Trans-Pacific View | Diplomacy

‘Stealth War’: How the US Can Counter China’s Takeover Attempts

Insights from Robert Spalding.

Mercy A. Kuo
‘Stealth War’: How the US Can Counter China’s Takeover Attempts

Trans-Pacific View author Mercy Kuo regularly engages subject-matter experts, policy practitioners, and strategic thinkers across the globe for their diverse insights into U.S. Asia policy. This conversation with Robert Spalding brigadier general U.S. Air Force (retired); former director for strategic planning at the National Security Council and chief architect of the National Security Strategy; and author of the recently published Stealth War: How China Took Over While America’s Elite Slept (Portfolio Penguin 2019) is the 222nd in “The Trans-Pacific View Insight Series.”

What are the three core themes of your book Stealth War

First, awareness: The book attempts to shine a light on the CCP’s [Chinese Communist Party’s] efforts to undermine democratic principles and preserve its own legitimacy, everywhere.

Second, a call to arms: The book seeks to motivate scholars and citizens to bring to light more information about the CCP, so democracies can design protections and fight back

Third, inspiration: The book seeks to inspire confidence in liberal democracy and encourage reinvestment in democratic societies.

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Explain the Chinese Communist Party’s whole-of-nation and military-civil fusion approach in China’s information warfare and technology race with the United States.

The CCP seeks to adopt the technology, social, and business layers of the current information economy to promote authoritarianism through commerce. Using telecommunication networks, big data, artificial intelligence and machine learning, fintech, social media, and e-commerce it slowly builds in incentive systems that reinforce behavior which forwards CCP interests.

In entering 2020 and a new decade, describe the different scenarios of how U.S.-China relations might evolve.  

One scenario is separation: Democratic systems will separate from authoritarian systems. Democracies will grow at a higher rate as market-based resource allocation and rule of law help rejuvenate democratic systems.

A second scenario is connectedness: Chinese tech companies will first merge with, then dominate U.S. tech companies. Telecommunication networks will be designed, built, and maintained by Chinese companies. Data will be mined by the CCP to help determine winners and losers and societies will increasingly suppress thought to maintain conformity.

A third scenario is a hybrid: The two systems will clash as democracies seek to embrace the CCP model, but consistently rebel at its incoherence with democracy. This will result in constant back-and-forth trade and financial discord.

How should American elites and citizens brace for escalating tensions in U.S.-China relations?   

There needs to be a soul searching to question whether connectedness with totalitarian systems are in the best interests of citizens who live in free societies. Capital preservation is important as investments in China become increasingly insolvent.

With the 2020 U.S. presidential campaigns ramping up, what would be a unifying message to galvanize Americans and allies behind a constructive U.S. China policy?   

Democracies must band together and invest in their communities to revitalize infrastructure, manufacturing, science and technology, and STEM education. Military funding must be transferred into these areas to promote economic growth and resiliency. Institutions must be inoculated to prevent the erosion of rights and freedoms. We must restore confidence in democracy as an organizing principle for the digital world by securing the internet and ensuring that citizens are the masters of their data.