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The China Challenge: Lessons from the Cold War

Ronald Reagan’s Lessons for the China Challenge

By Peter Berkowitz

Despite the partisan enmities coursing through the American body politic, right and left in the United States have been converging over the last three years in their baleful assessment of the People’s Republic of China’s conduct and aims. Like the Trump administration, the Biden administration views China as an authoritarian state and strategic competitor. And, according to a growing consensus in Congress, to the detriment of American security, freedom, and prosperity, Beijing advances authoritarian norms and goals to reshape world order.

The China challenge differs in crucial respects from the Soviet challenge. To name one: The Communist Party of the Soviet Union held approximately half of Europe captive for almost five decades and specialized in exporting weapons and communist revolution around the world. In contrast, the Chinese Communist Party—notwithstanding its formidable military, its crushing of freedom in Hong Kong, and its threats to seize Taiwan—is largely content to let peoples and nations govern themselves. Instead, it uses its enormous commercial might and the lure of its vast consumer markets to snare other countries in relations of dependence and subservience.

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