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July 11, 2019
Notes from the Pentagon

Countering pro-China experts' letter
The Trump administration is pushing back against a group of former officials and China experts, including former State Department official Susan Thornton, for an open letter criticizing the administration’s tougher U.S. policy toward China.

A Trump administration official told Inside the Ring that the open letter to the president was not taken seriously in policy circles and was dismissed as ill-informed and misrepresenting the reality of the new China policy.

“The overall approach of the letter is wrong because it places the blame on the United States for all the glitches and problems in U.S.-China relations,” the official said.

For experts who spent decades in the China policy and academic fields, the letter is astonishing for blatantly underestimating China’s intentions, the official said.

“The United States has always sought to regard China as a friend,” the official said. “But it is China that has always regarded the United States as the enemy.”

For example, the People’s Liberation Army euphemism for the United States in discussing plans and exercises is “the powerful enemy.” The PLA view remains despite years of American military exchanges and other programs designed build trust.

Ms. Thornton was among the more prominent signers of the letter to President Trump by a group of more than 100 China hands calling for a return to the appeasement-oriented policies toward Beijing that characterized previous Democratic and Republican administrations.

The open letter, headlined “China is not an enemy,” notes that the signers are “troubled” by China’s actions, yet they blame the United States for what they say has been a deterioration in U.S.-Chinese ties.

The policies advocated by the signers reflect the liberal views of foreign policy experts who for three decades have ignored rampant Chinese theft of American technology and large-scale unfair trade practices that Mr. Trump has made the centerpiece of a U.S. policy toward Beijing. Some also appear to be motivated by opposition to Mr. Trump even though they may agree with the policy.

The signers stated that they doubt China will replace the United States as the world leader and downplayed Beijing’s aggressive conventional and nuclear forces buildup.

In the view of the pro-China experts, a successful U.S. policy should be based on “a realistic appraisal of Chinese perceptions, interests, goals and behavior; an accurate match of U.S. and allied resources with policy goals and interests; and a rededication of U.S. efforts to strengthen its own capacity to serve as a model for others.”

The letter resonated in Beijing with the propaganda organs. Foreign Ministry spokesman Geng Shuang said the day after it was published in The Washington Post that “we commend the rational and objective views in it.” The policy is a restatement of the policy since the 1980s that argued that trade and engagement with China would result in the evolution of the Marxist-Leninist system to a more benign system. That policy is widely viewed as failing under the new hard-line policies of Chinese President Xi Jinping.

Significantly, most of the signers are older experts, with few younger China hands among the group. Several, including Michael Swaine of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace and M. Taylor Fravel, an MIT political scientist, spent years battling China hawks by ignoring what has turned them into hawks: aggressive Chinese actions and behaviors such as the ongoing attempts to take over the South China Sea and growing large-scale human right abuses such as the imprisonment of more than 1 million Uighurs in western China.

For Ms. Thornton, the former deputy assistant secretary of state for Asian and Pacific affairs under President Obama, signing the letter appears to be a bit of revenge. She was blocked from being named to the full assistant secretary post early in the Trump administration by conservatives over concerns she was too accommodating toward China.

She was nominated for the State post under Mr. Trump’s first secretary of state, Rex Tillerson, who was fired ignominiously by the president in a tweet.

Her nomination foundered after Ms. Thornton was found to have misled the Senate about her policy views and her role in blocking the planned FBI arrest of several Chinese security officials in New York two years ago. The Chinese officials had violated their visas in seeking to pressure a Chinese dissident billionaire.

Sen. Marco Rubio, Florida Republican, said in opposing the Thornton nomination in 2018 that the president needed someone for the key Asia policymaking post who would tenaciously advance American interests and values.

Mr. Rubio said during a February 2018 confirmation hearing that Ms. Thornton had “obfuscated or evaded when answering important questions about her troubling record of undermining America’s allies like Taiwan; failing to stand up to China’s efforts to impose its authoritarian will beyond its borders, including in the United States; downplaying human rights abuses in China; and favoring smooth relations with Beijing over a bilateral relationship grounded in reciprocity and reality.”

Three China hands at the newsletter SinoInsider criticized the open letter, arguing that the signers failed to recognize that while China is not the enemy of the United States and world, the ruling Communist Party of China (CCP) is.

“By virtue of its Marxist-Leninist ideology, the CCP’s ultimate goal is world domination. And as long as the CCP is in power, it will keep working towards that goal,” wrote the three experts, Don Tse, Chu-cheng Ming and Larry Ong.

The commander of the Southern Command, Adm. Craig Faller, said China is conducting a range of nefarious activities in South America and adjacent regions.

“China poses a significant long-term threat,” the admiral told the Senate Armed Services subcommittee on emerging threats on Tuesday.

In the Western Hemisphere, Beijing is quietly “accumulating unprecedented levels of influence and leverage,” the four-star admiral said in his prepared statement. “China is now inside our own neighborhood seeking to displace the United States as the partner of choice and weaken the commitment of our partners to the rule of law and democracy,” he stated.

Beijing is using its Belt and Road infrastructure initiative to expand its power in the region and plans to increase trade in the region to $500 billion by 2025. It is propping up the socialist regime of President Nicolas Maduro in Venezuela with more than $60 billion in debt and “providing financial lifelines that have helped keep Maduro in power,” Adm. Faller said.

China also has significantly increased its naval deployments to the region by increasing port calls by 70% over the past five years and building ports that provide China a presence.

“In the future, China could use its control of deep-water ports in the Western Hemisphere to support global military deployments,” he said.

“Particularly concerning is China’s effort to court Panama and exert control over key infrastructure associated with the Panama Canal,” he added, noting control over ports at either end of the canal by the Hong Kong-based company Hutchison Whampoa.

Chinese telecommunications investment and space tracking facilities are threatening military operations, intellectual property and private data, he stated.

“Because of the intimate relationship between Chinese businesses and China’s National Intelligence Law, we have significant concerns that any data transiting China or processed by Chinese companies is at risk to access by the Chinese government,” Adm. Faller said.

China also is supplying surveillance technology and authoritarian systems to South America.

The U.S. military is working on new ways to win wars beyond dominating the battle space, according to the Defense Advanced Research Agency, or DARPA.

The agency said in a tweet that “the U.S. military must evolve from emphasis on dominance to one of disruptive performance — enabling enhanced capability where needed, applied by more agile, resilient force.”

The DARPA tactical technology office is looking for new ideas. In an announcement, the office explained that the military must expand from a traditional emphasis on dominating to using enhanced capabilities applied in different way. The new systems and technologies will create new forces structures that will “innovate conflict and engagement,” using “surprise and leap-ahead” weapons and forms of warfare.

For air warfare, the research agency notes that radar-evading stealth technology may be reaching its physical limits. New systems could include ultra-high-speed hypersonic weapons and swarming low-cost arms.

Ground combat in the future will involve a new class of kinetic and nonkinetic weapons and using artificial intelligence for integrated manned and robot operations. Maritime arms will shift from vulnerable aircraft carriers to naval forces made up of small, inexpensive, massively networked vessels.

  • Contact Bill Gertz on Twitter via @BillGertz.

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