This last point is important. Any effective US strategy in China will be anchored in both national values and National Interests. This is what has long distinguished the nation from China in the eyes of the world. Defending universal liberal values and the liberal international order, as well as Maintaining US global power must be the two pillars of the US global call for arms.
US strategy must also be fully coordinated with key allies. This has nothing to do with making allies feel good. That’s because the US needs it now to win. China is closely monitoring alliances and placing great emphasis on calculating the evolving balance between the United States and itself. The reality is that if the gap between Chinese and US power closes in the 2020s, the most believable factor is What can change this is that US power is reinforced by that of its most important allies.
This realistically means that the US must address the broader political and economic needs of its key allies and partners, rather than assuming that they will make a kind of heartfelt decision on a common, coordinated strategic position on China. Unless the United States also addresses the fact that China has become the main trading partner for most, if not all, of its key allies, that underlying economic reality alone will have a growing impact on the willingness of traditional allies to make China increasingly assertive International challenge behavior.
Washington also needs to rebalance its relationship with Russia, whether it likes it or not. Effective strengthening of US alliances is critical. It is the same thing to separate Russia from China in the future. If Russia can be fully immersed in China’s strategic embrace over the past decade, it will be considered the biggest geostrategic mistake made by successive US administrations.
The Biden administration must never forget the inherently realistic nature of the Chinese strategy it is trying to defeat. Chinese leaders respect strength and despise weakness. They respect constancy and despise wavering. China doesn’t believe in strategic vacuum.
The White House needs to understand that China is very concerned about military conflict with the United States for the time being, but that attitude will change as the military balance shifts over the next decade. Should a military conflict break out between China and the United States and China fail to win decisive, Xi would likely fall and the regime’s overall political legitimacy collapsed in the face of the party’s longstanding propaganda offensive heralding China’s inevitable rise.
America must also take care of the home front, particularly the country’s economic and institutional weaknesses. The success of the rise of China rests on a careful strategy conducted for over thirty-five years to identify and address China’s structural economic weaknesses in manufacturing, trade, finance, human capital and now technology. The US must do the same now.
Finally for Xi: “It’s the economy, stupid.” The biggest factor that could contribute to Xi’s overthrow is economic failure. This would mean high unemployment and a falling standard of living for the Chinese population. Full employment and rising living standards have been integral parts of the unspoken social contract between the Chinese people and the CCP since the uproar of the Cultural Revolution.
Based on these organizational principles, a detailed, operationalized strategy should include seven integrated components:
• Rebuilding the economic, military, technological and human capital bases of long-term US national power.
• Agree on a limited number of enforceable “red lines” that under no circumstances should China be prevented from crossing them.
• Agreement on a larger number of “important national security interests” that are neither vital nor existential, but require a series of retaliatory measures in order to inform China’s future strategic behavior.
• Identify key, but less critical, areas where red lines may not be required or where key national interests may be delimited, but where the United States should use the full force of strategic competition against China.
• Define the areas in which further strategic cooperation with China remains in the interests of the USA – in particular “megathreats” such as climate disruptions, global pandemics and nuclear safety.
• Pursuing a full-fledged, global ideological struggle in defense of political, economic and social freedoms against China’s authoritarian state capitalist model.
• Agree on the above strategy in sufficient detail with key Asian and European treaty allies in America so that their combined critical mass (economic, military and technological) will be used in the common defense of the US-led liberal international order.
These seven components should be implemented through fully coordinated collaboration and joint efforts under the central leadership of the National Security Advisor, underpinned by a presidential guideline with bipartisan political support, to hold up across multiple administrations.
Red lines and national security