Last week in these pages the authors revealed the Biden Administration’s unambiguous pursuit of restoring American foreign policy to the pro-PRC policies of unconstrained and unaccountable engagement with the CCP, a policy that dominated the Obama Administration and those of prior administrations.
As if on cue, the Chinese Communist Party’s (CCP) propaganda organ, China Daily, on September 28 ran an article entitled “U.S. knows what it must do to restart military-to-military communication.” While the article was in response to press reporting that the United States Space Force is exploring the possibility of creating a hotline with the Chinese military to avoid crises in space, the CCP’s message was clear—if the Biden administration wants to resume mil-to-mil communications American “competent authorities” must kowtow (bow down) themselves to demands from Beijing.
Those demands, as related to the suspension of contact between the nation’s two militaries, has been, according to the PRC’s Foreign Ministry spokesman, because of “reasons the U.S. side is well aware of.” Most prominently, as noted by the spokesman, was the U.S. “sanctions on the Chinese defense minister,” that is, Defense Minister Li Shangfu, who has not been seen in weeks.
The China Daily article contends that Beijing has repeatedly asked the U.S. to show “sincerity” with “practical moves” in exchange for “the kind of communication the U.S. side has demanded.” This CCP propaganda line goes on to assert that it is the U.S. who is “bent on an all-out offensive to suppress the Chinese military’s modernization”—an absurd assertion given the Biden administration’s failure to deter the PRC from its stated goals of the Great Rejuvenation, and the establishment of a global governance system run by CCP.
In addition, the CCP skillfully plays to the sympathies they know they will receive from America’s “China Hands,” some of whom have a vested interest in keeping the CCP happy. The employment of tired proclamations that exculpate the CCP for its actions and attempt to implicate the U.S. These messages are typically variations of “the more the two militaries distrust each other, the more they need proper communication channels to avoid unintended crises,” or “there is a need for active military-to-military communication channels to make sure they don’t come to blows because of a misjudgment or misunderstanding of each other’s intentions.”
So, instead of prostrating ourselves to the demands of the Marxist regime in Beijing, American national security officials should understand that the issue of mil-to-mil relations between the U.S. Department of Defense and the PLA is a topic that should not be pursued without significant thought and restraint for three primary reasons.
First, the issue of mil-to-mil relations should be considered as a national security threat. For years, those who have endorsed “engagement” have failed to assess the risk of and protection from PRC and PLA espionage activities. For instance, in 2012 and 2014 when the Obama administration Secretary of Defenses invited the PLA Navy to observe and participate in the world’s largest naval exercise in Hawaii, the Rim-of-the-Pacific (RIMPAC), there was little if any serious thought given to the intelligence collection operations the PLA Navy would make and the risk to our vital national security secrets, even when PLA Navy warships were given permission to enter port and stay in Pearl Harbor, while directly across from the U.S. nuclear submarines.
The second reason to not pursue mil-to-mil relations currently is because of the lack of system of metrics from which to measure the success or failure of such a policy of engagement. For most Americans, they are taught from elementary school that their work/performance will be graded against an objective set of measurements. This mindset forms the basis of our civilization whether we are an airline pilot or dentist, objective measurements of performance are the foundation of our society. So, why should national security and mil-to-mil engagement with the PRC and PLA be exempt from such rigorous analysis. For too long, US-PRC relations have been led by a cadre that evaluates the success or failure of relations based on emotion and ideological ties. This must stop.
Third, it is necessary to ask what did the U.S. get from these relations? The U.S. needs to take a hardnosed look at what precisely the U.S. gained from these exchanges—did they help or hinder U.S. national security? Without question, it is clear that the enemy profited. The PLA often benefited directly from the exchanges because they provided the observation of their enemy and the standards which they had to reach. Moreover, they were aided by the professional responses to their questions from U.S. participants. But that was always unreciprocated. U.S. queries to PRC military were ignored or the responses unprofessional.
The CCP’s playbook attempts to humiliate their enemies and to accomplish this supremely by enlisting the willful participation of their enemies to engage in their own debasement. De mortuisnil nihi bonum dicendum est, of course, but with U.S. Senator Dianne Feinstein’s (D-CA) passing we note that too often her behavior coincided with the playbook. For example, in 2014, on the 25th anniversary of the Tiananmen Square massacre, her office issued a statement that condemned the massacre but noted the PRC had made great economic and industrial progress—in sum, the statement showed she was happy to play the CCP’s game.
It is time to the reject the CCP’s political warfare tactics that have captured far too many in the U.S. government and society. In response, the U.S., its allies, and all people of goodwill must insist they are an illegitimate regime who have abused the Chinese people and the world for too long: it is time for them to go.
James Fanell is a government fellow at the Geneva Centre for Security Policy, a retired captain in the U.S. Navy and a former director of intelligence and information operations for the U.S. Pacific Fleet. Bradley A. Thayer is Director of China Policy at the Center for Security Policy. He is the coauthor with Lianchao Han of Understanding the China Threat.