Congress Blog

We need a comprehensive strategy to counter China’s increasingly aggressive rise

China has plans that will enable it to strategically compete with and ultimately overtake the United States in the economic, diplomatic, and military realms. The United States does not have a response. What we do have are heaps of naivete. And we demonstrate how naïve we are every day.

Too much thinking on China falls into one of two camps: one wants to give China time to change and one would fight China with defensive reactions. Neither approach will yield the proactive, offensive initiatives we will need to face down China and retain stewardship of the international system.

Some still share past administrations' belief that participation in the international capitalist economy will transform China into an open, democratic society. Recent history shows that such hopes were misplaced and efforts to integrate China insufficient. Today, China pays lip service to international norms while exploiting them to benefit itself.

For instance, Chinese telecom giant ZTE has violated U.S. sanctions on North Korea and Iran and stolen trade secrets from U.S. companies, all while gaining from participating in our open, fair market. That behavior is not an accident, but part of a government-enabled strategy to engage in unfair trade practices and steal intellectual property. China plans on using the fruits of its duplicity to become a high-tech manufacturing powerhouse through Made in China 2025. That initiative combines subsidies, investments and local production targets to build Chinese industrial might in high-tech manufacturing sectors including robotics, aerospace and electric cars.

While some cannot see the China threat, others fixate on reactionary solutions to individual issues, missing the bigger picture. The president's obsession with trade deficits and scattershot tariffs exemplifies this mindset. Others call for a total ban on Chinese government-linked language-learning Confucius Institutes, rather than push the Institutes to cut their official ties while preserving an important educational resource. Still others believe that solely investing in our military, and not bolstering our economic and diplomatic power, will be sufficient to face China's full-spectrum challenge. Acting on these narrow, defensive impulses will create a tangled knot of contradictory policies less than the sum of their parts.

Neither of these groups understands that countering China's specific, comprehensive plans will require an overarching strategy and specific initiatives of our own. China has diplomatic and military initiatives that complement Made in China 2025. The Belt and Road Initiative consists of $500 billion in real and pledged investments that will build ports, roads, and other infrastructure economically linking China to its neighbors. Militarily, China has developed systems and doctrines to deny U.S. carriers and troops access to East Asia. Examples include militarized artificial islands in the South China Sea, long-range conventional missiles, and nuclear bombers that could threaten Guam. Apart, but especially together, China's efforts threaten U.S. international leadership.

It is incumbent upon the Trump administration to present a comprehensive strategy to counter China's increasingly aggressive rise. This plan should acknowledge the Chinese threat and present a proactive, positive sum response. We cannot beat a plan without our own.

Speier represents California's 14th District and is a member of the Armed Services and Intelligence committees.

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