U.S. Response to China Will Define 21st Century
The Middle Kingdom poses the largest threat to the international order.
The People’s Republic of China is engaging in coercion, lawfare, militarization, human rights violations, imperialism and cyber espionage, say experts. These actions are part of a well-funded and well-organized whole-of-government thrust to be the dominant power in the world, and how the United States addresses these efforts may well determine the status of the world in the 21st century.The threat to the Indo-Pacific region, to the U.S. Indo-Pacific Command, the United States and its allies should not be underestimated, says Ambassador Jennifer Zimdahl Galt, foreign policy advisor, U.S. Indo-Pacific Command, or INDOPACOM.
“I’ve been following this for many years, and it is clear from their actions and from their statements that [China] believes that it should be, and will be the dominant country, not only in the region, but in the world,” states Galt.
Through close coordination between the State and Defense departments, such foreign policy advisors are stationed at each one of the U.S. combatant commands, as well as at the component commands, service secretary offices and the Office of the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.
Galt joined INDOPACOM in July 2020, advising Adm. Philip Davidson, USN, and then Adm. John Aquilino, USN, when he took over the command in April. She is a member of the Senior Foreign Service, minister counselor rank, who served as principal deputy assistant secretary in the Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs from 2017-19. For the two years before that, she served as ambassador to Mongolia, and was the principal officer in Guangzhou, China, between 2012-15. The ambassador also has been posted to the U.S. Mission to NATO in Brussels, Shanghai, Beijing, Mumbai, the American Institute in Taiwan, and Belgrade.
The time she spent in country in the People’s Republic of China (PRC) has helped her be able to discern China’s actions and advise the commanders on the foreign policy implications and context of their plans and operations.
“I have spent much of my career in this region, so it’s a privilege to be here working inside the command and guiding the commander as he navigates this critical theater at this time,” she shares. “It has been a very dynamic year here.”
In the ambassador’s view, there is “no doubt” that the PRC poses “the most significant challenge” of any country to the United States, its allies and partners. The PRC seeks to challenge, undermine and supplant the rules-based international order, and given its wherewithal, can do so, Galt warns.
“It is the one country in the world with the military, economic and diplomatic capacity to challenge the rules-based order that fosters global security and prosperity,” the ambassador reports.
China is engaging in conduct specifically designed to hurt the United States, its workforce and economy. The PRC is actively propagating disinformation and threatening U.S alliances and U.S. influence in international organizations.
“We view their strategy as designed to make the United States and our allies more dependent on the PRC and to make the PRC less beholden to the international system that has provided peace and stability since the end of World War II,” she emphasizes.
Moreover, the PRC has pursued the largest military buildup in history, Galt states.
According to various Defense Department and intelligence community unclassified reports, the PRC has focused its political power, resources and technology to strengthen all aspects of the People’s Liberation Army (PLA).
From constructing the largest navy in the world, with approximately 350 ships and submarines, including 130 major surface combatants, to growing its stock of ground-launched conventional ballistic and cruise missiles to about 1,250—with firing ranges of between 500 and 5,500 kilometers, way beyond the ground-launched ballistic missile range of 70 to 300 kilometers the United States has with no ground-launched cruise missile—the PRC has also secured one of the world’s largest components of advanced long-range surface-to-air systems, to include Russian-built S-400/S-300s, for example.
It is the country’s actions in the Indo-Pacific region, however, that gives U.S. command most concern. “Here at INDOPACOM, we are focused very clearly on PRC actions, not words, but deeds,” the ambassador clarifies. “Beijing’s actions continue to undermine the rules-based order and threaten the sovereignty of nations across the region.”
In the South China Sea, the PRC is increasingly “intimidating rival claimants and will use growing numbers of air, naval and maritime law enforcement platforms to signal to Southeast Asian countries that China has effective control over contested areas,” according to the April 2021 Annual Threat Assessment Report of the U.S. Intelligence Community from the Office of the Director of National Intelligence (ODNI). Moreover, in the East China Sea, China is also pressuring Japan over contested areas, the report says.
And despite the 2016 Arbitral Tribunal ruling adjudicating the case of the Philippines against China, overwhelmingly denying China’s legitimacy claims in the South China Sea, the PRC continues “to coerce, intimidate and make claim to the vast majority” of the South China Sea, Galt warns.
“INDOPACOM fully supports the Arbitral Tribunal decision, and we reaffirm our statement of July 2021 regarding maritime claims in the South China Sea,” she explains. “The PRC has not offered a lawful basis for its sweeping claims. We believe that given the strategic importance of the South China Sea as containing some of the world’s busiest shipping lanes with trillions of dollars of trade transiting annually, that it is our responsibility to uphold international law, the rules-based international order, and that we must remain vigilant to any effort to unlawfully restrict navigational rights and freedoms in this vital waterway.”
This type of legal warfare or lawfare by China, especially their most egregious activity, must be checked, Galt adds. “We definitely see the PRC engaged in lawfare across the region,” she purports. Its illegitimate claims come “without regard for other countries’ legitimate claims and without regard for international law. These claims are unlawful, and they have been rejected,” she states.
Recently, the PRC announced a revision to its maritime security laws to require that certain vessels entering its claimed territorial sea report their location, cargo and other information, Galt reports. “This to us appears to be another example of the PRC’s failure to respect navigational rights and freedoms under international law.”
In addition, China has a well-resourced and comprehensive plan to achieve technological superiority, the ambassador relays.
Part of the PRC’s strategy to dominate capabilities by 2030 includes mandated technology transfer and intelligence gathering through its so-called Military-Civil Fusion Policy and a National Intelligence Law that requires all Chinese companies and organizations to share technology and information with the PLA, intelligence and security services, the ODNI report states. The technologies that the PRC is most interested in include biotechnology, quantum computing, artificial intelligence and secure communications, all to bolster its military and economic domination.
“We know the PRC is determined to become the world’s technology leader by any means necessary,” Galt underlines.
“This is an area where we are working closely with our allies and partners,” she continues. “With our allies and partners, we are working together to build secure, resilient and diverse supply chains to protect sensitive technologies, data and critical infrastructure.”
In addition, Galt identifies “grave concerns” with many of the PRC’s continued human rights offenses.
“In the area of human rights, I have to say the PRC is engaged in violations and abuses that shock the conscience,” she declares. “They must be met with serious consequences. The United States is seriously alarmed by the continuing PRC crackdown on Hong Kong, not only the imposition of the national security laws, but the arrest and imprisonment of pro-democracy activists and politicians. Support for democracy, economic development, transparency, human rights and human dignity remain at the core of American foreign policy.”
Cyber warfare on the United States and economic coercion toward the United States’ closest allies and partners are further examples of China’s nefarious actions, the ambassador offers.
In addition to the prolific and effective cyber-espionage threat that China possesses, the PRC has “substantial” cyber-attack capabilities, according to the ODNI report. “China’s cyber pursuits and proliferation of related technologies increase the threats of cyber attacks against the U.S. homeland, suppression of U.S. web content that Beijing views as threatening to its internal ideological control, and the expansion of technology-driven authoritarianism around the world,” the document indicates.
The ODNI expects that China’s ability to launch cyber attacks will, at a minimum, “cause localized, temporary disruptions” to critical infrastructure within the United States. In addition, China leads the world in applying comprehensive surveillance and systematic censorship to monitor its citizens and deny dissent, particularly among its ethnic minorities. “[It] conducts cyber intrusions that affect U.S. and non-U.S. citizens beyond our borders—such as hacking journalists, stealing personal information, or attacking tools that allow free speech online—as part of its efforts to surveil perceived threats to [its] power and tailor influence efforts,” the report says.
The PRC has also used its global assistance in combating COVID-19 to export its surveillance tools and technologies around the world. “And its cyber-espionage operations have included compromising telecommunications firms, providers of managed services and broadly used software, and other targets potentially rich in follow-on opportunities for intelligence collection, attack, or influence operations,” the report notes.
In response, the United States’ strategy is to stand firm and maintain the rules of international law, the ambassador clarifies. “Secretary [of State Anthony] Blinken has made clear our purpose is not to contain China, but it is to uphold the rules-based international order,” Galt says.
She acknowledges that “there are real complexities” to the U.S.-China relationship. So far, the Biden Administration has indicated the U.S. approach to China will be “competitive when it should be, collaborative when it can be, and adversarial where it must be,” the ambassador states. “We do believe it’s important to maintain open lines of communication, even in the midst of competition and we are continuing to track and express concern about PRC actions that challenge the rules-based international order.”
A key element of the U.S. approach in the Indo-Pacific region is to continue to enhance U.S. alliances and partnerships. “We heard from President Biden and Secretary Blinken at the U.N. General Assembly [in September] how the United States values our close allies and partners, and we work closely together in pursuit of shared goals,” she says. “We do not view China’s aggressive behavior and their efforts to undermine the rules-based international order add as something that will bring partners to their side. That is certainly not our view of how to enhance partnerships and build relationships in the region.”
Galt stresses that how the United States and its allies confront China will dictate the balance of order for decades to come.
“We see that PRC seeks unfair advantages,” she purports. “We see their aggressive and coercive behavior. We see there are consistent attempts to undermine the rules and values that are at the heart of an open and stable international system. We believe that if left unchecked, it will erode the established international system. And this is why we work so closely with our allies and partners, including those outside the Indo-Pacific region, to address these challenges that we all face, the challenges the PRC poses to our security, prosperity and values.
“How we conduct this competition will be critical for defining the 21st century,” Galt states. “It really is that important.”