The New Cold War? How to be in It to Win It

By Timothy Furnish Published on May 18, 2023

Democrats have fixated on Russia since Trump first came down that escalator. However, the American people have viewed China as our biggest threat for several years. And with good reason. The “People’s Republic” of China is now third in global military power, behind only the U.S. and Russia. It’s building more nuclear weapons rapidly, although still far behind the U.S. and Russia. China is the world’s second most powerful economy, trailing only the U.S. But growing at a much faster clip. America is still more popular (#4, v. PRC’s #17). Beijing, however, has the diplomatic upper hand. Examples? Trying to broker a peace deal between Moscow and Kyiv. And succeeding in getting Iran and Saudi Arabia to reestablish ties for the first time since 1979.

Cold War II?

Are we in a new Cold War? Some think so. Notably the Heritage Foundation, which in March put out a special report, entitled “Winning the New Cold War: A Plan for Countering China.” It’s 118 pages long, with 19 pages of footnotes, and lays out a conservative agenda to prevent Beijing from achieving regional, and perhaps global, dominance.

A Trump or DeSantis administration will likely use this document. So let’s examine it. On the very first page, the authors deem the PRC “the greatest existential threat facing the United States today.” In fact, it’s “an adversary even more capable and dangerous than the Soviet Union was at the height of its power.” China has declared a “Cold War” against us, so it does no good for us to pretend otherwise. (As Tolkien wrote, “it needs but one foe to breed a war, not two….”) As Biden did, in “his” October 2022 National Security Strategy. This document does call China our “most consequential geopolitical challenge.” But it then devotes far more attention (21 references) to “climate change.” How on earth could the PRC be more of a threat than was the USSR, with its 39,000 nukes in the 1980s? Mainly because China is our “economic peer” (p. 18), which the Soviet Union never was. (One might add that this is because Beijing is less doctrinaire than Communist Moscow. Primarily in adopting some aspects of capitalism, and tolerating religion.)

U.S. Strengths

But we also have key advantages over China. While Americans depend on Chinese supply chains for many goods, that means China is also dependent on us to buy them (p. 26). China’s huge population is declining, while America’s is growing (albeit in some measure due to illegal immigration). This country also, unlike China, is an “energy superpower,” capable of self-sufficiency in that regard if only Washington would allow it (p. 27). And we have most of the top universities, particularly in the STEM fields (p. 28) — which is why there are more Chinese students than any other foreigners in our universities.

Chinese Strengths

But in recent decades the PRC has shown more political will in advancing its national interests than has Washington in promoting American ones. Beijing holds some $1 trillion of American debt. It’s been ripping off American companies’ intellectual property for a long time (p. 26). The PRC has leveraged all those university students to help infiltrate American universities via Confucius Institutes, which remain despite crackdowns. And it’s practiced virtual extraterritorality here and elsewhere via overseas “police stations” (p. 24). (Which American authorities are belatedly taking action against.) It’s as if American politicians, of both parties, couldn’t shake the fantasy that free trade and WTO membership must cause Communist China to become more democratic and benign. For those that have thrown off such delusions — such as Trump — Heritage has a legion of recommendations for how to proceed.

Specific Steps for American Victory

So in Part II (pp. 30-113), Heritage proposes 42 separate ways to stop China gaining east Asian, and eventually global, hegemony. These fall into five major categories. First is homeland protection, which includes curtailing the usual suspects (Confucius Institutes, those Chinese “police stations”). But also reducing the likes of Tik-Tok, Beijing’s purchase of U.S. farmland, Chinese fentanyl, drones, and biotech research.

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Second is bolstering American prosperity. How? Strengthening our economy, of course. For which Heritage advances boiler plate conservative ideas — tax and entitlement reform, “restrained” non-defense spending, less regulation. Beyond that? More reliable sourcing for semiconductors (i.e., not just Taiwan) and critical minerals. Better protection for American intellectual property. Getting American or allied country companies to produce more of our needed drugs. Most importantly, acknowledge that Beijing “exploit[s] the West’s obsession with…green energy and expand[s] China’s power and influence” (p. 58).

Third, we must restructure the U.S. military to meet the Chinese threat and focus on the Indo-Pacific. Particularly, thus, the Navy. Arming Taiwan, even more, should be a major priority.

Fourth, reduce the PRC’s influence. How? Restrict several American exports that help it. High-tech. Investment capital. Data flows. If need be, use tariffs. (As Trump did.) In addition, bring international pressure to bear to hold China accountable for the Covid-19 pandemic. Highlight Beijing’s human rights violations. Not just against Muslim Uighurs, but Christians in that country. (Of which there may be as many as 100 million, by now.)

Finally, “exercise global leadership.” Meaning what? Organize regional and international support for Taiwan. Weaken and isolate Russia. Work more with India. And in Eurasia.

No Plan Will Work Without Leadership

Are all of these ideas good ones, however? Or even realistic? For example, how likely is it that Reaganesque economic stimulus ideas will be implemented anytime soon? Not very. And while the “Green New Deal” didn’t become law, the Democrats’ 2021 “Infrastructure Deal” enacted many “green” policies that helped China. Are we really going to go to war for Taiwan, 111 miles off China’s coast? Considering it’s been ruled by the mainland many times over the last 400 years? Heck, the Biden Administration couldn’t even stand up to Beijing when it was sending spy balloons across our territory. As for weakening Russia, Moscow’s oil exports are at an all-time high, despite U.S. sanctions. Yes, many of Heritage’s proposals would be helpful. But “ultimately…China is foremost an Oval Office problem. The U.S. President must exercise leadership…as predecessors did during World War II and the Cold War” (p. 113). A POTUS, in other words, who is in it to win it.

And we all know that’s not going to happen until at least January 2025. If then.


Timothy Furnish holds a Ph.D. in Islamic, World and African history from Ohio State University and a M.A. in Theology from Concordia Seminary. He is a former U.S. Army Arabic linguist and, later, civilian consultant to U.S. Special Operations Command. He’s the author of books on the Middle East and Middle-earth, a history professor and sometime media opiner (as, for example, on Fox News Channel’s War Stories: Fighting ISIS). He currently writes for and consults The Stream on International Security matters.

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