Truman National Security Project

U.S.- China Relations Need Overhaul

Obama_Hu_White_House_arrival_Jan_2011

Preparing for his first meeting with President Obama, China’s new ruler Xi Jinping stated that he is looking for a “new power relationship” with the United States that will acknowledge China’s rising influence in global affairs. Rather than accommodate the grand ambitions of the Chinese leadership, or seek to build a “personal relationship” based on polite conversation, the most important thing President Obama can do to preserve the peace and prosperity of the Pacific region is to inform President Xi that China’s conduct in international affairs is out of bounds and that business as usual is over.

Since the fall of Mao Zedong and the beginning of the rise of China, U.S. presidents, business leaders, academics and foreign policy elites have all repeated a similar refrain; “engage China, accommodate its rise and bring them into the international system.” But over the past two decades, a pattern has emerged: China has been increasing its power and influence by any means.

In their mad dash to grab resources, Chinese leaders are using methods outside the norms of the international system — and at the expense of the United States and our allies — to take what they want. Here are three examples that clearly demonstrate that unless Chinese policy changes dramatically, the next U.S. president will need to regard China as a clear and present danger to the prosperity and long-term national security of the United States:

Waves of cyber-attacks that originate from China. In just the past few months, the enormous scale of Chinese cyber- attacks against American businesses and our defense establishment have become very public. The bipartisan Commission on the Theft of American Intellectual Property, led by Republican presidential candidate Jon Huntsman and former Director of National Intelligence Dennis Blair, concluded that cyber-attacks originating primarily from China are costing the United States at least $300 billion in lost profits and productivity per year. The private sector security firm Mandiant discovered that a unit of the People’s Liberation Army stole technology blueprints, manufacturing processes, clinical trial results, pricing documents, negotiation strategies and other proprietary information from more than 100 companies that had hired Mandiant.

China’s increasingly aggressive assertions of territorial claims. In just the past year, Chinese troops have crossed 12 miles inside the line of control on the border with India and its naval forces have made incursions into the territorial waters of Vietnam, Malaysia, Brunei and the Philippines. Most troubling are daily air and sea incidents involving Chinese forces off islands long administered by Japan. One of the only neighbors with which China has failed to place pressure is North Korea. Chinese assistance continues to be the only reason the nuclear armed regime in Pyongyang still clings to power.

The 20-year military buildup by Beijing. Some experts contend that China’s double-digit military spending increases every year since 1989 should not be of concern to the United States because U.S. defense spending is still several times greater than that of Beijing. However, what cannot be overlooked is that increases in China’s military budget accounted for more than 90 percent of the aggregate increase in military spending among China and its East Asian neighbors last year. A growing percentage of the Chinese military’s budget is being spent on aircraft carriers and destroyers — hardware designed to project military power. While U.S. military assets are spread to meet global commitments,China can concentrate its force in East Asia and indeed there are now real questions as to whether the U.S. Navy would be able to carry out its century-long mission of supporting allies and maintaining freedom of navigation in East Asia.

It is becoming increasingly difficult not to view China as a clear and present danger to the prosperity and long-term national security of the United States. Nothing could be more important for the future of peace and stability in the Pacific and the world than to have a positive and mutually beneficially relationship between the United States and China. All the more reason for Presidents Obama and Xi to take on the hard issues first and build a new foundation for U.S.-China relations based on trust, respect and the mutual interest of avoiding conflict.

Scott Bates is the former senior policy adviser for the U.S. House of Representatives Homeland Security Committee. He is president of the Center for National Policy, an independent think tank in Washington, D.C. This post originally appeared in The San Francisco Chronicle.