CARAFANO: China Is An Expansionist Threat To The Free World

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James Carafano Director, Heritage Foundation's Allison Center for Foreign Policy Studies
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Editor’s note: We endeavor to bring you the top voices on current events representing a range of perspectives. Below is a column arguing that China is a major geopolitical threat to the U.S. and democratic nations in Asia. You can find a counterpoint here, where Amitai Etzioni, professor of international studies at The George Washington University, argues that China’s foreign policy is not outwardly aggressive and that the country has been largely concerned with domestic affairs since the 1980s.

We live in an unsettled world. And it’s the Chinese Communist Party that’s stirring the pot more vigorously than any other state or non-state actor.

Defenders of the regime can explain the rationale behind the party’s actions, but the world can’t ignore the consequences of China’s conduct. Yes, the CCP seeks to control its own destiny. But its strategy for doing so is to embark on a new age of imperialism — one that extends the party’s complete control of the Chinese people to foreign waters, lands, people and economies.

Beijing’s version of manifest destiny puts it at odds with the free world. Fundamentally, we believe in freely elected governments, human rights and free enterprise. The CCP doesn’t believe in any of those. Indeed, it sees those fundamental freedoms as obstacles to the expansion of its power and influence.

China’s ambition is problematic, because it has the ability and the will to act — ruthlessly — on that ambition. The CCP has one of the world’s largest economies at its command, and it has achieved global reach.

The party practices a concept called civil-military fusion: every element of the state and even private companies ultimately answer to the party and must serve its interests when called upon. Xi Jinping has, in fact, put in place a whole series of laws to systematize and legitimize this power.

In virtually every aspect of global affairs the party is acting aggressively, often destructively. Here is a sampling of what these ambitions have wrought.

Environmental degradation. The CCP has made China one of the world’s top polluters. Much of the plastic in our oceans comes from China. China is poaching world fishing stocks, impinging on other nations’ food supplies and commerce. China dam-building and exploitation of water resources is threatening both the environment and livelihood of millions in the Mekong delta.

A threat to the global commons — sea, space and cyber. In the South China Sea, Beijing has worked assiduously to undermine the principle of freedom of the seas. They are developing capabilities to attack other nation’s rights to freely access space. They are a world leader in malicious cyber activity.

Human rights violations. China stands guilty of ongoing abuses against the Uighur minority—atrocious behavior that many consider tantamount to genocide. And of course there is its war on democracy in Hong Kong, where Beijing is systematically erasing political freedoms that it promised, in written agreement, to tolerate.

Economic exploitation. Beijing’s Belt-and-Road Initiative has saddled developing nations with unsustainable debt, fostered corruption, and exploiting their people, resources and environment. They have also mastered the black art of intellectual property theft—and their number one target is the United States.

Diplomatic malfeasance. Beijing props up some of the world’s worst regimes including Iran, North Korea and Venezuela. They are actively working in international organizations — not to reinforce international norms or solve global problems, but to manipulate these organizations to serve the CCP’s ends.

This is a short list. Stuff that is clearly indisputable. The long list is a lot longer, and it’s not padded with small stuff.  It includes major problems — like how Beijing is assiduously developing military capabilities to police a huge empire. Their ongoing military build-up will one day threaten not just the free nations of the Indo-Pacific (including Australia, Japan and India) and not just the U.S., but the Arctic, Africa and the Greater Middle East as well.

For too long, the free world ignored, sometimes even enabled, the CCP’s destabilizing behavior. That must end.

When China threatens U.S interests, the United States must stand up and safeguard those interests. Many of the policies of the present administration do exactly that. It has gotten China’s attention — and the world’s. Many in the free world are now following the U.S lead and pushing back against Beijing. Others will follow.

What’s needed now is more of the same: a strong, resilient and consistent effort to protect our equities, preserve free enterprise and freedom of the commons, partner with the free world and maintain peace through strength.

That might not cause China to change, but it will keep the U.S and its free-world partners free, safe and prosperous long into the future.

A Heritage Foundation vice president, James Jay Carafano directs the think tank’s research in matters of national security and foreign affairs.