‘We Are in a New Cold War’ With China: Former US Assistant Secretary of State

By Andrew Thornebrooke
Andrew Thornebrooke
Andrew Thornebrooke
National Security Correspondent
Andrew Thornebrooke is a national security correspondent for The Epoch Times covering China-related issues with a focus on defense, military affairs, and national security. He holds a master's in military history from Norwich University.
and David Zhang
David Zhang
David Zhang
David Zhang is the host of China Insider on EpochTV. He is currently based in New York and Washington DC covering China-related news. He focuses on expert interviews and news commentary on China affairs, especially issues regarding the U.S.–China relationship.
March 11, 2022Updated: March 15, 2022

The Chinese Communist Party (CCP) and United States are engaged in a cold war, according to a former senior state department official. As such, the Chinese regime’s burgeoning alliance with Russia has broad implications for the future of the Indo-Pacific region.

“People don’t really want to have to ponder things like global devastation, but it’s here and it’s with us,” David Stilwell, former Assistant Secretary of State for East Asia and Pacific Affairs and retired Air Force Brigadier General, told EpochTV’s “China Insider” program on March 10.

“The PRC [People’s Republic of China] has nukes and are building out their nuclear arsenal considerably right now,” he said.

“We are in a new Cold War.”

Stilwell said that China’s effective alliance with Russia, wherein the CCP has tacitly supported a war of aggression against Ukraine, had already drawn nations throughout the Indo-Pacific closer to the United States hardened their resolve against the CCP.

The worsening ties between states like Japan and South Korea with China were unavoidable, Stilwell said, because of CCP leadership’s choice to give cover to Russia’s war in spite of the fact that China previously pledged to defend Ukraine from nuclear threats.

“It’s unavoidable,” Stilwell said. “The PRC named themselves … in the negotiations with Russia going into the war. They declared themselves to be basically on board with the invasion of Ukraine and all those things.”

“They can’t walk that back. That’s out there. It’s commitment. But, I have to think that China’s rethinking it given how poorly this has gone for the Russians.”


Stilwell said that this strategic rethink was important for CCP leader Xi Jinping’s plans to forcibly unite Taiwan with mainland China, and that Russian failures in Ukraine would likely render Chinese military strategists more cautious in their ambitions regarding Taiwan.

The CCP’s initial goal for forcing the unification of Taiwan with the mainland was to be achieved by 2049, Stilwell said. Xi, however, appeared to advance that goal to 2035. U.S. military officials, meanwhile, have warned that it could happen as soon as 2027.

Stilwell agreed with that assessment. He said that, should Xi obtain a third term as leader of the CCP later this year, Xi would likely try to solidify his personal legacy by taking Taiwan before that term ends in 2027.

Concerning how greatly the war in Ukraine has affected CCP plans for Taiwan, Stilwell said that the performance of the Russian military, which has struggled to take basic objectives and even to adequately supply its own troops with fuel and food, had done more to temper CCP aggression than anything.

“The big thing that changed, in my mind, is how badly the Russian military did,” Stilwell said.

He said that, had the Russians been greeted as liberators, which their propaganda said they would be, then China would likely be much more eager to take Taiwan and shape the Indo-Pacific more broadly.

The comments are in line with recent testimony from CIA director William Burns, who said that CCP leadership was “unsettled” by the continued failures of the Russian military and the overwhelming and unified Western response to Russian aggression.

“The PRC always looked to its northern Russian brothers militarily as, you know, their big brother, as someone that they could learn from,” Stilwell said.

“By [Putin] going for everything, by going for the capital Kyiv, by burning nuclear reactors, and by getting his military shot up pretty bad, that message cannot have been lost on the PRC.”

That lesson would temper CCP zeal for a military conquest of Taiwan in the short term he said, as the CCP’s military wing contend with the fact that an attempt to seize Taiwan would also include an amphibious assault over a hundred-mile-wide maritime border.

Other Forms of Warfare

That would not prevent efforts to coerce Taiwan into CCP control, however.

“It’s just as easy to win by dominating the economy and forcing them to capitulate as it is to kill everybody,” Stilwell said.

“The first lesson we all have to relearn is that warfare comes in many different forms, and kinetic, bombs and guns and stuff is [just] one … It’s the last one that they want to use, because it’s basically a roll of the dice. You’re gonna win, you’re gonna lose. There’s no middle ground.”

To that end, Stilwell said that the most important thing the United States could do throughout the short, medium, and long terms was to maintain a consistent policy regarding Taiwan.

Additionally, he said, the United States and its allies would need to consider more fully the available economic levers of power in their efforts to deter CCP aggression.

“I think something like an economic Article Five is a good idea,” Stilwell said, referencing NATO’s framework for mutual self-defense. “An attack on one is an attack on all.”

He added that there should be an agreed-upon collective response to acts of Chinese economic aggression, such as when the regime attempted to boycott Australian goods last year in the hopes of forcing Australia to cease questioning the origins of COVID-19.

The United States and its allies, Stilwell said, could counter these acts effectively, and deter CCP bullying, by collectively agreeing to purchase from those nations affected by CCP economic coercion, and responding in kind by temporarily halting purchases from China.

“A bully only understands one language,” Stilwell said, “and that’s force.”