|Political military affairs strategist at the U.S. Air Force Reserve Oriana Mastro. Screen capture from YouTube|
By Owen Churchill
As trade officials in Washington pursue a resolution to a months-long trade war with China that the U.S. has waged alone, the experts said the U.S. should focus on building new international alliances to pressure China to roll back numerous alleged improper practices including theft of intellectual property, cyber espionage, development deals that put host countries in debt, and military aggression in the South China Sea.
"An 'America First' strategy is a very Chinese strategy," said Oriana Mastro, a political military affairs strategist at the U.S. Air Force Reserve, at a hearing convened by the Senate Foreign Relations committee to examine a "new approach for an era of U.S.-China competition".
"One country doing it alone doesn't have a great impact, because China can substitute its trade by going somewhere else," said Mastro, who is also an assistant professor of security studies at Georgetown University and visiting scholar at the American Enterprise Institute.
|Commissioner on the U.S.-China Economic and Security Review Commission Jim Talent. Screen capture from YouTube|
"There's no amount of threatening that we can do that would cause [Beijing] to make changes to human rights, or to the economy domestically if they think it will undermine their power," Mastro told senators. "This is an area where coalitions matter, because China will only stop behaviour when it doesn't work."
Jim Talent, a commissioner on the U.S.-China Economic and Security Review Commission (USCC), said economic deals were not "the way to go, and I don't think it's going to change behaviour".
The USCC was set up by Congress in 2000 to monitor and investigate national security threats to the U.S. posed by the trade relationship between the world's two largest economies.
Beijing would opt to pursue "more of the same kind of illicit activity that we've seen in the past" rather than cede control of fundamental areas of the state-controlled economy, Talent said.
|US Secretary of Treasury Steven Mnuchin, US Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer and Vice Premier of the People's Republic of China Liu He participate in a US-China trade talk meeting in the Indian Treaty Room of the Eisenhower Executive Office Building in Washington, DC, USA, Jan. 21. EPA-Yonhap|
The former Missouri senator called on the U.S. to work multilaterally with smaller countries within China's geographical orbit to deal with "Chinese abuses".
The U.S. government, he added, must reassure these nations that "if they cooperate and help us, we will protect them from any kind of reprisals".
Wednesday's hearing came after Beijing criticised U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo for telling U.S. energy firm executives on Tuesday that China was blocking southeast Asian countries from accessing energy reserves in the South China Sea.
"Nations outside the region should refrain from stirring up trouble and disrupting the harmonious situation," China's foreign ministry spokesman, Lu Kang, said in a rebuke aimed at Pompeo.
|US Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer, right, accompanied by Trump Administration officials, meets with Chinese Vice Premier Liu He, second from left, and other Chinese Vice Ministers as they begin US-China Trade Talks in the Diplomatic Room of the Eisenhower Executive Office Building on the White House Complex, Wednesday, Jan. 30, 2019, in Washington. AP-Yonhap|
In written testimony to the Senate committee, Mastro said the South China Sea was at the heart of U.S.-China geopolitical competition and called on the U.S. to "move beyond symbolic displays of force such as the freedom of navigation operations".
She urged the U.S. to build "a new institution or coalition of like-minded states that patrol the waters and protect all countries' rights of freedom of navigation in the South China Sea".
On trade, the U.S. should consider establishing a new international governing body focused on issues such as intellectual property protection, rather than "tacking it onto the existing institutions", said Mastro during Wednesday's hearing
He added that international institutions are designed to be "sticky" and "difficult to change".
|A woman exits a restaurant with a poster depicting US President Donald J. Trump, stating that all US costumers will be charged 25 percent more than other customers starting from the day president Trump started the trade war with China, in Guangzhou, Guangdong Province, China, Aug. 13, 2018. EPA-Yonhap|
"I'm not surprised that institutions built decades ago cannot handle what to do about cyber [security]," she said.
The ability of the World Trade Organisation (WTO), which China joined in 2001, to monitor, investigate and punish China's apparent flouting of international trade rules has come under increasing scrutiny from both the U.S. and other member states.
At the same time, consensus has grown within the U.S. foreign policy community that economic engagement with China has not led to market liberalisation or political reform within the country.
"After 20 years of helping China prosper economically and hoping that they would emerge as a responsible partner on the world stage, it is time for U.S. policymakers to acknowledge this path was not the right path", foreign relations committee chair James Risch, a Republican senator from Idaho, said on Wednesday.
|The day's numbers are displayed after the closing bell of the Dow Industrial Average at the New York Stock Exchange on June 19, 2018 in New York. Wall Street stocks were under pressure for a third session in a row joining a global selloff on heightened fears that US-China confrontations will mushroom into a trade war. AFP-Yonhap|
"China exports corruption and its authoritarian model across the globe. It uses cheap financing as a debt trap, and has built a police state that the Chinese Communist Party uses to limit free expression that contradicts the party line," Risch said.
"These are not the actions of a responsible stakeholder."
Beyond seeking the support of global allies to confront China, the U.S. should also bolster its investments in critical areas of research and development, Mastro told senators.
Under U.S. President Donald Trump's 2020 budget proposal, released Monday, funding for the National Science Foundation, which supports basic science and engineering research across the country, would be slashed 12 per cent to US$7.1 billion.
That reduction would be significantly higher than the 5 per cent cut across all non-defence spending that Trump's budget is aiming for. Congress is not expected to pass the proposed spending plan.