U.S. policy on China has changed significantly under the Trump administration. During a landmark speech at the Hudson Institute on Oct. 4, 2018, Vice President Mike Pence spoke openly of the threat of the communist regime in China—something unheard of during previous administrations.
“I come before you today because the American people deserve to know … that as we speak, Beijing is employing a whole-of-government approach, using political, economic, and military tools, as well as propaganda, to advance its influence and benefit its interests in the United States,” Pence said.
What caused this major shift in the U.S.-China strategy? Why exactly does communist China pose a national security threat to America and many other nations, and how does the Chinese regime endanger basic freedoms worldwide? And what are possible responses to this threat?
In this special episode of American Thought Leaders, we revisit the testimonies of a broad field of China experts who spoke at the “China’s Global Challenge to Democratic Freedom” forum hosted by The Hudson Institute and Freedom House last October. This was on the very same stage where Vice President Pence made his speech three weeks earlier.
I was on one of the panels myself, speaking about the challenges the Chinese language edition of The Epoch Times and sister media, Chinese language NTD Television, have faced from the Chinese communist party, because they dare to remain independent truth-tellers.
Today, while criminal charges against Chinese telecom giant Huawei and the US-China trade war dominate headlines, let’s take a look at what the Chinese regime has been doing over the past few decades to create a massive web of influence.
The following is the text of the episode:
Vice President Mike Pence: After the fall of the Soviet Union, we assumed that a free China was inevitable. Heady with optimism at the turn of the 21st Century, America agreed to give Beijing open access to our economy, and we brought China into the World Trade Organization.
Previous administrations made this choice in the hope that freedom in China would expand in all of its forms -– not just economically, but politically, with a newfound respect for classical liberal principles, private property, personal liberty, religious freedom — the entire family of human rights. But that hope has gone unfulfilled.
Jonas Parello-Plesner: Safeguarding our democracies from the Chinese Communist Party’s authoritarian and corrupting influence…
Peter Mattis: If you don’t have an active press looking into this…
Laura Rosenberger: An increasing assertiveness from Chinese leadership, and a desire to shape the world around China in a way that’s beneficial to China’s future in the long run.
Jan Jekielek (narration): For decades, the Chinese regime promised its rise on the world stage was peaceful. And many governments, businesses, and academics believed it. But now a different image is emerging, of a communist regime working to aggressively—and at the same times covertly—undermine freedom worldwide.
In its 70 year history, the Chinese Communist Party has persecuted waves of Chinese people to consolidate and maintain its political power.
Today, the communist party still suppresses people of faith including Falun Gong practitioners, house Christians, Uyghur Muslims and Tibetan Buddhists. Dissenting voices such as rights lawyers and activists are also brutally repressed. But it’s not just about what the regime is doing within its own borders.
VP Mike Pence: As history attests though, a country that oppresses its own people rarely stops there. And Beijing also aims to extend its reach across the wider world.
Peter Mattis: The CCP is focused on lowering the antibodies of the democratic society.
Xiao Qiang: It’s inevitably in conflict with open societies, with our values, with our institutions, with our civil liberty.
Jonas Parello-Plesner: It’s no longer about engaging China to promote liberal reforms in China, but it’s equally about safeguarding our democracies from the CCP’s authoritarian and corrupting influence.
Jan Jekielek (narration): Efforts to safeguard democracy our challenged by the CCP’s multi-pronged approach to build influence in each country it targets.
Jonas Parello-Plesner: The Chinese Communist Party uses money rather than communist ideology as a powerful source of influence, creating these parasitic relationships of long term dependence, that we see both at Universities, at newspapers, and many other western institutions.
Jan Jekielek (narration): And when money doesn’t work, the communist regime uses strong-arm tactics to intimidate or coerce others to bend to their wishes…
Jan Jekielek: In America, thugs of Chinese origin have beaten up our staff.
Jan Jekielek (narration): It uses a communist strategy known as the United Front to influence foreign actors to serve Beijing’s interests.
Jonas Parello-Plesner: United Front strategy has been elevated and expanded, and it’s often been called a so-called “magic weapon”, which relies on both co-opting Chinese diaspora communities, and equally on building relationships with western enablers to make the foreigners serve the CCP.
That often means limiting the parameters of debate about China in Western democratic governments and civil society, so it does not pose a threat to the Chinese communist party.
Jan Jekielek (narration): Australia was first to confront the issue of Chinese communist influence after it was revealed that wealthy Chinese businessmen with ties to United Front groups donated heavily to its two major political parties.
Former Australian Prime Minister, Malcolm Turnbull: We have recently seen disturbing reports of Chinese influence.
Jan Jekielek (narration): As a result, the country introduced laws in 2018 to counter the threat of foreign influence.
PM Malcolm Turnbull: We will not tolerate foreign influence activities that are in any way covert, coercive or corrupt.
Jan Jekielek (narration): The regime has also set its sights on Western media, offering outlets money to run narratives promoting a positive view of the Chinese party…From paying for advertorial inserts made to look like news… to giving media outlets perks and access.
Josh Rogin: Couple days later an article on Vox comes out with essentially the same headline and argument…but then at the very bottom of the article…it said quote ”this reporting was supported by the China united states exchange foundation”. “They didn’t even realize, even after I pointed it out, what they had done. Which is taking a bunch of gifts from the United Front in order to do reporting on China.
Jan Jekielek (narration): One panelist described a particular case of Chinese influence on a media outlet in South America.
Juan Pablo Cardenal: We saw the Chinese ambassador going to the newsroom, visiting this newsroom of this newspaper. So after that, those visits, this newspaper signed a deal with People’s Daily… Then they were invited to an event, to–this newspaper to go to a conference in Beijing, about the One Belt One Road initiative…. you now don’t see any criticism of China in that newspaper anymore.
Jan Jekielek (narration): And when that approach doesn’t work, the panelists said the Chinese Communist Party works behind the scenes to muzzle their critics.
Jan Jekielek: For about a year we had people in NASDAQ reporting from there. One of the executives from NASDAQ was in China, he got pulled in, got interrogated by Chinese authorities while in China and the next month, suddenly our reporters were all expelled from NASDAQ.
We had no idea why. It was only years later when the WikiLeaks cables were published that we realized, ‘Oh, I see, this is what happened.’
Jan Jekielek (narration): The CCP is also using various tactics to pressure media outlets to self-censor, says Freedom House senior research analyst Sarah Cook.
Sarah Cook: They really comprise a systematic effort to signal in many cases to commercial partners and media owners that their operations in China and access to Chinese citizens will be jeopardised if they assist, do business with, or refrain from censoring voices the CCP has designated as politically undesirable.
Jan Jekielek (narration): But it’s not only journalists self-censoring, Western academics feel the pressure too.
Perry Link: Do we China scholars self-censor? You bet we do.
Jan Jekielek (narration): Top China scholar Professor Perry Link warned about the regime’s malign effect on academic freedom almost 2 decades ago.
He said the Chinese regime bred a culture of fear among China scholars. Not by direct threats, but by unspoken threats of being arbitrarily detained or being denied access to sources in China.
Perry Link: Does self-censorship in the scholarly world exist? It not only exists, it’s everywhere. It’s by far the rule, not the exception. The cost of doing this is to the US public, that’s the most painful part of it to me.
Jan Jekielek (narration): One panelist spoke of the great lengths one academic allegedly went to to maintain access to China.
Bethany Allen-Ebrahimian: In order to get off the blacklist, he agreed to pass on information about one of his students to a Chinese intelligence officer, and he got his visa back.
Jan Jekielek (narration): There’s also Confucius Institutes spreading influence on college campuses.
Rachelle Peterson: What are Confucius institutes and classrooms? Basically, they are Chinese govt’ sponsored centers on campus.
Jan Jekielek (narration): Confucius Institutes are Chinese language learning centers on campuses. Classes, textbooks and teachers are paid for by the Chinese regime.
Rachelle Peterson: There’s a lot of censorship, self-censorship, in some cases propaganda.
Jan Jekielek (narration): A 2018 Report by the US China Commission warned that Confucius Institutes “advance Beijing’s preferred narrative and subvert important academic principles such as institutional autonomy and academic freedom.
More than 100 colleges and universities in the United States host Confucius Institutes. At least 10 have closed their programs amid growing concerns from Washington.
Chinese student associations on campuses have also become a tool of the Chinese Communist Party, under intimidation by Chinese diplomats in the United States.
Dr. Teng Biao: The repressive Chinese government is weaponizing Chinese students, overseas Chinese students, to curb academic freedom on the western campus.
Jan Jekielek (narration): Two recent events at Canadian universities highlight this issue. At Hamilton’s McMaster University, Chinese international students protested a talk given by an Uyghur rights activist, Rukiye Turdush about the regime’s human rights violations in Xinjiang province.
Rukiye Turdush: A few Chinese students tried to disturb me during the speech and one of them actually verbally insulted me during the discussion period.
Jan Jekielek (narration): Two days later, the Chinese Students and Scholars Association released a statement saying they reported the event to the Chinese consulate.
At the University of Toronto Scarborough, Chemi Lhamo, a Tibetan-born Canadian received thousands of hateful messages from Chinese international students after she was elected president of the university’s student union. Foreign companies are also finding themselves in the crosshairs. If they don’t toe the party line, they risk losing access to the world’s second largest market.
Josh Rogin: Tell every international airline they have to pretend that the country of Taiwan doesn’t exist.
If you don’t do that, well, you’re not going to be able to fly into China on your airline anymore. That is exactly taking this… and threatening punishment to shape behavior for American and international corporations.
Jan Jekielek (narration): This happened in February when Chinese authorities forced an Air New Zealand flight en-route to Shanghai to turn back mid-air, reportedly because the airline’s paperwork made reference to Taiwan as an independent country.
Vice President Pence pointed out the hard truth of Beijing’s behavior.
VP Mike Pence: The Chinese Communist Party is trying to undermine academic freedom and the freedom of speech in America today.
Jan Jekielek (narration): He also acknowledged a prominent and long-term China advisor to multiple U.S. administrations.
VP Mike Pence: As Hudson’s own Dr. Michael Pillsbury has written, “China has opposed the actions and goals of the U.S. government. Indeed, China is building its own relationships with America’s allies and enemies that contradict any peaceful or productive intentions of Beijing.”
Jan Jekielek (narration): Dr. Pillsbury’s book, The Hundred-Year Marathon, describes the Chinese leaders’ drawn out method of surpassing the United States. In a statement to the U.S. House Intelligence Committee, Pillsbury said, “My thesis in The Hundred-Year Marathon is while Americans have the illusion we have been managing China’s rise, the truth is the other way around — China has been doing a much better job of managing America’s decline.”
Michael Pillsbury: My book is about how deeply these beliefs are held in China, how long they’ve gotten away with this, and a kind of warning I’ve given to my friends in the Trump administration, that please don’t underestimate what we’re dealing with. What we’re going to do to stop this, is probably going to depend on Congress.
Jan Jekielek (narration): Pillsbury also stated, “This is clearly a bipartisan national security matter.” He re-emphasized this at the Hudson/Freedom House forum.
Michael Pillsbury: If a Trump person agrees with Laura Rosenberger, that’s already good news… We’re going to have to have action by the U.S. government.
Jan Jekielek (narration): But government cannot combat the threat alone.
Rachelle Peterson: Use the bully pulpit, call out a university when it sells its academic integrity to an authoritarian foreign gov’t, and come out on record and express concerns about Confucius Institutes.
Jonas Parello-Plesner: You could also have independent Western newspapers go together and make a code of conduct saying you won’t accept these sort-of Chinese ad-inserts.
Jan Jekielek (narration): It’s about being vigilant, being resilient and shoring up our defences.
Laura Rosenberger: We have to be precise about what we’re combating, we have to combat it as a unified country, understanding that it’s not about our party politics, that it’s not about a single politician.
Xiao Qiang: Only [when] we fight back, push back, and defend ourselves, and defend our freedom, [only then] the Chinese authoritarian regime can learn a lesson.
Jan Jekielek (narration): This is just a small selection of what thought-leaders on China have to say about the Chinese communist regime’s plans to subvert America, freedom and expand its influence worldwide.
Correction: A previous version of this article incorrectly identified McMaster University as being located in Toronto. It is actually located in Hamilton. The Epoch Times regrets the error.
This interview has been edited for clarity and brevity.
Views expressed in this article are the opinions of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of The Epoch Times.