The U.S. State Department and American lawmakers in the Senate are outlining the risks and opportunities in Washington’s relationship with China in two new reports.
At the State Department, a report published Tuesday and described as a blueprint for the U.S. response to China’s rise as an authoritarian superpower, says Beijing’s Communist Party is facing internal vulnerabilities, frustrating its growing global ambitions.
"China under the CCP is marked by a variety of vulnerabilities. These begin with the disadvantages endemic to autocracy: constraints on innovation, difficulties forming and maintaining alliances, and costs arising from internal repression," the State Department's Office of Policy Planning wrote in the report, titled, “The Elements of the China Challenge.”
On Capitol Hill Wednesday, congressional leaders called for improving collaboration between the United States and Europe on the challenges posed by China. Lawmakers on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee said China has become a rival to European and American interests, which must recognize and respond to the reality.
'The Elements of the China Challenge'
The State Department’s report said countries around the globe have witnessed the weaknesses of Beijing’s government when a local epidemic turned into a global pandemic because of mismanagement and coverups from a government that largely rejects transparency.
“In the wake of the illness, death, and social and economic devastation wrought worldwide by the COVID-19 pandemic born in Wuhan —mounting international anger at the CCP’s contempt for human life, indifference to other nations’ well-being, and disregard for international norms and obligations” are among them, said the report.
Beijing has consistently rejected such criticism, insisting it has been a model global partner in trying to curb the coronavirus pandemic. China has offered foreign countries access to vaccines under development and dispatched medical teams during the early part of the pandemic to advise how to combat the virus.
But that has done little to improve Beijing’s image among Western analysts, some of whom fear a nightmare scenario where Chinese leaders will respond to domestic pressures by devoting more attention to aggressive foreign policies.
In recent years, one of the CCP’s biggest fears has been so-called “Western spiritual pollution,” referring to the Western ideas of liberty, rule of law, and governance that are features of democratic governments.
“Xi Jinping is cracking down on that sort of teaching in the education system, even in the business system, because it terribly fears the influence of Western ideas,” said Dan Blumenthal, director of Asian Studies at the American Enterprise Institute, a research group based in Washington.
“Mishandling of COVID-19 is causing an international backlash against him, but Xi doesn't back down from this pressure. In fact, he escalates,” Blumenthal added.
For example, Blumenthal said during the same year that China and other countries have struggled with the health and economic impacts of COVID-19, the Chinese Communist Party got into a border skirmish with India, increased political tensions in Australia, pressured Europeans to remove any language about Chinese disinformation campaigns around COVID-19, further clamped down on Hong Kong’s more open political culture, and continued its aggressive policies in the South China Sea and mass incarceration of Uighurs in Xinjiang.
China insists that all of these policies are either internal matters that foreign governments misrepresent, or as in the case of Europe and Australia, are Beijing having legitimate policy disagreements with one of its trading partners.
But Blumenthal says Beijing’s actions abroad also have a goal of shaping domestic opinion, and that could lead to dire consequences.
“So the nightmare scenario is as Xi gets more frustrated, he will try to compensate with more external aggression. And that's what we have been seeing,” said Blumenthal during a webinar on Tuesday.
The State Department’s paper outlines 10 tasks for the United States to focus on in its China relationship, including strengthening its alliance system and creating new international organizations to promote democracy and human rights; cooperating with China when possible and constraining it when appropriate; as well as training a new generation of public servants who understand great-power competition with China.
U.S. officials have said Washington wants a results-oriented and constructive bilateral relationship based on fairness and reciprocity.
“We are ready to work with China as long as China is willing to take concrete actions to address these challenges in mutually beneficial ways,” a spokesperson told VOA.
Collaboration with Europe?
The Senate Foreign Relations Committee also released a report Wednesday, calling for greater collaboration between the United States and Europe on the challenges posed by China.
"China has become a true systemic rival to shared American and European interests. Both sides of the Atlantic increasingly recognize this reality," Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman James Risch said in an event Wednesday introducing the report.
"We have to turn this agreement into action. Neither the United States, nor Europe will be able to combat these threats alone. Those who suggest that possibility are simply wrong. China is simply too large and too well-equipped,” he said.
Among its recommendations, the report suggests the new Biden administration provide an opportunity for the U.S. to rejoin international organizations and prevent China from filling the void left by the lack of U.S. international participation.