Robert F. Kennedy Jr.’s Dismissal of China Military Threat ‘Dangerously Naive’: Retired Colonel

By Eva Fu
Eva Fu
Eva Fu
Reporter
Eva Fu is a New York-based writer for The Epoch Times focusing on U.S. politics, U.S.-China relations, religious freedom, and human rights. Contact Eva at eva.fu@epochtimes.com
June 10, 2023Updated: July 3, 2023

Robert F. Kennedy’s view that China doesn’t pose a military threat to the United States is misguided and doesn’t align with reality, according to analysts.

In a Twitter Spaces conversation earlier this week with the platform’s owner Elon Musk, the Democrat presidential candidate called for the United States to engage with China in talks and compete with the country economically but not militarily.

“The Chinese cannot and do not want to compete with us militarily,” Kennedy said. “So it’s kind of a self-fulfilling prophecy that says, ‘Oh, the Chinese want to be our enemy and have a military competition,’ they don’t. What we should be doing is de-escalating military pressure on China.”

While rebuilding U.S. industrial base is a top priority for Kennedy in potential negotiations with China, he believes that the regime has been a lot better at “projecting economic power abroad.”

“We think the world is on our side, but it isn’t. All we’ve got—the only people who are supporting this pugnacious, bellicose relationship with China are Australia, New Zealand, Korea, Japan, Britain, Canada,” he said. “We’re pretty much alone in the world. The rest of the world is looking at us and saying, What the heck are you doing? Why are you trying to create a war with China? Why are you fighting them over?”

“They don’t want war, they want peace and they want prosperity, and that cannot happen where there’s a war,” he said, adding that the United States should “de-escalate the war talk” on issues such as Taiwan and seek “a smart negotiation where we do better because of China.”

“Let’s let they—Taiwan and China—work out that issue on their own and back off militarily.”

While the CIA director William Burns made a secret trip to China last month to thaw relations with Beijing, Kennedy said he wanted to have a “real political and economic discussion” with the Chinese side that is “that is frank and where everybody puts their cards on the table, to see if there are ways that we can work with each other peacefully and keep the world at ease.”

‘Dangerously Naive’

To John Mills, a retired Army colonel who previously oversaw cybersecurity policy and international affairs at the Department of Defense, the remarks indicate that Kennedy is “almost dangerously naive as to the malign behavior of China.”

“I’m a little puzzled by his comments,” Mills, a contributor to The Epoch Times, said in an interview. “He has strong opinions on the virus and the vaccine. Well, where does he think the virus came from? It’s kind of incongruent.”

Expanding its military power and overseas presence has been one of the top priorities for Beijing. In March, Chinese leader Xi Jinping renewed his call for faster development of a “world-class military,” months after he ordered the Chinese military to strengthen its preparation for war.

Epoch Times Photo
Chinese Army soldiers assembling during military training at the Pamir Mountains in Kashgar, northwestern China’s Xinjiang region on Jan. 4, 2021. (STR/AFP via Getty Images)

Pentagon reports estimate that Beijing will acquire 1,000 nuclear weapons by 2030 and 1,500 by 2035. House Armed Services Committee Chairman Mike Rogers (R-Ala.) has said the regime now has more intercontinental ballistic missile launchers than the United States. China also has the largest navy in the world, and is rapidly producing warships. Its naval force has an estimated 340 ships and submarines as of 2022, a number that will bloat to 440 by the end of the decade, according to a 2022 Pentagon report.

“I don’t think Mr. Kennedy fully understands the gravity of how this is rapidly pivoting toward a military confrontation, which is not of our making,” said Mills. “Their arms factories are humming, ours are not coming.”

Failed Engagement Policies

Grant Newsham, a retired U.S. Marine colonel and senior fellow at the Japan Forum for Strategic Studies, noted that what Kennedy advocated was the “U.S. policy for most of the last 50 years until Donald J. Trump came along.”

“What we did was accommodate the PRC—and, in fact, appease the PRC in the expectation that it would liberalize and become a ‘responsible stakeholder’—and a threat to nobody,” he told The Epoch Times in an email. Part of that support, he said, included “shipping a huge part of our manufacturing to China—and putting millions of Americans out of work” while allowing the Chinese military to grow.

The Trump administration shifted toward a hardline stance toward China. Reverting back to the policy of engagement and dialogue, though, would be just what Beijing wishes, said Newsham, an Epoch Times contributor.

“The Chinese communists have been very fortunate over the years to have many Americans in positions of influence who have naively or intentionally undercut America’s interests and allowed China to develop into a first-class threat to the U.S. and the free world writ large,” he said. “The Chinese military has undertaken the biggest, fastest build-up in history (largely funded by U.S. dollars)—despite facing no enemies.”

Epoch Times Photo
China’s DF-41 nuclear-capable intercontinental ballistic missiles are seen during a military parade at Tiananmen Square in Beijing, on Oct. 1, 2019. (Greg Baker/AFP via Getty Images)

Newsham questioned how the U.S. economic relationship with China can be “mutually beneficial,” citing China’s entry into the World Trade Organization with U.S. backing in 2001 that had failed to force Beijing to open its economy.

“China was allowed into the World Trade Organization despite meeting none of the requirements. It promised to comply with the rules and still hasn’t, and it shows no sign of complying,” he said, describing Beijing’s national strategy as “to dominate every industry that matters—and to achieve that goal by hook or by crook.”

Newsham sees the belief that Beijing wants peace and prosperity rather than a military conflict as mistaken at best, noting that in Chinese state media and official releases, the regime has been clear about its ambition to overturn the U.S.-led world order.

“Without American help, Taiwan will only be able to negotiate the terms of its surrender to Beijing. Let Taiwan come under CCP control and Asia will turn red overnight, and no country anywhere will believe America’s promises of protection—or its ability to fend off Chinese aggression.”

USS Chung-Hoon
The USS Chung-Hoon observes a Chinese navy ship conduct what it called an “unsafe” Chinese maneuver in the Taiwan Strait, on June 3, 2023. (Mass Communication Specialist 1st Class Andre Richard/U.S. Navy via AP)

Neither Newsham nor Mills considers it accurate to state that the United States is “pretty much alone” in confronting threats from China.

“Those are the top military forces outside the China sphere,” Mills said as he went over the countries on Kennedy’s list, noting that India, which has toughened up on China since the deadly border clashes, will likely side with the United States.

And contrary to Kennedy’s argument that the U.S. military spending is excessive, the United States should ready itself militarily, said Mills.

When “faced with an aggressive totalitarian state,” he said, “the more we prepare, the less likely there will be war.”

And whatever action the United States takes is setting the example for the rest of the world, noted Newsham.

“People everywhere are looking to the United States for leadership against the PRC [People’s Republic of China] and its aggressive, totalitarian, communist regime,” he said.

Newsham holds the view that “we should do nothing that benefits” China’s communist regime economically, “which effectively is building up our enemy that seeks to destroy us.”

And instead of the United States seeking a dialogue with China, Newsham believes that such a step should start from the other end.

“If China wants to talk to us, they know the number,” he said. “And this should be the nature of our relationship until China is governed by a consensually chosen government and there is some real vestige of individual rights and liberties in the country.”

In a statement to The Epoch Times, Kennedy’s campaign team said the presidential hopeful “will maintain strong military deterrence against China without being deliberately provocative.”

“He believes that China does not want war. The best counter to China is to restore our economic strength,” the statement read.

This article has been updated with a statement from the Kennedy campaign.