America, and increasingly much of the rest of the world, is heading into a cold war with the People’s Republic of China (PRC).
Since the original Cold War ended in 1991 with the collapse of the Soviet Union, we’ve largely lost our understanding of the nature of that kind of conflict.
We are now being reminded.
A pivotable moment in the Cold War arrived in 1948, when Red Army troops closed off supply routes to West Berlin, the divided city deep in the heart of what was then East Germany. The Berlin Blockade lasted more than a year, as the U.S. and allies airlifted 2.3 million tons of supplies to the city before the Soviets gave up.
By 1958, living standards in the free West rose conspicuously, inviting those in the communist East to risk defecting in increasing numbers. By June and July of 1961, 49,000 people, many of them doctors, engineers and teachers, fled west to freedom in Allied-controlled Berlin. It was deeply embarrassing to the communists.
With the flood of refugees reaching a crescendo, the communists erected the Berlin Wall overnight. Its official name was “antifascist bulwark” (Antifascistischer Schutzwall), with its stated purpose being to keep Western “fascists” out of the communist East. As with most things in totalitarian nations then and now, the name and purpose were ridiculous lies.
If not a true repeat of Berlin, then, Hong Kong today is at least a rhyme.
And, as with Berlin, how the U.S., Western Europe and, more importantly, the key nations in the Indo-Pacific region react to the events in Hong Kong will end up determining the geopolitical course of this century.
That Hong Kong is no more is a fact. The form of Hong Kong, with its culture forged by the productive union of British rule of law and individual rights with Chinese entrepreneurship and diligence, may last another year or two. But the idea of Hong Kong is dead, killed by the Chinese Communist Party’s (CCP) insatiable quest for total control.
The proximate cause of Hong Kong’s demise is the CCP’s demand to use extrajudicial kidnappings, torture and executions to terrorize its 7.5 million people into submission—in short, to rule Hong Kong as it rules Turkestan (Xinjiang), Tibet and, someday soon it hopes, Taiwan.
The people of Hong Kong saw this day coming, but they were powerless to stop it. Hong Kong’s Basic Law agreement, the contract acknowledging Hong Kongese’ human rights, was always subject to termination whenever the CCP felt powerful enough to do so. It is, as with any agreement the CCP signs, worthless.
In the meantime, China’s communist leaders ramp up their paranoid rantings, claiming foreign “black hands” are behind the unrest in Hong Kong. Concurrently, China’s propaganda mouthpieces continue to press the absurd notion that America started the coronavirus pandemic.
Thus, crushing Hong Kong’s spirit while murdering a few thousand student democracy activists will only embolden Beijing. How can it be otherwise, as it perceives fewer consequences than the slap on the wrist it received after the Tiananmen Square massacre in 1989?
The problem with bombastic propagandistic lies is that they are sometimes believed. And the CCP appears predisposed to believing its own lies. To “defend” itself, the CCP may soon order its modernized armed forces into action along the first island chain, from the southern tip of Japan to the coast of Vietnam, with Taiwan and, to a lesser extent, the Philippines.
The urgent task before our generation is to prevent a monstrous darkness from snuffing out freedom’s flame. We must deter the PRC from expanding its horizon to the first island chain while setting the conditions for victory—removing the CCP, as it exists today, from power. We win, they lose.
This task has already started, when the Trump administration, for the first time since the Reagan-era effort to win the Cold War, declared that the U.S. will engage a “whole-of-government” strategic approach to the challenge presented by the PRC. This approach acknowledges that the CCP doesn’t merely present an economic threat, with its unfair trade practices and intellectual property theft, as well as a military threat—but that it also seeks to supplant our values.
This latter peril comes starkly into focus with two recent incidents: the CCP’s browbeating the NBA into apologizing for individual employees of the league exercising their free speech rights and the CCP’s false claim that its totalitarian system is to be admired in its effort to stop the spread of the virus they themselves released upon the world.
What, then, must be done?
First, amidst growing reports of the PRC’s increased military tempo along the first island chain, we must start to surge the production of long-lead military munitions, such as anti-ship cruise missiles, air-to-air missiles and anti-ballistic missiles. Lessons of wars past show that planners underestimate the consumption of these items, many of which may be lost in the initial moves of an enemy attack. China must be deterred from action.
Second, we must focus our military procurement, doctrine and tactics on our sole existential threat: the PRC. This will likely mean reconstituting our shipbuilding capacity to produce platforms that can sink enemy ships. Preserving our access to space is also critical, as are missile defenses.
Third, we must strengthen our relationships and alliances in the region. China must not be allowed to bully its neighbors.
Lastly, we must operate against the CCP’s biggest weakness: its true nature. Hong Kong and Taiwan point the way in this regard.
Hong Kong can’t be saved, but its people can. America should open its doors to any Hong Konger who wishes to flee the CCP’s remorseless oppression and we should encourage our allies to do so, as well.
Taiwan is more vital now than ever, as it shows the Chinese people that democracy and rule of law are not exclusive values of the West. So long as Taiwan is free, Beijing is bound.
We are embarking on a long march against the most formidable opponent we’ve faced since we won our independence 237 years ago. Let us recall that winning the Revolutionary War was as much about ideals as it was about force of arms.