Beijing’s American Hustle

Standing guard in Tiananmen Square, Beijing, March 2015 Jason Lee / Reuters

How Chinese Grand Strategy Exploits U.S. Power

FOREIGN AFFAIRS – By Matt Pottinger – September/October 2021

Although many Americans were slow to realize it, Beijing’s enmity for Washington began long before U.S. President Donald Trump’s election in 2016 and even prior to Chinese President Xi Jinping’s rise to power in 2012. Ever since taking power in 1949, the ruling Chinese Communist Party (CCP) has cast the United States as an antagonist. But three decades ago, at the end of the Cold War, Chinese leaders elevated the United States from just one among many antagonists to their country’s primary external adversary—and began quietly revising Chinese grand strategy, embarking on a quest for regional and then global dominance.

The United States and other free societies have belatedly woken up to this contest, and a rare spirit of bipartisanship has emerged on Capitol Hill. But even this new consensus has failed to adequately appreciate one of the most threatening elements of Chinese strategy: the way it exploits vital aspects of American and other free societies and weaponizes them in the service of Chinese ambitions. Important U.S. institutions, especially in finance and technology, cling to self-destructive habits acquired through decades of “engagement,” an approach to China that led Washington to prioritize economic cooperation and trade above all else.

If U.S. policymakers and legislators find the will, however, there is a way to pull Wall Street and Silicon Valley back onside, convert the United States’ vulnerabilities into strengths, and mitigate the harmful effects of Beijing’s political warfare. That must begin with bolder steps to stem the flow of U.S. capital into China’s so-called military-civil fusion enterprises and to frustrate Beijing’s aspiration for leadership in, and even monopoly control of, high-tech industries—starting with semiconductor manufacturing. The United States must also do more to expose and confront Beijing’s information warfare, which spews disinformation and sows division by exploiting U.S. social media platforms—platforms that are themselves banned inside China’s own borders. And Washington should return the favor by making it easier for the Chinese people to access authentic news from outside China’s so-called Great Firewall.



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