Beyond its hard-hitting rhetoric against China over the coronavirus, the White House has issued an attack on Beijing’s predatory economic policies, military build-up, disinformation campaigns and human rights violations.
The 20-page report does not signal a shift in US policy, according to a senior administration official, who was not authorised to publicly discuss the report and spoke only on condition of anonymity.
But it expands on US President Donald Trump’s get-tough rhetoric that he 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.
“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,” he said. “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.”
In the past 20 years, the US believed that if it opened its markets wider, invested more money in China, and provided greater access to top US technology and training for Chinese military officers that somehow this would cause China to liberalise, the official said.
Instead, the report said 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.
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 report said China has been engaged in a military build-up, has engaged in cyber hacking and Beijing’s pledge to end predatory economic practices “is littered with broken and empty promises.”
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 that China was hacking computers to target intellectual property and steal business information.
The report said more than 63 per cent of the world’s counterfeits originate in China, inflicting hundreds of billions of dollars of damage on legitimate businesses around the world.
Under the Xi government, Chinese officials have purged political opposition; bloggers, activists and lawyers have been unjustly prosecuted; stringent controls have been imposed to censor not only media, but universities, businesses and non-governmental organisations; citizens and corporations have been targeted with surveillance; and people perceived as dissidents have been subjected to arbitrary detention, torture and abuse.
China retains its non-market economic structure and state-led approach to trade and investment, the report said. Political reforms have likewise atrophied or reversed and distinctions between the government and the Chinese Chinese Party are eroding.
“Xi’s decision to remove presidential term limits, effectively extending his tenure indefinitely, epitomised these trends,” the report said.
Chinese authorities also have detained more than 1 million Uighurs and members of other ethnic and religious minority groups in indoctrination camps where many endure forced labour, ideological indoctrination and physical and psychological abuse, the report said.