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THE MONTH IN GREAT POWER COMPETITION IN FIVE MINUTES

Updated: May 1

Monthly Report on Great Power Activities and Strategic Intent

MARCH & APRIL - 2024






















This month's Great Power Competition Report focuses on China's cyber, maritime, and geopolitical activities and intrusion into U.S. academia. Geographically, the content concentrates on the Indo-Pacific and the United States. The "Month in a Minute" is a new product; please let us know if it is informative and useful in your work or studies.


China's Economic and Political Strategy Remains Unyielding Amid Challenges

Despite external pressures and internal challenges, Xi Jinping will unlikely alter China's economic and political strategies. The leadership remains firmly in control of economic policies, focusing on strengthening state-owned enterprises at the expense of the private sector and disregarding international criticisms and advice. This approach is grounded in an ideological framework emphasizing party leadership and a robust state-led economic model.

Economists and political leaders caution against underestimating China's economic and strategic capabilities. Policymakers and global leaders should acknowledge the enduring nature of China's economic model and its implications for global and regional power dynamics. Understanding China's pivotal role on the global stage is crucial for nations aiming to engage effectively with China. Despite numerous challenges, including demographic shifts, technological restrictions imposed by the U.S., and internal economic adjustments, China continues to adapt and grow. This growth challenges the narrative of China's economic decline and holds significant implications for global and particularly U.S. strategic and economic policies. A realistic appraisal of China's economic trajectory is essential for shaping effective international economic and foreign policies, emphasizing the consequences of overlooking China's sustained ascent.

 

Xi Jinping's Political Maneuvering Over Taiwan

Politically, Xi Jinping continues to influence Taiwan's political future. By meeting with Ma Ying-jeou, Xi aims to project an image of inevitability regarding Taiwan's integration with China, hoping to sway Taiwanese public opinion and international perceptions. This meeting exemplifies China's strategic use of diplomacy to advance its claims over Taiwan while preparing for a tougher stance against Taiwan's current pro-independence government. This strategy underscores the complex interplay of domestic politics, international diplomacy, and regional security concerns in China's approach to Taiwan.

 

India's Emerging Global Economic Position

India shows considerable potential to emerge as a major global economic power, potentially rivaling China. However, significant barriers remain—challenges in policy implementation, investment climate, and socio-political stability temper optimism about India's economic ascent. While India's economic infrastructure and capabilities have dramatically improved, translating these advantages into sustainable economic superiority over China requires more consistent policy execution and effective risk management. Balancing economic liberalization with nationalistic protectionist policies is crucial for fully leveraging India's demographic and economic potential.

 

Escalatory Geopolitical Tensions in the South China Sea

Tensions in the South China Sea have intensified this year, especially between China and the Philippines. The escalation directly results from the Philippines' strategic pivot towards the U.S., with newly elected President Marcos seeking to counter Chinese dominance in the region. Beijing perceives Manila's maneuvering as a threat. The PRC prefers to manage South China Sea disputes bilaterally, without external interference. This article highlights the complexity of these tensions, the potential for military conflict, and the broader regional and international ramifications. It underscores the delicate balance of power in Southeast Asia, the strategic importance of the South China Sea, and the ongoing struggle for influence between major powers.

 

Domestic Political Complications for President Marcos

Domestic politics complicate President Marcos's administration as the rift between Duterte and Marcos Jr. deepens. The conflict between the two leaders represents a struggle over the Philippines' future direction internally and in its dealings with major global powers. This feud has domestic implications, particularly concerning Duterte's legacy and potential legal repercussions for his actions in office. Internationally, it influences the Philippines' foreign policy stance amidst the strategic rivalry between the United States and China. This conflict underscores the complex interplay between personal politics, national governance, and international diplomacy in shaping the country's trajectory.

 

U.S. National Security Concerns Over Chinese Cyber Activities

FBI Director Christopher Wray recently warned Congress about the proactive and alarming activities of Chinese hackers. These actions are not merely theoretical threats but represent active engagements that could escalate to aggressive disruptions if unchecked. U.S. authorities have exposed persistent access to critical networks maintained by Chinese cyber actors. This ongoing access poses a continuous threat and complicates efforts to mitigate and secure the nation's vital systems from future intrusions and attacks. Chinese state-sponsored cyber activities represent a strategic, persistent threat to U.S. national security and economic interests, potentially impacting the foundational services that sustain everyday life in America.

 
China's Influence Efforts in U.S. Political Discourse

Moreover, Wray warned that China actively attempts to influence U.S. political discourse and elections. By adopting tactics similar to those used by Russia in 2016, China appears to be aggressively working to sow division, undermine confidence in democratic institutions, and potentially shift U.S. policy in its favor. This development signals a more aggressive and covert approach to foreign influence by Beijing, raising significant concerns about the integrity of the U.S. electoral process and the broader implications for U.S.-China relations and global democracy.

 

Why Congress Voted to Ban TikTok

Congress's decision to push for the sale or ban of TikTok stems from growing concerns regarding national security and data privacy. The primary concern is that ByteDance, TikTok's parent company based in China, might allow access to sensitive data by the Chinese government. U.S. lawmakers worry about the potential for Chinese interference, where the Chinese government could leverage TikTok for data collection or misinformation campaigns, especially given laws in China that could compel companies to cooperate with government intelligence operations. Despite TikTok's efforts to distance itself from its Chinese roots and assure the international community of its independence in operational decisions, the suspicions persist.

The bill passed by the House of Representatives mandates that ByteDance must divest TikTok to a government-approved buyer within a specific timeframe or face a ban in the United States. The legislation targets app stores and internet hosting companies, which would face civil penalties for distributing or updating TikTok if it remains under Byte Dance's control. This legislative move is part of broader efforts, previously seen through actions like banning TikTok on government devices, to mitigate perceived threats before they manifest.

The congressional action against TikTok underscores a significant challenge in balancing national security with global business operations in the digital age. While legitimate concerns about data privacy and security exist, the situation also highlights the complexities of international relations and Internet governance. It raises questions about the effectiveness of such bans in protecting national security while respecting free speech and market dynamics. The future of TikTok in the U.S. will likely depend on the company's ability to convincingly sever its ties with its Chinese parent company or successfully navigate the legal and political challenges posed by such governmental actions.

 

Maritime Strengths and Strategic Postures

China has significantly bolstered its coast guard by integrating more than 20 former navy corvettes and has been assertively advancing its territorial claims in the South China Sea. In addition, Chinese fishing vessels often double as a maritime militia. Moreover, Beijing is actively seeking influence in the Pacific, as evidenced by recent diplomatic victories such as persuading the island nation of Nauru to sever diplomatic ties with Taiwan in January. Analysts note that China's Coast Guard is more focused on the South China Sea than the U.S. Coast Guard, with China's largest ships capable of deploying deeper into the Pacific. This reach could expand further if China secures security agreements with more Pacific Island nations.

The Pentagon's 2023 report reveals that China's Coast Guard possesses over 150 regional and ocean-going patrol vessels, 50 regional patrol combatants suitable for limited offshore operations, and 300 coastal patrol crafts. In contrast, the U.S. Coast Guard now has 11 cutters based in Hawaii and Guam, some of which also conduct missions to Pacific Island nations. Due to delays and cost increases in building a new class of modern ships, the Coast Guard is deploying retrofitted vessels like the Harriet Lane to the Pacific region. Despite a workforce shortage—10% below its authorized strength and expected to worsen—new strategies are in place, including deploying more 154-foot fast-response cutters and establishing forward operating locations to support its fleet in the Indo-Pacific.

 

AUKUS and Asymmetric Military Capabilities

Under the AUKUS framework, the United States and Australia must effectively enhance their asymmetric military capabilities to counter China's strategic challenges. AUKUS should develop mine warfare, autonomous vehicles, and Integrated Undersea Surveillance Systems capabilities. Traditional focus areas like major naval vessels might be insufficient to contain China, given its advancements in submarine warfare and sea mines. These systems are crucial for maintaining a competitive edge in the Indo-Pacific region. Leveraging these capabilities in an integrated and innovative manner will be vital to ensuring security and stability amid evolving and complex threats.


Chinese Influence in U.S. Academia

On the domestic front, Chinese entities have secured approximately 2,900 contracts with U.S. universities, totaling $2.32 billion from 2012 to 2024. These contracts span various sectors, including medicine, agriculture, and technology, with significant funding from major Chinese companies such as Huawei and WuXi AppTec, which operate in areas critical to national interests like telecommunications and biotechnology. While these funds have supported expansive research and development initiatives in U.S. universities, they also present ethical and security dilemmas related to potential intellectual property theft and the influence of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) over critical research areas. This funding supports crucial developments like new cancer treatments but raises concerns about China's potential misuse of academic discoveries for military or strategic advantages.

The U.S. has grown increasingly wary, with policymakers calling for greater scrutiny and potential restrictions on Chinese involvement in American educational and research institutions. Proposed measures include treating Chinese contracts as foreign-funded acquisitions subject to national security screening by the Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States, and legislative efforts are underway to classify companies like Huawei and WuXi AppTec as adversaries, which would restrict their engagement with U.S. institutions receiving federal funding.

The ongoing funding issues underscore the broader Great Power Competition between the U.S. and China, where technological and educational superiority are vital battlegrounds. The U.S. perceives Chinese funding as a strategic move by Beijing to harness American intellectual and technological capital. This situation complicates the U.S.-China relationship, highlighting the delicate balance between beneficial academic collaborations and safeguarding national security.

The tension between the benefits of open academic collaboration and the risk of strategic exploitation is significant, with the United States likely to lose more than it gains in this exchange. This threat to our academic institutions brings into question where to draw the to prevent empowering a geopolitical rival while still fostering an environment of academic freedom and innovation. The article implies a need for a more robust regulatory framework to manage foreign influence in U.S. academia, ensuring that it aligns with national interests without stifling the global knowledge exchange.

  

Conclusion

This report examined China's multifaceted activities in cyber warfare, maritime domination, geopolitical maneuvers, and deep-seated investment tactics within U.S. academia. These activities collectively represent a portion of Beijing's broad and integrated approach to strengthening its global stance in the face of ongoing great power competition, particularly with the United States.

Cybersecurity concerns have been highlighted with significant evidence of Chinese state-sponsored activities aimed at infiltrating critical U.S. networks, reflecting a clear and ongoing threat to national security. In the maritime domain, China has vigorously enhanced its coast guard capabilities and expanded its presence in the South China Sea, thereby asserting its territorial claims and challenging U.S. influence in the Indo-Pacific region.

Politically, China's influence extends into the geopolitical sphere with its unyielding stance on Taiwan and its strategic use of diplomatic engagements to solidify its position in global forums. Moreover, its substantial investments in U.S. academia, totaling billions, have surfaced dual-use technologies and intellectual property concerns, revealing Beijing's intent to leverage U.S. educational resources for strategic gains. Chinese-owned TikTok is regarded as a security threat to the United States because ByteDance (parent company HQ'ed in Beijing) could be compelled to hand over data to the Chinese government or influence content for political purposes.

These concerted efforts by China have profound implications for U.S. national security and its role in global governance. They underscore the necessity for a comprehensive U.S. response that integrates enhanced cybersecurity measures, a fortified maritime strategy, and a vigilant approach to foreign investments in critical sectors. This strategic response must be balanced with preserving the open academic environment that fosters innovation and global collaboration, ensuring that such engagements do not compromise national security. Recognizing and addressing these challenges will be pivotal in maintaining competitive advantage and safeguarding interests in the ongoing great power rivalry.

 

 

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