The South American colonel and I sat on rickety stools around a small campfire.

“The United States has been our good friend for many years and has given us much assistance,” he said in the flickering light.

“But you must understand that the hand of China is outstretched and it holds many good things.” He continued, “While we wish to grasp the hand of the United States, we are patriots, and we must choose our friendships carefully based on what is best for our country.”

While my mission was to prepare the colonel and his soldiers for a United Nations peacekeeping mission, I wished that senators and congressional representatives could have heard the warning that he was giving about Chinese expansionism. Many leaders in developing nations face the difficult choice of continuing alliance with the United States or choosing to align themselves with China because of more lucrative development projects or financial assistance.

According to the Brookings Institution, China’s “Belt and Road Initiative” expands its influence throughout Asia and beyond. Closer to home, China is also establishing a growing economic presence in South America.

If China was an honest broker who complied with international law, we would have no reason to fear its growing power and influence. However we know that China, under the stern rule of the Communist Party, is a malign actor who persecutes minority peoples, intimidates neighbors in the South China Sea, and flagrantly steals intellectual properties. China is also guilty of numerous clandestine efforts to destabilize our nation and create chaos, many of which are classified. Perhaps most ominously we know that China is poised to influence our elections.

The current administration has been correct in recognizing the threat that China poses to the community of free and democratic nations. But President Trump’s inconsistent behavior and rhetoric, which has veered from overtures of friendship with Xi Jingping to threats, tariffs, and sanctions, have left China and the rest of the world guessing about our intentions.

Most recently Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has attempted to form a coalition of nations to oppose China. Sadly Pompeo’s efforts are doomed to failure because the Trump administration has weakened or rejected many of our international partnerships. The administration’s withdrawal from agreements like the Paris Agreement on climate, the disrespect for developing nations, the opposition to the European Union, and the lukewarm support for NATO have all served to diminish our ability to lead a partnership of nations united in their opposition to the misbehavior of China.

Writing in Foreign Affairs , former Vice President Joe Biden presented his view of the U.S.-China relationship: “To win the competition for the future against China or anyone else, the United States must sharpen its innovative edge and unite the economic might of democracies around the world to counter abusive economic practices and reduce inequality.”

Biden is well suited to rebuild international partnerships and reestablish the United States as the leader of democratic nations who oppose the unlawful behavior of China. Because of his many years of experience in government and on the international stage, including chairmanship of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Biden is a trusted, experienced statesman. His unique skills, relationships, and experience enable him to forge a coalition of free nations that can oppose China’s malign actions and check its expansionism.

In November American voters must choose to set our nation on a course to regain our position of international leadership under the direction of a president who will rebuild our strength through international partnerships. The alternative is the failed doctrine of “America First” that has resulted in our isolation and loss of influence in the community of free nations.

As the South American colonel warned, America in isolation is dangerously vulnerable to an expansionist China whose international power grows unchecked, even on our own doorstep.

Brig. Gen. Paul Gregory Smith is a graduate of the U.S. Army War College and has served as a visiting instructor there. During his 35-year military career he served as a military advisor in South America and as the commander of military forces during numerous emergencies, including the 2013 Boston Marathon Bombings response. He currently teaches counterterrorism and leadership college courses.

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