It’s time to move beyond the question of whether the United States is, or should be, in a cold war with China, for China’s cold war with the United States is well underway.
In fact, China’s multi-pronged “struggle” against America and the Free World has hot war dimensions. In the varied research areas of human rights and international institutions, cyber and information domains, military strategy, and global economics, analysts use words in common to describe China’s behavior. In collectively pointing to China’s coercion, aggression, deception, violations, threats, and attacks, they portray the Chinese Communist Party’s (CCP) domestic, regional, and global policies as definitively hostile.
China today is expansionist, fiercely anti-democratic, and determined to subvert the post-World War II, U.S.-oriented world order. Toward that end, it is deploying every grey-zone tool conceivable while building a massive military arsenal, honing war plans, and mobilizing forces to seize Taiwan. A drive for internal and external predominance that eschews accommodation is manifest everywhere: in omnipresent domestic repression and terrible atrocities against “minorities”; in the exploitation, intimidation and control that accompanies the CCP’s expansive military and economic footprint; in the worldwide exportation of authoritarianism, surveillance, and propaganda; in bellicosity and territorial and maritime encroachments against neighbors; and in the China-Russia-Iran-North Korea axis which aggressively challenges the West and backs other dictators and extremists.
The United States has no choice but to quickly regain a secure lead in hard and soft power. U.S. foreign policy must fire on all cylinders, and that includes, along with allies, containing China’s military, confronting China’s sabotage and espionage, and challenging China’s ideology. In other words, the United States must engage in a cold war that pulls from the previous Cold War the best practices for success.
The United States is more likely to be forced into a horrific war over Taiwan, or to choose temporary peace with China at the expense of Taiwan, if it stays the current course. (If past is prologue, policymakers might vehemently “object” to a Chinese incursion while failing to defend Taiwan.) The U.S. and allied deterrent posture and level of resolve relative to China’s shows the urgent need for bolstering defenses, rebuilding the U.S. defense-industrial base, and mounting a credible threat of overwhelming force. Given Western tendencies toward prevarication, incrementalism, and risk avoidance (all too evident in the response to Russia’s war on Ukraine and the failure to stop Russia’s full-scale invasion in the first place), the Free World must demonstrate the will and the means to preempt a Taiwan invasion, but to fight for Taiwan if truly necessary.