Opinion: Will Trump’s China Strategy to Contain the CCP Be Ruined by Biden?
A commentary on the latest Atlantic Council report
By Frank Tian Xie
February 15, 2021 Updated: February 16, 2021
The Biden administration recently stated that there’s no hurry to engage with China and dialogue with allies and partners comes first. This is quite strange, because the U.S.-China relationship is undoubtedly the most important bilateral relationship in the world, involving the security, peace and stability of the United States, China, and the world on all levels–militarily, politically, economically, and technologically.
In the couple of weeks since the new administration took office, President Biden has spoken to leaders of many countries. Secretary of State Antony Blinken has done similarly. But there has been no dialogue with the leaders of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP), which of course has aroused speculations.
Whether former President Trump’s strategy to contain the CCP on a global level will be halted or even ruined, and whether the United States will itself embark on the path of Venezuela, are topics of concern to the American people and the people of the world. Why then is the Biden administration not eager to talk to the CCP? Is it because they don’t know what to say?
The CCP has invested a lot of manpower and material resources to influence the outcome of last November’s U.S. presidential elections. Isn’t now the time for the CCP to want to claim the debt and seek returns? If the Democrat leaders can’t clarify their entanglement with the CCP and dare not face up to the CCP’s election interference, of course they will feel embarrassed. They won’t know how to deal with the situation or what to say.
At a press conference in early February, U.S. Department of State spokesperson Ned Price was asked whether the United States was delaying its interaction with China on major global issues.
Price replied that it depended on “how we are thinking about the sequencing of our foreign policy broadly.” If the United States really ensures that it is “in lockstep with those allies, in lockstep with those partners,” to work against the CCP together, is of course not bad; it’s also consistent with the U.S. strategy.
However, the Biden administration is actually still upholding the banner of “strategic patience” as the CCP is pressing on and repeatedly provoking the United States and sanctioning former officials of the Trump administration. It inevitably makes people worry whether the United States will give the CCP a break and allow it another comeback.
Atlantic Council ‘Longer Telegram’ Report
The Atlantic Council published a new research report in early February with a noteworthy title: “The Longer Telegram: Toward a New American China strategy.” And the author is anonymous.
The Atlantic Council is an American think tank with a history of 60 years. Its main objective is international affairs, providing a platform for leaders in international politics, business, and intellectual circles. It has ten regional and functional research centers that specialize in global economic and security issues.
The description “Longer Telegram” was used in the title because there’s a famous report called “Long Telegram.”
The so-called “Long Telegram” was an 8,000-word telegram sent back to the United States by George F. Kennan, a diplomat at the U.S. Embassy in Moscow in February 1946. It was a report completed at the request of the U.S. State Department in order to understand why the Russians were opposed to the creation of the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund. However, the report eventually helped the U.S. government confirm its tough policy towards the former Soviet Union and laid the foundation for the U.S. strategy of containment during the Cold War.
Kennan’s merit lay in his affirmation that the Soviet communist regime did not believe that it would coexist peacefully with the capitalist world for a long time, so the United States had to adopt a policy of containment against the expansion of Soviet communism. Kennan later published a research report using the anonymous “X” as a pseudonym, clarifying his views in the “Long Telegram.”
So now, more than 70 years later, a “Longer Telegram” research report has been published, also anonymously, aiming at the last and largest communist regime, the CCP, which is very intriguing.
The Atlantic Council report clearly points out that the only and most important challenge facing the United States in the 21st century is from a rising, increasingly authoritarian CCP under the leadership of Xi Jinping. Because of the CCP’s economic and military power, the speed of technological development, and a worldview that is completely different from that of the United States’, it has now impacted every aspect of American national interests. Moreover, this is a structural challenge that has gradually formed over the past 20 years. Xi Jinping’s rise to power has accelerated this challenge from the CCP.
The report notes Xi’s return to Mao Zedong’s Marxist-Leninist line, his systematically eliminating political enemies, stopping China’s market reforms, and strengthening the Communist Party’s control over private enterprises. During the Xi era, according to the report, China has accelerated its transformation into a totalitarian police state and extended the CCP’s totalitarian system, coercive foreign policy, and military deployment to all parts of the world outside of China. Therefore, the report posits that Xi “now presents a serious problem for the whole of the democratic world,” and the U.S. government needs to deal with this imminent challenge.
Obviously, this report was researched and written during the Trump administration, based on the latest analysis of the CCP. It can be said to comprise Trump’s policy of containment of the CCP presented in the form of a think tank report for the future U.S. government to adopt and implement. The report mentions the Trump administration’s 2017 U.S. National Security Strategy and praises the Trump administration for sounding the alarm about the CCP’s ambitions.
10 Strategies to Overthrow the CCP
But the report goes even further. It lists ten strategic recommendations of how to accomplish the overthrow of the CCP, which is sure to cause sleepless nights among the leaders at Zhongnanhai (central headquarters for the CCP in Beijing).
The report points out that the CCP has been “much more dexterous in survival than its Soviet counterpart,” therefore, instead of expecting that the CCP will eventually collapse from within, it’s better “to make the overthrow of the Communist Party” the nation’s declared objective.”
This is a very rare statement, indeed!
The following are the 10 recommendations from the Atlantic Council report:
“First, U.S. strategy must be based on the four fundamental pillars of American power”—military power, dollar hegemony, emerging technologies, and a free legal system.
“Second, U.S. strategy must begin by attending to domestic economic and institutional weaknesses.”
“Third, the United States’ China strategy must be anchored in both national values and national interests.”
“Fourth, U.S. strategy must be fully coordinated with major allies so that action is taken in unity in response to China.”
“Fifth, the United States’ China strategy also must address the wider political and economic needs of its principal allies and partners.” This is related to the fourth strategy.
“Sixth, the United States must rebalance its relationship with Russia whether it likes it or not.” This is very interesting and could have been implemented by Trump had it not been for the Russiagate disinformation campaign against him.
“Seventh, the central focus of an effective U.S. and allied China strategy must be directed at the internal fault lines of domestic Chinese politics in general and concerning Xi’s leadership in particular.” This is the most interesting strategy and will really agitate Beijing.
“Eighth, U.S. strategy must never forget the innately realist nature of the Chinese strategy that it is seeking to defeat.” This is an important reminder because the CCP only recognizes fists and strength, not morality.
“Ninth, U.S. strategy must understand that China remains for the time being highly anxious about military conflict with the United States.”
“Tenth, for Xi, too, it’s the economy.” In other words, the CCP is very much afraid of economic collapse. If the trade war and sanctions put in place under the Trump administration continue to move forward, in my opinion, the CCP will surely collapse within this year.
Trump successfully changed the China dialog and alerted people to the dangers from the CCP. The Atlantic Council report reiterates and confirms Trump’s strategy of isolating and containing the CCP. But whether these excellent strategies will be implemented or whether they will be dismantled by the Biden administration is the biggest concern for all good people around the world.
Frank Tian Xie, Ph.D., is a John M. Olin Palmetto professor in business at the University of South Carolina Aiken, and a visiting scholar of the National Taiwan University.