Mackinder Forum Colin Gray Memorial Lecture – Virtual Seminar #76: The Honorable John Hillen, “Laying the Groundwork for a U.S. Grand Strategy for the China Challenge”

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The Honorable John Hillen was the third presenter in the Mackinder Forum’s Colin Gray Memorial Lecture Series. The title of his talk was “Laying the Groundwork for a U.S. Grand Strategy for the China Challenge.” He addressed the Mackinder Forum on Wednesday, April 19, 2023, 10:30-noon Eastern U.S. Time.

Abstract: Over the past few decades, American strategy toward the People’s Republic of China has been all over the map, both literally and figuratively. On the one hand, in some places US interactions with China are oriented toward confrontation. If one were to look only at the US geopolitical and military rivalry with China in East Asia, once could well conclude that the US is in a cold war with China that could well turn hot — mostly over territorial disputes in the region. On the other hand, America’s economic dealings with China are generally focused on cooperation and integration, especially in the commercial sphere.  Nongovernmental organizations and the parts of our government that are concerned with human rights and religious freedom rightly condemn China as one of the most oppressive regimes on the planet today.  In other areas, ranging from technology to espionage to cyber warfare to asserting global influence, the US maintains that China is a competitor, but it has no comprehensive plan to compete across these and other spheres.

The American government responds to events — haphazardly at times, as it did with the Chinese spy balloon over the country — but its responses are piecemeal and not tied in with a unified strategy. These disjointed moves happen when they happen, often coming out in little dribbles of policy: a new military approach here, a new export-control rule there, a regulatory change from one or another government agency, a tariff or investment or trade restriction, a congressional hearing on this or that topic. Many US actions are not in congruence with each other, so the total effect is limited at best. This incoherence in the US approach to the rivalry with China strengthens its position and weakens America’s.  The US should want to correct that fundamental flaw in its grand strategy.  In this talk and based on his recent cover piece in National Review magazine, Hillen will offer the outlines of a comprehensive American strategy toward China — not just a list of new policies, but a vision that does not seesaw between confrontation and belligerence, on the one hand, and value-neutral cooperation and accommodation on the other. Rather, the strategy will be integrated, with all the various elements supporting each other, based on a renewal of competitiveness in all manifestations of American power.

Biography: The Honorable Dr. John Hillen is an award-winning CEO and leadership expert, former Assistant Secretary of State, public intellectual, decorated combat veteran, and professor.   He currently serves as the James C. Wheat Professor in Leadership at historic Hampden-Sydney College in Virginia and is the Board chairman or a Director of four companies.   Unanimously confirmed by the Senate in 2005, Hillen served as the Assistant Secretary of State for Political-Military Affairs in the second half of the Bush administration and in that capacity spent much of his time with U.S. and allied troops in war zones from Iraq to Afghanistan to the southern Philippines. He has written or edited several books on international security affairs and has published articles in dozens of journals and newspapers, including Foreign AffairsThe New York TimesThe Wall Street Journal, and The Washington Post. He has appeared on every major television network and was an on-air commentator for ABC News for a number of years.  Hillen, who served for 12 years as an Army reconnaissance officer and paratrooper, was awarded the Bronze Star for his role in the Battle of the 73 Easting during Operation Desert Storm. He recently spent nine years on the Chief of Naval Operations Executive Panel, the federal advisory committee supporting the head of the U.S. Navy and received the Navy’s Meritorious Public Service Award in 2017. He was the military advisor on the original Call of Duty video game series set in World War II.  In 2020 he was inducted into the US Army’s national ROTC hall of fame.  Dr. Hillen graduated from Duke University with degrees in public policy studies and history and was awarded a Fulbright Scholarship after graduation. He holds a master’s degree in war studies from King’s College London, a doctorate in international relations from Oxford University, and an MBA from the Johnson School of Management at Cornell University.

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