The Republican primary, up to this point, has been about anything besides foreign policy. In troubled times, where tensions between nuclear powers seem to heat up, one must consider international issues as crucial as domestic ones. America finds itself fighting against a declining empire, Russia, and a rising one, China. As the leader of the Free World, the United States must act to prevent autocratic regimes from expanding further. A plan is necessary as favorable demographics alone cannot avoid armed conflicts. President Biden's foreign policy started on the wrong foot with the Afghanistan withdrawal but has since succeeded, especially against Moscow. The recent re-approaching to India is also a significant achievement. Yet, the administration fumbles over China, struggling to find its official position. Nikki Haley, running for President as a Republican, has a plan.
Nikki R. Haley, former Governor of the Palmetto State and former US Ambassador to the United Nations, is the most qualified candidate to lead the country through an era of global uncertainty. If the response to a rising, menacing Beijing is for America to regain its role as leader of the Free World, then no one can do it better than Haley. As Ambassador to the UN, she faced violent regimes promising "Death to America" and nuclear war against Israel, autocracies trying to thwart freedom across the globe, and criminal states often chairing committees that should be investigating them. Dealing with North Korea, Iran, Russia, and China clarified for her the absolute necessity for DC to start dealing seriously with the issue of the People's Republic of China.
Now, one could ask about the seriousness of this tone. After all, China has never actively threatened the United States with war in the past few years, at least not to the same extent as Russia. I do not believe that Beijing has changed its mind and is pushing for a final, decisive war to humiliate America. I do not think the elite of the Communist Party would ever allow that, given their commitment to the status quo and internal stability. But in the 21st century, wars are not fought exclusively with weapons. Influence has become the most effective tool for autocratic regimes to spread their manufactured propaganda, divide their enemies, and reach their goals. Look at Moscow's "disinformatsiya" and how it has successfully appealed to extremist masses and influenced other countries' democratic elections. The same goes for China.
I am more worried about China's attempts to influence our domestic politics and society than any other autocracy opposed to the Free World. Russia, crumbling under the weight of its ineffective bureaucratic yes-man structure, cannot produce propaganda of the same quality as it used to even a decade ago. Moscow is also extremely busy with a war they are currently losing. On the other hand, Chinese human resources and commitment can represent a decisive threat to democracy. It seems reasonable to affirm that Beijing does not intend to destroy democracy worldwide, as the USSR once did. Still, China imposing itself as first world power might have terrible consequences on the state of freedom around the globe.
Demographics are working in favor of the United States in this unofficial conflict: China is witnessing a rapid decline in its fertility rate despite recent governmental policies aimed at incentivizing families. The People's Republic of China is catching up with the all-eastern-Asia trend of rapid demographic decline. Its neighbors, South Korea and Japan, have two of the lowest fertility rates in the world. Beijing is joining the club. The lack of migration from abroad and the emigration of a portion of its youth condemn China to bleak economic prospects. The looming demographic disaster, with China's population growth rate reaching a 61-year-low, has caused the date of the supposed GDP victory over the US to be postponed. If the decline continues, it might never happen. On the other hand, the United States compensates for its modest yet declining fertility rate with immigration and its attractive economy.
While all this is true, we cannot rely on demographics to solve the "China problem." Nikki Haley is right. The West needs a plan. Much is different from 1980 when Ronald Reagan was elected President, but his recipe for victory might still be useful today. At the time, the USSR was stagnating, while today, China is growing. Moscow had a formidably professionally tested army ready for war. China is gaining ground in technology, but its armed forces are unprepared for a large-scale conflict, never having fought in decades. Both the USSR and today's China are nuclear superpowers. Yet, China lacks an alliance ready to fight with them. The Kremlin could count on its Eastern European puppets and communist countries around the world. Beijing cannot rely on anyone for war. Certainly, Chinese leaders have built incredible diplomatic relationships with other developing countries like Brazil, South Africa, and Kenya, yet none of them is ready to support Beijing in an eventual war against the United States, let alone participate in one.
The supposed "BRICS" bloc, which many believe to be an enemy on our same level, is pure fantasy and exists only in textbooks. The day India fights alongside China is the day the basic laws of physics break down and pigs fly. The two biggest members of this group have been on the brink of war with each other for decades, with Beijing and New Delhi leading border conflicts and regularly holding aggressive military maneuvers. Brazil is too busy handling its constant political crises and its slow growth, while Russia is being revealed as a fragile and unnecessarily aggressive autocracy, and South Africa is showing its weakness and division.
Despite all this, China cannot be underestimated. While I do not believe that a war between Beijing and Washington is on its way, we have never been closer to one. Besides the attempts to influence the United States from within, the Taiwan Strait conflict and the East China Sea might represent the true danger to world peace. Western policy should be aggressive but preventative; never should we indulge in thoughts about entering a direct conflict with Beijing. At the same time, we must appear resolute, and we must be ready for one. Nikki Haley's plan takes much of its approach from Reagan's successful strategy against Moscow's "evil empire": technological innovation, military preparation and build-up, and foreign influence under control at home.
In a Wall Street Journal opinion article, the former Ambassador laid out her Reagan-esque plan aimed at defeating China on the international stage. Contrarily to many other candidates in the race who limit themselves to either threatening or ignoring China, Nikki Haley has an agenda that could be implemented if elected President. I do not necessarily agree with all her points, but the approach is a correct one: the United States should stop leading from behind and start thwarting China's interests and maneuvers across the world.
Nikki Haley claims that, through the Oval Office, she would push for American businesses to leave China "as completely as possible" (WSJ). She would probably do so by implementing economic policies such as tax breaks and adjustments for returning companies, which would boost US growth and avoid any senseless protectionist measures. If badly implemented, it could end up being Trump's tariffs 2.0, so close attention should be paid. The CHIPS Act, which brought back many American businesses involved in chip-making and high-tech, is an example we could follow further.
The former Ambassador seems to share my concern about Chinese influence in the United States and the West, something that should be more widely discussed in Washington. The TikTok case, where the US Congress seems to agree on a bipartisan basis that companies with undue Chinese government presence represent threats to national and public security, has been transformed into a farce. Members of the GOP have turned it into a culture war issue and have gone to the lengths of comparing the app to opium; others (together with many progressive Democrats) have labeled the effort to control the app as a neocon smear. We do not need any polarization on issues like these. It is crucial to solve them together objectively and quickly.
I agree with Haley on the necessity to ban CCP-linked companies from lobbying in the United States Congress, as I also agree with the proposal to limit land purchases, especially near military bases, power plants, or missile sites. Once again, as we talk about companies and companies investing in the United States, we should be careful not to overdo it: Chinese companies can and should invest in the US.
The United States military should be at the center of this discussion as well. While the West should avoid armed conflict at any cost, the possibility that our current rift with Beijing might turn into a war exists. Therefore, as Nikki Haley says, the United States needs to build its armed forces back and better by encouraging innovation and testing new weapons. Just like Reagan's arms race, this proposal will increase US preparation for war, assert its dominance as the leader of the Free World, and, most importantly, prevent war. If the United States continues to be, as they are today, the largest and most competent military in the world, despite the countless Chinese investments, then Beijing's efforts will be in vain (like the USSR). No one can match the preparedness, ingenuity, and fruitful competition of the American military-industrial complex.
As said countless times before, war should be America's last resort in a confrontation with China. Taiwan's freedom is probably the only scenario where I see the possibility of an armed conflict breaking out somehow likely. I am confident that the United States and China will conduct their confrontation for world leadership in diplomatic, economic, and cultural terms without directly engaging. It is crucial for the West to side with the United States to defend democracy and prevent the expansion of authoritarianism from China. The latter is becoming increasingly totalitarian and interventionist in its citizens' private lives, representing a model that we refute. At the same time, China is expanding its influence in Africa and other parts of the developing world, where it's conducting uncontrolled business, abusing workers, polluting, and causing countries to go bankrupt. Its internal policy toward minorities and dissent is also despicable and cannot be accepted by the West.
Collision with the Communist regime in Beijing can be avoided by appealing to their senses, deterring war, and leading diplomatic efforts to the country (like Secretary Blinken did last week). We must ensure peace through strength, frank dialogue, and cooperation.
Alessandro B. Carelli
Cover image by Getty Images/CNN illustration