Frank Kendall, US Secretary of the Air Force, recently sounded a clear warning that China is preparing for war with the United States. This assessment is not limited to military concerns; it includes politics and economics as well. There is a growing consensus among American policymakers about the threat posed by Beijing.
Countries like Australia and New Zealand were among the first to highlight the risks associated with Chinese companies like Huawei and ZTE controlling fifth-generation telecommunications networks. The US and UK subsequently worked closely to address these issues. However, the European Union, despite its increasing reliance on the Chinese market, has been slow to respond.
In the UK, there has been hesitancy to characterize China as a “threat,” with many preferring the term “competitor.” Even after the arrest of an alleged Chinese spy, some parliamentarians have been surprisingly lenient. However, the scope of China’s threat is not limited to specific groups or individuals; it poses a danger to the entire society.
China has been waging economic warfare against the West for decades by engaging in intellectual property theft, pursuing mercantilist policies, and protecting its own domestic markets while exploiting Western openness. Western regulators have also failed to scrutinize Chinese firms adequately.
To effectively counter China’s evasion and opaqueness, it is imperative that free societies adopt a NATO-like approach with a common understanding of the threat. Business arguments that China provides essential resources for addressing issues like climate change must be viewed with caution, as they often come from executives who have invested heavily in China or are dependent on the country for their supply chains.
Fortunately, there are signs that Western naivety and incompetence are changing. Recent discoveries of lithium deposits in the United States and rare earths in Sweden offer a glimmer of hope for reducing dependence on China in critical industries.
Understanding and confronting China’s whole-of-society threat requires resolute commitment from the West. Ignoring this reality out of fear of upsetting the Chinese government will only lead to defeat. As Franklin Roosevelt famously said, “We have nothing to fear but fear itself.” It is time for the West to unite and prevail against this existential challenge.