State Department releases 10-step blueprint for confronting the 'China Challenge'

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The State Department has a plan for confronting the rise of China and sustaining the United States’s place as the world’s leading superpower.

A 74-page report, The Elements of the China Challenge, was released by the agency’s Policy Planning Staff a couple of days after the Trump administration signaled it was planning to ramp up its pressure on Beijing in the coming weeks, making moves it believes would further the president’s legacy as well as make it politically difficult for President-elect Joe Biden to reverse course.

The blueprint said that “awareness has been growing in the United States — and in nations around the world — that the Chinese Communist Party has triggered a new era of great-power competition” and noted that the Chinese government led by Xi Jinping is “modeled on 20th-century Marxist-Leninist dictatorship.” The State Department warned that “the CCP aims … to fundamentally revise world order, placing the People’s Republic of China at the center and serving Beijing’s authoritarian goals and hegemonic ambitions.”

“Meeting the China challenge requires the United States to return to the fundamentals,” the State Department asserted. “To secure freedom, America must refashion its foreign policy in light of ten tasks.”

First, the U.S. “must secure freedom at home” in order to “nourish the civic concord that has always been essential to meeting the nation’s challenges abroad,” according to the State Department. Second, it “must maintain the world’s most powerful, agile, and technologically sophisticated military while enhancing security cooperation” with its allies and partners. Third, it “must fortify the free, open, and rules-based international order that it led in creating after World War II.” And fourth, the U.S. “must reevaluate its alliance system and the panoply of international organizations” to examine what works and what doesn’t.

Related to this, President Trump announced the U.S. would leave the World Health Organization over the summer, in part due to China’s strong influence over the group. The Biden transition website currently lists four priorities — COVID-19, economic recovery, racial equity, and climate change — and the coronavirus section contains a vow to reenter the WHO immediately. Biden has faced questions about how tough he would be on China, given how he has downplayed the China threat and welcomed a rising China over the years. Trump has faced criticism from Biden and Democrats for thanking Xi Jinping for his transparency early on in the coronavirus pandemic, even as China covered it up and as the country’s response was praised by the WHO.

The State Department said that, following a reevaluation of its international memberships, the U.S.’s fifth task must be to “strengthen its alliance system” while also “reforming international organizations where possible and, where necessary, building new ones.” The sixth should be to “promote American interests by looking for opportunities to cooperate with Beijing subject to norms of fairness and reciprocity, constraining and deterring the PRC when circumstances require, and supporting those in China who seek freedom.”

Seventh, the U.S. “must educate American citizens about the scope and implications of the China challenge” to get their buy-in on confronting China, according to the new report. The eighth task must be to “train a new generation of public servants … and public policy thinkers” to attain fluency in Chinese language, history, and culture, according to the agency. Building on that, the ninth recommended task is to “reform American education, equipping students to shoulder the enduring responsibilities of citizenship in a free and democratic society by understanding America’s legacy of liberty” and readying them for an “information-age, globalized economy.”

“Tenth, the United States must champion the principles of freedom — principles that are at once universal and at the heart of the American national spirit — through example; speeches; educational initiatives; public diplomacy; foreign assistance and investment; sanctions in more difficult circumstances as well as other forms of non-military pressure; and, where the nation’s vital interests are at stake and all else has failed, military force,” the State Department said.

The Global Times, a Chinese Communist Party newspaper, blasted the new report.

“There is no new wording in the report, which can be seen as a collection of malicious remarks from Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and other anti-China U.S. politicians and senators,” the outlet said. “Right now, only a little more than 60 days are left for the current U.S. administration. An official from the State Department explained that the report is not meant to constrain the next U.S. administration. But the fact is the Department of State fears that the Biden administration will adjust U.S.-China relations, and the release of the report is part of their efforts to consolidate the current extreme anti-China path.”

A senior administration official told the Washington Examiner that “over the coming weeks, the Trump administration will continue to expand the depth and breadth of the historic actions it has taken over the past four years to protect the vital interests of the United States and its allies countering Beijing’s predatory and coercive behaviors.” The renewed push could include new sanctions against Chinese government officials complicit in abuses against the Uighurs and in Hong Kong. Director of National Intelligence John Ratcliffe will soon be speaking publicly about what the intelligence says, including specific examples to illustrate Chinese espionage inside the U.S.

“We want a results-oriented, constructive bilateral relationship based on fairness and reciprocity. This administration has worked tirelessly to address trade imbalances, threats to U.S. and regional security, and other global challenges — such as the current global health crisis,” a State Department spokesperson told the Washington Examiner when asked about its new report. “We are ready to work with China as long as China is willing to take concrete actions to address these challenges in mutually beneficial ways. Either way, this Administration will continue to defend U.S. interests without apology.”

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