‘Cold War 2.0’: China Confronts the US With ‘No Holds Barred,’ Says Former National Security Adviser

April 1, 2021 Updated: April 4, 2021

Believing itself untouchable, China’s communist party is ramping up rhetoric about perceived American weaknesses in a bid to ascend as the next world leader, according to former deputy national security adviser K.T. McFarland.

“They are looking at the rest of the world and saying, ‘OK, America, you are where you are, but we want to lead the next world order. We want to be the leaders of a non-white world, and the Asians and Central America and Latin America, and the subcontinent and Africa,’” McFarland said in an interview on The Epoch Times’ “American Thought Leaders” program.

That, according to McFarland, means manipulating narratives to their advantage, exploiting debates around racism to discredit America, wielding economic weapons to punish those that crossed their line, thwarting legitimate criticisms, and sowing division among democratic countries.

“China plans to remake the world in its own image—and it is at our expense, to make no mistake,” she said.

‘No Holds Barred’

One only needs to recall the recent diplomatic spat in Alaska to see Beijing’s plans made “very open and plain,” McFarland said.

“Even though nothing was accomplished, it was significant because it showed the Chinese intentions.”

Despite a frequent claim from Biden officials that they are engaging China from “a position of strength,” the meeting had given off just the opposite signal, McFarland said.

“It showed the United States, at least the Biden administration, in a position of great weakness, which will reverberate around the world to our disadvantage.

“The United States took a knife to a gunfight.”

“The Chinese … wanted to criticize the United States and humiliate us on our own soil. And in doing so, they wanted to use the words of the American media and those sort of woke media, and the cancel culture and the people who say that ‘America is a racist nation,’ ‘it was conceived in evil.’ etc. They quoted those people back to the American leadership.”

“It was meant to be humiliating,” she said. But “instead of saying, ‘This is outrageous,’ and walk out,” the message from Secretary of State Antony Blinken was that “we’re not perfect, we’re going to get there someday.”

“It just sort of rolled over,” she said, calling it “humiliating on all sides.”

Yang Jiechi and Wang Yi
Yang Jiechi (R), director of the Central Foreign Affairs Commission Office, and Wang Yi (L), China’s state councilor and foreign minister, at the opening session of U.S.-China talks at the Captain Cook Hotel in Anchorage, Alaska, on March 18, 2021. (Frederic J. Brown/Pool via Reuters)

To McFarland, the CCP’s conduct in Alaska “represented a real shift in the Chinese approach.”

“They really lay down the gauntlet.”

“This is a new cold war, Cold War 2.0”—and unlike the nuclear arms race fought with the Soviet Union, the Chinese are making it clear that they will have “no holds barred,” she said.

“The Chinese, to my mind, have now concluded that their rise is inevitable, and America’s decline is inevitable. And they think that they are, or at least soon will be in a more dominant position in the world than the United States, economically, technologically, diplomatically, militarily and all the way.”

Exploiting US Democracy

While America considers its democratic framework a great strength, “the Chinese understand that it can be a vulnerability,” and they snatch whatever narratives that suit their advantage to weaken the West, McFarland said.

“It’s easy to be an authoritarian country, because you just say something, and then everybody has to follow suit; and in a democracy, we debate it, we thrash it around, we have winners, we have losers—and the Chinese understand that.”

“That’s why their disinformation campaigns are so pernicious, and frankly, so effective,” she said. “Because they can get us sort of going after each other.”

Beijing’s recent influence campaign includes parroting narratives that paint America as a racist country, boasting its COVID-19 vaccine success while disparaging the U.S. vaccines, and touting the Alaska clash as a diplomatic win.

“I don’t think they care about whether America is racist or not, but they want to portray America as morally flawed, as they try to ascend to diplomatic dominance around the world,” McFarland said.

McFarland, who spent her graduate years at Oxford University studying communism and revolutions, warned of a trend she saw of “useful idiots”—a cold war term for people manipulated to advance a political agenda—embracing such narratives and tearing down the free societies from within.

“If the Chinese are going to be running the world, I hope they won’t … But if they do, the first people they get rid of are the useful idiots,” she said. They “are not going to have … any of the rights that we enjoy in the United States any more than the people of China.”

No Crossing of Red Line

What makes the Chinese regime such a formidable foe, McFarland said, is the “all of government approach” they have mustered under the authoritarian model to silence dissent from the West.

After the West jointly sanctioned Chinese officials over human rights abuse in Xinjiang, Beijing whipped up a nationalist storm to punish Western brands that had refused to use Xinjiang cotton. Under intense online pressure, singers, celebrities, and models quickly came out to sever their ties with the companies for fear of potential backlash.

A farmer-cotton field
A farmer picks cotton from a field in Hami, Xinjiang Uyghur autonomous region, China, on Nov. 1, 2012. (China Daily/Reuters)

Similarly, Beijing has retaliated against Australia with a year of economic sanctions after the country called for an independent inquiry into the CCP virus origin, banning key Australian export from coal, barley, to wine.

The CCP is “very clever in choosing the weapons that they’re using,” McFarland said, describing trade and investment as “one of the most potent” leverages.

“From their [the regime’s] perspective, they think that they are already in a position of dominance, and therefore any concessions to be made are not going to be made on their part,” she said.

“Especially in a democracy, what country is going to have an economic disadvantage to their own people in order to make a point?”

The Chinese regime’s long-term plan, according to McFarland, is to “pick us off one at one at a time—pick off Japan, pick off South Korea,” and “use the economic weapon to get these countries to do China’s bidding.”

It’s a threat that requires “the democracies of the world to band together,” she said. “United we stand, divided we fall.”

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