The U.S. Needs Measured Confrontation with China
China is not a status quo great power. It is a revolutionary great power that seeks fundamental and permanent changes to the contemporary order in international politic
ith the election of Joe Biden, there is increasing pressure for the United States to accommodate the global ambitions of the People’s Republic of China (PRC). Such a policy will weaken the strategic position of the United States and embolden the Chinese Communist Party (CCP), which seeks to transform the rules of international politics, and has demonstrated its willingness to employ coercive measures, including threats and open conflict, to achieve its aims.
As it has done for decades, and does so now with the Biden Administration, the CCP makes appeals for accommodation while emphasizing the need to turn away from more confrontational policies, like those most recently advanced by the Trump Administration. And as always, China’s words must be seen as tactical measures it deploys in pursuit of its objectives. Thus, it is only a matter of time before attempts to cooperate with China fail. However tempting, accommodation will not succeed for the stark reason that China does not want it.
Party Chairman Xi Jinping has made clear that what China seeks is world hegemony. And it is upon the pursuit of this hegemony that his power in the regime depends.
The CCP’s proclivity for expansion is fully expressed in Xi, who has vowed to achieve China’s “national rejuvenation” and to lead “world governance.” The reasons are straightforward: The party’s ideology requires it to smash capitalism and establish a new economic order based on socialism. To advance these aims, the PRC’s founder, Mao Zedong, employed the People’s Liberation Army to invade Tibet and Korea, launch a Sino-India border war, and participate in the Vietnam War. He fought for the leadership of the Third World and struggled with Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev for leadership of the global Communist movement, and provided training, military and financial aids to Communist guerrilla insurgents throughout the world.
Mao’s successor Deng Xiaoping continued this ambitious plan by accelerating China’s modernization, including military modernization in the 1970s. In the process, he waged a border war to punish Vietnam, and ordered the murder of hundreds, even thousands, of protesters. After the Soviet Union’s collapse, a major leader from the CCP’s top echelon urged Deng Xiaoping to replace the Soviets in leading the Communist community. Deng argued that the time was not propitious, and—famously—urged the PRC to “hide our capabilities and bide our time.”
Although there were no major armed conflicts under the rule of Jiang Zemin and Hu Jintao, respectively, China continued to race toward its goal of world dominance. This phase included dispatching tens of thousands of companies to every corner of the world. As China gained more markets from its global trade and from stealing Western technology, its power, particularly its military capability, increased rapidly. After the 2008 financial crisis, China’s leadership believed that the time was right for its global ideological, political, and military expansion.
To understand China’s quest for global hegemony, two themes deserve special attention. First, the “Xi Doctrine” is “the CCP’s domination of China, and the PRC’s domination of the world.” The Xi Doctrine explains why Xi is a unique leader and singular threat to both the Chinese people and America’s global interests. The Xi Doctrine seeks to replace the United States as the world’s dominant state.
The second theme is the need for the United States to return to the principles of great power competition. That means recognizing that the United States is in essential and irrevocable conflict with the PRC. To defeat Xi’s objectives, the United States must adopt a foreign policy of measured confrontation toward China.
The Xi Doctrine and World Domination
Since he took power, Xi has repeatedly vowed that: “no country should ever presume that we will trade with our core interests, nor that we will swallow the ‘bitter fruit’ of harming our sovereignty, security, or development interests.” This means that Xi will never compromise, make meaningful concessions, or bargain away what he perceives as core interests of the party-state in exchange for a modern form of peaceful coexistence. Xi’s “Wolf-Warrior” style leaves no room or possibility for negotiation, to say nothing of the prospects of rational dialogue or persuasion.
As China’s power, strength, and ambition have increased its core interests have grown. According to the regime’s 2011 white paper, China’s core interests include: 1) state sovereignty; 2) national security; 3) territorial integrity; 4) national reunification; 5) China’s political system established by the Constitution and overall social stability; and 6) basic safeguards for ensuring sustainable economic and social development. Among these core interests, Xi and his officials have stated clearly and consistently that the security of the regime is foremost. No entity is allowed to challenge the CCP’s one-party dictatorship and its “socialism with Chinese characteristics.” The most important core interest, according to Qiao Liang, a major general with the People’s Liberation Army, is that “the road to rejuvenation of the Chinese nation cannot be interrupted.”
Xi has given “territorial integrity” a new and broader meaning, which encompasses the Senkaku Islands in the East China Sea and the entire South China Sea, in addition to Taiwan, Hong Kong, Macau, Xinjiang and Tibet. Internet security and maintaining China’s position in the global supply chain are also added to China’s ever growing core interests. Xi uses these erstwhile core interests as pretexts to target his domestic opponents and reward allies, and has vowed to use force to defend any of these deliberately framed core interests.
Thus, China is confronting and will continue to confront the United States because it is the single major impediment to China’s strategic objectives. With the United States weakened—and ideally removed—there would be no single power, or constellation of powers (such as Australia, Japan, and India) that could prevent Beijing from achieving its aims. These objectives have been boldly and transparently advanced by Xi in his conception of a hegemonic China by 2049. The United States is the obstruction to the realization of China’s ambitions and its ideological opponent. Thus, it is the focus of China’s enmity.
The Two Domestic Components of the Xi Doctrine
The objectives of the Xi Doctrine are both domestic and international. Domestically, these include the continuation of the CCP’s rule underXi Jinping’s clique, along with the PRC’s sustained economic growth and development.
The rule of the CCP has always been intended to be permanent. Since the CCP seized control of China in 1949, it has ruled the country with terror and oppression in the spirit of a dynasty much like the Chinese emperors. Mao killed millions to terrorize the opposition. After the 1989 Tiananmen Massacre and collapse of the Soviet Union, the CCP feared a regime change, or “color revolution” might occur in China, supported by the United States. Therefore, it considers any advocacy of constitutional democracy, political and civil rights, or Internet freedom in China to be interfering with its internal affairs and harming China’s core interests.
Xi’s ambitions are shadowed by deep insecurity and megalomania. After he took power in 2012, he issued a complete ban against any discussion of Western ideas and values, including constitutional democracy, civil society, freedom of the press, and “nihilistic” views of history—otherwise known as the historical truth about the CCP. He demands unwavering adherence to the CCP’s absolute control of every aspect of Chinese society, and requires absolute loyalty to himself. Xi has censored the Internet and imprisoned hundreds of human rights lawyers. He has also built massive, high-tech surveillance systems to watch everyone, which makes the Chinese people live in constant fear.
Xi essentially has wiped out any effective dissent. He has been targeting rivals, such as Ren Zhiqiang, an influential and longtime critic of the Chinese Communist Party. Ren was born to a CCP veteran family, and thus is a “Red princeling” like Xi. He has a close relationship with many of China’s top leaders, such as Wang Qishan, China’s current vice president, and Yu Zhengsheng, former Chairman of the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference. He criticized Xi for ordering China’s media outlets to remain loyal to only the CCP.
In February 2020, Ren circulated an essay critical of Xi’s response to the pandemic. In the essay, Ren boldly stated that he perceives Xi: “not an emperor standing there exhibiting his ‘new clothes,’ but a clown stripped naked who insisted on continuing being emperor.” He not only mercilessly mocked Xi in the missive, but also detailed Xi’s missteps in “personally directing” the Chinese government’s efforts to contain the Wuhan coronavirus, refuting Xi’s lies point-by-point, and the CCP’s propaganda apparatus’ lavish praise of him. Specifically, he noted and criticized Xi’s concealment of the truth about the outbreak, failure to disclose in a timely manner critical information to the public, evasion of responsibility for the tardy and incomplete response, lying to cover up his mismanagement, and crackdown on whistleblowers to ensure the CCP lies would not be revealed. Ren’s essay is a damning indictment of Xi’s performance in this global crisis. Fundamentally, it is an indictment of the CCP’s rule. Ren argued that the pandemic is caused by the defects of the CCP system. Not unexpectedly, Ren has since been imprisoned.
Xi also ensures that potential rivals, such as billionaire entrepreneur Jack Ma, do not come into a position to challenge him. Ma’s frank and accurate criticisms of China’s banking system and regulations—including describing China’s banks as “pawn shops”—marked him as an enemy. As China becomes more powerful, Xi’s actions reflect the fruits of its expanding power, and should be cause for great concern for the rest of the world.
In the past decades, the United States and China have had many meetings at all levels. Consistently, China has rejected the American appeals for political reforms and respect for human rights as interference in its internal affairs. China has now extended its “internal affairs,” into international politics. As such, it prohibits any criticism from other states, particularly with respect to its suppression of its ethnic minorities and territorial ambitions.
The second domestic goal of sustainable economic growth and development is of central importance for the Xi Doctrine. China understands that the trade war initiated by the Trump Administration has upended its economic power and threatens its economic security. One one hand, China seeks to ensure its dominant position in the global supply chain. But this is contravened by Xi’s determination to weaken China’s free market economy and strengthen socialism through state monopolization of key sectors. He also ordered the CCP to make unwavering efforts to develop stronger, better, and larger State Owned Enterprises (SOEs). Increasingly, the Chinese regime’s economic structure contradicts and conflicts with its system of free trade established under Deng. Fundamentally, to resolve China’s unfair trade practices identified not only by the Trump Administration but worldwide will require the regime to change its socialist economic institution. This, of course, Xi is unwilling to accommodate.
From the perspective of U.S. national security, a worrying development is that the regime seeks to dominate the global supply chain not only with respect to manufacturing, but also in advanced technology. To secure those commanding heights, the regime will continue its multifaceted approach to achieving technology superiority over the United States, including the theft of American intellectual property and sustained efforts to access or recruit global talent, including American academics, scientists, and businesspeople…
Read More at Committee on the Present Danger: China