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Democrats and Republicans Agree on One Thing: Time to Get Tough on China

J-20 stealth fighter. Image Credit: Creative Commons.
J-20 stealth fighter. Image Credit: Creative Commons.

Tensions between China and the United States have been rising steadily through a series of escalating events. China’s historic shipbuilding spree; China’s island-building in the South China Sea; Chinese espionage of US fighter technology; China’s territorial claims in the Indo-Pacific; US war games on the South Korean Peninsula; US support for Japan revitalizing their military; the AUKUS Pact; Then-Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s visit to Taiwan; and most recently and most inflammatorily, China’s surveillance balloon, violating US sovereignty.

China: Democrats and Republicans Agree on Something? 

The result, especially with respect to China’s surveillance balloon, has been a bipartisan consensus on “being tough around China.”

Democrats and Republicans alike are uniting around the idea that the US needs to stand up to China.

It’s not unusual, really – that the two parties would share a perspective or that the perspective would be to be tough toward China.

Both outcomes are relatively predictable.

Because with respect to foreign policy, there’s not much difference between moderate Democrats and moderate Republicans – they’re indiscernibly enthusiastic about US hyper intervention.  

What does that look like?

Yesterday, the House voted 419 to 0 in favor of a resolution condemning China for its “brazen violation of United States sovereignty.”

More consequentially, last month, the House voted 865 to 65 in favor of creating a new “Select Committee on Strategic Competition between the United States and the Chinese Communist Party.”

The bipartisan concurrence on aggressive foreign policy results in an unfortunate sense of inevitability. In the Ukraine, in the Middle East, in the Indo-Pacific. Like somehow, confrontational events are just happening to the US and the US is responding in the only reasonable way. That confrontational events might be happening because of the US and the US has various response options doesn’t really ever come up in a serious way. When someone does suggest the US holds their horses, they’re maligned as an isolationist or a pacifist or an idiot.

Or Maybe Not Everyone? 

But now, a credible voice on China, Max Baucus the US ambassador to China from 2014 to 2017 (and former Democratic Senator from Montana) is speaking up against the bipartisan, hawkish attitude that is pervading Washington.

Baucus spoke with POLITICO and had some worthwhile points to make. For starters, Baucus pointed out that while Trump was more anti-China in rhetoric, Biden is more anti-China in policy.

That’s pretty typical, though. Trump critics have always gotten lost in the bluster and the coarseness of Trump’s tone and language. What Trump’s actual policies were has come to seem secondary to any analysis of the Trump administration. So, it’s not a surprise that the Trump administration would be seen as tougher on China when in fact, Biden is tougher on China.

Baucus was critical of Biden’s toughness on China, namely Biden’s declaration that the US would defend Taiwan. “I was a bit surprised…He did overstate it, there’s no question,” Baucus said. “I think the wiser approach for him is to have not made those statements and maintained strategic ambiguity.”

Similarly, Baucus did not support Pelosi’s trip to Taiwan. “I said, ‘Uh oh, this is not a good idea. This is going to stir things up unnecessarily.’…It couldn’t have been done to show our support for Taiwan. I think she went basically for herself – that she just wanted to go. And the fallout is what I expected,” Baucus said.

And now Baucus does not think the House select committee on China is a good idea either. Why? Because it has no legislative jurisdiction and serves no bill passing function and accordingly will be less inclined to act responsibly. “House Republicans on that committee are going to look for ways to try to embarrass Joe Biden on China.”

War with China is not inevitable. US lawmakers and policy makers need to appreciate that fact – that Sino-US confrontation is not inevitable. And US lawmakers need to adjust and make avoiding war with China a priority.

The hawkish bipartisan autopilot is not working.

Harrison Kass is the Senior Editor at 19FortyFive. An attorney, pilot, guitarist, and minor pro hockey player, Harrison joined the US Air Force as a Pilot Trainee but was medically discharged. Harrison holds a BA from Lake Forest College, a JD from the University of Oregon, and an MA from New York University. Harrison lives in Oregon and listens to Dokken.

Written By

Harrison Kass is a Senior Defense Editor at 19FortyFive. An attorney, pilot, guitarist, and minor pro hockey player, he joined the US Air Force as a Pilot Trainee but was medically discharged. Harrison has degrees from Lake Forest College, the University of Oregon School of Law, and New York University’s Graduate School of Arts & Sciences. He lives in Oregon and regularly listens to Dokken.