In the last two years, The Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security hosted a series of strategic consortium meetings with small groups of experts and officials to discuss a comprehensive U.S. and allied strategy for China. This article gives a brief overview of a Atlantic Council Strategy Paper to be released this fall.
Strategic Context: China’s Challenge and Opportunity
Over the past seventy-five years, the United States and its allies and partners have led an international rules-based system that has generated unprecedented levels of peace, prosperity and freedom. The system, however, is under increasing pressure, especially with the re-emergence of big-power competition with China. The growing assertiveness of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) poses a significant challenge to the interests and values of the United States, its allies and partners, and the rules-based system.
China’s challenge is evident in the areas of health, economy, diplomacy, governance and security:
- Health: In an unsuccessful attempt to protect its image, the CCP suppressed information about the novel coronavirus, silenced those who tried to talk about it, and used its influence within the World Health Organization to hamper efforts global efforts to understand and rapidly mitigate the spread of the virus.
- Economic: China engages in unfair economic practices that violate international standards, including theft of intellectual property, subsidizing Chinese companies and restricting market access to foreign companies. It is also investing huge state resources in key emerging technologies with the goal of surpassing the United States as a global leader in innovation.
- Diplomatic: Through ambitious plans, such as the Belt and Road Initiative, China is expanding its diplomatic influence in all regions. His aggressive diplomacy, however, is beginning to provoke a backlash.
- Governance: The Chinese economic and political model of authoritarian state capitalism is the first formidable alternative to the American model of open market democracy since the end of the Cold War. Current and potential autocrats look to China as a model for combining authoritarian control with economic success. Abroad, China is using powerful tools to limit democratic practices and promote the interests of the CCP.
- security: China continues its decades-long military modernization, while claiming vast territorial claims and expanding its military presence in Asia, Africa and Europe. Its growing capabilities increasingly threaten the collective defense of the United States with long-standing allies in the Indo-Pacific and beyond.
The CCP clearly poses a challenge to the United States, its allies, partners and the international rules-based system, but there are areas where China and the United States can share interests and develop a more cooperative relationship, including on weapons. control, non-proliferation, environment and development aid.
Objectives of a Chinese strategy
- Long term: The United States and its allies and partners would prefer a stable relationship with China that avoids permanent confrontation and allows cooperation on matters of mutual interest and concern. They would like China to become a responsible member of a revised and adapted rules system that respects China’s legitimate interests. The problem is that such a relationship doesn’t seem possible under Chinese President Xi Jinping and the current generation of CCP leaders, who have launched China on a more confrontational path. Indeed, the work report of the Nineteenth CPC Congress released by Xi in 2017 presents a global vision for China to become a world power and reshape the world order according to its interests by the middle of the century.
- Short term: In the meantime, therefore, the United States and its allies and partners must prevent China from continuing to threaten its interests in the areas of public health, economics, diplomacy, governance and security. security. This strategy aims to prevent, deter and defend against and impose costs on Chinese actions that violate international rules and standards. The strategy seeks to shape Chinese behavior in a positive direction from the standpoint of US and allied interests by showing Beijing that challenging the United States and its allies and partners is too difficult and costly. At the same time, they should find areas for mutual cooperation and work to convince the next generation of Chinese leaders that Beijing’s interests are best served by playing in, rather than challenging, a revitalized and responsive rules-based system.
The three main elements of the strategy
- To reinforce: The United States and its allies and partners should strengthen and strengthen the rules-based system for a new era of competition among the great powers. They should:
- Facilitate a recovery from the current health crisis and the economic slowdown induced by a pandemic.
- Prioritize innovation and emerging technologies by increasing research and development spending; invest in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) education; and secure supply chains.
- Invest in infrastructure repair and renewal and make sure it incorporates cutting edge technology, including 5G wireless capability.
- Reaffirm its influence in existing multilateral institutions, for example by promoting candidates for leadership positions supporting the maintenance of open and transparent global governance.
- Create new institutions to facilitate collaboration between American allies and partners in Europe and the Indo-Pacific.
- Develop new military capabilities and operational concepts to achieve a credible combat posture in the Indo-Pacific region.
- Defend: The United States and its allies and partners should defend against China’s destabilizing behavior and impose costs on Beijing’s continued violations of the core tenets of the rules-based system. They should:
- Ban Chinese engagement in economic sectors vital to national security.
- Impose compensatory measures, including tariffs, on industries negatively affected by China’s unfair practices.
- Counter Chinese influence operations and defend democracy and good governance.
- Highlight the CCP’s corruption and human rights violations and encourage human rights reforms in China.
- Maintain a favorable balance of power over China in the Indo-Pacific to deter and, if necessary, defend against Chinese aggression.
- To hire: The United States and its allies and partners should engage China from a position of strength to cooperate on common interests and ultimately integrate China into a revitalized and adapted rules-based system. They should:
- Negotiate with China on issues of common interest, including public health, non-proliferation and the environment.
- Cooperate with China to, in the long run, adapt a rules-based system that provides inclusive frameworks for constructive engagement.
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