Winning Trade With China — Just The First Step In A Broader Conflict
The Trump administration looks to be closing in on a new trade deal with China. Many in Washington are breathing a sigh of relief, hoping that the trade spat between both sides will come to an end and tensions will de-escalate.
Sorry to break it to you, but the “trade war” is just one small skirmish in a much larger conflict. Trade is only one of many areas where China and America’s worldview are fundamentally at odds. Tensions will only likely heat up as the U.S. and China move forward on an inevitable collision course.
The prospect of America and China squaring off on the world stage may be news to some. Isn’t China supposed to be our friend? Considering Beijing’s extensive PR campaign to portray itself as such, that misconception is easy to believe.
For years experts like Henry Kissinger and Francis Fukuyama downplayed China’s potential long-term threat. They argued that as Beijing’s economic policies liberalized so would their politics. Businesses joined in by boosting China’s profile on the pretense that it would give access to a new market for American goods. And powerful Washington lobbying firms were hired to defend Beijing’s interests in our nation’s capital.
China also took its branding campaign directly to America’s youth, most notably on our college campuses. Beijing has invested heavily in building a network of Confucian Centers across the country, which work to soften China’s image through cultural exchanges and language classes. A whopping $158 million has been doled out for these centers according to a Senate report.
Meanwhile, China echoed this same ‘peaceful rise’ narrative on the world stage at elite economic gatherings. Chinese President Xi is a staple at conferences where he spouts western buzzwords like “free trade” and “openness.”
Unfortunately for Beijing, the effectiveness of this PR campaign seems to be coming to an abrupt end. Americans are beginning to recognize that China is dead set on replacing the U.S. as global hegemon. The evidence continues to unfold right in front of us.
To start, China has begun rapidly expanding its presence in the South China Sea through military buildup. Manmade islands equipped with radar capabilities and landing pads are now littered across what is still considered to be international waters.
In addition to expanding its territorial control, President Xi has ordered China’s armed forces to further their reach. China’s air force is now the world’s third largest and our allies like Japan are feeling the heat. Tokyo was forced to scramble aerial units an astounding 851 times to counter Chinese jets within their airspace in 2016.
China is also working diligently to undermine America and its allies influence by expanding its naval presence. Beijing has commissioned more warships, submarines, and other vessels since 2014 than the total number of ships of key major U.S. allies — including the United Kingdom, Germany and others.
Economic warfare has also been used to erode American strength. American companies that set up shop in China have frequently been forced to enter partnerships with domestic firms and transfer sensitive technology and businesses practices.
Shockingly, China even employs its intelligence agencies to steal trade secrets from foreign firms. Reports estimate that China steals hundreds of billions of dollars per year in American intellectual property. Beijing also uses large subsidies, regulation, and trade sanctions to buoy its state-owned enterprises.
Human rights abuses that contradict American values have also spiked under President Xi’s regime. Churches have been demolished and arrests of practicing Christians reached over 100,000 in 2018. Online Bible sales have been banned and some towns have even gone as far as outlawing Christmas.
Even worse is China’s treatment of its ethnic Uighur Muslims. The United Nations estimates that nearly one million Uighurs are being held in forced labor camps in China’s Xinjiang province. Held against their will, these prisoners are forced to work for little to no wages and are subject to grotesque living conditions.
With this in mind, it is difficult to argue that the divide between the U.S. and China can be broken down into some one-off dispute over agriculture. China’s current regime has no respect for American values, and that is unlikely to change. This leaves us with a stark choice: we can succumb to Beijing’s authoritarian world order or defend America’s global leadership role.
Let’s hope we choose the latter.
—Alex Titus, Policy Advisor for America First Policies