Peace with China - Through American Strength
Chinese President Xi Jinping will be in San Francisco on Wednesday to meet with President Biden. The event is designed to soothe relations between the two nations. And according to National Security Council spokesman John Kirby, Biden is “coming into this meeting from a strong position.”
This is partly true. Our economy is more robust than China’s, and although we no longer have unquestioned dominance as a sea power, China knows that in a head-to-head match-up, they would lose. We also retain an edge in nuclear weapons, one that serves as a tragic — but nonetheless needed — deterrent.
But as an international power, we are in decline. First, the mayhem and human cost of our catastrophic withdrawal from Afghanistan in 2021 sent an unmistakable message to China and all of our adversaries: America is willing to cut-and-run, leaving our erstwhile friends behind to suffer, for the sake of perceived domestic political considerations. This is not how a great power operates, at least if honor and perception as a trustworthy ally matter to us.
Second, as former Defense Secretary Robert Gates said recently, for Xi, “it’s all about the power, maintaining and sustaining the power of the Communist Party of China. And that’s his highest priority, and he is willing to sacrifice economic growth for that.” Xi himself has said as much. “Western countries led by the U.S. have implemented comprehensive containment, encirclement and suppression against us, bringing unprecedented severe challenges to our country’s development,” he told a communist party conference in March. He even expressly resents any public statement by the U.S. about China’s military buildup.
Yeah, that mean old United States, bolstering relationships with our friends in Asia and dialing-back China’s access to our leading-edge technologies. Silly America; standing up for herself against an aggressive, unrelenting, and brutal rival. What’s up with us?
President Biden deserves credit for these and related measures, and also for letting his secretary of State, Anthony Blinken, rightly indict China for her “ongoing genocide and crimes against humanity that PRC government authorities are perpetrating against Uyghurs, who are predominantly Muslim, and members of other ethnic and religious minority groups in Xinjiang.” The administration’s current National Security Strategy has recognized China as America’s “only competitor with both the intent to reshape the international order and,
increasingly, the economic, diplomatic, military, and technological power to do it.”
That intent is clear in, among other things, cyberspace. Earlier this year, the office of our National Intelligence director reported that China is likely “the broadest, most active, and persistent cyber espionage threat to U.S. Government and private-sector networks.” Beijing’s “cyber pursuits and its industry’s export of related technologies increase the threats of aggressive cyber operations against the U.S. homeland. … China almost certainly is capable of launching cyber-attacks that could disrupt critical infrastructure services within the United States, including against oil and gas pipelines, and rail systems.”
Yet when such American leaders as Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen and Commerce Secretary Gina Raimondo travel to China and say they want to defend American security while maintaining a healthy economic relationship with Beijing, they are talking in circles. Last year, the Defense Department even released a list of companies operating in the U.S. that are owned by the Chinese military. The evidence of China’s efforts to undermine American security and vital interests is extensive and indisputable.
This is why, while Biden should display publicly an appropriate measure of courtesy to another head of state on American soil, he needs to bear one thing in mind: as with all dictators, Xi respects one thing — strength. This means the United States must continue investing in those military and technological resources we need to contain China’s gathering threat to American influence and security.
“At every point since 1949 the Chinese Communist Party has been central to the institutions, society, and daily experiences that shape the Chinese people,” write scholars Rana Mitter and Elsbeth Johnson in the Harvard Business Review. “And the party has always believed in and emphasized the importance of Chinese history and of Marxist-Leninist thought, with all they imply. Until Western companies and politicians accept this reality, they will continue to get China wrong.”
China is neither a benign power nor a friendly competitor. We risk all we profess to hold dear, including the very safety of the American people, if we treat the Chinese government as anything other than the aggressive, intentional, and grasping organization it is. We mitigate China’s danger to us not through sweet reason or endless rounds of meetings but through driving home, persistently and deliberately, that America will not cavil or bend. Whether or not our president is up to this challenge is one of the most serious existential questions of our time.
Rob Schwarzwalder, Ph.D., is Senior Lecturer in Regent University's Honors College.