Competition or Cooperation: Antagonistic Positions of the American Doctrine of Security and Chinese Foreign Policy

Jorge Elbaum

On October 12, four days before the XX Congress of the Chinese Communist Party, the Joe Biden administration released its Strategy National Security ( NSS, for its acronym in English ). The document is an update of the doctrine outlined in 2017, during the Donald Trump government, in which the end of the post-cold war and, at the same time, the concept of imperfect hegemony, an euphemism with which it is intended to disguise the relative fall of American power globally.

The 48-page document released by the White House outlines an underhand return to the doctrine of strategic containment, devised by George Kennan after World War II, aimed at isolating the Soviet Union from as many countries as possible in the rest of the world. This configuration, developed since 1947 by Harry Truman’s administration, assigned itself the role of global gendarme and motivated in Latin America and the Caribbean the implementation of the National Security Doctrine, in order to avoid the spread of political experiences such as the Cuban one. In the new doctrine, the Biden administration seeks to prevent the multipolarity posed by the emergence of China as a global economic power, and the resistance of the Russian Federation to being threatened in its security by NATO.

The US strategy was intentionally disseminated before the 20th Congress with the intention of taking the limelight away from Xi Jinping, head of the Chinese Communist Party, who led the deliberations of the conclave from October 16 to 22 in the Great Hall of the People, located in Beijing. A total of 2,296 members participated in the sessions. They voted for the 200 members of the Central Committee and re-elected Xi for a five-year term. In turn, the Central Committee members were responsible for appointing the 25 members of the Political Bureau and the nine members of the Executive Committee, the highest decision-making body of the People’s Republic.

U.S. foreign policy orientations – in the present and previous NSS – are defined by national security agendas and shaped from a perspective of containment, conflict and competition. On the other hand, Beijing’s international policies, put forward in the different party congresses, are based on the articulated concepts of cooperation and complementarity. While Washington speaks of a necessary confrontation with the “autocratic powers”, Beijing postulates a modernization capable of “undertaking a new expedition for the comprehensive construction of a modern socialist country [with the] concrete formation of ecological modes of production and life, limiting carbon emissions and shaping an ecological environment to fulfill the goal of building a beautiful China”.

In August, Beijing – through its Foreign Minister Wang Yi – announced the cancellation of 23 loans granted to African countries in recent years. In the period from 2000 to 2019, the Chinese government has forgiven a total of 3.4 billion dollars that were invested in infrastructure works. The announcement was made at the Forum on China-Africa Cooperation (FOCAC) in Beijing. This is one of the reasons why the NSS qualifies the People’s Republic as the “most important geopolitical challenge” that can reshape the world, within the framework of patterns different from those proposed/demanded by Washington.

Beijing -says the document signed by Biden- “is the only competitor with the intention of reshaping the international order, and increasingly has the economic, diplomatic, military and technological power to do so”. In order to prevent China from participating in this global reconfiguration, Washington places it in the group of malign actors seeking to establish contacts, links and alliances with other countries. In this context, the document poses two types of challenges: (a) strategic ones, which postulate Russia and China as enemies, and (b) cross-cutting or cross-border ones, exemplified by environmental problems, pandemics, food insecurity, terrorism and structural inflation. For the first challenge, Washington has a defense budget of $800 billion, almost triple the resources spent by Beijing.

Geopolitics of war

The United States has a military budget of $ 800 billion.

The document released by the State Department contains a telling paragraph regarding this paradigm: “Strategic competition is global, but we will avoid the temptation to view the world solely through a competitive lens and will engage countries on their own terms”. This relates directly to another of the Strategy’s guiding chapters: the appeal to “invest in the underlying sources and tools of American power and influence,” what Joseph Nye defined as soft power, to be developed through cognitive influence devices.

The program – which was initially implemented during Donald Trump’s administration – involves a form of de-globalization, understood as the breakdown of value chains, a greater presence of states in productive orientation, the re-imposition of cross-border trade barriers, the relocation – domestic relocation – of companies, and the flexible configuration of blocs linked to Washington or Beijing, defined as progressive decoupling. This implies progressive degrees of disconnection, capable of technologically isolating China, while ensuring that this divorce does not harm the interests of transnationals resident in North America.

One of the battles most highlighted in the document by the NSS is the one that refers to geoeconomics and its nerve center, cybersecurity. The White House program is aimed at greater control of technological supply chains, especially those related to microprocessors. To that end, it proposed to promote technological innovation, limit foreign dependence, generate articulations with software companies and sabotage scientific-technological research developed by malign actors.

In 2014, Cisco Systems CEO John Chambers asked in a public letter to Barack Obama that the National Security Agency (NSA) stop intercepting the company’s products to spy on foreign customers. In the last week, the Commerce Department’s Bureau of Industry and Security (BIS) announced a ban on exports to China of equipment usable in the configuration of semiconductors suitable for use in military applications.

The NSS references to Latin America and the Caribbean allude to the fact that “no region has a more direct impact on the United States than the Western Hemisphere”, a formula with which they refer to the Americas. In order to prevent the links of the different sovereign countries with the new Axis of Evil, they postulate the need to continue the isolation of Venezuela, Cuba and Nicaragua. To this end, the Southern Command has disseminated the concept of integrated deterrence, within the framework of the XV Conference of Defense Ministers of the Americas (CDMA), held in Brazilia last July. The aim was to impose shared values and mutual interests – arbitrarily and unilaterally determined – on which exclusions and persecutions of countries, political parties or social references, potential allies or partners of the malign actors, should be carried out.

For Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin, integrated deterrence requires “combining our strengths for maximum effect” and coordinating “interwoven resources and operational concepts” to confront “harmful activities that stealthily advance coercive, corrupt and authoritarian objectives, such as those promoted by Russia in the region, so that the Americas can remain stable and secure… and neutralize coercion by rivals. For Austin, it is essential to prioritize diplomatic pressure and soft devices over direct military intervention: institutional and communicational interference instead of a Condor Plan of forced disappearances.

Last September 14, the South American Defense Conference was held in Quito, with the participation of eleven countries. In spite of being a Latin American event, the head of the Southern Command, Laura Richardson -invited by the organizers- had a stellar role cataloguing the “advance of China as a national security problem”, reason for which “we must work together as a team, playing in our respective positions in a harmonious and highly effective manner (…) This region is very rich in resources, the lithium triangle is in this region. China is in this region, it is there to undermine the United States. With all the disinformation from Russia Today (RT) and Sputnik World… it is very worrying.”

The NSS believes that there are smaller autocratic powers in the region that are acting aggressively and compromising regional and global stability with their actions. Among them, they explicitly identify nationalism and populism – and therefore their top political leaders – responsible for preventing a working alliance against the malignants. An alliance, the NSS stresses, that must recognize as its own the U.S. value of “democracy, freedom and human rights”.

In spite of this background, Latin America is still swarming with thinkers, pseudo-journalists and troubled intellectuals who ask themselves, with more or less compunction, how it was possible that an attempt was made to assassinate Cristina Fernández de Kirchner.