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.
Politically, the recent imprisonments of Hong Kong’s pro-democracy and pro-independence youth leaders, the sudden revocation of Taichung’s right to host next year’s East Asian Youth Games and the intimidation of international airlines to remove Taiwan as an independent entity signified China’s determination to use coercion to accomplish political objectives.
On the surface, these intimidating tactics make Chinese President Xi Jinping (習近平) a strong statesman and satisfy the nationalist sentiment at home. Yet such top-down measures only reinforce the widespread fear of China’s determination to globalize its autocratic values and practices.
Both the US and China can be victims of their own historical trajectories. Perceiving China’s assertion through the lens of US historical encounters with Great Britain, Nazi Germany, Imperial Japan and the Soviet Union, the US is always prepared to confront different crisis scenarios when they happen. Washington has taken on Beijing as a serious adversary, striving to defend its interests and well-being in the face of strong Chinese challenges.
Marginalized from the international economy for much of the 20th century, China has sought a global level playing field for its industries to learn from and catch up with the West. With two decades of unprecedented economic growth under its belt, China has become more confident of its developmental model. It is now more than willing to act as an unchallenged superpower, silencing domestic opinions and shaking up the international security “status quo.”
Faced with an escalating trade war with the US, China should avoid viewing the practice of international relations as a zero-sum game in the old Marxist framework of class antagonism. It should also be sensitive toward the legitimate concerns and grievances of neighboring nations, such as Taiwan, Japan, South Korea, the Philippines, Vietnam, Laos and Nepal. Otherwise, it may be hard for China to stabilize ties with the US and seek a favorable environment for modernization.
Joseph Tse-Hei Lee is a professor of history at Pace University in New York City.
Over the past few years, migrant workers’ rights have improved in Taiwan, but there has not been a comparable improvement in protections for employers, who are faced with a range of challenges, such as family nurses mistreating patients or workers threatening to change brokers or demanding that employers change their jobs. Then there is the decrease in work standards. Migrant workers too often find the lure of the underground jobs market irresistible, are unaware of employment laws and regulations, or have found that National Immigration Agency (NIA) checks are lax, and as a result abscond. If this happens, what protections or
The Central Epidemic Command Center (CECC) has been giving daily COVID-19 updates for almost four months, and on several occasions when major developments have arisen, the news conferences have attracted large numbers of viewers. The entire nation is anxious about the pandemic, and interest in the latest news has become a part of daily life. Watching the center’s daily news conferences has become something of a national ritual. The pandemic has stabilized within Taiwan due to the admirable efforts of each person living in the nation conducting themselves with the utmost responsibility, and in certain cases making considerable sacrifices within their
This year marks the 75th anniversary of the end of World War II. In that war’s aftermath, novelist George Orwell produced two prophetic works. The first, Animal Farm, was published in August 1945; the second, Nineteen Eighty-Four, came out in June 1949. Both still ring true and cover a wide range of messages, including even how the mid-sized nation of Taiwan achieved its democracy and why it still maintains an outlier status in a COVID-19 world. With its full planetary scope, WWII left untold millions dead and injured, cities were destroyed and the future path of most nations was altered. New
United States Senator “Kit” Bond (R-MO) was a real leader on Asia policy during his time in Congress. Like most senators, he had a ready one-liner for every occasion. The one I never tired of hearing is “Well, looks like everything has been said. The problem is not everyone has said it.” It’s sort of like with US-China great power competition. There is not much new to say. This is especially true because it’s largely a story of what’s already happened: BRI, Made in China 2025, aggression in the South China Sea, provocations on the Indian border, cyber-hacks, erosion of “one country,