Chinese propaganda outlet continues daily delivery to Congress
Republicans are challenging House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D., Calif.) to stop the distribution of Chinese propaganda on Capitol Hill, according to a letter exclusively obtained by the Washington Free Beacon.
Rep. Jim Banks (R., Ind.), a member of the GOP-led China task force, has petitioned the Department of Justice and congressional employees to stop China Daily, a Chinese Communist Party-controlled propaganda outlet, from delivering its papers to the Capitol every morning. Now Banks and four other House Republicans are taking the issue to the very top of House leadership, asking for Pelosi to intervene.
“I assume you are just as outraged as I am by the presence of such disgusting lies in our nation’s legislature,” the letter to the House speaker reads. “This is an opportunity for you to … prove to voters the Democrat Party also takes the China threat seriously. It’s time for you to end the proliferation of Chinese-state propaganda in the United States’ Congress.”
The letter comes at a time of mounting scrutiny of the activities of Chinese propaganda outlets in the United States. In February, the Chinese government kicked out U.S. journalists reporting on the coronavirus outbreak, prompting the Trump administration to designate Chinese propaganda outlets, including China Daily, as “foreign missions” and demand that they drastically reduce their staff. The new designation requires the outlets to follow the same administrative requirements as embassies and consulates. After China retaliated by expelling even more journalists, the White House required several more Chinese outlets to comply with the regulation on Monday.
China Daily has delivered its papers to the doorsteps of many congressional offices for years now, disseminating a consistently pro-CCP and anti-American viewpoint to hundreds of members of Congress and their staffers. The outlet, for example, has capitalized on recent unrest in American cities stemming from the death of George Floyd to deflect from its own human rights abuses in Hong Kong.
Pelosi’s office did not respond to a request for comments.
China Daily has distributed propaganda in the United States since 1983, according to federal disclosures filed with the Department of Justice. The disclosures also show that the Chinese government funneled millions of dollars to the mouthpiece, which then used that money to purchase more than 500 pages of advertorials—propaganda articles meant to look like legitimate news items—in the pages of the New York Times, Washington Post, and other major news outlets. Banks and 34 other members of Congress previously demanded a Justice Department probe into the matter, citing a Free Beacon report that found the paper has failed to comply with federal disclosure requirements for decades.
“There is no question the United States is facing a set of unique challenges right now,” the letter to Pelosi read. “As we’d expect, our adversaries are trying to take advantage of the moment to undermine America’s global leadership. Perhaps no one is seizing the moment more than China.”ADVERTISING
Banks has repeatedly demanded an end to the circulation of the propaganda outlet, first raising the issue to Philip Kiko, Congress’s chief administrative officer, and the Department of Justice in September. After Kiko told Banks that the issue was outside his jurisdiction, the congressman then asked the Committee on House Administration to stop the paper’s distribution in December. According to the letter, however, Banks’s petition to the committee fell on deaf ears, prompting the legislators to take the matter to Pelosi.
“I sent letters to Congress’s Chief Administrative Officer and to the Chairperson and Ranking Member of the Committee on House Administration asking for help,” the letter says. “Unfortunately, I didn’t receive any; so, I’m turning to you as Speaker of the House. I ask you: How is Chinese propaganda arriving on my doorstep each morning when the Capitol is closed to the public? And what are you going to do about it?”
The Department of Justice did not respond to a request for comment about the status of Banks’s request.
Rep. Greg Steube (R., Fla.), a signatory of the letter, said that Pelosi and House Democrats must stop the distribution of the propaganda in their own backyards if they want to show that they are serious about the threat posed by the Chinese government.
“Speaker Pelosi and House Democrats clearly do not take the threats from China seriously if they allow CCP propaganda to circulate the halls of Congress,” he said. “This is weakness, not leadership at a time when we desperately need to hold China accountable for their role in spreading a global pandemic and widespread economic hardship.”
Our national security should require that all remaining Confucius Institutes on American soil be shut down — immediately.
A concerned student at Binghamton University, a public university in New York, challenged the propriety of the school’s partnership with the China-funded Confucius Institute on its campus earlier this year. Last month, the university published an imperious rebuff to the inquiry.
“The campus is confident that the concerns you raise in your email do not apply to Binghamton University’s [Confucius] Institute,” wrote the school’s attorney.
Simply put: Move along. There’s nothing to see here.
But the FBI is moving in the opposite direction. In 2018, FBI Director Christopher Wray testified before a Senate committee, declaring his intention to investigate the Chinese Communist Party-funded Confucius Institutes on American college campuses.
Confucius Institutes are ostensibly educational partnerships between the Chinese government and host schools in foreign countries. Their stated purpose is to teach language and culture, but they do much more than that.
Professor Jonathan Lipman of Mount Holyoke College explains, “By peddling a product we want, namely Chinese language study, the Confucius Institutes bring the Chinese government into the American academy in powerful ways. The general pattern is very clear. They can say, ‘We’ll give you this money, you’ll have a Chinese program, and nobody will talk about Tibet.’” Tibet is one of the three “T-words” (Tibet, Taiwan, and Tiananmen) that cannot be discussed at the institutes, in violation of academic freedom and free speech.
Confucius Institute funding is tied to China Politburo member Liu Yandong, who formerly led the United Front Work Department. Steven Mosher of the Population Research Institute testified before Congress that the United Front Work Department’s purpose is “to subvert, coopt, and ultimately control Western academic discourse on matters pertaining to China.”
New York University historian Jonathan Zimmerman cautions that Confucius Institutes bear an alarming resemblance to the 1930s “Mussolini model” of funding “Italian language centers” in the United States to promote fascist propaganda. In light of academic freedom and transparency violations, Wray testified again in 2019, saying Confucius Institutes are “part of China’s soft power strategy and influence,” which “offer a platform to disseminate Chinese government or Chinese Communist Party propaganda, to encourage censorship, to restrict academic freedom.”
In announcing the FBI’s planned probe into campuses with Confucius Institutes, Wray corroborated what higher education researchers have warned for some time: These Confucius Institutes are not really educational projects and have no business being associated with higher learning institutions. They are propaganda centers planted on America’s campuses as part of China’s worldwide intelligence operations.
American colleges and universities depend for their existence on academic freedom and the transparency that supports it. Confucius Institutes, however, have been shown to abuse academic freedom and mock transparency.
It is thus heartening to see that roughly two dozen U.S. universities have moved to close their Confucius Institutes since 2014. In 2013, University of Chicago Professor Emeritus Marshall Sahlins penned an articleasking, “China U: Confucius Institutes censor political discussions and restrain the free exchange of ideas. Why, then, do American universities sponsor them?” He urged his university to set an example by revoking its partnership. In 2014, his university did just that, as did Penn State.
That said, about 80 schools still continue their ill-advised “partnerships” with these propaganda organs of the Chinese Communist Party.
Joining in opposition to Confucius Institutes in America are the national executive board of the College Democrats of America (along with 15 of its state presidents), the executive committee and national committee of the College Republican National Committee, Students for a Free Tibet, the Intercollegiate Taiwanese American Students Association, Students for Falun Gong, and a number of other organizations, all of which can be found by going to the website of the movement’s organizing body, the Athenai Institute.
The American Association of University Professors — hardly a right-wing organization — called on universities in 2014 to drop their Confucius Institutes, finding that they “function as an arm of the Chinese state and are allowed to ignore academic freedom.” The Canadian Association of University Teachers urged universities to get rid of them as well.
This exodus is not restricted to American educators. This year, Sweden closed its last remaining Confucius Institute. A 2014 Washington Post editorial argued that “academic freedom cannot have a price tag,” urging that Confucius Institute partnerships should be terminated if universities refuse to publish the terms of their contracts with them.
However, too many American universities continue muzzled. According to the National Association of Scholars (NAS), which has been keen to this threat for some time, as of May 1, there are a total of 86 Confucius Institutes in this country. “This includes six that are scheduled to close in summer 2020: the University of Maryland, New Mexico State University, the University of Missouri, the University of Arizona, Miami University of Ohio, and the University of California-Davis.” NAS also found seven institutes at K-12 public school districts.
That roughly 80 universities have failed to safeguard their institutions’ commitment to free speech against these propaganda efforts means that either they lack the moral fiber required to defend American core values, or they were never that hot about American values in the first place.
Consider the recent survey conducted by the nonpartisan Foundation for Individual Rights in Education, which found that 77 percent of colleges now use secret social media blacklists “to censor the public, in violation of the First Amendment.” Or perhaps it’s a third option: Is it all about the money? Lipman remarks, “In this economy, turning [Confucius Institutes] down has real costs.”
NAS reveals that the Chinese government “selects and pays the teachers, sends free textbooks, and offers upwards of $100,000 a year in annual funding” for the institutes. Although universities “are supposed to match” China’s contributions, they “typically do so by volunteering classroom and office space. The result is that colleges can charge tuition for courses that are being funded — and whose content is largely being decided — by the Chinese government” (emphasis added).
NAS’s findings are supported by a study published in The China Journal by Brookings Institution fellow David Shambaugh, who found that the funding “is in fact laundered through the Ministry of Education.” Laundered from where? From communist China’s External Propaganda Department.
If you still wonder about the purpose of Confucius Institutes, consider this assessment from someone who should know. Li Changchun, a member of the Politburo Standing Committee, praised the institutes as “an important part of China’s overseas propaganda set-up.”
What can be done? A number of proposed remedies are already circulating. In addition to sounding the alarm, NAS has called on schools that accept Confucius Institute dollars to refund the same amount back to the federal government, as well as enforce federal transparency requirements on the institutes. These and like measures would be a good start.
Better still, our national security should require that all remaining Confucius Institutes on American soil be shut down — immediately.
Legislation would boost public-private partnership, cut regulations
The United States is falling behind China when it comes to emerging technologies such as artificial intelligence and quantum computing, according to Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers (R., Wash.), who told the Washington Free Beaconshe is working on a package of legislative measures that would boost public-private partnerships to ensure the United States does not lose its competitive edge in these markets.
As China invests $1.4 trillion over the next five years to dominate the field of cutting-edge technologies, the United States must create its own plan to foster innovation in this area, McMorris Rodgers said. Her plan, which is garnering support among House Republicans, would increase federal research into new technologies and remove much of the bureaucratic red tape currently restraining the private sector. While the United States cannot compete by throwing money at the problem, it can eliminate many of the restrictions that have prevented the federal government from partnering with private tech startups already making inroads into these technologies.
“We will never outspend them, we will never out-subsidize these industries like the Chinese government plans to do,” McMorris Rodgers, a member of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, told the Free Beacon.
Instead, Republicans aim to level the playing field with an unprecedented legislative package comprised of 15 bills that would force the federal government to identify the areas where it is lagging behind China and work with the private sector to spur growth. This includes beefing up American investments into A.I., facial recognition technology, blockchains, quantum computing, and unmanned delivery services—all areas where China is outpacing the United States due to massive investments.
The legislative package is one of the largest and most comprehensive currently circulating on Capitol Hill. It is part of a larger push by Republican members in the House and Senate to combat China’s massive investment in cutting edge tech at a time when the world is becoming increasingly dependent on the communist regime.
The private sector has become more attractive to the federal government as bloated budgets and bureaucratic regulations slow its foray into a range of fields. These types of partnerships proved successful during the weekend when the United States launched its first man-based mission into space in nearly a decade. NASA partnered with tech billionaire Elon Musk’s SpaceX to make that mission a reality.
Some Democrats, however, have already balked at the GOP plan, citing concerns about privacy and the potential for civil rights abuses by government authorities. They maintain that these technologies could be used for unethical purposes—much in the way China has used them to solidify its police state and spy on dissidents. If the GOP does not find a way to compromise with its colleagues in the Democrat-controlled House, the bills could be dead on arrival.
Nine of the bills included in the GOP package identify new fields of research where the federal government can help spur private-sector innovation. They include A.I., 3D printing, facial recognition technology, and other new technologies still in development. All of the bills would require the Federal Trade Commission and Commerce Department to identify roadblocks preventing innovation in these fields and then create a plan to reduce bureaucratic challenges, such as restrictions on interstate commerce.
Another set of bills seeks to create protections for sensitive U.S. data to ensure the Chinese government does not intercept them, which comes on the heels of reports about China’s efforts to steal sensitive U.S. research and infiltrate the American academic system.
Other legislative efforts would require the federal government to assess its partnerships with tech startups and other smaller private businesses focusing on fields of interest.
McMorris Rodgers said the coronavirus pandemic has exacerbated concerns about China’s influence on the global stage, exposing the United States’ weaknesses and vulnerabilities.
Republican lawmakers also want the United States to directly combat China’s weaponization of new technologies that allow it to promote misinformation. One of the bills in the legislative package directs the Federal Trade Commission to determine how A.I. can be used to combat propaganda, such as deepfakes—videos altered to make it appear as if people are saying and doing things they are not.
If we’ve learned anything from the COVID-19 virus, it is that dependence on the Communist country is dangerous. For example, the Chinese authorities stopped a ship in transit filled with paid-for medical supplies at a strategic moment, hoping to hold us hostage. The Communist regime mixes all Chinese businesses with its military objectives using economics, trade and a growing dominance in the high-tech world to make their power and military might in the world greater.
That party has even bragged of its future capacity to attack and defeat the United States during an international pandemic. We must understand therefore that China isn’t merely a trading partner, it is also a dangerous international enemy. In response, we must always maintain a strong military. That is obvious. But what may not be quite so obvious, but every bit as important:
We must maintain our high-tech advantages and not make ourselves dependent upon a hostile power.
The Trump administration has been aware of these risks and has taken steps to stop China’s high-tech adventurism.
The administration recently enacted restrictions on Chinese tech company Huawei, which is infamous for placing backdoors in their chips so that the communist regime has control over any device with Huawei chipsets. This alone should make it clear the U.S. can never allow itself to become dependent upon China for its technology. Imagine American fighter jets, radars and missile defense that would work only if the communist regime in China decided not to switch them off.
This is why it seemed to be good news when the world’s third-largest chip maker, Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Company (TSMC), and the Trump administration recently announced TSMC’s plans to build a large chip manufacturing facility in Arizona, bringing in over 1,600 good-paying high-tech jobs. It also puts a major chip manufacturing facility on U.S. soil.
If we look more deeply into the details though, there is lot that needs to be improved if this deal is to truly advance America’s economic and security interests.
First, the deal would build a factory that when complete will be building yesterday’s chip sets. The factory is currently planned to make 5 nanometer chips. But the next generation 3 nanometer chips are just a few years off. Given that the factory won’t be fully complete until 2030, it should be built to manufacture the highest tech chips — not ones that will be a generation behind by then. The 5 nanometer chips may still be used widely in consumer electronics in the future, but they won’t be the most powerful, efficient and capable chip sets needed for the most demanding applications.
Bottom line: We won’t be getting a facility capable of manufacturing the highest tech chip sets that will be needed in the future. However, TSMC is updating some of its facilities in Asia to build these next generation 3 nanometer chipsets. So we should insist that if we’re going to build a chip factory in the U.S., it must be a top of the line, high-tech factory — not yesterday’s tech.
The planned factory would also have a relatively low monthly output capacity. Other TSMC factories can produce more than five times the monthly capacity of the proposed U.S. factory. If the planned factory is too small to truly act as a counterweight to China’s plans or to make us truly independent of China’s high-tech tentacles, it doesn’t actually do that much to make America stronger or safer. We should insist therefore that the factory capacity be expanded to make it a true counter-balance to China’s aims.
Here is a solution to all of these concerns — the U.S. requires TSMC as a condition of the deal to form a joint venture with an American firm. It could increase the available funding to build a factory capable of manufacturing the latest and greatest and most powerful chipsets. Moreover, it would allow the factory to be built bigger so that its monthly capacity qualifies it as a true, cutting edge “Gigafab” facility. And finally, a joint venture with an American firm would insulate the venture from China’s active efforts to co-opt strategic businesses and thereby make America and others dependent or at risk to China’s designs.
The Trump administration is smart to build positive relationships that strengthen America and reduce our dependence upon China. But the details matter, and the deal with TSMC needs some serious improvement if it is to truly end our dependence on high tech semiconductors that are within China’s orbit. The last 30 years have been disastrous for American manufacturing. China has been the primary beneficiary of those wrong-headed policies, taxes and regulations that drove business overseas. Hopefully, the COVID-19 virus has woken us up to the malignancy of the communist regime and the risks of relying up on it for things that are fundamental to our security.
Exactly how the COVID-19 virus found its way to humans isn’t entirely clear. But it is clear is that once the virus was out and people were dying, the communist Chinese regime did little to stop the world from getting sick. While they quietly locked down travel within China to limit spread of the virus, they did nothing to stop Chinese global travel that spread it and they employed the World Health Organization to support their claims that there was nothing to worry about. And when America locked down travel from China, they howled racism.
The communist regime also began hoarding medical supplies and equipment, while telling the world the virus wasn’t transmitted via human contact. Once more was known, China began to blame others — including Italy and the U.S. for the virus.
Everything they appear to do is motivated by gaining power and control over their own people and the world’s population. They see everything — not merely missiles, bombers and submarines, but also food, medicine, shipping, trade, etc. — as a weapon to be used to strengthen their stranglehold on power.
We must remember that this communist regime murders its own citizens in death camps and harvests their organs. It brutally oppresses the people of Hong Kong. It spies on its own people and tracks their movement so that it can punish them for worshiping or visiting the “wrong” friends.
These unpleasant truths have caused America to wake up and ask if it should be so dependent upon China for critically important things like medicine, medical equipment and other goods and services required in the high-tech world. The answer is now an obvious no.
We should also examine how China has been making America more and more dependent in other areas. We now understand this is not merely an economic issue, it goes to the very health, strength and sustainability of our nation’s long-term survival.
International trade is a huge driver of every nation’s economic health, and 90% of all global trade is transported by ship. It should not surprise you to learn that China has quietly made itself the dominant player in international shipping. They’ve purchased strategic ports around the globe and are by far the world’s largest subsidizer of shipbuilding. This is all part of the regime’s strategic plan to dominate world trade and make itself the world’s sole economic and military super-power. You can be 100% sure this power will not be used to promote freedom, opportunity or security. Look at Hong Kong and you know how that power will be abused.
The U.S. used to be a major player in international shipping and shipbuilding. But for a variety of reasons, the U.S. is now a minor player. Currently, China is building 1,291 ocean-going ships. The U.S. has only 8 under construction. Bangladesh meanwhile is building 56. Let that sink in. The U.S. now operates less than 1/2 of 1 percent of ocean-going maritime ships.
In the last several years, foreign powers and some domestic voices have been pushing for the U.S. to allow foreign shippers to take over domestic shipping routes within the territorial waters of the U.S. To do that, would require the repeal or substantial revision of the Jones Act, a move China would love. They could run their ships up and down the Mississippi with high tech electronics in our heartland gathering intelligence and at the same time make America entirely dependent upon them for our shipping and commerce.
This is why the Jones Act is needed now more than ever. It allows for any nation to ship goods to or from America, but within America and between its internal ports, shipping must be handled by American ships and American crews. These American ships and American crews work in our heartland and when the U.S. military needs their sealift capability, they stand at the ready. Do we really want to ask China to fill that role?
The purposes of the Jones Act are something that even free market champion Adam Smith endorsed in his seminal work, The Wealth of Nations. Moreover, the very first Congress, populated by signers of the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence passed the first version of the Jones Act.
The idea that we should let China expand its power within the territory of the United States is simply insane. Standing by and letting China tighten its grip on international commerce will eventually be our downfall if we don’t wake up. If this wasn’t clear before this pandemic, it is now painfully obvious.
Technologies such as the Electromagnetic Launch System (EMALS) support the U.S. military
With the nation’s attention largely focused on the coronavirus, less noticed are threats to our national safety and security that are both long-running and evolving throughout the world — on land, sea, air, and increasingly in cyber and outer space. Losing sight of these threats would be a grave mistake.
Now more than ever, our nation’s leaders must double down on strengthening our military and embracing innovation to protect America and project power when necessary in an unstable, dangerous world. To do so effectively, it is critical that we invest in and equip our men and women in uniform with the most technologically advanced tools and weapons of war available.
Make no mistake, global competitors like China and Russia and rogue states like Iran and North Korea are working diligently to enhance their military capabilities in the hopes of eroding America’s competitive edge.
Fortunately, President Trump has made re-establishing our military strength and global position in the world a national priority after years of neglect during the Obama administration. He has insisted that while the Department of Defense pursues and invests in next-generation technologies, it must do so with taxpayers’ money in mind. And with a defense-wide review underway, expect even more fiscally-minded reforms to materialize over the next several years.
For example, the Ford-class aircraft carriers currently under production are poised to significantly expand our military capabilities, improve the quality of onboard life for our deployed sailors — and exploit the benefits of cutting-edge technologies. The USS Gerald R. Ford (CVN-78), the first of the Ford-class, returned to sea in January and has now completed aircraft compatibility testing, flight deck certification, and other critical milestones in making the carrier battle-ready.
Mr. Trump has paid keen attention to these new carriers — and he has continuously addressed costs associated with their production. In fact, earlier this year, the Trump administration doubled down on its commitment to the Ford-class by convening the “Make Ford Ready” summit to ensure CVN-78 meets its cost targets moving forward.
These modern carriers are equipped with the latest technologies that ensure our troops will be able to protect our nation at a moment’s notice, whether in the Strait of Hormuz or the South China Sea. They are faster, more lethal, more durable and more technologically advanced than any other carrier ever put to sea by any country. And one key advantage which will improve performance, save money and protect American lives (or take the enemy’s when needed) is the carrier’s electromagnetic launch system technology, which was conceived, developed and produced here in the U.S.
The Electromagnetic Aircraft Launch System — EMALS — had its initial skeptics, Mr. Trump among them. But its subsequent performance has spoken for itself. Because the system replaces old, steam-based catapult systems developed in the 1950s, the carriers are able to launch the full complement of planes in the Navy’s air wing. This includes the critically important lightweight and heavyweight drones that are increasingly being used in reconnaissance and battlefield operations. And unlike incumbent catapult systems, EMALS is designed to accommodate future aircraft that come into production in the years ahead.
By replacing the complex and large system of steam pipes on the carriers, this new catapult system delivers a 25 percent reduction in the number of crew members needed to operate and maintain the system. The Navy has estimated this will amount to almost $4 billion in savings from operating costs over the ship’s expected 50-year lifespan. And in line with Mr. Trump’s commitment to establishing greater cost discipline for large DOD contracts, more cost savings have been realized through the negotiation of multiple ship production contracts for EMALS.
The second and third Ford-class carriers are already seeing 16 percent to 27 percent production cost savings respectively. Manufacturing, supply chains, production schedules and jobs are becoming stabilized. As the current crisis has put in stark relief, reliable supply chains are critical, and negotiated, multi-carrier contract buys ensure the stability of U.S. jobs and equipment. For taxpayers, this means significant cost savings without compromising our ability to deliver the most modern equipment available to support our warfighters.
Predictably, however, our competitors are now racing to develop similar technologies. For example, China has reportedly commissioned its own electromagnetic catapult system for its aircraft carriers to allow them to launch more advanced planes and other weaponry. Yet, with America’s new carrier class moving further into subsequent production phases, and our allies wanting to benefit from U.S. military innovations like EMALS, we now have a huge advantage that the United States can and should fully embrace to ensure our military supremacy. Any global competitor seeking similar technologies with ill intent will not go unchecked.
These types of cutting-edge and innovative investments are critical in rebuilding our nation’s military. They also are firmly aligned with Mr. Trump’s commitment to ensure that our military professionals receive far more technology at less long-term cost to taxpayers. Our nation cannot afford to fall behind.
Important to get our priorities straight
There appear to be two major stories contending for coverage by the press and the attention of Congress at the moment, both related to the COVID-19 pandemic: the economic recovery and the culpability of China in the escalation of the coronavirus from a potentially local tragedy to an international pandemic.
On the one hand, the USA faces an almost insurmountable challenge to restore our recently booming economy from the depths of a Depression-like crash. On the other hand is the primal need to find a culprit for all the pain, sorrow, and deprivation we — and the rest of the world — have suffered in fighting this evil scourge and to punish that source accordingly. The issue at hand is how to accommodate both needs at the same time.
This issue arises because the two factors are on a collision course. The facts are increasingly obvious. While the federal government appropriately pursues an intensive investigation of the precise sequence of events in the discovery and dissemination of this strain of coronavirus, evidence from outside sources is rapidly emerging that the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) consciously, deliberately, and with malice of forethought concealed from the rest of the world its early experiences with the outbreak of the plague and then schemed to spread the virus to all parts of the world. The motivation for this policy is not clear, although the working hypothesis is that the leadership was not about to suffer a severe economic catastrophe while the rest of the world looked on from the safety of having escaped the same fate.
The result of this news has been a surge of rage on the part of Americans, fueled principally by press accounts of these discoveries and speculation, some informed and some not so much. Responding to this national outrage, some Senators (the Republican Senate is in session and functioning while the Democrat House is still in its lengthy recess) have started proposing punitive measures against China. The attraction of this issue is obvious: it is emotional, not overly complicated and, most of all, potentially non-partisan. “Potentially” because there are close ties between leading Democrats, especially presumptive Democrat presidential nominee Joseph Biden, and China. In general, the Dems have been less aggressive on this issue than have the Republicans.
Compared to the progress in re-opening the American economy, the “blame China” issue is pretty straightforward. Economic recovery is proving complicated, spotty, and dangerous. The best summary comes from Governor Michael DeWine (R-Ohio), considered one of the most competent governors in the country.
“There is a risk in either direction”, says Governor DeWine. “The risk of re-opening the economy is the re-emergence of the pandemic. The risk of maintaining the strict mitigation is a prolonged Depression. So, my solution is to re-open CAREFULLY AND SAFELY.” (Fox News, 5/10/20).
There are now emerging a number of second guesses as to what the Public Health experts recommended (as this column predicted on March 22 (see “Trump’s Huge Gamble”). Prominent among medical critics has been the idea that the “shelter in place” requirement should have been applied only to the most vulnerable, namely to those over 65, and all who suffer from “underlying conditions”. Of course, these demographic details were not known when the shutdown was first announced. Little details like this do not stop the critics, however. Nor does the fact that immunity for young people does not appear as universal today as it once did.
The most common critique is that adopted by some Democrats, namely, that the strict mitigation policies should be continued much longer. But there are many areas in America, mostly the less densely populated regions, which are in fact relatively untouched (so far) by the pandemic.
Thus, the recovery is spotty, uncertain, and carries its share of danger. But so does every alternative. Like Governor DeWine, most of America is slowly, carefully venturing out of our self-imposed quarantine. Except the elderly and victims of “underlying conditions”. It seems apparent that the overwhelming need and desire of Americans is to get back to work – in spite of the risks. The final judgement, of course, will come from the American people who will vote with their feet
These risks are serious enough without adding to them the risk of alienating China. There are reasons to put aside our worse fears and anger at the recent behavior of the CCP until this current economic disaster has been put in the rearview mirror. Some of the reasons are:
1) We are still in a major trade agreement with China to provide billions in exports, most notably from American farmers. In addition, many of the intellectual property issues — our most important reason for negotiating with China – are yet to be resolved. It is vital to our national interests to disengage our technologies and our supply chains from Chinese control.
2) China still holds a significant portion of America’s national debt ($1.05 Trillion as of February 15, 2020). Although this holding represents a small percentage of America’s sovereign debt (5%), the Federal Reserve is going to market right now with an additional issue of several trillions of US dollars to cover the cost of the pandemic. This is not a good time to antagonize China into selling its US bonds at a discount just to make us suffer more.
3) China is a powerful, unpredictable rival for world domination. The Chinese also are very jealous of their international influence – and their massive financial stake in so many developing countries in Asia, Africa, and South America.
Even aside from humanitarian considerations, this is not a good time for us to provoke China. It is a time to return to the rapport we had before coronavirus and conclude our trade talks, disengage our technology and our supply chains from dependence on China – and save our anger for another day.
How the U.S. telecommunications industry helped America manage and get through the COVID-19 pandemic can be a lesson for other industries and for the U.S. government, which has been hamstrung by a failure of imagination common to those working in bureaucratic institutions. Consider where we’d be if the phone, cable, and satellite companies had been unable to keep us connected.
The migration was rapid and thorough once the closures began. Collegiate and local classrooms moved online. Grocery items started coming into our homes from web sites rather than the mall. Telehealth exploded as doctors began to see patients over webcams instead of in the office. Examples of America’s resilience and resourcefulness were everywhere. The Internet allowed families to visit, for all of us to stay up to date on the latest advisories, and for each of us to remain plugged into civilization while unable to participate in it.
Mobile devices are just as important as the networks that connect them. Our smartphones have become our eyes and ears to the outside world. Their signals go where we now cannot, only because the Internet is an American product, governed largely by American ideals. If it were not, if the Chinese were in charge, for example, the official response to the pandemic would have probably included enforceable restrictions on Internet access or a complete shutdown of the ‘Net to stop the spread of information.
Whether it remains free and open depends on many factors. The People’s Republic of China has an unfair advantage in the global race to 5G. It has developed, through its Huawei subsidiary, technologies it’s trying to force the rest of the world to adopt. If they succeed, as I’ve written before, it would be a clear and present danger to the future of global commerce and the free flow of information.
In recognition of this, the Trump Administration has been right to acknowledge that a threat exists and to take steps to keep China and Huawei from winning. The Commerce Department is finalizing regulations aimed at limiting American firms’ sale of chips to Huawei. The Justice Department has charged them with conspiracy. That’s only a start. A government-wide effort is needed to blunt the impact of Huawei’s efforts to make it the global provider of choice for the world’s 5G needs.
As part of that, American consumers must continue to be allowed to buy smartphones and tablets made by companies other than Huawei. An obscure Irish company called Neodron, which recently filed patent complaints with the U.S. International Trade Commission, could make that difficult.
Neodron, which is backed by some of the same people who brought us the mortgage securities financial crisis, has filed two complaints with the ITC alleging that virtually every non-Chinese smartphone and tablet maker – Apple, Amazon, Motorola, LG, and Samsung, to name but a few – is infringing on patents related to touchscreens.
If the commission agrees finds that to be so the only remedy it can impose would be an exclusion order that would effectively block the importation of any device found to be infringing on the patents at issue. That would include greater than 90 percent of all smartphones and over 90 percent of all tablets currently available in the U.S. market. The only device manufacturers left would pretty much be Chinese companies which could, therefore, control American markets. As we’ve seen over the past several months as the COVID-19 virus has spread, the Chinese cannot be trusted.
The ITC needs to dismiss the Neodron complaint post haste. It’s bad enough the company could lodge a complaint that might paralyze a critical sector of our economy. The U.S. government has no business giving away the kind of strategic advantage we could never get back to a potential enemy. The Chinese operate by their own rules when it suits them – even when it makes them poor global citizens. They’re out to dominate every aspect of the world economy. We’d be foolish to let that happen – and it would if the ITC finds in Neodron’s favor.
Facing the China threat requires new institutions and renewed alliances
You can’t beat something with nothing. But America seems determined to try.
America’s attempt to integrate China into the global economy as a “responsible stakeholder” failed. China’s economy has become more statist, its political system more repressive, its foreign policy more bullying, its ambitions more outsized than they were 20 years ago. China did not challenge American leadership directly. It altered the character of international institutions from within.
The multilateral institutions that comprise the American-led liberal international order have been decaying for some time. Coronavirus has accelerated the deterioration. NATO, the United Nations, the European Union, the World Trade Organization, the World Health Organization—they are unresponsive, unaccountable, divided, demoralized, defunct. The world is a more dangerous place.
We are used to autocratic domination of the U.N. General Assembly and the secretariat’s various commissions. No one bats an eye when Russia or China vetoes a Security Council measure. Less publicized were the concessions made to China as part of the Paris Climate Accord. Or the fact that the World Trade Organization treats the world’s second-largest economy as a “developing” nation. But the way Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, the director of the WHO, caviled and covered for Beijing as the coronavirus spread throughout the world is impossible to ignore. Drift, confusion, and chaos result.
There are three options. The first is to work within the system to revitalize the existing structures. The second is to build alternative institutions. The third option is to do nothing.
President Trump has tried a hybrid of options one and three. But with a twist. Where others might try a kind word or some quiet diplomacy to inspire reform and collaboration, he turns against the very institutions America created to force them to live up to their commitments. He browbeats NATO members into spending more on defense. He cheers for Brexit and supports the EU’s internal critics. He cripples the WTO’s arbitration mechanism and threatens to withdraw entirely. He suspends funding for the WHO.
It’s the “America First” foreign policy Trump promised. And the results have been mixed. NAFTA was replaced. NATO budgets are up (for now). Mexico agreed to have asylum-seekers wait on its side of the border while their claims are adjudicated. China signed a “Phase One” trade deal.
But there’s a cost. Allies may accede to your demands, but resentment builds. The foundations of the alliance weaken. Unpredictability inspires fear and caution. If sustained for too long, though, it conveys irresoluteness and fecklessness. Adversaries begin to probe. They buzz flights and collapse the oil price, resume shelling U.S. troops and harassing U.S. naval vessels, begin tailingcontainer ships in the South China Sea.
The democracies look inward. NATO is silent, the EU split, America distracted and distressed. China exploited this strategic vacuum. It launched a global disinformation campaign falsely assigning responsibility for the pandemic to the United States. Its agents pushed scurrilous and panic-inducing messages to U.S. cellphones saying that President Trump was about to impose a national lockdown policed by the National Guard. Its diplomatic “Wolf Warriors” enforce the party line whenever foreign governments challenge Beijing’s preferred narrative.
Chinese propaganda used to amplify achievements and repress criticism. Now it attacks directly overseas enemies of the state. The strategy, writes Laura Rosenberger in Foreign Affairs, “aims not so much to promote a particular idea as to sow doubt, dissension, and disarray—including among Americans—in order to undermine public confidence in information and prevent any common understanding of facts from taking hold.” It’s working.
China isn’t invincible. It is reaping the economic whirlwind of the coronavirus it hid from the world. None of its neighbors are thrilled about the growth of Chinese power. Its internal political situation may be unstable. But the speed with which it has used the pandemic for geopolitical advantage is extraordinary. Look at how it plays favorites with its distribution of pharmaceuticals and personal protective equipment, how it stepped into the breach with a new flow of cash for its friend Dr. Tedros. Confronting China’s rise requires “a common understanding of facts,” and partners with whom to share those facts in common. These days, America is lacking in both.
By all means, punish the World Health Organization for collaborating with China. But also be prepared to stand up another mechanism to do the good work its founders intended. Go ahead, demand allies live up to their commitments. But also recognize that partnerships of like-minded nations were critical to success in the First Cold War. This is the time to build new institutions that reflect the realities of a 21st century that pits liberal democracies against an authoritarian surveillance state. For every moment that passes without American leadership brings us closer to a world where the sun never sets on the five golden stars.
There is no doubt that China’s communist regime made the COVID-19 pandemic much worse across the globe by hiding the truth and affirmatively lying to the world about it. The totalitarian regime’s mendacity is highlighted by the fact that while it lied about the virus, it was collecting medical materials to deal with the pandemic.
Another impact of the pandemic is that it has distracted us from some other very dangerous and troubling things that the communist regime is doing. For example, China is conducting secret and illegal nuclear weapons tests. Likewise, China is developing a new generation of missiles that put Americans at much greater risk. And they’ve been acting provocatively on top of it all. If COVID-19 can fundamentally disrupt and destabilize American society, imagine what Chinese missiles could do.
We live in a nation of great research and development capabilities. At this very moment, the Pentagon is working with thousands of contractors to develop the next great development in defense weaponry on planet Earth.
Research and development are key to our survival and we should rest easy that we are the best at it in the world. As long as we are vigilant, we will keep ahead of the threats. But we cannot afford to set our eyes so far into the future that we fail to see the now. Puzzlingly, that is the exact situation our leaders are putting us in when it comes to our homeland missile defense capabilities.
As the global threat of Intercontinental Ballistic Missiles (ICBMs) is growing, the Pentagon recently committed to developing the Next Generation Interceptor (NGI). We have come a long way from President Reagan’s “Star Wars” and have developed reliable technologies and weapons to literally “intercept” and destroy a warhead in the air.
The NGI promises to not only address current threats we face from rogue actors like North Korea and Iran to world-power enemies like China and Russia, but will evolve with both enemy and American technologies.
Like any government initiative, the details are in the timeline. The NGI is estimated to be operational by 2026. We all know the Federal Government’s ability to miss deadlines, but we will give them the benefit of doubt on this one and say that America’s new missile defense to protect all of us will be operational in 2026. But some experts are speculating the technology will not be ready for as many as 12 years.
The possible mistake I foresee is the sacrifice of the “now” for the “next.” The gap between now and 2026 or perhaps 2032 is an unacceptable risk.
America has spent billions of dollars, tested and retested, and ultimately placed our homeland missile defense in our current Ground Based Interceptor (GBI) technology and infrastructure. Currently, the United States only has 44 interceptors in our arsenals based in Fort Greely, Alaska, and Vandenberg Air Force Base, California.
As Russia and China invest heavily in their military abilities, is it really in America’s best interest to leave the entire Eastern portion of our nation vulnerable and undefended? Sure, possibly in 12 years we can see a scenario where the technology can make up for that lack of defense, but to not place it there in the meantime?
It is purely American to desire a better technology than what we currently have, but it would be negligent to take funding and emphasis away from the proverbial basket in which we have placed our homeland defense. Actors like North Korea are not attempting to meet the technology we may or may not have in a decade, they are attempting to come up with ways to get around our current systems that we have in place.
Let’s think back to late last year when America was on the brink of war with Iran. We were not able to intercept the missiles that we knew were coming, targeting bases we have occupied for over a decade. That should sound alarm bells that we need to focus on beefing up our current GBI technologies across the board. The whole situation should offer mainland Americans a cold shiver when it comes to thinking about our current vulnerability.
Our desire to invest in building the better mouse trap should be met with equal investment in our current technologies and infrastructure. America does not have to choose between investing in current technology and charting a new future for missile defense.
Pre-coronavirus, America’s economy was booming. Now we have an economic pandemic but some proposed cures could be worse than the disease.
The economic stoppage has been as drastic as chemotherapy which harms healthy tissue in order to reach and attack cancer cells. We don’t need further dangerous treatments.
A key to terrific growth was how the Trump Administration freed commerce from stifling regulations. Continuing to cut red tape will once more be vital to recover from the COVID-19 shutdown
But some are misusing the term deregulation so they can slip in agendas that are not actually about economic recovery. Infamously, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi wanted to tack pet causes and wish lists onto recovery legislation. Others are now trying something similar.
One idea floated and wrongfully labeled deregulation is to end the Jones Act. But that item belongs on China’s wish list, not America’s.
The Jones Act essentially requires domestic maritime shipping to use vessels that are American-owned, American-built and American-crewed. Undoing this 100-year-old standard would not create American jobs but instead would create jobs for the foreign interests that would rush in to take over.
The Jones Act is not about economic regulations; it’s about national security and homeland security. Even the father of capitalism, Adam Smith, promoted that we should not let foreign interests control our shipping and means of trade.
This is not about international trade—ships carrying goods between a U.S. port and a foreign port are not covered by the Jones Act. The issue purely involves domestic trade, traveling between U.S. ports, such as along our intra-coastal waterways, on the Great Lakes, and barge traffic on the Mississippi and other rivers.
Ending the Jones Act would not benefit free enterprise or free markets. As the world’s largest shipbuilder, thanks to its subsidized and state-run enterprises, cheap and even slave labor, China has the most to gain if our Jones Act were ended. Then they could expand to operate on America’s 25,000 miles of inland waterways.
That would be the feather in the cap for their Belt and Road Initiative which aims to control seaways and shipping all over the world. China already has spent a fortune to take over strategic ports and waterways on every continent except Antarctica, as well as the ships themselves. The global trade fleet is about 41,000 ships, and China builds almost 1,300 of them a year; the United States only builds 8.
Jones Act opponents argue that the issue is money. They argue that shipping will be cheaper if we let non-Americans also build and operate the non-ocean-going ships that handle our purely-domestic freight. This internal fleet involves 40,000 vessels (including barges). Allowing them to be built overseas, operated by foreign interests and crewed by non-Americans might indeed be cheaper, but it would reduce American security and American jobs.
We should not sell our security in the name of saving a few bucks.
Inviting a foreign takeover will worsen our struggling economy, not help it. Ending the Jones Act makes as little sense as claiming we could boost our recovery by inviting British Airways, Lufthansa, Aeroflot, Air China, Emirates, Qatar Airways, Scandinavian Airlines, Turkish Airlines and other airlines owned by foreign governments to fly routes between U.S. cities, which U.S. laws currently prohibit.
Ending the Jones Act makes as little sense as arguing that our recovery requires expanding our reliance on China for medical supplies, personal protective equipment, pharmaceutical ingredients, consumer goods, electronics and a host of other items.
Their philosophy would also repeal the Buy American provisions currently incorporated into our military purchasing statutes, homeland security laws and other acts of Congress. Can you imagine the U.S. Navy pursuing make-believe benefits by building its warships overseas?
This is not about money. The Jones Act is not an economic regulation; it is a national security standard.
By all means, let’s cut red tape to boost our rebound from the COVID-19 economic pandemic. But that’s no excuse for undoing laws that protect our national and homeland security.
Back in January, Gen. Mark Milley, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, was talking openly of the need to rebalance the allocation of U.S. forces around the world.
As he explained it, the need to address potential military threats from Russia and Chinese expansionism in the Pacific Basin may have to be given precedence over American commitments elsewhere.
Gen. Milley’s remarks were footnoted by the suggestion any changes were, at that point at least, notional and would be presented to Defense Secretary Mark Esper and through him to the president as options for the future. Nonetheless, many see his comments as foreshadowing a major change in the importance the U.S. has assigned the war on terror.
President Trump entered office vowing to bring home many of the U.S. troops pursuing terrorists and prosecuting “unwinnable” wars.
He can take pride in the fact he is keeping those promises, having successfully subdued if not eliminated ISIS, entered into continuing negotiations aimed at allowing the U.S. to withdraw its troops from Afghanistan and, by using a drone strike to take out Iranian Revolutionary Guard leader and terrorist mastermind Qassem Soleimani, perhaps turned an important corner in Iraq.
None of that justifies a U.S. withdrawal from its commitments in the Middle East or North Africa. Both regions are rife with the kind of radical Islamic extremism from which anti-U.S. terror cells develop.
The raging conflagrations in these regions, feared by many, may have cooled to embers — but extinguishing those embers will take time and is linked inexorably to the same future conflicts to which Gen. Milley suggests the U.S. may need to shift its focus.
In Africa, we have assisted our allies there in the fight against extremism. The nations of North Africa have moved in our direction. Mauritania, Algeria and Morocco have vanquished terrorists within their borders and, with U.S. training and logistical support, proven themselves invaluable in the fight against those threatening the entire region.
To abandon them would be a mistake that would be, ironically, to Beijing’s benefit.
The Chinese, as we’ve most recently seen in the way they have conducted themselves through the coronavirus crisis, cannot be trusted. They operate by their own rules when it suits them, no matter what.
In many ways, they are economic partners with the West. They trade with us and we with them, but they are not our allies and cannot be treated as such.
From a national security perspective, we must remain vigilant – which is why reducing the limited U.S. troop commitments in North Africa would be a major mistake. If America leaves, China moves in – as it has been doing all over the developing world while engaging in rapprochement with Washington.
The current troop levels are small as such things go, fewer than 10,000 spread out among different countries on different missions. Merely by being there, however, the American military prevents the creation of a vacuum into which China would be glad to move to increase its economic and military presence on the continent.
This would fit perfectly into Beijing’s long-term strategic plans. Through its trillion-dollar “Belt and Road” initiative, the Chinese have been “helping” the developing world build commercial and civil infrastructure since 2013.
By acting as a predatory lender, China has gotten its hooks into nearly 70 counties and international organizations, saddling them with projects so expensive that the money borrowed cannot possibly be repaid.
The U.S. Agency for International Development has been pushing back against this initiative by sending teams of advisers into countries to demonstrate that anyone considering saying “yes” to China is making a bad deal. But that’s not enough.
To prevent the creation of satellite outposts available to further Beijing’s global ambitions requires something more than accountants and attorneys.
Any hopes we once had of the world becoming a safer place with the fall of the Berlin Wall must now, unfortunately, be held in abeyance.
A new global order is forming, something President Trump rightly recognizes and is preparing for militarily as well as economically.
Pulling out of commitments that don’t make sense and asking our allies to shoulder a greater burden of the cost of those that do are steps in the right direction. Pulling out of commitments that do make sense, like our limited but successful activities in North Africa, would be folly and we’d regret it later if we do.
According to the AFP, Gen. Milley said “economy of forces does not mean zero” and that Washington was not pulling out of Africa completely. Let’s hope Secretary Esper and the president affirm this soon.
Since the citizens of the People’s Republic of China had emerged from their Mao Zedong induced obsessive poverty slumber and have started to follow Deng Zhi Ping’s dictum about enriching themselves, creating wealth, combined with extremely racist nationalism, have become the overriding passion of the Chinese Communist Party, the government, and the people. Suddenly, in the early 1980s, everyone has been in business, including the most devout Communists, with a regime of utmost corruption that has become the model for the most powerful elite, also known as the new Communist bourgeoisie. Thus, in the subsequent four decades, the People’s Republic of China has established a large manufacturing base that has made its economy the second largest in the world. In addition, Beijing has invested heavily in building up a formidable military with special emphasis on its navy and air force. Finally, under the leadership of its newly minted dictator perpetuus Xi Jinping, the People’s Republic of China has set out to challenge the global dominance of the United States of America across the globe.
Domestically, the results of this growth in prosperity have triggered increases in earnings. Financial security and even luxury have spread through the urban population, while leaving the hundreds of millions in the countryside barely above the minimum subsistence level. Simultaneously, education has been expanding exponentially. Millions of young Chinese have been sent abroad, mainly to the United States of America and Europe, to study. Literature, art, renewed interest in history and ancient philosophy, and sciences have been opened up to the greater public. The only exception has been the domain of politics, remaining stricktly tabu for the masses, because it has been monopolized by the highest ranking members of the Chinese Communist Party.
Yet, good news is always intertwined with its opposite. The more enduring feature of China’s rise has been the spread of self-satisfied mediocrity. The resulting racist nationalism and the accompanying belief that the People’s Republic of China with its dictatorship is perfection itself, has become a general patriotic axiom. Adding political insult to the ubiquitous subordination of the entire population, this deliberate dumbing down of an entire society has brought about a fickle, impulsive, superficial, and mean citizenry. The eternal struggle between quality and quantity in the historically most populous nation on earth has caught up with President Xi and his colleagues in the Politburo when the novel COVID-19 virus appeared in the city of Wuhan.
Much has been written about the origin and the spread of this virus that culminated in a worldwide pandemic. Equally importantly, however, are the political signals that can be gleaned from the Chinese leadership’s global communication strategy and tactics in managing the international crisis that they alone bear responsibility for creating. The indisputable thesis of Communism and the various incarnations of Socialism is that all the parties associated with the Marxist ideology are infallible. Consequently, the Communist Party of China and its leadership, particularly its head Xi Jinping, cannot err. When mistakes do occur, they are, without exception, the faults of others. Yet, because of the customary “self-criticism” of every Communist or Socialist party of their previously failed leaders which assigns guilt to the individuals and not to the ideology, every reigning leader, while in power, jealously guards his perceived unblemished image.
President Xi is no exception. When he learned about the first cases that were caused by this virus he panicked. His first visceral reaction was to conceal and to lie. To conceal and to lie, because the entire Chinese regime has been based, since its inception in 1949, on an array of concealments and stupendous lies. In this politically artificial and fake environment human lives within China and beyond are irrelevant. Human beings are mere extras in a phony Chinese movie that in reality is a farce. Having based its rule on concealments and lies, President Xi has been operating in a blinding vacuum that with time will swallow his “Communism with Chinese Characteristics.”
Meanwhile, he and his colleagues have been busy to corrupt the easily corruptible semi-and full blown dictators across the globe. Doubtless, he could be successful in the short run. However, in the long run, democracy and capitalism will prevail, because these constructs generally have not been based on concealments and lies but on solid political, economic, financial, and cultural foundations. Moreover, the more people outside China will learn about the real nature of the Communist Party ruled politics in the People’s Republic the less attractive they will find it to emulate. The already existing and the predictably coming future revelation about the pandemic will clearly open many more eyes across the globe. The developing racist controversy between the People’s Republic of China and the African continent do not bode well for Chinese expansion in that continent and beyond.
Beijing escalating aggression in the South China Sea will be another test case for President Xi’s real intentions and the true nature of his regime. Although the final outcome will be in the not so near future, it can be predicted with certainty that it will not end well for the People’s Republic of China. Its “Belt and Road” initiative is already in trouble and will fall victim to President Xi’s self-induced pandemic. The same fate awaits his attempts to infiltrate Europe, more specifically the European Union. His seemingly promising attempts at forging closer relations with Putin’s Russia will come to naught too.What is needed now is not appeasement but toughness with reasonable compromises. The People’s Republic of China must be judged by its actions and not its words. Plainly, President Xi has long overplayed his hands both inside his country as well as internationally. It is high time to inform him that the United States of America’s and the rest of the world’s patience have run out with his boundless ambitions and silly hubris. By doing so, not just the world but also China and its people will benefit in the long run.
Column: A weak and unstable China is also more dangerous
You see it in the maps. In 2015, 1.4 million Hong Kongers voted in elections in which pro-Beijing candidates swept the city’s 18 district councils. Last week, 2.9 million Hong Kongers voted and pro-democracy candidates won every district but one. That is an increase in turnout of more than 100 percent and a stunning rebuke both of Beijing and of chief executive Carrie Lam, who has failed to respond adequately to the demands of the pro-democracy movement that has disrupted Hong Kong for the past six months. Maps of the city once shaded pro-mainland blue are now pro-liberty yellow.
Yes, the vote was symbolic. The councils have little say in the operations of government. But symbols matter. For Hong Kongers to express discontent with their rulers through one of the last vehicles for accountability is no trifle. Beijing was surprised. It had counted on a supposed “silent majority” of voters tired of the upheaval and violence to legitimize the mainland’s authority. That was a mistake. The prefabricated copy that Communist propagandists had been ready to spread was abandoned. “The problem is that under the increasingly paranoid regime of Xi Jinping, even these internal reports have become much more geared toward what the leadership wants to hear,” writes James Palmer, who a decade ago worked for the pro-China Global Times.
Hong Kong is the most visible reminder of the tenuous nature of Communist rule. The city has become a postmodern battleground where masked protesters wield social media and lasers to avoid armor-clad police and facial recognition technology powered by artificial intelligence. When one looks at Hong Kong one sees a possible future where champions of freedom the world over employ desperate measures against the overwhelming resources of a mechanized Leviathan. One also sees the brittleness, confusion, and embarrassment of despotism when challenged by subjects assumed to be grateful for growth and security and immune to the will to freedom.
What is happening in Hong Kong is not isolated. The China model of authoritarian development is damaged and scarred. What seemed as sturdy and invulnerable as a Borg Cube looks more like a fragile and wobbly mobile by Alexander Calder. The regime of Xi Jinping is under economic and political and diplomatic pressure that it is not handling well. This beleaguered combatant in an era of great power competition is more dangerous to the United States than before.
What legitimacy the Communist Party possessed was based on the decades of economic growth inaugurated by Deng Xiaoping in 1978. But growth has slowed to its lowest level in decades as the Chinese workforce ages, low-hanging investment opportunities disappear, and the trade war with the United States reduces manufacturing output and sends supply lines to Vietnam and Mexico. Capital is fleeing China at a record pace as the bourgeoisie hedge against stagnation and turmoil.
For all of the Chinese government’s much publicized investments in research and development and defense, and despite the size of its economy, per capita gross domestic product is $10,000, slightly less than that of the Russia Federation ($11,000) and a fraction of that of the United States ($65,000). Recent weeks have brought an uptick in bank runs. The government’s response to slowdown has been to tighten state control. “Between 2012 and 2018, assets of state companies grew at more than 15 percent annually, well over twice the pace of expansion of China’s GDP and double the pace of growth of gross domestic capital formation,” writesNicholas R. Lardy of the Peterson Institute for International Economics. This is not state capitalism. It’s statism.
The Chinese authorities use mechanisms of repression to maintain control over what can only be described as an internal empire. The New York Times recently published a horrifying and damning trove of documents relating the extent of Beijing’s efforts to detain, imprison, intimidate, and reeducate Uighurs, Kazakhs, and other minorities in western Xinjiang Province. China wants to override the Dalai Lama’s choice of successor in its continuing efforts to police Tibetan Buddhism and aspirations to sovereignty. China leads the world in the number of political prisoners, its Great Firewall has become more difficult to penetrate, and its influence operations in Taiwan, Australia, and other democracies more sophisticated. Defector Wang Liqiang has told Australian officials of his personal involvement in the disappearance of five Hong Kong booksellers who had the temerity to advocate democracy.
These are not the moves of a regime confident in its ability to win the allegiance of a multi-ethnic population of 1.4 billion people. They are the policies of an insular and jittery faction whose uncertainty toward a changing economic and demographic landscape has made it suspicious of and opposed to even the slightest hints of liberal democracy. The ambitions of Chairman Xi for a Eurasia integrated under the Belt and Road Initiative, where the preponderance of the latest equipment in key sectors is manufactured, are both grand and mismatched for a nation whose leaders are concerned most with the operation of the surveillance state that keeps them in power.
The resistance to Beijing is both domestic and foreign. Lost in all the predictions of Chinese dominance were the voices of China’s neighbors in the Pacific. Neither Japan, nor Vietnam, Taiwan, the Philippines, nor Australia want to live in a Chinese lake. Most extraordinary has been the response of the United States. Within four years, the American elite has swapped its belief in China’s “peaceful rise” for the recognition that it may be in the opening phase of a Second Cold War whose outcome will determine the ideological character of the 21st century. While Tariff Man wages his trade war, opposing Chinese theft of intellectual property and arguing for structural changes to China’s state owned enterprises, Vice President Mike Pence, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, and Secretary of Defense Mark Esper speak of the political and security challenges presented by Chinese authoritarians who become more willing to lash out as they lose their grip.
Senator Josh Hawley spoke for the emerging consensus when he wrote in the November 24 Wall Street Journal: “And everywhere, in every region, we must ask whether our actions are contributing to the great task of this era, resisting hegemony in the Asia-Pacific.” A few days before Hawley’s op-ed, Congress passed the Hong Kong Human Rights and Democracy Act of 2019. Though the president already may possess the authorities to sanction Chinese officials granted him by Congress, the bill remains both a powerful statement of American support for the principles of liberty and democracy and a sign of American resolution before the specter of autocracy.
Good for President Trump to have signed the Democracy Act—and better still if he would link human rights to trade and refrain from speaking of his “friend,” the “incredible guy” who seeks nothing less than the defeat and displacement of the United States.
Last week Wall Street focused on what the Trump-Xi summit would mean for the China trade war, the global economy and the Dow Jones. But the high-stakes meeting turned out to be a warm-up act. President Donald Trump’s real diplomatic flourish came as he crossed into the DMZ to shake hands with North Korea’s Kim Jong-un.
Investors are still trying to discern whether China trade talks will bear fruit after Trump’s big concession to Chinese President Xi Jinping. In addition to holding off on further tariffs, Trump said he would ease a ban on American technology sales to Chinese telecom equipment giant Huawei. Beijing appeared to give up little or nothing, and shows no sign of caving to Trump’s demands.
That raises the risk of another sudden collapse of China trade talks and a further escalation of tariffs. If that happens, both the U.S. economy and Dow Jones look vulnerable, even as the Dow hit record highs Wednesday.
But it may make sense to look at the China trade war through the prism of Trump’s push for a North Korea breakthrough. It’s a good bet that Trump-Kim DMZ meeting wouldn’t have happened if he hadn’t gotten China trade talks back on track.
Now Trump is pushing for a White House visit and reportedly wants North Korea to agree to substantially freeze nuclear weapons capabilities. As long as Trump sees Beijing as a “strategic partner” reining in North Korea’s nuclear ambitions, further escalation of the China trade war seems unlikely.
The relationship between North Korea and China is complex. But China has significant economic ties with North Korea, has often taken Pyongyang’s side against harsh international sanctions and has been seen as able to influence its behavior. International relations experts also say that Beijing has long used its role in mediating North Korea’s threat as a buffer against criticism by the West.
Trump has previously discussed China’s North Korea ties as a consideration in the U.S.-China trade dispute. While that hasn’t averted a major trade conflict, this past weekend isn’t the only time North Korea nuclear issue and China trade war have seemed to follow a parallel path.
Last December, Trump and Xi agreed to their first trade cease-fire. Then came Trump’s February summit with the North Korean leader in Hanoi. Trump walked away from that meeting, putting talks on ice. In May, China trade talks also broke down as Trump lost patience with Beijing for backtracking on commitments. On May 5, Trump threatened to escalate tariffs. Four days later, North Korea fired off short-range missiles in an implicit challenge to the U.S.
The odds of a China trade deal look pretty low, given the depth of the differences separating the two sides. The U.S. insists that China write new laws resolving complaints over theft of intellectual property, forced technology transfers, currency manipulation, access to Chinese markets and state subsidies. Even then, the U.S. wants Trump tariffs to remain in force, with some falling away as Beijing clears these benchmarks. China has refused all of these demands as humiliating and a violation of its sovereignty.
Trump may be losing hope for a huge China trade deal, but he seems to think a North Korean nuclear deal could be in reach. Trump may even see a certain logic in letting a North Korea deal come first. If Beijing really is a “strategic partner,” as Trump said in a Saturday press conference, Chinese leaders will encourage North Korea to complete a nuclear deal with him. If that happened, Trump might be more trusting of China to abide by any trade agreement, rather than keeping tariffs in place until Beijing proves it will keep its word.