Beijing tries to undermine our freedoms, security, and prosperity in many ways.
There are the overt dangers, of course: China's rising military power, its aggressive "wolf warrior" diplomacy, its cyberwarfare and transnational criminal activity, environmental pollution, intellectual theft, espionage, and more. There are others as well, some so subtle as to be nearly invisible, that have become woven into the fabric of everyday American life. The surveillance and data collection capabilities of TikTok offer just one example.
China aims to dominate the global stage, using every tool in the hard and soft power toolkit to weaken its rivals and get its way. To deal with China, the United States must deal with the stealth threats as well as the obvious ones. Unfortunately, there are very real obstacles to doing so.
First, the global Left remains vested in "the international system." From President Woodrow Wilson’s heady ideas of a global administrative state to the Federation on Star Trek, the Left is enamored with the notion of structuralist institutions run by intellectual bureaucrats, untroubled by the passion and politics of common people, who will objectively make the world better for all of us. They put their faith in the United Nations and other international organizations to deliver everything from world peace to an end to poverty and hunger. These institutions consistently underperform. Badly. Yet liberals refuse to accept reform efforts, let alone acknowledge the danger of these organizations coming more and more under the influence of China.
Second, no one wants to be fitted for a tinfoil hat. Those who raise red flags over Beijing’s bad-boy activities are often accused of being conspiracy kooks. When the notion that COVID-19 escaped from a Chinese research lab first surfaced, and that Chinese leaders were actively colluding with officials at the U.N.-sponsored World Health Organization, many immediately dismissed the idea as being as implausible as JFK and Lee Harvey Oswald dancing together at an Illuminati Ball. The reality, however, is that discussions of China’s actions often sound like conspiracy theories—because China is, in fact, conspiring against us.
Third, far too many on the Left are playing with the Beijing playbook, sometimes knowingly, sometimes not. For instance, "go to the website for the Black Futures Lab, a venture of Black Lives Matter founder Alicia Garza, and click on the 'Donate' button," suggested my Heritage Foundation colleague Mike Gonzalez, who has investigated the deep links between the radical Left and Marxism. He noted that "it will ask you to send your money to an obscure organization, the Chinese Progressive Association, explaining that Black Futures Lab is a fiscally sponsored project of the Chinese Progressive Association."
It is not just the "radical" wing of the Left that is the problem. From the G-20 to the World Economic Forum to COP27, global figures including President Joe Biden have tried to normalize or even laud Chinese behavior. In some cases, these people and entities, such as the global corporate giant BlackRock, a WEF "partner," directly benefit from doing business with Beijing.
A serious China strategy must start with firing all the people who are afraid of, clueless about, or obstructionist in being tough on China. From capitals to corporate board rooms, we can’t win if the people in charge are rooting for the other team. Next, we really need to get serious about going on the offensive against China’s influence and participation in international forums.
It would a mistake, as with most isolationist impulses, to argue that the U.S. and other countries should just pull out and consequently let China run wild. Rather, we need to counterattack with fiscal and diplomatic pressure. That starts with transparency—exposing every ugly step China is taking, making public detailed assessments of Chinese interests and tactics. Armed with the light of right, the U.S. must then demand and press others to root out the bad actions and ensure like-minded leadership in key international organizations. We did this in 2020, when the U.S. led the campaign to defeat the Chinese candidate to head the World Intellectual Property Organization. We must do more of this.
Finally, the U.S. ought to use its clout, punishing both countries and organizations that take the wrong side in this fight. Where international cooperation is vital and China stands in the way, Washington ought to take the lead in crafting alternatives. For instance, the U.S. is more than up to delivering an alternative to the WHO if that is what we really need to do. Make no mistake: Effectively countering China starts with putting a team on the field that believes Beijing poses an existential threat to our freedoms and is committed to girding up for the fight. Without that, the U.S. and the free world may well lose everything.
This piece originally appeared in the Washington Examiner