We are again in a cold war. Communist China has caused this cold war by its predatory actions in pursuit of its dream of world domination. In this generational contest, the United States must lead a whole-of-society response at home and in the Free World to preserve global peace and prosperity. Recognizing that the contest with China is a cold war is an essential step in designing a response commensurate to the challenge.
It is imperative that this cold war not become a military war — Communist China is an adversary but should not become an enemy. And opportunities for cooperation should always be welcomed. Still, we must pursue this contest sternly because appeasement has never worked with dictatorships.
The Free World’s response is starting to take shape: Decoupling from the Chinese economy in national security sensitive sectors; Opposing Chinese attempts to redraw borders by force; Countering China’s illegal business practices; and Denouncing Chinese coercion and deception at home and abroad.
There are differences between this cold war and the one caused by the Soviet Union. When compared to the United States, the Soviet Union was weaker economically and technologically than today’s China. But was stronger militarily. The Soviet Union was less integrated with the rest of the world. Unlike the Soviet Union, China is not supporting Communist regimes around the world. But it is supporting dictatorships: Its closest partner is Vladimir Putin’s Russia.
In their essence, though, the two cold wars are identical: Both were caused by the predatory actions of a Communist dictatorship bent on world domination. And they both forced people and countries to choose sides in a prolonged contest between democracy and dictatorship.
The China cold war is not a fight over economic advantage. The United States’ economic contests with democracies like Japan or European countries did not raise similar concerns. This is a fight over the kind of world we want to live in. Communist China’s recent actions give us a preview of what a China-dominated world would look like.
Under national security laws, Chinese companies can be forced to share all their data with the police. Chinese authorities censor the Internet and monitor personal behavior. Every Chinese citizen has a social credit score. Those with low scores are denied travel by plane or fast trains, the best loan rates, or the right to have a pet.
Communist China imprisons political dissidents. It attempts to destroy the cultural identity of Tibetans and other minorities. Millions of Uighurs are forced into concentration camps. Christians and other people of faith are persecuted.
Communist China also uses coercion abroad. It is trying to redraw by force its maritime borders in the South China Seas through which flows one-third of global shipping. In several border disputes and against democratic Hong Kong, it has threatened to use of military force.
Despite its obligations under an international treaty, China has imposed its police state on free and open Hong Kong. And in violation of its WHO obligations, is has lied to the world about COVID-19.
Communist China’s economic success is undeniable. But so is its wide-spread use of illegal practices to achieve it. China gives massive subsidies to its companies, which allows them to sell their products below world market prices. It tolerates grave violations of international environmental and labor standards. This creates another price benefit for Chinese companies because companies from democratic countries incur costs to comply with international standards. Communist China is involved in bribery of foreign officials and massive economic espionage. Its theft of intellectual property has cost the United States $500 billion per year.
China has been using its economic power to punish democratic countries with which it has disputes. Japan and South Korea are older examples. Australia is a recent one: When Australia asked the WHO to investigate the Chinese origin of COVID-19, China responded with a trade war that may cost Australia 6% of its GDP. China is using economic blackmail to force self-censorship on individuals, companies and institutions in the Free World.
This cold war, like the previous one, will be long and difficult. But democracies will prevail again. Joseph Nye, an American political scientist, recounts a conversation with Lee Kuan Yew, former prime minister of Singapore and one of the most astute China watchers. Yew had no doubt that China will try to dominate the world. But he felt that it will fail at it. A key reason will be innovation. Closed and dictatorial China will enlist the talents of its 1.4 billion people, he said. But the open and free Unites States will enlist the talents of the whole world.
• Dan Negrea was until recently the Department of State’s Special Representative for Commercial and Business Affairs and previously a member of the Secretary’s Policy Planning Staff. In 1977, he defected from Communist Romania and asked for political asylum in the United States.
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