Why the U.S. Should Seek Regime Change in the PRC

When senior officials make mistakes, they can have profound and deadly consequences. In his famous “Perimeter Speech” on January 12, 1950, at the National Press Club, Secretary of State Dean Acheson left South Korea out of the U.S. defense perimeter in Asia. That address suggested that the U.S. would not defend South Korea and contributed to Soviet dictator Josef Stalin’s decision to “green light” the North Korean attack against the South on June 25, 1950, or even former U.S. Ambassador to Iraq April Glaspie’s conciliatory tone with Saddam Hussein, which unleashed a generation of “endless wars” in the Middle East.

Seldom do mistakes come much bigger. But Deputy Secretary of State Kurt Campbell just made one. This month, he stated that the U.S. does not support regime change in the People’s Republic of China (PRC) but should accept the communist system as it is.

That is a gross error, equal to, if not greater than, Acheson’s or any other, and profoundly damaging to U.S. national security. It is worse than Acheson’s blunder because while about 36,000 Americans were killed in the Korea War, the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) is killing approximately three times that many each year through fentanyl, to say nothing about deaths and lives destroyed through the economic destruction, the costs of COVID-19, or the Americans who might be killed in a Sino-American conflict driven by the CCP’s hyper-aggression. It was a profound mistake for six reasons.

First, the CCP is an existential enemy of the U.S. It attacks the U.S. globally and within the U.S. homeland. It killed millions of Americans through COVID-19, killed hundreds of thousands of Americans through fentanyl and other opioid addictions, weakened the American economy through its trade practices and intellectual property threat, and threatened U.S. allies like the Philippines, seeking to undermine the U.S. at every turn while preparing conventional and nuclear means to destroy American society. The CCP is the enemy of the U.S., and it is employing all means to hurt the American people and the country’s interests. Of course, the U.S. must respond accordingly by eliminating, as Ronald Reagan said in March 1983 of the Soviet Union, the “center of evil in the modern world.”

Second, the CCP rules China, but it is not the legitimate government of China. Campbell misses that intentionally. He accepts the myth that the CCP’s power is legitimate. It’s not. In fact, the CCP is illegitimate. It is so, first, because they were formed and nurtured by the Communist International, and their seizure of power in 1949 was made possible by Stalin with his full backing and support in the wake of the defeat of Japan. Stalin birthed the 1949 Revolution, not the Chinese people.

Third, as with the other poisonous fruits of the Bolshevik Revolution, the CCP seeks to sustain the tyranny of the failed ideology of Marxism-Leninism on the Chinese people. The dependence upon this imported Western ideology means that, at root, the CCP’s ideology of Marxism-Leninism and its Chinese idioms, Maoism and later “Xi Jinping Thought for the New Era,” are illegitimate for China.

Fourth, the CCP’s ideology should be thought of for what it is: the last surviving form of Western colonialism, and despite the CCP’s efforts, they cannot hide the fact that they are the product of Soviet imperialism.

Fifth, it is more than ironic that Campbell himself, an advocate of the Engagement school of thought that arose during the Clinton administration, had previously tried to fashion himself as one of the avant-garde rebels against Engagement, as exemplified in his 2018 Foreign Affairs piece with co-author Ely Ratner, entitled “The China Reckoning: How Beijing Defied American Expectations.” Regardless of their revisionism, the fact remains the Engagement school continues to advocate that embracing Communist China will change its behavior through trade, investment, and engagement. Purportedly, this was, and remains, a policy of regime change through evolution. It has failed mightily because it was not a serious attempt to change the CCP. After thirty-plus years of the PRC’s growth and greater belligerence, we may state with empirical assurance that the Engagement school has failed to influence the CCP. Indeed, the hard truth is that Engagement school changed U.S. leadership in every respect—in government, Wall Street, Silicon Valley, military, media, universities, think tanks, NGOs and foundations, and the Intelligence Community (IC).

Sixth, the hard reality is that the CCP regime was supremely successful in changing the U.S., not the other way around. It did so largely by using political warfare along with its wealth to govern investment and manufacturing opportunities to convert to political influence over the U.S. First, Wall Street and the Chamber of Commerce became the CCP’s partner, followed soon afterward by the political leadership of both parties. The result is that too many American officials and leaders were and remain in the pocket of Beijing. American IC and DoD leadership “threat deflated” the existential danger from the PRC and now finds it next to impossible to escape the iron grip of the Engagement school and its offspring, threat deflation, to see the danger as it is.

We understand that a U.S. senior official might not want to express publicly the necessity of regime change, but to state that it is not an option was disastrous. Had he been more of a statesman, he might have conveyed that the U.S. government hopes to see the Chinese people free from oppression. The fact that Campbell expressed this policy shows that the Biden administration will not employ the tools necessary to defeat the CCP—to include defending America’s interests in seeing Taiwan remain free. At root, the Engagers will never confront the PRC because the CCP fundamentally remains its partner.

An irony is that Campbell is rejecting regime change in the PRC, which is an archetypical example of how successful the PRC’s regime change against the U.S. has been.

As we have argued for years now, the point of U.S. policy towards the PRC is victory, which will require the elimination of the Chinese Communist Party. The CCP is an abhorrent and malignant force and has only accelerated under the totalitarian misrule of Communist dictator Xi Jinping. Seventy years of tyranny and wars against the Chinese people have led to scores of millions of deaths in China, America and elsewhere by an illegitimate regime. It is time for the U.S. government to stand against this evil regime and help the Chinese people recognize that the CCP regime rules for itself, not for the people. Ultimately, it will not be the U.S. that accomplishes this, but it will be the Chinese people. The U.S., its allies, and people of good will around the world can assist in myriad ways, but it is Chinese people that will kill the CCP.

James E. Fanell and Bradley A. Thayer are authors of Embracing Communist China:  America’s Greatest Strategic Failure.

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About James E. Fanell and Bradley A. Thayer

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 a Founding Member of the Committee on Present Danger China and the coauthor with Lianchao Han of Understanding the China Threat.

Photo: WASHINGTON, D.C., UNITED STATES - APRIL 10: US President Joe Biden (not seen) speaks during the Official Arrival Ceremony at the White House in Washington D.C., United States on April 10, 2024. Kurt Campbell, Deputy Secretary of State also attended the ceremony. (Photo by Celal Gunes/Anadolu via Getty Images)

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