Understanding The Highly Complex World Of Western China Analysis

Caitlin Johnstone
5 min readMay 15, 2023


Former Pentagon official Elbridge Colby was interviewed on The National Review’s Charles CW Cooke Podcast, where he provided some very high-level analysis on the tensions around China, Taiwan, and the United States.

I will here attempt to explain some of Colby’s comments for the benefit of the average reader, because Colby has been studying these things for many years and his commentary can be a bit advanced and esoteric for the casual punditry consumer.

“The analogy I use is… Taiwan is like a man with a cut in the ocean, and China is like a great white shark, and America is like a man in a boat,” Colby said in the interview.

“The problem is once that great white shark starts moving, you got no time,” added Colby. “You’re done. You know, if you’re not already by the side of the boat, right? Because it’s a great white shark.”

Now bear with me if Colby’s incisive observations went a bit over your head here, but if we break it down I’m confident that we can all catch up to this man’s towering intellect enough to catch a glimpse of his understanding on the matter.

What Colby appears to be saying — and please correct me of you think I’m reading this wrong — is that China is like a Great White Shark, which as we all know is an extremely dangerous aquatic predator with a voracious appetite, capable of gulping down a human being in a few swift bites.

Now, try to imagine being in a situation where you’re out there in the ocean, and there’s a Great White Shark right there with you in the water. And to make matters worse, you’re bleeding — a problem not only due to the wound from whence the blood is emanating, but also because sharks can smell blood in the water! That would be pretty bad, right?

Okay, so are you with me so far? Remember, this is very advanced stuff, so feel free to read back and review as much as you need.

Now, imagine you’re in that situation with the cut and the shark, and there’s a boat that you can go to to get away from the shark. You’d want to hop aboard that vessel as swiftly as possible, don’t you think? I know I would!

So to put it all together, what the esteemed Elbridge Colby is telling us is that China is analogous to the Great White Shark which is eyeing the bleeding man in the water, and the man can be compared to Taiwan, and the United States of America is comparable to the boat that is coming to the rescue of the man.

Make sense? If you’re still struggling to comprehend Colby’s scalpel-like geopolitical analysis, don’t worry, because I’ve obtained this helpful infographic to further illuminate your understanding:

child’s drawing of a shark and a boat and a person in the water

Interestingly enough, this is not the first time China has been compared to a Great White Shark in recent western punditry. The Hoover Institution’s Matt Pottinger, a former advisor to President Donald Trump, made a similar comparison in an interview with Nikkei Asia earlier this month:

“We saw a baby shark and thought that we could transform it into a dolphin over time, to become a friendly sort of system,” Pottinger said. “Instead, what we did was we kept feeding the shark and the shark got bigger and bigger and bigger and bigger. And now we’re dealing with a formidable, great white.”

“With a shark you put up a shark cage,” added Pottinger. “The shark doesn’t take it personally. It bumps into the cage. It respects those barriers.”

Again, this is very complicated for the uninitiated layperson, but what Pottinger appears to be saying is that China is not at all comparable to a dolphin, which is an oceanic mammal known to be friendly toward people and easily trained to do tricks in aquatic theme parks. Rather, in Pottinger’s understanding, China is more comparable to a Great White Shark, which as you’ll recall from our discussion earlier in this essay is actually known to be rather dangerous.

If you’re still struggling to make sense of Pottinger’s luminous understanding, here’s another illustration to help make things a bit clearer:

If you need it simplified even further, another way to put it might be, CHINA BAD. SHARK BAD. CHINA LIKE SHARK. CHINA VERY, VERY BAD. BAD CHINA. BAD.

Again, don’t be hard on yourself if you can’t quite wrap your head around the high-level analysis of intellectual giants like Matt Pottinger and Elbridge Colby. If we could understand these things as well as they do, we’d be the ones earning big bucks from Washington think tanks, not them!

Well I think that’s enough work for your gray matter today. Have a rest and a nice sleep and come back fresh tomorrow, where we’ll be discussing some mind-blowing comparisons western analysts have been drawing between Vladimir Putin and Adolf Hitler.


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