U.S. and allied governments are entering a “watershed moment” in international politics due to China’s attempt to achieve supremacy, according to Senate Intelligence Committee leaders.
“Beijing’s infiltration of U.S. society has been deliberate and insidious as they use every instrument of influence available to accelerate their rise at America’s expense,” acting Chairman Marco Rubio, a Florida Republican, said in a joint statement with Virginia Sen. Mark Warner, the top Democrat on the panel. “Unfortunately, the United States’s challenge with China is not unique as Beijing seeks to infiltrate and subvert other nations around the world, including our allies.”
That bipartisan statement attests to the congressional appetite for President-elect Joe Biden to maintain a hard line on Beijing. Chinese officials, for their part, insist that the rivalry has developed because Western politicians lack “respect” for the communist regime, which they hope might improve somewhat under the next administration.
“And honestly, some of my American colleagues, they still are not ready to have genuine mutual respect,” Ambassador Cui Tiankai, China’s envoy to the U.S., told the Institute for China-America Studies during a Thursday webinar. “Without mutual respect, you can never acquire very good mutual understanding.”
Chinese state media sharpened that argument while justifying the Chinese Foreign Ministry’s decision to publish an image that portrays an Australian soldier killing a girl in Afghanistan, sparking outrage in Canberra and Washington.
“This is the consistent style of Western whites: The West must always be in a superior status and position,” a state-run Global Times column argued. “As they cannot hold colonies anymore, they attempt to spiritually colonize others with their so-called universal values of democracy and human rights.”
That statement underscores the degree to which officials in Beijing and Washington regard the competition as a contest between rival systems of governance. A senior CIA official described Chinese leaders as “waging … a cold war” against the U.S. in 2018, but the coronavirus pandemic triggered a more public ideological showdown over the last year.
“Our democratic values are threatened by China’s attempts to supplant American leadership and remake the international community in their image,” Rubio and Warner said. “The Chinese Communist Party’s authoritarian leaders seek to threaten our free speech, politics, technology, economy, military, and even our drive to counter the COVID-19 pandemic.”
The propaganda outlet bristled at Western demands for an investigation into the origins of the pandemic, which emerged in China and spread as the World Health Organization amplified inaccurate statements from Beijing about the contagion.
“The U.S. and other Western countries have been making harsh accusations against China, and the Trump administration has been repeatedly and wrongly using the term ‘Chinese virus,’” the Global Times wrote in an editorial. “We have to ask: Did Australian and US officials take Chinese people’s habits of acceptance and feelings into consideration when they made a sound loud enough to penetrate the Chinese public opinion field?”
That’s an apparent acknowledgment that Communist Party censors failed to prevent Chinese people from encountering Western criticism of Beijing’s performance during the pandemic. Chinese officials, however, have used their economic leverage to punish Australia and even American companies in response to unwelcome political statements.
“This is our watershed moment, and we must stand our ground,” Rubio and Warner said. “The United States must not and cannot accept Beijing’s quest to exert dominance while dismissing international legal norms and committing egregious human rights abuses to further their goals.”