Wed, Aug 15, 2018 - Page 8 News List

US changing strategy on China

By Joseph Tse-Hei Lee 李榭熙

The John S. McCain National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), which authorizes and prioritizes federal funding for the US Department of Defense and related military activities for fiscal year 2019, was recently passed by the US House of Representatives and US Senate, and was to be signed by US President Donald Trump into law on Monday. [Editor’s note: Trump signed the bill into law as scheduled.]

Freely accessible online to the public, the 2019 NDAA reveals a significant shift in US thinking toward major adversaries, such as Russia, China, Iran and North Korea. Washington’s attempt to co-opt Beijing into the Western capitalist order and turn it into a clone of the US has failed. In response, it is treating China as a formidable threat, anticipating more great power rivalries in geopolitical and economic spheres.

Rightfully or not, many US lawmakers, foreign policy think tanks and intelligence agents are quite suspicious of China’s global expansion, especially its efforts to subvert US-led international systems and remake the world in its own image.

The 1,000-page NDAA throws light on US anxieties, at several levels, about China’s remarkable rise and its advances in military technology.

The first area of concern focuses on cybersecurity attacks. Deeply troubled by Russian interference in the 2016 US presidential election, politicians across the partisan divide are worried that history will repeat itself.

This fear arises from the ambiguity over technology transfer agreements between US and Chinese companies. After some notorious cases of intellectual property theft came to the spotlight, more US defense companies and scientific institutes began to guard their strategic technological assets and formulated specific rules of engagement in dealing with their Chinese counterparts.

Equally important is China’s decision to punish Trump’s supporters in states across the US Midwest through retaliatory tariffs on US agricultural products like soybeans, cotton and fruit. China has learned from Russia to be harsh toward international opponents and lenient toward those nations that are receptive to Chinese investments.

Another persistent problem concerns the global expansion of Chinese influence. For example, the US perceives China’s comprehensive developmental plans for Eurasia, widely known as the Belt and Road Initiative, as a Chinese Monroe Doctrine that is creating a series of sinocentric alliances against US leadership.

A similar contest can be seen in the ongoing maritime sovereignty disputes in the western Pacific Ocean, where Washington regards the presence of Chinese military facilities as jeopardizing the freedom of navigation and overflight in international waters.

The US has pressed China to dismantle military infrastructures on disputed islands, but it remains unclear how the US plans to enforce this demand. Perhaps the best way to de-escalate the bilateral naval arms race is for both sides to sit down at the negotiation table rather than flexing their military muscles at each other.

The last anxiety is related to what the US interprets as China’s attempt to export its authoritarian mode of governance, thought to be even more dangerous than Russian interference in democratic elections in the West.

Economically, the Chinese Communist Party’s monopoly on market resources completely destroys the free trade myth. Through extensive networks of well-funded state-owned enterprises, China is capable of utilizing capitalistic practices to empower and enrich itself. The business world in China is not flat. Its political, economic, sociocultural and ideological domains are shaped by institutional barriers with irreconcilable differences.

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