By Francesca Oliveira
Many of the national security threats the Trump administration faced within the last four years will likely persist in the upcoming Biden administration; however, their approaches and strategies to combat these threats will differ significantly. Many experts are confident that a Biden administration will fully embrace the intelligence agencies and work collaboratively to build policies that prioritize strengthening the United States’ position and ability to combat security threats of all kinds. However, while the Trump administration is fairly critiqued for its strategic response to tensions and security concerns related to China, the underlying sentiment and urgency in responding to China’s very real threats will surely persist under the Biden administration. China poses a real threat, not only from a traditional national security perspective, but additionally, China directly undermines our democratic and capitalistic values. In short, China poses a threat to U.S. national and economic security, both of which are intertwined, and neither of which can be ignored.
Where the two administrations differ will be in their response and approach to resolving and combating the threats posed by China. China plays a long-game that is highly calculated and rooted in immense sophistication and strategy. A lack of respect for China’s competence and brilliance, and an appreciation for China’s real threats to U.S. national security, will further weaken U.S. security interests. Therefore, to succeed, the U.S. must adopt an equally long-game strategic outlook and develop a robust toolkit, fully considering both acceptable and unacceptable risks. Achieving a strategic advantage will require the U.S. to embrace its intelligence community and fully utilize its resources to combat the China-related security threats highlighted by the Trump administration.
The Trump administration has articulated several ways in which China has undermined U.S. national and economic security interests, especially through “intellectual property theft, unfair trade practices, and recently, the coronavirus pandemic.” National security experts overwhelmingly hold that China represents one of the greatest national security threats to the U.S. Retired Army Lt. Gen. H.R. McMaster argued that a U.S. national security policy towards China could not squarely quash the threats facing American interests. Rather, the threats faced by the U.S. are faced by many competitive economies throughout the world, requiring a collaborative international response to rein in and hold accountable Chinese businesses and the Chinese government. McMaster noted that “[s]ince the 1990s, China has increased its military spending 800%. It is the largest peacetime military buildup in history.” McMaster further stated that “[t]his is not just a U.S.-China problem, this is a free world-China problem, and if the world’s largest economies work together to counter Chinese economic aggression as well as physical aggression, I think we can go a long way in convincing [Chinese President] Xi Jinping that his aggressive strategy is not working.” If McMaster’s analysis on combating Chinese efforts to undermine U.S. economic and national security interests are accurate, and thwarting Chinese threats are dependent on international collaboration, then the Trump administration’s isolationist policies undermined the U.S. strategic position at best and detrimentally affected U.S. security interests at worst.
The U.S.-China trade war is but one puzzle piece in the ongoing game of cat and mouse between the two countries. The Trump administration deserves credit for strengthening the role of the Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States (CFIUS) in preventing and prohibiting foreign investment in the U.S. that undermines U.S. economic and national security interests. The Trump administration bolstered the CFIUS initiatives by creating statutory authorities expanding its jurisdiction for reviewing foreign investment in the U.S., the impetus being China. Furthermore, the Trump administration acted to protect “licenses for telecommunication providers” and the “U.S. bulk electric power system.” Most recently, aside from the infamous TikTok situation, the Trump administration ordered a directive banning U.S. firms from “Chinese military investment” and other policies aimed at impeding Chinese companies from accessing not only the sensitive personal information of U.S. citizens but also leveraging technology and global communication to undermine the economic and national security of the U.S. However, what the Trump administration failed to realize is the full scope of China’s acts of aggression, all of which undermine U.S. national security interests and include violations of “national sovereignty, human rights abuses, oppression of democracy, and aggressive intelligence collection.” China’s economic threats are but one tactic of many, and therefore the U.S. cannot rely solely on mere economic measures to combat the long-game employed by China.
Unfortunately, while some like Henry Kissinger called for a restoration of the U.S.-China relationship prior to the Biden administration, the realities ultimately prohibited a restoration of sorts from occurring. Gone are the days where American politicians can turn a blind eye to the stark realities and seriousness of China’s threats to U.S. interests. China’s security threats to the U.S. are coming from all directions, including military, cyber, economic, and all playing into its “Belt and Road Initiative.” Each threat requires a proportional response, as well as the creation of policies that pre-emptively quash new threats China may pose in the future. As the U.S. moves away from the Trump administration’s, more or less failed trade war, a new technological war emerges, requiring policies sponsoring competitive “STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics)” as well as policies protecting the infrastructure that supports the development of STEM and technological advances resulting from the U.S.’s most innovative minds.
Hopefully, the Biden administration’s China strategy will champion a full embrace of the scientific, business, legal, and intelligence communities. With an adversary as complex and calculated as China, the delicate conflict requires tact and a strategy that seamlessly melds national and economic interests to thwart both direct and indirect threats posed by China. This conflict is a dance, which requires focus, perspective, and stamina to effectively quash each threat posed by China. The Biden administration does not solely face the current and future threats posed by China; it must also rectify the weakened position of the U.S. as a direct result of the Trump administration’s misplaced trade war, which significantly damaged U.S. economic security and left unresolved the concerns the trade war was meant to resolve.