Forcing Peaceful Coexistence with Strong Nuclear Weapons

“The Pacific is big enough for both China and the United States.”

This is what Xi Jinping told President Donald Trump on Nov. 9, 2017, when Trump was visiting Beijing: China and the United States could coexist.

On July 8, Rush Doshi, who directs the China portfolio for President Joe Biden’s National Security Council, published a new book, “The Long Game: China’s Grand Strategy to Displace American Order.” It was quoted in the cover article, “Biden’s New China Doctrine,” in the July 17 issue of The Economist. According to the article, “By framing the relationship as a zero-sum contest, he [Doshi] is presenting them with a Manichean struggle between democracy and autocracy, rather than the search for co-existence.” Manichaeism believes that good and evil are incompatible.

On Oct. 21, the Financial Times reported that China test-fired a nuclear-armed hypersonic missile twice in July and August, flying at five times the speed of sound in the atmosphere and capable of evading the most advanced radar systems. It first circled Earth via the South Pole, out of reach of U.S. defense systems, and then cruised down toward the target, finally achieving an error of about 32 kilometers (approximately 20 miles). U.S. military and intelligence officials were caught off guard by the technological advance. Biden was asked by reporters on Oct. 20 whether he was worried about China’s hypersonic missiles. His answer was “Yes.”

On Oct. 21, the U.S. Department of Defense announced the failure of the U.S. Army’s test fire of a long-range hypersonic missile at the Pacific Spaceport in Alaska. On Oct. 22, CNN called the failure a setback in the U.S. competition with Russia and China to develop a hypersonic missile. One point for China — the gap between the United States and China is widening.

On Oct. 23, The Economist interviewed Tong Zhao, a Chinese nuclear strategy scholar at the Carnegie-Tsinghua Center for Global Policy in Beijing. Why is China developing these nuclear weapons and building more than 200 new missile silos in the Gansu desert? He said that Beijing believes nuclear power can force the United States to accept a peaceful coexistence with China.

On Nov. 7, a week before the Biden-Xi virtual summit, National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan told CNN that the United States does not seek a new cold war with China, nor does it seek to contain China, but rather wishes to coexist peacefully with China.

In the National Security Council, Sullivan is senior to Doshi. Sullivan has abandoned the general China strategy outlined in Doshi’s new book, which was published four months ago. The Biden administration’s broad strategic stance toward China has swung dramatically from a “zero-sum contest” without the possibility of coexistence in July to a “peaceful coexistence” in November. Why?

Could it be that China’s rising nuclear power has forced the United States to accept peaceful coexistence with it, as Tong suggests?

The collapse of the Soviet Union before 1990* ended the Cold War between the United States and the Soviet Union that had been going on since 1945. The 45 years after 1945 are considered to be the longest span of peace in Europe in thousands of years. The irony is that the fruits of peace came from the confrontation between the U.S. and the Soviet Union, two powers each with thousands of nuclear warheads capable of destroying the planet many times over. Any small clash of arms between the two powers could have led to a nuclear war.

On Oct. 31 of last year and this past Jan. 8, the chairman of the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff, Mark Milley, secretly called his Chinese counterpart, Li Zuocheng, because he was worried about Trump starting a war with China. Milley wanted to avoid a major U.S.-China nuclear war.

On Oct. 2, the South China Morning Post reported that the People’s Liberation Army had ordered Chinese ships not to fire the first shot at U.S. vessels as late as August of last year. Beijing also wished to avoid a major U.S.-China nuclear war.

At the time, the U.S. and China were in a diplomatic freeze, but military contacts continued. Even though China and the United States are fighting for different national interests, the avoidance of a nuclear war is the most important common concern of both countries.

That’s why “confrontation”— a word that Secretary of State Antony Blinken mentioned in March in addition to “cooperation” and “competition”— with China, has completely disappeared from the Biden administration’s statements since May, replaced by conflict avoidance and peaceful coexistence.

The author is a former professor at Georgetown University’s Walsh School of Foreign Service, a former deputy minister of National Defense, author of “Nuclear Hegemony” and a new book, “Outside the Box.”

*Editor’s Note: The Berlin Wall collapsed in 1989. The Soviet Union was officially dissolved on Dec. 25, 1991.

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