This Is How We Win a New Cold War With China

It takes two to tango, but only one to start a war. And thanks to Xi Jinping’s decade-long rule, the U.S. is now locked in a new Cold War with the People’s Republic of China, an adversary even more capable and dangerous than the Soviet Union was at the height of its power.

In this conflict, the U.S. lacks two key advantages it held in the Cold War with the Soviet Union. Then, we assembled a robust coalition of nations committed to containing Moscow. No such coalition exists today: the West is fractured on Chinese relations generally and on its approach to eliminate the growing economic and military threat from the Chinese Communist Party (CCP).

Moreover, the United States and its allies effectively severed their economic ties to the Soviet Union. This economic warfare, coupled with American diplomacy and hard-power deterrence, ultimately led to the collapse of the USSR in 1991.

But when it came to dealing with the rising Communist power, China, the West took a far different tack. It pursued an engagement strategy, based on the theory that the more Beijing became involved in international commerce and international organizations, the easier it would be to guide this developing nation along the path to greater economic openness and, ultimately, more political freedom.

That gambit worked brilliantly. For Beijing.


China leveraged access to American financing and technology to fuel both economic growth and an immense military build-up. Under Xi Jinping, the communist regime has grown more repressive at home and more belligerent abroad.

Decades of systemic, unprecedented corporate espionage efforts by the PRC bled the U.S. economy of trillions of dollars in intellectual property theft. Moreover, “engagement” left us dangerously dependent on Chinese products. Critical supply chains, from vital rare earth elements to key pharmaceutical products, rely largely or wholly on companies that owe fealty to the CCP. (China’s national security laws effectively make every Chinese company subject to intelligence requests and other directives of the Party.)

PRC hackers compromised the personal data of tens of millions of Americans. Popular Chinese social media apps transmit the data on millions more, while Beijing continues to “donate” surveillance drones to local fire and police departments in the U.S.

Nor does Chinese influence end there. The PRC established a presence on U.S. college campuses and operates secret police stations in many U.S. cities. Chinese “friendship associations” and agents of the United Front Work Department peddle influence in Washington and Wall Street alongside CCP-funded lobbyists and consulting firms. Meanwhile, fentanyl and other synthetic opioids sourced from China were responsible for over 70,000 deaths in the U.S. last year.

On the international scene, the PRC is clearly determined to supplant U.S. leadership, and intimidate its Indo-Pacific neighbors into submission. It is conducting mock blockades of Taiwan, clashing with Indian troops in the Himalayas, and sending fighter jets to probe Japanese airspace. It launched economic coercion campaigns against South Korea and Australia and is backing Russia’s deadly invasion of Ukraine and keeping the rogue North Korean regime afloat.

The PRC lays claim to the entire South China Sea—and with it some of the world’s most important maritime shipping lanes—where it militarized new artificial islands and deployed a maritime militia to bully its neighbors. It harasses U.S. military aircraft and naval vessels operating legally in international waters in an ongoing series of dangerous encounters. Most recently, a Chinese spy balloon penetrated American airspace, surveilling sensitive military installations as it traversed the continental U.S.

These are not imagined sleights. This is the behavior of an adversary, not a competitor. Yet, to date, Washington’s response has been inadequate. A course correction is long overdue.

To help expedite this serious policy conversation, The Heritage Foundation convened more than two dozen foreign policy, legal, military, economic and energy experts to develop a comprehensive plan for countering China.

The plan suggests a wide range of economic strategies, from “reshoring, near-shoring and friend-shoring” sensitive manufacturing industries out of China to encouraging state and local governments’ pension funds to divest from problematic Chinese companies. It also calls for more aggressive implementation and enforcement of export control—especially on technology that can make the Chinese military even more formidable.

To beef up deterrence, the plan calls for a substantial increase in the U.S. military presence—and a doubling of foreign assistance spending—in the Indo-Pacific region.To accomplish this, Washington will need to continue stressing the importance of burden sharing among our European allies to keep Russia at bay.

The plan recommends many other types of initiatives as well—from lobbying reforms to eliminating CCP influence operations from college campuses.

We are in a new Cold War with the PRC. And winning that war will require a whole-of-government, whole-of-society effort to protect our people and our economy from the malicious actions of the CCP. This is the greatest existential threat America must defeat in the 21st century. It’s past time to go on offense.  

Courtesy of The Heritage Foundation.


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