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COVID-19 Is Accelerating The China-USA Cold War

May 26, 2020

On May 20 the Trump administration and the Department of Defense (DOD) released a 16 page report titled United States Strategic Approach to the People’s Republic of China that explained the reasons behind the new cold war reshaping global order. The report made it explicitly clear the US has no intentions to undermine or replace China’s government. Instead, four strategies are being readied to blunt China’s unstoppable rise. These are needed to roll back three challenges posed by China to US hegemony: unfair trade practices, an authoritarian system that subverts liberal democracy, and a dangerous arms race.

Now that COVID-19 pandemic has sunk the world economy and left the US’ reputation as a well-governed federal republic in tatters there has been a deliberate effort by the Trump administration to blame China for the virus’ spread and use threats as a means of shoring up America’s self-image. But the Strategic Approach to the PRC doesn’t dwell on the virus and its language is in keeping with previous documents that articulate the US’ aggressive approach to countering China’s rise. Found on pages 2 to 7 in the report are the three challenges Washington, DC deems it must face and defeat.

Foremost is China’s economy, which is described as “predatory” and harmful to US companies. The authors cite another report by the United States Trade Representative (USTR) to enumerate what exactly constitutes foul play on China’s part. These are technology transfers by foreign companies made under duress; restrictions on US company’s licensing rights; facilitating acquisitions of US companies by Chinese investors; cyber espionage to steal US trade secrets. Other controversial Chinese policies such as One Belt One Road (OBOR) are singled out for being unfair to developing countries.

The second threat is rather ambiguous with its claim that “American Values” are under attack. Besides having an authoritarian system that has long suppressed human rights and punished the Uighur minority with mass incarceration, China’s state-owned media is portrayed as a questionable institution with nefarious ends. “China’s party state controls the world’s most heavily resourced set of propaganda tools,” the authors explain. “Beijing regularly attempts to compel and persuade Chinese nationals and others to undertake a range of malign behaviors that threaten United States national and economic security.” The gist of this is China is a successful non-democratic government whose immense propaganda machine may subsume democracies in the Western hemisphere and beyond.

The third and last threat is an obvious one–China’s military strength is on its way to eclipsing the US’ own military strength. This time the language used couldn’t be less alarming, “Beijing’s military buildup threatens United States and allied national security interests and poses complex challenges for global supply chains.” The authors go even farther, “Beijing’s Military-Civil Fusion (MCF) strategy gives the PLA unfettered access into civil entities developing and acquiring advanced technologies, including state-owned and private firms, universities, and research programs.”

Apparently, nothing is spared regarding China’s military-technological sector. “The PRC’s attempts to dominate the global ICT industry through unfair practices is reflected in discriminatory regulations like the PRC National Cybersecurity Law,” the report explains. “Other PRC laws compel companies like Huawei and ZTE to cooperate with Chinese security services.”

The text at the bottom of page 7 encapsulates why the US must act against China as the 2020s get underway. “Guided by a return to principled realism, the United States is responding to the CCP’s direct challenge by acknowledging we are in direct competition and protecting our interests appropriately,” it reads.

“The principles of the US’ approach to China are articulated both in the National Security Strategy (NSS) and our vision for the Indo-Pacific region–sovereignty, freedom, openness, rule of law, fairness and reciprocity,” it states. “US-China relations do not determine our Indo-Pacific strategy, but rather fall within that strategy and the overarching NSS. By the same token, our vision of a free and open Indo-Pacific region does not exclude China.”

The longest part of the report falls under “Implementation” whose contents are divided into four strategies. These are:

  1. Protect the American People, Homeland, and the American Way of Life
  2. Promote American Prosperity
  3. Promote Peace Through Strength
  4. Advance American Influence

The bluntness of the report’s conclusion is jarring. In very plain language, the report drives home the message that the US’ rivalry with China is the new normal although there’s a limited chance of some cooperation when “interests align.” The declaration of intent, however, is unmistakable. “Through a whole-of-government approach and guided by a return to principled realism…the US government will continue to protect American interests and advance American influence,” it reads.

The full report can be downloaded here.

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