Friday, Oct 15, 2021

The Growing China Threat

China’s ruling Communist Party celebrated its 100th anniversary earlier this month with President Xi Jingping’s live image inflated on enormous screens in Beijing’s Olympic Stadium as he issued crude threats towards foreign powers that seek to “antagonize” China.

His words were cheered by hundreds of thousands of Chinese citizens filling the stadium.

The combative posturing by China’s strongman comes amid growing bipartisan agreement in Washington that Beijing’s campaign to surpass the United States economically and militarily is one of the most serious challenges facing America today.

During the Cold War, the Soviet Union and Russia were the leading foreign policy concerns of the United States. In recent decades, counterterrorism has occupied that slot. But today many believe that China should be America’s primary national security focus.

China presides over the world’s second-largest economy—soon to be the largest if current trends continue; an expanding high-tech military including the world’s largest navy; and universities and science facilities competing for leadership in the key technologies of the day.

The debate intensifying in the halls of Congress is over how to contain Chinese ambitions bent on reshaping the balance of power not only in Asia but globally, with Beijing dominating world affairs economically, technologically and militarily.

The U.S. is by far the world’s premier military power today, with some 800 bases worldwide and an estimated 280 installations in the Asia-Pacific region alone.

But Xi Jinping has poured millions into building military bases across the world and is taking other steps to ensure that the Chinese have deterrence in the Asia-Pacific region. In addition, the communist leader has invested tremendous resources into modernizing and expanding the capabilities of China’s armed forces, the People’s Liberation Army.

‘Bashed and Bloody’

One facet of the debate in Congress is how to deal with the Chinese Communist Party’s escalating military belligerence in the South China region, as exemplified by Xi Jingping’s bellicose speeches at the Olympic Stadium.

Warning foreign powers against attempting to influence or meddle with China, the Communist leader said they would “get their heads bashed in and bloody” if they tried, reported the Guardian.

Threats were also aimed at Taiwan, an independent Chinese government that split from the mainland during a civil war in 1949 and has been self-governing since then. The Chinese Communist regime considers Taiwan part of its sovereign territory and consistently threatens to annex the region, by force if necessary.

In the eyes of Communist Party elites, unifying Taiwan is a prerequisite to making China great again. For years, “it has carried out deliberate military provocations below the threshold of armed conflict,” writes NBC.

“Such operations, known as ‘gray zone aggression,’ include frequent airspace incursions by Chinese fighter aircraft, shows of force by Chinese warships around Taiwan, cyber-attacks and disinformation campaigns designed to undermine popular support for the Taiwanese government,” the article said.

Lately, the regime has flexed its muscles more brazenly, flying military jets, including bombers into Taiwan’s air defense zone in May.

Last week’s Senate Confirmation Hearings for Carlos Del Toro, President Biden’s nominee to be Navy secretary, underscored the concern in Washington over what might be an impending Chinese invasion of Taiwan.

In response to questions by Sen. Rick Scott, R-Florida and Sen. Josh Hawley, R.-Missouri about how much importance Del Toro attached to the U.S. defense of Taiwan, the nominee said the national commitment to Taiwan is “incredibly important.”

If confirmed, Del Toro added, he would be “exclusively focused on the China threat,” and “on moving our maritime strategy forward in order to protect Taiwan and all of our national security interests,” The Hill reported.

China’s Economic Policy: ‘Rob, Replicate, Replace’

A second facet of the debate in Washington over the growing China menace is the question of how to deal with the Chinese Communist Party’s relentless “economic espionage of rob, replicate and replace,” as former National Intelligence Director John Ratcliffe described the CCP’s scheme.

China robs U.S. companies of their intellectual property, replicates the technology, and then replaces the U.S. firms in the global marketplace, Ratcliffe noted in a WSJ opinion piece, pointing to the Chinese company, Sinovel, as an example.

“In 2018 a federal jury found the Chinese wind-turbine manufacturer [Sinovel] guilty of stealing trade secrets from American Superconductor,” Ratcliffe wrote. “Penalties were imposed but the damage was done. The theft resulted in the U.S. company losing more than $1 billion in shareholder value and cutting 700 jobs. Today Sinovel sells wind turbines world-wide as if it built a legitimate business through ingenuity and hard work rather than theft.”

The U.S. government estimates that China’s intellectual-property theft costs America as much as $500 billion a year, the former National Intelligence director wrote.

The economic espionage is a carefully crafted system, according to FBI reports. China oversees hundreds of what the government calls ‘Talent Plans,’ an innocent-sounding name for a program used by China to transfer, or more precisely steal, foreign research and technology to benefit the Chinese government.

In 2021, half a dozen Chinese nationals were arrested in the US for stealing research-and-development secrets. Several were found to have applied to the Thousand Talents Program, which recruits Chinese citizens living in the United States.

According to an FBI report, senior NASA scientist Meyya Appant was sentenced to 30 days in prison for making false statements to the FBI related to the Chinese Thousand Talents Program.  Similarly, Song Guo Zheng, a rheumatology professor and researcher with strong ties to China, received 37 months in prison for making false statements to federal authorities.

Li Chen of Dublin, Ohio was sentenced to 30 months in prison for conspiring to steal exosome-related trade secrets. Exosomes play a key role in the research, identification and treatment of a range of medical conditions. Li Chen admitted to using the stolen information to start her own company in China, with financial payments from the Chinese government.

MIT Professor Gang Chen was arrested and charged with “grant fraud” – failing to disclose contracts, appointments, and awards from the People’s Republic of China to the U.S. Department of Energy.

Until he was arrested earlier this year, China was allegedly paying him $50,000 a month as part of a plan to attract top scientists and reward them for stealing information, FBI records disclose.

In addition, according to the indictment, Chen was appointed as a consultant and adviser to the “Outstanding Talent Plan” at a Chinese public school, “for which he would [be] paid a lavish $355,715 for his services. He withheld this information from U.S. authorities, and also kept his foreign bank account secret.

Wielding Influence Through Acquisition of U.S. Real Estate, Industry

A third focus of deep concern to lawmakers is China’s massive influence campaign in this country that included targeting several dozen members of Congress and congressional aides. The CCP accomplishes this through buying hundreds of thousands of acres of American land, as well as numerous American companies, and leveraging its ownership to wield political manipulation of prominent people.

Consider the following scenario, wrote Ratcliffe in the WSJ article. “A Chinese-owned manufacturing facility in the U.S. employs several thousand Americans. One day, the plant’s union leader is approached by a representative of the Chinese firm who explains that the local congresswoman is taking a hard-line position on legislation that runs counter to Beijing’s interests.”

The Chinese representative drives a stake in the ground, instructing the union leader to urge the congresswoman to back off or the plant and its thousands of jobs will be history.

Telling himself he’s protecting his members, the union leader contacts his congresswoman and lets her know his people won’t support her re-election without a change in her position. “In that moment he is carrying out China’s bidding, and the congresswoman, too, is being influenced,” argues Ratcliffe. How many would have the moral backbone to resist?

In early June, Congressman Chip Roy, R.-TX, introduced the Securing America’s Land from Foreign Interference Act to prevent the CCP from owning more land in the United States.

The immediate impetus for the bill was the purchase by a Chinese energy company of more than 130,000 acres of land near Laughlin Air Force Base in Texas. The Chinese are now attempting to build a wind farm there to access the U.S. power grid.

“In their quest for global domination, China has been buying up land and strategic infrastructure all over the world and in the United States,” a press release from Sen. Roy’s office stated. “Direct Chinese investment in the U.S. economy is a major threat to the American way of life. It requires that we take serious action to thwart the CCP from ever seizing control of strategically valuable domestic assets in the U.S.”

According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, foreign investors control nearly 30 million acres of U.S. farmland, roughly the size of Ohio. Texas has the second highest amount of foreign ownership with 3 million acres under control.

Sen. Roy’s legislation “will ensure that Texas’s land never comes under the control of the CCP, by prohibiting the purchase of U.S. public or private real estate by any members of the CCP,” the press release announced.

What Can Congress Do to Thwart China’s Global Strategy?

“For decades, China has seized our intellectual property, flooded our country with cheap imports, gutted our industrial base, stolen our jobs, and lured American corporations abroad,” Sen. Josh Hawley, R-Missouri, said in a media interview. “With American dollars and technology, they’ve financed a regional and global strategy bent on domination.

There are strong steps that Congress can take “to cut China down to size,” the senator said, adding there is clear bipartisan agreement in Congress on the need to take action. “It starts with addressing slave labor and the multi-national corporations that enable it to persist abroad.”

“We know that in the Chinese province of Xinjiang, for example, the Uyghur Muslim minority has been forced into concentration camps and their labor exploited by Chinese state-backed businesses, both in Xinjiang and elsewhere,” the senator expounded. “This cheap, forced labor is a big reason why China has become a production powerhouse.”

Hawley has initiated proposals that would counteract the exploitation of forced labor and put American workers first. “To address slave labor,” he said, “we should enact a punitive import tariff of 100 percent on all goods that are produced in Xinjiang or that contain materials that originate from that province.

Additionally, big corporations based in America should be required to certify that their entire supply chain is “slave free” or face stiff penalties, the senator said.  “Then, we should require that all goods originating from a country believed to be a source for forced labor by the Department of Labor be marked as such.”

“Will Nike be able to sell as many shoes if the label says they come from a place suspected of slave labor? This is how we can change corporate behavior,” Hawley said. “By purging slave labor from our supply chains, we can isolate China economically and limit its access to rich American firms that fuel its aggression in the Indo-Pacific.”

But China’s rapaciousness is only part of the picture, Hawley explained. He called out those in Washington who for decades enabled China to exploit America by allowing billion dollar industries “from Big Tech to Wall Street to Nike, the NBA, and Disney…to pursue profit at the expense of everything else.”

The real sellouts to China, Hawley said, are mega corporations that are “obsessively wedded to the Chinese market,” and don’t flinch from taking advantage of forced labor in China and elsewhere. “This is shameful. It is wrong. And it holds our country back.”

At the June G7 summit in Britain, the subject of China’s repressive domestic policies was raised, including its systematic persecution of the Uyghurs.  The G7 summit called on China to discontinue the forced labor camps, respect human rights in Hong Kong and Xinjiang province, and to permit a full probe into the origins of Covid-19.

According to a Guardian report, President Joe Biden said he “walked away” from the summit “convinced that the group recognizes that Beijing is part of a growing threat to global democracy.”

Fifty Years of Pursuing a Pipe Dream

U.S. foreign policy of the past 50 years, spanning seven White House administrations, was driven by the belief that a prospering China, encouraged and befriended by America, would result in the softening of its hard-line Communist regime,” noted former Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, in a Fox News appearance.

“After 50 years of constructive engagement with China, the idea that if we sold some more Chinese trinkets…let them come operate here in America, that they would grant [their people] some political freedom… this has clearly failed,” asserted Pompeo.

“The Chinese Communist Party now presents the single greatest threat to the United States of America from external forces, bar none. We need to mount a sustained, serious campaign to push back against them,” he said. “And it’s doable.”

The Trump administration took measures against China in its final months, imposing sanctions on officials and companies for their violation of human rights in Taiwan, Tibet, Hong Kong and the South China Sea.

Trump halted imports of cotton and tomatoes from Xinjiang, a major global supplier of cotton, and has also blacklisted companies linked to forced labor in the region. Communist party officials linked to the Xinjiang anti-Uyghur campaign have been targeted with US sanctions.

Whether the Biden administration decides to walk back some of Trump’s China policies remains to be seen.

“I truly hope [Biden] will pick up the cudgel where the Trump Administration left off,” Pompeo said in the interview. “We don’t want to live in a world dominated by the Chinese Communist Party.”

 

******

The Rise of Communist China

Communism got off to a disastrous start in China in 1927, as a small group that set out to follow Marxist doctrine instigated an industrial workers’ uprising in Shanghai.  “The revolt was promptly crushed.  Chiang Kai-shek’s Nationalist government executed hundreds of strikers and purged communists throughout the country,” a WSJ history of the communist period outlined.

A junior party leader named Mao Zedong then started a rural revolt 600 miles southwest of Shanghai. Before long, Chiang’s troops surrounded Mao’s forces, pushed them out of their base area and inflicted great losses as they retreated to Yan’an in the far northwest.

Once the Red Army got to Yan’an, the party recruited people from various social classes, from peasants to intellectuals. It gained support from peasants in the area by reducing rents and resisting the invading Japanese army.

In 1945, with the defeat of the Axis powers, Japanese forces withdrew from China and Mao’s peasant army faced Chiang’s military in a civil war. Expectations were that Mao’s ragtag forces would be demolished. But in one of history’s strange reversals, Chiang’s army fell apart in battle, and with some help from the Soviet Union, the communist forces made an unexpected march to victory.

Mao built a cult of personality around himself but his leadership proved catastrophic. Just a year after the People’s Republic was proclaimed, he sent his forces to intervene in the Korean War, where close to a million of them were killed or wounded.

In 1958, he launched the Great Leap Forward, which killed an estimated 30 million to 40 million people in history’s largest man-orchestrated famine, historians say. In 1966, he set in motion the Great Cultural Revolution, which cost the jobs, health or lives of millions of people and brought the communist party to ruin.

After Mao’s death in 1976, his enemies took revenge on his widow and three political allies who were arrested and convicted for their “counterrevolutionary crimes.” Mao’s successor was toppled after just a few years by Deng Xiaoping, whose far-reaching economic reform and political liberalization restored the party’s popularity for a time. He became the first contemporary Chinese ruler to visit the United States, after establishing diplomatic relations.

But by 1988, a period of unprecedented openness to the West exposed the Chinese to Western political values, breeding nationwide resentment over communist oppression.

In the spring of 1989, tens of millions of citizens demonstrated for democracy in more than 300 cities around the country, led by hundreds of students who called a hunger strike in Tiananmen Square.

The protests were brutally suppressed by the government’s shooting of hundreds of dissidents in Beijing, along with widespread arrests throughout the country.

Thirst For Unlimited Power

Since taking power as party chief in 2012, Xi Jingping has promoted himself through a cult of personality in the style of his predecessor, Mao. Early on, he took steps to eliminate all possible opposition by launching a ruthless “anti-corruption” drive, eliminating one of the party’s highest elite.

He now consolidates a tremendous amount of power in his hands, including control of the country’s armed forces, as “Chairman of the Central Military Commission,” a position he awarded himself. He holds himself high above the masses, infallible and unable to be questioned.

Taking grandiosity to new heights, in 2016, he designated himself the party’s “supreme leader” and cancelled retirement laws regulating government positions to ensure his unlimited tenure in office.

Xi Jingping’s thirst for power is reflected in state media reports that refer to him as lingxiu, a reverent term for “leader” that has never been granted to any Chinese leader since the Mao era.

Although use of the internet and social media in China is tightly regimented by the government, according to Quartz, an online news site, many Chinese internet users circumvent state censors and anonymously mock Xi Jingping’s thirst for power by sharing political memes.

One was an image of Winnie the Pooh—often compared to Xi—hugging a huge jar of honey, with the caption: “Find the thing you love and stick with it.”

 

 

*****

White House Accuses China of Hacking Microsoft

The Biden administration has accused China of commandeering the hack of Microsoft email server software used by many of the world’s largest companies, governments, universities and military contractors, reported the AP.

A statement from the White House said that U.S. allies including all NATO countries have joined with the United States in condemning China for hiring criminal groups to carry out the global cyber attack earlier this year. That criminal activity cost governments and businesses billions of dollars in stolen intellectual property and ransom payments.

Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken said in a statement that China’s Ministry of State Security “has fostered an ecosystem of criminal contract hackers who carry out both state-sponsored activities and cybercrime for their own financial gain,” a NY Times article said.

The same day, the Justice Department announced charges against four Chinese nationals who prosecutors say were on the payroll of the Chinese Ministry of State Security while carrying out the hacking campaign.

The international censure of China issued this week makes it clear that world perception of China’s aggression is not limited to its war games in the Asia-Pacific region, but encompasses its relentless ambitions in the technological sphere.

China has poured immense resources into developing world-class capabilities in emerging technologies and has just built the world’s largest 5G high speed mobile network. But its cutting-edge advances have increased Beijing’s opportunities to collect intelligence, disrupt communications and threaten user privacy world-wide, experts say.

“Its intelligence services use their access to hi-tech firms to enable malicious activities, including the introduction of vulnerabilities into software and equipment,” wrote John Ratcliffe in a WSJ op-ed.

Allegations that cellular network equipment sourced from Chinese vendors may contain “backdoors” enabling surveillance by the Chinese government are bound to gain greater credibility, in the wake of this week’s revelations about China’s role in the hacking of Microsoft.

Even before these disclosures, many countries including the United States, Australia, Britain, Japan and Vietnam have heavily discouraged or banned Chinese companies from providing 5G equipment by Huawei—a major Chinese telecommunications vendor.  The bans were prompted by security concerns, and growing distrust surrounding the Chinese government’s deep involvement in the industry.

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