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China: a threat farther east

Published: September 9, 2011
Section: Opinions


While the United States has become entangled in conflicts in Libya, Afghanistan and Iraq over the past few years, a potential threat has emerged that has garnered less attention: China.

At first, China’s status as a hostile entity would not seem obvious. China is the United States’ largest creditor and holds $1.5 trillion in U.S. treasury securities. U.S.-China trade is worth $457 billion annually as of 2010, and China is the United States’ third largest export market and its largest source of imports. Furthermore, the United States seeks China’s assistance in solving global problems ranging from climate change to nuclear proliferation.

Yet the reality of the relationship is more problematic.

Economically, China has distorted its trade relations with the United States by continually devaluing its currency to below-market levels, failing to protect the intellectual property rights of foreign investors and companies, and using industrial policy, government protections and subsidies to protect Chinese firms at the expense of international competitors.

Tensions do not just extend to the economic arena.

During the last few years, China has pursued an increasingly expansionist and aggressive foreign policy as it has become a regional hegemon. It claims the resource-rich South China Sea in its entirety, bypassing competing claims from a number of the United States’ allies, including Vietnam, Brunei, Malaysia and the Philippines. It treats other territorial disputes, such as those involving the Senkaku and Spratly Islands, in a similarly assertive fashion. This is not to mention China’s continued bellicosity toward Taiwan; indeed, the People’s Republic currently has more than a thousand short-range ballistic missiles aimed directly at its eastern neighbor should Taipei consider pursuing full independence.

China has coupled this confrontational foreign policy with an aggressive military buildup and already possesses the second largest military in the world. It is developing a new generation of attack submarines; aircraft carriers; tactical and stealth aircrafts; ballistic, cruise and anti-satellite missiles; and cyber-warfare technology. China seems intent on challenging the U.S. military and naval presence in Asia, which has played a critical role in stabilizing the regional balance of power, defending and reassuring allied nations, and patrolling and protecting trade lanes.

China undercuts U.S. foreign policy in other ways as well. It has assisted Iran in developing its nuclear program and is a key investor in the Islamic Republic’s oil and gas sectors. In recent years, it provided Syria with arms and missile technology. It is North Korea’s primary benefactor. It helped develop Pakistan’s nuclear program. It actively competes with the United States for influence in Africa and Latin America.

Finally, China’s human rights record continues to be atrocious. The list of abuses is staggering and includes, among other things, continued oppression in Tibet and Xinjang; government censorship; eminent domain; secret detentions; denial of due process, the rule of law, an independent judiciary, free speech, freedom of religion and movement; repression of political dissidents; the use of torture; and the one-child policy.

I am certainly not advocating for active hostilities between China and the United States. I do believe, however, that the United States should take a firmer stand against China, vis-a-vis the issues I have discussed, to project an image of strength. Some policies that should be considered include a more active containment policy, further action against Chinese trade policy via the WTO, more prominent criticism of China’s human rights record and, if not a reallocation of more military resources to East Asia, then at least a rollback of some of the proposed cuts to the defense budget. Therefore, some of President Obama’s actions, including his reluctance to meet with the Dalai Lama and his termination of weapons sales to Taiwan, are disappointing.

As China continues to develop, I do hope that it will serve as a more responsible power that will uphold rather than destabilize the status quo in Asia and act in a more cooperative manner with the United States. Considering the Communist regime’s authoritarian nature and hyper-nationalist tendencies, however, I am under no illusions that it will.