Oderint Dum Metuant


Matthew Broder '22

“Let them hate me, so long as they fear me.”


Thus spoke Lucius Accius, a Roman tragic poet and playwright who lived in the days of the late Roman republic. It was a personal motto of the emperor Caligula, who is known to history mainly as an insane tyrant who killed at whim and pretty much did whatever he wanted. During his brief reign, he worked hard to increase the unconstrained personal power of the emperor and used his office to increase his own personal wealth. He was, in every sense of the word, a megalomaniac.

It also seems to be a central tenet of China’s modern foreign policy. The West can hate them all they want. We can oppose their imperialist bullying, we can condemn their genocidal actions, and we can boycott their Olympic games all we want, but at the end of the day, all that matters to China is that we fear them. 

Our relationship with China is complicated, to say the least. We’re more dependent on China than ever before, even amidst our growing rivalry. In 2020, they were our largest goods trading partner, third largest export market, and largest source of imports. Exports to China support an estimated 1.2 million jobs in the United States, and U.S. investors hold a combined $1.1 trillion in equities issued by Chinese companies.

 And despite efforts by the Chinese government in recent years to become more self-reliant, China is more dependent on us than ever before. Leading Chinese technology companies – Alibaba, Baidu, and Tencent – have built massive research centers in the United States. China is our country’s largest source of international students. In the 2019-2020 year, there were over 370,000 Chinese students in the U.S., representing 34% of international students. U.S.-China scientific collaboration grew by more than 10% each year on average between 2015 and 2019. And even in the middle of a global pandemic, American and Chinese scientists collaborated more in 2020 than in the previous five years combined, leading to over 100 co-authored articles in major scientific journals.

Yet, according to polls by the Pew Research Center, 67% of Americans feel negatively toward China, an increase of over 20% since 2018. Furthermore, 48% of Americans believe that limiting China’s power and influence should be a top priority, an increase from 32% in 2018. And, most strikingly, roughly nine-in-ten Americans consider China a competitor or enemy, rather than a partner. The threat to the West from the Chinese government is “more brazen and damaging than ever before,” according to FBI Director Christopher Wray. “There’s just no other country that presents a broader threat to our ideas, innovation, and economic security than China.”

We can hate China. But the hatred comes from fear. We fear their increasing global influence and prominence in world politics. We fear their growing military might, both in the real world and the cyber world. We fear their brainwashing abilities to create a billion-person population of fervent Party supporters. We fear them because they pose a real threat to our global hegemony. 

So, we can make passive-aggressive speeches at UN meetings. We can sail our battleships through the South China Sea to make it look like we mean business. We can ban Chinese companies like Huawei. But we’re America. We’re the freedom fighters of the world. There is so much more we could be doing to oppose China’s international tyranny. We could recognize Taiwan as an independent nation and support them in their fight against Chinese totalitarianism. We could put more pressure on the international community to recognize the genocide of the Uyghur people that the Chinese government is carrying out. We could hold them accountable for their irresponsibility at the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic and their continuous censorship of necessary information regarding the virus’s origins. 

But we won’t. Why? Because we’re scared. Maybe Caligula and Xi Jinping aren’t too different. “Let them hate me,” they both say, “just so long as they fear me.”