The global world order is witnessing a substantial shift. Part of the greater tussle for strategic and geopolitical dominance is the military rivalry between the U.S. and China. The two countries together now account for over one-half of the world’s defense spending.
In recent years, Sino-American military competition has intensified in the contested waters of the Western Pacific, with the South China Sea and Taiwan both potentially dangerous flashpoints. The People’s Liberation Army is also developing global capabilities to support the PRC’s Belt Road Initiative, posing challenges to nations beyond the Asia-Pacific region. Efforts to mitigate the risks posed by these developments are complicated by the diverging geopolitical interests of Washington and Beijing, and both sides’ quests for military technological superiority which encourages economic decoupling.
Karl Eikenberry’s military, diplomatic, and academic careers have included numerous postings and projects in China and East, South, and Central Asia. The multi-faceted soldier, scholar and Sinologist was most recently Director of the U.S. Asia Security Initiative at the Shorenstein Asia-Pacific Research Center, Stanford University. He is Former U.S. Ambassador to Afghanistan, Deputy Chairman, NATO Military Committee; and has been Defense Attaché at the U.S. Embassy in Beijing.
Eikenberry discusses the systematic expansion of China’s footprints and its implications for the world with Ambassdor Ashok Kantha of Institute of Chinese Studies, New Delhi, and Manjeet Kripalani of Gateway House, Mumbai.
Question: What are the defense strategy differences between the Trump and Biden positions? What will change, if Joe Biden is elected to the White House?
Answer: There is broad support in America for the general direction of the Trump administrations China policy. Three points.
First, within the executive branch, there are sweeping sets of rules and regulations that had been put in place by Trump dealing with economic exchange, technology competition and law enforcement. In the Department of Defense, there is in place new and more stringent rules and regulations. The same is the case with the Department of State, the Department of Commerce, the Department of Treasury, the Department of Justice, Federal Bureau of Investigation, the Federal Communications Commission, and others. So, even if a Biden administration came in and wanted to effect major change and take U.S. China policy in a different direction – which they will not – it would be very difficult to do so.
Second, the Trump administration often wasn’t acting on its own. Many times, what gets reported as Trump administration policy is, in fact, a response to Congressional legislative acts.
Consider the current U.S. 116 Congress spanning from January 2019 until the 117th Congress is seated next January. To date it has introduced 567 resolutions and bills that name China. To put that number in context, the 107th Congress, from 2001 to 2003, during the first years of the Bush Administration’s ‘global war on terror’, introduced some 135 resolutions and bills naming China. The current (116th) Congress’s resolutions and bills range from sanctions related to PRC actions in the South China Sea and East China Sea, the Fair Trade with China Enforcement Act, the Preventing China from Exploiting Covid-19 Act, and the Countering Chinese Government and the Communist Party Influence Act, There are resolutions condemning the persecution of Christians in China – and even a bill to prohibit the use of federal funds for purchasing cats and dogs from wet markets in China and for other purposes. The only bipartisan action going on in the current U.S. Congress relates to China policy.
Third, is this is not an exclusively elite issue in Washington, as often foreign policy matters can be. In some of the surveys conducted in the U.S and around the…