China is using government, military, economic, diplomatic and information levers to change the well-tested and beneficial international order, and the United States must have a similar strategy to combat these efforts, according to a White House report.
The White House addressed the whole-of-government approach to counter China — a great power competitor — in a report published last month titled "The United States Strategic Approach to the People's Republic of China."
The Defense Department has a role to play in countering China, but it is only one part of the effort. The National Defense Strategy highlights the threat.
"China is leveraging military modernization, influence operations and predatory economics to coerce neighboring countries to reorder the Indo-Pacific region to their advantage," the unclassified strategy report said. "As China continues its economic and military ascendance, asserting power through an all-of-nation, long-term strategy, it will continue to pursue a military modernization program that seeks Indo-Pacific regional hegemony in the near-term and displacement of the United States to achieve global preeminence in the future."
According to the report, China is the prime country that has benefited from the existing international order, noting that it has made tremendous progress economically since moving to a market economy. U.S. officials had anticipated that the iron rule of the Chinese Communist Party would loosen as prosperity became more widespread in the nation of more than 1.5 billion people.
But the party maintained — and even tightened — its grip. "Over the past two decades, reforms have slowed, stalled or reversed," the White House report says. "The PRC's rapid economic development and increased engagement with the world did not lead to convergence with the citizen-centric, free and open order as the United States had hoped."
When the United Kingdom handed over Hong Kong to China, Hong Kong was guaranteed semi-autonomous status at least through 2047. The Chinese are backing out of the "One Nation, Two Systems" agreement. China is also building and militarizing islands in the South China Sea and East China Sea in an attempt to assert sovereignty over international sea lanes of communication.
The United States and partner nations in the region and internationally are sailing and flying through these areas in freedom of navigation operations, the report says. The Chinese have massed troops and missiles across the Strait of Taiwan and continually threaten military action and have tied their new-found economic power and diplomacy together in their "One Belt One Road" initiative, which the report calls an umbrella term describing initiatives designed "to reshape international norms, standards, and networks to advance Beijing's global interests and vision, while also serving China's domestic economic requirements."
The "One Belt One Road" projects frequently are "characterized by poor quality, corruption, environmental degradation, a lack of public oversight or community involvement, opaque loans, and contracts generating or exacerbating governance and fiscal problems in host nations," the report says.
Beijing will probably use these projects to exert undue political influence and gain military access, the report says. "Beijing uses a combination of threat and inducement to pressure governments, elites, corporations, think tanks and others — often in an opaque manner — to toe the CCP line and censor free expression," it states.
The response to this effort is not solely military. Rather, the report says, it has to be a whole-of-government approach that combines diplomacy, economic leverage, information operations and military partnerships.
China is working to undermine U.S. alliances in the Indo-Pacific region, and "One Belt One Road" is just an arrow in the quiver aimed at subverting American influence in the region, the report says.
Meanwhile, it states, the Chinese Communist Party has no compunction about using economic, political and military power to pressure nations to follow their lead — often to the detriment of their citizens. With no visible opposition, the Chinese Communist Party can be patient, and Chinese leaders look at the competition with capitalist powers as a generational struggle, according to the report.
Capitalist nations have also engaged in generational struggles. The Cold War was a generational struggle against the Soviet Union. U.S. administrations of both political parties agreed to the overall need to confront the old Union of Soviet Socialist Republics, and they followed a long-term strategy against the existential threat the Soviets posed.
It was also a whole-of-government approach, even if it wasn't called that at the time. It wasn't enough for troops to just confront the Soviet Union and Warsaw Pact at the Fulda Gap between West Germany and East Germany. Intelligence agencies had to stay ahead of the Soviets. Diplomats had to negotiate with them. The people of the Soviet Union and Warsaw Pact nations had to see what life was really like in the West.
The result was the dissolution of the Soviet Union in 1991. Now, the formerly captive Warsaw Pact nations are members of NATO.
The National Security Strategy recognizes there has been a return to an era of great power competition, and that China is a competitor. It lays out a U.S. whole-of-government approach that it says must be taken to counter the Chinese Communist Party's efforts to overturn the international order.
"The United States is responding to the [Chinese Communist Party's] direct challenge by acknowledging that we are in a strategic competition and protecting our interests appropriately," the White House report says. "The principles of the United States' approach to China are articulated both in the [National Security Strategy] and our vision for the Indo-Pacific region — sovereignty, freedom, openness, rule of law, fairness, and reciprocity."
While China is the main competitor, U.S.-Chinese relations do not determine America's strategy in the Indo-Pacific region. U.S.-China relations are just part of the overall strategy in the region, the report says.
"By the same token, our vision of a free and open Indo-Pacific region does not exclude China," according to the report. "The United States holds the [People's Republic of China] government to the same standards and principles that apply to all nations."