Chinese enhancement of Iraq's air defense system in violation of U.N. Security Council resolutions confronts American policymakers with a disturbing question: Has China launched a new Cold War against the United States?
Beijing's global "anti-hegemonism" policy can no longer be dismissed as mere rhetoric. It has supplied the technology for delivering Baghdad's chemical and biological weapons. It was instrumental in the emergence of North Korea's and Pakistan's nuclear weapons programs and has transferred missile technology to Iran and Syria.
After each revelation, China's leadership, which controls the number of children in each Chinese family and monitors the movements and communications of all spiritual or religious groups, pleads ignorance of its army's dealings with foreign governments. And it has formed a new strategic partnership with Russia to curtail American global influence. (Either serendipitously or in parallel with Beijing's efforts, Moscow also helps the world's rogue states--now officially called "states of concern"--develop weapons of mass destruction.)
Profit is not China's--or Russia's--only motive in giving Kim Jong Il, Saddam Hussein and other dictators and ayatollahs more bang for their bucks. Something beyond money is at work here: the propagation of China's faith in a multipolar and inherently more dangerous world where virtually every regional power hostile to the United States has its own nuclear, chemical or biological arsenal and requisite delivery systems.
While Beijing complains that the U.S. seeks to encircle and contain China, it conducts its own reverse containment policy. Operating on the principle that "the enemy of my enemy is my friend," China has fashioned a loose alliance with America's proclaimed or potential adversaries and helps equip them with the lethal means to threaten, distract and deter the global hegemony. One Chinese official recently warned that in the event of conflict, the United States would be "like the world's fire department, rushing from one fire to another." A U.S. missile defense system would thwart precisely the rogue threats Beijing and Moscow are working to create and is therefore unacceptable to them on its own terms, apart from its potential to neutralize China's deterrent force.
China's military doctrine of asymmetrical warfare proclaims the United States its ultimate enemy and suggests that conflict is virtually inevitable over Taiwan. During the 1996 missile crisis in the Taiwan Strait, the Chinese defense minister warned of a nuclear attack on American cities if Washington came to Taiwan's defense. Beijing has repeated the threat, most recently in the Liberation Army Daily, the official military newspaper.
On his last visit to Beijing, former Defense Secretary William S. Cohen was greeted with a headline in China's leading daily calling the U.S. the main threat to world peace. He complained to the Chinese that their official publications continue to portray the U.S. as an enemy in rhetoric reminiscent of the Mao era. During a follow-up visit by Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Henry H. Shelton, Beijing test-fired a new missile capable of reaching American soil, prompting the cautious general to describe China as an emerging superpower threat and "the 21st century's version of the Soviet bear."
China also manifests its anti-U.S. campaign in a political and diplomatic strategy at the United Nations and in other international forums designed to thwart American policies and damage U.S. interests worldwide. It seeks to intimidate American allies, warning Japan that security ties with the United States or collaboration on missile defense will embroil it in potential military conflict with China.
In his last years, Richard M. Nixon questioned whether the opening to China in what he had claimed was "the week that changed the world" might turn out to have created "a Frankenstein." Many scholars warn against a self-fulfilling prophecy, i.e., treating China like an enemy will make it one. But integrating the People's Republic into the international system, sharing advanced technology, making it a trading partner, even a strategic partner, has not moderated Beijing's core hostility to the United States, its values and its role in the world.
China's words and actions compel a return to the policy debate that had been resolved decisively in favor of engagement over containment. For the new Bush administration, there is both an opportunity and a strategic imperative to revisit the question and formulate a more realistic policy combining the best of both approaches before the new Cold War becomes a hot one.