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Western governments confront China-Russia security threats — but US business won’t

Stefani Reynolds/Pool Photo via AP
U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken, right, shakes hands with China’s Foreign Minister Wang Yi during a meeting in Nusa Dua on the Indonesian resort island of Bali on July 9, 2022.

The United States and NATO are striving to halt Russian President Vladimir Putin’s aggressive campaign to reintegrate former Soviet-dominated nations under Moscow’s control.

After encouraging Georgia and Ukraine to seek NATO membership, the West did nothing to stop Russia’s invasion of Georgia in 2008 and Ukraine in 2014. Ruling out direct intervention in Russia’s most recent aggression, the West has increased its weapons flow to Ukraine — but not with the potency, volume or speed needed to halt Russia’s continuing conquest of Ukrainian territory, let alone reverse it. The Biden administration fears the arms could generate Putin’s “escalation” beyond the war crimes and genocide his troops already are commiting. They also concede Russian control of Ukraine’s airspace and the international waters of the Black Sea.

On June 29, NATO published a new Strategic Concept that implicitly acknowledges its decades-long failure to confront an increasingly aggressive and anti-Western Russia.  

But the NATO document expanded its strategic vision significantly beyond Russia by identifying dangers from outside the European continent: “The threats we face are global and interconnected. Authoritarian actors challenge our interests, values and democratic way of life. … The People’s Republic of China’s (PRC) stated ambitions and coercive policies challenge our interests, security and values.”

While not explicitly mentioning the February China-Russia joint statement that effectively declared a new cold war against the West and support for each other’s respective ambitions against Taiwan and Ukraine, NATO observed: “The deepening strategic partnership between the People’s Republic of China and the Russian Federation and their mutually reinforcing attempts to undercut the rules-based international order run counter to our values and interests.”

NATO noted the multi-dimensional nature of the threat posed by China, often in collaboration with “malign actors” such as Russia: “The PRC’s malicious hybrid and cyber operations and its confrontational rhetoric and disinformation target Allies and harm Alliance security. The PRC seeks to control key technological and industrial sectors, critical infrastructure, and strategic materials and supply chains …[and to] … interfere with our government services. … It uses its economic leverage to create strategic dependencies and enhance its influence. It strives to subvert the rules-based international order, including in the space, cyber and maritime domains.”

NATO also noted China’s growing capabilities and worrisome intentions in the realm of nuclear weapons, a threat that Putin has brandished in his war against Ukraine: “The PRC is rapidly expanding its nuclear arsenal and is developing increasingly sophisticated delivery systems, without increasing transparency or engaging in good faith in arms control or risk reduction.”

Yet, just as Western governments belatedly recognize the comprehensive security challenge from Moscow and Beijing, some senior U.S. business and policy leaders lament the deterioration in U.S.-China relations resulting from the West’s recent pushback and urge a return to failed policies of “dialogue” and engagement.

Last week, in a Wall Street Journal article, Maurice Greenberg explained the group’s concerns and proposed remedies. They amount to a recycling of all the worn shibboleths on U.S.-China relations that have proved so disastrously wrong during more than four decades of engagement.

The article notes that the business and policy men and women “have experience in China and share the view that we would be better served by having a more constructive relationship with China.” But, for almost half a century since Richard Nixon’s opening to Beijing, the “constructive relationship” built up by people experienced in China has led us precisely to the dangerous point that now worries them.

They assert, “We are confident that like-minded people in China would embrace the opportunity to work together to find solutions.” But “like-minded” Chinese come in two forms. Chinese leader Xi Jinping and members of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) surely would support a return to the policies that have well-served Beijing’s interests and seriously disadvantaged America’s regional and global position.

Those Chinese who might share the Americans’ aspiration for a reciprocal, transparent and peaceful relationship — in contrast to the CCP’s anti-Western worldview — soon would find themselves in serious official disfavor, with career-ending punishment that includes incarceration or worse.  

The group’s opinion piece claims, “The U.S. and China have a long history of collaboration dating to before World War II.” But that cooperation predates the creation of the People’s Republic of China. Since the communist regime came to power in 1949, it has fought the United States in the Korean and Vietnam wars; engaged in anti-Western “wars of national liberation”; proliferated weapons of mass destruction to North Korea, Pakistan and Mideast countries; supported North Korea’s nuclear and missile programs and provocations; and aided anti-Western regimes around the world.

One member of the dissident group experienced firsthand Beijing’s hostility to America and the West. William Cohen, former Defense Secretary in the Clinton administration, visited Beijing in 1997. He was greeted with a headline in China’s English-language newspaper: “U.S. Greatest Threat to World Peace!”

The business group rues the loss of bilateral channels for official communications and the “exchange of ideas,” which it sees as the cause of Sino-U.S. frictions: “After these channels were eliminated during the Trump administration, our differences increased, as did the level of mistrust.”

President Trump did seek an end to China’s egregiously unfair and dishonest trade practices about which earlier administrations had complained but never seriously confronted. Faithful implementation of the Phase 1 deal his administration negotiated would have put China on the path to economic, and potentially political, reform long hoped for in the West.

Then the pandemic struck from China and the international landscape changed. Trade reform was relegated to a back seat, and the possibility of political change in China returned to a distant dream. Trump denied he had been “duped” by Xi, but no longer admired or trusted him.

Meanwhile, his national security and foreign policy team accelerated its clear-eyed approach to China’s manifold security and human rights challenges. Vice President Mike Pence and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo delivered speeches detailing the existential campaign Beijing has waged against the West.  

Trump’s deputy national security adviser, Matt Pottinger, and his bosses, John Bolton and Robert O’Brien, and other officials crafted and implemented policies that rejected China’s lawless claims in the South and East China seas. They highlighted unprecedented support for Taiwan’s security and democracy, consistent with both the 1979 Taiwan Relations Act and Nixon’s 1994 book that declared Taiwan “permanently separated politically” from China. Other Western governments also began fundamental reassessments of their indulgent approach toward China 

The Biden administration, to Beijing’s unpleasant surprise, has retained and even expanded the core of the Trump team’s China and Taiwan policies. The business and policy communities likewise should shed their fears about defending America’s values and interests.

Joseph Bosco served as China country director for the secretary of Defense from 2005 to 2006 and as Asia-Pacific director of humanitarian assistance and disaster relief from 2009 to 2010. He served in the Pentagon when Vladimir Putin invaded Georgia and was involved in Department of Defense discussions about the U.S. response. Follow him on Twitter @BoscoJosephA.

Tags China China aggression NATO Russia Ukraine war Vladimir Putin

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