During his Senate confirmation hearing last week to be the next director of national intelligence, Texas Republican Rep. John Ratcliffe emphasized China is this country’s “greatest threat actor,” a status only confirmed by rising acrimony over Beijing’s handling of the coronavirus pandemic. But though tensions are rising in the South China Sea, where U.S. Navy missions challenge China’s unsubstantiated claims of hegemony over the region, an actual war between the two powers appears unlikely.
But are the United States and China on a path to a new Cold War?
In an era of geopolitical competition, the West — the U.S.-led countries of the transatlantic alliance and their East Asian allies — lacks a strategy for dealing with its most formidable competitor: the People’s Republic of China (henceforth China). But the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) has a strategy for dealing with the West. It involves a long-term goal of “national rejuvenation”1 — making China the world’s most powerful country by 2050 — implemented with decisive leadership; a clear-eyed appreciation of Western diplomatic, economic, political, and social weaknesses; and effective means of exploiting them. These tactics, best characterized as “sharp power,”2 include censorship and manipulation of the information system, cyber operations, divide-and-rule diplomacy, leverage of trade and investment, and propaganda, plus military bluff and intimidation.