The United States on Wednesday issued a wide-ranging attack on China highlighting Beijing’s predatory economic policies, military buildup, disinformation campaigns and human rights violations.
The 20-page report, which comes amid the two countries’ simmering feud over the coronavirus, does not signal a shift in US policy, according to a senior administration official who spoke on condition of anonymity.
But it does expand on the tough rhetoric Donald Trump hopes will resonate with voters angry about China’s handling of the disease outbreak that has left tens of millions of Americans out of work.
“The media’s focus on the current pandemic risks missing the bigger picture of the challenge that’s presented by the Chinese Communist Party,” Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said on Wednesday before the White House released its report.
“China’s been ruled by a brutal, authoritarian regime, a communist regime since 1949. For several decades, we thought the regime would become more like us — through trade, scientific exchanges, diplomatic outreach, letting them in the World Trade Organisation as a developing nation. That didn’t happen.
“We greatly underestimated the degree to which Beijing is ideologically and politically hostile to free nations. The whole world is waking up to that fact.”
Later in the day, the State Department announced it had approved the sale of advanced torpedoes to the Taiwanese military, a move sure to draw a rebuke from Beijing, which regards the island as a renegade province.
The department said it had informed Congress of the $180 million (£147 million) sale of heavy-weight torpedoes, spare parts, support and testing equipment, which “will help improve the security of (Taiwan) and assist in maintaining political stability, military balance, and economic progress in the region”.
While pushing back on China, Mr Trump has sometimes uttered contradictory statements.He has talked about having a great personal relationship with Chinese President Xi Jinping, yet has repeatedly denounced China for not doing more to stop the coronavirus from spreading across the world.
He has routinely criticised China, while also saying he wants Beijing to sign Phase II of a trade deal and join the US and Russia in a three-way nuclear arms control treaty.
Late on Wednesday, Mr Trump wrote on Twitter that China’s “massive disinformation campaign” is intended to help Joe Biden win the 2020 presidential election.
China is on a massive disinformation campaign because they are desperate to have Sleepy Joe Biden win the presidential race so they can continue to rip-off the United States, as they have done for decades, until I came along!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) May 21, 2020
In the past 20 years, the US believed if it opened its markets wider, invested more money in China, and provided greater access to cutting-edge US technology and training for Chinese military officers that somehow this would cause China to liberalise, the official said.
Instead, China is more authoritarian than at any time since Beijing killed anti-government protesters on Tiananmen Square in 1989, and the Chinese Communist Party is increasingly asserting its political ideas across the globe.
The US and China established diplomatic relations in 1972.
“More than 40 years later, it has become evident that this approach underestimated the will of the Chinese Communist Party to constrain the scope of economic and political reform in China,” the report said.
“Over the past two decades, reforms have slowed, stalled, or reversed.”
According to the report, the Trump administration sees “no value” in engaging with Beijing for symbolism and pageantry, saying: “When quiet diplomacy proves futile, the United States will increase public pressure” on China.
The latest example of the US-China power competition is playing out at the World Health Organisation (WHO).
At the UN health agency’s annual assembly this week, Mr Xi joined by video conference to offer more money and support. Meanwhile, Mr Trump railed against the WHO in a letter accusing it of covering up the coronavirus outbreak with China — and threatening to permanently halt the US funding that has been its main financial lifeblood for years.
China also has been engaged in a military buildup, has engaged in cyber hacking and Beijing’s pledge to end predatory economic practices “is littered with broken and empty promises”, the White House report said.
China promised during the Obama administration that it would stop government-directed cyber theft of trade secrets for commercial gain and restated the same promise in the first two years of the Trump administration, the report said.
In late 2018, however, the US and a dozen other countries reported China was hacking computers to target intellectual property and steal business information.
“Since the 1980s, Beijing has signed multiple international agreements to protect intellectual property. Despite this, more than 63 percent of the world’s counterfeits originate in China, inflicting hundreds of billions of dollars of damage on legitimate businesses around the world,” the report said.
The Trump administration also takes exception to how China continues to argue to the World Trade Organisation (WTO) that it is a “developing country”, even though it is the top importer of high-tech products and ranks second only to the US in terms of gross domestic product, defence spending and outward investment.