Trump’s New China Strategy
A Deft Brand of Hard-Nosed Realism
To meet a key a requirement of the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2019, the White House recently released a report titled as “United States Strategic Approach to the People’s Republic of China,” whereby the Trump administration has detailed the its future approach to China. The 16-page document demonstrates that, independent of the nature of the outbreak, the tension between China and the United States will continue to exist in the coming years. In the link of the report, it said that since the two countries established diplomatic relations, the United States policy toward China has largely been premised on a hope that deepening engagement would spur fundamental economic and political opening of China. However, the rapid economic development of China and the trends are not as what the US had hoped, it continues.
Over the recent months, there have been clarion calls from the strategists and analysts about a Cold War between China and the United States. If there was any doubt about the gravity of this situation, which could absolutely lead to a full-blown kinetic conflict between the world’s two major superpowers, the White House on, May 20, released a detailed paper outlining changes to the “United States Strategic Approach to the People’s Republic of China”. The report says that Beijing’s efforts under the leadership of President Xi Jinping challenge the American belief in the right of every person to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. The report also says the US has significant interests in the future of Hong Kong, where a large number of US citizens and businesses reside.
The instant piece presents a critical analysis of the report.
In this report, the Trump administration reiterated its reasoning: A supposedly “clear-eyed” assessment has confirmed China as a strategic competitor in economic, ideological, and national-security terms. The report starts with China-bashing and asserts that the American policy of engagement with China has failed. The report says that, instead of reciprocating the benefits it has received, China has persistently posed a challenge to the US in economic, values and security fields in the past 20 years. The report also lists various measures the US administration has taken to counter China. The report says, “Since the United States and the People’s Republic of China (PRC) established diplomatic relations in 1979, United States policy toward the PRC was largely premised on a hope that deepening engagement would spur fundamental economic and political opening in the PRC and lead to its emergence as a constructive and responsible global stakeholder, with a more open society. More than 40 years later, it has become evident that this approach underestimated the will of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) to constrain the scope of economic and political reform in China.” It further says, “The CCP’s expanding use of economic, political, and military power to compel acquiescence from nation states harms vital American interests and undermines the sovereignty and dignity of countries and individuals around the world.”
The importance of this statement is that it is not simply a hawkish Pentagon refrain. It is rather a whole-of-government consensus that was signed off by all relevant US agencies, and which increasingly reflects the position of other leading Western states.
Goals and Objectives
The report says, “Our approach is not premised on determining a particular end state for China. Rather, our goal is to protect United States vital national interests, as articulated in the four pillars of the 2017 National Security Strategy of the United States of America (NSS).”
- Protect the American people, homeland, and way of life;
- Promote American prosperity;
- Preserve peace through strength; and
- Advance American influence
Hence, the report states that the competitive approach to China has two objectives:
- To improve the resiliency of U.S. institutions, alliances, and partnerships to prevail against the challenges China presents; and
- To compel Beijing to cease or reduce actions harmful to the United States’ vital, national interests and those of U.S. allies and partners.
- Economic Challenges
- a) Beijing’s poor record of following through on economic reform commitments and its extensive use of state-driven protectionist policies and practices harm United States companies and workers, distort global markets, violate international norms, and pollute the environment.
- b) Beijing’s economic policies have led to massive industrial overcapacity that distorts global prices and allows China to expand global market share at the expense of competitors operating without the unfair advantages that Beijing provides to its firms.
- c) One Belt One Road (OBOR) is Beijing’s umbrella term to describe a variety of initiatives, many of which appear designed to reshape international norms, standards, and networks to advance Beijing’s global interests and vision, while also serving China’s domestic economic requirements.
- d) Given Beijing’s increasing use of economic leverage to extract political concessions from or exact retribution against other countries, the United States judges that Beijing will attempt to convert OBOR projects into undue political influence and military access.
- e) Beijing has restricted trade and tourism with Australia, Canada, South Korea, Japan, Norway, the Philippines, and others, and has detained Canadian citizens, in an effort to interfere in these countries’ internal political and judicial processes.
- To American Values
- a) Under the current generation of leadership, the CCP has accelerated its efforts to portray its governance system as functioning better than those of what it refers to as “developed, western countries.”
- b) Beijing is clear that it sees itself as engaged in an ideological competition with the West.
- c) The CCP aims to make China a global leader in terms of comprehensive national power and international influence by strengthening what it refers to as “the system of socialism with Chinese characteristics.”
- d) This system is rooted in Beijing’s interpretation of Marxist-Leninist ideology and combines a nationalistic, single-party dictatorship; a state-directed economy; deployment of science and technology in the service of the state; and the subordination of individual rights to serve CCP ends.
- e) This runs counter to principles shared by the United States and many likeminded countries of representative government, free enterprise, and the inherent dignity and worth of every individual.
- f) Beijing regularly attempts to compel or persuade Chinese nationals and others to undertake a range of malign behaviors that threaten United States national and economic security, and undermine academic freedom and the integrity of the United States research and development enterprise.
- Security Challenges
- a) As China has grown in strength, so has the willingness and capacity of the CCP to employ intimidation and coercion in its attempts to eliminate perceived threats to its interests and advance its strategic objectives globally.
- b) Beijing contradicts its rhetoric and flouts its commitments to its neighbours by engaging in provocative and coercive military and paramilitary activities in the Yellow Sea, the East and South China Seas, the Taiwan Strait, and Sino-Indian border areas.
- c) Beijing’s military build-up threatens United States and allied national security interests and poses complex challenges for global commerce and supply chains.
- d) 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.
Future Course of Action
- a) Guided by a return to principled realism, the United States is responding to the CCP’s direct challenge by acknowledging that we are in a strategic competition and protecting our interests appropriately.
- b) The United States does not and will not accommodate Beijing’s actions that weaken a free, open, and rules-based international order.
- c) The United States will work with our robust network of allies and likeminded partners to resist attacks on our shared norms and values, within our own governance institutions, around the world, and in international organizations.
- d) Competition necessarily includes engagement with the PRC, but our engagements are selective and results-oriented, with each advancing our national interests.
Chinese narrative as stated by Foreign Ministry Spokesperson Zhao Lijian
Just like the 2017 NSS, this new report deliberately distorts China’s political system and strategic intention and hypes up the so-called “China threat”, a pretext it uses to trumpet the continuation of all-dimensional hardline policy against China. In response to the US erroneous words and deeds to interfere in China’s internal affairs and harm China’s interests over the past two years or so, China has stated its solemn position multiple times and made firm, strong responses. Facts have proven that the US approach and policy following the Cold-War mentality and ideological prejudice has been fundamentally wrong from the very beginning, and thus doomed to fail. I would like to stress the following points.
First, since the People’s Republic of China was founded 70 years ago, the Chinese people, under the strong leadership of the CPC, have found a development path in line with the country’s national realities and achieved great progress to the amazement of the world, making contributions to world peace, stability and development. The past and reality have shown that the development path chosen by the Chinese people is entirely correct and we have every confidence in it. We will press ahead for greater victory while committed to socialism with Chinese characteristics. No one can stop China from growing stronger.
Second, after China and the US established diplomatic ties, the past 40 years or so have fully demonstrated that both sides stand to gain from cooperation and lose from confrontation. Cooperation is the only right choice. Neither side can change or replace the other. The so-called failure to engage or change China in the US report is nonsense. For two major countries with different national conditions to get along, they need mutual respect, equality and the approach of seeking common ground while shelving differences. The US also said in the report that it does not seek to contain China’s development. We urge the US to match its words with deeds and earnestly respect China’s core interests and major concerns instead of saying one thing and doing another.
Third, China’s policy towards the US is consistent and clear. We are committed to working with the US side to realize the goal of no conflict or confrontation, mutual respect and win-win cooperation. At the same time, we firmly safeguard China’s national sovereignty, security and development interests. If the US seeks dialogue and cooperation, we are here welcoming that. If they aim for containment and oppression, we will resolutely take countermeasures and the US will not have its way.
Fourth, China-US relations are now at a critical juncture. A stable and growing China-US relationship serves the fundamental interests of the two peoples and is what the international community is looking forward to. We urge the US side to abandon its Cold War mentality and ideological bias, follow the trend of the times, view China and China-US relations in an objective and rational way, immediately stop interfering in China’s internal affairs, harming China’s interests or undermining China-US relations, and work with China to bring bilateral relations back onto the right track.
One word that best describes US strategy is: Hubristic, i.e. “excessive pride or self‐confidence”; misplaced arrogance; the absence of humility. The report is filled with a sheer hegemonic mentality and every single sentence aims to protect US national interests. The US became a global hegemon after World War II and has always hoped to change the world in accordance with its own will. It is the same approach with which it deals with China. Reading through the newly released report, we can sense the US’ toughness and even menace. But we can also see that the US has an explicit stance in matters of principle. Despite all of its provocative actions on Taiwan, the report states that the US “will continue to maintain strong unofficial relations with Taiwan in accordance with our ‘One China’ policy, based on the Taiwan Relations Act and the three United States-PRC Joint Communiques.”
It is worth noting that the report was released against the backdrop of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. The US and China have not cooperated on this common human enemy. Rather, the pandemic has become a catalyst for the worsening strategic competition between the two major powers. The US has mounted its strategic guard against China, and China-US relations have come to a crossroads.
What is Principled Realism?
In his speech to the UN General Assembly in September 2018, US President Donald Trump emphasized once again his foreign policy of “principled realism’. According to him, America’s policy of principled realism means “we will not be held hostage to old dogmas, discredited ideologies and so-called experts who have been proven wrong over the years, time and time again.” In its simplest terms, the faith that America’s goals are just and American power should be exercised to support those goals. It is guided by outcomes, not ideology.