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Foreign Policy

China and US May Move towards Comprehensive Confrontation

Nov 30, 2018
  • Su Jingxiang

    Fellow, China Institutes for Contemporary International Relations


The US-China Economic and Security Review Commission submitted to the US Congress on November 14 a five-hundred-plus-page research report, which finds China’s new developments in the economic, diplomatic, and military fields in recent years to have had a comprehensive adverse influence on US national security. The report puts forward 26 policy recommendations, asking Congress to task the various government departments to take targeted countermeasures to reverse the current situation.

On the same day, the National Defense Strategy Commission submitted a long research report to the Senate, which agreed with the Department of Defense’s National Security Strategy report last year that the ‘primary focus’ for the US armed services is ‘great-power competition - not terrorism’. The report argued that US national security is now confronted with ‘the biggest risks in decades’ and the US now encounters ‘a crisis of national security’ and ‘an emergency’. US ‘rivals and adversaries’, China and Russia in particular, are seeking regional hegemony and reducing American military influence, and as a result military balances in Eastern Europe, the Middle East, and the Western Pacific have shifted in a direction apparently unfavorable to the US. The report concludes that it is totally correct for the US military to prepare for war with Russia and China. It predicts a possible ‘horrendous and devastating’ war with China in four years, which must be addressed with a ‘whole-of-nation’ approach by mobilizing all in an integrated manner in the fields ranging from trade policies, science and technology to engineering and math education, and involving all players from private entities to academic institutions.

Both are bipartisan commissions created by the US Congress. The two reports indicated that the Trump administration’s tough China policy has been accepted by the Democratic Party. They also offer a piece of additional evidence that Vice President Mike Pence’s hostile speech in early October was not accidental or isolated. According to US media reports, in the American decision-making circles it has become an overwhelming consensus to demonize and adopt a hostile attitude towards China. The goal of the American ruling elite is by no means restricted to waging economic warfare against China. Rather, it is pursuing comprehensive confrontation in the economic, political, military, diplomatic, scientific and technological fields, and even a nuclear war is threatened.

Former DOD senior official Elbridge Colby published an article in the latest issue of Foreign Affairs (November/December 2018) and the title is If You Want Peace, Prepare for Nuclear War. Colby, one of the authors of the new NSS, claimed that China and Russia have made remarkable progress in expanding their military strengths, that the days when the US could expect to easily defeat China without considering the Russian threat are gone, that any confrontation with Russia or China in the future may develop into a nuclear war, and that the US and its allies need ‘a certain kind of Cold-War thinking’.

The US ruling elite waged an economic war on China and threatened the latter with military confrontation out of both domestic and external considerations. On the one hand, rapid economic growth in China makes American decision-makers realize that the US may lose its global hegemony. On the other, domestic politics has also changed. The huge military expenses for the War on Terror over the past decade and more have strengthened the political influence of the American military and intelligence sectors. In the recent mid-term elections, those elected to the House of Representatives include eleven candidates backed by military and intelligence agencies, the largest number in history. The military and intelligence group deeply believe that military superiority is the ‘hard-power backbone’ of America’s global influence and national security. Although the country’s military expenditure every year far exceeds that of any other country, the expansion of this particular force will surely lead to more requests for increasing the military budget and expanding the conventional and nuclear arsenals. Their aim is to contain China by destroying the latter’s military, economic, and scientific potential through economic and political means, backed by military superiority.

The drastic deterioration of China-US relations in the past few months is fundamentally the result of violent changes in the domestic American political climate. The bilateral relationship is now experiencing a moment of extreme crisis, with existing rules being changed and existing foundations collapsing. The US ruling elite seems to prefer permanently cutting off economic ties with China and seeking comprehensive confrontation. Given the latest developments, such a possibility is increasingly realistic.

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