This article first appeared in West Point’s Modern War Institute.
We just had our second week of our new national security class at Stanford – Technology, Innovation and Great Power Competition. Joe Felter, Raj Shah and I designed the class to cover how technology will shape all the elements of national power (our influence and footprint on the world stage).
A key focus of the class is the return of Great Power competition. This isn’t an issue of which nation comes in first, it’s about what the world-order will look like for the rest of the century and beyond. Will it be a rules-based order where states cooperate to pursue a shared vision for a free and open region and where the sovereignty of all countries large and small is protected under international law? Or will an alternative vision for an autocratic and dystopian future be coerced and imposed by revisionist powers set on disrupting the U.S. led international order- an order that has brought the world unprecedented peace and prosperity since the end of the Second World War?
All of which leads to today’s topic – China.
Class 2 Required Readings
- Matt Pottinger, “Beijing’s American Hustle: How Chinese Grand Strategy Exploits U.S. Power” Foreign Affairs (September/October 2021)
- Daniel Tobin, “How Xi Jinping’s “New Era” Should have Ended the U.S. Debate on Beijing’s Ambitions”Center for Strategic and International Studies, May 2020
- Jeffrey Wasserstrom, “Why Are There No Biographies of Xi Jinping?” The Atlantic, January 2021
- Xi Jinping, “Uphold and Develop Socialism with Chinese Characteristics,” (speech delivered on January 5, 2013, published in Qiushi (“Seeking Truth”), the Central Party School’s main theoretical journal, under Xi’s name on April 1, 2019, and translated in Palladium Magazine in May 2019).
- New York Times, Nicholas Kristof, “Looking for a Jump-Start in China” New York Times, January 5, 2013
- [Kristof wrote this OpEd on the same day of Xi’s speech (above), which was kept secret by the Chinese Communist Party until it was published in April 2019. Read these two documents side-by-side.]
- Central Committee of the Communist Party of China’s General Office, “Communique on the Current State of the Ideological Sphere” (aka ‘Document #9’) ChinaFile, April 22, 2013 (translated by ChinaFile and published November 8, 2013)
- Tanner Greer, “China Does Not Want Your Rules Based Order” The Scholar’s Stage, June 4, 2016.
- Kurt Campbell and Eli Ratner, “The China Reckoning: How Beijing Defied America’s Expectations”Foreign Affairs, March/April 2018
- John Garnaut and Bill Bishop, Sinocism, “Engineers of the Soul: Ideology in Xi Jinping’s China” Sinocism, January 16, 2019
- S. Executive Office of the President, “United States Strategic Approach to the People’s Republic of China” Trump Administration, May 26, 2020.
- Senator Mark Warner (D-VA), “The China challenge and critical next steps for the United States” Brookings, May 15, 2019
- Rob Atkinson, “Innovation Drag: The Impact of Chinese Economic and Trade Policies on Global Innovation,” ITIF, January 2020.
Class 2- Reading Assignment Questions
Pick one of the below questions and answer in approximately 100 words, based on the required readings.
- To what degree does the People’s Republic of China have an overarching grand strategy, according to the readings? Do you agree or disagree with the arguments of the readings and why? Even if China does have a grand strategy, is it possible for China to maintain coherent, consistent execution of its strategy? Why or why not?
- What are the CCP’s objectives regarding the international system? What instruments of national power does the CCP employ to achieve which specific impacts in order to achieve its objectives?
Class 2- Discussion Questions
- What is the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) trying to achieve? What are its goals and objectives? What is Xi Jinping trying to achieve? To what extent are Xi’s goals congruent with the broader CCP’s goals?
- How does the CCP and/or Xi view the existing international system?
- From the CCP’s perspective, what are the main obstacles standing in the way of achieving the goal of “National Rejuvenation”?
- What role does ideology play in the CCP’s strategy?
- In what ways are the CCP’s goals compatible and/or incompatible with U.S. national interests?
- In what domains does the competition between the United States and the People’s Republic of China play out? How do these domains interact with one another?
Class 2- Guest Speakers
Our speakers for our second class were Matt Pottinger and Matt Turpin.
Matt Pottinger, was a former Deputy National Security Advisor and former National Security Council Senior Director for Asia. As a former Marine, Matt had 3 combat deployments in Iraq and Afghanistan. Prior to joining the Marine Corps, Matt was a reporter in China, first at Reuters, then at the Wall Street Journal.
Matt Turpin, was a former National Security Council Director for China and the Senior Advisor on China to U.S. Secretary of Commerce. Before entering the White House, Turpin served over 22 years in the U.S. Army. Among other Indo-Pacific focused roles, he served as a China advisor to the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff at the Pentagon and assisted the Deputy Secretary of Defense with the Defense Innovation Initiative, examining the role of innovation in U.S. defense policy.
If you can’t see the slides click here.
Slides 7-10 are selected quotes from our assigned reading. Our lecture and discussion (slides 11-16) took us through the evolution of the hopes the U.S. had for its four-decade-long strategy of diplomatic and economic engagement with China. The hope was that helping China grow its economy would lead to liberalization of its government and greater freedoms for its people. Deng Xiaoping said China needed to “hide our capabilities, bide our time.” Over time, Xi has moved China to a more overt and aggressive phase, no longer hiding its intention to challenge the West. As we discovered, China’s agenda always had been radically different than ours. The growing realization over the last five years is that our hopes for China to democratize as it developed economically were terribly naïve. What we’ve come to realize is that China has been playing a decades-long game to challenge and overturn the U.S.-led liberal international order and replace it with a neo-totalitarian model.
Realizing this, four years ago the U.S. reoriented from a focus on counter terrorism to a new emphasis on great power competition with Russia and China. This new effort can be seen in the Interim U.S. National Security Strategy (which outlines the major U.S. national security concerns and how we plan to deal with them) and 2018 National Defense Strategy (which identifies the priorities and capabilities required by the warfighters to implement the National Security Strategy).
Relevant to this course, China is using all elements of national power: diplomacy (soft power, alliances, coercion), information/intelligence (using its economic leverage over Hollywood, controlling the Covid narrative), its military might and economic strength (Belt and Road Initiative.) China has exploited western finance and technology, and has successfully convinced Western democracies to prioritize economic cooperation and trade with China above all else.
At home, China’s use of digital authoritarianism (facial recognition, biometrics, and social credit) has turned its own country into a surveillance dystopia to ensure that there are no internal challenges to the supremacy of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP). The CCP’s oppression of the Uyghurs – a Muslim minority in the western province of Xinjiang – is considered a genocide by many as well as a harbinger of what a Chinese world order will look like.
Going forward, coexistence with China will involve competition but also cooperation. But it’s going to take the demonstrated resolve of the U.S. and its allies to continue to uphold a rules-based order where nations share a vision of a free and open Indo-Pacific where the sovereignty of all countries are respected.
Slides 18-20 dug a bit deeper about why and how of the group project. Students formed teams to work on one of the Great Power Competition issues at the intersection of commercial technologies (AI, machine learning, autonomy, biotech, cyber, commercial access to space, et al.) and DIME-FIL (Diplomatic, Information, Military and Economic, Finance, Intelligence and Law Enforcement.)
Given who our students are, we assume they can all go online and to the library and write a great research paper. As we pointed out to them, while you can be the smartest person in the building, it’s unlikely that 1) that all the facts are in the building, 2) you’re smarter than the collective intelligence sitting outside the building.
Our teaching assistants (who previously took our Hacking for Defense class) shared with the students their own journey of what happens to early assumptions and how solutions evolve when you get out of the building.
If you can’t see the Project Agrippa slides click here.
We want our students to build the reflexes and skills to deeply understand a problem by gathering first-hand information and validate that the problem they are solving is the real problem, not a symptom of something else. Then, students will begin rapidly building minimal viable solutions (policy, software, hardware …) as a way to test and validate their understanding of both the problem and what it would take to solve it.
And they thought we were just going to have great lectures.
Next week – Russia
- The U.S. hoped that helping China grow its economy would lead to liberalization of its government and greater freedoms for its people
- China has been playing a decades-long game to challenge and overturn the U.S.-led liberal order and replace it with a neo-totalitarian model
- Students will collaborate on teams to first understand and then work to solve national security challenges at the intersection of DIME-FIL and dual-use technology