A course correction in the U.S.-China relationship is necessary to protect American interests and values and must be carefully managed.
The Trump administration has now publicly unveiled its plan to fundamentally shift U.S. strategy toward China. It’s an important acknowledgment that U.S.-China competition is heating up, an overdue admission that the past approach has failed and a national call to action.
Vice President Mike Pence’s landmark speech on U.S.-China relations on Thursday was notable for two reasons. First, it called out the Chinese government for perpetrating a multifaceted, well-resourced and shady campaign of foreign influence operations on U.S. soil. Second, it placed that campaign in the context of a global competition between the United States and China that is being waged on every continent and in every realm.
The speech’s real significance was its promise that the United States will newly confront Beijing’s worldwide economic and strategic aggression, oppose its internal repression and compel the Chinese government to change its behavior on both fronts.
“We will not relent until our relationship with China is grounded in fairness, reciprocity and respect for our sovereignty,” Pence said, promising the Trump administration will “reset” the bilateral relationship in a fundamental way.
The vice president laid out a litany of ways the Chinese Communist Party spreads influence inside the United States and around the world. Pence linked China’s economic aggression, military adventurism, influence operations and authoritarian expansion to argue that Beijing long ago decided to abandon true cooperative engagement with the United States and therefore we must respond.
“While Beijing has been moving further away from this vision, China’s leaders can still change course,” Pence said.
The speech is a culmination of nearly two years of work inside the Trump administration to identify, expose and confront increasing Chinese-government-sponsored efforts to interfere in all aspects of American public life, including politics, policy, academia and journalism.
On Friday, Trump will unveil a major study into vulnerabilities in the United States’ defense-industrial base. I obtained an advance copy of the report, which found that our military is beholden to products from China, and Beijing has intentionally sought to undermine America’s ability to control the resources crucial to building the weapons we rely on.
The new China strategy merges the hawkishness of national security adviser John Bolton, the strategic positioning of Defense Secretary Jim Mattis, the economic nationalism of White House trade adviser Peter Navarro and Pence’s values-based advocacy. It would have been unthinkable coming from the Obama administration.
There’s a growing consensus in Washington that Beijing’s flouting of international rules and norms must end, and engagement must be based on a clear-eyed acknowledgment of Beijing’s intentions and actions.
Hoping China’s rise would be constructive while ignoring Beijing’s bad behavior didn’t work. Opposing China’s rise won’t work either. This course correction in the U.S.-China relationship is absolutely necessary to protect American interests and values and must be carefully managed to avoid unintended consequences. Whether that causes undue friction or hostility between the United States and China is largely up to Beijing.