BY LIANCHAO HAN AND BRADLEY A. THAYER
In his speech to the United Nation General Assembly, President Biden called for a new era in which the United States will use “relentless diplomacy” instead of military power to solve global crises. He declared that the U.S. does not want a cold war with China, but will “compete vigorously” with the party-state. We applaud his vision but continue to question the validity of Biden’s strategy.
Our main concern is that there has been such a de facto cold war since 1989 because former Chinese leader Deng Xiaoping wrongly perceived that the U.S. was behind the Tiananmen Square pro-democracy protests. The U.S. became the primary target of the communist regime’s campaign against China’s anti-peaceful evolution. Then, in late 2012, Xi Jinping came to power and escalated the cold war against the U.S. with his “Wolf Warrior” aggression. Xi recently announced the U.S. is China’s greatest threat and the source of world chaos. This month, Xinhua News Agency, China’s official propaganda mouthpiece, published a report claiming that the United States is “the greatest destroyer of the post-World War II international peace.”
In such a toxic environment, diplomacy alone cannot resolve problems between the two countries. China perceives the confrontation as a life-and-death struggle between declining capitalism and rising socialism with Chinese characteristics. Given the Chinese Communist Party’s relentless treachery, the West and its allies cannot expect China to compete peacefully within existing game rules. When it comes to strategic competition, China will do so on its terms, and likely with unrestricted warfare at some point.
When President Biden and Prime Ministers Scott Morrison of Australia and Boris Johnson of the United Kingdom announced the AUKUS agreement, the Global Times, another Chinese propaganda outlet, penned an editorial that made naked threats to Australians — that China would punish Australia by killing its soldiers in the South China Sea as a warning to others. The editorial threatened that Chinese missiles would hit targets on Australian soil if the Land Down Under dared to fight the People’s Liberation Army in the Taiwan Strait and South China Sea. This sounds like a real war threat.
The question is not whether the U.S. wants another cold war, but how it should respond to the one that China already is waging with the aim of establishing a China-centered world order that displaces U.S. global leadership. In our view, AUKUS is the right response to China’s threats, but it is only a first step. Military cooperation must go further, to include strengthening Australia’s capabilities and those of Japan, India and Taiwan.
This should include the development of Japan’s capability to address China’s nuclear threats. Without rearming Japan, Australia and Taiwan, they may not be able to face war challenges that China imposes. Taiwan is a crucial case: The U.S. is required by law to ensure the country can defend itself, but arm sales were slow compared to China’s rapid arms race, leading to a disproportional gap in Taiwan’s defenses. The U.S. and allied navies should make regular port calls in Taiwan and move toward establishing bases there to augment deterrence.
The U.S. continues to play a necessary leadership role in countering China’s global ambition, but it also should enable and encourage allies to take initiative in confronting China. For example, the United Kingdom has deep ties and expertise with Hong Kong affairs, and could formulate strategies and propose actions. Japan is in the forefront facing the China threat, and may have a better understanding of China and the region; the U.S. should delegate to Japan more leadership and military responsibilities.
The U.S. could improve the existing liberal order by strengthening democracy in the Indo-Pacific. It should not be afraid to criticize India for its human rights abuses, and should help the country improve its economic development and political system. Similarly, we should encourage the Vietnamese communists to constitute political reforms, but take care not to alienate Vietnam in the process.
We are long past the point of managing risks with China. The best way to avoid an armed confrontation is to form an Indo-Pacific Treaty Organization to maintain peace and stability and promote prosperity in the region, an alliance inspired by NATO.
China has become a disruptive, destabilizing actor — the real source of chaos. Diplomacy, however relentless, will not change this. The U.S. must ensure that all democracies take concerted action to counter China. It’s critical to advance an Indo-Pacific alliance as a key step toward winning the cold war, and potentially a hot war, with China.
This article first appeared in The Hill on 09/30/21 7:00 AM ET