America's China experts ignore the Chinese Communist Party

America's China experts ignore the Chinese Communist Party
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U.S.-China trade talks are back on and the sides will meet in October. 

China reportedly wants to sweeten its offer in exchange for the U.S. delaying tariffs and easing the pressure on flagship technology company, Huawei. China is likely worried about what one observer called the “terrifying scenario” of  the accelerating “decoupling” of the two economies and, most importantly to Chinese premier Xi Jinping, discontent in leadership circles.

As the revived trade talks were coming together, one group of China experts, let’s call them the Old China Lobby, publicly addressed President Donald TrumpDonald John TrumpSanders urges impeachment trial 'quickly' in the Senate US sending 20,000 troops to Europe for largest exercises since Cold War Barr criticizes FBI, says it's possible agents acted in 'bad faith' in Trump probe MORE and the Congress, saying “China is not an enemy.” The group acknowledged it was “troubled” by China’s recent behavior, but then pivoted to its objective: highlighting that “many U.S. actions are contributing directly to the downward spiral in relations.” Not once did the experts use the word “Communist.”

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Rebuttals shortly arrived, urging the President to “stay the course,” criticizing “an old view of China that has been around since the days of Christian missionaries,” and reminding us “the tyranny of the CCP [Chinese Communist Party] is not some niche issue.” These guys — the New China Lobby — use the C-word.

And that’s a curiosity: a group of experienced foreign affairs practitioners, through inattention or misdirection, is confusing “China,” real or mythical, with a true enemy, the Chinese Communist Party.

It’s not like accurate information on the nature of the Chinese regime isn’t available. Kurt Campbell, former Assistant Secretary of State for East Asia and Pacific Affairs, observed: “These guys [Chinese officials] think and go to school on power…” and “At the core of Chinese strategic thinking is the most refined zero-sum strategic analysis that exists.”

Why did the notables ignore the obvious?

First, their silence may be confirmation they do understand the limit of outside influence with Beijing. And since the Chinese government can’t be influenced, they pivoted to Washington, D.C., where they might shape the outcome.

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Other reasons might be “naïve and romantic assumptions” about China; financial concerns, as you can’t sell yourself as a China expert if you can’t get a visa; or the “stay in your lane” mentality, an artifact of long-term government employment.

It’s not like China’s rulers have hidden their intentions.

Totalitarian regimes refine the arts of social control and political murder, but they also announce their intentions. The National Socialists and the Bolsheviks told the world what they would do when they came to power, and then they did it. The CCP’s aspirational text is Document Number Nine, or Communiqué on the Current State of the Ideological Sphere, which warns against dangerous “Western values” like constitutional democracy, freedom of the press, and judicial independence.

China is today the confluence of a Marxist police state with personalized rule, as in “Xi Jinping Thought,” now incorporated into the Chinese constitution. We last saw this lash-up when Joseph Stalin ruled the Soviet Union from 1929 to 1953, and that worked out badly for many.

Marxism is responsible for as many as 100 million deaths (65 million in China), so the CCP’s declaration that Marxism is still “totally correct” for China is fair warning that there is nothing the regime will not do. At this point, looking for influential “moderates” will be as productive as OJ’s search for Nicole’s killer.

There’s no “fake news” in describing China’s actions; China did it in the light of day, as John Pomfret recounts:

“Since the financial crisis of 2008 and the rise of President Xi Jinping, China has stopped market-oriented economic reforms, launched a massive crackdown that has resulted in the incarceration of more than 1 million Uighurs in Xinjiang, ramped up efforts to steal Western technology, broken a promise made to a U.S. president not to militarize the South China Sea and tried to export its system abroad. It has squeezed aspirations for democracy in Hong Kong and launched a campaign to undermine the democratic system in Taiwan.

What should the U.S. do? 

America’s policy must focus on its interests and not obsess over the Beijing regime’s desires. The Communist Party’s interest is to retain control over the economy and citizenry as it extends its writ past the neighboring states to Africa, Australia, Europe, and North and South America in order to secure its hold on China. If you want a to-do list, Ely Ratner lays out a sensible prescription for security, economic, and political competition with China.

America’s policy community should work with lawmakers and the executive branch to communicate wise policy options to the American people. Policy practitioners and their media allies should uniformly understand this threat even if they differ on the response. But their ranks are divided, and this division is a free good to Beijing. The U.S. response is hobbled because one side recognizes the threat, but the other can’t get beyond “mistakes were made.”

The Old China Lobby is more about understanding than competing — but if only one side is competing, that side is winning … and America isn’t yet fully in the race.

James Durso (@james_durso) is the Managing Director of Corsair LLC, a supply chain consultancy. He was a professional staff member at the 2005 Defense Base Closure and Realignment Commission and the Commission on Wartime Contracting in Iraq and Afghanistan.  Mr. Durso served as a U.S. Navy officer for 20 years and specialized in logistics and security assistance. His overseas military postings were in Kuwait and Saudi Arabia, and he served in Iraq as a civilian transport advisor with the Coalition Provisional Authority.  He served afloat as Supply Officer of the submarine USS SKATE (SSN 578).