Si vis pacem, para bellum—if you want peace, prepare for war. In the midst of a new cold war, these ancient words ring as true as ever. Despite the fall of the Soviet Union and the subsequent embrace of democracy throughout many parts of the world, totalitarianism persists to this day, and is stronger than ever. With the adoption of the World Wide Web and the ongoing development of artificial intelligence, the People’s Republic of China (PRC) wields a greater power to manipulate, surveil, and enslave its citizens than any nation in history. This foremost purveyor of cyber tyranny is projected to have already deployed hundreds of millions of surveillance cameras (Bischoff) that constantly monitor its people, especially religious and ethnic minorities such as the Tibetans and Uighurs (Shepherd). Over a billion people live without freedom of conscience and expression, and countless millions not yet born will live without these freedoms. Americans can no longer afford to be complacent after the fall of the Iron Curtain because a thicker, stronger ‘bamboo’ curtain stands over China, now the world’s largest economy (Stiglitz). Whether we like it or not, we have been thrust into a great race in arms, industry, and ideas. America must unite the free world toward the common goal of defending its ideals and ending this new cold war by reactivating the Truman Doctrine; the doctrine of containment, global intervention, and preparation for war on land, sea, and in cyberspace.
The most basic argument in favor of containing China is the threat it poses via military means, especially against Japan, South Korea, and Taiwan. According to the Committee on Foreign Relations (CFR), since 2013, the PRC has reclaimed 3,200 acres in the Spratly Islands where they have constructed dozens of military bases and other outposts. One major reason is the Chinese suspect there are “105 billion barrels of hydrocarbon reserves around the Spratlys,” which is important because China is an oil importer receiving 80% of its oil imports through the South China Sea (Fravel 296). In the seas China claims, there are an estimated 190 trillion cubic feet of natural gas (“Territorial Disputes in the South China Sea”). This is all part of China’s goal of consolidating and entrenching their territorial claims in the South China Sea in order to conquer untapped resources and build what Fravel describes as a “maritime buffer” (296). China blatantly disobeys international treaties that they themselves have signed (“Territorial Disputes”), which sets a terrible precedent for similarly autocratic and developing nations around the world. To aggravate their unlawful expansion, the Chinese are pursuing aggressive modernization of their military forces, chiefly their navy, which in the last four years has grown by 12 guided-missile destroyers, 27 corvettes, and 8 amphibious assault ships (O’Rourke 21). O’Rourke is very clear in stating that there are more factors involved than just numbers, but he quotes the Defense Intelligence Agency’s 2019 “China Military Power,” which reports that “China’s technological advancement in naval design has begun to approach a level commensurate with, and in some cases exceeding, that of other modern navies” (70). Most worryingly, China has stated its intention of integrating the island nation of Taiwan, despite its status as an independent republic, and in effect has made it a goal to invade and conquer a neighboring country (Yuwen). It’s clear the Chinese government has a policy of aggressive expansion, limited only by its present inability to project power without a response from the United States and its allies. It is possible to hold China in this state of inability indefinitely by several means, chiefly by a formal alliance with Japan, South Korea, Taiwan, the Philippines, and Australia, which would guarantee to China that any offensive action on their part will be met by the force of several powerful nations. Furthermore, the US must constantly maintain a significant advantage in naval and air power, perhaps two-or three-times greater numbers coupled with broad technological superiority. Finally, the United States should provide financial aid to South Korea and Taiwan to both deter and prepare for a Chinese invasion.
In 2014, China’s economy grew to surpass the size of the US economy for the first time (Stiglitz). According to the Central Intelligence Agency’s 1984 report “A Comparison of Soviet and US Gross National Products,” the Soviet Union’s GNP (a similar measure to GDP) was less than half the size of the US GNP in 1960, near the height of the Cold War (4); today, China’s economy is roughly one-quarter larger than that of the United States and is projected to be roughly one-half larger as early as 2024 (World Economic Outlook Database). The economic strength of the People’s Republic is in stark contrast to the economic strength the Soviet Union achieved relative to the US during the Cold War. An important tactic used by China to hasten its industrial ascent was the suppression of its own currency’s exchange rate value in order to boost exports and limit imports. (Swanson). Essentially, China reduced its purchasing power on the global market in exchange for a substantial competitive advantage in order to draw away the industrial base of America and her Western allies who, perhaps foolishly, embraced free trade with China. This policy is akin to “dumping,” which is the (often illegal) practice of attempting to weaken competing firms and producers by selling products at substantially below-market prices, often at a loss (Barone). We should call China’s tactics what they are: predatory and subverting. The threat posed by Chinese industrial power is clear when we look back to the Cold War: the relatively weaker industrial power, the Soviet Union, held the threat of nuclear annihilation over America and competed with the US in military strength and technology. This is well demonstrated by a comparison of Soviet and American naval inventory in 1985: the Soviets operated 374 submarines, 5 carriers, and 139 large surface combatants (cruisers, destroyers, and frigates), as opposed to the US Navy’s 137 submarines, 13 carriers, and 211 large surface combatants (“Soviet Navy Ships 1945-1990;” “US Ship Force Levels”). China’s immense economy grants it the potential to more seriously rival the US militarily and to extend an impregnable military buffer beyond the First Island Chain made up of Japan, Taiwan, and the Philippines. An immediate tool to disrupt China’s economic predation is the enactment of punitive sanctions, including tariffs and product bans. The US could also ban certain types of companies from operating in China or collaborating with its government. It’s important we dismantle the Chinese monopoly on manufacturing and industry so that the US is not held hostage to overseas supply chains in the event of conflict.
Part of China’s grand strategy has been to form a continental bloc of authoritarian states who together can build an isolated world order free from Western rule of law. There are many such states, like Iran, Russia, Cambodia, Venezuela, North Korea, and Syria. However, the bloc is not merely an association, but a malignant tumor: According to the Brookings Institution, China “interferes in the political systems of developing countries around the world, tipping the scales towards China-friendly politicians and policies” (“Protect the Party”). The PRC has been buying UN support from third world countries with tens of billions in development loans and direct investment; meanwhile, Chinese companies have been bribing officials in those countries for special privileges and favors (“Chinese Corruption”). An advantage China will gain from a web of allies, especially on the Eurasian landmass, is a reduced dependency on vulnerable sealane trade through the South China Sea. Rails and highways stretching throughout what was once called the Silk Road are all a part of China’s ‘One Belt One Road’ initiative to bolster trade and relations with its continental neighbors (Ma). If China were an open society uninterested in expanding its borders and influence, there would be no issue; however, China’s investments and progress are tied to its political and military aspirations. The PRC appears to be working to create a front against the West similar to the Warsaw Pact, laying its curtain over a larger and larger stretch of the world. The best way for the US to counter the Chinese is to compete with direct investment in emerging economies. The US could offer tremendous financial incentives for democratizing nations that distance themselves from Chinese Communist Party influence. Ultimately, any policy that enlarges the US sphere of influence against China’s is worth pursuing, so long as such policies do not contradict our values.
There is no question the Chinese system poses an adversarial threat to the free world, and that the threat must be met with its fair share of cautionary diligence, particularly from the United States. Every effort undertaken to strengthen the free world’s position economically and militarily will help to prevent war and the misery it creates. The US has a duty to serve as an ambassador and protector of liberty and democracy to draw emerging economies towards the Western philosophy that the government is legitimized by popular consent. This duty was best expressed by President Truman in 1948: “The free peoples of the world look to us for support in maintaining their freedoms. If we falter in our leadership, we may endanger the peace of the world— and we shall surely endanger the welfare of our own nation” (“Truman Doctrine”).
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Main photo is public domain.