session revisions that Deng Xiaoping, Jiang Zemin, and Hu Jintao are condensed in importance and Xi Jinping is raised to be an equal to Mao Zedong. 

But even a status equal to Mao is not enough for Xi. While the resolution highlights each as overseeing a core historical moment in China, the description of Mao over two historical periods contained only 5600 words. Xi’s self-proclaimed political achievements, on the other hand, included a 13-item list that totaled 19, 382 words.  All three of the other leaders accounted for only 4142 words. 

In essence, then, this new resolution has lifted Xi Jinping to a status higher than Mao Zedong, leaving the sense that his re-election is a done deal. Who among the CCP leadership would dare vote against a leader envisioned as greater than Mao?

However, not everyone in China agrees with the role Xi Jinping carved for himself in this resolution. A side note offered in state-run People’s Daily makes clear that there were fierce disputes and even quarrels at the Sixth Plenary Session, saying “For three full days, there were heated and contentious debates between the 348 people at the top of the Chinese power pyramid about this resolution, and they refused to give in. Before one had finished speaking, the others were standing up and preparing to talk. Even at the conclusion of the meeting, the participants were walking in twos and threes to discuss this in more depth. What was the focus of their debate?

The People’s Daily report claimed that the debates arose because of the difficulty in defining a party history, and the range of issues within it, for a full century. Of key importance, though, was the question of how to properly handle the relationship between the new historical resolution and the prior two historical resolutions, an issue of great concern to the leaders attending the meeting. Many strongly opposed the idea that the first two resolutions should be negated.

It is only the second historical resolution that deals with current policies in China. That resolution denied the Cultural Revolution, banned the cult of personality, had a seven-thirds evaluation of Mao Zedong, established a policy of reform and opening up and, importantly, abolished the lifelong system of leadership.

According to the rules of the Communist Party, when a resolution is voted on, it must be passed by all. Should anyone dare to vote against it, his political career would end immediately. However, knowing there may be some dissent and wanting to avoid antagonizing a large part of the Party leadership, Xi left space for a three-day discussion period before the vote. This is an internal discussion, protected by security guards at the Jingxi Hotel in order to ensure that none of the discussions are disclosed. 

This is different from the National People’s Congress and CPPCC meetings. Many deputies to the National People’s Congress and members of the CPPCC are simply figureheads whose opinions have no weight. But the Central Committee is the core of China’s power. They are princes from all sides, and no opinion they share is trivial. That does not necessarily make them free to express them at will or free from the consequences of doing so. 

Despite being princes from all sides, they are not necessarily protected from a purge by Xi Jinping after the meeting. It’s just like Stalin purging a group of members every time he held a meeting of the Central Committee. If that risk still exists, then, why would these committee members be willing to strongly speak out on or challenge this resolution? Because Xi Jinping has spent many years breaking the unspoken rules of the Communist Party’s game, namely the rules that give the leadership enormous privilege. If he is re-elected for a third term, they will lose these privileges and have to play a new game dictated by Xi Jinping. 

Recently, it came to my attention that the sons and daughters of CCP officials who have gone abroad have sought to stay in the United States. Before, CCP officials used the United States as a spare tire but kept their base in China. Now, they see that China is faltering and are seeking to stay in the U.S. permanently. They know that with Xi Jinping in charge, their property, privileges, and even personal safety are at stake. 

In the end, Xi got what he cared most about. He confirmed his supremacy in the Party and his position on par with Mao Zedong, laying the foundation for his third political term. This is a victory for him.

Meanwhile, he did make concessions on the direction the Communist Party will go in the future. 

His first concession was a denial of any positive outcomes from the Cultural Revolution. The resolution declared that Mao Zedong and the Party made a huge mistake that resulted in Ten years of civil turmoil which caused the party, country, and people to suffer the most serious setbacks and losses since the founding of New China, and the lessons were extremely painful. 

By doing so, the road that Xi Jinping wanted to build toward a second Cultural Revolution will now be left unfinished. I believe this is a manifestation of the will of a large number of people in the party, including the political elders, such as Hu Jintao, Wen Jiabao, and those in power, such as Li Keqiang, Wang Yang, and others who are firmly opposed to the Cultural Revolution. 

Xi’s second concession was to continue to adhere to reform and opening up. A couple of paragraphs pulled from different sections of the resolution help to showcase this concession.

One of them is Article 4 of Xi Jinping’s 13 major achievements in power, which is called the comprehensive deepening of reform and opening up. There, he stressed that reform and opening up represented a great awakening for the Party and a great revolution in the history of the Chinese nation’s development, and he called for continued efforts to see this process through.” 

He kept on saying: “Reform can only be carried out and not completed. There is no way out for stagnation and retreat. It must be advanced with greater political courage and wisdom. 

“The Party Central Committee is deeply aware that opening up brings progress, and closure will inevitably lag behind; if my country’s development is to gain advantages, win initiative, and win the future, it must conform to economic globalization, rely on my country’s ultra-large-scale market advantages, and implement a more proactive opening strategy.”

One thing is worth noting. The communiqué issued at the end of the Sixth Plenary Session of the Central Committee did not mention the need to continue the reform and opening up, leaving the impression that Xi Jinping was about to end that practice. However, the resolution issued five days later clearly stated that the reform and opening up should continue. Is this just the difference between the summary and the full text? Or was it added after the days-long game between the various factions of the Chinese Communist Party? I think the second possibility cannot be ruled out, because it says in the explanation of the resolution that more than 500 amendments were made from the draft to the final version, and the amendments are very large. That also shows the intensity of the debate about this resolution, in spite of potential backlash the participants may have faced.

The resolution also addresses Taiwan, though in a way that is neither too prominent nor too sensational. It repeats the wording we have been hearing from the party for years: “peaceful reunification” and “one country, two systems.” There are mentions of the 1992 consensus and an ongoing opposition to Taiwan’s independence. The most powerful sentence is this: “Solving the Taiwan issue and realizing the complete reunification of the motherland are the unswerving historical tasks of the party, the common aspiration of all Chinese sons and daughters, and the inevitable requirement for the great rejuvenation of the Chinese nation.” The resolution also states that they “firmly grasp the dominance and initiative in cross-strait relations meaning it is the party who decides when and how to complete reunification of the country.”

That sentiment was emphasized by Xi Jinping again in his comment to President Biden at their recent virtual meeting. He said they are patient and willing to use their utmost sincerity and do their utmost to strive for the prospect of peaceful reunification. “But if the ‘Taiwan independence’ separatist forces break through the red line, we will have to take decisive measures.”

This clearly indicates that if Taiwan dares to seek independence, China is prepared to rule them by force. 

Why is Xi Jinping so persistent on the Taiwan issue? I will offer a detailed explanation in the documentary I am making. That documentary will be published by the end of the year. For now, what is most important to know is that the Taiwan issue is what Xi Jinping truly believes is his greatest political legacy. His so-called great achievements in the third historical resolution are exaggerated, and he knows it. But were he to win Taiwan, it would establish his unshakable historical position in the Party. Then, re-election or tenure would not be in question. So, to solidify his own political power and role, he must win the battle over Taiwan. This is a critical fact that the U.S. and Taiwanese governments must understand.

That’s all for today.  Please like, share, subscribe and donate to this program if you like my content. Thanks again and I will see you next time.

Is President Tsai Ing-wen Moving towards Independence? An Interview with Dave Stilwell, Part Two

Simone Gao: (25:22)

let me talk about President’s Tsai Ing-wen’s recent move. Tsai Ing-wen had declared that ROC, Republic of China, and People’s Republic of China do not belong to each other. And to China, this is an indication of moving towards independence. And the U.S. hasn’t said anything about this yet. What do you think the U.S.’s stance is on this?

David Stilwell: (25:57)

Our stance is that we let the DPP and the Taiwan government do what it thinks is best. We obviously are concerned of any just blatant statements of independence, which Beijing has said it would, it would interpret as, uh, an invitation to invasion or whatever else you get. They’re, they’re very clear. I mean, Beijing is fuzzy on a lot of things. They employ ambiguity quite well, too. Um, but you know, any, uh, overt declaration of independence, they have said, in front of their own people multiple times, that that would be cause Bella, that they would take that as, uh, the, uh, key, the trigger to go to war. Uh, one of the key issues I mentioned before here is the fact that they have stated this in front of their own people. And I think Beijing is very concerned about how its own people view it.

David Stilwell: (26:46)

You know, its legitimacy, especially in a period of time when the economy is faltering. You recall that the, the unholy agreement between the CCP and the Chinese people: you allow us to run the country, and we’ll allow you to get rich. And people took that bargain and they, but they bought houses here in Hawaii that they could escape to, and they got blue passports, American passports, for their families’ escape plans and all that stuff. Hedging their bets, but they allowed the government to rule. But what happens when the economy is no longer, you know, cranking out 8% growth every year, and the people are, uh, starting to see their fortunes slip away? Uh, that to me is a cause, gives you cause for uh, concern. Um, uh, and that’s a conversation we should be having, uh, either at a low level or at the high stuff.

David Stilwell: (27:36)

Maybe when President Biden speaks to Xi Jinping, uh, on Monday, it looks like, maybe that’s going to be one of the topics is, you know–hang on a sec–you, you, uh, you throw this at every visiting delegation to read, and I’ve read it. I don’t know if you guys have read it, but basically it’s saying that, you know, our way is just as valid as your way and, and, and don’t, don’t question or, or wreck it. Well, what if it’s not? And what if the Chinese people no longer believe that, you know, the governance, his governance of China is not necessarily the way to go? This takes us to understand that, um, all these things have a domestic component that, uh, that Xi Jinping has to consider. And we should consider that as well as we prepare for, uh, potential outcomes or, you know, bad outcomes.

Simone Gao: (28:24)

Right. Uh, I agree with you that neither side, China or Taiwan, uh, has the will to break the balance right now. You know, China is not totally ready to invade Taiwan and Taiwan doesn’t, definitely doesn’t want to, uh, provoke anything. But there’s one thing that may break the balance and that’s the Sixth Plenary Session of the CCP they just had. So, that meeting just finished and, uh, uh, it seems like, uh, Xi Jinping’s position has been reinforced, and this might pave the way for him to take a third term in 2022. Um, how do you think, how do you think this will affect the situation in Taiwan, if his position does get reinforced and he will get a third term?

David Stilwell: (29:17)

It’s really hard to say. Uh, but you know, he’s basically violating, uh, 60 years of–well, since ’79, ’80, so he’s violating 40 years–of protocol. You know, their system basically said you get two terms, five years a piece. You could count on being in power for 10 years, but because we don’t want to become the Soviet Union, remember that…if you’ve ever seen the movie The Death of Stalin, I think you get a good idea of what a bad outcome looks like in this case. They understand that there’s got to be a transition. You can’t have a cultive personality like Mao, ’cause you see what happens. And I think we’re seeing that happen now as well. You’re seeing it when you have one person who gains too much power in the system, uh, it will eventually take you into, uh, a dead end. The question about how the sixth plenum turned out, though, to me is still a question.

David Stilwell: (30:02)

You know, if you read Xinhua People’s Daily, it says, you know, Xi’s declared better than Mao or on par with Mao, whatever honorifics that come up after–the core and the people’s leader and whatever they throw at him. I’m not sure, and I think the, the jury is out as to whether we actually reinforced Xi Jinping’s position here, or if there was a lot of tension and friction, uh, as people are questioning his ability to continue to lead. That answer, that won’t come out for a while. We’re not going to understand that. But if you read Desmond Shum’s book Red Roulette, which I hope everybody gets a chance to, it reads really well. It’s right up there with, uh, uh, John Garnaut’s book, The Rise and Fall of the House of Bo, another great book, uh, a similar subject, basically saying the facade of a monolithic PRC CCP leadership is a facade.

David Stilwell: (30:58)

There is a lot, as with any human endeavor, there is a lot of back-channel push and pull. There’s, you know, cliques and, and arguments and all that stuff. So, if you look at what Desmond Shum just published, boy that’s got to put the CCP on notice and it’s got to really make them nervous that these things are leaking out more and more. I mean, you are seeing more leaks now from the PRC than you’ve seen in the past as well. That’s people who are unhappy with how things are going. You can look forward to more of those leaks, which I believe will tell you that, uh, sixth plenary probably didn’t go as well as they would have you believe. And the last thing I’ll say on that is if you…I, I read this stuff every day. I try to stay current on all these events. I can’t keep up. I don’t know about you, but I just can’t keep up with the mountains of data coming out of Beijing and then the analysis that goes into that data. Uh, it’s just overwhelming. I’ve never seen, uh, as much change, writing, uh, policy suggestions and all the rest as I’ve seen in the last six months or so. So, all that’s to say the jury’s out. We have to employ time and patience and see how this pans out in two or three months.

Simone Gao: (32:05)

Right, right. Exactly. Uh, you know, I agree with you, there’s different opinions on the sixth plenary session, you know, their analysis saying that Xi Jinping did not get what he wanted from this meeting. Uh, that’s because the resolution did not put Xi Jinping above other communist leaders and, therefore, there’ll still be a hard fight to be fought for the 2022 20th, uh, Congress, National Congress, uh, and Xi Jinping might not get a third term. So, from the American point of view, if Xi Jinping does not get a third term, how will that affect the Taiwan Strait relations?

David Stilwell: (32:48)

I can’t see–again, this is easily arguable, but personally, I can’t see how that would be a bad thing, because that indicates a reconsideration of the current strategy. The fact, that, uh, you know, the current, uh, People’s leader was removed after all the efforts to change the system to allow him to govern, uh, through 2027 or beyond. The fact that that changed, uh, would tell you that there’s been a rethink. And my hope, and I think this is accurate, is that they would sort of, you know, withdraw and get focused on fixing problems at home first. Get, get the, the, uh, domestic issues under control. The rampant corruption. In spite of the disciplinary inspection efforts by Wang Qishan and his successor, corruption still is a massive problem, because the system runs on corruption. That’s…it’s like cancer, man. You pull the cancer out, but you pull the affected organ as well.

David Stilwell: (33:50)

You can’t separate the two. But he’s going to have to deal with that for a much, much longer time. And I do believe he’s, he understands that corruption is going to be the downfall of the Party. I remember stories of friends, um, you know, think tank friends in Beijing, who live near some PLA facilities, and you couldn’t go to a high-end restaurant and have any fun because the uniform PLA guys took the banquet room and they took all the Mai Tai and they took all the best food and, and they made a heck of a lot of noise and the people hear and see these things, and they don’t like it. They’re, you know, they’re having a great time and we’re, our economic prospects continue to decline. These are stories that, Simone, I think you guys can really help to expose as well, to show all this stuff well.

Simone Gao: (34:35)

Right, right. Uh, I think one particular concern about Xi Jinping not be able to resume a third term is he would do something, uh, desperate before the…

David Stilwell: (34:49)

Desperation.

Simone Gao: (34:49)

Yeah. desperation. So, would that be something the American part will consider or nobody was thinking about that?

David Stilwell: (34:58)

Oh, of course. I mean, we talk about that a lot. Diversionary wars, right? Things you do externally that create unity and support, uh, internally. Of course. Um, but I can’t think of one time that the PRC has done that. Some would point to Vietnam in 1979. I think that was all about splitting up an alliance between the Soviet Union and Vietnam. It had nothing to do with, uh, maybe securing, Deng Xiaoping or, or, you know, Zhao Ziyang or whoever’s position, you know, as they, as they recovered. Or actually–uh, uh, I’ll think of his name–Hu Yaobang. You know, supporting his position post-Mao. I, I don’t see that. Again, the odds are against you in something like that. Here’s the second question, you know, being a military guy: would the PLA obey those orders? When, when Xi Jinping first came to power in 2012, I remember hearing for the first time him say, PLA, you need to prepare for war.

David Stilwell: (35:57)

If you were to tell an American military person that, I would load up bombs, I would get them armed, and I would sit there on the end of the runway and wait for the order to take off, like we did in 1991 with Kuwait, to take off and go do my nation’s bidding, protect our national interests, through the military. So, so when Xi Jinping is telling the PLA prepare for war, we all imagined the worst, but what we quickly understood was he saying, no, actually like practice, like maybe get good at doing your job, because we may need you to do it at some point in the future, but we need you to stop working in art auctions, in real estate, in all these other, you know, commercial activities, and lining your pockets with all this ill-earned cash and focus on your primary job, which is national defense…uh, nope. Party defense. Defense of the Party, not defense of the nation. That’s another key point with the PLA. 

Simone Gao: (36:47)

Right, right. So, you think that’s not something like, uh, the U.S. should take into consideration, very…

David Stilwell: (36:55)

A key variable here in your, what you’re suggesting, is will the PLA fight?

Simone Gao: (37:01)

Within the PLA fight…

David Stilwell: (37:03)

Because this is…what if they determine this is a losing game, because they would face Japan, the U.S., they probably see some Australian activity, India. You can imagine that they would have to look at the western military region also getting involved if, if India or others chose to join in this, you know, sort of punitive response. So, yeah, I, I think there’s enough doubt there that, uh, I don’t know that the PLA would sacrifice their pink bodies on some bad idea coming out of Beijing, especially if Xi Jinping is being seen as, as, uh, you know, weak.

Simone Gao: (37:35)

Losing power. Okay. You know, a former Chinese Navy officer, excuse me, a former Chinese Navy officer told me that the PLA would not likely, uh, attack Taiwan within three years because, uh, the PLA cannot beat the U.S. military in three years. Uh, I mean, do you agree? And what about after three years? Will the PLA’s ability, capabilities, catch up that of the U.S. military in the future?

David Stilwell: (38:06)

So, at risk of contradicting myself, I will say that, uh, when we use the terms win and lose, uh, related to armed conflict, I think that’s a very bad idea. I mean, I can give you bunches of examples in the recent past–with the exception being Operation Desert Storm, uh, in 1991–where there really was no winning or losing. Look at Afghanistan. You know, we initially went into Afghanistan and we removed, uh, the, uh, Al-Qaeda terrorist threat. Um, but was that winning or was that just a temporary, temporarily delaying a problem or pushing it somewhere else? You know, Iraq, Syria, all these things. Hard to say what winning or losing is, but we do know that blood will be spilled and that the political climate will change on the back end of this to include, you know, demonstrating, uh, an aggressive policy like that would most certainly push Taiwan, Japan, and others, uh, further into the U.S. camp.

David Stilwell: (39:05)

That’s not, I don’t think, a good trade-off if you’re in Beijing. I don’t think. People are already beginning to question the fuzzy Panda thing. As I said at the top of the call, what you do here and, and, and very clearly painting a contrast between a democratic and free market Taiwan and an increasingly belligerent and authoritarian, uh, PRC is really important for the American people. We need to understand that they’re not the same thing. And as much as he, Xi Jinping, tries to tell us that his new type of governance, which, uh, oh, here we go: ”

Socialism with Chinese Characteristics in the New Era,” right? That’s a long way of saying–theory, throw in that at the end–uh, Xi Jinping thought really isn’t valid. It’s just more authoritarianism. It’s, you’re going to have a hard time demonstrating, uh, that’s a valid way to go, especially since communism died in 1991 with the Soviets. So, uh, it’s a, it’s a tall bill, a tall order, to try to turn a win out of this. I don’t see it happening.

Simone Gao: (40:03)

Okay. Uh, fair. You know, China has been building up its nuclear capabilities. Do you think a nuclear situation will ever be possible in the Taiwan Strait or between U.S. and China?

David Stilwell: (40:21)

Anything’s possible. What’s interesting is, um…and look, anything having to do with PRC claims of warheads, capabilities, economic data, anything you get out of the Party has to be questioned. You can’t take it at face value. This really bothers me about Wall Street and others is, you know, claims of 6.1% or 8% growth. Uh, they buy that, and I’m digressing here, but the point is about nuclear claims. Um, and then if you look at Luckin Coffee and Didi Chuxing, uh, and Alipay and all these other things, you know, you scratch that a little bit and all of a sudden you realize there’s nothing there. Luckin Coffee is a great example of basically a Ponzi scheme, shell game, that people were putting good, American retirement money into thinking it was actually a real deal. And it wasn’t. So first off, I would say any data that comes out of Beijing, you have to question it. If you don’t have any way of independently verifying what they’re saying, I wouldn’t believe it because, remember, the Party manipulates all this data. There are still only 4,300…no, 4,636–four six three six, a little over 4,000–uh, official deaths from COVID in China.

David Stilwell: (41:32)

That’s the official data. Does anybody believe it? No, of course not. So, why would we put any stock in any other claims they make? On claims of nuclear capability, nuclear intent, all those things. Again, I would question those. I would make sure that we keep our options open in case what they’re saying isn’t true. Uh, what they said in the past is that they didn’t need a large nuclear capability, because of no first use and all those things. They needed a small, retaliatory capability, and they seem to be coming off of that as satellite imagery shows missile silos and all the rest. Uh, on that, um, and on issues like basing overseas and that, I would say that it is a little disingenuous of us to deny the PRC the ability, in case of basing or nukes, uh, to defend its own interests. They are in the big leagues now.

David Stilwell: (42:24)

They still claim to be a developing country, and we know that’s not true. Um, but you know, they have significant energy and other resource interests in Australia–uh, in, in Africa–that they have to protect those lines of communication. Uh, and so a base on the west coast of, uh, of Africa makes sense to me. I mean, we did it. Uh, I think it’s something that we can turn to our advantage if we would just think about it. Same thing with nukes. If they see themselves as a great power, and if they see, uh, their relationship with the U.S. is increasingly hostile–it’s always been hostile on their side, we’re finally joining the fight–but as they see that, it would make sense that they would have to build up their not just conventional but nuclear arsenal. So, I’m not alibiing it, excusing it, approving it. I’m just saying, it makes sense as a, as a great power with interests that they would want to do that. Linking it to Taiwan is another issue, and I know. But we’ve heard Chinese statements in the past about, you know, I think you value Los Angeles more than Taipei. I, I, I don’t have a whole lot to say on that.

Simone Gao: (43:22)

Well, yeah, I was going to ask you that question, because there seems to be an understanding among the Chinese military personnel and even average Chinese citizens that the Chinese, um, has, that China have a advantage, uh, over the U.S. regarding nuclear wars, because China can fight a unlimited war. Uh, a PLA General Zhu Chenghu who once said that China can afford to lose the whole population east of Xi An. America cannot do that. So, particularly if this is for Taiwan. Uh, so when it comes down to it, China has advantage over the U.S. on a nuclear situation. What’s your thoughts?

David Stilwell: (44:06)

I love that quote. I wish you could get Enes Kanter on this show and ask him how he feels about that. I mean, that’s a really bold statement about how little they value their minorities, isn’t it? Everything west of Xi An is either Hui or Uyghur or Tibetan or whatever. I mean, that, that is so telling as to this idea of human rights and other things. Um, Mao Zedong said the same thing after the Great Leap Forward, right? Three years of really bad policy resulting in 36 million dead of his own people. And they asked them, how do you assess all this? He goes, well, we need, we had too many people anyway. I mean, geez. It does, it does give you an idea of exactly how they think. Uh, a really wise, uh, fellow defense attache named Frank Miller calls this, this concept is amorally practical. Doing what makes sense, whatever, even if it’s to only allow a little advantage, doing it without risk or regard to the values of the morality of any certain thing.

David Stilwell: (45:06)

So, yeah, you know, losing a hundred million people, shoot, we got 1.4 (billion). That’s, uh, that’s a very small price to pay. Um, would they, is that the calculus in a nuclear exchange? You know, I, that one, I don’t think really applies because as you know–now, I won’t go too far into nuclear deterrent theory because, uh, it, my memory is old and dated–but there’s two, there’s two ways you target, uh, nuclear weapons: countervalue or counterforce. Um, countervalue is targeting the people. This is what Zhu Chenghu says. To just wipe out the population. And I’m talking to nuclear pre-1991 sense, right? And then counterforce is basically taking everything from the PLA up to the top of the command chain, the people who order the PLA, which is the leadership. And then you target that, uh, you know, that’s not west of Xi An.

David Stilwell: (45:58)

I mean, there’s bunkers and tunnels and all those concepts, but I’m sure the folks in the, what was our policy to PLA, it’s the Strategic Rocket Force now, have briefed the boss on that. This is how the Americans approach nuclear combat. And, uh, we would definitely be in, in, in you, the leadership, would be in the targeting plan. And is it worth it to you, uh, to, you know, be obliterated? And, you know, I think Mao would say no. I’m pretty sure the rest of the leadership would say no as well. So, that’s it. That’s everything I know about Chinese nuclear stuff, but I would just say that these things all add a deterrent pressure on the decision to turn keys and start launching nuclear, nuclear warfare. It’s capability. It’s, again, posturing. I just, I can’t imagine anybody actually seriously employing nukes over Taiwan.

Simone Gao: (46:54)

Okay. And the bottom line is, uh, America would not be intimidated by the Chinese using a nuclear weapon on any occasion. Because their calculation, I think, is once we use a nuclear weapon, America will be intimidated and will retreat.

David Stilwell: (47:12)

Oh boy, that’s not a good way. Look what happens. You attack the U.S. on December 7th or on 9/11/2001. And look what happens to the American population. You want, you want to unite the American population, attack it, right? Attack Americans, right? And, you know, we have a policy on that as far as, uh, responding, uh, that I think makes it a very bad calculus. But this thing, Simone, takes us to a completely different conversation, which we can do later but I just want to tee it up. Is this desire, this endless begging for dialogue, um, this need to, you know, and I think there’s value in having military leaders talk and, and, and, you know, laying out that, that that’d be a really bad course of action and you would be on the losing end, my friends in, in Beijing, but until they want to talk, it’s not worth even considering, you know, begging for dialogue, just sending Wendy Sherman or John Kerry to do a VTC in Tianjin tells you how much they value dialogue. 

David Stilwell: (48:16)

Um, they’re clearly not ready to talk. You know, our approach was we’re just going to fold our arms and continue to apply pressure, well-considered, but, but, you know, increasing pressure, knowing that there will come a point where they will want to talk and have, uh, and start working out, uh, some sort of an accommodation. Until that time, there’s no point in getting together and having a conversation because they’re just going to posture, grandstand, and do things that make them look better to their own domestic audience and to global audiences. And there’s no, I don’t think there’s a good outcome there.

Simone Gao: (48:48)

Hmm, okay. Last question. 

Simone Gao: (49:48)

You know, many people have, uh, you know, many people think that Xi Jinping has determined to solve the Taiwan problem during his tenure. And if, uh, I don’t know if you agree, but if you agree, uh, what do you think will be the timetable, most likely timetable for him? You know, people have been talking about 2049, 2035, even 2027. What’s your thoughts on those?

David Stilwell: (50:15)

Well, I think we’re all aware of Admiral Davidson’s statement that, you know, he’s looking at 2027. I think his successor in, you know, PACOM repeated that. Uh, I, I don’t think that statement’s based on intelligence, I think it’s based on, uh, the larger understanding of what Xi Jinping says. He says, this is not a problem. Taiwan is not a question I’m going to bequeath to the next generation. Basically saying, as you just said, I’m going to solve this on my watch. Um, so then I’ll point back to another historical example: the two centenary goals. One of those goals was that, um, uh, that they would accomplish this rejuvenation and this standing up of China’s as a well-respected global power by 2000, by the millennium. That was Mao’s goal. And when it became obvious that that was way too aggressive and optimistic, they slipped it to 2049, the hundred year anniversary of the establishment of the communist party.

David Stilwell: (51:06)

So, these…in a, in a situation where you control the information so tightly, as is the case in China, you can tell any story you want. I mean, read 1984 or watch the movie where Winston Smith, our hero, goes back and he, he cuts out historical statements that he doesn’t like and inserts new ones into the, the bound volumes of the newspapers. They can do that, too. Um, digression. There’s a great photo, and I gotta find it again. Early on in the pandemic, uh, there’s a headline at Global Times. It says the Wuhan virus is under control and there’s no problem here, or something like that. And then about a month later, after they realized that Wuhan virus meant the world is going to make sure that China owned this problem, because that’s where it came from. And after the language of COVID came out, they went back historically and changed something that was already archived online and changed it to say, instead of Wuhan virus, they changed it to say COVID-19. They are not, uh, um, allergic to playing those sorts of horrible 1984ish Orwellian games with their own people.

David Stilwell: (52:08)

So, they can manage the narrative inside China any way they want. And if they need to slip it 10 more years, or if 2027 is no longer the goal, then they create a narrative inside China that, that explains why they could blame somebody else for it. And then they drive on. So, yes, the timing is a concern, but to me they have proven many times that they won’t be bound by, uh, timelines. We’ve got four year or eight year election periods that we have to, if we really want to get something done, we have to get things done inside. Their, their timing is much more fungible than that.

Simone Gao: (52:41)

Hmm. All right. Okay. Well said, Dave. Anything else you want to add?

David Stilwell: (52:47)

I appreciate the chance to share these thoughts, though, because this question is, is growing and you could hear an increasing demand for it. So, what you’re doing here is really important.

Simone Gao: (52:55)

Thank you. Thank you, Secretary Stilwell. Thank you for coming to Zooming In today.

David Stilwell: (53:02)

You bet. My pleasure.

Simone Gao: (53:03)

Thank you. Alright. That’s it. Wonderful.

David Stilwell: (53:09)

Thank you.

Simone Gao: (53:09)

Happy. Uh, tomorrow is, uh, oh, yesterday is Veteran’s Day, right? 

(53:14)

Right. Yep.

That’s it for today. Thanks for watching Zooming In China Chat. Please like, share, subscribe and donate to this program if you like my content. As I have announced before, we are producing a documentary movie on Xi Jinping’s war over Taiwan. It will come out by the end of this year. Zooming In members will get an early view of this movie. Our website is zoomingin.tv. Also, I would like to let you know that our website is experiencing some technical problems right now that resulted in payment not being processable. Therefore, your membership might be automatically canceled. We are fixing this problem right now, and once it is fixed, I will send individual emails to every member so you can enroll again. Thanks, and I’ll see you next time.

Is Time on Xi Jinping’s Side over Taiwan? An Interview with Dave Stilwell

Simone Gao: (00:02)

Secretary Stilwell, thank you so much for joining Zooming In today. Okay. President Biden has repeatedly said the U.S. will protect Taiwan if China invades Taiwan, but, uh, each time either the White House or Secretary of Defense would then came out and, uh, declare that the U.S./China policy hasn’t changed. U.S. One China policy hasn’t changed. And that leaves people the impression that there’s still strategic ambiguity on the Taiwan Strait. So, is that the case? Still strategic ambiguity on Taiwan?

David Stilwell: (00:43)

Well, I think the president is reflecting, um, the just general sentiment about Americans’ values and trying to protect a democratic and free market system against hostility and, and, uh, you know, uh, aggression. Like a lot of us, you know, we all come to the Taiwan question, um, neophytes, you know, babes in arms, and it takes a while to understand all the ins and outs of the Taiwan Relations Act, the Six Assurances and all those things. And that’s something a president has a hard time, I mean any president has a hard time, uh, you know, taking on and memorizing. So, I think what you’re seeing is from the highest level of American leadership, a commitment to respond to aggression, uh, and to defend those things that share values like democratic and, and a free market system. Uh, and what you’re doing here, um, and what you’ve been doing, I think in, in showing the contrast between what the mainland provides and what, uh, Taiwan stands for, uh, is enormously important.

David Stilwell: (01:46)

And so, I would take the president’s words, uh, you know–and here’s a chance to maybe add some clarity here–take the president’s words as a general statement of sentiment by the, uh, by the U.S. on the Taiwan question. And then, and then the walk backs, I think, are more, you know, again, they do contribute to the ambiguity, which in my mind is helpful. Some people don’t agree. Uh, but you saw Secretary Blinken. He also made a fairly strong statement today about the U.S. commitment, uh, to like-minded and, and commitment to peaceful resolution. I mean, that’s the basis of all this, uh, the agreement with PRC, is this, this, uh, question of Taiwan would be resolved peacefully through dialogue, without coercion or use of force. That we stand very strong on. Does that help? Does that make sense?

Simone Gao: (02:33)

Yeah, I understand, uh, where you come from. But, you know, people have been talking about different scenarios in the cross-strait relations. And one scenario they’ve been talking about is not like just like a whole invasion on Taiwan, but, for example, a takeover or invasion on the proudest island. If that happens, how, how do you think the U.S. will react?

David Stilwell: (03:00)

Well, you make a very good point, and this is the problem with red lines, by the way. If you, if you get away from, uh, a policy of, uh, ambiguity, uh, you then put yourself into a corner. And if..you know, the PRC has proven itself time and again willing to use that tactic. I mean, again, the South China Sea island building campaign, uh, and the 2015 commitment not to militarize the islands, while at the same time militarizing the islands, shows you one, PRC does not keep its word, doesn’t believe in contracts. It believes, uh, treaties and other things are scraps of paper. And two, it shows you that they would prefer this incremental approach that avoids any direct conflict that could lead to a much greater escalation. You know, they’re, they’re, they’re not very confident in how that might go. So, a direct attack on Taiwan, uh, or any other, uh, area of, uh, uh, significant American interest.

David Stilwell: (03:56)

I mean, look what they’re doing on the border with India. Uh, any attacks like this, um, uh, I think, uh, carry too much risk. Where they believe, in what we’ve seen historically, is this just gradual, you know, put a toe over a line, this gradualism, incrementalism. Uh, it’s very difficult to make a decision. Which grain of sand that they put down on the South China Sea reach, which grain of sand was going to be reason enough for the Americans go to war? And the answer is when you’re very slow and incremental like that, it makes a decision to respond very difficult. That’s the approach they take. Uh, and then your question about, you know, outer islands or other things, you know, uh, that, you know, would, uh, damage the economy. Uh, I mean, any number of things, not necessarily directly related, related to combat conflict, uh, are all very much in, uh, the PRC’s, um, you know, you know, M.O., their, their modus operandi.

Simone Gao: (04:55)

Yeah. Yeah. So, I mean, in the end, how would the U.S. respond to a situation like that? If they take the proudest island, will the U.S. act or just let it take it because that’s not the mainland of Taiwan?

David Stilwell: (05:12)

I think you saw I’m a big fan of ambiguity. And, uh, again, I’m just a citizen now. I don’t carry any authority here, but I do think that, uh, showing your hand, exposing what you might do early on–some say, that’s a good way of deterring them saying, “Hey, if, if you, if you do that, we’re gonna, you know, respond overwhelmingly.” I think there’s probably merit to that. Uh, but how many of those…uh, Xiamen, right? I mean, um, Jinmen. Any one of these, um, small islands. The Penghus. You can think of endless what-ifs here. And, as I learned in diplomacy, never answer a hypothetical. Uh, you know, so you don’t want to get into this what-if. You want to talk in bigger terms, in terms of principle, uh, and then, uh, another great conversation to have is deterrence. And what you’re describing here is a bilateral, U.S. versus China, um, problem.

David Stilwell: (06:05)

And that was the case for quite a while, but when the deputy, uh, defense minister of Japan, uh, uh, Tarō Asō came on and he says, “Nope, we too find this would be a, uh, important or critical national interest,” uh, because now the, uh, Senkakus are involved, or other issues related to Taiwan that create access problems for Japan. So, now it’s not just the U.S. versus the PRC, it’s the U.S. and Japan versus the PRC. You’ve also seen Europe, the UK, the French, increasingly the Germans, NATO, uh, more and more, Australia, others are also coming in and saying, uh, you know, “we hear the language coming out of Beijing. We, we notice there’s the saber-rattling and threats of aggression. And, uh, we are not going to put up with this.” I think that’s a great outcome. I do think that is enough to make Beijing think twice. So long as that, that threat remains credible.

Simone Gao: (07:00)

Okay. Yeah. I mean, uh, what do they mean exactly? We’re not going to put up with this. I mean, would they, would they, you know, protect Taiwan without the U.S. if U.S. is being slow? Would they take the initiative like Japan and Australia?

David Stilwell: (07:17)

I think Japan has demonstrated…now, they still are under Article Nine of their own constitution that says that they, uh, you know, war is, uh, uh, they, they renounce the use of war as a policy decision. And that’s, that’s okay, but, uh, it’s a self-defense force. And if they determined that any of these issues affect their own national defense, then you could see how that might trigger their ability to employ the, uh, self-defense force, uh, to defend itself. Uh, I’ll let you talk to Japanese experts about what their calculus is. The fact that the U.S. and Japan have a very strong alliance, in my mind the strongest alliance in the region. 50,000 American, uh, folks posted there. And you can see some of the art here, uh, you know, six years, uh, the Stilwell family being posted in Japan, very, uh, productively and happily.

David Stilwell: (08:09)

Uh, I think, uh, that the language coming out of both Washington and Tokyo is, uh, significant in deterring military adventurism. Now, here’s where the conversation really needs to go. The Chinese government, Beijing, wants us to narrow this conversation down to invasion scenarios on Taiwan. Very specific and, I think in their mind, an area where they carry at least some advantage. Uh, you know, that question, the calculus advantage, uh, might be possible if you’re talking about only the PRC and the U.S. But when you add allies and partners, then there’s no real conversation there. But they want us to speak on that. On invasion scenarios and all that stuff. Uh, where we have greater advantage, uh, is not in the East China Sea or the South China Sea but in other allies and partners, uh, in the region. Again, uh, again, India is its own being.

David Stilwell: (09:05)

They still are very much in their non-aligned world. But what’s going on on the shared border there, uh, has empowered things like the quad–India, Australia, Japan, and the U.S.–and made that a very viable, uh, um, organization, uh, orchestrate, whatever you want to call it. So, the quad is useful. The quad is another area where it’s multilateralized. My, my point here is, now I’m focused on the military. Let’s look at the economy. There are so many things that we could do that we’re not doing to, uh, get the Chinese companies who operate basically without any audit, um, requirements in our own economic system. And just to say that that’s not useful anymore. Now we’re moving in that direction, and we’re moving at deliberate pace. We could move a lot faster and just say, those companies are no longer allowed to list. Uh, there’s economic. There’s political things we could do.

David Stilwell: (09:56)

And there’s some really important information things we can do where, like the president, our messaging becomes more clear, uh, and, um, and combined with our allies and partners. Uh, again, as a strong message, not just to Beijing but to the Chinese people as well, that this is not something you want to pursue. Leveraging nationalism is a terrible idea. We know that from history. We see them trying to do that here. Uh, we need to tell them it’s not, that’s the direction they don’t want to go. Let me tell you a quick story on nationalism. In 1999, uh, an American bomber, uh, incorrectly, um, without intent but just made a mistake, ended up hitting the Chinese embassy in Belgrade, Yugoslavia. You can understand that the PRC could interpret that in one of many ways, but one thing they did was they encouraged Chinese people to attack American diplomatic, uh, functions in Beijing.

David Stilwell: (10:45)

And you remember the picture of the ambassador peering out through a broken window, uh, in the embassy compound in ’99. What’s interesting is they, they did stroke nationalism and got the Chinese people all riled up about this thing. It didn’t take very long–a day, maybe two–where those people, very angry, turned toward Tiananmen, which was just down the street, turn toward the Zhongnanhai, the leadership compound, and then begin to vent their anger toward the government and not necessarily toward the Americans any longer. This happens time and time again. So, uh, that’s something, um, we should consider is if they do start using that nationalism, nationalist tool, it has a history in China of backfiring.

Simone Gao: (11:28)

Right, right. Talking about that. There’s another example, you know, uh, the nationalism thing doesn’t work in Taiwan. Um, now the popular opinion has changed the drastically in Taiwan, uh, because, um, you know, towards the, the popular opinion has changed drastically in Taiwan towards the CCP. Uh, I mean, a majority of the Taiwanese people would not the one country, two system solution. And so if that’s the case, then the peaceful unification seems to be out of the question right now. So if shooting being really determined, it has determined to solve the Taiwan problem during his tenure. How do you think he will do it?

David Stilwell: (12:13)

Um, I think the, in history supports this, sorry about that. So I think history, sports, this, the, um, tendency, and I think it’s a good one, uh, is to wait, uh, unless there’s a problem that absolutely has to be solved right now. It’s always better to wait. And the example I use is, um, in North Korea is one I’m trying to

Simone Gao: (12:41)

Pink’s point of

David Stilwell: (12:42)

View. Yes. But I’m talking to interested in generic terms as well for any, uh, national strategy, any system, strategic level, decision-making, uh, it doesn’t help to just jump into things. Sometimes you have to write a world trade centers attack. You can’t stand for that. You need to act right now, pre-harvest deck, you have to act, but most things of this nature you don’t have to, you can, you know, as we say in the flying world, you can just sit back, wind your watch, take a breath, assess, and then think of the best response. And I’ll think of the example here in a second, but, you know, I, I use it as two points. You know, this is like the American position, and this is the position of some other country. And as you look at it from this distance, you’re going, it is impossible that we could ever get to a point where we agree on something.

David Stilwell: (13:28)

Well, let’s use France as an example, um, for the longest time, the French for it. Um, it worked almost against us interests, you know, in the sixties and seventies as nationalism and a bunch of other issues. But I remember seeing a video of a French ref foul launching off of a U S aircraft carrier, uh, during the Libya campaign. And the difference in those two things was time, you know, in the sixties and seventies, we were here and here and that bridging that gap between the us and New Zealand and France was very difficult, you know, but with time you, you, your perspective backs off and, and you move away and those points get closer and closer together. And then bridging that problem is a much easier thing to do. So time is a, uh, uh, is a really wonderful tool and you have to be patient enough to use it.

David Stilwell: (14:17)

And I think that’s what the PRC has done quite well. Frankly, over time is to take advantage of this time factor to wait until conditions get better, where they can, uh, as they say, win without fighting, uh, this book here, if, uh, your readers are interested, I find very useful. It talks a lot about the Taiwan situation scenario. Um, and again, it’s, it’s all available online. You can just read it on a PDF online. So the title is that is winning without fighting. So let me quote you a, uh, something from Andrew Erickson that just came out today, uh, responding to the Chinese military power report that came out of DOD. And he says, she thinks preference is almost certainly to use a mounting impression of overwhelming mite, uh, to intimidate the U S and its allies into faltering policies that enable their intervention and cross straight, you know, friction, uh, to a degree that ultimately erodes the resolving credibility. Uh, and cowing, Taiwan’s populous leadership into Equis and acquiescing to its demand. Um,

David Stilwell: (15:24)

They wanna basically message us and say, this is how powerful we are, and, and we’re going to do this. And there’s nothing you can do about it. Well, we haven’t reached that point yet, and they know that so time is working on their behalf. I mean, sighing one contrary to what they say has been very careful in, in her statements, in her words, she has made it very clear that she’s not going to give them the excuse to attack. And all of these things say both sides are doing what they can to manage this problem, to prevent an immediate attack. Now, some people are more, um, pessimistic about it. Some people think it’s going to happen sooner than later. Again, if I’m sitting in Beijing right now with all the economic issues, with a massive real estate debt, uh, with Enos canter and the, uh, Boston Celtics, no longer being deterred about saying what everybody actually knows and believes about how the conditions, human rights conditions in China, you know, with the Trump administration did with the, uh, uh, declaration of genocide in St. John, all these things work in our advantage. Can we hold for one second while these guys finish up this nice.

Simone Gao: (16:28)

Yeah. This is a crazy thing.

Speaker 3: (16:48)

[inaudible]

David Stilwell: (16:57)

Three to either ask that question again. Cause my next response will go more toward Hong Kong.

Simone Gao: (17:03)

Yes. If

David Stilwell: (17:04)

You ask that question again, I can. So we’re talking about other, other, you know, people finding their voice and all that stuff, but I grew up, we’d really like to talk about the Hong Kong.

Simone Gao: (17:15)

Uh, yeah, let me just ask this question one more time. Okay. You know, the popular opinion in Taiwan and towards CCP has changed the dramatically. The vast majority of the Taiwan needs people would not accept one country, two system solution. So it seems like the, you know, the one country, two system, uh, solution. I mean, so it seems like the peaceful unification was Taiwan is out of the question right now in that case. Uh, how do you think, uh, shooting ping will solve this problem if he really wants to do it during his tenure?

David Stilwell: (18:00)

I don’t think the Beijing believes it’s necessarily out of the question. Uh, anybody who’s been to Taiwan, I think, uh, has, and, and the key factor here is of course, Hong Kong, you know, both fell under the one country, two systems rubric. In fact, I believe that the initial use of that, that term was related not to Hong Kong, but to Taiwan, if you remember 2018 elections. So on the KMT woman dong one big, uh, and there was large concern that in 2020 it would, uh, sign one would be gone. And the, uh, the game T candidate would win. And something big happened between those two events now as Hong Kong and the PRC said it was no longer going to live up to its commitment and the joint declaration with the UK and other things. And so I don’t, I can’t think of anything that could skew an entire populous. So strongly go ahead.

Simone Gao: (19:01)

Okay. You know, the popular opinion in Taiwan towards the CCP has changed drastically. Uh, you know, uh, a vast majority of the Taiwanese people do not approve the one country, two system solution anymore. So, if that’s the case, uh, the peaceful unification seems to be out of the question right now. If Xi Jinping really wanted to do this, accomplish this unification, uh, task, how do you think he will do it?

David Stilwell: (19:37)

Well, he has only himself to blame for, uh, the sentiment in Taiwan. The 2018 elections, as you remember, uh, went very strong in the direction of the Kuomintang who take, uh, an approach, uh, like the, um, uh, the pro-establishment folks in, uh, Hong Kong, Regina Ip and the like. They take a position that it’s better to work a deal with the PRC and come to some sort of accommodation. We all know that the Chinese will not uphold, the PRC won’t uphold, its side of that bargain, but that’s their approach is rather than risk something like war, I think the KMT side believes that working a deal might be the best outcome. And that made sense, in a way, in 2018, uh, but in 2019, the PRC’s really heavy handling, heavy-handed handling, of Hong Kong and legitimate protests about the eroding autonomy, uh, made the elections in January 2020 a no-brainer.

David Stilwell: (20:31)

And so, uh, you saw Tsai won and DPP won that, uh, second term quite easily. So, Beijing has no one to blame but itself for a very tactical victory in Hong Kong, by shutting down the protests that were embarrassing Beijing. You know, the narrative was that Hong Kong is going great and they love China and on, and being associated. The reality was we really don’t want any more, you know, communism here. We’d like to, you know, be, uh, autonomous as we agreed to for 50 years. And, and so they handled that problem, a short-term problem, but they created a much larger problem for themselves with Taiwan, because now that, like you say, nobody in Taiwan, with any sense, believes that, uh, this one country, two systems agreement is ever going to work in their favor. They see their future looking a lot like Taiwan with the national security law, uh, the basically dismissal of any, uh, Democrats, pan-Dems, in the LegCo, et cetera. So, um, this is a lesson for Beijing is, you know, uh, actions have consequences. You know, for every action there’s an equal and opposite reaction, and in politics that works as well. That, that was not a smart move. They could have handled Hong Kong a lot better.

Simone Gao: (21:41)

Yeah. So, if that’s the case, what options are left for Xi Jinping if he wants to solve this problem?

David Stilwell: (21:48)

Well, I’ll go back to that time statement, um, time. And what’s the, what’s the, um, penalty, what’s the cost of waiting? Um, if you believe that the status quo is, you know, basically stable, then time is your friend. You can wait until conditions get better, uh, to address this problem. Again, maybe, maybe something happens in Taiwan, maybe the narrative on, on the PRC improves. There’s no…dealing with my, uh, PLA counterparts, a couple of things really stood out. In, in, in, in my growing up, uh, you know, my world was very black and white. You either made a decision or you didn’t make a decision. And if you didn’t make a decision, as a military leader, you were declared indecisive and, and of little use. You know, in our system, we need decisive leaders who can, uh, react and advance, take the initiative and all that stuff.

David Stilwell: (22:41)

Well, in their system, there’s a third option. That third option is just choose not to decide. Um, and you’re not considered, you’re not being criticized for not making a decision. In fact, everybody sees that as the safest outcome is delaying a decision until the time is better to make a decision. Because if you’re wrong, if you make a bad decision, then you can be criticized and removed from power. I think this deters, um, the thing that most of us fear might happen in, in with, with respect to Taiwan is that, you know, all those other aspects of messing with the economy and injecting itself into politics, political warfare, the book I just showed you, and to stirring up, uh, problems in dissent inside democracies, messing with the media. These things are all relatively cost-free because we are not fighting on those battlegrounds.

David Stilwell: (23:30)

We’re not responding in kind to their economic warfare at us. We should, and I think we’re starting to do so. Um, but they know that we could respond, and we probably would respond, respond in kind in any sort of military, uh, aggression or an attack. So, what’s wrong with continuing to work in the economic, information, political, diplomatic sphere, and letting that do its work and keeping that military option for the very, very end when you have no other choice. Our job is to keep them from concluding that they have no other choice and can’t delay that decision, because that decision, as we used to say in flying fighters, it’s a life-changing decision. Once you make that one, there’s an outcome and there’s no middle ground. You’re going to win, or you’re going to lose. And I don’t think Beijing wants to make that, that roll the dice on that.

Simone Gao: (24:17)

Hmm. Okay. Uh, am I understanding this right? You think the time is on Beijing’s side?

David Stilwell: (24:24)

Oh, I didn’t say that. No, I, I, what I’m saying, though, is that it’s not, it’s not against them. It’s neither for them or against them. Um, and I, I mentioned status quo earlier. Some people would say that the situation with Taiwan has hit stasis, right? It’s pretty much stable. Others would say that the longer that Taiwan remains removed and independent–not independent, distant–from Beijing, so long as it remains democratic, and as long as it remains a free market and not being run and just dictated to by Beijing, the longer that happens, the further, uh, the two drift apart. Uh, I’m not going to, you know, pitch in on one side or the other. Um, but I do believe that Beijing sees the stasis, the fact that things are relatively stable, as to its advantage. And I think Taipei sees it to its advantage. Nothing wrong with that. Both sides feel like they’re winning. There’s no need to take, uh, unfortunate steps.

Raymond Arroyo Talks About His New Book, Restoring Faith in America and the Christmas Tradition

Simone Gao: (00:02)

Hello, everyone. Welcome to Zooming In with Simone Gao. Have you ever wondered why tinsels and sometimes spiders are part of your Christmas tree decoration? Today, you are going to find out. Raymond Arroyo, EWTN Lead Anchor and Fox News contributor, is going to share with me his new children’s book, The Spider Who Saved Christmas. It is a beautifully illustrated book that tells a touching story about the message of Christmas, the origin of the spider decoration, and it helps to illustrate just how important the Christmas tradition is to the world. Take a listen.

Simone Gao: (00:42)

Raymond, thank you very much for joining Zooming In today. 

Raymond Arroyo: (00:46)

Happy to do it. 

Simone Gao: (00:47)

Okay. I know you just had a new book out, The Spider Who Saved Christmas. I have to confess among all the Christmas legends, I have never heard about the spider story. So, can you first tell us how you found the story and what’s the origin of it? 

Raymond Arroyo: (01:03)

Well, you are not alone. I had gone my whole life and had never heard this story, but when I was traveling in Eastern Europe, I realized on many of their trees, they obviously put a ton of tinsel on those trees but on the branches, they often have these little spiders, little spider ornaments. And I couldn’t figure out why, everywhere I went in Eastern Europe, there were these spider ornaments in a tree. I thought maybe it was just a hold over from Halloween or some local tradition. Well, it turns out both the tinsel and the spiders come from this legend. And it was many years later where I was researching another book and I found a very slight citation at the end of one of these big, thick Bible commentaries. And it simply said, there is a legend of Mary, Joseph and the baby Jesus hiding in a cave. 

Raymond Arroyo: (01:54)

And they encountered this spider who performs an important service to them. That’s all it said. So I went and researched this old legend, dug it up, and I’ve kind of expanded it a bit, because it was very spare, and added some characterization. And I, I think it’s one of the most beautiful stories of the Christmas season, because you never hear this part of the story. Whenever you think Christmas or the birth of Jesus, you think, you know, the stable and the wise men and the star. We never think about this part of the story, which is right after the birth, when the family has to take everything they have and they run to Egypt. And in my story, they’re hiding in a cave for their lives, fearing that these guards are going to come in and kill them. And part of the reason I think the story has resonated so deeply with people now is because in this COVID lockdown period, so many people, so many families have been hiding in their caves trying to protect each other and the moral at the heart of this story is if you have enough faith and you have the love of family, there is great hope there and the light will eventually reveal itself. And I think that’s resonated a lot with the people.

Simone Gao: (03:12)

Yeah, yeah, exactly. I mean, it’s a very touching story and, uh, I can tell you really put your heart into writing it. And I think with children’s stories, there’s a certain gentleness and pureness in it that that can touch people’s heart and soul, not just for children but for adults as well. I read the book. Yeah. I read the book, and I love it. So yeah, you, you already told me what you want to bring to the world with this wonderful story. Um, do you want to, I mean, the other question I have is, uh, you know, is this the first time you write like a children’s story or you write children’s story often?

Raymond Arroyo: (03:50)

Well, you know, when I had my own children, we, uh, we would read them the classics, all the books I loved growing up: Treasure Island and Jungle Book and, and, uh, uh, you know, all those great, uh, the old Harry Potter books, everything we read to our kids, the Lord of the Rings. And we sort of ran out of material. So, I began writing a middle-grade series, sort of my Harry Potter, it’s called the Will Wilder series for Random House. And, um, I wrote three of those books, I’m working on the fourth. But, so that was kind of my introduction to young audiences, but this is the first picture book that I’ve written. Now, I’m continuing to write others. But, uh, The Spider Who Saved Christmas was my first, and I wanted it to be a family read. And that’s what it’s become, where grandparents and parents are reading it to children and nieces and nephews. 

Raymond Arroyo: (04:38)

And they’re sharing the experience together. And, like you, so many of these families, like me, they’d never heard this story before. So, it’s a kind of new way to enter into the reality of the Christmas story. Um, it grounds you in the supernatural wonder of it. And, and the spider becomes a great vehicle for kids to, uh, sort of go along this path. And it does bring up a host of questions that usually you don’t encounter in the normal recitation of the nativity. So, I’m delighted that it’s getting families to refocus on the true mystery, the divine glory and the supernatural quality of, and the danger that surrounded this family at Christmas time, because I think that’s the reality for so many families.

Simone Gao: (05:29)

Right. It is a simple story, but it does have drama in it. And the illustration is wonderful. I love those golden webs. 

Raymond Arroyo: (05:36)

Yeah, no, we worked a long time. Randy Gallegos, who’s the illustrator, and I worked very hard at, uh, creating dramatic, uh, spreads, dramatic illustrations. And Randy paints everything in oil by hand. And I think that shows that human touch. He doesn’t use digital, uh, effects or, or, um, you know, draw digitally. He does it all by hand, and it has that old world feel that I thought the story needed because it’s an old story. This is a story that goes back to the second century, but I love that it also explains, and for children, it’s a, it’s an eye-opener, this is why people decorate their trees with tinsel. It’s not to replicate icicles. It is a, uh, tinsel is an homage to this story. So, in some ways it’s the origin story of tinsel, which makes a neat connection, I think, for families and kids. 

Simone Gao: (06:30)

Yeah, exactly. You know, unfortunately Christmas is under attack in America today. Uh, I know Christmas is very important to you, but can you also tell us how important Christmas is to this country as well? 

Raymond Arroyo: (06:46)

Well, look, I think it’s the central mystery of mankind. I mean, for Christians, uh, the, the axis upon which all of human history spins is the coming of Christ. The God-made man. And look, it’s a bold concept. And, uh, uh, if God came as a little baby at this moment in history, not only did he inspire revolutions and kingdoms, love and war, all of that is bound up in the birth of this child. So, it’s worth pondering, it’s worth considering. And I think, um, in America, we’ve gotten so far away from that essential mystery and the wonder of it. And we get bombarded by reindeer and snowmen and buying and eating and selling that we lose that reality of love and wonder and divinity among us. And I think this story, at least I tried in The Spider Who Saved Christmas, to remind young families and older families of that mystery. 

Raymond Arroyo: (07:54)

And, you know, children’s literature has a way of awakening the child in us, the young at heart. It calls all of us, um, to that, that sense of awe. And I wanted that in this story, and I think it’s resonated. I mean, I had a little girl come up to me–I was in a bookstore and a family recognized me and came over and brought the book and she asked me to sign it. And the little child was no more than four or five. And she said, I said, well, “why do you, why do you like this book?” Her grandmother told me she’d read it to her repeatedly. She kept asking about it, uh, you know, asking her to read it over and over, uh, last year. And they’re going to do it again this year. And I said, “why do you like this story so much?” 

Raymond Arroyo: (08:32)

And she said, “because I’m like that spider. A lot of people at school, they make fun of me. They tell me I’m not good and I don’t have anything to offer.” She said, “but like that spider, I know I have my little gift and I’m going to give it to God.” And I thought, you know, if, if no one else ever read the book, I’ve achieved what I wanted to, because it touched that child in a special way. Gave her the courage to go on and know she has a gift that’s all her own that, uh, the world is waiting for. And I think that’s true of all of us. 

Simone Gao: (09:04)

Wow, this is such a touching story. Almost brings tears to my eyes. So, I mean, did you say the book is already in the bookstore last year? 

Raymond Arroyo: (09:14)

Yes. It came out last year. We were on the New York Times list for five weeks. So, we’re kind of doing a reboot, because I’m going on a book tour. I couldn’t last year. So, I’m going on a book tour, visiting six cities, uh, in the next few weeks and starting this week in Tampa, Florida, this weekend. And then I’m going to Houston and Dallas and New Orleans and Mesa, Arizona, Jupiter, uh, Florida. So, we’ve got a lot of stops, and I’m looking forward to meeting everybody and, you know, sharing my insight on what’s happening today. Some stories about the book, the background of the story, and signing their books. So, uh, it, it, that’s a gift to me as much as it is the other way around. 

Simone Gao: (09:56)

Right, right. Are you coming to California? 

Raymond Arroyo: (09:58)

Not this time. Mesa, Arizona, is as close as I’m going to get. Uh, and a part of that is some of the bookstores weren’t quite open yet and willing to host events. So, we could only go where the stores could accommodate us. 

Simone Gao: (10:11)

Yeah. Yeah. You have, uh, the COVID mandate is very strict. 

Raymond Arroyo: (10:14)

Yeah, the mandates and the lockdowns are still in place in some places. So, that’s restricted me. You know, I wanted to go to Michigan, I wanted to go to California, there are other places I would have liked to have gone, but, uh, they’re not hosting in-store events. So, uh, we’re doing six of them, and maybe that’s enough for now. I can always start up the engines, get on my sleigh and go out next year. 

Simone Gao: (10:38)

Yes. This is an ongoing thing. 

Raymond Arroyo: (10:39)

Yeah. 

Simone Gao: (10:40)

You know, Raymond, we’re in a crossroads right now, and many people feel this world is sliding into a dark place. COVID, inflation, weak economy, communists’ and socialists’ influence and infiltration, danger of war. Things are not good. And yet people do not know if we can get back on the right track again. So, what’s your thought on this? How should people deal with a world like this? And, uh, do you think America can become the shining city upon the hill once again? 

Raymond Arroyo: (11:11)

Well, I, I think, look, you have to…hope springs eternal. And I think particularly at Christmas time, we have to kind of put politics on the back burner and focus on the things that really matter. Part of the reason that I write for children is I’m looking at the long game here. Uh, when you look at fourth grade reading levels, when 67% of fourth graders are not at a competent reading level, the implications of that are horrible. Um, it leads to incarceration and, uh, dependency on welfare, a whole host of problems come from something as simple as reading competency in fourth grade. So, we have a very small window between birth and fourth grade to really excite these kids about reading and literacy and, and the adventure of reading. Because if you, if you learn to enter a book and you learn to enter the world of a book, it creates critical thinking. Your, your imagination is triggered. 

Raymond Arroyo: (12:11)

But if you, if you aren’t reading, that whole world closes to you. And not only do their stories end, but our story as a people ends. So, I think we have to focus on family, um, spending time with those who really need our help, literacy programs. I always tell retirees, you have the time. Volunteer at a local school or library, read to kids. That little half hour could make the difference, uh, between a lifeline being thrown to those young children or not. Um, so I try to focus on the things we can do each day. Politics, particularly federal politics, are so far removed from our influence, but local politics, school boards, those are the things, your local community, you can affect that, you can change that. And I think if we’d begin there, then those other things will, in time, take care of themselves or not, but it’s up to us. And I always say, do the thing you can do now. And that begins in your family, your community, your state. And once you, once you feel you’ve got a handle on that, then worry about the national politics. But we all run to the global and economic, you know, macroeconomics. You have very little impact on that. So do I. So, we have to really focus on the things that we can change and make better. And start there. 

Simone Gao: (13:33)

This question is a little bit off the track, but I’m just curious. You are a man of faith, and the foundation of this country is also faith, but right now Christianity is under attack. And, uh, how do you think faith could be restored in America? 

Raymond Arroyo: (13:50)

Well, there’s always hope. There’s always hope. And look, I think you, you look at these downturns, you look at these moments of despair. I mean, when I see inflation on the rise and you see these supply chain problems, there’s a flip side to this, and the flip side is people spend less, they spend more time together. You know, God may have other plans here that are unfolding, at times through painful circumstances. So, you have to be open to that as well. Not that you want to have people suffer or be in terrible circumstances, but sometimes that’s the step to true growth and, and something really positive and wonderful happening. So, we have to be open to that. But, um, your point is well taken, and I think if you read Ben Franklin, Sam Adams, John Adams, many of the founders, this entire experiment in Republican representative government, democracy, was predicated on a couple of things: a moral people and an informed people. 

Raymond Arroyo: (14:54)

And I worry that we’re losing both of those. And that’s part of what I, why I write for children. You want them to be literate. You want them to be informed. You want them to be engaged citizens, and you can’t have engaged citizens if people can’t read. Similarly, you, you can’t have a moral people unless they are reading and engaged. So, these things often go hand-in-hand. But, yeah, I hope, I hope that these circumstances will create a situation where we see a reflowering of faith, people dependent on God and on each other instead of the government and some foreign entity for their care and wellbeing. Um, so that may be a good side benefit of this, you know, of the pain and the awful things we’re seeing around us. That you see a rediscovery of faith, because that will lead to a moral people and that will lead to better government, better outcomes, uh, you know, in the political and global sphere.

Simone Gao: (15:51)

Well said. Last question. Any tips for parents who are shopping for Christmas presents for their children this year?  

Raymond Arroyo: (15:59)

Yeah, well, obviously I’m going to be self-serving. Uh, if you have a middle-grader, uh, somebody who likes those chapter books and something you can read together as generations, the Will Wilder series is a great read. And, of course, The Spider Who Saves Christmas is a wonderful story that I think will enrich your family traditions. And I built it so that it could be read on two levels. You can read it as a child, and you can read it as an adult. Um, and you’ll both find something slightly different there. I think all good children’s literature works on those two levels, because there’s only so much…you know, a child will enjoy the ride and the foreground, the adult is going to see the shadows and the movements beneath the surface and the sharing of the, the experience. I’ve got letters here on my desk that, you know, the grandparents and kids interacting. That shared experience is as important, or more important, than the story they’re sharing. So, I would encourage them, yes, go and get good stories. I hope you read mine, but most importantly, share it together. Take the time to read it together. Give yourselves the gift of each other and the wisdom of childhood and the wisdom of old age so you can share those experiences. That’s how we progress as a people and as a culture. 

Simone Gao: (17:17)

Right. Wonderful. I’m going to get my family a copy as well. The Spider Who Saved Christmas by Raymond Arroyo. Thank you, Raymond, for coming to Zooming In today. Best luck to your book and hope to talk to you very soon again. 

Raymond Arroyo: (17:32)

Thank you. Thanks so much for the time. 

Simone Gao: (17:34)

Thank you. 

Raymond Arroyo: (17:35)

And Merry Christmas. 

Simone Gao: (17:36)

Oh, Merry Christmas to you, too. 

Simone Gao: (17:39)

This concludes our program for today. Please like, share and subscribe to our channel if you like our production. I would also like to make an announcement. We are producing a documentary movie right now, Xi Jinping’s War on Taiwan, a lot of unique content dives right into the heart of China’s behind-the-door politics. Experts from mainland China, Taiwan, and America. I will update you with our progress very often. Thanks again. And I’ll see you next time.