June 23, 2020 | Policy Brief

State Department Plays Key Role in New U.S. China Strategy

June 23, 2020 | Policy Brief

State Department Plays Key Role in New U.S. China Strategy

The White House on May 26 unveiled its new strategic approach to China, which seeks to export its authoritarian political system around the world in order to dominate regions, co-opt or coerce international organizations, create economic conditions favorable to China alone, and displace democratic institutions. The State Department plays a key role in implementing the new strategy, and it already has plans under way to support three key areas of the approach: promoting American prosperity, advancing American influence, and preserving peace through strength.

The new approach seeks to operationalize the U.S. National Security Strategy of 2017, which initially identified China as a principal threat to U.S. national security.

The State Department has developed two unique programs to promote economic prosperity and advance American influence: the Blue Dot Network (BDN) and the Economic Prosperity Network (EPN).

The BDN will directly counter China’s One Belt One Road concept by offering alternatives to Chinese infrastructure development based on shared standards and certification for global infrastructure development. As the Foundation for Defense of Democracies’ Elaine Dezenski has written, when fully implemented, the BDN will support the BUILD Act of 2018, which seeks to facilitate responsible infrastructure investments in developing nations. The BDN will mitigate risk and attract private capital by certifying projects that meet international standards.

Most importantly, the BDN will provide an alternative for countries that fear China’s debt trap diplomacy, which currently threatens some 23 countries around the world by leveraging their deep indebtedness to Beijing to secure military and diplomatic concessions.

The EPN will create an alliance of trusted partners consisting of nations, companies, and civil society groups that desire to abide by common standards and practices. When this network is implemented, economic activity will be rooted in shared values, ensuring that like-minded nations prosper together.

The essential U.S. organization for advancing American influence is State’s Global Engagement Center (GEC). This organization is charged with orchestrating the messaging of the federal government to counter disinformation and propaganda from state and non-state actors.

However, the GEC must shift from reactive countering of disinformation to proactive messaging. It must take the initiative to advance the concepts of BDN and EPN and to base messaging on fundamental American values. The U.S. competition with China is ideological, and the GEC must develop themes and messages around freedom and individual liberty, liberal democracy, free-market economic principles, rule of law, and human rights.

Finally, State makes a critical contribution to the concept of ‘peace through strength’ by leading American efforts to sustain and advance the nation’s alliances. The U.S. alliance structure is one of the most important elements of national power and is crucial to U.S. military strength. With a strong and robust alliance system, the U.S. military is able to improve the capabilities of friends, partners, and allies and project U.S. power to key locations to deter conflict.

State is leaning forward with its innovative BDN and EPN programs and ample experience building and sustaining alliances. The department has the right tools to advance American interest through the GEC. However, shifting from a reactive counter-propaganda focus to a proactive, values-based messaging campaign is necessary to successfully implement the new approach that is required to compete with China.

David Maxwell, a 30-year veteran of the U.S. Army and a retired Special Forces colonel, is a senior fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies (FDD), where he also contributes to FDD’s Center on Military and Political Power (CMPP). For more analysis from David and CMPP, please subscribe HERE. Follow David on Twitter @davidmaxwell161. Follow FDD on Twitter @FDD and @FDD_CMPP. FDD is a Washington, DC-based, nonpartisan research institute focusing on national security and foreign policy.


China Military and Political Power U.S. Defense Policy and Strategy