Introduction: The time to reassess the US-China relationship is long overdue. The Communist Party of China (CPC)’s lies and obfuscation regarding the pandemic wreaking havoc on millions of lives and economies all over the globe for the past two years is proof that we cannot trust the CPC to conduct itself in a civilized manner. When the West was opened toChina, everyone expected aiding China and admitting them to the West’s institutions would change them for the better, that they would reform and become civilized. That has not happened. The People’s Republic of China (PRC) remains a totalitarian state hostile to the United States and the West, an aggressor against nations in the region and around the world,and an oppressor and murderer of its own citizens. It uses its economic power to intimidate and dominate other states all around the world. It uses mercantilist practices, currency manipulation, and state subsidized Chinese companies to unfairly compete with United States and other western economies to dominate many segments of the world economy. It uses espionage and widespread intellectual property theft to gain unfair advantage over other nations. To acknowledge the threat the PRC represents and their ambitions to supplant the United States as the world’s preeminent power, it is essential to alter radically the economic/cultural relationship between the United States and the PRC and to push back against their military. To pretend the relationship between the United States and the PRC is friendly and sustainable is folly. A despotic regime does not have friends, it has victims. It’s time to cut the cord with the PRC and confront theirevil actions that caused the global pandemic now unfolding around the world with untold thousands dead, lives ruined,and economies gutted.
Background. Our current relationship with the PRC, economically, militarily, and culturally is not beneficial for the United States. This is comprehensively detailed in the 2021 US-China Economic and Security Commission’s report. To change the unacceptable status quo, the United States should fundamentally alter our trade and cultural contacts with the PRC. That relationship already started to change under President Trump causing the PRC significant stress. Trump’s policies have largely remained in effect under President Biden. Our economy, when used as an instrument of national power can put enormous pressure on their economy and leadership. In truth, the PRC has been waging war against the United States for decades. They systematically steals our military and scientific technology and ~$600 billion/year inIntellectual Property. They have stolen personal data of millions of Americans, abused American companies located in China, used dumping and counterfeiting to bankrupt our companies, subsidized Chinese companies causing loss ofmillions of American jobs, clandestinely infiltrated our stock market to subsidize their economy and pay for their military buildup, and manipulated their currency to damage the dollar. The PRC even infringes on our free speech rights. For example, through their control of the NBA they ordered Hong Kong supporters thrown out of basketball arenas. President Xi Jinping lied to President Trump saying they would not militarize the South China Sea then they proceeded to do exactly that. The Peoples Liberation Army Navy (PLAN) constantly harasses ships and aircraft from other nations that operate in the South China Sea, falsely exercises sovereignty outside their 12 nautical mile coastal zone, infringes on other nations’ Exclusive Economic Zones (EEZ), and falsely claims territorial waters associated with nautical features they have dredged out of the sea. We cannot trust China. Attempts to get the PRC to act ethically and fairly either through direct negotiations or by World Trade Organization arbitration have been completely ineffective. Therefore, the time has come for the United States to recognize that we are in an economic and cultural war with the PRC. The economic assault is documented in detail by Senator Rubio in his eye-opening report, “Made in China 2025 and the future of American Industry”. Despite their abuses and plans for economic and military domination, we treat them as an equal, trade with them, invite their citizens to visit, allow hundreds of thousands into our universities, and support cultural exchanges as if everything were fine.
Proposal: The United States should conduct a three-part campaign against the PRC. Campaign one would be economic/cultural. Campaign two would be garnering support from other nations for isolating them. Campaign three would focus on the facilities the PRC illegally constructed in the South China Sea on various reefs, shoals and atolls most of which legally belong to other countries or are in international waters. We must challenge the PLAN’s infringement on freedom of navigation, and PRC’s frequent violations of other nations’ EEZ’s. The South China Sea is the logical place to confront the PRC’s bogus territorial claims with our military strength since the UN Permanent Court of Arbitration expressly supported the Philippines’ claim regarding the Scarborough Shoals unequivocally rejecting their false sovereignty claims. Unfortunately, the UN has no enforcement mechanism. That’s where the United States comes in.
One–The Economic Campaign: The United States must urgently rebuild the pharmaceutical and personal protective equipment industries in either the United States or with trusted economic partners overseas. Our dependence on the PRC for pharmaceuticals and personal protective equipment is a threat to national security and our nation’s welfare and that has been amply demonstrated by the Wuhan flu pandemic that is continuing to cause havoc in the world today. The United States must re-establish our own development of rare earths used in manufacturing or related to national defense industries. The United States has proven reserves of natural resources within the country that can be developed for this purpose. The Congress should pass regulatory reforms and economic incentives to fast-track the development of United States mined and developed rare earths. Once these two foundational economic sectors are rebuilt, we should inform the PRC that we will fundamentally restructure our economic and cultural ties with them. In the future, when our economy is no longer dependent on the PRC for essentials goods, we should initiate select embargoes on trade segments and commodities traded with the PRC. Over time, more and more segments should be included. No doubt this would be quite disruptive at first. But, a future full-scale war with them would be far worse. The nature of our economic ties with China are well known. Suitable alternatives to most Chinese goods are widely available elsewhere. For United Statesexports to the PRC, our companies must be encouraged and incentivized to find other customers. This strategy would create tremendous stress on the PRC leadership and economy. China’s economy is heavily dependent on United Statestrade whereas our economy is much more diversified, stronger, and more agile. In 2017 China depended on the United States for 18% of its exports but those imports accounted for approximately 2% of the United States’ GDP. Some American companies have chosen to leave China for other countries where conditions are better and this exodus hasalready increased due to the pandemic that they have caused. To ensure our companies are fully aware of the PRC’s illegal practices, classified briefings on those abuses should be provided. Once many companies choose to leave or stop operations, millions of Chinese will lose their jobs creating tremendous stress on the regime/economy. The United Statesgovernment should provide maximum support to companies to shift to trade with other nations especially in Asia. The PRC should be frozen out of the United States totally. Their stakes in American companies or stocks should be seized and frozen. The United States should implement financial sanctions on the PRC similar to the ones we have implemented on Iran and North Korea. On the cultural front, the United States should deport all Chinese nationals who are here for whatever reason, students, diplomats, business people, everyone. An all-out economic/cultural war against the PRC would stun them and likely cause a crisis. Economic and political crisis may lead to the PRC re-thinking their expansionist plans or potentially even cause regime change.
Two—Campaign to gather partners to limit the PRC’s options: Campaign two’s objective would be to partner with the world’s leading democracies to limit the PRC’s influence and options to cause trouble and to limit its economic, military and cultural impact around the world. This would start in the UN with a resolution to condemn the PRC for its human rights abuses internally and around the world, its predatory economic tactics in virtually every world economic institution, its outrageous pollution of the environment, and its illegal building of military facilities in international waters in the South China Sea. It is expected that the PRC would veto any such measure but the intent would be to have many if not most of the world’s democratic nations go on record to condemn their human rights abuses, economic bullying and illegal practices, espionage and intellectual property theft, and military expansionism especially in the South China Sea. The United States would seek agreements with all the world’s most respected democracies to take a common stance on the PRC in firm opposition to its abuses, mercantilism, and militarization. The agreements could take many forms with some nations following in the United States’ footsteps and severing or reducing ties with the PRC, and others taking a more limited stance of opposing their objectives in principle while still maintaining diplomatic relationships and trade. The United States’ objective would be to convince our strongest treaty or economic allies to adopt similar policies to distance the PRC and reduce its influence in the world and in specific within their respective countries. Key to this phase would be garnering the support of the UK, France, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, Germany, Spain, Italy, Greece, Turkey, India, Japan, Brazil, Israel, the Republic of China, the Philippines, Mexico, and our other NATO allies. Campaigns one and two could be pursued simultaneously.
Phase Three–The Military Campaign: Campaign three’s objective is to challenge China’s use of all the military installations they illegally built in the South China Sea. The military campaign could be begun simultaneously with the other campaigns such as preparation of the operational environment, intelligence gathering, surveillance, reconnaissance, theater security cooperation and other preparatory measures. Defense experts everywhere rate the U.S. Navy as the world’s strongest and most capable. However, how long this will remain true is uncertain. The PRC is modernizing their Navy at an extraordinary rate according to a Congressional Research Service’s many reports. While we are still more powerful, the United States should demand the PRC’s withdrawal from the South China Sea features they have militarized. To support our position, the US should deploy to and patrol with a high volume of our ships including Carrier Strike Groups to the South China Sea demonstrating our freedom of navigation in proximity to all of the features they occupy. The PRC can avoid a military confrontation with the United States as we ramp up our activities in the South China Sea simply by withdrawing. This increased presence of the U.S. Navy in the South China Sea and near their illegally constructed sites would be conducted by the U.S. Navy with contributions from the Joint Force as needed and augmented by allies such as Japan, the Republic of Korea, the Republic of China, Australia, the UK, Canada, and France. The campaign would begin by an overwhelming show of naval forces being assembled in international waters inor near the South China Sea comprised of at least three Carrier Strike Groups supported by Marine Expeditionary Unitsincluding our newest asset, the Marine Littoral Regiment. The Navy would not only operate near the illegally constructed sites, we should demonstrate our capabilities by continuous air, sea, and subsurface training evolutions including formation maneuvering, weapons firing, use of ECM measures and our unmanned assets including strike capabilities, full power runs, damage control drills….the full gamut of operational training. This alone might cause the PRC to reassess the situation and re-evaluate their specious claims to ownership of the waters of the South China Sea. These tactics would cause great stress within the CCP.
Some would argue that adopting these kinds of tactics are extreme. Nonsense! History is replete with examples of maneuver warfare short of combat being used to influence and deter other states. In the early stages of WWII, Hitler took large segments of Europe including Austria and Czechoslovakia without firing a shot. Japan used the same types of tactics in Asia to take control of large areas as well. In the early stages of WWII, Japan took territory and invaded Pacific Islands of many nations just because they were powerful militarily and little or undeveloped states could do nothing to stop them. It serves to prove that just the peaceful use and maneuver of forces has strong potential to induce the desired response from a weaker opponent. The same tactic could work against the PRC in the South China Sea. In an exhaustive study by the Stimson Center titled Military Coercion and US Foreign Policy: The Use of Force Short of War, over 100 instances of US use of military forces are examined and documented just since 1991.
No doubt China would object to the presence of massive numbers of United States forces in what they now consider theirseas and airspace. Obviously, our presence has the potential to provoke military action against our forces. Therefore, we must be prepared to defend our ships and aircraft. The United States would make it clear that any attacks on our ships and/or aircraft in international waters or airspace result in an overwhelming response. Probably, there is a high degree of risk that this campaign would precipitate limited armed conflict in the South China Sea. That is a risk worth taking in order to convince the PRC that they have no right to restrict freedom of navigation in the South China Sea and to demonstrate our resolve to ensure that right and our will to fight to ensure it. If the United States put the forces described above into the South China Sea and vividly demonstrated our overwhelming capabilities and courage to back up our convictions, the PRC would do the logical thing…..they would withdraw from the facilities they illegally constructed because of the sure knowledge they could not beat the United States in an actual military conflict in the South China Sea (or anywhere else). It would be far better for them to lose face in a small way of withdrawing rather than in a big way with all their ships and aircraft at the bottom of the South China Sea. If limited conflict of this nature took place, undoubtedly the United States will suffer casualties and lost ships and aircraft. That may be the price we have to pay to put the PRC back on its heels and force it abandon its dreams of world domination.
Once China is removed from the facilities, complete freedom of navigation in the South China Sea would be restored. The UN should be called upon to adjudicate the allocation of the sites to the nations that have the best historical/legal claims to them. With the PRC withdrawing from the illegal sites or being forcibly evicted, a tremendousburden would be lifted from the peoples of Taiwan, Hong Kong, and our other Asian allies. These nations could re-focus their economies and military for peaceful purposes. A chastened PRC would possibly re-evaluate its role in the region and its ambitions around the world. This strategy could destabilize the regime and cause the fall of the CCP, and the rise of a new, more peaceful China.
Justification for action against the PRC:
- Precedent: The United States is already engaged in limited combat all over the world. We have military forces in ~160 nations and are conducting combat/combat support operations in many countries (Syria, Iraq, Pakistan, around the horn of Africa, residual activities in support of US and allied personnel still in Afghanistan). When our national interests dictate, we do not hesitate to intervene either to protect ourselves and our interests, to aid American citizens abroad, to combat terrorism, or to oppose regimes whose methods and goals are not compatible with international norms. In recent years this has occurred repeatedly, e.g. Syria, Libya, the Balkans, Grenada, Iraq, Afghanistan, and Panama. To intervene to stabilize a very untenable situation in the South China Sea would be consistent with past actions in support of our own national policy and to support international norms.
- Better to confront the PRC now when we are still more powerful: As noted above, the United States is still ascendant militarily. How much longer that will continue is unknown which is all the more reason to implement this strategy nowbefore the PRC becomes even stronger. If the United States ever hopes to stop the PRC’s continuing militarization of the South China Sea and curb its behavior of dominating other nations, we must do it now when we can be successful. The American people will not tolerate a future all-out conventional war with the PRC, because it’s a war we will lose if we allow them to arm up. The CRS reports that during the period 2005-2019, China added 119 ships to the PLAN while the US Navy was shrinking by 5 over the same time period. If the PRC military buildup continues unchallenged, soon they will both have the numbers, strength and technology to drive us out of the far Pacific. Once they become the regional hegemon, there is little doubt they plan expansion around the world. In 2020, the PRC’s military forces are already operating on a limited basis all over the world. The world will not be a better place with the PRC supplanting the United States as the number one military power. The time to stop their expansionist goals is now.
- The PRC is a danger to the world and their expansion must be stopped: The CCP’s communist system of government is an unmitigated evil and a threat to the world. They explicitly reject the Westphalian/Bretton Woods nature of the western world. The leadership of China has no moral compass. Thus, they will do anything to achieve their goals and dominate other nations, eventually the whole world. Not only are their citizens subjected to the totalitarian system they use, with the CCP controlling every conceivable part of Chinese life, but for minorities within China, the treatment is even worse. It is well documented that the PRC imprisons over a million of its own citizens, the Uighurs, in re-education camps for the express purpose of converting them to atheism and adherence to communism or death. Despite theirdenials, recent leaks prove the horrors they have inflicted on this minority. Of course, it is not just the Uighurs but also members of the Falun Gong, millions of Chinese Christians, Tibetans, and any others who are not among the obedient are persecuted until “rehabilitated” or eradicated. United States action against the PRC’s expansionist action’s in the South China Sea is justified in order to return the situation to the status quo from before they militarized these sites and to prevent them from further export of their totalitarian system elsewhere in the region or around the world.
- Future generations will pay the price: Many will ask, “How can we risk a conflict with the PRC?” The fact is, we are already at war with them but just won’t admit it. History teaches that totalitarian regimes start wars of conquest. The clock is ticking. We can nip this in the bud, or down the line, we will fight a different, much more destructive contest that we may lose. Failure to curtail the PRC’s domination of other nations now will mean our descendants will pay the price. They will not unilaterally stop their expansion and abuse of other nations. Eventually we will either have to fight them at a very high cost in lives and treasure or capitulate and retreat. History will judge our reluctance to stop the PRC from world domination. Worse, our children and grandchildren will wonder why we fooled ourselves into thinking coexistence with the CCP was possible.
- If we don’t stop the PRC no one will: The progress towards Chinese ascendency is inexorable and ongoing. Many are already referring to the 21st century as the Chinese century. We are the only nation on earth strong enough to reverse the path they are on. Whether it is Made in China 2025, Belt and Road Initiative, supercomputing, AI, cybernetics, quantum science, space technology, STEM education, patents, rare earths, the PRC plans to dominate every field and they are well on their way. They have an all of government/all of country approach to reaching ascendency in every field. In their view it is only natural and the right thing to do to return the “Middle Kingdom” to its rightful place as the center and dominating culture of the entire world. If they were a benign nation who embraced values of freedom, human rights, equality, we would be right to leave them to it. However, the exact reverse is true. They do not embrace a single westernvalue and value strength alone. Thus, it falls to the United States to stop them and make them reverse course.
- Low risk of launching a wider war: Some may argue United States action will risk a large-scale armed conflict or evennuclear war. There is some risk, of course, that things could escalate. However, escalation is unlikely if this strategy is implemented wisely. The United States should announce our plan widely stressing its focus solely on the South China Sea. Nothing should be done in secret. We would focus first with the economic campaign, gradually stopping trade with China over time as we find alternatives elsewhere. The world economy would absorb a shift of this magnitude if changesproceed slowly and deliberately. At the same time, we would stop all cultural interchanges with China to demonstrate the seriousness of our intentions. Only when all the economic and cultural ties were fully severed, would we begin themilitary operations, if that even remained necessary. The United States should invite international observers to document precisely our actions in the South China Sea. Potentially other nations would join in our isolation of the PRC. Nuclear proliferation has been a reality since the Soviet Union tested its first nuclear bomb only four years after the United States developed them for use against Japan but no nuclear conflict has occurred in 70 years. The CCP values self-preservation. A minor military contest over nautical features in the South China Sea should not escalate into a wider war or nuclear conflict.
Conclusion. The PRC gaining strength, ignoring international law, and abjuring civilized behavior has gone on for a long time, too long. The longer it goes before they are effectively confronted, the worse the problem will become for all who love freedom. Many will say this proposal is beyond the pale, crazy, in fact. What would the oppressed masses of China say? What do the fearful nations neighboring China say? What will history say, if we do nothing to prevent an inexorable totalitarian regime from taking over the whole world? American history is replete with examples of bold actions taken that made a startling difference for the better, starting with our founding. In both world wars, the United States acted courageously to save the world. It is time we do it again.
Brent Ramsey served 30 years in the Navy and 23 years in Navy Civil Service. He is a retired Captain. In the Navy he specialized in financial management and logistics. His assignments included Commanding Officer, Cargo Handling Battalion TWELVE, Executive Director, Construction Battalion Center, Gulfport, and Emergency Preparedness Liaison Officer for Mississippi.
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