VP Pence China Speech

Hours after VP Pence spoke today about China, Foreign Policy published a piece that laying out five takeaways.[1]

“Linking Hong Kong and trade talks”

“Hong Kong is a living example of what can happen when China embraces liberty,” Pence said, before offering an unusual note of support for an official in an administration that has often been reluctant to embrace protest movements. “We are inspired by you,” he added. “Know that you have the prayers and the admiration of millions of Americans.”

Pence

“China is becoming a great cudgel in the culture wars”

“Some of the NBA’s biggest players and owners, who routinely exercise their freedom to criticize this country, lose their voices when it comes to the freedom and rights of the people of China,” Pence said on Thursday. “In siding with the Chinese Communist Party and silencing free speech, the NBA is acting like a wholly owned subsidiary of the authoritarian regime.”

Pence

“Settling the great ‘decoupling’ debate”

“People sometimes ask whether the Trump administration seeks to ‘decouple’ from China,” Pence said on Thursday. “The answer is a resounding ‘no.’”Rather than isolate Beijing, Pence said the United States seeks “engagement with China and China’s engagement with the wider world but engagement in a manner consistent with fairness, mutual respect, and the international rules of commerce.”

Pence

“Emphasizing the intellectual property theft debate”

“American enterprises continue to lose hundreds of billions of dollars each year in intellectual property theft.”

Pence

“The political meddling bugaboo”

“Beijing’s economic and strategic actions, its attempts to shape American public opinion, prove out what I said a year ago, and it’s just as true today: China wants a different American president.”

Pence

Obviously none of this is real news, it is really more of a slow reveal. The 2017 National Security Strategy mentioned China 33 times by name, twice as much as Obamas’s last version. [2] Trump’s NSS specifically called out China and identified mounting threats where Obama’s focused on engagement. Trump’s document, in short, called on all the domains of US power to compete and combat China in every area of importance. This was a nuanced but direct shift in US policy. VP Pence’s words today are merely part of a progressively elaborating articulation of this strategy.

Trump’s next NSS document is due out in 2020 and I suspect it will be less nuanced and more direct in relation to China.

If you are like me years ago you may not grasp the importance of the NSS document. I took public policy classes in college where it was discussed but I garnered it was merely another piece of government paperwork, perhaps more political than anything. It was really not until Command and General Staff College that I realized how important the document is. The moment it is released all the machinery of government stops, reads it, and shifts gears to operationalize the strategy. Every word, every sentence, the choice of words, all are important, nuanced and have great meaning. All the nations of the world read it too and plan and react accordingly. There is perhaps no piece of paper of greater importance released by a US president in the modern era. Before the 2017 document hit the streets parties internal and external to the government began lobbying for their version fo what the 2020 document should say.

For decades, U.S. policy was rooted in the belief that support for China’s rise and for its integration into the post-war international order would liberalize China. Contrary to our hopes, China expanded its power at the expense of the sovereignty of others. China gathers and exploits data on an unrivaled scale and spreads features of its authoritarian system, including corruption and the use of surveillance. It is building the most capable and well-funded military in the world, after our own. Its nuclear arsenal is growing and diversi ing. Part of China’s military modernization and economic expansion is due to its access to the U.S. innovation economy, including America’s world-class universities.

2017 US NSS

In early 2018 the DoD released its National Defense Strategy one of the dozens of such documents that follow the release of the NSS and implement the strategy within various domains.

In June 2019, the DoD established a separate office to focus exclusively on China.

“The inward part [is] to help us drive alignment on China across the department as we carry out our National Defense Strategy and its implementation. … A lot of that is to help us internally, with the Joint Staff and the services, to make their respective decisions”

Randall Schriver, the assistant secretary of defense for Asian and Pacific security affairs [3]

This is the only such office at the DoD level focused exclusively on one country. Trump absolutely meant what he said in his NSS that China is his focus.

Trump’s 2020 budget reflects his focus on China.

To a remarkable degree, the 2020 Pentagon budget proposal is shaped by national security threats that acting Defense Secretary Patrick Shanahan has summarized in three words: “China, China, China.”

AP [4]

The South China Morning Post reports that the US conducted four separate training operations in August and September focused on China. [5]

  • A sealift exercise designed to move heavy Army divisions
  • Joint land-to-ship missle exercises with Japan
  • US-Asean naval exercise with 10 pacific nations, Four of which – Brunei, Malaysia, the Philippines and Vietnam – have territorial disputes with Beijing over the South China Sea.
  • Finally, US Marines conducted airfield- and island-seizure drills in the East and South China seas, near the Philippines and around the Japanese island of Okinawa

I have personally argued for years that we were spending blood and treasure in the wrong places and focusing on the wrong goals strategically. If I were to be a hawk, I am not, I would have been hawkish on China for years. Whether this course is right or wrong, and I believe it is certainly part of what we should refocus on, only time will tell.

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  1. Foreign Policy, BY ELIAS GROLL | OCTOBER 24, 2019, 5:15 PM https://foreignpolicy.com/2019/10/24/mike-pence-hawkish-china-speech-hong-kong/
  2. US National Security Strategy, 2017, https://www.whitehouse.gov/wp-content/uploads/2017/12/NSS-Final-12-18-2017-0905.pdf
  3. Defense News 1 OCT 2019, https://www.defensenews.com/pentagon/2019/10/01/the-pentagon-has-created-a-new-office-solely-focused-on-china-is-that-a-good-idea/
  4. PBS NewsHour Weekend, Nation Mar 16, 2019 1:19 PM EDT https://www.pbs.org/newshour/nation/new-us-military-budget-focused-on-china-despite-border-talk
  5. South China Morning Post, Published: 6:00pm, 21 Sep, 2019 https://www.scmp.com/news/china/military/article/3029774/growing-rivalry-between-china-and-us-plays-out-military-war

Author: Barry

Southerner, father, husband, Christian and a retired Army field grade officer. Author of three books and of several papers and articles on ethics, culture, history, geopolitics and military affairs. He is the Executive Director of The Calhoun Institute and a partner at B&B Clark Consulting.

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