by William Yanek ’23
29 years ago, the Soviet Union collapsed and the Cold War ended. This year, there is a new Cold War on the horizon with a new enemy: the Chinese Communist Party.
In the past few weeks, tensions between the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) and the West rose to an all time high. Military escalation in the South China Sea, the closing of consulates, U.S. concern over the national security risks of TikTok and Huawei 5G networks and many other similar flare ups suggest an imminent confrontation between the two world superpowers. This new Cold War will have profound implications for the future of society. The CCP wants to be the hegemon of the world. For the sake of liberal democracy, forces for freedom must rise up, unify and stop them.
The CCP is a dangerous, illiberal, and anti-democratic force in the world that is only getting more bellicose. It demonstrates its blatant disregard for human rights by interning over one million Uighur Muslims in the Xinjiang Province, according to UN reports. It is perfecting the art of censorship through its “Golden Shield,” a mechanism which restricts internet access to information that supports the party narrative. Through its propaganda organs, the CCP kept information about COVID-19 secret at the outset of the pandemic and are currently disseminating misinformation about the virus. And now, it is trying to extend the reach of its authoritarian system through military aggression toward Taiwan and enforcement of a new “security” law in Hong Kong designed to squash democracy.
Unfortunately, the rise of the CCP is a threat of the West’s own making. After the collapse of the Soviet Union, nations around the world pursued a relentless policy of economic globalization. This led to mass offshoring of manufacturing to countries with cheap labor markets. China was one of these countries. Our leaders told us that economic liberalization would naturally lead to more liberal governments. Some, such as political scientist Francis Fukuyama, proclaimed the end of history itself: Liberal democracies, with their free markets and free governments, would inevitably triumph. The CCP, however, did not see it that way, and through globalization it found the infrastructure it needed to realize its dream of economic superiority. In the eyes of the CCP, this dream will come to fruition with the help of the Belt and Road Initiative, an economic development plan announced in 2013 that is strengthening its commercial and security ties with 138 nations. Through the Belt and Road Initiative and other similar long term policy plans, China seeks to dramatically increase its influence over the developing world and gain an economic, technological, and potentially military advantage over the West.
In the past century, liberal democracy defeated its enemies through the overwhelming combined strength of allies and economic robustness. The Nazis were destroyed because they were too forthright about their desire for world domination, which prompted a swift counter reaction based on fear and near-universal disgust with the Nazis’ tyrannical vision. The USSR crumbled due to the inherent weakness of their economic policies and institutions. The CCP, on the other hand, learned from these failures of totalitarianism. It does not proclaim its intentions openly. Rather than relying on quick, successive military victories like the Nazis, the CCP is focused on the long game. Neither is it hampered by a weak economy like the Soviets, as the CCP has managed to create a freer economy without relinquishing control of the state. And, to top it all off, China is succeeding in making the West economically dependent on Chinese essential manufacturing, whether it be steel, semiconductors, or pharmaceuticals. The Chinese strategy does not rely on speed or brute force to envelop the world in darkness. Instead, its objective is to gradually eclipse the United States.
Our society thinks in terms of four-year election cycles. The CCP thinks in terms of hundreds of years. Our society is weaker and more divided than in decades past. Chinese society, through the CCP’s iron grip, is unified in opposition to the West. However, there is still hope if we adopt an active, long-term strategy to match and unify around a liberal democratic vision for the world in opposition to the vision of the CCP.
The West’s strategy should start with basic diplomatic and military considerations. We will need many allies to check Chinese aggression in Southeast Asia. EU democracies must overcome their aversion to conflict with China–which largely result from economic considerations–and see the bigger threat China poses to the world. This will only happen if the U.S. improves its economic and diplomatic relations with the EU by embracing free trade with its EU partners and by strengthening NATO. Slapping arbitrary tariffs on critical allies and haggling excessively over NATO commitments, as President Donald Trump has, only weakens relations and inhibits the creation of a strong allied force necessary to confront the existential threat of the CCP.
Another critical ally who has stood resolutely by our side in the past is the United Kingdom. The U.K., along with the broader Anglosphere of Canada, Australia and New Zealand, should stand with the U.S. in the coming struggle with China. In an Aug. 8 article in the Wall Street Journal, historian Andrew Roberts suggested the U.K., Canada, Australia and New Zealand form a Canzuk Union that would unify their economic and military forces. This would provide welcome relief to American efforts in the South China Sea and create a formidable new superpower that would make China think twice about their expansionist ambitions.
It almost goes without saying that South Korea and Japan will be intimately involved in this coming conflict, but another ally in Asia that may be particularly advantageous is India. In recent weeks, disputes on the Chinese-Indian border have grown more tense, in no small part due to the nationalist policies of Prime Minister Modi. As Walter Russell Mead pointed out in the Wall Street Journal on Aug.10, the nationalism of Modi’s government is a weapon that must be used carefully: While Modi’s India is more willing to confront China, his incendiary policies may lead to outright armed conflict. It is also true that the Modi administration is acting in decisively illiberal and discriminatory ways toward the Muslim minority of the country, which may make it more difficult for a liberal-democratic alliance to work with them. Balancing India’s firm opposition to China with their overt armed aggression and increasingly illiberal policies will be a difficult diplomatic task of the next administration.
Allies of the United States in the coming struggle must pursue a very different course of action when it comes to their engagement with the Middle East and the rest of the developing world. As the U.S. continues to spill blood and resources in Iraq and Afghanistan, China is expanding its influence in developing nations through its Belt and Road Initiative. The U.S. and the broader Western world need to counter this influence with their own and abandon endless quagmires in the Middle East.
On the economic and technological front, the U.S. will have two seemingly contradictory priorities. On the one hand, essential manufacturing capacity must come back to the United States immediately, which will require a new industrial policy that abandons free-trade puritanism. On the other hand, crafting new free-trade deals with allies, like the now defunct Trans-Pacific Partnership, will be essential in creating a strong allied economy to rival China. Creating a robust economy is the most critical step, as economic growth allows the U.S. and its allies to influence the developing world, retain military superiority, and invest in critical AI technology.
Every one of these steps will be difficult to implement over the long term, and will require visionary political leadership. However, no strategy is possible without unified public support based on a sober understanding of the stakes involved. Without exaggeration, the fate of liberal democracy and freedom throughout the world is on the line. The contrast between a world ruled by liberal democracy and a world ruled by the CCP could not be clearer.
In a liberal democratic world, authority derives its power from the people through frequent and fair elections. In China’s world, power and authority are united in the Party that decides your fate.
In a liberal democratic world, capitalism, with proper guardrails, is a tide that lifts all boats. In China’s world, capitalism is a tool of state power that has no regard for general prosperity.
In a liberal democratic world, technological progress increases the individual’s autonomy, power and quality of life. In a world ruled by the CCP, technology is a hammer that crushes autonomy and privacy.
In a liberal democratic world, the individual is the sacred cornerstone of society and has a right to basic liberties and the pursuit of happiness. In the Chinese authoritarian model, the individual is only a cog in the machine of the state, to be dispensed with at will.
For the sake of those who bled and died for the cause of freedom, as well as for all those who will come after us, it is our duty as Americans to move beyond our divisions and confront the great menace of tyranny that is the CCP. If not, this fight will be liberal democracy’s last.