Together with allies and partners, United States will resist the Chinese Communist Party’s efforts to manipulate people and damage their economies.
America, under President Trump’s leadership, has finally awoken to the threat the Chinese Communist Party’s actions and the threat they pose to our very way of life. For decades, conventional wisdom in both U.S. political parties, the business community, academia, and media, has held that it was only a matter of time before China would become more liberal, first economically and, then, politically. The more we opened our markets to China, the thinking went, the more we invested capital in China, the more we trained PRC bureaucrats, scientists, engineers, and even military officers, the more China would become like us.
It was under this premise that we welcomed China into the World Trade Organization in 2001 with vast concessions and trade privileges. We downplayed China’s gross human rights abuses, including Tiananmen Square. We turned a blind eye to China’s widespread technology theft that eviscerated entire sectors of the American economy.
As China grew richer and stronger, we believed, the Chinese Communist Party would liberalize to meet the rising democratic aspirations of its people. This was a bold, quintessentially American idea, born of our innate optimism and by the experience of our triumph over Soviet Communism. Unfortunately, it turned out to be very naïve.
A Successor to Stalin
We could not have been more wrong—and this miscalculation is the greatest failure of American foreign policy since the 1930s. How did we make such a mistake? How did we fail to understand the nature of the Chinese Communist Party?
The answer is simple: because we did not pay heed to the CCP’s ideology. Instead of listening to what CCP leaders were saying and reading what they wrote in their key documents, we closed our ears and our eyes. We believed what we wanted to believe—that the Party members were communist in name only.
Let us be clear, the Chinese Communist Party is a Marxist-Leninist organization. The Party General Secretary Xi Jinping sees himself as Josef Stalin’s successor. In fact, as the journalist and former Australian government official John Garnaut has noted, the Chinese Communist Party is the last “ruling communist party that never split with Stalin, with the partial exception of North Korea.” Yes, Stalin – the man whose brutal dictatorship and disastrous policies killed roughly 20 million Russians and others through famine, forced collectivization, executions, and labor camps. As interpreted and practiced by Lenin, Stalin, and Mao, communism is a totalitarian ideology.
Under communism, individuals are merely a means to be used toward the achievement of the ends of the collective nation state. Thus, individuals can be easily sacrificed for the nation state’s goals. Individuals do not have inherent value under Marxism-Leninism. They exist to serve the state; the state does not exist to serve them.
These ideas sound remote and outdated to us. They are, after all, old ideas—they were born a century and a half ago in Europe. They were implemented a century ago by Russia, and then discarded 30 years ago as the most costly failed political experiment in history. But in China, these ideas remain as fundamental to the Chinese Communist Party as the Constitution and the Bill of Rights do to us as Americans.
The Chinese Communist Party seeks total control over the people’s lives. This means economic control, it means political control, it means physical control, and, perhaps most importantly, it means thought control.
The Thought Control and ‘Ideological Security’
“In Classical Chinese statecraft,” Garnaut has noted, “there are two tools for gaining and maintaining control over ‘the mountains and the rivers’: the first is wu (武), weapons and violence, and the second is wen (文), language and culture. Chinese leaders have always believed that power derives from controlling both the physical battlefield and the cultural domain.” “For Lenin, Stalin, Mao and Xi,” Garnaut writes, “words are not vehicles of reason and persuasion. They are bullets. Words are for defining, isolating, and destroying opponents.”
Propaganda plays a central political role for the CCP. Beijing’s efforts to dominate political thought are stated openly and pursued aggressively. In 1989, the party began organizing itself around ‘ideological security,’ a term repeated frequently since then by CCP leaders. More recently, in April 2013, the Party issued a policy on what they call the “current state of ideology.” It held that there should be, “absolutely no opportunity or outlets for incorrect thinking or viewpoints to spread.”
So within China, this approach means mandatory study sessions on Communist ideology and the required download and use of smartphone apps that teach so-called “Xi Jinping Thought.” It means complete control of all state media. Outside sources of information are banned—from foreign newspapers to Twitter, Facebook, and WhatsApp. All content generated within China is censored. It means jailing everyone from citizen bloggers, reporters, and lawyers to activists and religious believers for expressing any views contrary to the Party line.
And indeed, just recently, between January 1 and April 4 of this year, nearly 500 individuals were charged with crimes just for speaking out about the Wuhan coronavirus, its effects upon the Party, and the Party’s cover-up of the disease.
The Chinese Communist Party reinterprets religious texts, including the Bible, to support communist party ideology. It locks up millions of Muslim Uyghurs and other minorities in reeducation camps where they are subjected to political indoctrination and forced labor, while their children are raised in Party-run orphanages. This process annihilates family, religion, culture, language, and heritage of the people who are caught up in these camps. Under the Chinese Communist Party, information is tightly controlled and expression is constantly surveilled, so that it can be quashed or shaped by the state.
We should not be concerned only for the Chinese people but for ourselves. Xi Jinping’s ambitions for ideological control are not limited to his own people. The CCP’s stated goal is to create a “Community of Common Destiny for Mankind,” and to remake the world according to the CCP. The effort to control thought beyond the borders of China is well under way.
Over the past decade, the Party has invested billions of dollars into overseas propaganda operations to great effect. The CCP has moved to eliminate ‘unfriendly’ Chinese language media outlets worldwide, and is close to succeeding. Nearly every Chinese language news outlet in the U.S. is either owned by, or works closely with the Party—and it is making inroads into English language media as well. There are more than a dozen radio stations in cities across the country where Americans hear subtle pro-Beijing propaganda on their FM radio.
Recently, Chinese propaganda persuaded so many Americans that a U.S. solider had brought the coronavirus to Wuhan—as opposed to Wuhan sending the virus to the rest of the world (a complete fabrication by the CCP) that this soldier and her family needed a personal security detail to protect them from death threats. This situation occurred in Maryland.
On TikTok, a Chinese-owned social media platform with over 40 million American users—probably a lot of your kids and younger colleagues– accounts criticizing CCP policies are routinely removed or deleted.
Last week, Twitter announced the suspension of more than 23,000 CCP linked accounts for spreading propaganda on Hong Kong and COVID-19. This latest suspension was in addition to last August’s removal of more than 150,000 CCP linked accounts that were used to spread anti-American disinformation and generate the illusion of popular support for Beijing’s policies in the United States. These are just the accounts Twitter caught. How many are still out there undetected?
In March, the CCP expelled American journalists working for the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, and the Washington Post, almost fully eliminating independent reporting from within China on the Wuhan virus.
Communist Plan for The Western World
In addition to influencing what information American citizens receive regarding China, the CCP is increasingly using its leverage to police American speech. When the University of California at San Diego hosted the Dalai Lama as a commencement speaker in 2017, Beijing banned Chinese students from visiting UCSD on government funds.
When the general manager of the Houston Rockets tweeted his support for the peaceful Hong Kong protesters, the CCP announced its team’s games would not be shown on Chinese TV and used its economic power to pressure others in basketball, including star players, to criticize the tweet on behalf of Beijing.
Under pressure from the CCP, Marriott, and American, Delta, and United Airlines all removed references to Taiwan from their corporate websites. Mercedes Benz even apologized for posting an inspirational quote from the Dalai Lama on social media.
Beijing has used its financial might and market access to pressure Hollywood into self-censorship, incentivizing directors and producers to avoid topics that might not make it past the country’s censors in China. For example, the Japanese and Taiwanese flags were dropped from Tom Cruise’s flight jacket in the upcoming Top Gun sequel “Maverick.” MGM digitally changed the identities, post-production, of the invading military from China to North Korea in the “Red Dawn” remake.
The CCP is seeking leverage over individual Americans as well. The Party is collecting your most intimate data—your words, your actions, your purchases, your whereabouts, your health records, your social media posts, your texts, and mapping your network of friends, family, and acquaintances.
The CCP accomplishes this goal, in part, by subsidizing hardware, software, telecommunications, and even genetics companies. As a result, corporations such as Huawei and ZTE undercut competitors on price and install their equipment around the globe at a loss. This has the side effect of putting out of business American manufacturers of telecom hardware and has made it very difficult for Nokia and Ericsson. Why do they do it? Because it is not telecom hardware or software profits the CCP are after, it is your data. They use “backdoors” built into the products to obtain that data.
Chinese Communist Party’s Theft of the West’s Intellectual Property
When the Chinese Communist Party cannot buy your data, it steals it. In 2014, the CCP hacked Anthem insurance, collecting sensitive information on 80 million Americans. In 2015, the CCP hacked the Office of Personnel Management, which holds security clearance information, acquiring sensitive data on 20 million Americans who work for the federal government. In 2017, it hacked Equifax, obtaining the names, birthdates, social security numbers, and credit scores of 145 million Americans.
In 2019, the CCP hacked Marriot, gathering information on 383 million guests, including their passport numbers. And, in 2016, a Chinese company even bought the dating app Grindr to harvest its data, including the HIV status of users, before the U.S. government forced a divestiture on national security grounds. These are just a few of the instances we know about.
How will the Chinese Communist Party use this data? In the same way it uses data within China’s borders: to target, to flatter, to cajole, to influence, to coerce, and to even blackmail individuals to say and do things that serve the Party’s interests. This is ‘micro targeting’ beyond an advertiser’s wildest dreams. China, unlike advertisers, will not be stopped by government regulations. The Chinese Communist Party simply wants to know everything about you—just as it likes to know almost everything about every individual living in China.
In addition to propaganda and influence operations, the Chinese Communist Party uses trade to coerce compliance with its dictates. When Australia called for an independent investigation of the coronavirus’ origins and spread, the Chinese Communist Party threatened to stop buying Australian agricultural products and to prevent Chinese students and tourists from traveling to Australia. When Australia refused to relent, Beijing put these threats into force, imposing an 80% tariff on Australian barley exports.
Destruction of the international bodies trusted by the West
International organizations are also part of China’s plan. China has sought leadership positions within many global bodies. China now heads four out of fifteen UN specialized agencies, more than the U.S., UK, France, and Russia, the other members of the permanent members of the U.N. Security Council, combined. The PRC uses these leaders to force the international bodies to parrot Beijing’s talking points and to install Chinese telecommunications equipment in their facilities.
For example, since Zhao Houlin of the International Telecommunications Union took his post he began to aggressively promote Huawei sales. Secretary-General Fang Liu of the International Civil Aviation Organization has blocked Taiwan’s participation in General Assembly meetings and covered up a Chinese hack of the organization. The Party has used China’s membership on the UN Human Rights Council to prevent criticism of its abuses in Xinjiang and Hong Kong.
The CCP’s reach extends to heads of international organizations who are not themselves Chinese officials. Under Beijing’s thumb, and at an unacceptable cost to human life, Director-General Tedros of the World Health Organization dutifully used Chinese talking points on the Wuhan virus. As late as mid-January, he claimed there was no human-to-human transmission of the disease. He opposed international travel restrictions. At the same time, Tedros praised China’s own domestic travel restrictions on Wuhan residents. In other words, they could travel overseas, but they could not travel and potentially take the virus to Beijing or Shanghai. These CCP tactics in international organizations, as we have seen with the coronavirus, are a major cause of concern not just for the United States, but to the world.
Seven US Actions to Limit CCP Influence
The good news is that under President Trump’s leadership, we know what the CCP is doing, we are calling it out, and we are taking decisive action to counter it across the board.
First, President Trump prevented certain companies that answer to the CCP’s intelligence and security apparatus—such as Chinese telecommunications giant Huawei—from accessing our personal and private data. The Administration also imposed restrictions on U.S. semiconductor technology from going to Huawei.
Second, the State Department designated the U.S. operations of 9 Chinese state-controlled propaganda outlets as foreign missions. These organizations are the mouthpieces of the Chinese Communist Party. This designation places reporting requirements and visa restrictions on these so-called media outlets.
Third, President Trump imposed export restrictions on 21 Chinese government entities and 16 Chinese companies complicit in China’s campaign of repression, mass arbitrary detention, forced labor and high-technology surveillance against Uyghurs and other minorities, and we have blocked officials complicit in these abuses from travelling to the United States. The Administration has also stopped the illegal import of goods produced by Chinese companies known to use Uyghur forced labor.
Fourth, President Trump left the United Nations Human Rights Council to protest its cooptation by China. He has terminated the U.S. relationship with the World Health Organization, because its response to the pandemic showed that it is beholden to China. Instead of funding the corrupt WHO in Geneva with over $400 million per year, the United States and its generous taxpayers will send that money directly to where it is needed most—frontline healthcare workers serving in developing countries around the world.
Fifth, President Trump limited the People’s Liberation Army’s ability to use student visa programs to place its officers and employees in our colleges and universities to steal U.S. technology, intellectual property, and information.
Sixth, the President moved to halt the investment of U.S. federal employee retirement funds into PRC companies, including Chinese military contractors and manufacturers of surveillance equipment used to oppress religious minorities. He is examining the opaque accounting practices of Chinese companies listed on U.S. stock exchanges.
This week, the Defense Department is submitting to Congress a list of People’s Liberation Army-linked companies with operations in the United States so that the American people are fully informed about exactly with whom they are doing business.Staying True To the Western Principles
Now, these steps are just the start as America corrects 40 years of a one-sided, unfair relationship with China that has severely affected our nation’s economic and, recently, political well-being. Just like the tariffs that were imposed by the President on unfair trade practices early in his Administration, there is more to come.
President Trump understands that lasting peace comes through strength. We are the strongest nation on earth, and we will not bend to the CCP. As the foregoing actions demonstrate, the Trump Administration is countering CCP malign activity. The Trump Administration will speak out and reveal what the Chinese Communist Party believes, and what it is planning—not just for China and Hong Kong and Taiwan, but for the world.
Together with our allies and partners, we will resist the Chinese Communist Party’s efforts to manipulate our people and our governments, damage our economies, and undermine our sovereignty. The days of American passivity and naivety regarding the People’s Republic of China are over.
We will stay true to our principles—especially freedom of speech—which stand in stark contrast to the Marxist-Leninist ideology embraced by the CCP. Under President Trump’s leadership, we will encourage diversity of thought, resist efforts to police speech or encourage self-censorship, protect Americans’ personal data, and above all, continue to proclaim that all women and men are entitled by right of God to liberty, life, and the pursuit of happiness.
As I close, let me be clear – we have deep respect and admiration for the Chinese people. The United States has a long history of friendship with the Chinese nation. But the Chinese Communist Party does not equal China or her people.
Robert C. O’Brien - US National Security Advisor
The text of the remarks delivered on June 24, 2020, in Phoenix, Arizona. The subtitles and quotes by the Editor.