In a marathon series of congressional hearings and panel discussions, congressional leaders, a top Navy admiral, and a wide range of experts pointed to China as the most consequential strategic rival and national security threat to the United States. A consensus is emerging that the United States must push back against the Chinese regime’s aggression with a “whole-of-government” approach.
President Donald Trump commented in his recent State of the Union address that China is now a strategic “rival” of the United States. While Chinese regime diplomats and those in the United States favoring the maintenance of the status quo in U.S.–China relations criticized the use of the word “rival,” Congress made clear through the week of hearings that there is plenty of support for the president’s realist view of China’s one-party communist regime.
Three different congressional hearings and one panel were held in the Senate and House, beginning with the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence hearing on Feb. 13, in which FBI Director Christopher Wray said that China posed for the United States not just a “whole-of-government” but a “whole-of-society” threat.
Wray said that the Chinese regime manipulated nontraditional spies, especially those in academic settings, such as professors, scientists, and students, to steal U.S. technology and secrets.
Prepare for War
Calls for pushback against China’s aggression grew more vocal on Feb. 14 when the commander of the U.S. Pacific Command, Adm. Harry Harris, testified before the House Armed Services Committee about the U.S. military posture and security challenges in the Indo-Asia-Pacific Region.
“Some view China’s actions in the East and South China seas as opportunistic. I do not,” said Harris. “Beijing is using its military and economic power to coerce its neighbors and erode the free and open international order.
Harris, who has been nominated to become the next U.S. ambassador to Australia, is a noted hardliner when it comes to countering Chinese military aggression in the Pacific.
“China’s impressive military buildup could soon challenge the United States across almost all domains,” Harris told lawmakers. “China’s ongoing military modernization is a core element of China’s stated strategy to supplant the U.S. as the security partner of choice for countries in the Indo–Pacific.”
Harris also said that the United States must be prepared to win a war against China.
“As far as the idea of deterrence and winning wars, I’m a military guy. And I think it’s important you must plan and resource to win a war at the same time you work to prevent it.”
Harris’s views were echoed by many comments made by Senate and House members, with Rep. Joe Wilson (R-S.C.) saying, “It’s not enough that the State Department or the Defense Department view China as a rival. I think we need to view China, for example, as a rival across all of government.”
Beijing already views “the United States as a rival across the whole of their nation,” Wilson said, noting that the United States is “coming up to speed on the whole-of-government aspect but we have more to go in that regard.”
A New Consensus
In another House Armed Services Committee hearing on Feb. 15, titled Strategic Competition with China, Rep. Mac Thornberry (R-Texas), who is chairman of the committee, also said the United States must have a “whole-of-government” approach to counter Chinese aggression.
“China is leveraging military modernization, influence operations, and predatory economics to coerce neighboring countries to reorder the Indo–Pacific region to their advantage,” said Thornberry, quoting the Pentagon’s national defense strategy document. “China continues its economic and military ascendance, asserting power through an all-of-nation long-term strategy.”
“Countering China’s all-of-nation strategy is a real challenge for us,” Thornberry said. “In recent years we have frequently read and heard admonitions to integrate all elements of America’s national power—political, economic, and military—but we have not yet really done so.”
Also on Feb. 15, the U.S.–China Economic and Security Review Commission held a panel discussing China’s Military Reforms and Modernization, in which James Holmes, a professor of maritime strategy at the U.S. Naval War College, quoted retired Rear Adm. Michael McDevitt: “By around 2020, China will have both the largest navy in the world … and the second most capable ‘far seas’ navy in the world.”
“Americans and their allies [must] confront a multifaceted Chinese challenge … or surrender their nautical rights and privileges to China by default. They must band together while harnessing every resource available to them,” said Holmes.
The opinions expressed through the week of hearings by members of Congress, U.S. military leaders, intelligence chiefs, and expert military observers on the threat posed by the Chinese regime suggest a consensus is forming. After decades of a failed strategy, the U.S. situation regarding China has reached a crisis point.
This emerging consensus echoes Trump’s national security strategy, released in December, and the Pentagon’s national defense strategy, released in January. Previous U.S. policy was rooted in the belief that American support for China’s rise and its integration into the international order would liberalize China, the national security strategy says. Contrary to such hopes, the documents say, China has expanded its power at the expense of the sovereignty of others and is actively seeking to displace the United States in the Indo–Pacific region.