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Does China have a secret plan to take America’s place?

In the bestselling but controversial new book "The Hundred-Year Marathon," author and former Pentagon official Michael Pillsbury argues that China is angling to replace the United States as a global superpower. Chief foreign affairs correspondent Margaret Warner interviews Pillsbury about what he thinks the U.S. can do to counteract the “secret strategy.”

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  • GWEN IFILL:

    Now to a controversial warning about China from a new bestselling book that's becoming a lightning rod for criticism.

    Chief foreign affairs correspondent Margaret Warner explains.

  • MARGARET WARNER:

    Since the 1970s, Michael Pillsbury has focused on China, as a Pentagon official and consultant and now at the conservative Hudson Institute.

    Over the years, the Mandarin speaker has grown ever more hard-line in his views, and it is clear in his bestselling, but controversial new book, "The Hundred-Year Marathon: China's Secret Strategy to Replace America as the Global Superpower."

    He says it's based on Chinese and American documents and books and conversations with Chinese military officials and defectors. Critics have shot back, accusing him of sloppy use of evidence.

    I spoke with Pillsbury last week.

    The very title of your book asserts that America has been in denial, that China has a secret strategy to replace the United States. What is that strategy based on?

    MICHAEL PILLSBURY, Author, "The Hundred-Year Marathon: China's Secret Strategy to Replace America as the Global Superpower": The strategy is based on two things, first, China's historical role in what we would today call the leader of the world. They want to restore themselves to the role they played for 2,000 years.

    The second part of the strategy is, they know from their economists that they can't build China into a replacement for us by themselves. They have got to get certain things from the outside world, and they have worked very hard in the last 30 years to get those things.

  • MARGARET WARNER:

    And is that so surprising?

  • MICHAEL PILLSBURY:

    It's surprising because they have denied publicly such an ambition.

    They portray themselves as weak, backward, and in great need of assistance from us.

  • MARGARET WARNER:

    And the United States has been a very willing partner in assisting them.

  • MICHAEL PILLSBURY:

    Yes, because of false assumptions.

    We thought, going back 30 or 40 years ago, if China becomes prosperous, the middle class will demand democracy, and so we're looking at a country that, yes, was stronger, but it has our values. That didn't happen. That's what I call the greatest intelligence failure in our history.

  • MARGARET WARNER:

    But there are other countries in the world that consider themselves great historical powers and want to restore that greatness. What makes China, as you portray it, so malevolent or so inimical to U.S. interests?

  • MICHAEL PILLSBURY:

    I think it's the unreformed China that I'm worried about.

    They plan to keep the Communist Party structure, the approach to human rights, the approach to pollution. They plan to keep all that and become the dominant economic power. This is what I'm warning against.

  • MARGARET WARNER:

    But wasn't it inevitable, given China's size and its resources, its population, that it was bound to grow by leaps and bounds? It didn't need the United States for that.

  • MICHAEL PILLSBURY:

    No, they did need us from for that. It's very clear from their own writings.

    They believe that roughly half their growth over the last 30 years was brought about by favorable terms of trade and investment from America. We're crucial to their strategy.

  • MARGARET WARNER:

    Now, you yourself made a personal evolution. You say you used to be what's known in the trade as a panda hugger.

  • MICHAEL PILLSBURY:

    Yes.

    Well, a panda hugger, that I was before, is someone who uncritically just wants to help and support China, has a sense of the old — what I call the old narrative. I came to realize I had been wrong from the beginning about who was really managing whom in this relationship. We have, I hate to say been their pawns because we have got a lot of benefit from our trade with China and our investment.

    And they have made some enormous progress. But I think, overall, the Chinese are managing us much better than we are managing China.

  • MARGARET WARNER:

    Now, people who have looked at this book criticize it for relying way too much on the view of the hawks inside the defense and intelligence and military establishments, and that there are many other competing voices in the Chinese establishment.

    Aren't there?

  • MICHAEL PILLSBURY:

    Yes, that criticism is valid.

    But the rise of the hawks has happened. It's a fact. President Xi Jinping shows more attention to them, has involved them more in his deliberations, goes to meet with them in person. So, I think the rise of the hawks that I'm claiming has taken place is not up for debate. It's happened for sure.

    Other civilians are involved, too. It's not just the military. They have a much more nationalistic view that China should speak out and really be something now, and not wait until 2049.

  • MARGARET WARNER:

    So, now, what would a Chinese-led global order look like that is detrimental to U.S. interests?

  • MICHAEL PILLSBURY:

    The Chinese concept of the new global order, they say in very pleasing language, will be fair. The south and the poor countries of the world, there will be no pressure anymore against dictators, that issues of a global nature, like climate change, pollution in general, these matters will be handled by consensus, not by pressure groups from what they perceive as, you know, unusual concern with American values. That will all be gone.

    The key point about the new Chinese-led global order is America will not be a global leader. The removal of the United States as what they call the hegemon is the most important thing. So the new order itself is just going to have no American leadership. That's the fundamental point.

  • MARGARET WARNER:

    There is a counterview, which is the U.S. and China are now the world's two biggest economies, and if we enter into a period of conflict with them, we do so at our own peril.

  • MICHAEL PILLSBURY:

    Well, it's true. We want to cooperate with China, but what I'm arguing is a little bit different.

    I'm saying we need to be shaping China at the same time as they're shaping us. They have enormous influence in our political system, with our businessmen. There's no reason we can't try to have the same kind of influence in Beijing.

  • MARGARET WARNER:

    So if the United States wants to forestall this, being replaced as the global superpower, what does it most need to do?

  • MICHAEL PILLSBURY:

    We need to strengthen organizations that are dedicated to shaping China.

    We have to wake up that the Chinese are not poor and backward anymore, and it's time to shape them. But, secondly, we are falling behind in almost all the competitiveness indicators there are. We have got to get our own house in order first, or the Chinese are going to win the marathon by default.

  • MARGARET WARNER:

    Michael Pillsbury, thank you.

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