WASHINGTON - Left unopposed, China’s threat to global norms and values jeopardises not just America’s position in the world, but risks undermining the free inquiry, free travel, free enterprise and other values that have animated decades of global stability and prosperity, Senator Mark Warner told an audience in Washington on Monday (Sept 23).
But he added that he was "deeply concerned by the Trump administration’s erratic and incoherent approach” - and warned against a new Cold War.
The Democrat Senator from Virginia is a leading China hawk. He is vice chair of the Senate’s Select Committee on Intelligence, and also sits on committees on International Trade, Customs, and Global Competitiveness, and National Security and International Trade and Finance.
He has co-authored legislation targeting China, including, in January, a Bill that would establish an Office of Critical Technologies at the White House, responsible for developing a strategy to protect against state sponsored threats to critical American supply chains and technologies.
Also last year, the Senator supported banning the use of components from Chinese companies ZTE and Huawei in government systems.
The Trump administration’s unilateral approach to the challenge was not producing success, he said in the talk at the US Institute for Peace (USIP), a think tank.
China posed a challenge not just to the US or the West, but to “all nations committed to democracy, individual liberty, an independent judiciary, and the rule of law,” he said. “Countries like Japan, South Korea, Australia, India, and others… we all face these same challenges.”
“Yet rather than building a coalition to confront this shared issues, President Trump has alienated our closest allies,” he said. “Instead of building a values-based international coalition to stand up to China, the President has minimised the importance of human rights and representative Government.”
“The President’s insistence on framing this as a conflict between our two countries has resulted in little tangible gain,” Mr Warner said. “We cannot afford to frame this strategic challenge in simplistic, Cold War terms — dividing the world in two and fighting for a bigger half.”
China’s economic integration meant it was the top trading partner for more than two-thirds of the world, he said, warning that “The stakes are too high for each country to simply retreat into its own corner."
Yet the US needed to secure supply chains, especially for military platforms and equipment, he said, pointing to another Bill that would establish a National Supply Chain Security Center in the office of the Director of National Intelligence.
“We should get serious about securing our telecommunications systems, especially when it comes to 5G. That means relying on trusted companies to build our telecommunication infrastructure, and it means setting standards that adhere to our democratic values,” he said.
“Another item I am working on is much-needed beneficial ownership legislation, so that the Chinese government and other bad actors cannot hide investments in anonymous shell Companies,” he said, adding that there should be “clear consequences for American companies and citizens that enable China’s bad behaviour.”
“I’ve become increasingly disturbed that the U.S. business and academic community has deepened partnerships with China to gain short-term market opportunities,” he said.
“Equally troubling, we’ve seen American investors pour money into Chinese companies that advance the PRC’s military capabilities. We’ve also seen American companies develop technologies that directly enable the censorship, surveillance, and social control efforts of China and other authoritarian regimes.”
“These efforts may be good for business, but they directly support China’s efforts to rewrite global norms and rules,” he warned.
American should take the China threat as a wake-up call, he said. “As we look ahead to the technologies of the future, we need to step up our commitment to funding scientific research if we hope to compete in the decades ahead.”
“Our defense budgets need to better align with the fact that the “battlefield” might not be the South China Sea,” the Senator argued. "It could be the networks behind our power grid or our financial sector."
"We are investing in the best 20th century military money can buy, when much of our conflict will happen in 21st century domains like cyber, space, and misinformation (and) disinformation. And in many of these areas, such as satellites, China is rapidly becoming our peer.”
Where the Trump administration has got it wrong, he said, was to underestimate the importance of partners in advancing the US’s most fundamental interests.
“Our efforts to convince allies to adopt alternatives to Huawei have been constantly undermined — particularly when the President keeps hinting that restrictions on Huawei could be a bargaining chip in the context of a wider trade deal,” he said.
“We should instead be working closely with our allies and partners to create a market for competitors to Huawei that abide by basic security and privacy standards,” he said. “(And) we should be coordinating with our allies on export controls and the screening of foreign investment… and coordinating with our allies to research and innovate together.”
On security, he said the US must deepen cooperation with allies and partners like South Korea, Japan, Australia, and India, and expand its network of alliances in the interest of a free and open Indo-Pacific.
He added : “As co-chair of the India Caucus, I see real opportunities to increase our engagement with India on a set of shared strategic interests, such as maritime cooperation, cybersecurity and counterpiracy.”