“Strategic narcissism” distorted the way that America viewed the Chinese Communist Party, according to former National Security Advisor H. R. McMaster. His thoughts on China are included in his memoir Battlegrounds: The Fight to Defend the Free World which goes on sale this year. A lengthy excerpt from this memoir appears in the May issue of The Atlantic.

A retired army lieutenant general, McMaster served as President Donald Trump’s National Security Advisor from February 2017 to March 2018. He accompanied Donald Trump and then-Secretary of State Rex Tillerson on a trip to China in November 2017.

That trip is described in the excerpt published in The Atlantic.

China does not need the USA

In that excerpt, McMaster looked back on one particular meeting in which a prominent Chinese leader, Li Keqiang, had bluntly informed Trump that China had outgrown its need of America. According to McMaster, Li went on to brush aside American complaints about China’s unethical trade practices. In the excerpt, McMaster recounted how the Chinese leader then told Trump that consumers everywhere would soon see China as the producer of the most technologically advanced goods and that nothing more would be expected from America than to supply China with food, fuel and raw materials. In The Atlantic's excerpt from his memoir, McMaster concluded that a new approach to China was needed.

McMaster was a professor of history at United States Military Academy from 1994 to 1996 and, in the excerpt from his memoir, he drew on the thoughts of other American academics. Hans Morgenthau, an advisor to Presidents John F. Kennedy and Lyndon B. Johnson, coined the term “strategic narcissism.” That term summed up the tendency of American leaders to overestimate the importance of America in the thinking of people in other countries, McMaster explained.

One consequence of this narcissism was the wishful thinking that China would increasingly do things the American way, noted the retired general in the excerpt published in The Atlantic.

'Strategic empathy' towards China

What was needed now was “strategic empathy,” McMaster said in the excerpt, employing the language of Zachary Shore, a professor of National Security Affairs at the Naval Postgraduate School in Monterey, California.

This meant trying to see China and the world through Chinese eyes, with a Chinese sense of history, McMaster explained in the excerpt. He went on to note that China had been a great imperial power before losing the Opium War to England in 1842 and the communist leadership was committed to restoring this greatness.

China's government can be expected to be increasingly aggressive in striving to place itself at the center of the world economically and politically, said McMaster in the excerpt from his memoir. The retired general went on in the excerpt to claim that more American resistance to China would be welcomed by those countries which felt threatened by China and also by those people inside China who had seen the government become less tolerant of free speech.

Welcome China's students

In the excerpt from his memoir, McMaster noted that Chinese law required all its citizens to put themselves at the disposal of the government’s intelligence gathering agencies. Nevertheless, in the excerpt, McMaster urged Western countries to think about allowing even more Chinese students to study at their universities. Chinese people who interacted with foreigners were more likely to view their own country critically and to voice critical opinions, he argued in the excerpt published in The Atlantic.

McMaster spent 34 years in the US Army. He became National Security Advisor shortly after Michael Flynn resigned from that post in February 2017. McMaster resigned in March of the following year.

He was succeeded by John Bolton.

McMaster is now a research fellow at Stanford University’s Hoover Institution. His memoir was originally expected to be released on April 28, 2020. The HarperCollins website now says it will be released on September 15, 2020. It is available for pre-order at online booksellers.