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United States Belatedly Confronts Communist China's Expansionism:

Paper No. 6655            Dated 30-July-2020

By Dr Subhash Kapila

Geopolitical rivalries for mastery of the Indo Pacific Region between Communist China and the United States have spiralled down speedily in last few months with Communist China in reckless expansionist military brinkmanship defiantly pushing United States into a corner with no alternative but to embark on a ‘Major Pushback’ if not ‘Containment’ of China.

US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo on July 23 2020 signalled a major significant ‘Turning Point’ shift in United States ‘China Policy’ formulations, moving away from past ‘China Engagement’ policy priority, the United States now intends to confront Communist China not only in political, economic and military terms but also more notably in “ideological terms’ as it did confront he Former USSR during Cold War I.

The coming decades resultantly therefore will unfold  with four to five decades  of intense United States –China power tussle whose centre of gravity will be the Indo Pacific which as my past writings would indicate stands already heavily polarised against Communist China without much effort of the United States, but by China’s own unforgivable expansionist brinkmanship against its neighbours.

The above time-span could shorten should Communist China “blinks” and bows down to geopolitical pressures or the Chinese people bring about a regime change. China’s strategic vulnerabilities pointed out in my past writings can expectedly now come to the fore.

Before moving further, it would be in order to highlight as to which nation and what circumstances facilitated China’s exponential military rise to emerge as a ‘Predatory Power’ unmindful and defiant of international norms, conventions and scrapping past agreements in its obsessive quest to emerge as the ‘Challenger of American Supremacy in Indo Pacific?

The United States beginning with its 47th President Nixon and his over-mythicized Secretary of State Henry Kissinger need to be squarely blamed as it were they who brought out Communist China from geopolitical cold storage and sanctified China into a ‘Quasi -Strategic Ally’ ( it withered in five years or so)  of United States in a limited vision transactional diplomatic deal to neutralise the Soviet Union.

In its wake successive US Presidents egged on by Cold War gladiators on Capitol Hill and US business giants misreading long-range strategic intentions of China prevailed over successive US Administrations sequentially to persist in adopting ‘China Appeasement’ and ‘Risk Aversion’ policies.

The above course was adopted even when China was apparently undermining US national security interest or when the United States in order to defer to China would sometimes trample on sensitivities of close US Allies like Japan or its evolving Strategic Partners like India.

 It was United States’ munificent FDI largesse and US strategic permissiveness for nearly four decades which fuelled China’s stupendous economic growth and in consequence facilitated China’s exponential and irresponsible military rise into monstrous proportions where in 2020 China feels emboldened to challenge and strategically mock its benefactor of four decades, and that is the United States.

So as the United States in July 2020 girds itself to firmly confront Communist China and stop the ‘China Threat’ to the United States from assuming more damaging proportions  endangering vital US national security interests and checkmating China it in its predatory tracks of military adventurism against Indo Pacific nations stretching from India to Japan and defiling sovereignty of other nations, one cannot help drawing historical parallels with that of Hitler’s similar rampage in Europe in the late 1930s and which led to the Second World War.

Like the European democracies which banded together with the United States to defeat Hitler it is now the turn of Indo Pacific democracies and United States as the ‘Paramount Power’ in Indo Pacific to strategically coalesce and band together to limit China’s expansionist impulses under President Xi Jinping from what apparently is a grand design to impose a hegemonistic ‘Chinese Century’ in Indo Pacific.

The China-US geopolitical rivalry between the United States as the established Superpower and China as a revisionist challenger with “Superpower Pretentions” will be fierce as at the core of it lies China’s strategic lust and claim for ‘Exceptionalism” similar to ‘American Exceptionalism” conceded  by the  global community to the United States.

As amplified in my Book: ‘China-India Military Confrontation: 21st Century Perspectives’ (2015) was that while “US Exceptionalism” is generally acceptable globally, the countries of the Indo Pacific Region will not accept “Chinese Exceptionalism” simply because China unlike the United States as the nett guarantor of global and regional security, Chia has emerged since 2013 more notably as the “Significant Disruptor Of Indo Pacific Security”.

So as the United States gets down to the serious business of belatedly checkmating China in mid-2020, it is obvious that in this fierce geopolitical power tussle, the United States enjoys widespread support in Indo Pacific capitals as opposed to China which is held in esteem only in Pakistan and North Korea?

China-United States geopolitical confrontation portends that this geopolitical confrontation will be long drawn-out and bitter. It will also surely impact the countries of Indo Pacific from North East Asia to the Indian Subcontinent.

Inherent in the China-United States unfolding confrontation are serious dangers that with the large number of explosive flashpoints that abound all across the Indo Pacific, all generated by China’s military adventurism, dangers of all of them being on a short fuse of ignition due to Chinese brinkmanship, dangers of miscalculations by China could lead to an all-out war in the Indo Pacific.

China for the past decade perceptionaly had set itself on a collision trajectory with the United Sates in the Indo Pacific apparently miscalculating the strategic resolve of US President Trump who unlike past US Presidents who pandered mistakenly to Communist China’s strategic delinquencies against the United States and its allies with US permissiveness.

In history of US-China relations, July 23 2020 would be marked as the ‘Turning Point’ where United States under President Trump fatefully decided that United States was left with no option but to belatedly confront Communist  China engaged on a wild expansionist rampage across the Indo Pacific expanse and trampling on vital national security interests of the United States.

China was officially being put on notice for the last two months to stop its predatory military and political coercion of by strong cautionary statements of top Trump Administration leaders but it was not having any salutary impact on China’s excesses against India, in the South China Sea and politically muzzling Hong Kong and Xinjiang

US President Trump had much earlier on in his National Security Strategy Documents had accused and listed China as a Major Threat to United States National Security interests but apparently China missed or ignored joining the dots assuming that like past US Presidents the United States would eventually settle down to traditional China Appeasement stances.

In a major foreign policy speech on July 23 2020, ironically at the Nixon Memorial Library in California, (remember that it was President Nixon who promoted ‘Engagement with China), US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo forcefully asserted in declaratory terms that the era of United States policies of “Engagement” with China was finally over.

Implicit in the above declaration when linked with other significant assertions by US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, my take is, that the United States had now embarked on a “Push-Back” of China casting forthcoming US policy blueprint on China in the original Cold War template with which the United States brought about the disintegration of the Former Soviet Union.

Detailed analyses of this major ‘Turning Point” declaratory speech of the United States on reset of US policies on China has sprouted in the media and one would therefore desist from a repetition or reproduction of US Secretary of States significant assertions. What is more pertinent is to analyse the future directions of US China-policies whose impact in world capitals will be enormous and mores in Indo Pacific Region capitals where the ‘Centre of Gravity’ of United States new geopolitical print would unfold in coming decades.

In my Paper in 2001 on the US-China Hainan Incident Faceoff I had expressly highlighted that China seemed bent on initiating a Second Cold War ----- a Cold War II this time between the United States and China. That forewarning has now surfaced in stark reality and it is that reality that US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has addressed in July 2020.

The United States new policy declarations on China in 2020 voiced by US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has been spelt out in Cold War I ideological terms where China’s Marxist Leninist regime and President Xi Jinping have been accused of as a ‘generational threat to “democracies around the world” and a nation that having defied all international norms cannot be expected to be treated like a normal nation.

While emphasising that it was not United States new policy aim of “regime change” but implicit when read with the statement that it was not just the mission of Chinese people to change the Chinese Communist Party’s behaviour but that ‘Free Nations’ have to work to defend freedom---the aim should be apparent.

Significantly, the major policy pointer of United States assertions as carried in the media was what US Secretary of State summed-up as that the United States had “full faith” that that USA could successfully force a change in Beijing’s behaviour as it had done in case of the Former USSR.

In the overall analysis, what emerges is that the United States post-July2020 stands at the ‘Turning Point”, and a significant one at that for Indo Pacific security and stability, where it has belatedly but finally asserted in declaratory terms that China’s unbridled expansionism will now be confronted by the United States in a comprehensive manner not only politically, economically, and militarily but also in “ideological terms” as in Cold War I against the Former USSR.

Concluding, it can only be emphasised as in my past assessments that the United States would continue to reign supreme as the sole Superpower in the 21st Century also and  that the grandiose dreams of Chinese President Xi Jinping of a “Great China’ and the 21st Century as a “Chinese Century” would not in the absence of any “Natural Allies’ except Pakistan, be able to match the combined power of the United States, US Allies and US Strategic Partners in Indo Pacific and Indo Pacific “Victim States” of China’s military expansionist aggressive propensities.  

Further, that China should not invest too much and hope that the US Presidential Elections November 2020 would bring a new incumbent in the White House and United States new declaratory policies on China will be dispensed with. Irrespective of US political dispensations, it is my assessment that United States ‘Era of China Engagement ‘ with  Communist China regimes is over.

Dr Subhash Kapila is a Graduate of Royal British Army Staff College, Camberley (UK) with a wide experience in Indian Army, Cabinet Secretariat and diplomatic /official assignments in United States, UK, Japan, South Korea and Bhutan. Last book authored was on “China-India Military Confrontation: 21st Century Perspectives”.