Friday, February 18, 2022

How Chinese Grand Strategy Exploits U.S. Power

 From Mark Pottinger, at Foreign Affairs, "Beijing’s American Hustle":

Although many Americans were slow to realize it, Beijing’s enmity for Washington began long before U.S. President Donald Trump’s election in 2016 and even prior to Chinese President Xi Jinping’s rise to power in 2012. Ever since taking power in 1949, the ruling Chinese Communist Party (CCP) has cast the United States as an antagonist. But three decades ago, at the end of the Cold War, Chinese leaders elevated the United States from just one among many antagonists to their country’s primary external adversary—and began quietly revising Chinese grand strategy, embarking on a quest for regional and then global dominance.

The United States and other free societies have belatedly woken up to this contest, and a rare spirit of bipartisanship has emerged on Capitol Hill. But even this new consensus has failed to adequately appreciate one of the most threatening elements of Chinese strategy: the way it exploits vital aspects of American and other free societies and weaponizes them in the service of Chinese ambitions. Important U.S. institutions, especially in finance and technology, cling to self-destructive habits acquired through decades of “engagement,” an approach to China that led Washington to prioritize economic cooperation and trade above all else.

If U.S. policymakers and legislators find the will, however, there is a way to pull Wall Street and Silicon Valley back onside, convert the United States’ vulnerabilities into strengths, and mitigate the harmful effects of Beijing’s political warfare. That must begin with bolder steps to stem the flow of U.S. capital into China’s so-called military-civil fusion enterprises and to frustrate Beijing’s aspiration for leadership in, and even monopoly control of, high-tech industries—starting with semiconductor manufacturing. The United States must also do more to expose and confront Beijing’s information warfare, which spews disinformation and sows division by exploiting U.S. social media platforms—platforms that are themselves banned inside China’s own borders. And Washington should return the favor by making it easier for the Chinese people to access authentic news from outside China’s so-called Great Firewall.

Some have argued that because the CCP’s ideology holds little appeal abroad, it poses an insignificant threat to U.S. interests. Yet that ideology hardly appeals to the Chinese people, either, and that hasn’t prevented the party from dominating a nation of 1.4 billion people. The problem is not the allure of Leninist totalitarianism but the fact that Leninist totalitarianism—as practiced by the well-resourced and determined rulers of Beijing—has tremendous coercive power. Accordingly, U.S. leaders should not ignore the ideological dimension of this contest; they should emphasize it. American values—liberty, independence, faith, tolerance, human dignity, and democracy—are not just what the United States fights for: they are also among the most potent weapons in the country’s arsenal, because they contrast so starkly with the CCP’s hollow vision of one-party rule at home and Chinese domination abroad. Washington should embrace those strengths and forcefully remind American institutions that although placating China might help their balance sheets in the short term, their long-term survival depends on the free markets and legal rights that only U.S. leadership can secure.


The West’s sluggishness in realizing that it has been on the receiving end of China’s elaborate, multidecade hostile strategy has a lot to do with the hubris that followed the United States’ triumph in the Cold War. U.S. policymakers assumed that the CCP would find it nearly impossible to resist the tide of liberalization set off by the collapse of the Berlin Wall. According to this line of thought, by helping enrich China, the United States would loosen the party’s grip on its economy, people, and politics, setting the conditions for a gradual convergence with the pluralistic West.

That was, to put it mildly, a miscalculation, and it stemmed in part from the methods the CCP employs to prosecute its grand strategy. With enviable discipline, Beijing has long camouflaged its intention to challenge and overturn the U.S.-led liberal order. Beijing co-opted Western technologies that Americans assumed would help democratize China and instead used them to surveil and control its people and to target a growing swath of the world’s population outside China’s borders. The party now systematically cultivates Western corporations and investors that, in turn, pay deference to Chinese policies and even lobby their home capitals in ways that align with the CCP’s objectives.

Beijing’s methods are all manifestations of “political warfare,” the term that the U.S. diplomat George Kennan, the chief architect of the Cold War strategy of containment, used in a 1948 memo to describe “the employment of all the means at a nation’s command, short of war, to achieve its national objectives.” Kennan credited the Soviet Union with “the most refined and effective” conduct of political warfare. Were he alive today, Kennan would marvel at the ways Beijing has improved on the Kremlin’s playbook.

Kennan’s memo was meant to disabuse U.S. national security officials of “a popular attachment to the concept of a basic difference between peace and war.” He was hopeful that Americans could shed this handicap and learn to fight in the political realm to forestall a potentially catastrophic military conflict with the Soviets. To a great extent, Washington did exactly that, marshaling partners on every continent to contain Soviet influence.

Today, free and open societies are once again coming to terms with the reality of political warfare. This time, however, the campaign is directed by a different kind of communist country—one that possesses not just military power but also economic power derived from its quasi-marketized version of capitalism and systematic theft of technology. Although there are holdouts—financiers, entertainers, and former officials who benefited from engagement, for example—polls show that the general public in the United States, European countries, and several Asian countries is finally attuned to the malevolent nature of the Chinese regime and its global ambitions. This should come as no surprise, given the way the CCP has conducted itself in recent years: covering up the initial outbreak of COVID-19, attacking Indian troops on the Chinese-Indian border, choking off trade with Australia, crushing the rule of law in Hong Kong, and intensifying a campaign of genocide against Uyghurs and other ethnic minorities in China.


Those aggressive moves represent merely a new phase of a decades-old strategy. In writing his recent book The Long Game, the U.S. scholar Rush Doshi pored over Chinese leaders’ speeches, policy documents, and memoirs to document how Beijing came to set its sights on dismantling American influence around the globe. According to Doshi, who now serves on the National Security Council staff as a China director, three events badly rattled CCP leaders: the 1989 pro-democracy protests in Tiananmen Square; the lopsided, U.S.-led victory over the Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein’s forces in early 1991; and the collapse of the Soviet Union that same year. “The Tiananmen Square protests reminded Beijing of the American ideological threat; the swift Gulf War victory reminded it of the American military threat; and loss of the shared Soviet adversary reminded it of the American geopolitical threat,” writes Doshi. “In short order, the United States quickly replaced the Soviet Union as China’s primary security concern, that in turn led to a new grand strategy, and a thirty-year struggle to displace American power was born.”

China’s new grand strategy aimed first to dilute U.S. influence in Asia, then to displace American power more overtly from the region, and ultimately to dominate a global order more suited to Beijing’s governance model. That model isn’t merely authoritarian; it’s “neo-totalitarian,” according to Cai Xia, who served for 15 years as a professor in the highest temple of Chinese communist ideology: the Central Party School in Beijing...

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