Is China a ‘Threat’ to the U.S?

Donald Trump winning the 2016 US Presidential Election was one of the most astonishing moments in US political history, leaving millions of Americans shocked. Recasting Ronald Regan’s slogan “Let’s Make America Great Again”, he launched his election campaign and declared China to be a serious problem than the Islamic State, denouncing China’s illegal trade practices and military expansionism. He was long been accusing China of its unfair trade agreements and was of the view that America has fallen and will continue to do so unless its leaders get tough.

Since Trump became the US President there is re-emergence of the beliefs associated with the “Blue Team” of the 1990s disillusioned with liberalism and communism. The team consisting of senior officials and advisors in the administration argues that China’s rapid economic growth has provided the means to challenge US hegemony in the long run and believes that it posed greater security and economic threat to the US than any other country.

With Trump in power, there is a growing consensus in the US of China illegally having America’s moment, economically and technologically. Lack of trust between the two powers is higher than ever before. The ongoing pandemic has fractured the US-China relations and may do more to worsen its relations than the ongoing trade wars or technological threat, and it could further undermine the global political and socio-economic stability.

In the past years, senior officials and advisors of Trump administration have delivered several remarks on China being a threat to the US. On 4 October 2018, US Vice President, Mike Pence’s delivered his remarks on the Administration’s Policy Towards China at the Hudson Institute, in which he stressed that “Beijing is engaging a full government approach using political, economic, and military tools as well as propaganda to advance its influence and interfering in US domestic policy and politics.” Later, his remarks ignited considerable intrigue and debates within China, on whether it nodded a paradigm shift in US-China relations, also on the possibility of opening the era to a New Cold War between the two powers. Many Chinese believes that the speech was an indication of US dropping its pietistic mask and showing its true character, which is to contain the rise of China just like it did to the Union of Soviet Socialists Republics (USSR) at the beginning of the Cold War. Many found resemblance and compared with the famous 1946, Iron Curtain Speech of Winston Churchill, which later led to the Cold War.

However, In China-US Focus, Joseph S. Nye Professor of Harvard University writes, that the terminology of the New Cold War between the US and China as a misleading historical analogy. He stressed that “the actual Cold War between the US and the USSR targeted tens of thousands of nuclear weapons at each other and had virtually no trade or cultural ties. By contrast, China has a more limited nuclear force, annual Sino-American trade totals a half-trillion dollars, and more than 350,000 Chinese students and three million tourists are in the US each year”. He describes the current bilateral relations between the US and China as “cooperative rivalry”.

On 7 July 2020, Federal Bureau of Investigation Director, Christopher Wray, delivered his remarks on China’s Attempt to Influence US Institutions, at the Hudson Institute where he described it as multi-pronged disruption campaign; from economic espionage, malign foreign influence campaign, threatening the rule of law, and to exploiting US openness. The Director said that “the greatest long-term threat to our nation’s information and intellectual property, and our economic vitality, is the counterintelligence and economic espionage threat from China. It’s a threat to our economic security- and by extension, to our national security.”

Today, the US-China relation is incredibly at the lowest ebb. Both the powers are intertwined economically with US importing extensive amounts of Chinese goods and China holding considerable US debt. The two powers are trying to outstrip each other in technology, today China has become increasingly inferior to the US in technological capabilities and a true competitor to overtake the US in Artificial Intelligence. On 24 January 2018, in China File Conversation, Senior Policy Analysts, Lyle J. Morris of the RAND Corporation comments “China’s nation-building has undermined the areas that are dominated by the US and has put both the powers into a strategic competition. It has chosen the path of confrontation and coercion in its behaviour towards the US and its allies.”As China demands a bigger role in regional and international affairs, the US-led international political and economic order is under a challenge from China for reshaping. And the US is unwilling to concede a Chinese sphere of influence.

In the second half of the 20th Century, the USSR was weak in the economy, largely isolated from the international system and was never a threat to the US. However, over the past years, China has experienced one of the fastest-growing economies in the world, and now it enjoys its economic dominance in par with the west, and that China has become a peer competitor of the US in the economic arena. As China heads towards its mission for a greater regional military role to displace the US in the Indo-Pacific region, with its expansionist claims in the South China Sea has put both the powers into a confronting situation. This has threatened the national interests of the US and its Freedom of Navigation Operations in the region.

Trump putting America first with his unpredictable foreign policy, by withdrawing from the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), undermining international organisations, casting doubts on World Trade Organisation (WTO), North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO), and the recent exit from World Health Organisation (WHO)have further created a geopolitical vacuum to bring China into the picture. Today, dealing with China’s geopolitical and ideological expansion is getting difficult for the US. It will even get harder as China is already well-integrated into global supply chains and the centric role it plays in the global economy. The China Threat has never been a hot topic like before. Therefore, it won’t be wrong to assume that the US is experiencing the China Threat from two dimensions; economy, and security with military rivalry increasingly becoming part of the extent.

Amom Malemnganba Singh
Amom Malemnganba Singh
Amom Malemnganba Singh is a blogger at Global Affairs. He is a frequent commenter of International Politics.