- The Washington Times - Monday, July 27, 2020

The U.S. is in the midst of a deep, fundamental change in its relationship with China, and how Washington handles the growing standoff with Beijing will shape the 21st century, leading lawmakers and national security specialists said at a major conference Monday.

Speaking at Liberty University’s Freedom Summit in downtown Washington, prominent conservatives and defense experts painted an alarming picture of China’s growing power and influence across the globe and what it means for America’s future. The two-day conference, which continues Tuesday, comes at a pivotal moment for U.S.-China relations — just hours before the first speakers took the stage, the final American diplomats left the U.S. consulate in Chengdu on the orders of China’s Communist government.

The move was direct retaliation for last week’s forced closure of the Chinese consulate in Houston, which the Trump administration says was the epicenter of a spy ring run by Beijing.

The dueling diplomatic moves underscore how quickly tensions between the two powers have risen and how irreparable the recent damage may be.

The two sides have clashed in recent years over trade, human rights, Taiwan and security across East Asia. U.S. officials say China is trying to sell its authoritarian governing model to countries around the world as superior to Western liberal democracy.



“Our relationship with China is broken,” Sen. Marsha Blackburn, Tennessee Republican, said at the event, which was held at the Trump International Hotel. “There’s no sense in denying it. But it is so important to remember there is no single-shot strategy or bill we can count on to sever those ties and regain control. We are going to have to unravel this relationship with China.”

Indeed, the Trump administration’s underlying approach to China centers on wholly redefining the economic playing field through new trade deals, using U.S. military force to check China’s territorial claims in the South China Sea, stopping Beijing’s systematic theft of American intellectual property, and taking a host of other steps to truly redefine the relationship.

Some of Mr. Trump’s advisers even argue it is time to “decouple” the U.S. from Beijing, in anticipation of a fierce rivalry between the world’s two biggest economies for allies, markets and influence in the coming decades.

Over just the past week, the U.S. also has arrested a Chinese researcher in San Francisco that American officials say was affiliated with the Chinese military and charged two Chinese hackers with trying to steal medical research. At the same time, the White House has pinned much of the blame for the COVID-19 pandemic on Beijing, saying Communist leaders hid the truth in the early days of the outbreak and wasted precious time that could’ve been spent saving lives around the world.

But reining in an increasingly aggressive China requires much more than just fiery rhetoric and individual prosecutions. National security specialists pointed to the administration’s recent behind-the-scenes negotiations with the United Kingdom — which resulted in London reversing course and banning tech giant Huawei from its coming 5G national information network over suspicions the company would facilitate widespread Chinese spying — as an example of how the U.S. and its allies can work together to fight back.

“The media would have you believe that decision was made overnight. … But in fact, it really demonstrates the power of the diplomatic effort undertaken” by the Trump administration, said retired Air Force Brig. Gen. Robert S. Spalding, now a senior fellow at the Hudson Institute.

While targeting the Chinese Communist Party, which has ruled China unchallenged for seven decades, the administration simultaneously is reaching out to the Chinese people. The State Department said in a statement Monday that even though the Chengdu consulate is now closed, the U.S. is by no means giving up its footprint in the country.

“We are disappointed by the Chinese Communist Party’s decision and will strive to continue our outreach to the people in this important region through our other posts in China,” the statement said.

Lawmakers argue that such messaging is important because any real lasting change in Beijing must be driven by the Chinese people.

“The Chinese people have been the victims of the Chinese Community Party for 70 years now,” Sen. Tom Cotton, Arkansas Republican, said at the summit. “They understand they are ruled by a corrupt dictatorship.”

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