There are very few issues in the US politics, both domestic and foreign, that can draw the Republicans and the Democrats into a bi-partisan consensus. Russia has been one of them in the wake of the ongoing military conflict in Ukraine. More recently, China has also made it to the list of issues. This is evident from the recently formed House Committee on Strategic Competition with China. The committee – which includes both the Democrats and the Republicans – has been formed at a time when tensions with China across a range of issues are running high. The US is not happy with “Chinese Spy Balloons” flying over the US. Many in the US ‘fear’ that Beijing’s attack on Taiwan is imminent. And, finally, many US policy makers are not happy at all with China’s position on the conflict in Ukraine, as Beijing continues to blame the US for the crisis. Against this ‘mounting’ China threat, a ‘national effort’ against Beijing becomes necessary. To tackle this threat most effectively, the US needs ‘new’ ways of tackling China. Doing that also requires moving beyond the narrow mentality of Cold War competition with the Soviet Union to frame – and respond to – the competition with China as ‘total’ rather than just military or ideological.
Indeed, this is how a Republican member of the committee Dusty Johnson described the US-China competition. According to him, it is wrong to compare the US-China competition with the US-USSR competition of the Cold War era. “It’s a very different environment,” Johnson said in a media interview, adding that “We didn’t need to in a targeted way decouple our economy from that of the Soviet Union’s. The Soviet Union was a one-dimensional threat. It was a military threat. The Chinese Communist Party is a threat in a much more comprehensive way.”
An even better explanation came from the chairman of the committee Michael McCaul, who said in his opening speech that “There is no doubt that the growing aggression of the Chinese Communist Party poses a generational threat to the United States”, adding that the current administration’s various efforts at curtailing China and maintaining the balance of power in favour of the US in this “struggle for the global balance of power” have not been enough. Therefore, Michael added the struggle needs to expand, including in the “ideological battlefield.”
Therefore, various US officials are on record to have reiterated multiple times that they aren’t looking to start a ‘war’ with China, the mindset of this committee and the goals it is seeking to achieve tell an entirely different policy position, a position that syncs perfectly well with Joe Biden’s own position, who sees competition with China as an epic struggle between “democracies [and] autocracies.”
This epic struggle has now become a “comprehensive” threat, which is also multi-dimensional i.e., including military, economic, political, geo-political and strategic dimensions. Responding to such a “big” threat requires resources both from within the US and alliances with other countries, especially China’s adversaries.
Within the US, the political elites are already passing laws that target China from various angels, aiming to restrict its political and economic space. Following the logic of “comprehensive” threat, the US House of Representative recently passed 7 bills targeting China and/or Taiwan. For instance, the “Taiwan Conflict Deterrence Act of 2023” will activate sanctions against Chinese leaders and their families if Beijing attacks Taiwan. The “Taiwan Non-Discrimination Act of 2023” will require the US governments to advocate for Taiwan’s membership of the International Monetary Fund. The “China exchange Rate Transparency Act of 2023” requires the US Director at the IMF to advocate for a “transparent disclosure” of China’s exchange rate policies. And finally, the “China Financial Threat Mitigation Act of 2023” requires the Treasury Secretary to report on global economic risks from China.
While most of these acts aim to “protect” Taiwan and/or the world from China, there is little denying that their underlying purpose is to punish China in any and all possible ways. For instance, the Act to force China to make its exchange rate policies “transparent” has nothing to do with Chinese currency but mainly with the imperative of crafting ways to maintain the hegemony of the US dollar, which is coming under increasing pressure from the concerted effort of China and Russia to trade in alternative currencies.
With the protection of US hegemony being the overarching objective, the House Committee sees the Communist Party of China (CCP) as its true rival; therefore, it is also following a regime-change agenda as well by ideationally pitting the people of China against the CCP. To quote Dusty Johnson again, “the Chinese people are the primary victims of the pattern of aggression from the Chinese Communist Party. The Chinese people are not an adversary.” Since the CCP is an adversary of both the US and Chinese people, it might be useful for both to struggle against it, and eventually defeat it.
What else could be made of the politics of ‘total war’ on China? The US is targeting China in the economic, technological, political and geo-political field. It sees the CCP as a rival and is beginning to do excessive public diplomacy by addressing the people of China with malicious intents.
What is quite clear here is the increasing level of anxiety in Washington about China’s rise as a powerful competitor of the US quite capable of displacing its hegemony. The US is making anxious moves to protect its hegemony, but the fact that the various steps it has taken over the past few years have failed to stem the tide of Chinese power might indicate the bleak future of the recent most steps the US has taken or will take in the future as well.
Salman Rafi Sheikh, research-analyst of International Relations and Pakistan’s foreign and domestic affairs, exclusively for the online magazine “New Eastern Outlook.“