The People’s Republic of China hides its motives in a cloak of mystery. However, their contempt and disregard of others in the Coronavirus pandemic has now torn away the shroud and made their ugly intentions clear. China has signaled its defiance to the international order and its willingness to overturn it. They are implementing a strategy to supplant the United States as the world’s dominant power, and to do so by 2049, the 100th anniversary of the PRC.
Throughout the First Cold War, it was up to the United States to stand up for vulnerable nations and help those being set upon by the Soviet Union’s brutal force. Now that the Second Cold War is upon us, it is time to do it again against the tyranny of the People’s Republic of China.
Following World War II, the US was transformed into a world superpower. World leadership had been thrust upon us in a way we could not avoid. It came to the US not only because of his preeminent military and economic power but because of the generous way we had employed that power in the world of desperate need and threat of Communist expansion. These principles remained true throughout the First Cold War. Today, no major issue of global peace or stability can be resolved without involvement by the United States.
For more than 40 years, the US has played a benevolent role in helping the Chinese government build a booming economy and taking its place on the world stage. We believed that China’s rise would bring us cooperation, diplomacy, and free trade. In the past year, however, it has become clear that China’s goal is to replace America as the dominant global power. By mid-century, their GDP may surpass that of the US, and hence gaining a commanding position.
Unlike Americans, whose time horizon rarely extends beyond the next election, China plays the long game. The Chinese are willing to wait out difficulties as long as trends are moving their way. They seek victory through incremental moves designed to gradually improve their strength, by both legal and lawless means, until it grows into an overwhelming advantage. They wish to avoid a hot war by winning it without firing a shot.
Over the years, American consumption of Chinese products has grown to the point we are now financing their entire annual defense budget with just a few months of what Americans contribute to their trade balance. They sell us inexpensive merchandise to finance their military buildup while viewing us as their principal foe. And then they cyber-hack our submarine and fighter plane designs and reproduce them at a fraction of the cost to oppose us.
As the Chinese economy modernized, we had hoped that political liberalization would follow. We had hoped economic integration in the world would moderate the Chinese Communist Party’s autocratic government into a democracy focused on internal development and peaceful economic competition, but that has not happened. China is a significant trading partner, but the country is not our friend or anyone else’s.
The lack of transparency about the Coronavirus crisis with China is a prime example of the differences between the two national visions. All civilized nations deserve full transparency to resolve a calamity of this sort. This is the way we operate. On the other hand, China operates in secrecy, guarding their reputation and power against the rest of the world while causing a horrendous worldwide pandemic.
The US bases its foreign policy on alliances with other like-minded democracies. China, on the other hand, has no natural allies. They are a power unto themselves and any partners they may have comply with them only by threats and intimidation.
For example, China is undertaking the Belt and Road Initiative to spread its influence and power, which involves dozens of countries in Asia and the Middle East. China provides assistance and loans and workforce to construct public works programs in these nations, many of them distressed Third World countries. It involves projects like roads, airports, railroads, pipelines, electrical facilities, hospitals, and so on. If the loans go into default, which is likely, China then takes control of those finished projects. The country then becomes owned and dominated by China from that point onward. This program also enables China to establish military and diplomatic bases in these nations.
We have been naïve to believe we can hasten democratic reform in China by opening our markets to them. It may never happen. We must be prepared to enter into a new Cold War with China in the same ways as we did with the Soviet Union. We need to recognize that China is not our friend and prepare accordingly. We must grow our military and improve our intelligence and counterintelligence operations. We need to strengthen our alliance with Pacific Rim nations and demand that China begin democratic reform. China’s ruthless rise to dominance is a clear danger to America and free people around the globe.
For America to succeed in the Second Cold War, business and government agencies’ data and intellectual property need to be stringently protected. Tariffs and even boycotts of Chinese goods, and a costly American arms buildup will be necessary. It will be a heavy lift. Hardest of all will be the need for a long-term bipartisan effort that lasts through the end of the Century.
As nations around the globe see the two superpowers square off, many will undoubtedly be forced to pick one or the other with which to align. So which way would nations in Europe, Africa, Latin America, and the Pacific Rim choose? American style freedom and human rights, or cheap merchandise and intimidation from a thuggish PRC? The answer to that choice will go far in determining the state of the world for generations to come.
A whole generation of US government officials and China experts have gotten China completely wrong. For decades, the US policy toward China was grounded in wishful thinking. We must approach China as it is, and not as we might wish it to be. Getting our China policy right is the most significant US national security challenge of the 21st Century. We must approach the Second Cold War with all the determination and commitment that we approached the first one.