Beijing’s Acts Confirm Need for U.S. and Allied Buildups
There is a strange but all too widespread coalition of left-wing anti-war activists and alleged “right-wing” isolationists trying desperately to dimmish any perception that Russia and China are working together against American security. A focus has been the Ukraine invasion, the larger consequences of which they dismiss except to fear that it might lead to regime change in Moscow rather than Kyiv. The most ugly and ridiculous manifestation of this was Tucker Carlson’s disgraceful rant against President Volodymyr Zelensky’s speech to Congress. He embarrassed Fox News and insulted its patriotic audience by trotting out every New Left argument from the anti-Vietnam war era, from the military-industrial complex to foreign corruption, with added insults comparing Zelensky to a strip club owner. Carlson even made the absurd claim that Zelensky was trying to destroy Christianity because he had closed some Russian Orthodox churches aligned with Moscow. Tucker’s membership card to Code Pink is in the mail.
Democrats love to extrapolate the views of people like Carlson to portray the entire conservative movement and the Republican Party as unfit to provide national leadership. This tactic is easily dismissed by citing the solid bipartisan support for standing up to Russia (and China) in legislation passed by Congress during both the Trump and Biden administrations and by the repeated standing ovations across the House chamber given to Zelensky during his speech.
On the intellectual Left is Stephen Walt, who has spent his career undermining U.S. national security policy and world leadership. His latest missive from a think tank created by George Soros assails the entire American military posture and diplomatic effort as “stupid.” As I have written earlier, this coalition wants a negotiated settlement in Ukraine that gives Russia nearly everything it started the war to achieve, except completely wiping the country off the map. That can come later, once sanctions are lifted, Ukraine is kept isolated, and Putin remains in power.
On December 21, Chinese President Xi Jinping met with former Russian President Dmitry Medvedev who is now chairman of Putin’s United Russia party and deputy chairman of the Security Council of Russia. The hope was that the Ukraine War is causing unease in China, which would be expressed to Medvedev. Beijing has called for negotiations. Clearly, President Xi is not happy that the optimism Putin expressed to him at their meeting just before the invasion has not panned out. The poor showing of the Russian military in the face of people determined to defend their freedom, armed with U.S. and European weapons, has concerned a regime contemplating an invasion of Taiwan. Beijing also has reason to be concerned by the show of unity in the West which is spreading to Asia. Ukraine has awakened the world to the fact that aggression is still a threat. The Great Power rivalry set out in President Donald Trump’s 2017 National Security Policy is real.
Trump’s push for NATO to rearm came just in time, as well as his push for NATO to expand its vision into the Indo-Pacific as expressed in the NATO 2030 strategy document published eight months before the Ukraine invasion. NATO has attracted Sweden and Finland as new members thanks to Putin proving the need for a common defense against Moscow. In contrast, it should be remembered that President Biden was fully in the anti-war camp when he took office. His “cut and run” isolationism halted aid to the Saudi coalition fighting an Iranian proxy in Yemen, collapsed Afghanistan, and declared Ukraine outside our security perimeter. His first action after Russia invaded was to offer Zelensky an escape route out of the country, which would have collapsed Kyiv. Only the heroism shown by the Ukrainian people that refuted the pre-war pessimism changed the situation, giving courage to President Biden to act, albeit slowly. The Patriot air defense system, only now approved, should have been deployed months ago, before Putin started bombarding cities to starve and freeze the Ukrainian people.
Only in Asia had Biden followed Trump’s policies in bolstering Taiwan and decoupling strategic industries from Chinese dominance. Both efforts are works in progress, but recent actions by Japan, the world’s third largest economy and a technological titan, have strengthened the effort. Tokyo recently designated 11 critical technology sectors as strategic, with the aim of securing capacity and supply chains. This is in accord with U.S. policy to build alliance networks that can isolate and surpass China in the high-tech arms race. Japan and the Netherlands announced they will cooperate with America in its policy of restricting the transfer of computer chips and related technology and equipment to China.
Washington has also hailed Japan’s new National Security Strategy, National Defense Strategy, and Defense Buildup Program, which were announced on December 16. The reports declare, “Japan’s security environment is as severe and complex as it has ever been since the end of World War II. Russia’s aggression against Ukraine has easily breached the very foundation of the rules that shape the international order. The possibility cannot be precluded that a similar serious situation may arise in the future in the Indo-Pacific region, especially in East Asia.” Regarding Taiwan, Tokyo states, “Taiwan is an extremely important partner and a precious friend of Japan, with whom Japan shares fundamental values, including democracy, and has close economic and personal ties. Peace and stability across the Taiwan Strait are indispensable elements for the security and prosperity of the international community.” Peace protects the status quo of a de facto independent Taiwan aligned with Japan, the U.S. and their allies. Beijing can only change the situation by force. Japan notes, “China has intensified its coercive military activities around Taiwan, and concerns about the peace and stability of the Taiwan Strait are rapidly growing not only in the Indo-Pacific region but also in the entire international community.” Japan is responding to this threat with a military buildup including acquiring longer-range missiles that can hit China.
China’s recent actions confirm the wisdom of military buildups not only in Japan and the U.S., but in Australia, India, and elsewhere across the region. Indicating that whatever concerns Beijing have about the course of the Ukraine War, they have not weakened their strategic partnership with Russia. Chinese and Russia warships held a joint live-fire exercise in the East China Sea December 21-27. Meanwhile, Beijing’s carrier strike group was operating in the Philippine Sea, conducting mock attacks on disputed Japanese islands that extend down towards Taiwan. Earlier in the month, there was another clash between Indian and Chinese troops along their disputed border.
Over Christmas, China sent 47 warplanes across the median line towards Taiwan, with dozens more in support (including strategic bombers). Warships also carried out live-fire missions near the island. Beijing claimed this show of force was in response to “provocations” in recent U.S. legislation, in particular the National Defense Authorization Act which contained measures to deter Chinese (and Russian) aggression. The Omnibus appropriations bill also included a 9 percent increase in the defense budget.
Fortunately, the actions of Beijing and Moscow are so blatant and clearly dangerous to the security of their neighbors and the preeminent position of the United States that there is a bipartisan majority in Washington supporting a strong American and allied defense effort to deter escalation by regimes with such obvious aggressive ambitions. We can only pray that this is a coalition that can be maintained in the resumed Cold War.
William R. Hawkins is a former economics professor who served on the professional staff of the U.S. House Foreign Affairs Committee. He has written widely on international economics and national security issues for both professional and popular publications.