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Are China’s Neocons Taking Power?

It’s often said that some people have such a hysterical obsession with the dreaded “neocons” that they probably search for them under their beds before going to sleep at night. And after reading Jacob Heilbrunn’s ominously titled column “Are China’s Neocons Taking Power?” it sounds like he’s probably the type to keep a flashlight handy on his nightstand:

So China flew its experimental J-20 stealth fighter jet while Defense Secretary Robert Gates was visiting President Hu Jintao? It would be hard to think of a more calculated insult–and one that America should, and will, take in stride. The Los Angeles Times reports that China’s military didn’t even bother to inform the civilian leadership. Gates knew about the test. Hu didn’t.

What does that tell you?

The real snub wasn’t directed at Gates but at Hu and his associates. Could it be that the real China threat is a military going rogue? It’s clear that China’s military is balking at pretty much everything the Obama administration wants. It doesn’t want to rein in North Korea. It doesn’t want strategic talks with America.

Heilbrunn goes on to equate the belligerent segments of China’s military with American neoconservatives:

And for now, it looks as though China’s neocons have the upper hand. Like the neocons who wrecked American foreign policy, they may be poised to follow policies that are actually inimical to China’s true interests, while arguing that they are pursuing its true ones.

First, as Max pointed out, it’s troubling that Hu seemed unaware of the J-20 flight. But there may be a reason to take this story with a grain of salt. With Hu’s planned trip to the U.S. next week, it could be possible that either Chinese or U.S. officials would want to give the impression that the president wasn’t aware of the test. The timing of the demonstration was obviously a snub to Gates, and by claiming ignorance, Chinese officials might be trying to side-step an unpleasant confrontation.

Second, it’s pointless to try to affix to the military of the Chinese authoritarian regime a label that originated out of the complex politics of the United States. Simply being “hawkish” doesn’t make someone a neocon, as Heilbrunn appears to be suggesting. And needless to say, the Chinese military isn’t even interested in promoting democratic values in its own country, much less abroad.


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