The Bond Factor….

The Bond Factor….

Photo credit: Miscellaneous

Keeping up with the current China dilemma, we are re-posting the second in a series with Michael Pillsbury – China expert extraordinaire.  This was first printed on February 5th of 2015.

It’s too bad that Sean Connery has given up acting, he would be perfect to play Michael Pillsbury on the big screen should his life story ever get to that. Pillsbury is a policy wonk, but it’s his life’s journey that’s straight out of James Bond.

Dr. Michael Pillsbury, as he is known in literary circles, was the guest of honor at the Kalorama home of Juleanna Glover and Christopher Reiter in Washington, DC to celebrate the publication of his new book The Hundred-Year Marathon: China’s Secret Strategy to Replace America as the Global SuperpowerOff hand that doesn’t sound very sexy, but If you go to Amazon you might be surprised. Yesterday it was number 5 on the overall best seller list, edging out 50 Shades of Gray which is number six. 

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Daily Beast’s Asawin Suebsaeng and Slate’s Betsy Woodruff at the book party

Pillsbury is one of the leading experts on China and in his book he reveals the hidden strategy fueling China’s rise and how Americans have been seduced into helping China overtake the US as the world’s leading superpower. His intellectual love affair with all things Chinese began at an early age and at a time when most young students would not have been that attracted to the subject matter.  But then again, he went to Stanford which has churned out alumni that includes the founders of Google and Yahoo, a bunch of billionaires, a cluster of astronauts and lots of other forward thinkers. He also speaks Mandarin.


Philip and Nina Pillsbury with Michael and Susan Pillsbury at The Folger – Photo credit: Courtesy of Carol Joynt

It was at Stanford University where he hopped on the China bandwagon. As an undergraduate in 1966 and the US at war in Vietnam, he solidly remembers the glaring front page headlines of all the newspapers saying we were in Vietnam because there are going to be one billion Chinese that are going to be armed with nuclear weapons in our future. They had just gotten their first nuclear weapon tested.

“There was this term called the rice bowl of Asia,” he told Hollywood on the Potomac.  “What ultimately became 50,000 Americans killed fighting in Vietnam was laid out in speeches that the goal was to stop China…… one billion Chinese with nuclear weapons coming south. I remember that phrase very well. I think the front page newspaper coverage in America about 1966 was focusing on this event in China that went on for several years called The Cultural Revolution and Mao overthrowing his own government; torturing his own vice-president; and just a whole series of unimaginable things happened that was really front page coverage for a long time. I was an undergraduate, sophomore year. I immediately enrolled in a course called Communist China and Foreign Policy. I mean who wouldn’t, being told about this boogey man coming to invade our friends in Southeast Asia? This was still a long way before the opening of China by Kissinger and Nixon.”

“My first job in the government was 1965,” he reminisced. “I was a junior summer intern in Washington, DC.  They gave me a top secret security clearance. It had to do with foreign aid and The Peace Corps and so forth. That’s when I first began reading CIA top secret reports. That experience changed my whole life.  If you’re interested in how people’s careers get shaped, I think I’d been to some James Bond movies like From Russia with Love and Dr. No.”


Sergio Rodriguera Jr., Jenny Harp, Lauren Ehrsam, and Jason Gorey at the book party

“In 1969, I had another lucky break when a professor of mine was named to a high level job in the United Nations,” Pillsbury continued. “He had one position he could offer. I was then 24 years old. He had me come to work for him in the United Nations secretariat building. The big blue green 38 story tower. This unit had a lot of soviets in it. Pretty soon the CIA and FBI came to me and said we remember you from the meetings we had back in ’65. Would you be willing to help us? At that time Kissinger and Nixon did not want to open up China. President Nixon gave a famous press conference in February of ’69 saying I want to develop an anti-missile system only against China. He used very harsh words. I forgot the exact words but like reckless, irresponsible. Dr. Kissinger was famously quoted in a book by Bob Haldeman where somebody says to Kissinger, ‘Nixon wants to go to China.’ Dr. Kissinger replied, ‘fat chance.’ This is the strange summer of ’69. They were all opposed to opening up China. 

“In the book I show how Kissinger’s major advisors said to him, ‘if you open up to China and the president goes there it’ll make the Soviets so angry it will destroy trust. There will be no détente. There will be no arms control. There’ll be no other agreements.’  That’s why the initiative stopped. My role was to tell the CIA and FBI that the Soviets I’m meeting with here in the UN expect us to have an opening with China. They will not call off détente. We will not walk out of arms control talks. This initiative can go ahead. It’s not going to freak out Moscow. Slowly, Kissinger changed his mind and decided to accept the Chinese invitations. It takes two full years before this happens. ”


“There was another example in 1982 when we and the Chinese worked together to arm rebels inside Cambodia to get the Vietnamese to withdraw. They invaded Cambodia. The Chinese and Americans cooperated there. In terms of Hollywood you may have seen this movie, a James Bond movie back in 1999. I think it was called The World Is Not Enough.  Bond, for most of the movie, cooperates with the beautiful Chinese spy who is working for Beijing. She’s part of the Chinese intelligence service. What I’m saying in the book is that this is not just a movie. There actually was cooperation between Chinese intelligence and the CIA. The government let me reveal this in this book. I thank the FBI, the CIA and the Pentagon for approving the book. It’s an authorized publication.”

Fast forward to today:  The China Dream.  They just announced a few weeks ago that their investments in America doubled in the last couple of years and is probably going to double again. They’re very cognitive about investing in America. Oh, and if you are planning on stay at The Waldorf Astoria Hotel in NYC…… guess who owns it…..for 1.9 billion dollars?


We asked Dr. Pillsbury if in retrospect he thought that actually the U.S. may have been responsible for their ultimate rise? “Oh Lord, very much so,” he was quick to reply. “One of their secrets have been this massive foreign investment attraction in the last 30 years that’s helped them enormously. America’s helped China the most out of any country in the world. The message is to have more respect, even admiration, for the quality of Chinese strategy………not to be patronizing or condescending towards the Chinese and think of them as a bunch of poor people who aren’t very bright and to respect the announcement in December by the World Bank and IMF that China has surpassed us. They’re already the largest economy in the world.”

“My wife Susan and I have put on a lot of parties for Chinese delegations at our house in Georgetown. We have a lot of Chinese art, Tong Dynasty and Song Dynasty sculptures.” Speaking of Georgetown we come full circle back to the Bond Factor. Michael Pillsbury was highlighted on the January cover of Washington Life Magazine which read: ‘Michael Pillsbury deconstructs the Georgetown Set.’ “I wrote a book review on Gregg Herken’s book with a map on where CIA and State Department people live during the Cold War in Georgetown.”  As a Georgetowner myself who lives just a few blocks away from the Pillsburys, I’m beginning to wonder: “Who really owns my mortgage?”