What’s at the Core of China–US Conflict?

August 6, 2020 Updated: August 16, 2020

Commentary

It’s indisputable that China and the United States have moved from cooperation to confrontation in their relationship, with trade, economics, science, technology, finance, and the military as sectors in the battle.

The two sides are fighting for many things. The issue of 5G wireless network technology alone has shaken the world. The South China Sea infiltration is even more eye-popping; but these aren’t the fundamental things that the two sides are fighting over. What is at the heart of the struggle between the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) and the United States?

The answer is simple: 1.4 billion Chinese people.

The CCP has always claimed the Chinese people as its own and that it unconditionally represents them. What it declares are things like: “XX is hurting the feelings of the Chinese people,” “the Chinese people will never promise XX,” “XX is an old friend of the Chinese people,” “XX is a son of the Chinese people,” “XX is the choice of the Chinese people.”

However, the CCP has never asked the Chinese people what they think.

Any U.S. criticism of the Chinese regime, including its human rights situation, would be regarded by the CCP as “seriously hurting the feelings of the Chinese people.” Condemning the regime’s human rights abuses and supporting freedom of speech, freedom of belief, and citizens’ rights are not only speaking out on behalf of the victims, but for all of China’s citizens. How can the U.S. actions be dubbed as “hurting the feelings of the Chinese people?”

The reason is that the United States didn’t initially distinguish between the CCP and China, which left a loophole for the CCP to use, and conveniently turn the “China” in America’s condemnation of the Chinese regime into the “Chinese people.”

Now that the United States is beginning to realize that “the CCP is not China,” it’s holding the CCP accountable for its wrongful actions.

On July 23, U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo delivered a speech called “Communist China and the Free World’s Future” at the Nixon Presidential Library in California, the most recent in a series of China policy speeches by national security adviser Robert O’Brien, FBI Director Christopher Wray, and Attorney General William Barr.

This series of speeches was designed to promote an important spirit of President Donald Trump’s diplomatic thinking. That is, reversing decades of established China policy from “embracing and accommodating the CCP” to “rejecting the CCP.” It openly declares that the CCP isn’t equal to China or the Chinese people; the CCP also is an enemy of the Chinese people, while the American and Chinese people are allies in the same trench.

“Communists almost always lie. The biggest lie that they tell is to think that they speak for 1.4 billion people who are surveilled, oppressed, and scared to speak out,” Pompeo said in his speech.

“Quite the contrary. The CCP fears the Chinese people’s honest opinions more than any foe. … We must also engage and empower the Chinese people—a dynamic, freedom-loving people who are completely distinct from the Chinese Communist Party.”

But in this battle to win the Chinese people over, the CCP has an inherent advantage. The 1.4 billion Chinese people are held hostage by the CCP, locked behind the Great Firewall (online censorship mechanism), closely monitored with cameras, big data, artificial intelligence, facial recognition, network blockade, information censors, and other high technology. They’re brainwashed with a blaze of anti-U.S. propaganda and agitated with narrow-minded nationalism. The CCP tightly grips the Chinese people as it stands up to the United States and the world to the end.

The United States considers the Chinese people as its friends, and it would fight for their freedom. But do the 1.4 billion Chinese people appreciate this attitude? This remains a challenge for the United States and the world. Concern about human rights in China is easily understood as speaking out for the Chinese people.

Yet other issues involving the United States—such as blocking Huawei, cracking down on the CCP’s intellectual property thefts, supporting Hong Kong’s freedom, selling weapons to Taiwan, maintaining freedom of navigation in the South China Sea, and challenging the “One Belt, One Road” CCP initiative—all of which seem to “include China,” are easily used by the CCP to promote anti-U.S. propaganda and stir up nationalism.

It’s important for the United States and the free world to make the Chinese people see the truth and understand that it isn’t “China,” but “the CCP” that they’re attempting to restrain.

“If the free world doesn’t change—communist China will surely change us,” Pompeo said. Imagine if the CCP destroys the democratic and liberal institutions of Chinese societies such as Hong Kong and Taiwan, if it expands authoritarianism to the whole world through its “One Belt, One Road,” if it uses Huawei’s 5G infrastructure to control the lifeblood of Western communications, and if it bullies small neighboring countries, then a world behemoth of communist despotism would really take shape.

This wouldn’t be a blessing for the Chinese people, because the biggest victims of despotism are precisely the Chinese people living in the mainland. Without the constraints of the outside world, the CCP will only suppress its own people more freely. “Containing the CCP” is not “containing China.” In the short term, the Chinese people may make certain sacrifices; but in the long term, abandoning the CCP will enable the Chinese people to return to freedom and prosperity.

That is real strength and a real rise.

The United States and its allies have opened a new chapter in their revolt against the CCP, but much remains to be done. Removing the CCP’s Great Firewall so the Chinese people can see the truth, helping and encouraging the Chinese people to sever ties with the CCP, cleaning up the CCP’s overseas spies and the united front political, business, academic, and media circles, as well as increasing public opinion propaganda to win the Chinese people over are all needed.

Whoever can win the Chinese people over will be the final victor.

Sima Tai is a U.S.-based commentator whose expertise is Chinese politics and economy. Previously, he conducted research on macroeconomics for the Chinese central government.

Views expressed in this article are the opinions of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of The Epoch Times.