Confronting China and Creating a New Adversary

The recently released National Security Strategy (NSS) shows a seismic shift in how Washington is dealing with the world’s rising Far East superpower. The threat of a stronger China along with a modernizing Russian military has, in the eyes of the Trump Administration, put the United States position as the world’s sole superpower at risk.  Here are some key excerpts from the document, showing how Washington views the evolving “China problem”.

The National Security Strategy (NSS) discusses four pillars of action that will “put America first”; 

Pillar 1 – Protect the American People, the Homeland and the American Way of Life.

Pillar 2 – Promote American Prosperity

Pillar 3 – Preserve Peace Through Strength

Pillar 4 – Advance American Influence.

Throughout the document it is interesting to observe that there are five main groups which threaten the United States, China, Russia (which is often grouped with China), North Korea, Iran and Islamic jihadists.  In the latest iteration of the NSS, of China is mentioned on 16 pages of the 46 pages of text in the document compared to 13 mentions for Russia.  

In the introduction to the NSS, the authors open with this observation:

China and Russia challenge American power, influence, and interests, attempting to erode American security and prosperity. They are determined to make economies less free and less fair, to grow their militaries, and to control information and data to repress their societies and expand their influence.”

Let’s look at how the threat of China is dealt with in each of the four pillars:

Pillar 1 – Protect the American People, the Homeland and the American Way of Life.

China is mentioned as follows:

“China (and Russia) are developing advanced weapons and capabilities that could threaten our critical infrastructure and our command and control architecture.”

Pillar 2 – Promote American Prosperity

China is mentioned as follows:

Every year, competitors such as China steal U.S. intellectual property valued at hundreds of billions of dollars. Stealing proprietary technology and early-stage ideas allows competitors to unfairly tap into the innovation of free societies. Over the years, rivals have used sophisticated means to weaken our businesses and our economy as facets of cyber-enabled economic war- fare and other malicious activities. In addition to these illegal means, some actors use largely legitimate, legal transfers and relationships to gain access to fields, experts, and trusted foundries that fill their capability gaps and erode America’s long-term competitive advantages.”

Pillar 3 – Preserve Peace Through Strength 

China is mentioned as a challenger to the power that the United States wields, providing a sharp contrast to America’s free society with its repressive system.  Here is a quote:

“China and Russia want to shape a world antithetical to U.S. values and interests. China seeks to displace the United States in the Indo-Pacific region, expand the reaches of its state-driven economic model, and reorder the region in its favor. 

For decades, U.S. policy was rooted in the belief that support for China’s rise and for its integration into the post-war international order would liberalize China. Contrary to our hopes, China expanded its power at the expense of the sovereignty of others. China gathers and exploits data on an unrivaled scale and spreads features of its authoritarian system, including corruption and the use of surveillance. It is building the most capable and well-funded military in the world, after our own. Its nuclear arsenal is growing and diversifying. Part of China’s military modernization and economic expansion is due to its access to the U.S. innovation economy, including America’s world-class universities.”

The NSS goes on to state that the United States military has not kept pace with changing technologies and that U.S. taxpayers were shortchanged, largely because the Joint Force believed that technology would compensate for America’s reduced ability to field sufficient ground, sea and air troops to prevail militarily and achieve America’s desired political ends.  This became particularly evident as China and Russia began to assert themselves regionally and globally with this risk:

“Today, they (China and Russia) are fielding military capabilities designed to deny America access in times of crisis and to contest our ability to operate freely in critical commercial zones during peacetime. In short, they are contesting our geopolitical advantages and trying to change the international order in their favor.”

These capabilities included the use of inexpensive weapons and cyber tools which can be used to cripple America’s economy and its ability to deploy its military.

Pillar 4 – Advance American Influence

China’s advances into the international theatre are discussed as follows:

Today, the United States must compete for positive relationships around the world. China (and Russia) target their investments in the developing world to expand influence and gain competitive advantages against the United States. China is investing billions of dollars in infrastructure across the globe.”

Here is a summary of the growing “China problem”:

Although the United States seeks to continue to cooperate with China, China is using economic inducements and penalties, influence operations, and implied military threats to persuade other states to heed its political and security agenda. China’s infrastructure investments and trade strategies reinforce its geopolitical aspirations.

Its efforts to build and militarize outposts in the South China Sea endanger the free flow of trade, threaten the sovereignty of other nations, and undermine regional stability. China has mounted a rapid military modernization campaign designed to limit U.S. access to the region and provide China a freer hand there. China presents its ambitions as mutually beneficial, but Chinese dominance risks diminishing the sovereignty of many states in the Indo- Pacific. States throughout the region are calling for sustained U.S. leadership in a collective response that upholds a regional order respectful of sovereignty and independence.”

It is a good thing that the United States has never used “economic blackmail” to promote its geopolitical agenda, isn’t it?

In closing, I found this paragraph most interesting:

We must convince adversaries (China, Russia et al) that we can and will defeat them—not just punish them if they attack the United States. We must ensure the ability to deter potential enemies by denial, convincing them that they cannot accomplish objectives through the use of force or other forms of aggression. We need our allies to do the same—to modernize, acquire necessary capabilities, improve readiiness, expand the size of their forces, and affirm the political will to win.

It is quite apparent that the American global geopolitical agenda is in conflict with China’s growth as a regional power and evolution as a global power. This document which fuses Washington’s military and diplomatic perspectives on China is particularly concerning since it views China as an adversary, seeking to threaten America’s preeminence on the world stage.  Rather than taking a compromising approach, it seems that confrontation with China is the order of the day.

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