Writing Contest Results — Below Threshold Competition: China

Divergent Options ran a Writing Contest from May 1, 2020 to July 31, 2020 and as of this writing all of the entries we received have been published.  On behalf of the Divergent Options Team of Phil Walter, Steve Leonard, and Bob Hein, and also on behalf of our judges Kori Schake of the American Enterprise Institute, Wayne Hugar of the National Intelligence University, and Ali Wyne a nonresident senior fellow with the Atlantic Council, we want to thank all of our writers who entered the contest.  Divergent Options would not be what it is without our writers, and for that we are eternally grateful.  All writings related to this contest can be found by clicking here, and the awards are as follows:

First Place $500:  Michael D. Purzycki – “Options for Altering Global Energy Developments to America’s Advantage and China’s Disadvantage

Second Place $300:  James P. Micciche – “U.S. Below War Threshold Options Against China

Third Place $100:  Eli Kravinsky – “Below Threshold Options for China Against the U.S.

Honorable Mention $50:  Thomas J. Shattuck – “Options for Taiwan to Better Compete with China

Honorable Mention $50:  Drake Long – “U.S. Options for Countering the Belt and Road Initiative in Africa

Honorable Mention $50:  William Freer – “Assessing How Countries Can Compete with Chinese Hybrid Tactics Below the Threshold of Armed Conflict

2020 - Contest: PRC Below Threshold Writing Contest Below Established Threshold Activities (BETA) China (People's Republic of China)

Assessment of Opportunities to Engage with the Chinese Film Market

Editor’s Note:  This article is part of our Below Threshold Competition: China writing contest which took place from May 1, 2020 to July 31, 2020.  More information about the contest can be found by clicking here.


Irk is a freelance writer. Divergent Options’ content does not contain information of an official nature nor does the content represent the official position of any government, any organization, or any group.


Title:  Assessment of Opportunities to Engage with the Chinese Film Market

Date Originally Written:  July 29, 2020.

Date Originally Published:  November 11, 2020.

Author and / or Article Point of View:  The author believes that the film industry remains a relatively underexploited channel that can be used to shape the soft power dynamic in the U.S.-China relationship.

Summary:  While China’s film industry has grown in recent years, the market for Chinese films remains primarily domestic. Access to China’s film market remains heavily restricted, allowing the Chinese Communist Party to craft a film industry that can reinforce its values at home and abroad. However, there are opportunities for the United States to liberalize the Chinese film market which could contribute to long-term social and political change.

Text:  The highest-grossing Chinese film is 2017’s Wolf Warrior 2, netting nearly $900 million globally. For the Chinese Communist Party (CCP), the only problem is that a mere 2% of this gross came from outside the country. For the CCP, this is a troubling pattern replicated across many of China’s most financially successful films[1]. Last year, PricewaterhouseCoopers predicted that the Chinese film market would surpass the United States’ (U.S.) in 2020, growing to a total value of $15.5 billion by 2023[2]. Despite tremendous growth by every metric – new cinema screens, films released, ticket revenue – the Chinese film industry has failed to market itself to the outside world[3].

This failure is not for lack of trying: film is a key aspect of China’s project to accumulate soft power in Africa[4], and may leave a significant footprint on the emergent film markets in many countries. The Chinese film offensive abroad has been paired with heavy-handed protectionism at home, fulfilling a desire to develop the domestic film industry and guard against the influence introduced by foreign films. In 1994 China instituted an annual quota on foreign films which has slowly crept upwards, sometimes being broken to meet growing demand[5]. But even so, the number of foreign films entering the Chinese market each year floats between only 30-40. From the perspective of the CCP, there may be good reasons to be so conservative. In the U.S., research has indicated that some films may nudge audiences in ideological directions[6] or change their opinion of the government[7]. As might be expected, Chinese censorship targets concepts like “sex, violence, and rebellious individualism”[8]. While it remains difficult to draw any definite conclusions from this research, the threat is sufficient for the CCP to carefully monitor what sorts of messaging (and how much) it makes widely available for consumption. In India, economic liberalization was reflected in the values expressed by the most popular domestic films[9] – if messaging in film can be reflected in political attitudes, and political attitudes can be reflected in messaging in film, there is the possibility of a slow but consistent feedback loop creating serious social change. That is, unless the government clamps down on this relationship.

China’s “national film strategy” has gone largely un-countered by the U.S., in spite of its potential relevance to political change within the country. In 2018, Hollywood’s attempt to push quota liberalization was largely sidelined[10] and earlier this year the Independent Film & Television Alliance stated that little progress had been made since the start of the China-U.S. trade war[11]. Despite all this, 2018 revealed that quota liberalization was something China was willing to negotiate. This is an opportunity which could be exploited in order to begin seriously engaging with China’s approach to film.

In a reappraisal of common criticisms levied against Chinese engagement in the late 1990s and early 2000s, Alastair Iain Johnston of Harvard University notes that Chinese citizens with more connections to the outside world (facilitated by opening and reform) have developed “more liberal worldviews and are less nationalistic on average than older or less internationalized members of Chinese societies”[12]. The primary market for foreign films in China is this group of “internationalized” urban citizens, both those with higher disposable income in Guangdong, Zhejiang, Shanghai, Jiangsu, Beijing, and Tianjin[13] and those in non-coastal “Anchor Cities” which are integrated into transport networks and often boast international airports[14]. These demographics are both likely to be more amenable to the messaging in foreign films and capable of consuming them in large amounts.

During future trade negotiations, the U.S. could be willing to aggressively pursue the offered concession regarding film quotas, raising the cap as high as possible. In exchange, the United States Trade Representative could offer to revoke tariffs imposed since the trade war. As an example, the “phase one” trade deal was able to secure commitments from China solely by promising not to impose further tariffs and cutting a previous tariffs package by 50%[15]. The commitments asked of China in this agreement are far more financially intensive than film market liberalization, but it is difficult to put a price tag on the ideological component of film. Even so, the party has demonstrated willingness to put the quota on the table, and this is an offer that could be explored as part of a strategy to affect change within China.

In addition to focusing on quota liberalization in trade negotiations, state and city governments in the U.S. could engage in local diplomacy to establish cultural exchange through film. In 2017, China initiated a China-Africa film festival[16], and a similar model could be pursued by local government in the U.S. The low appeal of Chinese films outside of China (compared to the high appeal of American films within China) means that the exchange would likely be a “net gain” for the U.S. in terms of cultural impression. Chinese localities with citizens more open to foreign film would have another avenue of engagement, while Chinese producers who wanted to take advantage of the opportunity to present in exclusive U.S. markets may have to adjust the overtones in their films, possibly shedding some nationalist messaging. Federal or local government could provide incentives for theaters to show films banned in China for failing to meet these messaging standards. Films like A Touch of Sin that have enjoyed critical acclaim within the U.S. could reach a wider audience and create an alternate current of Chinese film in opposition to CCP preference.

Disrupting the development of China’s film industry may provide an opportunity to initiate a process of long-term attitudinal change in a wealthy and open segment of the Chinese population. At the same time, increasing the market share of foreign films and creating countervailing notions of “the Chinese film” could make China’s soft power accumulation more difficult. Hollywood is intent on marketing to China; instead of forcing them to collaborate with Chinese censors, it may serve American strategic objectives to allow competition to consume the Chinese market. If Chinese film producers adapt in response, they will have to shed certain limitations. Either way, slow-moving change will have taken root.


Endnotes:

[1] Magnan-Park, A. (2019, May 29). The global failure of cinematic soft power ‘with Chinese characteristics’. Retrieved July 29, 2020, from https://theasiadialogue.com/2019/05/27/the-global-failure-of-cinematic-soft-power-with-chinese-characteristics

[2] PricewaterhouseCoopers. (2019, June 17). Strong revenue growth continues in China’s cinema market. Retrieved July 29, 2020, from https://www.pwccn.com/en/press-room/press-releases/pr-170619.html

[3] Do Chinese films hold global appeal? (2020, March 13). Retrieved July 29, 2020 from
https://chinapower.csis.org/chinese-films

[4] Wu, Y. (2020, June 24). How media and film can help China grow its soft power in Africa. Retrieved July 30, 2020, from https://theconversation.com/how-media-and-film-can-help-china-grow-its-soft-power-in-africa-97401

[5] Do Chinese films hold global appeal? (2020, March 13). Retrieved July 29, 2020 from
https://chinapower.csis.org/chinese-films

[6] Glas, J. M., & Taylor, J. B. (2017). The Silver Screen and Authoritarianism: How Popular Films Activate Latent Personality Dispositions and Affect American Political Attitudes. American Politics Research, 46(2), 246-275. doi:10.1177/1532673×17744172

[7] Pautz, M. C. (2014). Argo and Zero Dark Thirty: Film, Government, and Audiences. PS: Political Science & Politics, 48(01), 120-128. doi:10.1017/s1049096514001656

[8] Do Chinese films hold global appeal? (2020, March 13). Retrieved July 29, 2020 from
https://chinapower.csis.org/chinese-films

[9] Adhia, N. (2013). The role of ideological change in India’s economic liberalization. The Journal of Socio-Economics, 44, 103-111. doi:10.1016/j.socec.2013.02.015

[10] Li, P., & Martina, M. (2018, May 20). Hollywood’s China dreams get tangled in trade talks. Retrieved July 29, 2020, from https://www.reuters.com/article/us-usa-trade-china-movies/hollywoods-china-dreams-get-tangled-in-trade-talks-idUSKCN1IK0W0

[11] Frater, P. (2020, February 15). IFTA Says U.S. Should Punish China for Cheating on Film Trade Deal. Retrieved July 30, 2020, from https://variety.com/2020/film/asia/ifta-china-film-trade-deal-1203505171

[12] Johnston, A. I. (2019). The Failures of the ‘Failure of Engagement’ with China. The Washington Quarterly, 42(2), 99-114. doi:10.1080/0163660x.2019.1626688

[13] Figure 2.4 Urban per capita disposable income, by province, 2017. (n.d.). Retrieved July 30, 2020, from https://www.unicef.cn/en/figure-24-urban-capita-disposable-income-province-2017

[14] Liu, S., & Parilla, J. (2019, August 08). Meet the five urban Chinas. Retrieved July 30, 2020, from https://www.brookings.edu/blog/the-avenue/2018/06/19/meet-the-five-urban-chinas

[15] Lawder, D., Shalal, A., & Mason, J. (2019, December 14). What’s in the U.S.-China ‘phase one’ trade deal. Retrieved July 30, 2020, from https://www.reuters.com/article/us-usa-trade-china-details-factbox/whats-in-the-u-s-china-phase-one-trade-deal-idUSKBN1YH2IL

[16] Fei, X. (2017, June 19). China Africa International Film Festival to open in October. Retrieved July 30, 2020, from http://chinaplus.cri.cn/news/showbiz/14/20170619/6644.html

2020 - Contest: PRC Below Threshold Writing Contest Assessment Papers Film and Entertainment Influence Operations Irk

U.S. Options for Countering the Belt and Road Initiative in Africa

Editor’s Note:  This article is part of our Below Threshold Competition: China writing contest which took place from May 1, 2020 to July 31, 2020.  More information about the contest can be found by clicking here.


Drake Long is an analyst with RadioFreeAsia, covering the South China Sea and other maritime issues. He is also a 2020 Asia-Pacific Fellow for Young Professionals in Foreign Policy (YPFP). He can be found on Twitter @DRM_Long and has previously written for RadioFreeAsia, The Diplomat, 9DASHLINE, and the Center for International Maritime Security. Divergent Options’ content does not contain information of an official nature nor does the content represent the official position of any government, any organization, or any group.


National Security Situation:  The United States is competing with the People’s Republic of China and its landmark Belt and Road Initiative.

Date Originally Written:  July 30, 2020.

Date Originally Published:  November 4, 2020.

Author and / or Article Point of View:  The author believes ‘great power competition’ as prescribed by the National Defense Strategy is in reality a competition for the favor of unaligned countries, most especially the economically dynamic middle powers and rising powers in Africa.

Background:  Thirty-nine African countries have signed onto China’s Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), an infrastructure and investment project that is synonymous with Chinese foreign policy[1]. More African college students attend Chinese universities over that of the U.K. and U.S., largely through programs like the China-Africa Action Plan that recruits 100,000 African civil servants and military officers annually[2]. However, African countries have also grown wary of Chinese investment, renegotiating their debt with China as a bloc this year[3].

Significance:  BRI projects are one method of co-opting African political elites, as the ‘corrosive capital’ of Chinese investment often exacerbates existing inequality and graft issues in developing countries[4]. Certain Chinese State Owned Enterprises (SOE) hold virtual monopolies on certain materials like cobalt, found only in a select few places on the African continent, to secure materials necessary for an advanced economy[5]. On top of this, China’s co-opting of local media means negative coverage of China is suppressed.

Option #1:  The U.S. facilitates local journalism in African countries at the center of China’s Belt and Road Initiative through specialized grants to local news outlets and public-private partnerships to create tertiary journalism schools.

Chinese BRI projects are often signed on opaque or parasitic terms. Exposure in the public press creates upward pressure on African elites to cancel these projects or renegotiate them, hurting Chinese soft power, influence, and economic dominance over certain sectors of the African economy[6].

A free press is ultimately good for elite accountability, and elite accountability spells doom for Chinese influence efforts. In some cases, exposing kleptocracy can lead to a change in government, removing officials previously eager to sign BRI deals for potential kickbacks[7].

If the U.S. were to use existing tools to better support local journalism in small-but-pivotal African states along the BRI, this would facilitate opposition to Chinese influence. Targeted grants to local and sub-regional news outlets is one method of achieving this, but the training of journalists in African countries is pivotal, too. As such, existing agencies could partner with experienced U.S. news organizations to create schools and training initiatives that would seed a new generation of journalists in African countries.

Risk:  Some negative coverage of U.S. investments and multinational companies operating in Africa may also occur.

Gain:  This option will create a stronger network of accountability for African elites susceptible to Chinese corrosive capital, and expose China’s BRI projects without the stigma of being the U.S. government and thus not impartial.

Option #2:  The U.S. strengthens labor unions and they more forcefully advocate labor rights in African countries.

Organized labor has played a critical role in exposing worker abuse and poor conditions at the sites of Chinese BRI investment before, most notably in Kenya, where a railway strike in 2018 brought Chinese railway projects to a halt[8].

Many of China’s business and infrastructure projects in certain African countries are facilitated by bribes to local officials. Labor movements bypass this ‘elite capture’ by exposing ties between Chinese and African oligarchs, and pressuring those same elites to cancel BRI projects or negotiate terms that are more favorable to African workers.

At the same time, organized labor in Africa faces steep challenges: labor migration is largely unregulated[9] and labor unions have long been marginalized from developing economies, holding little actual political power in the modern day[10].

If the U.S. were to give labor and trade unions targeted support similar to other civil society initiatives, it would create domestic pressures on Chinese investors in African countries. Expanding the U.S. Department of Labor’s International Labor Affairs Bureau would provide accurate data on labor movements and labor rights, and placing a Labor section on the National Security Council Staff would assist policy coordination.

Risk:  This option would potentially anger non-Chinese multinational corporations with a presence in those countries as well.

Gain:  African labor movements could shut down BRI projects entirely or put pressure on national governments to renegotiate terms with Chinese SOEs.

Other Comments:  None.

Recommendation:  None.


Endnotes:

[1] Risberg, P. (2019). The Give-and-Take of BRI in Africa. Retrieved July 31, 2020, from https://www.csis.org/give-and-take-bri-africa

[2] Acker, Kevin, Deborah Brautigam, and Yufan Huang. (2020). Debt Relief with Chinese Characteristics. Working Paper No. 2020/39. China Africa Research Initiative, School of Advanced International Studies, Johns Hopkins University, Washington, DC. Retrieved from http://www.sais-cari.org/publications

[3] Natalunya, Paul. (2020). China Promotes Its Party-Army Model in Africa. Retrieved July 31, 2020, from https://africacenter.org/spotlight/china-promotes-its-party-army-model-in-africa

[4] John Morrell et al. (2018). Channeling the Tide: Protecting Democracies from a Flood of Corrosive Capital. Retrieved from https://www.cipe.org/resources/channeling-the-tide-protecting-democracies-amid-a-flood-of-corrosive-capital

[5] Jack Farchy and Hayley Warren. (2018) China has a secret weapon in the race to dominate electric cars. Bloomberg News. Retrieved from https://www.bloomberg.com/graphics/2018-china-cobalt

[6] Shikongo, Arlana. (2019). ‘Chinese invasion’ claims hit cement factory. The Namibian. Retrieved from https://www.namibian.com.na/191934/archive-read/Chinese-invasion-claims-hit-cement-factory

[7] Hursh, John. (2019). A Bump in the Belt and Road: Tanzania pushes back against Chinese port project. Center for International Maritime Security. Retrieved from http://cimsec.org/a-bump-in-the-belt-and-road-tanzania-pushes-back-against-chinese-port-project/42449

[8] Kenyan workers’ strike halts Chinese railway project. (2018). GlobalConstructionReview. Retrieved from https://www.globalconstructionreview.com/news/kenyan-workers-strike-halts-chinese-railway-projec

[9] An assessment of labour migration and mobility governance in the IGAD region. (2020). International Labor Organization. Retrieved from https://www.ilo.org/wcmsp5/groups/public/—africa/—ro-abidjan/—sro-addis_ababa/documents/publication/wcms_740549.pdf

[10] Pitcher, M. (2007). What Has Happened to Organized Labor in Southern Africa? International Labor and Working-Class History, (72), 134-160. Retrieved August 1, 2020, from www.jstor.org/stable/27673096

2020 - Contest: PRC Below Threshold Writing Contest Africa China (People's Republic of China) Competition Drake Long Journalism / The Press Option Papers United States

An Assessment of the American National Interest in Sino-American Competition

Editor’s Note:  This article is part of our Below Threshold Competition: China writing contest which took place from May 1, 2020 to July 31, 2020.  More information about the contest can be found by clicking here.


Brandon Patterson is a graduate student at the School of Global Policy and Strategy at the University of California, San Diego, whose area of focus is China.  Divergent Options’ content does not contain information of an official nature nor does the content represent the official position of any government, any organization, or any group.


Title:  An Assessment of the American National Interest in Sino-American Competition

Date Originally Written:  July 21, 2020.

Date Originally Published:  November 2, 2020.

Author and / or Article Point of View:  The author believes the United States, in order to maintain a sense of proportion in dealing with China, must find criteria over which in must resist Beijing.  Additionally, wherever the U.S. makes practical accommodations, in order to transcend Cold War-like conditions, and to create a basic American approach to relations with China that can be passed from one administration to the next with a high degree of continuity, it should do so.

Summary:  As tensions rise between the United States and China, Washington requires a concept of the national interest to serve as a guide in navigating this new dynamic. Wearing ideological blinders nearly tore the American psyche apart at key moments during the Cold War. As competition with China develops, America can prevent itself from falling into the Cold War era Manichaeism that shook domestic consensus on the nature of its task.

Text:  In light of deteriorating relations between the United States and the People’s Republic of China, emphasis on so-called great power competition enters the American lexicon[1]. Competition implies a victor; yet great power relations are a process with no terminal point. Complicating matters is the fact that the relationship between Washington and Beijing has acquired ideological contours, which serve as a blight on the minds of American policymakers who tend to lose a sense of proportion when facing ideological opponents[2]. Under these conditions, competition becomes an end in itself as foreign policy becomes a struggle between good and evil rather than the threading together of various issues into a relationship neither entirely friendly nor wholly adversarial. A clear set of objectives on the American side of this competition, and how they are enmeshed in a grand strategy aimed at a concept of world order is necessary. In other words, before Washington acts, American policy makers ask themselves:

  • What is this supposed competition about and how should one define success?
  • What threat does China pose to international order?
  • What changes must the United States resist by forceful means?

Though unexceptional, these questions are uniquely crucial for a country lacking a geopolitical tradition. The United States can look beyond the aspects of China’s domestic structure which the U.S. rejects in order to retain a clear conception of how the United States may accommodate China without turning the world over to it. This is the space America is obliged to navigate. The national interest, still so vaguely defined in American strategic thought, will fail unless clearly articulated in order to provide criteria by which America’s relationship with China can be assessed and altered. The emphasis on “competition below the threshold of armed conflict” requires examination. To abjure from the use of force — or to define precisely where one is unwilling to go to war — is to define a limit to the national interest.

The United States is the ultimate guarantor of the global balance of power. In order for there to be stability in the world, equilibrium must prevail. This equilibrium is America’s most vital interest, its primary responsibility to international order, and is thus the limiting condition of its foreign policy. The United States cannot permit any power, or any grouping of powers, to attain hegemony over Eurasia, or any of its constituent sub-regions[3]. The People’s Republic of China, whatever its intentions, by the nature of its power, poses the greatest threat to global equilibrium. Tensions are therefore inherent.

It is equally true, however, that the United States and China are likely to be the twin pillars of world order, and that the peace and progress of mankind will likely depend on their conceiving order as a shared enterprise rather than a Cold War in which one perception emerges dominant. Of course, Beijing retains a vote, and if a Cold War becomes unavoidable, Washington requires a clear conception of its necessities to prevent the wild oscillations between overcommitment and over-withdrawal to which it is prone.

American foreign policy can reflect this Janus-like dynamic. This is when the national interest becomes imperative. The United States and China can convey to one another what interests they consider vital, the violation of which will result in conflict. For America, such a threat is more difficult to determine now than during even the Cold War. The Belt and Road initiative is the most awe inspiring example. This initiative represents a Chinese attempt to restructure Eurasia such that China reemerges as the Middle Kingdom[4]. America for its part cannot permit any single country to achieve hegemony over Eurasia; yet Belt and Road is not a military enterprise, and so the threat it poses remains ambiguous, and the best means of countering it is far from self-evident. It thus becomes imperative that American administrations establish what they consider to be a threat to equilibrium and find means of conveying this to the Chinese.

Keeping this competition below the threshold of armed conflict rests upon the ability of Washington to drive home to Beijing precisely what is likely to lead to war while such threats remain ambiguous, and thus manageable. This also implies an early response to Chinese probing actions — such as in the South China Sea — lest they acquire a false sense of security, prompting more reckless actions down the road.

Calculations of power become more complex for the United States than for China however, as America is steeped in a tradition of idealism for which no corresponding impulse can be found in China. The United States is an historic champion of human rights, spending blood and treasure in its defense on multiple occasions since the end of the Second World War. In order to be true to itself, the United States stands for its basic values — it too is a duty to the world. This finds expression in America’s support for the cause of Hong Kong’s protests[5], for the victims of China’s excesses in Xinjiang[6], and for political prisoners[7].

The question is not whether America should stand for these values, but rather the extent to which it does so, and at what cost. The United States cannot directly influence the internal evolution of an historic culture like China’s, and that attempting to do so will manufacturer tensions over issues with no resolution, which in turn renders practical issues within the realm of foreign policy less soluble, combining the worst of every course of action.

A wise course for American policy makers then, is to use the national interest as a compass in navigating what will be a journey without a clear historical precedent. Equilibrium is the obvious limiting condition and starting point for such an effort. Moral purpose guides pragmatic actions just as pragmatism makes idealism sustainable. Such an approach is not an abrogation of American values, rather it is the best means of vindicating them over a prolonged period. For, in Sino-American relations, there will be no ultimate victory nor final reconciliation.


Endnotes:

[1] Jones, B. (February 2020). China and the Return of Great Power Strategic Competition. Retrieved July 1, 2020, from https://www.brookings.edu/wp-content/uploads/2020/02/FP_202002_china_power_competition_jones.pdf

[2] Debate Over Detente. (1973, November 17). Retrieved July 1, 2020, from https://www.nytimes.com/1973/11/17/archives/debate-over-detente.html

[3] Spykman, N. J. (2007). America’s Strategy in World Politics: The United States and the Balance of Power (1st ed., pp. 194-199). Routledge.

[4] Kaplan, R.D. (March 6, 2018). The Return of Marco Polo’s World: War, Strategy, and American Interests in the Twenty-First Century. (pp.). New York: Random House.

[5] Edmundson, C. (2020, July 2). Senate Sends Trump a Bill to Punish Chinese Officials Over Hong Kong. Retrieved July 3, from https://www.nytimes.com/2020/07/02/us/politics/senate-china-hong-kong-sanctions.html

[6] Pranshu, V. & Wong, E. (2020, July 9). U.S. Imposes Sanctions on Chinese Officials Over Mass Detention of Muslims. Retrieved July 10, from https://www.nytimes.com/2020/07/09/world/asia/trump-china-sanctions-uighurs.html?searchResultPosition=1

[7] Puddington, A. (2018, July 26). China: The Global Leader in Political Prisoners. Retrieved July 10, from https://freedomhouse.org/article/china-global-leader-political-prisoners

2020 - Contest: PRC Below Threshold Writing Contest Assessment Papers Brandon Patterson China (People's Republic of China) Competition Policy and Strategy United States

Options to Decrease Trade Tensions Between the U.S. and China

Editor’s Note:  This article is part of our Below Threshold Competition: China writing contest which took place from May 1, 2020 to July 31, 2020.  More information about the contest can be found by clicking here.


Rukhsar Azamee is a graduate student at the school of professional studies, New York University. She can be found on Twitter @RukhsarAzamee. Divergent Options’ content does not contain information of an official nature nor does the content represent the official position of any government, any organization, or any group.


National Security Situation:  The U.S. requires options to decrease trade tensions with China.

Date Originally Written:  July 2, 2020.

Date Originally Published:  October 28, 2020.

Author and / or Article Point of View:  This article is written from the U.S-China relations point of view. It elaborates on how the U.S. and China can decrease the trade tensions and how they can continue their collaboration in the future.

Background:  China’s economic growth in the last decades has started a new chapter in the international arena. After 9/11, America started the fight against terrorism in Afghanistan and Iraq[1] while China kept strengthening its economy. China became the world’s second-largest economy in 2010[2]. Currently, China is considered the world’s largest economy by the purchasing power parity (PPP). China’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP) by PPP is approximately $24.5 trillion, while America’s GDP by PPP is $20.5 trillion[3]. The 2017 U.S. National Security Strategy declared China as a competitor, and as a threat to the United States[4].

Recognizing China officially as a competitor is a policy shift for the U.S., the United States followed the “engagement” policy towards China’s rise under two assumptions in the past.  The first U.S. assumption was that a strong China would serve the interests of America, and the second assumption was that a prosperous China would share American values by fostering regime change. The United States had not considered China a threat to its future[5].

China started modernizing its military by investing in missile and other military technology. From 2005 to 2014, China increased its military spending by 9.5% per year. China invested heavily in cyber operations. The argument is that China has strengthened its military to deter America’s intervention in its neighbors and to resolve Taiwan’s status[6]. China’s president Xi Jinping, unlike his predecessors, seeks to establish China as a Great Power again[7]. The competition is between the U.S. and China, and both countries are trying to prevail.

After the 2016 election in America, professor Yang Qijing of Renmin University stated in his report, “Trump Wins, Immense Challenges for China” implying that President Trump would focus on U.S. domestic economic growth. Yang said that Trump administration would seek a protectionist approach towards China and the U.S. started a trade war with China in 2018 by imposing tariffs on the import of Chinese goods in the U.S.[8] The trade war has hurt U.S-China relations, but it has also damaged the global economy[9]. The International Monetary Fund’s officials encouraged both countries to decrease the trade tensions in its 2019 reports[10].

Furthermore, China’s top talent in artificial intelligence (A.I.) end up working in America. Fifty-four percent of Chinese A.I. students come to the U.S. for their A.I education and research and then stay to work at U.S. firms[11]. Cyberattacks, and A.I theft remain a challenge in U.S.-China relations. A report by the U.S. National Security Agency noted 600 instances of Chinese hackers stealing confidential information from U.S. companies from 2009 to 2013 and a cybersecurity firm named Mandiant presented documents of 115 attacks against the U.S. by the Chinese People’s Liberation Army (PLA) in 2013[12]. The Trump administration decided to cancel the visa of those students/researchers with ties with China’s military in 2020[13].

China is trying to form a new tributary system through the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) project. Sri-Lanka, as an example, can demonstrate China’s expansionist ambition. In 2017, Sri-Lanka was unable to pay the loan taken from China under the BRI project. Sri-Lanka defaulted and signed a 99-years lease of its port to Chinese state-owned enterprises[14]. On the other hand, the Quadrilateral Security Dialogue among the U.S., Japan, India, and Australia was re-launched in 2017 to counterbalance China’s assertive policies in the indo-pacific region[15].

Significance:  The U.S. and China are the world’s two largest economies. The management of U.S competition with China will affect other countries’ policies towards China.

Option #1:  The U.S. embraces China as a Great Power, promote strategic economic engagement with China, and create frameworks that would regulate A.I and cyberspace for both countries.

Risk:  There are two risks. The first is that Japan, India, and Australia would work hard to stop China from becoming a Great Power[16]. The second is that China might seek global dominance after achieving regional power based on “Chinese dreams” or “great rejuvenation of the Chinese nation” strategy discussed by the Chinese president[17].

Gain:  The U.S.-China competition is different and it sets itself apart in two ways. First, China has not shown desires for global dominance, and while they have been expanding their presence in the neighboring islands in the Pacific, China has not shown an appetite for the use of military force to enhance its influence[18] (in contrast to Russia’s approach to the Balkans for example, or even the supply of weapons to Syria). Second, China is seeking regional dominance through debt diplomacy. Therefore, this option allows China to achieve its goal, and it de-escalates the tension among both countries by being strategically engaged.

Option #2:  The U.S. creates a veto power alliance against China within the Security Council of the United Nations. The veto power could block China’s foreign policies that do not meet international standards.

Risk:  There is a high likelihood that Russia would not join this alliance. Russia is more likely to side with China against the U.S. than join a three-way pact[19].

Gain:  Advanced nations with powerful economies blocking China would isolate it, putting pressure on China to change its foreign policies. Eventually, this option would ensure a peaceful international order by regulating China’s assertive actions, and it set a precedence for any rising powers to be mindful and comply with the international community in the future.

Other Comments:  None.

Recommendation:  None.


Endnotes:

[1] Four Scenarios for U.S.-China Relations and What They Mean for Japan
https://www.tokyoreview.net/2019/05/four-scenarios-us-china-relations

[2] China overtakes Japan as world’s second-largest economy
https://www.theguardian.com/business/2010/aug/16/china-overtakes-japan-second-largest-economy

[3] The world Bank – Open Data- “GDP, PPP (current international $) – China, United States”
https://data.worldbank.org/indicator/NY.GDP.MKTP.PP.CD?locations=CN-US

[4] 2017 U.S. National Security Strategy
https://www.whitehouse.gov/wp-content/uploads/2017/12/NSS-Final-12-18-2017-0905-2.pdf 

[5] What Went Wrong? U.S.-China Relations from Tiananmen to Trump- by James B. Steinberg
https://tnsr.org/2020/01/what-went-wrong-u-s-china-relations-from-tiananmen-to-trump

[6] The Chinese Military: Overview and Issues for Congress- Ian E. Rinehart -Analyst in Asian Affairs March 24, 2016
https://fas.org/sgp/crs/row/R44196.pdf

[7] Saving America’s Alliances- By Mira Rapp-Hooper, March/April 2020
https://www.foreignaffairs.com/articles/united-states/2020-02-10/saving-americas-alliances

[8] Towards Economic Decoupling? Mapping Chinese Discourse on the China–U.S. Trade War- by Li Wei
https://academic.oup.com/cjip/article/12/4/519/5650490

[9] US-China trade Dangerous miscalculations
https://www.economist.com/leaders/2019/08/08/dangerous-miscalculations

[10] IMF’s country reports/Article IV consultation 2019, Executive Board Assessment (China and U.S.)
https://www.imf.org/en/countries

[11] A U.S. Secret Weapon in A.I.: Chinese Talent
https://www.nytimes.com/2020/06/09/technology/china-ai-research-education.html

[12] International Law Norms, Actors, Process (Aspen Casebook Series) 5th – Jeffrey Dunoff (State Responsibility: Attributing Malicious Cyber Conduct)

[13] A U.S. Secret Weapon in A.I.: Chinese Talent
https://www.nytimes.com/2020/06/09/technology/china-ai-research-education.html

[14]H.R. McMaster, “How China Views the World,”
https://www.realclearpolitics.com/2020/04/19/how_china_sees_the_world–and_how_we_should_see_china_508340.html

[15] The US-Japan-India-Australia Quadrilateral Security Dialogue: Indo-Pacific alignment or foam in the ocean?
https://www.fiia.fi/en/publication/the-us-japan-india-australia-quadrilateral-security-dialogue

[16] The US-Japan-India-Australia Quadrilateral Security Dialogue: Indo-Pacific alignment or foam in the ocean?
https://www.fiia.fi/en/publication/the-us-japan-india-australia-quadrilateral-security-dialogue

[17] H.R. McMaster, “How China Views the World,”
https://www.realclearpolitics.com/2020/04/19/how_china_sees_the_world–and_how_we_should_see_china_508340.html

[18] Saving America’s Alliances- By Mira Rapp-Hooper, March/April 2020
https://www.foreignaffairs.com/articles/united-states/2020-02-10/saving-americas-alliances

[19] CHINA AND THE RETURN OF GREAT POWER STRATEGIC COMPETITION- by BRUCE JONES- P8
https://www.brookings.edu/wp-content/uploads/2020/02/FP_202002_china_power_competition_jones.pdf

2020 - Contest: PRC Below Threshold Writing Contest China (People's Republic of China) Option Papers Rukhsar Azamee Trade United States

U.S. Options for Subversion within China

Editor’s Note:  This article is part of our Below Threshold Competition: China writing contest which took place from May 1, 2020 to July 31, 2020.  More information about the contest can be found by clicking here.


Chris Wozniak is an independent analyst. He holds a BA in Political Economy from the University of Washington. Divergent Options’ content does not contain information of an official nature nor does the content represent the official position of any government, any organization, or any group.


National Security Situation:  China is seeking to reclaim their historical role in Asia. Under current international norms this is seen as revisionist by the United States which holds the post World War 2 system as the status quo.

Date Originally Written:  July 31, 2020.

Date Originally Published:  October 21, 2020.

Author and / or Article Point of View:  This article is written from the point of view of the United States seeking options that erode Chinese influence abroad and interfere with China’s ability to reassert historical tools of influence.

Background:  The steady rise of China’s relative power on the international stage has placed it in competition with the United States and the international system of which the U.S. is the steward and chief stakeholder. While the international system is currently Westphalian in flavor, a resurgent China sees the world in starkly different terms. Traditional Chinese political philosophy took the view that their place in the world was as the center of a system based on influence and coercion. Today, China seeks to restore this system through the Belt and Road Initiative which extracts resources, establishes leasing agreements, and enhances influence abroad with the intent to secure resources and control commercial flows.

Significance:  Expansion of Chinese influence abroad presents a challenge to the interests and values of the United States. U.S. politics and business interests have often compromised diplomatic initiatives while military options remain prohibitively costly. A third path may be found in covert actions designed to subvert the information control that the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) leadership enjoys domestically and deprive them of access to technologies that support force projection.

Option #1:  The U.S. undermines Chinese ambitions abroad by creating diversionary doubt at home. This diversionary doubt would create an environment for political dissent by targeting CCP social control mechanisms.

A U.S. cyber campaign designed to delete or corrupt data in the Social Credit System administered by the People’s Bank of China is launched to reduce the level of scrutiny the population is under. Simultaneously, the U.S. promotes awareness or access to tools that circumvent information controls to break the information monopoly of the CCP.

Risk:  Chinese citizens have an extreme aversion to foreign interference rooted in China’s historical experience with Western powers. Coupled with the intense focus the CCP has on maintaining political orthodoxy, any discovery of meddling with Chinese domestic sphere would elicit severe consequences in diplomatic relations, trade, and military postures in the region. The sophistication that a cyber operation would require to disrupt, let alone cripple the PRC Social Credit program – and undermine its credibility in the same manner as the anti-Maduro TeamHDP attack on Venezuela’s much less robust social credit system did – would implicate the United States[1]. Moreover, tools such as virtual private networks for circumventing China’s Great FireWall (GFW) as an information barrier is publicly known information that most technically unsophisticated individuals can use.

Gain:  The obsession of the CCP on assuring the pervasiveness of the party in Chinese life would mean that even an unsuccessful Option #1 would likely result in extensive efforts to preserve the status quo information environment. Any subsequent diversion of resources into domestic programs fraught with difficulties would put other ambitions abroad on hold until a level of control was re-established. Any discovery of responsibility for the cyberattacks could be explained away as analogous to the Chinese theft of Office of Personnel Management data in 2015 to mitigate blowback.

Covert action aiming to lower barriers to foreign information would further roll back controls over China’s population. Undermining the GFW by promoting circumvention as a gateway to electronic gaming, sports broadcasts, and other media in demand but blocked in China is one promising area of focus. An estimated 768 million gamers are projected for China by 2022[2]. Enabling access by a growing population that trends young presents an opportunity to influence a substantial slice of the population with narratives that run counter to those government censors allow.

Option #2:  The U.S. subverts Chinese progress towards the military-industrial base that is needed for power projection.

A prerequisite to Chinese ambition abroad is establishing the military-industrial base to sustain economic growth and project power. The rapid development of China’s industry has been facilitated by student programs, scientific exchanges, forced technology transfer, and industrial espionage. Espionage has proven particularly difficult for western counterintelligence to manage because of their scale and persistence. A covert action program to feed disinformation to Chinese collectors engaged in industrial espionage could hinder development of the military-industrial base so critical to Chinese ambitions.

Risk:  Successful implementation may prove difficult in the face of robust efforts by Chinese collectors and vetting of the information by intelligence customers. The Ministry of State Security (MSS) aggressively recruits students to spy for China before they go abroad. If even one percent of the estimated 360,000 students who study in the United States are recruited, that means there are 3,600 potential long term agents seeking sensitive information[3]. The challenge increases when control of an agent is given to the Commission of Science, Technology, and Industry for National Defense also known as COSTIND whose agents are technically educated and more likely to detect misinformation. The impact of any program designed to deceive China will be potentially limited in scope to sensitive technologies being developed in the United States in order to maintain the credibility of the deception and make vetting of information more difficult. This makes for a risky gamble when the ideal approach to managing sensitive information is to reveal nothing at all.

Gain:  Deception could prove a more cost effective approach than the predominant mindset of reactive counterintelligence predicated on scrutiny of potential foreign agents. Potential espionage by Chinese students alone already invalidates this approach due to personnel requirements. By dangling bait in the form of falsified technical information sensitive industries and facilities, the United States can reverse the benefits of large unsophisticated espionage efforts and take a preventative approach. If coordinated with Allied intelligence services of countries suffering from similar intellectual property theft the effects of a deception campaign would be magnified. The MSS would doubtless struggle to adapt if caught up in a sea of misinformation.

Other Comments:  None of these options are decisive factors in competition between the United States and China but should prove useful in preparing the battlefield prior to any confrontation.

Recommendation:  None.


Endnotes:

[1] Berwick, A. (2018, November 14). How ZTE helps Venezuela create China-style social control. Retrieved June 4, 2020, from https://www.reuters.com/investigates/special-report/venezuela-zte

[2] Takahashi, D. (2018, May 7). Niko Partners: China will surpass 768 million gamers and $42 billion in game revenue by 2022. Retrieved July 10, 2020, from https://venturebeat.com/2018/05/07/niko-partners-china-will-surpass-1-billion-gamers-and-42-billion-in-game-revenue-by-2022

[3] Trade war: How reliant are US colleges on Chinese students? (2019, June 12). Retrieved July 7, 2020, from https://www.bbc.com/news/world-asia-48542913

2020 - Contest: PRC Below Threshold Writing Contest China (People's Republic of China) Chris Wozniak Option Papers United States

Below Threshold Options for China against the U.S.

Editor’s Note:  This article is part of our Below Threshold Competition: China writing contest which took place from May 1, 2020 to July 31, 2020.  More information about the contest can be found by clicking here.


Eli Kravinsky is an undergraduate student at Haverford College. He previously spent a year in China on a State Department-funded language scholarship. He can be found on Twitter @elikravi. Divergent Options’ content does not contain information of an official nature nor does the content represent the official position of any government, any organization, or any group.


National Security Situation:  The U.S. is continuing to orient its foreign policy and defense policy towards the People’s Republic of China (PRC). Accordingly, PRC tactics that have proven successful against the U.S. thus far may begin to fail. This failure will cause the PRC to develop new tactics to use against the U.S. below the threshold of armed conflict.

Date Originally Written:  July 27, 2020.

Date Originally Published:  October 19, 2020.

Author and / or Article Point of View:  The author is an American undergraduate student interested in China and security studies. The article is written from the perspective of the PRC and Chinese Communist Party (CCP) towards the U.S.

Background:  Strategic competition between the U.S. and China has increased in recent years. China’s strategy is to carefully escalate tensions so as to enable it to create “facts on the ground”, such as de-facto Chinese control over much of the South China Sea, without allowing tensions to boil over into full-scale war, which could result in China’s gains being rolled back[1].

Significance:  The U.S. has started taking much stronger notice of China’s below-threshold tactics and is responding increasingly harshly. As such, China must innovate new, carefully calibrated below-threshold tactics.

Option #1:  The People’s Liberation Army (PLA) Navy (PLAN) can deliberately ram a U.S. Navy (USN) ship in the South China Sea.

While PLAN ships sometimes ‘brush up’ on USN ships, an actual crash – intentional or otherwise – is unprecedented. However, in the 2001 EP-3 incident a PLA fighter jet crashed into a USN reconnaissance aircraft[2]. An easy method to create plausible deniability and reduce the risk to the PRC side would be to instead use a civilian freighter operating under the Maritime Militia. In the summer of 2017, two USN Arleigh Burke-class destroyers collided with civilian ships, both suffering severe damage and casualties. Even though the two incidents both occurred close to shore, Search and Rescue vessels and aircraft did not arrive until several hours after the initial crash in both cases[3]. As such, a USN response in force would likely arrive late, especially given that a deliberate ramming attack would occur closer to Chinese shores. Accordingly, the PLAN could pre-position ships to rapidly secure the site of the incident, and the U.S. side would have to confirm the incident was deliberate and not an accident as in the 2017 incidents.

Risk:  This would constitute a significant escalation of tensions between the two militaries. There is an appreciable chance that such an incident would be treated by the U.S. as a casus belli, especially if it caused casualties on the U.S. side.

Gain:  If executed successfully, this move could deter the USN from operating within China’s claimed waters. While the USN understands the PLA can impose costs on it via access-denial weaponry in an actual conflict, this option would impose similar costs even under competition that falls short of war. Additionally, doing so could allow the PLA to board a damaged or possibly crippled USN ship under the guise of rescue operations, offering a valuable opportunity to study USN technology and damage-control procedures up close. Tellingly, in the EP-3 incident, the PLA exploited the situation to extract numerous secrets from the downed USN reconnaissance aircraft[4]. Lastly, were the USN ship to be sufficiently damaged the PLAN could effectively intern the crew under the guise of rescuing them. This would give the PRC leverage over the U.S. in the unfolding crisis, as it would effectively be holding U.S. military personnel as hostages.

Option #2:  The CCP can secretly support extremist protest movements in the U.S.

Risk:  The most appreciable risk is that the U.S. would respond in kind, and offer support to dissident groups in China, such as Hong Kong separatists. However, a convincing argument can be made that the CCP believes the U.S. is already secretly doing so[5][6], meaning the CCP may well be willing to stomach this risk. Likewise, the PRC can control the flow of information within its borders and call upon an effective domestic security apparatus to stem anti-Party civil disturbances. The risk of a harsh U.S. response would be contingent on how well the CCP could keep the funding secret or maintain plausible deniability.

Gain:  Recent events such as the anti-lockdown protests and anti-police brutality protests have shown the risk of domestic instability in the U.S.[7][8]. The CCP knows all too well from its own history how internal instability can sap a state’s ability to deal with external threats. Secretly channeling funding to extremist groups in the U.S., such as armed militias, would be an effective and cheap way to create a security headache for the U.S. government at home.

Option #3:  The PLAN could impose a maritime blockade on Taiwan. The CCP views Taiwan as an incredibly sensitive issue, to the extent that “reunifying” it with the mainland is the ultimate test of its legitimacy[9]. As such, the CCP is concerned about U.S. arms sales to Taiwan, and especially the possibility that the U.S. might relieve Taiwan were the PRC to attempt to invade Taiwan. One option to resolve both of these concerns, as well as potentially sap Taiwan’s will to resist would be to launch a maritime blockade of Taiwan[10].

Risk:  This option entails considerable risk. Although the PLAN and PLA Air Force are rapidly expanding their capabilities, this would still be a very difficult task[11][12]. Were the U.S. or its allies to attempt to relieve Taiwan, war could easily erupt from a localized incident at sea. This would also have huge knockoff effects on the shipping industry, as insurance rates would skyrocket amidst rising tensions. China’s exports sector would foot much of the bill. Lastly, doing so would likely backfire and strengthen Taiwan’s desire to protect itself from China, instead of weakening it. However, as the 1996 Taiwan Straits Incident shows, the CCP often fails to appreciate how a heavy-handed policy towards Taiwan can be against its own interests. The key to predicting this possibility isn’t a perfectly objective cost-benefit analysis, but an awareness of how constraints on the CCP could cause it to make a self-defeating choice.

Gain:  If executed successfully, this option could cripple the Taiwanese economy and make U.S. intervention in a Taiwan-PRC conflict vastly more difficult, making USN access to the Western Pacific increasingly difficult.

Other Comments:  None.

Recommendations:  None.


Endnotes:

[1]  Erickson, A. S., Martinson, Martinson, R. D. (March 15, 2019) China’s Maritime Gray Zone Operations. China Maritime Studies Institute and Naval Institute Press

[2] Sanger, D. E., Rosenthal, E. (2001, April 2) U.S. Plane In China After It Collides With Chinese Jet. The New York Times. https://www.nytimes.com/2001/04/02/world/us-plane-in-china-after-it-collides-with-chinese-jet.html

[3] Department of the Navy/Office of the Chief of Naval Operations. (2017). Memorandum for Distribution:  Report on the Collision between USS FITZGERALD (DDG 62) and Motor Vessel ACX CRYSTAL, Report on the Collision between USS JOHN S MCCAIN (DDG 56) and Motor Vessel ALNIC MC. Retrieved from https://s3.amazonaws.com/CHINFO/USS+Fitzgerald+and+USS+John+S+McCain+Collision+Reports.pdf

[4] Zetter, K. Burn After Reading: Snowden Documents Reveal Scope of Secrets Exposed to China in 2001 Spy Plane Incident. The Intercept. https://theintercept.com/2017/04/10/snowden-documents-reveal-scope-of-secrets-exposed-to-china-in-2001-spy-plane-incident

[5] Buckley, C. (2013, August 19). China Takes Aim at Western Ideas. The New York Times. https://www.nytimes.com/2013/08/20/world/asia/chinas-new-leadership-takes-hard-line-in-secret-memo.html

[6] Higgins, A. (2019, August 9). China’s Theory for Hong Kong Protests: Secret American Meddling. The New York Times. https://www.nytimes.com/2019/08/08/world/asia/hong-kong-black-hand.html

[7] Picchi, A. (2020, January 6). Top Global Risk in 2020? It’s American politics, experts say. CBS News. https://www.cbsnews.com/news/the-top-risk-in-2020-its-u-s-politics-geopolitical-analysts-say

[8] Purtill, J. (2020 June 17) This Model forecast the US’s current unrest a decade ago. It now says ‘civil war’. Australian Broadcasting Corporation. https://www.abc.net.au/triplej/programs/hack/model-predicting-united-states-disorder-now-points-to-civil-war/12365280

[9] Yeung, J. T. (2019, October). Why is Taiwan so important? The manipulation of nationalism in legitimizing​ one-party rule in China. The Yale Review of International Studies. http://yris.yira.org/essays/3613

[10] Easton, I. (2017). The Chinese Invasion Threat: Taiwan’s Defense and American Strategy in Asia. Project 2049 Institute.

11] Yoshihara, T., Holmes, J. (2018). Red Star over the Pacific, Revised Edition: China’s Rise and the Challenge to US Maritime Strategy.  Naval Institution Press.

[12] Lee, J. (2019, April 3). Why a US Sale of Fighter Jets to Taiwan Matters. The Diplomat. https://thediplomat.com/2019/04/why-a-us-sale-of-fighter-jets-to-taiwan-matters

2020 - Contest: PRC Below Threshold Writing Contest Below Established Threshold Activities (BETA) China (People's Republic of China) Eli Kravinsky Option Papers United States

Options for Taiwan to Better Compete with China

Editor’s Note:  This article is part of our Below Threshold Competition: China writing contest which took place from May 1, 2020 to July 31, 2020.  More information about the contest can be found by clicking here.


Thomas J. Shattuck is a Research Associate in the Asia Program and the Managing Editor at the Foreign Policy Research Institute. Mr. Shattuck was a member of the 2019 class of scholars at the Global Taiwan Institute, receiving the Taiwan Scholarship. Divergent Options’ content does not contain information of an official nature nor does the content represent the official position of any government, any organization, or any group.


National Security Situation:  Taiwan requires options to better compete with China in international organizations below the threshold of conflict.

Date Originally Written:  July 24, 2020.

Date Originally Published:  October 14, 2020.

Author and / or Article Point of View:  The author is a research associate at a non-partisan foreign policy think tank.

Background:  One of the key national security priorities of the People’s Republic of China is to force Taiwan into unification. Part of that strategy is to limit Taiwan’s ability to participate fully in the international community, specifically in international organizations in which Taiwan is not a full member[1]. Such pressure would be removed upon China-Taiwan unification.

Significance:  In light of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, the full participation and cooperation of the entire international community is needed to understand best practices in limiting the spread of the virus. The pandemic has shown the importance of public and global health for a country’s national security. Taiwan’s exclusion from the May 2020 United Nations (UN) World Health Assembly—after dual campaigns by major international players in support of Taiwan’s observership bid and by China to keep Taiwan out—demonstrates the danger and limitations of excluding certain states based on their geopolitical situation[2]. Taiwan is prevented from learning important information or receiving key data in a timely fashion. Also, it is more difficult for Taiwan to share its expertise in stopping the virus’ spread, something that Taipei has succeeded at doing despite its limitations[3]. The spread of viruses endangers the entire world, and political maneuvering by Beijing has damaged the global response effort.

Option #1:  Taipei works with like-minded nations, particularly the United States, to develop a new, non-UN-membership-based international entity, initially focused on health issues with a plan for expansion into other areas.

Risk:  There are two primary risks to such an endeavor. The first risk is the possibility that Beijing will pressure nations into not participating. By threatening various economic or political repercussions, leaders in China have been able to stop Taiwan from expanding its international participation. Such a campaign would likely occur in light of any effort by Taipei to work around current Beijing-imposed limitations. If such a new entity does not receive enough international buy-in, then Taipei risks getting embarrassed for failing to garner support. Second, Beijing would likely direct even greater backlash at Taipei for attempting to challenge it internationally. This could include more assertive military exercises in the Taiwan Strait.

Gain:  Successfully establishing a new international entity would demonstrate that Taipei does not have to live within Beijing-imposed boundaries. As the recent COVID-19 example has shown, Taiwan has much to contribute internationally, but international organizations and members will quickly revert to Beijing’s stance when it comes to Taiwan. It was Taipei that first sounded the alarm regarding the potential danger of COVID-19[4]. Without those confines, Taiwan would be able to showcase its COVID-19 success story and teach other nations its best public health practices. It also would be able to receive information in a timelier fashion. Taiwan’s international participation would no longer be limited by the current status of cross-Strait relations and could be further integrated into the international community. Such an effort would complement the Trump administration’s desire to form some sort of “alliance of democracies” to meet the China challenge[5].

Option #2:  Taiwan relaunches its bid for membership in the UN so that it could become a full member of all UN-affiliated international organizations and ones that require statehood for membership.

Risk:  Any attempt by Taipei to join the United Nations will be stopped by Beijing. The vote would fail in the same way that Taiwan’s bids for guest or observer status in international organizations have since 2016. Depending on the form that such a bid takes (i.e., independence referendum for establishment of the “Republic of Taiwan”), the bid could have catastrophic effects, i.e., Chinese military action against Taiwan or an invasion. If such a move is conducted similarly to past attempts, then it would cause Beijing to lash out in a ways below the threshold of war—perhaps more intense forms of aggression that have become regularized since 2016[6].

Gain:  Even though a UN membership bid would fail, it would once again place Taiwan’s confusing geopolitical status in the limelight. Taiwan’s international plight receives sympathetic news coverage in democratic nations, and forcing countries to vote for the record on where it stands on this issue could spark new conversations about a country’s relationship with Taiwan. With increasingly assertive and aggressive actions by Beijing on various fronts, launching a UN membership bid could help Taipei enhance ties with current “friends” or find new ones because how China treats Taiwan would be given even greater focus across the world. The current international spotlight on China’s behavior at home and abroad may lead to countries working to strengthen relations with Taiwan. Positive outcomes are possible even if the membership bid fails.

Other Comments:  None.

Recommendation:  None.


Endnotes:

[1] Dreyer, J. T. (2018, August 13). The Big Squeeze: Beijing’s Anaconda Strategy to Force Taiwan to Surrender. Foreign Policy Research Institute. https://www.fpri.org/article/2018/08/the-big-squeeze-beijings-anaconda-strategy-to-force-taiwan-to-surrender

[2] Tan, H. (2020, May 19). Taiwan ‘disappointed and angry’ about being excluded from WHO meeting, says it is developing its own coronavirus vaccine. CNBC. https://www.cnbc.com/2020/05/19/taiwan-says-it-is-disappointed-and-angry-being-excluded-from-who-meeting.html

[3] Griffiths, J. (2020, April 5). Taiwan’s coronavirus response is among the best globally. CNN. https://www.cnn.com/2020/04/04/asia/taiwan-coronavirus-response-who-intl-hnk/index.html

[4] Watt, L. (2020, May 19). Taiwan Says It Tried to Warn the World About Coronavirus. Here’s What It Really Knew and When. Time. https://time.com/5826025/taiwan-who-trump-coronavirus-covid19

[5] Pompeo, M. (2020, July 23). Communist China and the Free World’s Future. U.S. Department of State. https://www.state.gov/communist-china-and-the-free-worlds-future

[6] Taiwan says China sending planes near island almost daily. (2020, July 22). Associated Press. https://apnews.com/2126b0fbdf2b7d2e6a5a77c464aeb7b1

2020 - Contest: PRC Below Threshold Writing Contest Below Established Threshold Activities (BETA) China (People's Republic of China) Option Papers Taiwan Thomas J. Shattuck

Assessment of Sino-Russian Strategic Competition in Africa

Editor’s Note:  This article is part of our Below Threshold Competition: China writing contest which took place from May 1, 2020 to July 31, 2020.  More information about the contest can be found by clicking here.


Rusudan Zabakhidze is an International Conference of Europeanists coordinator at Council for European Studies at Columbia University and a non-resident fellow at Middle East Institute’s Frontier Europe Initiative. She can be found on Twitter @rusozabakhidze. Divergent Options’ content does not contain information of an official nature nor does the content represent the official position of any government, any organization, or any group.


Title:  Assessment of Sino-Russian Strategic Competition in Africa

Date Originally Written:  July 31, 2020.

Date Originally Published:  October 12, 2020.

Author and / or Article Point of View:  The author believes that increasing Russian and Chinese influence in Africa is yet another external attempt to exploit African resources. The absence of democratic preconditions from cooperation agreements between African countries that work with Russia and China undermines U.S. democratization efforts in the region and create obstacles for international transparency and accountability.

Summary:  The Sino-Russian strategic competition in Africa is characterized by the complex interplay of mutual interests, yet divergent means and ways of achieving the strategic interests. In comparison to China, Russian economic cooperation with African countries is modest, however, deep military cooperation across the continent places Russia in an adventitious position to change the conditions for the economic development by stirring the local or regional instability, if desired.

Text:  Rapid urbanization and the economic rise of the African continent in the past decades have harnessed the potential for a redefined development path. Colonial legacy has earned the European powers a controversial status in contemporary affairs of African countries. Alternatively, China has grasped an opportunity to fill the vacuum and advance its strategic interests. The mainstream discourse around the geopolitical competition in Africa is mostly dominated by the U.S.-China rivalry, however, increasing Russian influence suggests that the current power dynamics across Africa are much more complex.

To assess the comparative advantage or disadvantage of the Russian position in Africa, it is helpful to delineate the key drivers of Russian strategic interests. As a resurgent power, Russia has been challenging the Western-centric world order globally; hence, the African continent represents yet another territory for projecting its global power status. While similar to other external actors in Africa Russia is interested in accessing natural resources[1], Russian connections with African countries are most notable in defense sector. The absence of democratic preconditions for various forms of cooperation serves the mutual interest of Russia and recipient African governments[2].

The Sino-Russian strategic competition in Africa is characterized by the interplay of similar interests, yet different means and ways towards attaining these goals. In terms of projecting the global power image, China and Russia share a common revisionist agenda based on offering an alternative to the western models of governance. Chinese and Russian discourses are built around emphasizing the superiority of their non-interference approach[3] that is based on respectful cooperation in contrast to the colonial practices of European powers. Patterns of rapid urbanization and accelerated economic growth of African countries enable China to draw comparisons to its own past in the 1990s[4]. Such parallels place China in an advantageous position to advocate for its governance model across the continent. China and Russia also try to use the cooperation with African governments as a supporting mechanism for their global power image in other parts of the world. Namely, African countries represent the largest voting bloc in the United Nations and regardless of the diversity of political positions of the national governments, both Russia and China have tried to use their influence over the voting behavior in favor of their positions within the UN system[5].

The differences between the Sino-Russian strategic competition is best visible in the economic cooperation trends. Russian economic engagement in African countries is relatively modest compared to large-scale Chinese investments. This difference is a logical amalgam of general economic trends in both countries and the retrospective of cooperative efforts. Unlike Russia, China has remained a steady interest in Africa since the decolonization period. The establishment of the Forum on China-Africa Cooperation in 2000 supported the facilitation of the cooperation efforts[6]. On the other hand, after the collapse of the Soviet Union, Russia temporarily detached itself from African politics. Belated Russian rapprochement was therefore met with a Chinese dominant presence. African markets with the fastest growing population and increased consumption needs, present an attractive venue for selling Chinese goods[7]. Almost all African countries are benefiting from diversified Chinese foreign direct investment. Oil and extractive natural resources account for a large share of investments, however, financial services, construction, transportation, and manufacturing make up half of Chinese FDI in Africa[8]. Against this backdrop, despite its own rich mineral resources, Russia has a shortage of certain raw materials, including chrome, manganese, mercury, and titanium that are essential for steel production[9]. Therefore, Russian economic interests in African countries mostly revolve around accessing these resources.

Russia’s strategic advantage over China is more visible in military cooperation with African countries. Russia has become the largest supplier of arms to Africa, accounting for 35% of arms exports, followed by China (17%), U.S. (9.6%), and France (6.9%)[10]. Besides arms trade, Russia provides military advice[11]. Reportedly, Wagner Group, a private military company with a history of fighting in Ukraine and Syria and has close ties to the Russian government has also shifted its focus towards Africa[12]. Even though Russia has a marginal advantage in military cooperation over China and western powers, Chinese actions in this direction should not be under-looked. Chinese defense strategy in Africa is based on a comprehensive approach, combining arms sales with other trade and investment deals, cultural exchanges, medical assistance, and building infrastructure. For instance, the package deal for building a Chinese military base in Djibouti covers the large non-military investment projects[13].

In support of the above-given strategic interests, Russia and China are actively using soft power tools. Confucius Institutes that promote Chinese language and culture are rapidly popping up across Africa and are now present in over 40 countries[14]. China is also becoming a popular destination for African students[15]. China also boosts its image through media cooperation. The Chinese Communist Party has organized four annual forums bringing together the representatives of Africa state-owned and private media agencies to discuss the global media environment and the state of African media[16]. These gatherings are unprecedented compared to China’s media-related efforts in other regions. On the other hand, Russia is also actively using the media as a medium for projecting its positive image. Russia Today and Sputnik – media agencies aligning with the discourses favorable to the Russian government, have expanded their reach to the African continent as well[17]. The number of the Russian World Foundation, known as Russkiy Mir, is also increasing in African countries[18]. Somewhat different from the Chinese approach is using the Russian Orthodox Church as the way to approach the Christian communities in Uganda, Kenya, Tanzania, and Ethiopia[19]. Even though current Chinese and Russian efforts to promote their image through media and cultural activities are not targeted at deterring the influence of each other, both actors have the potential to exploit the information space through controlled media platforms. Such developments can significantly undermine the social cohesion, as well as the trust and confidence in targeted actors.


Endnotes:

[1] Adlbe, J. (2019, November 14). What does Russia really want from Africa? Retrieved July 30, 2020, from https://www.brookings.edu/blog/africa-in-focus/2019/11/14/what-does-russia-really-want-from-africa

[2] Procopio, M. (2019, November 15). Why Russia is not like China in Africa. Retrieved July 30, 2020, from https://www.ispionline.it/en/pubblicazione/why-russia-not-china-africa-24409

[3] Ibid.

[4] Diop, M. (2015, January 13). Lessons for Africa from China’s growth. Retrieved July 31, 2020, from https://www.worldbank.org/en/news/speech/2015/01/13/lessons-for-africa-from-chinas-growth

[5] Spivak, V. (2019, October 25). Russia and China in Africa: Allies or Rivals? Retrieved July 30, 2020 from https://carnegie.ru/commentary/80181

[6] Nantulya, P. (2018, August 30). Grand Strategy and China’s Soft Power Push in Africa. Africa Center for Strategic Studies. Retrieved July 30, 2020, from https://africacenter.org/spotlight/grand-strategy-and-chinas-soft-power-push-in-africa

[7] Maverick, B. (2020, April). The three reasons why Chinese invest in Africa. Retrieved July 30, 2020 from https://www.investopedia.com/articles/active-trading/081315/3-reasons-why-chinese-invest-africa.asp

[8] Pigato, M. (2015). China and Africa: Expanding Economic Ties in and Evolving Global Context. The World Bank. Retrieved July 31, 2020, from https://www.worldbank.org/content/dam/Worldbank/Event/Africa/Investing%20in%20Africa%20Forum/2015/investing-in-africa-forum-china-and-africa.pdf

[9] Hedenskog, J. (2018, December). Russia is Stepping Up its Military Cooperation in Africa. FOI, retrieved July 31, 2020, from https://www.foi.se/rest-api/report/FOI%20MEMO%206604

[10] Adlbe, J. (2019, November 14). What does Russia really want from Africa? Retrieved July 30, 2020, from https://www.brookings.edu/blog/africa-in-focus/2019/11/14/what-does-russia-really-want-from-africa

[11] Russel, M & Pichon E. (2019, November). Russia in Africa. A new area for geopolitical competition. European Parliament’s Research Service, Retrieved July 30, 2020 from https://www.europarl.europa.eu/RegData/etudes/BRIE/2019/642283/EPRS_BRI(2019)642283_EN.pdf

[12] Hauer, N. (2018, August 27). Russia’s Favorite Mercenaries. The Atlantic. Retrieved July 30, 2020, from https://www.theatlantic.com/international/archive/2018/08/russian-mercenaries-wagner-africa/568435

[13] Benabdallah, L. (2018). China-Africa military ties have deepened. Here are 4 things to know. The Washington Post. Retrieved July 30, 2020, from https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/monkey-cage/wp/2018/07/06/china-africa-military-ties-have-deepened-here-are-4-things-to-know

[14] Nantulya, P. (2018, August 30). Grand Strategy and China’s Soft Power Push in Africa. Africa Center for Strategic Studies. Retrieved July 30, 2020, from https://africacenter.org/spotlight/grand-strategy-and-chinas-soft-power-push-in-africa

[15] Ibid.

[16] Ibid.

[17] Arbunies, P. (2019). Russia’s sharp power in Africa: the case of Madagascar, CAR, Sudan and South Africa, retrieved July 31, 2020, from https://www.unav.edu/web/global-affairs/detalle/-/blogs/russia-s-sharp-power-in-africa-the-case-of-madagascar-central-africa-republic-sudan-and-south-africa

[18] Ibid.

[19] Ibid.

2020 - Contest: PRC Below Threshold Writing Contest Africa Assessment Papers China (People's Republic of China) Option Papers Russia Rusudan Zabakhidze

Options for Altering Global Energy Developments to America’s Advantage and China’s Disadvantage

Editor’s Note:  This article is part of our Below Threshold Competition: China writing contest which took place from May 1, 2020 to July 31, 2020.  More information about the contest can be found by clicking here.


Michael D. Purzycki is a researcher, analyst, writer and editor based in Arlington, Virginia. He is a former communications and media analyst for the United States Marine Corps. He writes regularly for Charged Affairs (the journal of Young Professionals in Foreign Policy) and Braver Angels, and has also been published in Merion West, Washington Monthly, the Truman National Security Project, France 24, and Arc Digital. He can be found on Twitter at @MDPurzycki and on Medium at https://medium.com/@mdpurzycki. Divergent Options’ content does not contain information of an official nature nor does the content represent the official position of any government, any organization, or any group.


National Security Situation:  The United States devotes considerable military resources to the Persian Gulf despite significantly reduced reliance on the region’s oil, while China buys more Gulf oil than the U.S. does.

Date Originally Written:  July 27, 2020.

Date Originally Published:  October 7, 2020.

Author and / or Article Point of View:  This article is written from the perspective of U.S. policymakers who wish to indirectly increase economic and military burdens on the People’s Republic of China, in ways that benefit the United States and do not lead to armed conflict.

Background:  The United States has drastically reduced its reliance on oil from the Persian Gulf over the last decade, as the U.S. has become the world’s largest producer of crude oil[1]. China purchases significantly more oil from Saudi Arabia, the world’s second largest producer and the largest producer in the Gulf, than the U.S. does[2]. However, the U.S. still expends considerable military and financial resources in the Gulf, part of the estimated $81 billion per year it devotes to protecting global oil supplies[3]. Meanwhile, as demand for electric cars increases in response to climate change, China’s share of global electric vehicle production is double that of the U.S.[4].

Significance:  While there are multiple reasons for the U.S. presence in the Gulf region, such as deterring Iranian aggression and combatting terrorism, every ship, aircraft, vehicle and service member not protecting oil is one that can be deployed elsewhere in the world. Furthermore, despite the increase in oil prices that would likely result from more vulnerable oil supplies, an incentive to develop alternatives to petroleum would be a positive aspect, given climate change.

Option #1:  The United States ceases to deploy naval vessels to the Persian Gulf.

Risk:  A reduced military presence in the Gulf would increase the vulnerability of oil supplies to attacks by Iran, its proxies, and terrorist organizations, and will likely lead to a rise in global oil prices[5]. Saudi Arabia will fear the U.S. is abandoning it, and may begin developing nuclear weapons to guard against the possibility of a nuclear-armed Iran. Countries that rely more heavily on Gulf oil than the U.S. does – not only U.S. allies Japan and South Korea, but China’s rival India – may be harmed economically by less secure oil[6].

Gain:  Ceasing to deploy vessels to the Gulf leaves more vessels available for the U.S. to use in the Asia-Pacific. A risk of greater instability in the Gulf may lead China to expand its current naval presence in the region, leaving fewer vessels available elsewhere[7]. U.S. vessels would no longer be vulnerable to attacks by Iranian forces. Chillier U.S.-Saudi relations will loosen America’s connection to the aggressive and brutal regime of Mohammad bin Salman, improving America’s moral position[8]. Meanwhile, given petroleum’s contribution to climate change, a rise in oil prices can be embraced as an incentive to reduce reliance on oil, regardless of its source.

Option #2:  The United States prohibits oil exports to China in concert with withdrawal from the Gulf, and steers additional oil exports to major importers of Gulf oil, compensating them for Gulf oil’s increased vulnerability.

Risk:  Embargoing crude oil would likely stall or end negotiations for a U.S.-China trade deal[9]. Furthermore, the U.S. is a relatively minor source of oil for China, meaning the impact of an embargo will likely be weak[10]. China may also retaliate with new and/or higher tariffs on U.S. exports. Also, even with additional imports of U.S. oil, America’s trading partners may still endure a negative economic impact from higher oil prices during a global recession.

Gain:  If compensatory exports of U.S. oil are proportionate to a country’s purchases of Gulf oil, the largest beneficiaries would likely be Japan, South Korea and India (respectively the first, third and fifth largest purchasers of Saudi oil)[2]. The first two have deep, long-lasting economic and defense relationships with the U.S., while India is a potential counterweight to Chinese hegemonic ambitions in Asia. Thus compensatory oil supplies could link these countries close to the U.S. in a multilateral effort to tie China’s hands regarding Gulf oil.

Option #3:  The United States partners with countries importing Gulf oil to develop alternatives to petroleum products, and pointedly excludes China from the partnership. Public policies to this end can include increased investment in clean energy research and development, and initiatives to produce more electric cars at lower prices, as well as car charging stations powered by non-fossil energy.

Risk:  China might portray itself as a victim if it is excluded from international efforts to reduce fossil fuel use. This option might also portray the U.S. as not serious about climate change, arguing that if the U.S. really wanted to solve the problem it would cooperate with any country, including China.

Gain:  Participation in multinational efforts to reduce petroleum use would position the U.S. as a leader in the fight against climate change. U.S. clean energy development lags behind China’s, and during a global recession, a major stimulus of clean energy technology, including in the transportation sector, would provide economic and environmental benefits[11]. If, as with Option #2, America’s primary partners are Japan, South Korea and India, it will be collaborating with countries that are home to car manufacturers listed on the Global 500, companies well-positioned to benefit from an electric car boom[12].

Other Comments:  None.

Recommendation:  None.


Endnotes:

[1] “What countries are the top producers and consumers of oil?” U.S. Energy Information Administration, April 1, 2020.
https://www.eia.gov/tools/faqs/faq.php

[2] Stevens, Harry, Lauren Tierney, Adrian Blanco and Laris Karklis. “Who buys Saudi Arabia’s oil?” Washington Post, September 16, 2019.
https://www.washingtonpost.com/world/2019/09/16/who-buys-saudi-arabias-oil

[3] “The Military Cost of Defending the Global Oil Supply.” Securing America’s Future Energy, September 21, 2018.
http://secureenergy.org/wp-content/uploads/2020/03/Military-Cost-of-Defending-the-Global-Oil-Supply.-Sep.-18.-2018.pdf

[4] Bledsoe, Paul. “New Ideas for a Do Something Congress No. 7: Winning the Global Race on Electric Cars.” Progressive Policy Institute, April 1, 2019.
https://www.progressivepolicy.org/publication/winning-the-global-race-on-electric-cars

[5] Cordesman, Anthony H. “The Strategic Threat from Iranian Hybrid Warfare in the Gulf.” Center for Strategic and International Studies, June 13, 2019.
https://www.csis.org/analysis/strategic-threat-iranian-hybrid-warfare-gulf

[6] “Iraq continues to be India’s top oil supplier, imports from US rises 4-folds.” Economic Times, May 1, 2019.
https://economictimes.indiatimes.com/industry/energy/oil-gas/iraq-continues-to-be-indias-top-oil-supplier-imports-from-us-rises-4-folds/articleshow/69129071.cms

[7] Eckstein, Megan. “5th Fleet CO: China Laying Groundwork in Middle East to Pose Future Threats; International Coalitions Pushing Back Against Iran.” USNI News, July 23, 2020.
https://news.usni.org/2020/07/23/5th-fleet-co-china-laying-groundwork-in-middle-east-to-pose-future-threats-international-coalitions-pushing-back-against-iran

[8] Editorial Board. “One year later, our murdered friend Jamal has been proved right.” Washington Post, September 30, 2019.
https://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/2019/09/30/one-year-later-our-murdered-friend-jamal-has-been-proved-right

[9] Swanson, Ana and Keith Bradsher. “Once a Source of U.S.-China Tension, Trade Emerges as an Area of Calm.” New York Times, July 25, 2020.
https://www.nytimes.com/2020/07/25/business/economy/us-china-trade-diplomacy.html

[10] “China’s crude oil imports surpassed 10 million barrels per day in 2019.” U.S. Energy Information Administration, March 23, 2020.
https://www.eia.gov/todayinenergy/detail.php?id=43216

[11] Bledsoe, Paul. “Jumpstarting U.S. Clean Energy Manufacturing in Economic Stimulus and Infrastructure Legislation.” Progressive Policy Institute, May 2020.
https://www.progressivepolicy.org/wp-content/uploads/2020/05/PPI_Clean-Manufacturing-Infrastructure_Embargoed.pdf

[12] “Global 500: Motor Vehicles & Parts.” Fortune, 2019.
 https://fortune.com/global500/2019/search/?sector=Motor%20Vehicles%20%26%20Parts

2020 - Contest: PRC Below Threshold Writing Contest Below Established Threshold Activities (BETA) China (People's Republic of China) Michael D. Purzycki Option Papers Resource Scarcity United States

Minerals, Minds, and Accommodation: U.S. Options Against China

Editor’s Note:  This article is part of our Below Threshold Competition: China writing contest which took place from May 1, 2020 to July 31, 2020.  More information about the contest can be found by clicking here.


Patrick M. Foran is a PhD candidate at the University of Missouri-St. Louis. He can be found on Twitter @Patrick__Foran and has a newsletter at CatalogofCurisoties.substack.com. Divergent Options’ content does not contain information of an official nature nor does the content represent the official position of any government, any organization, or any group.


National Security Situation:  As China grows richer, more powerful, and more revanchist, the U.S., as the world’s current-yet-faltering hegemon, requires options to meet this rising challenger that plays to the edge of, but stays below the threshold of, armed conflict.

Date Originally Written:  July 19, 2020.

Date Originally Published:  September 30, 2020.

Author and / or Article Point of View:  The author is a PhD candidate at the University of Missouri – St. Louis with a broadly realist foreign policy point of view. The article is written from the point of view of the United States towards the People’s Republic of China (PRC).

Background:  The U.S. under President Donald Trump understands that “great power competition” has “returned,” as announced in the 2017 National Security Strategy[1]. Yet “complex interdependence” between the U.S. and the PRC has created liabilities, challenges, and an entangled relationship that is a double-edged sword for the U.S. should they uncouple without care[2].

Significance:  The significance of this interdependence cannot be overstated. The U.S.-China relationship is certainly the most important in the world, and this goes for finance, climate, trade, the future of international institutions and regime maintenance, and so much more.

Option #1:  The U.S. could attempt to carefully decouple its critical minerals relationship and defense-industrial base needs in a neo-Hamiltonian way, referring to the Secretary of State Alexander Hamilton and his belief in infant industry support and fostering research and development to build competitive industries. This option would be understood as support for re-developing and re-conceptualizing what is critical using the broad scope of powers delegated to the president under the International Emergency Economic Powers Act[3]. The U.S. would also form a Five Eyes or Democratic Club-like international agreement with fellow liberal democracies. This agreement would ensure cooperation regarding research and development, logistics, and ensure robustness and sustainability. This cooperation would look like a shared pool similar to the U.S. strategic petroleum reserve but for minerals and high-tech components with the addition of ally access to the reserve. This pool would be shared with Western and liberal allies who agree to shun China’s current dominance in the realm of rare earth minerals.


Risk:  This option risks sparking a “beggar thy neighbor” system, where zero-sum moves engaged by those inside and outside the system produce a worst world for all. In other words, it risks a new Cold War that hardens into blocs, blocs that would make future pandemics, for example, or future financial crises harder to manage. Further, this option risks more realpolitik when it comes to ocean exploration and when it comes to African state sovereignty where rare earth minerals are present.

Gain:  This option contributes to a renewed liberal international order, one that is modern, looking towards the future, and one that is concerned with sustainability and shared prosperity. Offering an “opt-in” for liberal and democratic countries is aligned with much evidence that shows that positive inducements work more than negative inducements; and also the fear of kinetic conflict with China nudges allies to take strategic materials and infrastructure seriously[4]. Moreover, much of the gains would accrue to the U.S. since it would be the leader and sustainer of this strategic mineral reserve; new U.S. companies could be created to manage such an important reserve.

Option #2:  The United States creates a sister channel to Radio Free Asia that exclusively highlights the horrors of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP). This radio station’s content would encourage the use of onion addresses and virtual proxy networks as ways to pursue internet freedom, and could feature audio essays of “Civil Disobedience,” “The Rights of Man,” and the U.S. Constitution, for example.

Risk:  This option risks escalation in this sphere. And, shouts of hypocrisy could fairly be leveraged by the CCP against the U.S. since this option could be interpreted as a violation of the United Nations Charter, Article II, Section 7 which states that “states that the United Nations has no authority to intervene in matters which are within the domestic jurisdiction of any State[5].”

Gain:  This option bolsters support for already existing information programs. It suggests that the U.S. is serious about promoting democracy and about pushing back against China’s goal of spreading its influence worldwide. And, more importantly, this option counters the spreading of the CCP’s “capitalism with Chinese characteristics” model around the world.

Option #3:  A perhaps counterintuitive option involves the U.S. could taking a long-term accommodation strategy. This strategy would be built on the assumption that China’s internal problems and international liabilities are so vast and challenging that a bearish strategy is warranted. This is still a great power strategy yet privileges a “foreign policy begins at home” concept: rebuild American schools, roads, infrastructure, and human and social capital[6].

Risk:  Without the U.S. checking its behavior, China becomes hyperaggressive and revisionist, even more so, leaving the world with worst options, which increase the likelihood of war or disorder.

Gain:  The gains are enormous. To ensure that the U.S. remains “unrivaled,” truly rebuilding American institutions that make them more democratic, more responsive, and more with institutions in mind. This rebuilding would oppose the current situation where institutions are personalistic and engage in performative displays. Through this option the U.S. can become a sustainable superpower, one that once again reminds that world that a hegemon can be liberal, democratic, and patient.

Other Comments:  The U.S. U.S.-China is a dyadic relationship, one situated in an international system. Relationships are managed—they are not problems to be solved. How the U.S.-China dyad evolves and how it shapes the world is the most important question of the next few decades and this seriousness deserves careful consideration.

Recommendation:  None.


Endnotes:

[1] Trump, Donald J. (December 2017). “National Security Strategy of the United States of America.” Retrieved July 19, 2020, from http://nssarchive.us/national-security-strategy-2017

[2] Keohane, R. O. and Joseph s. Nye. [1977] (2012) Power and Interdependence: World Politics in Transition. Boston: Longman Books.

[3] The International Emergency Economic Powers Act (1977). Title 50, §§1701–1707.

[4] Axelrod, R. (1981). The Emergence of Cooperation Among Egoists. American Political Science Review, 75 (2), 306-18. Retrieved July 26, 2020, from DOI:
10.2307/1961366 https://www.jstor.org/stable/1961366; Axelrod, R. (1984) The Evolution of Cooperation. New York: Basic Books; Drezner, D. W. (1999/2000). The Trouble with Carrots: Transaction Costs, Conflict Expectations, and Economic Inducements. Security Studies, 9 (1-2), 188-218. Retrieved July 20, 2020, from
https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.1080/0963641990842939; Nincic, M. (2010). Getting What You Want: Positive Inducements in International Relations. International Security, 35(1), 138-183. Retrieved July 26, 2020, from http://www.jstor.org/stable/40784650

[5] UN Charter, Article II, Section 7.

[6] Haass, R. N (2013). Foreign Policy Begins At Home: The Case for Putting America’s House in Order. New York: Basic Books.

2020 - Contest: PRC Below Threshold Writing Contest China (People's Republic of China) Option Papers Patrick M. Foran Psychological Factors Resource Scarcity United States

Assessing How Countries Can Compete with Chinese Hybrid Tactics Below the Threshold of Armed Conflict

Editor’s Note:  This article is part of our Below Threshold Competition: China writing contest which took place from May 1, 2020 to July 31, 2020.  More information about the contest can be found by clicking here.


William Freer is currently reading at War Studies at King’s College London. He was a European finalist in the KF-VUB Korea Chair Writing Competition in 2018. Divergent Options’ content does not contain information of an official nature nor does the content represent the official position of any government, any organization, or any group.


Title:  Assessing How Countries Can Compete with Chinese Hybrid Tactics Below the Threshold of Armed Conflict

Date Originally Written:  July 24, 2020.

Date Originally Published:  September 28, 2020.

Author and / or Article Point of View:  The author is a soon to be graduated War Studies student reading at King’s College London who strongly believes in the upholding of the rules-based international order.

Summary:  Beijing’s continued use and development of coercive tactics below the threshold of armed conflict, sometimes referred to as ‘Hybrid’ or ‘Grey Zone’ conflict, threatens to undermine the existing rules-based international order. Rather than responding to Beijing at the tactical level, her competitors can instead develop their response on the strategic level and do so multilaterally.

Text:  Hybrid warfare is nothing new. States unable to compete (with the United States) in conventional military terms have long been evolving their capabilities below the threshold of armed conflict from cyber warfare to ‘Ambiguous’ warfare and everything in between[1]. The world has seen these tactics in use for decades in attempts by revanchist states to undermine the existing international order, yet there is little agreement on which tactics work best to counter them. In order to successfully compete with Beijing below the threshold of armed conflict, countries in South/East Asia can look to developing their responses on the strategic level and in a multilateral way.

The main problem this strategic level response poses is that it will require a great deal of multilateral cooperation. Beijing prefers to target states with its diplomacy and hybrid warfare individually rather than collectively[2]. By doing so, Beijing can maximise its coercive potential. When compared to Vietnam, Malaysia, Taiwan, the Philippines, Indonesia and even India or Japan, China’s economic and military strength is far greater[3]. These Chinese strengths have seen the placing of oil rigs in the claimed waters of other states or regular intrusions into the claimed waters of other states by Chinese naval vessels (from fishing boats to warships)[4]. These tactics are difficult to counter. The Vietnamese, for example, attempted to interfere with a Chinese oil drill’s operation in their waters through harassing it with coast guard cutters, but this did not prove effective in deterring Beijing’s activities. Simply responding in kind to Beijing’s tactics like this will in fact further serve to undermine the rules-based international order.

It is hard for individual states to counter these activities on the tactical level. The same cannot be said for the strategic level, however. Through more meaningful multilateral engagement, states can use their collective power to more effectively compete with Beijing, this multilateral engagement can (and must) come in many different forms.

The most important way in which states can help each other to compete with Beijing is through intelligence sharing. Good intelligence is vital in allowing for states to effectively combat tactics below the threshold of armed conflict. The less wealthy of China’s neighbours are severely restricted by the resources at their disposal and can therefore seek to pool their intelligence capabilities as much as possible. This pooling would not be a simple task; it will involve highly sensitive information and states typically jealously guard their secrets. To be able to stand a chance in competing against an adversary, especially in the use of hybrid warfare, knowledge of Chinese activities is essential. There is already a great deal of the necessary diplomatic framework in place for this sharing to happen. The Association of South East Asian Nations could provide a useful starting point for its members to better share intelligence. There is also talk of the Five Eyes program being expanded to include Japan, which is a step in the right direction[5].

Much of the competition between China and other countries is playing out across the Indo-Pacific region (from Japan and the central Pacific to the western end of the Indian Ocean), this is an inherently maritime region[6]. As such, any meaningful multilateral cooperation by those countries that compete with Beijing will need to include a maritime element.

This maritime angle presents many possibilities. For example, the joint patrolling of each other’s waters or joint responses to intrusions by Beijing’s naval assets is one way this could be done. Another would be to embed military personnel into each other’s forces. Actions like these would serve an important purpose in disabling Beijing’s ability to target countries bilaterally and thus minimise the leverage that Beijing could bring to bear on its competitors. If these actions were taken, Beijing would have to seriously re-evaluate when and where they employ coercive tactics. Already moves in this direction are being made as Japan, India, the United States and others conduct regular joint exercises[7]. These joint exercises could be taken to the next stage in the form of regular joint deployments and should even go as far as to include joint coast guard duties. This strategy could also include land-based options, military observers embedded with Indian forces along their contested borders with China for example.

The main problem in making a success out of multilateral engagement will be overcoming trust issues. Many of the countries that will need to support each other have their own disputes and complex histories. Take the Spratly Islands for example, it is not only China and Vietnam who have claims there, but also the Philippines, Malaysia and Taiwan[8]. Even so, these countries could learn to put aside their differences for now. Some countries appear to be trying to avoid competition with Beijing, but whether they like it or not Xi Jinping’s China will compete with them. Unless the countries of the Indo-Pacific work together, Beijing will be able to target them bilaterally at will.

The U.S. could encourage and support these actions and indeed this may be a necessary component for success. However, for it to work it is vital that the US does not take a leading role, but instead allows the regional countries to take these steps on their own initiative. In this way, these countries will not feel pressured towards an unwanted confrontation with Beijing by the US. If successful, this non-leading role for the U.S. will avoid tit-for-tat responses and the further undermining of international norms.

Beijing has become adept at making use of hybrid warfare, so why try and play them at their own game? By taking the competition with Beijing below the threshold of armed conflict to the strategic level, countries can prevent bilateral coercion from Beijing. If Beijing believes that actions against one country will result in involving many others into the situation, they will be far less likely to do so. Increased multilateral cooperation can have many different facets, in terms of competition with Beijing, the intelligence and maritime domains are the most important and so these would be the areas for countries to prioritise.


Endnotes:

[1] Connell, Mary Ellen and Evans, Ryan (2015, May). Russia’s “Ambiguous Warfare” and implications for the U.S. Marine Corps. Retrieved July 22, 2020, from https://www.cna.org/CNA_files/PDF/DOP-2015-U-010447-Final.pdf

[2] Miller, Tom (2019). Chapter 6. In China’s Asian Dream: Empire Building Along the New Silk Road (pp. 199-235). London: Zed Books.

[3] Blackwill, Robert D. & Harris, Jennifer M. (2016). Chapter 5. In War by Other Means: Geoeconomics and Statecraft (pp 129-152). Cambridge: Harvard University Press.

[4] Cole, Bernard D. (2016) Chapter 3. In China’s Quest for Great Power: Ships, Oil and Foreign Policy. (pp 85-114). Annapolis: Naval Institute Press.

[5] Howell, David (2020, June 30). Why Five Eyes should now become six. Retrieved July 22, 2020, from https://www.japantimes.co.jp/opinion/2020/06/30/commentary/japan-commentary/five-eyes-now-become-six

[6] Patalano, Dr Alessio (2019). UK Defence from the ‘Far East’ to the ‘Indo-Pacific’. London: Policy Exchange. Retrieved July 22, 2020, from https://policyexchange.org.uk/wp-content/uploads/2019/07/UK-Defence-from-the-%E2%80%98Far-East%E2%80%99-to-the-%E2%80%98Indo-Pacific%E2%80%99.pdf

[7] Oros, Andrew L (2017) Chapter 5. In Japan’ Security Renaissance: New Policies and Politics for the Twenty-First Century (pp 126-168). New York: Columbia University Press.

[8] Hawksley, Humphrey (2018) Part I. In Asian Waters: The Struggle over the Asia-Pacific and the Strategy of Chinese Expansion (pp 22-57). London: Duckworth Overlook.

2020 - Contest: PRC Below Threshold Writing Contest Assessment Papers Below Established Threshold Activities (BETA) China (People's Republic of China) William Freer

Assessing the Development of Chinese Soft Power in Central Asia

Editor’s Note:  This article is part of our Below Threshold Competition: China writing contest which took place from May 1, 2020 to July 31, 2020.  More information about the contest can be found by clicking here.


James Ridley-Jones is a PhD student at King’s College London currently researching Geostrategy in Central Asia. Divergent Options’ content does not contain information of an official nature nor does the content represent the official position of any government, any organization, or any group.


Title:  Assessing the Development of Chinese Soft Power in Central Asia

Date Originally Written:  July 15th 2020.

Date Originally Published:  September 23, 2020.

Author and / or Article Point of View:  The author believes that Chinese Soft Power, initiative failures are indicative of wider Chinese strategic engagement failures in the Central Asian region. For the purposes of this assessment Soft Power is defined as the use of investment diplomacy and cultural engagement to build relationships and project influence below the threshold of armed conflict.

Summary:  Chinese Soft Power initiatives remain key to facilitating relations alongside Chinese investment. Although China retains good bi-lateral relations with the Central Asian states, a closer examination of Chinese initiatives demonstrates failures amongst the region’s general populations comparative to the ruling elites.

Text:  The announcement of the Belt and Road Initiative by Xi Jinping in Kazakhstan 2013 led to the required development of Chinese Soft Power within the region. The purpose of this Soft Power is to enable political security alongside economic investment. The Belt and Road Initiative encompasses economic investment and diplomatic initiatives, which, when combined, develop working partnerships and economic corridors along projected routes. The initiative has also absorbed prior programs and investments into this framework.

Chinese investment in the region allows for key infrastructure developments that might improve economic and social capacities. Diplomatic and co-operative initiatives take the form of exhibitions, student engagement and the notorious Confucius Institutes. All of these aim to engage students, businessmen and key officials in cultural engagement for the promotion of relations.

Chinese Soft Power actions are not without a downside. High levels of one-sided investment can be, and are, perceived negatively. The often debated debt-trap diplomacy employed by China, together with the use of a Chinese workforce for such projects, leaves poor public perceptions of these investments, irrespective of the benefits.

Similarly, the potential reach of Soft Power initiatives is limited within the countries that China targets. This limitation is due to population dispersal and the extent of possible population engagement. Although there have been multiple exhibitions in Tashkent for example, they only reach a small percentage of the population.

Soft power through language learning to encourage engagement is increasing, but still falls behind state languages, the lingua franca Russian, and English for both tourism and business purposes. In Almaty Kazakhstan, the Confucius Institute remains one of the few places Mandarin can be learnt, compared with English which is far more prevalent in foreign language schools.

China, however, does attract significantly more students to its Universities (2017-2018), with approximately 12,000 Kazakh students currently studying in China[1]. Comparatively there are only 1,300 Kazahk students in the United Kingdom[2] and 1,865 in the United States[3]. Although distance can be included as a factor for this decision, there are also additional Chinese grants and scholarships given to Central Asian students to encourage their attendance at Chinese Universities. This Soft Power will go on to affect the next generation of Kazakhs in the future.

The effectiveness of Chinese diplomatic initiatives is impeded in Central Asia by two main factors:

The first is the disparity between key parts of the target countries’ political and financial elite and the general population.

Although policymakers and businessmen in Central Asia benefit from Chinese initiatives and as such look to engage with China on business, such perceptions remain different to those of the general population who do not benefit in such ways. This disconnect requires a two-tier Chinese approach to inter-country relations that currently does not exist.

The second is the Uyghur problem, where current Chinese policy and actions are perceived very negatively by Central Asian populations. These differences on the Uyghur problem are illustrated in the government support given to Chinese actions, compared to feelings amongst the general populace. An indicator of this is a lack of support from specific Central Asian nations. Only the Governments of Tajikistan and Turkmenistan (the two most closed off Central Asian nations) signed a letter in support of Chinese actions, suggesting the other countries are in more turmoil over the decision[4].

The Uyghur have ethnic, cultural and religious similarities to the other Turkic ethnic groups within Central Asia, as well as there being Uyghur minorities in Central Asia. Because of such ties Chinese attitudes in Xinjiang have significant negative connotations within the Central Asian general populace. Although this might not be demonstrated at a governmental level, Sinophobia can be noted across the general population.

Both of these issues take the form of anti-Chinese protests, such as those in Almaty, to even the car bombing of the Chinese embassy in Bishkek (2016). This car bombing, it was reported, was the action of an Islamist, but it has also been suggested that it was in retaliation for the mistreatment of the Uyghur people and Sinophobia.

In 2016, land reform protests revealed underlying concerns of potential Chinese control over agriculture in Kazakhstan[5]. In 2019, there were protests at a Kyrgyzstan mine over environmental quality concerns, greatly affecting the local population[6]. This issue is likely to be compounded with additional mines given or sold to Chinese investors.

More recent protests in Almaty and Nur Sultan, Kazakhstan and in Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan September 2019 suggest relations remain frayed. The Kazakhstan protests stem from a variety of reasons to do with increasing Chinese influence in the region[7]. Similarly, in Kyrgyzstan protests grew as a result of Chinese businesses side-lining existing Kyrgyz businesses in the capital[8].

All of these protests demonstrate the disconnect between Chinese investment and maintaining relations with the general populace through diplomatic initiatives.

Given the nature of the regimes in Central Asia, there is no available data on opinion polls of China, and if data was available the validity of results might also be questionable. Public protest in these countries becomes an available method of assessing public opinion, though it is limited in scope and nuance.

The increasing numbers of Central Asian students at Chinese Universities through both grants, scholarships and engagement programs, will most likely be the continued Soft Power tactic.

Although relatively ineffective currently, the Confucius Institutes will look to further develop language teaching capabilities and promote further cultural engagement.

Chinese exhibitions will most likely continue, but at a similar rate of engagement with the population, limiting their effectiveness.

Understanding and analysing Chinese Soft Power failures is important to the development of counter- Chinese strategy. Although inaction by others would allow for continued Chinese failure, these Chinese actions will eventually become successful as newer generations, specifically elites, are increasingly influenced by Chinese Soft Power initiatives, particularly through Universities.

Chinese Soft Power failure is a lack of ability to connect with the wider population beyond the national elites. Critically, Chinese Soft Power failure indicates a lack of cohesive strategy incorporating both investment and diplomacy.


Endnotes:

[1] Uatkhanov, Y. Kazakh Students Also Seek Education in the East – Edge : Kazakhstan. Edge : Kazakhstan. Retrieved 20 July 2020, from https://www.edgekz.com/kazakh-students-also-seek-education-in-the-east.

[2] Shayakhmetova, Z. (2019). Kazakh students seek degrees in best UK universities – The Astana Times. The Astana Times. Retrieved 20 July 2020, from https://astanatimes.com/2019/12/kazakh-students-seek-degrees-in-best-uk-universities.

[3] Kazakhstan – Education. Export.gov. (2019). Retrieved 20 July 2020, from https://www.export.gov/apex/article2?id=Kazakhstan-Education.

[4] Putz, C. (2019).Which Countries Are For or Against China’s Xinjiang Policies?. Thediplomat.com. Retrieved 20 July 2020, from https://thediplomat.com/2019/07/which-countries-are-for-or-against-chinas-xinjiang-policies.

[5] Why Kazakhstan’s protests are unusual. BBC News. (2016). Retrieved 20 July 2020, from https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-asia-36163103.

[6] Putz, C. (2019). Tensions Flare at Kyrgyz Gold Mine. Thediplomat.com. Retrieved 20 July 2020, from https://thediplomat.com/2019/08/tensions-flare-at-kyrgyz-gold-mine.

[7] Dozens detained in Kazakhstan at anti-China protests. reuters.com. (2019). Retrieved 20 July 2020, from https://www.reuters.com/article/us-kazakhstan-china-protests-detentions/dozens-detained-in-kazakhstan-at-anti-china-protests-idUSKBN1W60CS.

[8] Kruglov, A. (2019). Sinophobia simmers across Central Asia. Asia Times. Retrieved 20 July 2020, from https://asiatimes.com/2019/11/sinophobia-simmers-across-central-asia.

2020 - Contest: PRC Below Threshold Writing Contest Assessment Papers Below Established Threshold Activities (BETA) Central Asia China (People's Republic of China) Coercive Diplomacy Diplomacy James Ridley-Jones

U.S. Below War Threshold Options Against China

Editor’s Note:  This article is part of our Below Threshold Competition: China writing contest which took place from May 1, 2020 to July 31, 2020.  More information about the contest can be found by clicking here.


James P. Micciche is a U.S. Army Strategist and Civil Affairs Officer with deployment and service experience in the Middle East, Africa, Afghanistan, Europe, and Indo-Pacific. He is currently a Command and General Staff Officer Course student and can be found on Twitter @james_micciche. Divergent Options’ content does not contain information of an official nature nor does the content represent the official position of any government, any organization, or any group.


National Security Situation:  As China rises to become a Great Power and other nations lack the will to counter this rise via armed conflict, options below the level of armed conflict are required.

Date Originally Written:  July 20, 2020.

Date Originally Published:  September 21, 2020.

Author and / or Article Point of View:  The author believes the United States must increase its capability and efforts to compete with China below levels of armed conflict.

Background:  The 2017 National Security Strategy (NSS) specifically identifies China as a revisionist competing against the United States. The NSS describes the objectives of revisionist nations as, “contesting our geopolitical advantages and trying to change the international order in their favor[1].” Stephen Brooks and William Wohlforth identify China as the driving force of a systemic realignment, “the system has shifted from 1 superpower plus X great powers to 1+1+X, with China occupying a middle category as an emerging potential superpower[2].”

Significance:  China currently avoids directly challenging U.S. hegemony and instead utilizes two primary strategies to expand influence and advance objectives below levels of conflict.

The first strategy, “Three Warfares,” seeks “to break adversary resistance and achieve Chinese national objectives with little or no actual fighting[3].” The three “warfares” are public opinion, psychological operations, and legal warfare. The first two warfares attempt to dominate the information domain and the third warfare targets both international and national structures as a means to make them more conducive to Chinese objectives.

The second strategy uses China’s growing economic power to expand China’s political power.  This expansion is done through a combination of debt-laden investments, economic coercion, and predatory liberalism, which describes how China weaponizes market access to suppress public criticism from companies and nations alike[4].

These two strategies mutually support each other as predatory liberalism enables information dominance facilitating further coercive economic expansion enabling systemic changes to legal structures. Former National Security Advisor H.R. McMaster described this vanguard of Chinese expansion as “a delegation of bankers and party officials with duffel bags full of cash[5],” rather than the traditional military elements of national power associated with historical revisionist expansion. This paper will provide three options to degrade China’s capability and deter their will to execute the aforementioned strategies.

Option #1:  The United States resurrects previous capabilities in an effort to dominate the information environment.

China’s Three Warfares and economic programs are predicated upon dominance of the information environment which is “comprised of and aggregates numerous social, cultural, cognitive, technical, and physical attributes that act upon and impact knowledge, understanding, beliefs, world views, and, ultimately, actions of an individual, group, system, community, or organization[6].” The United States is unable to compete within this environment due to a lack of bureaucratic coherence and leadership[7]. In this option, the United States recreates an Information Age version of the United States Information Agency (USIA) empowering it not only to counter malign Chinese efforts but also potentially propagate messaging into China itself against an autocratic state that severely restricts external information access to its citizens.

Risk:  Establishing an empowered and aggressive USIA could lead to an increase in China’s use of psychological operations, sharp power, and media manipulation against the U.S. and other regional partners. There are also legal concerns regarding U.S. Government filters on speech, press, or information consumed by U.S. citizens.

Gain:  Reestablishing information dominance enhances U.S. soft power globally and fosters resiliency against Chinese manipulation both domestically and abroad. Gaining the capability to target domestic Chinese populations as a form of punitive deterrence restricts China’s aggression across the whole spectrum of competition.

Option #2:  The United States reestablishes and expands the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) with nations throughout the Indo-Pacific region that excludes China.

This TPP 2.0 would specifically address intellectual property rights, Chinese foreign direct investment review processes, and provide smaller nations access to development funds through USAID, The World Bank, and similar organizations. TPP 2.0 would expand from the original 11 signatories to include India, the Philippines, and South Korea.

Risk:  By utilizing their quasi command economy and authoritarian state structure, China could attempt to take substantial economic losses to create an alternative structure to counter U.S. efforts. There might be apprehension from potential TPP 2.0 members due to the unilateral withdraw from TPP by the Trump administration in 2017 placing the United States at a disadvantage in negotiations.

Gain:  TPP 2.0 would provide preferential treatment to U.S. goods, thus increasing market access. It would improve the economies of small Indo-Pacific nations, fostering resiliency to Chinese economic coercion. TPP 2.0 would deny China access to benefits unless it discontinued intellectual property theft, predatory FDI practices, and other malign economic behaviors. Increased trade costs and potential exclusion would undercut much of the funding needed to complete Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) projects. TPP 2.0 enables the creation of alternate supply chains and offshoring options outside of China allowing U.S. firms to protect intellectual property while still reducing costs to U.S. consumers and remaining globally competitive.

Option #3:  The United States harasses and impedes China’s terrestrial expansion.

Chinese competition below levels of conflict includes land and sea-based building programs ranging from constructing artificial islands within the South China Sea to infrastructure projects associated with the BRI initiative. The United States could take overt and covert actions to drive up the costs of Chinese expansion. Overt efforts include funding local environmental and cultural heritage groups that oppose Chinese projects and foster local resistance, which increase regulatory or construction costs. Covert efforts include incentivizing maritime proxies to harass and impede the use of Chinese paramilitary maritime militia in the South China Sea.

Risk:  If direct U.S. funding of proxies becomes known, there could be irreversible damage to the United States’ reputation and advantages in soft power and the information domains. Funding or supporting proxies can lead to secondary support for nonstate actors that seek to destabilize regional partners as well as China. Any escalation in the South China Sea could lead to armed conflict.

Gain:  Increasing Chinese costs could severely restrict their capability to continue expansion and complete projects per agreements with host nations. Combining overt resistance campaigns with coordinated messaging enables the United States to degrade China’s soft and economic power. Directly confronting Chinese maritime militia with similarly designed forces presents a unique geopolitical challenge with few positive outcomes.

Other Comments:  These options are not mutually exclusive and can be utilized in conjunction with other elements of national power to support competition below levels of conflict.

Recommendation:  None.


Endnotes:

[1] Trump, Donald J., National Security Strategy of the United States of America. Executive Office of The President Washington DC Washington United States, 2017, 27

[2] Brooks, Stephen G., and William C. Wohlforth. “The rise and fall of the great powers in the twenty-first century: China’s rise and the fate of America’s global position.” International Security 40, no. 3 (2016): 7-53, 43

[3] Livermore, Doug. “China’s “Three Warfares” in theory and practice in the South China Sea.” Georgetown Security Studies Review (2018).

[4] Cha, Victor, and Andy Lim. “Flagrant Foul: China’s Predatory Liberalism and the NBA.” The Washington Quarterly 42, no. 4 (2019): 23-42.

[5] McMaster, H. R., “How China Sees the World,” The Atlantic, (2020), accessed April 22 2020, https://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2020/05/mcmaster-china-strategy/609088

[6] Joint Chiefs of Staff, Joint Concept for Operating in the Information Environment (JCOIE), Department of Defense, Washington DC (2018)

[7] Cobaugh, Paul, “Combat Ineffective: Ethical Influence, the Broken-down Rusting Vehicle of American Power” Narrative Strategies, (2020) accessed April 23 2020, https://www.narrative-strategies.com/failed-usg-influence

2020 - Contest: PRC Below Threshold Writing Contest Below Established Threshold Activities (BETA) China (People's Republic of China) James P. Micciche Option Papers United States

Boxing Out: Assessing the United States’ Cultural Soft Power Advantage in Africa Over China

Editor’s Note:  This article is part of our Below Threshold Competition: China writing contest which took place from May 1, 2020 to July 31, 2020.  More information about the contest can be found by clicking here.


Scott Martin is a career U.S. Air Force officer who has served in a multitude of globally-focused assignments.  He studied Russian and International Affairs at Trinity University and received his Masters of Science in International Relations from Troy University.  He is currently assigned within the National Capitol Region. Divergent Options’ content does not contain information of an official nature nor does the content represent the official position of any government, any organization, or any group.


Title:  Boxing Out: Assessing the United States’ Cultural Soft Power Advantage in Africa Over China

Date Originally Written:  July 16, 2020.

Date Originally Published:  September 14, 2020.

Author and / or Article Point of View:  The author believes that as a mechanism to counter China’s rising influence in Africa, the U.S. can leverage some of its soft power advantages. In particular, the popularity of American cultural offerings, such as the National Basketball Association (NBA) offers an opportunity for the U.S. to counter China and its soft power efforts in a geographically critical area of the globe.

Summary:  Chinese investment in hard and soft power in Africa over the past several decades presents a challenge to the U.S. role on the continent. While the Chinese focus in Africa is yielding positive results for China’s image and influence, there are still areas where the U.S. outpaces China. American advantages in soft power, such as the popularity of its cultural exports, like the NBA, offer an opportunity for the U.S. to counter Chinese efforts in Africa.

Text:  Since the Cold War, Chinese investment and engagement in Africa is a strong point of their foreign policy. For several decades, China has pumped billions in economic aid, estimated at over $100 billion[1]. The combination of presenting economic assistance on business terms only without dictating values and lack of historical barriers (ala Western Europe’s colonial past and American insistence on adherence to values such a human rights for economic assistance) has made China a formidable force on the African continent, offering an attractive “win-win” relationship[2]. However, while China dominates when it comes to economic engagement, they have not shut out the West when it comes to various forms of soft power. In particular, U.S.-based forms of entertainment, from movies to sporting events, still out-pace Chinese variants.

Since political scientist Joseph Nye first defined “soft power” in the 1990s as the concept of “when one country gets other countries to want what it wants…in contrast with the hard or command power of ordering others to do what it wants”, the concept has gained many political and academic converts[3]. The Chinese look to promote their soft power capabilities, and it is a stated goal of Chinese leaders since Hu Jintao in 2007[4]. These efforts appear to pay off, as surveys show Africans with positive opinions related to China[5].

Yet, while China makes strides in promoting its soft power, it still faces challenges. For all the positive responses it engenders with its efforts, it has not won over all Africans. In various surveys, many ordinary Africans do not always feel that China’s continued investment in their respective countries benefits them as much as it does political leaders[6]. Additionally, Chinese efforts for the promotion of soft power lack the impact of its Western/U.S. competitors. In cultural examples, to include entertainment, the Chinese lag far behind the U.S. It is in this area that the U.S. can leverage its soft power capabilities to help promote itself and counter some aspects of China power projection.

Many aspects of American culture and entertainment find a home in Africa. American cinematic offers dwarf all other international offering by a significant margin, to include China[7]. American music, especially hip-hop and rhythm and blues, dominate African music channels. An American traveling through the continent is considerably more likely to run across American music than the Chinese equivalent[8]. While the Chinese promote their educational capabilities, more African will look towards American colleges/universities if given the chance to attend[9]. While hard power economic and military investment numbers might favor China, the U.S. continues to hold a significant lead in soft power ratings over China in Africa[9].

In one key example, the U.S.-based NBA is arguably the most popular U.S.-based sports league on the continent. While professional football/soccer might be the most popular international sport, the NBA has grown in global popularity over the past 20 years, which includes Africa. Prior to the suspension of the NBA season due to COVID-19, 40 players born in Africa or descended African-born parents were on NBA rosters, to include reigning league Most Valuable Player Giannis Antetokounmpo and All-Star Joel Embiid[10]. Factor in NBA Hall of Famers such as Dikembe Mutombo and Hakeem Olajuwon, and the NBA has significant connections with Africa. Additionally, NBA merchandising and broadcasting takes in significant money, and previous games played in Africa posted sell-out crowds[11]. At the start of 2020, the NBA established an NBA Africa league for the continent, with participation from multiple countries. While COVID-19 disrupted plans for this league, the NBA will be eager to re-engage with Africa post-pandemic.

For the U.S., the NBA efforts offer an opportunity to counter Chinese activity, playing to America’s significant soft power advantage. While the NBA is becoming a more international game, the league is still an American corporation, with mainly American stars. While jersey sales focus on the individual names, which will include African players, the designs and logos are still from the American-based teams. Additionally, with the NBA’s current relationship with China severely curtailed after Houston Rockets’ General Manager Daryl Morey retweeted a message support Democratic protestors in Hong Kong, the NBA, facing a pre-COVID-19 shortfall of $400M from Chinese boycotting, is looking for additional revenue streams[12]. A U.S./NBA relationship in Africa can be a version of “win-win.”

While most view soft power as more effective when it is not directly promoted by the power projecting country, the U.S. can leverage its soft power advantages to counter Chinese actions in Africa. When it comes to the promotion of American cultural imports, U.S. officials, while not explicitly stating that the U.S. government supports that activity, can do things such as promote their attendance at such events via social media as well as take advantage of other communication forums to promote the successes of such ventures in Africa. Additionally, when applicable, the U.S. government can promote favorable messaging at efforts to expand U.S.-based cultural exports, such as the release of American-owned movies and music recordings and clear any governmental administrative hold-ups for entities like the NBA to promote their games and products in Africa.

Granted, promotion of American-based culture and entertainment, such as the NBA, cannot offset the extensive Chinese economic investment in Africa, and the U.S. will have to face its own challenges in soft power projection. However, by playing to its strengths, especially in soft power realm, the NBA in Africa can open the door towards showing a positive image and outreach of American and Western values. This NBA actions can also open the door toward future engagements that can both benefit Africa and challenge Chinese efforts. American cultural offerings are not a cure-all magic bullet, but the U.S. does have the ability to leverage them for soft power advantages, which could stem an increasingly powerful China whose influence across Africa is growing.


Endnotes:

[1] Versi, Anver (Aug/Sept 2017).“What is China’s Game in Africa?” New African, 18. https://newafricanmagazine.com/15707.

[2] Tella, Oluswaseun (2016) “Wielding Soft Power in Strategic Regions: An Analysis of China’s Power of Attraction in Africa and the Middle East” Africa Review, 8 (2) 135. https://www.academia.edu/30299581/Africa_Review_Wielding_soft_power_in_strategic_regions_an_analysis_of_Chinas_power_of_attraction_in_Africa_and_the_Middle_East.

[3] Lai, Hongyi (2019) “Soft Power Determinants in the World and Implications for China: A Quantitative Test of Joseph Nye’s Theory of Three Soft Power Resources and of the Positive Peace Argument.” The Copenhagen Journal of Asian Studies, 37(1) 10.

[4] Schmitt, Gary J (19 June 2014) “A Hard Look at Soft Power in East Asia” American Enterprise Institute Research, 5. https://www.aei.org/research-products/report/a-hard-look-at-soft-power-in-east-asia.

[5] Tella, Oluswaseun, “Wielding Soft Power in Strategic Regions” 137.

[6] Langmia, Kehbuma (2011). “The Secret Weapon of Globalization: China’s Activities in Sub-Saharan Africa” Journal of Third World Studies, XXVIII (2), 49. https://www.academia.edu/31196408/THE_SECRET_WEAPON_OF_GLOBALIZATION_CHINAS_ACTIVITIES_IN_SUB-SAHARAN_AFRICA_By_Kehbuma_Langmia.

[7] 2015-2020 Worldwide Box Office, IMDb Pro, Accessed 13 June 2020, https://www.boxofficemojo.com/year/world/?ref_=bo_nb_in_tab

[8] Tella, Oluswaseun. “Wielding Soft Power in Strategic Regions” 161.

[9] Lai, Hongyi. “Soft Power Determinants in the World and Implications for China” 29.

[10] Mohammed, Omar (2 April 2019) “NBA to Invest Millions of Dollars in New African League” Reuters. https://www.reuters.com/article/us-nba-africa-idUSKCN1RE1WB.

[11] Ibid.

[12] Young, Jabari (2020, 16 Feb). “NBA will Lose Hundreds of Millions of Dollars Due to Rift with China, Commissioner Says” CNBC. https://www.cnbc.com/2020/02/16/nba-will-lose-hundreds-of-millions-of-dollars-due-to-rift-with-china-commissioner-says.html.

2020 - Contest: PRC Below Threshold Writing Contest Africa Assessment Papers Below Established Threshold Activities (BETA) China (People's Republic of China) Private Sector Scott Martin United States

Assessing the Chinese People’s Liberation Army’s Surreptitious Artificial Intelligence Build-Up

Editor’s Note:  This article is part of our Below Threshold Competition: China writing contest which took place from May 1, 2020 to July 31, 2020.  More information about the contest can be found by clicking here.


Richard Tilley is a strategist within the Office of the Secretary of Defense. Previously, Richard served as a U.S. Army Special Forces Officer and a National Security Advisor in the U.S. House of Representatives. He is on Twitter @RichardTilley6 and on LinkedIn. The views contained in this article are the author’s alone and do not represent the views of the Department of Defense or the United States Government.  Divergent Options’ content does not contain information of an official nature nor does the content represent the official position of any government, any organization or any group.


Title:  Assessing the Chinese People’s Liberation Army’s Surreptitious Artificial Intelligence Build-Up

Date Originally Written:  July 6, 2020.

Date Originally Published:  August 14, 2020.

Author and / or Article Point of View:  The author is an unconventional warfare scholar and strategist. He believes renewed American interest in great power competition and Chinese approaches to unrestricted warfare require the United States national security apparatus to better appreciate the disruptive role advanced technology will play on the future battlefield.

Summary:  China’s dreams of regional and global hegemony require a dominant People’s Liberation Army that faces the dilemma of accruing military power while not raising the ire of the United States. To meet this challenge, the Chinese Communist Party has bet heavily on artificial intelligence as a warfighting game-changer that it can acquire surreptitiously and remain below-the-threshold of armed conflict with the United States.

Text:  President Xi Jinping’s introduction of the “The China Dream” in 2013 offers the latest iteration of the Chinese Communist Party’s (CCP) decades-long quest to establish China in its rightful place atop the global hierarchy. To achieve this goal, Xi calls for “unison” between China’s newfound soft power and the People’s Liberation Army’s (PLA) hard power[1]. But, by the CCP’s own admission, “The PLA still lags far behind the world’s leading militaries[2].” Cognizant of this capability deficit, Beijing adheres to the policy of former Chairman Deng Xiaoping, “Hide your strength, bide your time” until the influence of the Chinese military can match that of the Chinese economy.

For the PLA, Deng’s maxim presents a dilemma: how to build towards militarily eclipsing the United States while remaining below the threshold of eliciting armed response. Beijing’s solution is to bet heavily on artificial intelligence (AI) and its potential to upend the warfighting balance of power.

In simple terms, AI is the ability of machines to perform tasks that normally require human intelligence. AI is not a piece of hardware but rather a technology integrated into nearly any system that enables computing more quickly, accurately, and intuitively. AI works by combining massive amounts of data with powerful, iterative algorithms to identify new associations and rules hidden therein. By applying these associations and rules to new scenarios, scientists hope to produce AI systems with reasoning and decision-making capabilities matching or surpassing that of humans.

China’s quest for regional and global military dominance has led to a search for a “Revolution in Military Affairs (RMA) with Chinese characteristics[3].” An RMA is a game-changing evolution in warfighting that upends the balance of power. In his seminal work on the subject, former Under Secretary of Defense Michael Vickers found eighteen cases of such innovations in history such as massed infantry, artillery, railroad, telegraph, and atomic weapons[4]. In each case, a military power introduces a disruptive technology or tactic that rapidly and enduringly changes warfighting. The PLA believes that AI can be their game-changer in the next conflict.

Evidence of the PLA’s confidence in AI abounds. Official PRC documents from 2017 called for “The use of new generation AI technologies as a strong support to command decision-making, military deductions [strategy], and defense equipment, among other applications[5].” Beijing matched this rhetoric with considerable funding, which the U.S. Department of Defense estimated as $12 billion in 2017 and growing to as much as $70 billion in 2020[6].

AI’s potential impact in a Western Pacific military confrontation is significant. Using AI, PLA intelligence systems could detect, identify, and assess the possible intent of U.S. carrier strike groups more quickly and with greater accuracy than traditional human analysis. Then, PLA strike systems could launch swarming attacks coordinated by AI that overwhelm even the most advanced American aerial and naval defenses. Adding injury to insult, the PLA’s AI systems will learn from this engagement to strike the U.S. Military with even more efficacy in the future.

While pursuing AI the CCP must still address the dilemma of staying below the threshold of armed conflict – thus the CCP masterfully conceals moves designed to give it an AI advantage. In the AI arms race, there are two key components: technology and data. To surpass the United States, China must dominate both, but it must do so surreptitiously.

AI systems require several technical components to operate optimally, including the talent, algorithms, and hardware on which they rely. Though Beijing is pouring untold resources into developing first-rate domestic capacity, it still relies on offshore sources for AI tech. To acquire this foreign know-how surreptitiously, the CCP engages in insidious foreign direct investment, joint ventures, cyber espionage, and talent acquisition[7] as a shortcut while it builds domestic AI production.

Successful AI also requires access to mountains of data. Generally, the more data input the better the AI output. To build these data stockpiles, the CCP routinely exploits its own citizens. National security laws passed in 2014 and 2017 mandate that Chinese individuals and organizations assist the state security apparatus when requested[8]. The laws make it possible for the CCP to easily collect and exploit Chinese personal data that can then be used to strengthen the state’s internal security apparatus – powered by AI. The chilling efficacy seen in controlling populations in Xinjiang and Hong Kong can be transferred to the international battlefield.

Abroad, the CCP leverages robust soft power to gain access to foreign data. Through programs like the Belt and Road Initiative, China offers low-cost modernization to tech-thirsty customers. Once installed, the host’s upgraded security, communication, or economic infrastructure allows Beijing to capture overseas data that reinforces their AI data sets and increases their understanding of the foreign environment[9]. This data enables the PLA to better train AI warfighting systems to operate in anywhere in the world.

If the current trends hold, the United States is at risk of losing the AI arms race and hegemony in the Western Pacific along with it. Despite proclaiming that, “Continued American leadership in AI is of paramount importance to maintaining the economic and national security of the United States[10],” Washington is only devoting $4.9 billion to unclassified AI research in fiscal year 2020[11], just seven percent of Beijing’s investment.

The keep pace, the United States can better comprehend and appreciate the consequences of allowing the PLA to dominate AI warfighting in the future. The stakes of the AI race are not dissimilar to the race for nuclear weapons during World War 2. Only by approaching AI with the same interest, investment, and intensity of the Manhattan Project can U.S. Military hegemony hope to be maintained.


Endnotes:

[1] Page, J. (2013, March 13). For Xi, a ‘China Dream’ of Military Power. Wall Street Journal Retrieved June 20, 2020 from https://www.wsj.com/articles/SB10001424127887324128504578348774040546346

[2] The State Council Information Office of the People’s Republic of China. (2019). China’s National Defense in the New Era. (p. 6)

[3] Ibid.

[4] Vickers, M. G. (2010). The structure of military revolutions (Doctoral dissertation, Johns Hopkins University) (pp. 4-5). UMI Dissertation Publishing.

[5] PRC State Council, (2017, July 17). New Generation Artificial Intelligence Plan. (p. 1)

[6] Pawlyk, O. (2018, July 30). China Leaving the US behind on Artificial Intelligence: Air Force General. Military.com. Retrieved June 20, 2020 from https://www.military.com/defensetech/2018/07/30/china-leaving-us-behind-artificial-intelligence-air-force-general.html

[7] O’Conner, S. (2019). How Chinese Companies Facilitate Technology Transfer from the United States. U.S. – China Economic and Security Review Commission. (p. 3)

[8] Kharpal, A. (2019, March 5). Huawei Says It Would Never Hand Data to China’s Government. Experts Say It Wouldn’t Have a Choice. CNBC. Retrieved June 20, 2020 from https://www.cnbc.com/2019/03/05/huawei-would-have-to-give-data-to-china-government-if-asked-experts.html

[9] Chandran, N. (2018, July 12). Surveillance Fears Cloud China’s ‘Digital Silk Road.’ CNBC. Retrieved June 20, 2020 from https://www.cnbc.com/2018/07/11/risks-of-chinas-digital-silk-road-surveillance-coercion.html

[10] Trump, D. (2019, February 14). Executive Order 13859 “Maintaining American Leadership in Artificial Intelligence.” Retrieved June 20, 2020 from https://www.whitehouse.gov/presidential-actions/executive-order-maintaining-american-leadership-artificial-intelligence

[11] Cornillie, C. (2019, March 28). Finding Artificial Intelligence Research Money in the Fiscal 2020 Budget. Bloomberg Government. Retrieved June 20, 2020 from https://about.bgov.com/news/finding-artificial-intelligence-money-fiscal-2020-budget

2020 - Contest: PRC Below Threshold Writing Contest Artificial Intelligence & Human-Machine Teaming Assessment Papers China (People's Republic of China) Richard Tilley United States

Assessing the Dependency of U.S. Below Threshold Competition on Department of State Modernization

Editor’s Note:  This article is part of our Below Threshold Competition: China writing contest which took place from May 1, 2020 to July 31, 2020.  More information about the contest can be found by clicking here.


Matthew F. Smith is an active duty officer in the United States Army. He can be found on Twitter @Matt_F_Smith. The views expressed in this paper represent the personal views of the author and are not necessarily the views of the Department of Defense or of the Department of the Army.  Divergent Options’ content does not contain information of an official nature nor does the content represent the official position of any government, any organization, or any group.


Title:  Assessing the Dependency of U.S. Below Threshold Competition on Department of State Modernization

Date Originally Written:  June 12, 2020.

Date Originally Published:  August 5, 2020.

Author and / or Article Point of View:  The article is written from the point of view of the United States. The author is interested in the strengths and limitations of resourcing the U.S. Executive Branch Departments and Agencies primarily responsible for executing foreign policy strategies below the threshold of armed conflict.

Summary:   U.S. policymakers are deciding how to compete with the Peoples Republic of China (PRC) and counteract their objectives. Given fiscal realities, the opportunity exists to rebalance current militaristic policy tendencies and force institutional reforms. The U.S. Department of State, due to its largely below-threshold mandate, is a good target for modernization so it can better lead foreign policy efforts through diplomacy, advocacy, and assistance.

Text:  Over the last decade, American foreign policy has focused increasingly on competition with the People’s Republic of China (PRC). Regardless of the various administrations’ policies, the central strategic aim has been how the United States can best compete with China while remaining below the threshold of armed conflict. The PRC’s central strategic aim is to undermine current U.S. alliances and other historically U.S. lead global institutions[1]. Given the $2.5 trillion in federal spending in the wake of COVID-19 pandemic and an economic recession, a fiscally conscience U.S. government is likely to exist moving forward[2]. As a result, future foreign policy decisions will focus on the smart application of strategic tools that are gauged not merely by measures of performance but also by the financial effectiveness in achieving the desired outcome. For the U.S. to maintain the fundamental ability to compete below the threshold of armed conflict, the State Department, whose mission is to “lead America’s foreign policy through diplomacy, advocacy, and assistance”; requires equipping through bipartisan commitment of resources to compete in the current environment[3]. Understanding that near-term competition will likely remain below the threshold of large scale combat operations, and U.S. strategy aims to promote a range of acceptable options short of armed conflict, the resourcing of such efforts is a fundamental issue.

Just as the U.S. military is resourced to innovate and adapt in response to emerging military threats, undertaking the institutional reform necessary for the State Department to have the capability to lead an integrated approach to promote U.S. strategic interests is of vital importance. An environment that is competitive but not combative requires the State Department to be capable of frustrating Chinese interests in areas that cooperation is not possible while seizing fleeting moments of opportunity for mutually beneficial agreements. Without a properly resourced and organized State Department, opportunities to frustrate China will be lost altogether or be handled in such a manner that its potential benefit will be greatly diminished. The Indo-Pacific region is vital to U.S. objectives because of its continuing economic opportunities, and yet, to fully reap the benefits of those opportunities, the United States, China, and the other countries that are impacted by regional competition must work together to communally benefit whenever possible. Competing with China requires the U.S. to advance its position by smartly leveraging all instruments of national power that enable the current strategic approach.

Policymakers can ask themselves how the U.S. can be expected to compete below the threshold of armed conflict without adequately resourcing the primary agency responsible for executing the policies in that environment. The Department of Defense requested $705.4 billion for FY21; and while defense spending on military capability is an important component of a deterrence strategy, it only inadvertently promotes the U.S. capability to compete below the threshold of armed conflict[4]. The State Department requested $40.8 billion for FY21, which is an $11.7 billion, or 22-percent decrease from the 2020 enacted level[5]. In the face of reports calling for the State Department to modernize, the U.S., as is evident in the proposed budget, is prioritizing military capability for deterrence at the expense of investing in deterrence through greater diplomacy, advocacy, and assistance efforts[6]. Ignoring the reality of State Department capability will lead to U.S. policy missteps and encourage China to expand their focus beyond military development and increase investing in other strategic sectors[7]. These sectors, which include the Belt and Road Initiative and the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank, are effective in increasing the political clout the PRC can wield in forming new alliances and dependencies while degrading the U.S. position in the region.

The current United States strategic approach to the PRC reaffirms many of the incorporative strategic approaches described in the 2017 National Security Strategy, 2018 National Defense Strategy, 2019 Department of State Strategy, and the 2019 Department of Defense Indo-Pacific Strategy Report[8]. Specifically, the current U.S. strategic documents accept China as a major power in its own right and describe many unconstrained approaches that will foster cooperation and competition wherever possible while not allowing rivalry to degrade the entire relationship. While these documents allude to a networked approach for competing with China in some areas while cooperating in others, the fiscal allocation of resources and the demonstration that when under stress, the liberal virtues championed in these strategies are easily sacrificed, make clear that execution of the supporting policies is an issue. To compete with China, policymakers can consider sufficiently budgeting the resources required for the State Department to increase its capability to promote U.S. strategic interests across the many non-military domains[9].

The State Department, as the primary agency that coordinates diplomacy, advocacy, and assistance efforts, is critical in a competitive environment that falls below the threshold of armed conflict. The United States cannot effectively or efficiently compete with China while using inflexible and un-adaptive organizational structures that are ill-equipped to deliver relevant solutions[10]. Just as the U.S. military has been equipped to conduct modernization efforts, the Department of State requires the same focus of resourcing for their modernization efforts to successfully outcompete China. Without adequate funding, the State Department will not reform into a more agile institution that can deliver the strategic objectives in a manner reflective of the current period of great power competition[11]. The undervaluing of non-military strategic tools and agencies such as the State Department, over time, will make the military option the most preferred deterrence and engagement method for shaping foreign affairs. The United States’ costly global military presence as a result of the war on terror and extended campaigns in Iraq and Afghanistan have only reinforced this militaristic reality and are an impetus for assessing foreign policy approaches to foster more competitive practices below the threshold of armed conflict.


Endnotes:

[1] Araya, D. (2019, October 20). China’s Grand Strategy. Retrieved June 12, 2020, from https://www.forbes.com/sites/danielaraya/2019/01/14/chinas-grand-strategy/#27ce4ef61f18

[2] Swagel, P. (2020, April 24). CBO’s Current Projections of Output, Employment, and Interest Rates and a Preliminary Look at Federal Deficits for 2020 and 2021. Retrieved June 12, 2020, from https://www.cbo.gov/publication/56335

[3] United States Department of State. (2019, May 13). Retrieved June 12, 2020, from https://www.state.gov/about/about-the-u-s-department-of-state

[4] Department of Defense 2021 Budget Request. 2020, Retrieved June 12, 2020, from https://www.govinfo.gov/content/pkg/BUDGET-2021-BUD/pdf/BUDGET-2021-BUD-9.pdf

[5] Department of State and Other International Programs 2021 Budget Request. 2020, Retrieved June 12, 2020, from https://www.govinfo.gov/content/pkg/BUDGET-2021-BUD/pdf/BUDGET-2021-BUD-18.pdf

[6] United States Government Accountability Office. (2019, March). Integrated Action Plan Could Enhance Efforts to Reduce Persistent Overseas Foreign Service Vacancies. Retrieved June 12, 2020, from https://www.gao.gov/assets/700/697281.pdf

[7] Ju, S. F. (2018, March 6). China’s diplomacy budget doubles under Xi Jinping. Retrieved June 12, 2020, from https://www.ft.com/content/2c750f94-2123-11e8-a895-1ba1f72c2c11

[8] United States Strategic Approach to the People’s Republic of China. (2020, May 20). Retrieved June 12, 2020, from https://www.whitehouse.gov/wp-content/uploads/2020/05/U.S.-Strategic-Approach-to-The-Peoples-Republic-of-China-Report-5.20.20.pdf

[9] Congressional Budget Justification: Department of State Diplomatic Engagement. (2020, March). Retrieved June 12, 2020, from https://www.state.gov/wp-content/uploads/2020/03/FY21-CBJ-Appendix-1-FINAL-for-GPA-Mar-26-2020.pdf

[10] Daalder, I., & Lindsay, J. (2001, March 1). How to Revitalize a Dysfunctional State Department. Retrieved June 12, 2020, from https://www.brookings.edu/wp-content/uploads/2017/09/gs_20170927_dos__usaid_listening_report_2017.pdf

[11] Office of Inspector General. (2019, November). Review of the Department of State’s Organizational Reform Effort. Retrieved June 12, 2020, from https://www.stateoig.gov/system/files/aud-mero-20-09.pdf

2020 - Contest: PRC Below Threshold Writing Contest Budgets and Resources China (People's Republic of China) Diplomacy Matthew F. Smith Option Papers United States

Options for African Nations Regarding Economic Collaboration with the U.S. and China

Editor’s Note:  This article is part of our Below Threshold Competition: China writing contest which took place from May 1, 2020 to July 31, 2020.  More information about the contest can be found by clicking here.


Ekene Lionel is the Executive Director for Military Africa.  He can be found on Twitter @LionelfrancisNG.  Divergent Options’ content does not contain information of an official nature nor does the content represent the official position of any government, any organization, or any group.


National Security Situation:  The United States and the People’s Republic of China are competing below the threshold of war for influence in Africa.

Date Originally Written:  May 19, 2020.

Date Originally Published:  July 27, 2020.

Author and / or Point of View:  The author believes that the possibility of a U.S.-Chinese economic collaboration in Africa is the only way forward, and that this collaboration will be key to competition in Africa below the threshold of war. The article is written from the point of view of Africa’s relationship between both major powers.

Background:  China is an increasingly important player in the politics, economic development, and security of Africa. China has prioritized strong diplomatic relations and political ties with African states. Beijing’s ideological aspiration, anchored on solidarity amongst the Third World countries, is appealing to African states.

Significance:  With China’s focus on Africa’s rich resources is to fuel its own domestic economic growth, this has placed it in direct competition with the United States.

Option #1:  The U.S. increases bilateral trade and investment in Africa to compete with China below the threshold of war.

Although China and the United States employ different strategies and tactics in Africa, they share very similar interests, and that their competition has been largely confined to the economic domain. Even though there is a fundamental distrust between both nations, particularly as the U.S. is cautious of China’s military entry into Africa, there is still much room for their cooperation in promoting peace and economic development on the continent.

With that said, the U.S. currently lacks a comprehensive approach to multilateral issues such as regional trade, governance, and infrastructural development that will serve Africa better than what China offers. Since trade is vital to Africa’s economic future and to improving lives and livelihoods, the U.S. can recognize that much of China’s appeal is its willingness to respond to Africa’s developmental priorities, and to project Africa as a promising hub for foreign investment. For several decades, U.S. investment is still heavily concentrated in the natural resource sector. Instead, for a long-term, sustainable economic growth, and development in Africa, America can identify and promote other sectors where U.S. businesses might have competitive advantages.

The United States can also work with African countries to take full advantage of both African Growth and Opportunity Act (AGOA) and worldwide trading opportunities and send exports to emerging markets such as Russia, China, India, and Brazil (BRIC). The AGOA, which was signed between 2002 and 2008, lowers tariff barriers for entry into the United States of African-produced textiles and other commodities[1].

Besides trade and foreign direct investment, America can leverage its relationship with Africa to encourage improvements in human rights practices and the pursuance of Western-style liberal democracy. In contrast, China has a policy of no political strings attached to its aid. Beijing maintains close relations with African governments whether they are democracies, autocracies, military regimes, or Islamists.

Risk:  Increased U.S. trade and investment in Africa angers China, who then takes steps to roll back U.S. efforts in Africa or elsewhere.

Gain:  This option will appeal to African nations on the basis of a common U.S-African interest in trade negotiations. At present, Africa has just 2 percent of all world trade, this is still low considering a large number of resources present in Africa. The U.S. will have to convince companies to invest in the region, and also opening its markets further to African exports.

Option #2:  The U.S. and China collaborate economically in Africa.

Militarily, the United States has a robust presence in Africa, and is particularly active in anti-piracy and counter-terror efforts, operating up to 29 different bases in the continent[2]. China cannot hope to match or contest U.S. military dominance in Africa. Africa is no stranger to conflict as the continent has been subjected to constant warfare for the past several decades. Africa will fiercely resist any attempt of international armed struggle for clout within the continent.

The United States and China use essentially the same political, economic, military, and cultural tools for implementing their policies in Africa. For China, the country has placed itself as the infrastructural vanguard of the new frontier, since Africa is now considered the fastest urbanizing continent globally. According to a 2017 report by the International Monetary Fund, in 2017, Africa boasted seven of the 20 fastest growing economies in the world[3].

Thus, China has position itself to capitalize and exploit this growth. Since 2005, the American Enterprise Institute (AEI) China Global Investment Tracker determined that the total value of Chinese investments and construction in Africa is nearing $2 trillion[4]. The Chinese investment is compared with the just $39 billion combined trade value for the United States according to a 2017 United States Agency for International Development report. The U.S. is it Africa’s third-largest trading partner behind China and the European Union.

To consolidate its robust economic influence, China recently launched a $1 billion Belt and Road infrastructure fund for Africa, and a $60 billion African aid package[5]. Even though China is presenting itself humbly in its interaction with Africa, it has been accused of saddling developing countries with substantial volumes of hidden debt through its Belt and Road Initiative. This humility is rapidly changing as China’s political and economic power increases. As China looks to diversify its trade and investment relationships amid the protracted trade war with the U.S, Beijing’s opaqueness in issuing loans means debt burdens for recipient countries, which can cause potential problems for the African economy.

For now, Chinese firms have been actively building ports, roads, and railways to enhance integration and trade between African nations, mainly under the African Continental Free Trade Agreement (AfCFTA). AfCFTA intends to bring together all 55 African Union member states into the world’s largest free trade area, covering over 1.2 billion people. Besides, China now has more diplomatic offices in Africa than the U.S., and in some countries, Chinese influence counts for more[6].

In contrast, being the leader of the Western world since the end of World War II, the United States is sometimes perceived in Africa as insensitive and arrogant. U.S.-Africa trade has dipped in recent years. Nearly all of the assistance provided to Africa by the United States is in the form of grants and aids to Africa has been running at about $8 billion annually.

If the U.S continues to pursue military dominance or competition with China even below the threshold of war, it risks being a step or even two behind China in Africa for a long time. U.S. interests in Africa remain shaped, to its own detriment, by a perceived competition with China. The U.S. may accomplish more by focusing on areas of current or potential collaboration and to pay less attention to the debilitating debate about U.S-China competition.

Washington can collaborate with China, smoothing the way to trade will help more entrepreneurial African states, especially those with the thriving private business sector, to grow where it would be welcomed by the new generation of dynamic African entrepreneurs.

While there are areas in Africa where China and the United States might compete as major powers, especially below the threshold of war, there are many more areas where they can cooperate. For example, both Countries have a successful agricultural sector, components of which could be combined and adapted to improve production in Africa.

At this point, America likely cannot sit idly while countries such as China become more engaged with the aspirations of Africa’s next generation of leaders. Frankly, China is not a strategic threat to the United States in Africa. However, Beijing could pose serious political and commercial challenges for influence. Nonetheless, by engaging China more on Africa-centric socio-economic, diplomatic, and infrastructural development can the U.S. meet this challenge effectively.

Risk:  Chinese and U.S. investments in Africa further entangle the two nations and cause both to hesitate to take more important actions to preserve national security.

Gain:  A coordinated and dedicated diplomatic, commercial, and security strategy can increase U.S. investment and challenge Chinese influence in Africa.

Other Comments:  None.

Recommendation:  None.


Endnotes:

[1] African Growth and Opportunity Act (AGOA), https://agoa.info/about-agoa.html

[2] Nick Turse, Pentagon’s map of US bases in Africa, The Intercept, February 27, 2020, https://theintercept.com/2020/02/27/africa-us-military-bases-africom

[3] IMF Annual Report 2017, Promoting inclusive growth, 2017, https://www.imf.org/external/pubs/ft/ar/2017/eng/pdfs/IMF-AR17-English.pdf

[4] AEI, China Global Investment Tracker, 2005-2019, https://www.aei.org/wp-content/uploads/2020/01/China-Global-Investment-Tracker-2019-Fall-FINAL.xlsx

[5] Silk Road Briefing, US$ 1 Billion Belt & Road Africa Fund Launched, July 04, 2019, https://www.silkroadbriefing.com/news/2019/07/04/us-1-billion-belt-road-africa-fund-launched

[6] Ben Doherty , The Guardian, China leads world in number of diplomatic posts, leaving US in its wake, Tuesday 26 Nov 2019, https://www.theguardian.com/world/2019/nov/27/china-leads-world-in-number-of-diplomatic-posts-leaving-us-in-its-wake

2020 - Contest: PRC Below Threshold Writing Contest Africa Below Established Threshold Activities (BETA) China (People's Republic of China) Competition Ekene Lionel Option Papers United States

Assessing African Strategic Needs to Counter Undue Chinese Influence

Editor’s Note:  This article is part of our Below Threshold Competition: China writing contest which took place from May 1, 2020 to July 31, 2020.  More information about the contest can be found by clicking here.


Damimola Olawuyi has served as a Geopolitical Analyst for SBM Intelligence. He can be found on Twitter @DAOlawuyi. Divergent Options’ content does not contain information of an official nature nor does the content represent the official position of any government, any organization, or any group.


Title:  Assessing African Strategic Needs to Counter Undue Chinese Influence

Date Originally Written:  May 2, 2020.

Date Originally Published:  July 13, 2020.

Author and / or Article Point of View:  The author believes that China’s current posture in Africa, if left unchecked, will turn the continent into a battleground for Great Power Competition below the threshold of armed conflict.

Summary:  China, despite its claims of peaceful rise, has steadily exercised its military, economic and diplomatic might. With strong leadership that is not afraid of compromise, African countries can enforce their independence as they ensure peace and prosperity on the continent.

Text:  When Deng Xiaoping liberalized the Chinese economy in 1978[1], his goals were to lift 860 million Chinese from poverty and power the Chinese economy to overtake its neighbors[2]. From an agrarian, state-controlled economy, China is now an industrial, largely private sector-led economic superpower[3]. However, as China’s economic power has grown, concerns about China’s global agenda have emerged[4]. China, along with Russia, is determined to reorder the world in its image[5], making conflict with the West more likely[6]. Yet, despite professing a policy of “Peaceful Rise[7]”, Chinese actions in the South China Sea[8] and its isolation campaign against Taiwan[9] show that Beijing isn’t afraid to flex its diplomatic, economic and military muscles.

Africa has attracted the interest of Great Powers through the ages. Often this interest has been to the detriment of Africans. From the destruction of Carthage[10] to slave trade[11][12] and colonization[13], Africa has faced privations from empires looking to exploit its resources. Even after independence, warring powers continued to interfere in the internal conflicts of African countries[14] throughout the Cold War. With a large and growing African population, sophisticated middle class, and increased connectivity to the rest of the world, Africa will continue to be both a source of materials and destination for goods and services.

As China expands its international footprint, it has deliberately increased its African ties. It supplies weapons to African countries without regard to the human rights practices of their leaders[15]. China is now Africa’s biggest trading partner[16] while providing financing for infrastructural projects through its Belt and Road Initiative. These projects have often been sponsored without regard to their sustainability or economic viability. The inability of countries to repay such loans have forced them to surrender critical infrastructure, with potential military implications[17][18].

As Great Power competition returns and China’s stance becomes more confrontational, and African leaders fail to act, the continent will again become just another front for global rivalries without regard for the well being of Africans. Global powers have fought their wars on African soil since the 18th Century. Regardless of the winners of these conflicts, Africans lose more than they gain. Africans, more than ever, can shape their destinies and work for the 21st Century to become Africa’s Century.

Africa nations can work to secure peace on the continent. By leveraging multilateral organizations operating on the continent, African leaders can make the painful compromises required to settle their inter-state disputes and move to cooperative models that engender peace based on common interests. African leaders can expand intra-African trade through the African Continental Free Trade Area and exploit regional organizations to tackle transnational crimes including human trafficking, illegal extraction of resources, religious extremism, and corruption under joint platforms.

Leaders can resolve the various internal stresses that keep their countries in political crises. Many African countries have been unable to foster a national identity, leaving their people clinging to tribal and religious identities without regard for the state’s interest. By decentralizing power, increasing citizen participation, respecting the rule of law, and reforming governance models for efficient service delivery, populations can begin to develop their sense of nationhood. Food security, public sanitation, healthcare, power, justice, and education programs can be implemented smartly and with consideration to the direct needs of their citizens, to prevent the resentment that bad actors can exploit.

African countries can take deliberate steps to diversify their technical, industrial, and financial sources. Governments can implement open standards, secure sensitive infrastructure from interference, and break up monopolies. As COVID-19 exposes the weakness of China’s role as the world’s manufacturing hub, countries can invest in manufacturing abilities and build capabilities to scale up production of critical items to safeguard their supply chains.

Most importantly, African leaders can declare that China will not be allowed to use its assets on the continent for military purposes in its competition with the West. Individual countries can also demonstrate the will to prevent the militarization of Chinese financed projects in their jurisdictions. Regional blocs can come together and draw up contingencies to retake control, by force if necessary, any dual-use facilities in member states. The status of Chinese bases on the continent can be spelled out, and appropriate contingencies planned should open conflict break out.

Ultimately, Africans can make deliberate decisions about the future of the continent. They have more agency than at any other time in history to shape the direction of the continent. While many may balk at the redirections needed to make themselves independent of Chinese machinations as well as the costs involved, such actions are crucial to ensure that African countries have the freedom to pursue policies most favorable to them.


Endnotes:

[1] Le, Y., Rabinovitch, S. (2008, December 8). TIMELINE: China milestones since 1978. Retrieved April 19, 2020, from
https://www.reuters.com/article/us-china-reforms-chronology-sb-idUKTRE4B711V20081208

[2] Kopf, D., Lahiri, T. (2018, December 18). The charts that show how Deng Xiaoping unleashed China’s pent-up capitalist energy in 1978. Retrieved April 19, 2020, from
https://qz.com/1498654/the-astonishing-impact-of-chinas-1978-reforms-in-charts

[3] Brandt, L., Rawski, G. (2008, April 14). China’s Great Economic Transformation.

[4] Arace, A. (2018, August 8). China Doesn’t Want to Play by the World’s Rules. Retrieved April 19, 2020, from
https://foreignpolicy.com/2018/08/08/china-doesnt-want-to-play-by-the-worlds-rules

[5] Stent, A. (2020, February). Russia and China: Axis of Revisionist? Retrieved April 19, 2020, from
https://www.brookings.edu/wp-content/uploads/2020/02/FP_202002_russia_china_stent.pdf

[6] Kaplan, R. (2019, January 7). A New Cold War Has Begun. Retrieved April 19, 2020, from
https://foreignpolicy.com/2019/01/07/a-new-cold-war-has-begun

[7] Bijian, Z. Speeches of Zheng Bijian 1997-2004. Retrieved April 24, 2020, from
https://www.brookings.edu/wp-content/uploads/2012/04/20050616bijianlunch.pdf

[8] Axe, D. (2020, March 23). How China is Militarizing the South China Sea with a Ton of Missiles. Retrieved April 24, 2020, from
https://nationalinterest.org/blog/buzz/how-china-militarizing-south-china-sea-ton-missiles-136297

[9] Myers, S. and Horton, C. (2018, May 25). China Tries to Erase Taiwan, One Ally (and Website) at a Time. Retrieved April 23, 2020, from
https://www.nytimes.com/2018/05/25/world/asia/china-taiwan-identity-xi-jinping.html

[10] Kierana, B. (2004, August 1). The First Genocide: Carthage, 146 BC. Retrieved April 23, 2020, from
https://gsp.yale.edu/sites/default/files/first_genocide.pdf

[11] M’Bokolo, E. (1998, April). The impact of the slave trade on Africa. Retrieved April 23, 2020, from
https://mondediplo.com/1998/04/02africa

[12] Nunn, N. (2017, February 27). Understanding the long-run effects of Africa’s slave trades. Retrieved April 23, 2020, from
https://www.bbc.co.uk/bitesize/guides/zxt3gk7/revision/1

[13] Settles, J. (1996). The Impact of Colonialism on African Economic Development. Retrieved April 28, 2020, from
https://trace.tennessee.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?referer=https://www.google.com/&httpsredir=1&article=1182&context=utk_chanhonoproj

[14] Schmidt, E. (2016, July 26). Conflict in Africa: The Historical Roots of Current Problems. Retrieved April 23, 2020, from
https://www.historians.org/publications-and-directories/perspectives-on-history/summer-2016/conflict-in-africa-the-historical-roots-of-current-problems

[15] Hull, A. Markov, D. (2012, February 20). Chinese Arms Sales to Africa. Retrieved April 24, 2020, from
https://www.ida.org/-/media/feature/publications/2/20/2012-chinese-arms-sales-to-africa/2012-chinese-arms-sales-to-africa.ashx

[16] Smith, E. (2019, October 9). The US-China Trade Rivalry is Underway in Africa, and Washington is playing catch-up. Retrieved April 24, 2020, from
https://www.cnbc.com/2019/10/09/the-us-china-trade-rivalry-is-underway-in-africa.html

[17] Abi-Habib, Maria. (2018, June 25). How China Got Sri Lanka to Cough Up a Port. Retrieved April 24, 2020, from
https://www.nytimes.com/2018/06/25/world/asia/china-sri-lanka-port.html

[18] Paris, C. (2019, February 21). China Tightens Grip on East African Port. Retrieved April 24, 2020, from
https://www.wsj.com/articles/china-tightens-grip-on-east-african-port-11550746800

2020 - Contest: PRC Below Threshold Writing Contest Africa Assessment Papers Below Established Threshold Activities (BETA) China (People's Republic of China) Competition Damimola Olawuyi Great Powers

Options for the United States to Compete with China Below the Threshold of Armed Conflict

Editor’s Note:  This article is part of our Below Threshold Competition: China writing contest which took place from May 1, 2020 to July 31, 2020.  More information about the contest can be found by clicking here.


Matthew Ader is a second-year undergraduate taking War Studies at King’s College London.  He tweets occasionally from @AderMatthew, and is an editor at the Wavell Room. Divergent Options’ content does not contain information of an official nature nor does the content represent the official position of any government, any organization, or any group.


National Security Situation:  As China rises and the U.S. wants to avoid direct military confrontation, the U.S. requires options to compete with China below the threshold of armed conflict

Date Originally Written:  May 12, 2020.

Date Originally Published:  July 8, 2020.

Author and / or Article Point of View:  The author is a second-year undergraduate student at King’s College London with a broadly liberal foreign policy view. The article is written from the point of view of the United States towards the People’s Republic of China.

Background:  The United States has identified China as a key competitor and revanchist power seeking to undermine the U.S.-led international order.

Significance:  China is expanding its influence globally through competition below the threshold of armed conflict, to the detriment of U.S. interests. A conventional Sino-American war to counter or roll back these gains would be catastrophic. The below options enable the U.S. to compete against China short of war.

Option #1:  The United States deploys specialist surveillance and training capabilities, along with Coast Guard and Navy vessels, to enhance and expand existing multilateral efforts against maritime lawlessness – particularly illegal, unreported and unregulated (IUU) fishing – in the Indo-Pacific theatre.

Risk:  This option would put US personnel in close contact with Chinese maritime militia, coast guard, and fishing fleets on a regular basis – increasing the possibility of a geopolitical incident. It could also contribute to overstretch in the U.S. 7th Fleet. Further, while maritime lawlessness is recognised as a major problem by all countries in theatre, U.S. enforcement action could be seen as high-handed. One particular concern would be how the U.S. treats Japan – it is a key ally but is also heavy enmeshed in the IUU industry. Too heavy-handed a treatment would alienate Japan; too lenient would make the U.S. seem hypocritical. This option might also embroil the U.S. in regional disputes over maritime border claims.

Gain:  This option would strengthen the U.S. claim of being a status quo power upholding the law and rules-based international order against an aggressive and lawless China. Given that regional trust in the U.S. has sunk dramatically over the course of the Trump administration, this option could constitute a helpful corrective. Substantively, this option could also assist in pushing back on Chinese influence in the South China Sea; the current Freedom of Navigation Operations are inherently transient and can be avoided without change to broader Chinese strategy — persistent presence cannot. Lastly, it would permit U.S. forces to work alongside regional partners, gaining valuable operational expertise and local knowledge.

Option #2:  The United States increases funding for the journalists, civil rights activists, and anti-corruption campaigners in nations involved in the Chinese Belt and Road Initiative (BRI).

Risk:  This option may be seen as the U.S. meddling unduly in the affairs of foreign countries, and certainly would be portrayed as such by the Chinese state media. It is also difficult to assess the impact of such investments, which, given the kleptocratic or authoritarian nature of many BRI states, may be negligible. Moreover, this option could lead to activists and journalists being labelled as foreign agents. Further, while the material loss to U.S. interests resulting from states cracking down on individuals and organisations who receive U.S. funding is relatively small, the reputational risk is significant.

Gain:  This option allows the U.S. to contest and bog down Chinese BRI expansion in Africa and central Asia, as activists and journalists expose Chinese elite corruption and oppose predatory debt-trap diplomacy. It would involve no risk to U.S. personnel, and limited expenditure compared to more kinetic options. Moreover, this option could, with appropriate messaging, allow the U.S. to portray itself as siding with local populations against an overbearing China and its puppets – an advantage for international media coverage.

Option #3:  China is a highly aggressive and malign actor in cyberspace. The U.S. encourages and facilitates greater global regulation surrounding cyberwarfare and espionage. One specific option would be an international body, likely under United Nations authority, to identify the origin of cyberattacks.

Risk:  The U.S. is highly capable in the cyber domain, and there is a risk that by encouraging more regulation, it would be creating a purity test it cannot itself meet. This would, in turn, create substantial reputational problems for the U.S. Moreover, attributing cyberattacks is difficult, and it is possible that the U.S. might be inadvertently accused of a crime it did not commit. Lastly, while international naming and shaming can be effective, the extent to which it would matter to China is unclear; the option might therefore involve expending substantial U.S. diplomatic capital for limited returns.

Gain:  This option could lead to stronger norms against aggression in cyberspace. This may not discourage China from continuing its current aggressive policy, but it could increase the reputational costs and diplomatic consequences associated with it. Moreover, an impartial and open-source organisation for attributing cyberattacks could be a helpful resource against non-state actors and rogue states – especially given that U.S. efforts at attribution are often hampered by the need to protect sensitive intelligence sources and methods. Lastly, this option, as a recourse to multilateralism, would signal U.S. commitment to the rules-based international order, which may be important in restoring global trust in U.S. leadership.

Other Comments:  Sino-U.S. competition is and will continue to shape this century. New ways for the U.S. to compete below the threshold of armed conflict may be critical assets in assuring U.S. victory.

Recommendation:  None.


Endnotes:

[1] Larter, D. B. (2019, May 2). Here’s how the Japan-based 7th Fleet has changed since 17 sailors died in accidents 2 years ago. Retrieved April 20, 2020, from https://www.defensenews.com/digital-show-dailies/navy-league/2019/05/05/heres-how-the-japan-based-7th-fleet-has-changed-since-17-sailors-died-in-accidents-2-years-ago

[2] Mackie, J. (2019, October 18). Japan Has an Illegal Seafood Problem. Retrieved April 20, 2020, from https://www.hakaimagazine.com/news/japan-has-an-illegal-seafood-problem

[3] Rudd, K. (2020, May 6). The Coming Post-COVID Anarchy. Retrieved from https://www.foreignaffairs.com/articles/united-states/2020-05-06/coming-post-covid-anarchy

2020 - Contest: PRC Below Threshold Writing Contest Below Established Threshold Activities (BETA) China (People's Republic of China) Competition Matthew Ader Option Papers

Options for a Five Eyes Response to Below Threshold Competition with China

Editor’s Note:  This article is part of our Below Threshold Competition: China writing contest which took place from May 1, 2020 to July 31, 2020.  More information about the contest can be found by clicking here.


Alexander Craig works in the United Kingdom’s Armed Forces. Divergent Options’ content does not contain information of an official nature nor does the content represent the official position of any government, any organization or any group.


National Security Situation:  Competition with China below the threshold of armed conflict.

Date Originally Written:  May 4, 2020.

Date Originally Published:  July 1, 2020.

Author and / or Article Point of View:  This article is written from the perspective of the ‘Five Eyes’ nations: the United States, the United Kingdom (UK), Canada, New Zealand, and Australia.

Background:  The Five Eyes nations are united not just by security cooperation, but by shared history, language, culture and a commitment to democracy, free market institutions and the rule of law. Being few in number compared to the European Union’s 27 members and the North Atlantic Treaty Organization’s 30, the Five Eyes have the potential to act with depth and agility against a common challenge on the world stage beyond that of other international affiliations.

Significance:  China is promoting its authoritarian model abroad as a superior alternative to liberal democracy and the free market[1]. In doing so China is seeking to undermine the current rules based international order; with Xi Jinping openly stating in 2014 that China should be “constructing international playgrounds” and “creating the rules”[2]. If left unchecked, this below threshold competition will undermine democratic norms, support for the free market, and subvert global institutions.

Option #1:  The UK grants full citizenship to Hong Kong’s British Overseas Nationals.
There are approximately 250,000 holders of British National (Overseas) (BN(O)) passports.[3] Holders are permanent Hong Kong residents who voluntarily registered prior to 1997. They are not afforded the protection and right that full British citizenship would bring.

Risk:  It is likely that the Chinese government would seek to portray this as an act of interference in its domestic affairs. There is a possibility that BN(O) holders would be seen by the authorities as a suspect group, and this measure could be the catalyst for the victimisation of BN(O) passport holders. Domestically, there would likely be concern in the UK about the possible impact of the instant granting of citizenship to quarter of a million people.

Gain:  By granting full citizenship, the UK demonstrates its support to these citizens of Hong Kong. This act would reassure the people of Hong Kong that international support did not just amount to words; and demonstrates that there can be effective soft power responses to China’s use of hard power against its own citizens.

Option #2:  The Five Eyes nations establish their own Free Trade Agreement.

China uses access to its markets as a tool of both influence and punishment, as seen in recent threats levelled towards Australia[4]. Several unconnected arrangements already link most of the Five Eyes nations such as free trade agreements between the United States, Australia and Canada[5][6]. The withdrawal of the United Kingdom from the European Union presents an opportunity to simplify and formalise arrangements between the five nations.

Risk:  Free trade agreements can prove controversial[7] and domestic support for free trade often fluctuates, especially in the United States[8]. Increased rhetoric regarding the need for protectionism and claims that the coronavirus has highlighted the fragility of global supply chains could combine to make the early 2020s a difficult period for advancing ambitious free trade agreements[9].

Gain: The establishment of a simple and transparent free trade area by democratic nations deeply committed to the institutions of the free market and the rule of law (and with already existing security arrangements) would provide a global market where participants need not be at the mercy of an autocratic state. This free trade area would be the largest in the world, with a combined Gross Domestic Product of 26.73 trillion dollars, almost double that of China and exceeding the European Union’s[10].

Option #3:  The Five Eye nations give Taiwan full diplomatic recognition.

Currently 15 nations recognise Taiwan, a decrease of seven since 2016. This is primarily a result of pressure placed on smaller nations by China[11].

Risk:  The recognition of Taiwan as a sovereign nation would be highly provocative and would almost certainly be met with a response from China. U.S. President Donald Trump recently signed into law the TAIPEI Act[12], which prompted the Chinese foreign ministry spokesperson to respond “We urge the United States to correct its mistakes, not implement the law, or obstruct the development of relations between other countries and China, otherwise it will inevitably encounter a resolute strike back by China[13].” This option might entail having to be prepared to face this threatened ‘strike back’.

Gain:  The Chinese government’s opposition to international recognition of a prosperous free market democracy is enforced through threats and coercion. Recognition would be a declaration that, on the world stage, aggressive rhetoric and punitive use of boycotts and market access by larger nations do not trump the rule of law, democracy, and the sovereignty of smaller nations. If China does attempt a forced reunification, previous recognition of Taiwan makes clear what crime has been committed: the invasion of a sovereign nation by another – not a conclusion to the civil war, or the reigning in of a secessionist province.

Other Comments:  Suggestions for addressing the risks posed by Chinese competition are often reactive in nature and assume China has the initiative: preventing dominance of 5G networks, preventing mass corporate theft, reducing the influence of Confucius Institutes etc. While each suggestion is valid, there is a risk that the assumption of Chinese advantage fosters a pessimistic attitude. Instead, what authoritarian regimes often see as the West’s weaknesses are often strengths, and in the words of U.S. Army Lieutenant General H.R. McMaster, “we have far more leverage than we are employing[14].”

Recommendation:  None.


Endnotes:

[1] McMaster, H. 2020. How China sees the World. The Atlantic. https://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2020/05/mcmaster-china-strategy/609088

[2] Economy, E. 2018. China’s New Revolution. Foreign Affairs. https://www.foreignaffairs.com/articles/china/2018-04-17/chinas-new-revolution

[3] UK House of Commons. 2020. British Overseas Passport Holders in Hong Kong. Hansard https://hansard.parliament.uk/Commons/2020-01-29/debates/AC02FF56-64CB-4E14-92FD-D2EF59859782/BritishOverseasPassportHoldersInHongKong

[4] McCullough, D. 2020. China threatens to stop Australian imports. Canberra Times. https://www.canberratimes.com.au/story/6736562/china-threatens-to-stop-australian-imports

[5] Office of the United States Trade Representative. 2020. Free Trade Agreements. https://ustr.gov/trade-agreements/free-trade-agreements

[6] Department of Agriculture, Water and the Environment. 2020. Free Trade Agreements. https://www.agriculture.gov.au/market-access-trade/fta

[7] Pengelly, M. 2017.Trump threatens to terminate Nafta, renews calls for Mexico to pay for wall. The Guardian. https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2017/aug/27/donald-trump-camp-david-nafta-mexico-wall-canada

[8] Wofe, R., & Acquaviva, 2018 Where does the public sit on NAFTA? Policy Options. https://policyoptions.irpp.org/magazines/april-2018/public-sit-nafta

[9] O’Leary, L. 2020. The Modern Supply Chain is Snapping. The Atlantic. https://www.theatlantic.com/ideas/archive/2020/03/supply-chains-and-coronavirus/608329

[10] The World Bank. 2020. GDP (current US$). The World Bank. https://data.worldbank.org/indicator/NY.GDP.MKTP.CD

[11] Lyons, K. 2020. Taiwan loses second ally in a week as Kiribati switches to China. The Guardian. https://www.theguardian.com/world/2019/sep/20/taiwan-loses-second-ally-in-a-week-as-kiribati-switches-to-china

[12] Hille, K. 2020. US steps up support of Taiwan in open rebuke to China. The Financial Times. https://www.ft.com/content/161e1b6b-8b5c-44a8-a873-76687427b522

[13] Blanchard, B., & Tian, Y. U.S. increases support for Taiwan, China threatens to strike back. https://www.reuters.com/article/us-taiwan-usa/us-increases-support-for-taiwan-china-threatens-to-strike-back-idUSKBN21E0B7

[14] McMaster, H. 2020. How China sees the World. The Atlantic. https://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2020/05/mcmaster-china-strategy/609088

2020 - Contest: PRC Below Threshold Writing Contest Alexander Craig Below Established Threshold Activities (BETA) China (People's Republic of China) Competition Option Papers

Assessing China as a Complex Competitor and its Continued Evolution of Tactics Below the Threshold of Armed Conflict

Editor’s Note:  This article is part of our Below Threshold Competition: China writing contest which took place from May 1, 2020 to July 31, 2020.  More information about the contest can be found by clicking here.


Matthias Wasinger is an Austrian Army officer. He can be found on LinkedIn. The views contained in this article are the author’s alone and do not represent the views of the Austrian Armed Forces, the Austrian Ministry of Defense, or the Austrian Government.  Divergent Options’ content does not contain information of an official nature nor does the content represent the official position of any government, any organization or any group.


Title:  Assessing China as a Complex Competitor and its Continued Evolution of Tactics Below the Threshold of Armed Conflict

Date Originally Written:  April 1, 2020.

Date Originally Published:  June 17, 2020.

Author and / or Article Point of View:  The author is an active General Staff Officer. He believes in the importance of employing all national instruments of power in warfare in a comprehensive approach, including non-state actors as well as allies, coalition forces, and partners. This assessment is written from the author’s point of view on how China plans to achieve its objectives.

Summary:  The Thucydides trap – it is a phenomenon destining a hegemon and an emerging power to war. The People’s Republic of China and the United States of America are currently following this schema. China aims at reaching a status above all others. To achieve that, it employs all instruments of national power in a concerted smart power approach, led by the constant political leadership. China fills emerging gaps in all domains and exploits U.S. isolationism.

Text:  The People’s Republic of China and the U.S. are competing actors. As an emerging power, China challenges the current hegemon[1]. Whereas the U.S. sees itself “first” amongst others[2], China aims at being “above” all[3]. To achieve this goal, China adheres to a whole of nation approach[4]. In the current stage of national resurrection, China will not challenge the U.S. in a direct approach with its military[5]. However, it balances hard and soft power, consequently employing smart power[6]. Within this concept, China follows examples of the U.S., further develops concepts, or introduces new ones. Foremost, China is willing to fill all emerging gaps the U.S. leaves in any domain. Its exclusive political system provides a decisive advantage towards other competitors. China’s political leadership has no pressure to succeed in democratic elections. Its 100-year plan for the great rejuvenation until 2049 is founded on this constancy[7].

China’s diplomacy is framed by several dogmata, executed by the Chinese People’s Party that stands for entire China, its well-being, and development. China’s view of the world is not pyramidic but concentric. That given, it might be easier to understand why China is ignoring concerns about internal human rights violations, adheres to a One-China policy regarding Taiwan, and assumes Tibet as Chinese soil. Maintaining North Korea as a buffer-zone to a U.S. vassal and developing the “string of pearls” in the South China Sea are more examples for the concentric world perception. These examples are the inner circle. They are indisputable[8].

Additionally, China’s diplomacy overcame the pattern of clustering the world by ideology. Necessity and opportunity are the criteria for China’s efforts[9]. Western nations’ disinterest in Africa led – like the European Union’s incapability in stabilizing states like Greece after the 2008 economic crisis – to close diplomatic, economic, and military ties with China. Whereever the so-called west leaves a gap, China will bridge it[10]. The growing diplomatic self-esteem goes, thereby, hand in hand with increasing China’s economic and military strength. China exploits the recent U.S. isolationism and the lacking European assertiveness. It aims at weak points.

In the fight for and with information, China showed an impressive evolution in information technology[11]. This field is of utmost importance since gathering data is not the issue anymore, but processing and disseminating. The infinite amount of information in the 21st century requires computer-assisted processes. Since China gained “Quantum Supremacy”, it made a step ahead of the United States of America[12]. Under this supremacy, China’s increasing capabilities in both Space and Cyberspace gain relevance. Information is collected almost equally fast by competitors, but more quickly fed into the political decision-making process in China[13]. The outcome is superiority in this field[14].

In the information domain, China follows a soft power approach, turning its reputation into a benevolent one. Lately, even the COVID-19 crisis was facilitated to make China appear as a supporter, delivering medical capacities worldwide. China makes use of the western community’s vast and open media landscape while restricting information for the domestic population. China will continue to show a domestically deterrent but supportive expeditionary appearance.

A strong economy and an assertive military are the Chinese political leadership’s source of strength[15]. Concerning the economy, China achieved remarkable improvements. From being a high-production rate, but low-quality mass-producer, it switches increasingly towards quality industries — their chosen path led via industrial espionage and plagiarism towards further developing imported goods[16]. Automobile and military industries are two illustrative examples. The former led to Chinese cars being banned, for example, from the U.S. market, not due to lacking quality but to protect U.S. automobile industries. The latter is based on Russian imports that were analyzed and improved. In doing so, China was able to raise its domestic weapons industry, literally rushing through development stages that took other nations decades.

China requires economic development. Only a strong economy ensures social improvements for its population, a precondition for internal stability. As long as this social enhancement is perceived, China’s domestic population bears restrictions. China will, therefore, maintain its economic growth with all given means. Modern technologies will be pursued in China, and resources will be either imported or, as seen in Africa, entire land strips or regions will be acquired. An essential capstone in this regard will be the “Belt and Road Project”, connecting the Chinese economy with other relevant markets such as Europe[17]. Concentrically, China will extend its influence along this trade route and grow its influence by creating dependence[18].

Establishing and maintaining contested economic routes requires capable security forces. China’s military keeps the pace. Founded as a revolutionary force, the military achieved the goal of combat readiness. Until 2049, China’s ambition is to build armed forces, able to fight and win wars. In a regional context, deterrence is the requirement. However, China seeks more. Superseding the U.S. means exceeding U.S. maritime capabilities. China’s strategic goal is to build the most capable blue-water navy[19]. The “string of pearls” is just an intermediate step until its naval fleet as assets of power-projecting will be established. China will maintain its land forces and increase its capabilities in all other domains. Regional conflicts will be facilitated to test doctrine, technology, and combat readiness.

China is aware of its geopolitical situation. It has to deter Russia militarily while marginalizing it economically. It will avoid a direct military confrontation that might hamper economic growth[20]. China has to shape the surrounding Asian nations’ attitude so they would not provide U.S. forces further staging areas. It will exploit U.S. isolationism, influence Europe economically, and diminish transatlantic influence using the information domain.

The U.S., being a maritime power, is eager to maintain its status as a hegemon by controlling opposite coast-lines such as Europe via Great Britain or Asia via Japan and South Korea. Reluctance to directly compete with China will enable the concentric power growth to reach the U.S. territory, finally overwhelming it. Interventionism will be exploited in the information domain, and isolationism is even a precondition for China’s success.


Endnotes:

[1] Allison, G. (2018, 24). Destined for War.

[2] The President of the United States. (2017, 1). National Security Strategy of the United States of America.

[3] Ward, J. (2019, 5). China’s Vision of Victory.

[4] Ward (2019, 92). Ibid.

[5] Ward (2019, 31-36). Ibid.

[6] Allison, G. (2018, 22). Destined for War.

[7] Raik et al. (2018, 33). The Security Strategy of the United States of America, China, Russia, and the EU.

[8] Ward (2019, 54-61). China’s Vision of Victory.

[9] Raik et al. (2018, 22-26). The Security Strategy of the United States of America, China, Russia, and the EU.

[10] Allison (2018, 20-24). Destined for War.

[11] Ward (2019, 85-87). China’s Vision of Victory.

[12] Ward (2019, 86). Ibid.

[13] Preskill (2018, 7). Quantum Computing in the NISQ.

[14] Poisel (2013, 49-50). Information Warfare and Electronic Warfare.

[15] Raik et al. (2018, 36). The Security Strategy of the United States of America, China, Russia, and the EU.

[16] Ward (2019, 92-95). China’s Vision of Victory.

[17] Raik et al. (2018, 33). The Security Strategy of the United States of America, China, Russia, and the EU.

[18] Ward (2019, 116-118). China’s Vision of Victory.

[19] Ward (2019, 61). Ibid.

[20] Raik et al. (2018, 34). The Security Strategy of the United States of America, China, Russia, and the EU.

2020 - Contest: PRC Below Threshold Writing Contest Assessment Papers Below Established Threshold Activities (BETA) China (People's Republic of China) Matthias Wasinger United States

U.S. Aircraft Basing Options in Competition and Conflict with China

Editor’s Note:  This article is part of our Below Threshold Competition: China writing contest which took place from May 1, 2020 to July 31, 2020.  More information about the contest can be found by clicking here.


Captain Walker D. Mills is a Marine infantry officer. He is currently serving as an exchange officer with the Colombian Marine Corps. He is also pursuing an MA in international relations and contemporary war from King’s College London.  Divergent Options’ content does not contain information of an official nature nor does the content represent the official position of any government, any organization or any group.


National Security Situation:  The U.S. and China are competing below the threshold of armed conflict and trying to best position themselves should conflict occur.  One area of competition focuses on Chinese rockets and missiles, and their potential use against U.S. aviation facilities.

Date Originally Written:  March 3, 2020.

Date Originally Published:  May 27, 2020.

Author and / or Article Point of View:  The author is an active-duty military member with a stake in potential future competition and conflict with China in the Pacific. The options are presented from the point of view of the United States.

Background:  In recent decades, the People’s Liberation Army within the People’s Republic of China has invested heavily in conventional cruise and ballistic missiles of several types. Today the People’s Liberation Army Rocket Force has thousands of missiles with ranges of up to 2,000 kilometers[1]. Their rocket force is among the premier in the world – U.S. and Russian militaries have not kept pace with Chinese missile development and deployment because, until recently, they were constrained by the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty (INF).

Chinese missiles are more than capable of targeting fixed U.S. bases and ships. A recent Center for New American Security report noted that “…a preemptive missile strike against the forward bases that underpin U.S. military power in the Western Pacific could be a real possibility” and named it “the greatest military threat” to U.S. interests in Asia[2]. Analysis of images from missile ranges in the Gobi Desert indicates that the primary targets for these missiles are U.S. aircraft carriers and fixed aviation facilities like airplane hangers and runways[3]. The missiles have repeatedly been highlighted in military parades and are the cornerstone of the PLA’s capability to defeat and deter U.S. military action in the South and East China Seas and their anti-access, area-denial network[4].

Significance:  The increasing threat from Chinese missiles will prevent U.S. forces from being able to credibly threaten the use of force in the seas around China and the First Island Chain because of the extreme risk to U.S. bases and large ships. Without the credible ability to employ force in support of foreign policy objectives in the region, the U.S. may be unable to fulfill treaty obligations to allies in the region and will cede one of its primary tools for competition and foreign policy. The capability to credibly threaten the use of force is the cornerstone of U.S. deterrence in the region.

Option #1:  The United States can embark on a multi-national, multi-agency effort to build dual-use aviation facilities across the First Island Chain. Because the most of the First Island Chain is comprised of U.S. treaty allies, the U.S. can work with allies and partners to rapidly construct a large number of runways and aviation facilities for civilian and military use by foreign partners, which would become available for U.S. military use in the event of a conflict. There are also dozens if not hundreds of derelict runways from the Second World War across the First Island Chain that could be renovated at lower cost than new construction.

Risk:  Such a building program would be expensive, and would have to significantly increase the number of available airfields to achieve the desired effect. This option is also contingent up U.S. partners and allies accepting the U.S. construction programs and the proliferation of airfields on their sovereign territory which may face local political resistance. There is also a risk that this option could spur an arms race with China or spur increased missile development.

Gain:  A significant proliferation of dual-use runways in the First Island Chain would complicate Chinese targeting and force the PLA to spread out their missiles across many more targets, limiting their effectiveness. This building plan would also serve as a type of foreign aid – is it a non-confrontational approach to competition with China and would be a gift to our partners because the airfields and support facilities would be intended for partner use and civilian use in times short of armed conflict.

Option #2:  The U.S. can invest in amphibious aircraft that do not need to operate from runways. Legacy U.S. amphibious aircraft like the PBY-Catalina, also call the ‘Flying Boat’ and the Grumman Albatross were highly effective as utility transports, search and rescue, and maritime patrol craft during the Second World War into the 1980s in the case of the Albatross. These aircraft are capable of operating from conventional runways or directly from the sea – which makes strikes on runways and traditional aviation facilities ineffective towards preventing their operation. These planes are able to operate from any coastal area or inland waterway. Other militaries in the region including the Chinese, Russian and Japanese are already modernizing and upgrading their respective fleets of amphibious aircraft.

Risk:  The risk to this option is that reinvestment in amphibious aircraft could be expensive for the U.S. military or too much of a burden for a niche capability. The risk is also that amphibious aircraft are not capable of performing the necessary roles or do not posses the necessary capabilities for operations in against a peer-adversary like China. There is also a risk that this option could spur an arms race with China or spur increased missile development.

Gain:  The advantage of this option is that it mitigates the risk to U.S. aircraft in the First Island Chain by creating a reserve of aircraft not tied to easily targeted, fixed-bases. Also, amphibious aircraft can be deployed worldwide – and are relevant beyond East Asia. This option does not depend on allies or partners and the capability to operate from the water can be employed in any theater, against any threat, not just in the Pacific.

Other Comments:  Other types of unconventional aircraft may also be considered for development and acquisition. Wing-in-Ground-Effect vehicles can function like aircraft and operate completely from the water and aircraft with vertical takeoff and landing capability can also be employed without traditional runways though struggle with logistics and maintenance in austere environments.

Recommendation:  None.


Endnotes:

[1] RAND Corporation. (2017). The U.S. – China Military Scorecard. Retrieved from https://www.rand.org/content/dam/rand/pubs/research_reports/RR300/RR392/RAND_RR392.pdf.

[2] Shugart, Thomas. (2017). First Strike: China’s Missile Threat to US Bases in Asia. Retrieved from https://www.cnas.org/publications/reports/first-strike-chinas-missile-threat-to-u-s-bases-to-asia.

[3] DeFraia, Daniel. (2013). China tests DF-21D missile on mock US aircraft carrier in Gobi Desert. Agence France-Presse. Retrived from https://www.pri.org/stories/2013-01-30/china-tests-df-21d-missile-mock-us-aircraft-carrier-gobi-desert.

[4] RT. (2015, September 3). China’s V-Day military parade in Beijing 2015 [Video File]. Retrieved from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YoC0Xcjko0A&sns=em.

2020 - Contest: PRC Below Threshold Writing Contest A2AD (Anti Access and Area Denial) Air Forces Artillery / Rockets/ Missiles China (People's Republic of China) Competition Option Papers United States Walker D. Mills

An Assessment of U.S. Leadership Potential in Asia via the Trans-Pacific Partnership

Editor’s Note:  This article is part of our Below Threshold Competition: China writing contest which took place from May 1, 2020 to July 31, 2020.  More information about the contest can be found by clicking here.


Dr. Heather Marie Stur is professor of history at the University of Southern Mississippi and fellow in the Dale Center for the Study of War & Society. She is the author of several books, including Saigon at War: South Vietnam and the Global Sixties (Cambridge 2020 forthcoming), The U.S. Military and Civil Rights Since World War II (Praeger/ABC-CLIO 2019), and Beyond Combat: Women and Gender in the Vietnam War Era (Cambridge 2011). Her articles have appeared in various publications including the New York Times, Washington Post, National Interest, War on the Rocks, Diplomatic History, and War & Society. Stur was a 2013-14 Fulbright Scholar in Vietnam, where she was a professor in the Faculty of International Relations at the University of Social Sciences and Humanities in Ho Chi Minh City. She can be found on Twitter @HeatherMStur. Divergent Options’ content does not contain information of an official nature nor does the content represent the official position of any government, any organization, or any group.


Title:  An Assessment of U.S. Leadership Potential in Asia via the Trans-Pacific Partnership

Date Originally Written:  April 15, 2020.

Date Originally Published:  May 11, 2020.

Author and / or Article Point of View:  The author is a diplomatic and military historian who is interested in U.S. history in a global context. The author is interested in the strengths and limitations of international alliances to address issues of global security.

Summary:  The Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) enables the U.S. to assert leadership in the Asia-Pacific region. Although U.S. President Donald Trump withdrew the U.S. from the TPP, he indicated in 2018 that he would consider returning to the alliance. Regional tensions make this a favorable time for the U.S. to enter the TPP as a way to challenge China’s dominance.

Text:  As 2019 drew to a close, leaders from China, Japan, and South Korea met to discuss strengthening trade and security ties. But the COVID-19 pandemic has slowed the development of closer regional relations and has created a chance for the U.S. to assert economic leadership in Asia. The U.S. vehicle for doing this is the Trans-Pacific Partnership. The TPP’s origins go back to 2008, when talks between several Asia-Pacific countries eventually brought the U.S., Mexico, Canada, Peru, Chile, Australia, New Zealand, Japan, Vietnam, Brunei, Malaysia, and Singapore together in a proposed sweeping trade agreement aimed at strengthening relations among the member countries and limiting China’s economic influence. Former U.S. President Barack Obama saw the TPP as the centerpiece of his foreign policy “pivot” to Asia[1]. Yet President Donald Trump rejected the agreement, asserting that the U.S. could make better trade deals working on its own[2].

Trump was not the TPP’s only opponent. Critics of the agreement have decried the secret negotiations that shaped it and have argued that the TPP favors corporations over labor[3]. After Trump withdrew the U.S. from the deal, the remaining 11 members forged ahead, renaming the agreement the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership (CPTPP). In March 2018, Trump attempted to put his “go-it-alone” strategy into practice, announcing that the U.S. would levy new tariffs on Chinese imports, but in December 2019, he back-pedaled, declaring that not only would the U.S. not impose new tariffs on Chinese goods, it would also lower existing ones[4]. With U.S.-China trade relations in flux and COVID-19 threatening the global economy the U.S. could reconsider its exit from the TPP.

The TPP offers a framework in which the U.S. can assert itself as a leader in the Asia-Pacific region, a primary reason for Obama’s support of the deal. The agreement isn’t just about trade; it’s about international rules of engagement in areas including intellectual property, labor relations, the environment, and human rights. U.S. leaders have been particularly concerned about Chinese theft of American intellectual property (IP), which was one of the motivations behind Trump’s 2018 tariffs. Protecting US IP was also a priority for the Obama administration, and American negotiators pushed for strong IP protections in the original TPP contract[5]. With the U.S. at the helm of an alliance that would cover about 800 million people and 40 percent of the global economic output, the Trump administration could shape and even make the rules. Returning to the TPP now wouldn’t be a radical move for Trump. In April 2018, he suggested that he would consider returning the U.S. to the alliance.

Joining the TPP would also allow the U.S. to capitalize on regional discord. Despite a December 2019 meeting in Chengdu that brought together Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, Chinese Premier Li Keqiang, and South Korean President Moon Jae-in to discuss regional stability and shared concerns, Japan is using the COVID-19 pandemic as an opportunity to reduce its economic dependence on China. The Japanese government’s pandemic stimulus package includes more than $2 million USD for companies that move production out of China[6]. Vietnam and China have a contentious relationship that dates back nearly two millennia. One of Vietnam’s most famous legends is that of the Trung sisters, who led a successful rebellion against Chinese control of Vietnam in the year 40 and subsequently ruled their country for three years. Earlier this year, Vietnamese defense officials published a white paper that indicated Vietnam’s desire to build closer ties with the U.S. while drifting away from the Chinese orbit[7]. Japan, Vietnam, and the U.S. are among China’s largest trading partners, and all three were members of the talks that produced the original TPP. A restored alliance that includes the U.S. could modify its terms of agreement to respond to current regional and global phenomena.

Among those phenomena are wild game farming and pandemic preparedness. The wild game industry in China involves the farming of animals such as bats, pangolins, and peacocks, which are then sold for human consumption in wet markets throughout the country. The practice has been at the center of two global health crises, the SARS outbreak that began in 2002 and the current COVID-19 pandemic. A U.S.-led TPP could put economic pressure on the Chinese government to shut down the wild game industry and regulate wet markets more rigorously to uphold internationally-accepted hygiene and food safety standards.

If and when another pandemic occurs, the U.S. will need to be more prepared than it was for COVID-19. Some economists have indicated that Trump’s tariffs on Chinese products caused shortages in the U.S. of ventilators, masks, and other medical equipment that are made in China[8]. A renewed TPP contract could include provisions for the manufacture and sale of medical supplies by member nations.


Endnotes:

[1] McBride, James and Chatzky, Andrew. (2019, January 4). “What is the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP)?” Council on Foreign Relations. Retrieved April 14, 2020, from https://www.cfr.org/backgrounder/what-trans-pacific-partnership-tpp

[2] Dwyer, Colin. (2018, March 8). “The TPP is Dead. Long Live the Trans-Pacific Trade Deal,” National Public Radio. Retrieved April 14, 2020, from https://www.npr.org/sections/thetwo-way/2018/03/08/591549744/the-tpp-is-dead-long-live-the-trans-pacific-trade-deal

[3] BBC News. (2017, January 23). “TPP: What is it and why does it matter?” Retrieved April 14, 2020, from https://www.bbc.com/news/business-32498715

[4] Franck, Thomas. (2019, December 13). “Trump halts new China tariffs and rolls back some of the prior duties on $120 billion of imports,” CNBC. Retrieved April 14, 2020, from https://www.cnbc.com/2019/12/13/trump-says-25percent-tariffs-will-remain-but-new-china-duties-will-not-take-effect-sunday.html

[5] Baker McKenzie. (2018, April 22). “Reconsidering the Trans-Pacific Partnership and Impact on Intellectual Property.” Retrieved April 14, 2020, from https://www.bakermckenzie.com/en/insight/publications/2018/04/reconsidering-the-tpp-and-impact-on-ip

[6] Reynolds, Isabel and Urabe, Emi. (2020, April 8). “Japan to Fund Firms to Shift Production Out of China.” Retrieved April 14, 2020, from https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2020-04-08/japan-to-fund-firms-to-shift-production-out-of-china

[7] Kurlantzick, Joshua. (2020, January 30). “Vietnam, Under Increasing Pressure From China, Mulls a Shift Into America’s Orbit.” Retrieved on April 14, 2020, from https://www.worldpoliticsreview.com/articles/28502/as-china-vietnam-relations-deteriorate-hanoi-mulls-closer-ties-with-the-u-s

[8] The World. (2020, March 23). “Trump’s China tariffs hampered U.S. coronavirus preparedness, expert says.” Retrieved on April 14, 2020, from https://www.pri.org/stories/2020-03-23/trumps-china-tariffs-hampered-us-coronavirus-preparedness-expert-says

2020 - Contest: PRC Below Threshold Writing Contest Assessment Papers China (People's Republic of China) Dr. Heather Marie Stur Economic Factors United States

Writing Contest — Below Threshold Competition: China

China, controlled and claimed regions, map

It is a new year and Divergent Options has enlisted Kori Schake of the American Enterprise Institute, Wayne Hugar of the National Intelligence University, and Ali Wyne a nonresident senior fellow with the Atlantic Council to be the judges for our Below Threshold Competition: China writing contest.

What:  A 1,000 word Options Paper or Assessment Paper examining how countries can compete more effectively with China below the threshold of armed conflict.  We are also interested in writers examining how China will continue to compete and evolve their tactics below the threshold of armed conflict.

When:  Submit your 1,000 word Options Paper or Assessment Paper between May 1, 2020 and July 31, 2020 to submissions@divergentoptions.org.

Why:  To refine your thoughts on China, which, depending upon your point of view, could be an important trading partner, a complex competitor, or a sworn enemy.  Writers will have a chance to win $500 for 1st Place, $300 for 2nd Place, $100 for 3rd Place, or be one of three Honorable Mentions who receives $50.

How:  Submissions will be judged by strength of argument, relevance, uniqueness, adherence to format, adherence to length, and grammar, spelling, and punctuation.  Submissions will be published during and after the contest closes.  Contest winners will be announced once the judging is complete.

Other Comments:  For the purposes of this contest we encourage writers to think in an unconstrained manner and to not worry about what authority or what organization would be used to execute a given option.  From a U.S. point of view, some examples of unconstrained thinking could include:

A.  Since China has established Confucius Institutes in the United States, what is the risk and gain of the United States establishing “Thomas Jefferson Institutes” in China?

B.  The U.S. Government provides agricultural subsidies to agribusinesses to supplement their income, manage the supply of agricultural commodities, and influence the cost and supply of such commodities.  What is the risk and gain of U.S. colleges and universities adopting a version of this program?  In this option the U.S. Government would provide subsidies to U.S. colleges and universities that ban the enrollment of Chinese students thus protecting U.S. intellectual capital without affecting college or university financing.  These subsidies would continue until the U.S. college or university could find students from countries that aid the U.S. in its competition with China to take the enrollment slots previously reserved for the Chinese students.

2020 - Contest: PRC Below Threshold Writing Contest China (People's Republic of China) Contest (General)