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Cleo Paskal: Inside CCP Entropic Warfare, From Shipping Fentanyl to Bribing Elites to Fueling Civil Wars

“The overt, stated goal of China is to be number one in the world in terms of comprehensive national power … In a relative sense, if you’ve knocked [other countries] down, you’re doing better than they are. So this explains, for example, why from a comprehensive national power perspective, it is beneficial to the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) to pump fentanyl into middle America,” says Cleo Paskal, a senior fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies.

Fentanyl “destroys communities. It destroys families. It’s real entropic warfare, creating this fragmentation, disintegration, [and] chaos within a target country,” says Paskal.

Paskal, a leading expert on China and the Indo-Pacific region, breaks down the CCP’s strategy in the region, from promoting division and civil war to buying off the elite of small island nations.

“They learn from Japanese movements and American counter movements in the Pacific [during World War II]—which islands and locations are strategic, where you have to hold, where the deep water ports are,” Paskal says.

“Xi [Jinping] in particular has staked his reputation on delivering Taiwan. But it doesn’t stop with Taiwan.” The CCP’s goal is to “push the Americans out of the Indo-Pacific … and push American functional operational capabilities back to Hawaii,” she says.


Jan Jekielek:

Cleo Paskal, such a pleasure to have you back on American Thought Leaders.

Cleo Paskal:

Thank you. It’s really good to see you and great to be back on the show.

Mr. Jekielek:

So, Cleo, you wrote a fascinating article, China Winning Entropic Warfare in the Pacific Islands. When I was reading this, I was thinking to myself, this entropic warfare just doesn’t apply to the Pacific Islands. Let’s start there because this is your real area of expertise. And so, what is going on over there?

Ms. Paskal:

First, it’s not warfare in the tropics, so we have to define the term entropic, E-N, tropic, entropic. A state of entropy is when things start to fall apart or fragment and become chaotic. If you look at how the Chinese Communist Party conducts its political warfare and targets countries, part of it is entropic warfare. To get there it helps us to understand the goal of the Chinese Communist Party is foreign policy. A core component of that is, and we see it in the Chinese think tanks, is comprehensive national power.

To explain that term, it’s a term that the Chinese use to rank countries. It’s an empirical metric. Each country has a comprehensive national power numerical value, and the overt stated goal of China is to be number one in the world in terms of comprehensive national power—everything that we think of economically and militarily. But it goes down to if you have a rare earth mineral mine in your country, but it’s a Chinese company that’s mining it, they count that towards their comprehensive national power, not yours, because that is feeding into their systems. They have a completely different way of looking at it. If you have a panda in the zoo, that means that they’ve got a point off of you for soft power on their ledger.

It’s very empirical, and it’s a little bit insane. A lot of things that you see with the Chinese Communist Party is where they think they can break things down into numbers, and they can break humanity down into numbers. But it’s a really important driving force and comprehensive national power. There are two ways of improving your relative ranking. One is the typical American way, which is you work hard and get better. The other is you knock everybody else down. And then, in a relative sense, if you’ve knocked them down, you’re doing better than they are.

This explains why from a comprehensive national power perspective, it is beneficial to the Chinese Communist Party to pump fentanyl into middle America, because it destroys communities, and it destroys families. It’s real entropic warfare creating this fragmentation, disintegration chaos within a target country. In a relative sense, it’s a city in middle America that has been hit by fentanyl drops.

And in a relative sense, China is doing better off. That gives an indication of what they’re willing to do in order to advance comprehensive national power, which is to use unrestricted warfare, which of course, is another Chinese term. It’s the name of a book from 1999 from two PLA Air Force Colonels, where they talked about what they thought were the valid methods of warfare against enemies like the United States.

They listed 24 different types of warfare including drug warfare, but also including sanctions. We know for over 20 years they’ve been thinking of not only defending themselves from sanctions but using sanctions like we’ve seen against Australia, for example, to try to create an environment where their relative comprehensive national power is higher.

So, we’ve got two Chinese terms, comprehensive national power and unrestricted warfare. Those are their terms. They look at a country and if they can do elite capture, they prefer to do that. They just get the country through the elite. If they can’t do that, then they use unrestricted warfare to wage entropic warfare to disintegrate and weaken those societies, so that the resistance to Chinese coercive behavior is lessened.

They tend to identify an authoritarian leader and then back them. In the case of entropy or civil war, an authoritarian leader has an advantage, especially if they’re backed with PRC assets and intel. They also tend to get pushed away from the Western sphere. Americans don’t want to deal with some proto-authoritarian leader. The leader is left with even less choice, and so, they’re even closer to China. The pattern I’m describing now is exactly what happened in the Solomon Islands during a three-year period. In 2019, they switched from Taiwan to China.

Mr. Jekielek:

I want to jump in and qualify. They switched, meaning previously they recognized Taiwan as being China. And now, for the benefit of our readers, they switched to the PRC. [People’s Republic of China]

Ms. Paskal:


Mr. Jekielek:

And how did that happen?

Ms. Paskal:

Usually bribery, the usual elite capture. With the Solomon Islands, and this is another thing to understand, we’ve forgotten how important the Pacific Islands are strategically. The Solomon Islands are the home of the battle of Guadalcanal which was just over 80 years ago this past summer. This was a highly strategic location that the Japanese needed to control if they were to control Australian access into the region. And the Americans needed to control it if they were going to push back the Japanese ability to interdict Western behavior.

That movement was very closely studied by the Chinese. They learn a lot from history. They’ve learned from the Soviet Union how not to collapse. They learn from Japanese movements and American counter-movements in the Pacific, which islands and locations are strategic, where you have to hold, and where are the deep-water ports.

They’re trying to do with political warfare in those Japanese and American locations, what was bought in blood by the Americans during the liberation of the region. These locations, Guadalcanal, and some of the other countries as well, are soaked in the blood that was necessary to liberate them the last time around.

This time, China got them just by buying off the right people at that 80th commemoration of the battle of Guadalcanal. The America sent the daughter of John F. Kennedy. John F. Kennedy had his boat sunk, was torpedoed during the battle, and his life was saved by two Solomon Islanders. His daughter, who’s now ambassador to Australia, came up for the commemoration.

The prime minister of the Solomon Islands wasn’t even there. All of these high-level people came in for this commemoration. There were Japanese representatives. The Prime Minister just didn’t show up, because he’s so deep in China’s pocket that he didn’t want to give any importance to this liberation from the last authoritarian imperialist power. That’s how deep it is.

They have switched, and that’s how fast it happened. They switched in 2019 from Taiwan to China. In the intervening time, there were riots, then they signed a security agreement between the Solomons and the PRC that allows the deployment of Chinese military personnel to protect Chinese citizens and assets in the Solomon Islands at the request of the Solomon’s government.

The key thing is, they bought off 39 of the 50 members of Parliament, which was enough to change the Constitution to delay elections. This is what happens. A pro-PRC authoritarian leader is setting the groundwork to delay elections, and if there’s a civil war because of it, that’s fine with him. because his Chinese backers will come in with a military that will keep him in power, and he’ll never have another election again. That’s entropic warfare.

Mr. Jekielek:

Fascinating. Previously on the show, we also covered what happened to one person that stood up against this approach if you could remind us.

Ms. Paskal:

Yes. This is really important. As China was coming into the Solomons, there was one province in Solomons, Malaita province, that is led by Daniel Suidani, the elected premiere. He said, “No, I don’t like this.” He saw what was coming, and they issued the Auki Communiqué. Auki is the capital of Malaita province.

The Auki Communiqué, which was signed by his government and the traditional chiefs of the region says, “We don’t want any CCP-linked companies operating in Malaita.” And that’s what the Chinese come in with, right? “Oh, we’re going to come in with economic development, we’re going to have those companies, and we’re going to come in with money. And he said, “We don’t want it.”

There were some reasons for it, but the main reason for it was, and it’s in the communiqué, “We believe in freedom of religion. In this case, we are Christians.” There was a freedom of religion issue. “We don’t want to deal with a systemically atheist country.

They knew about the relationships in the Chinese Communist Party. They could see what communism was in the context of religion, much more clearly than many of the people here who get caught up in all these other different things. As people of faith, they wanted to have nothing to do with these guys. And then, Premier Suidani got sick, and he needed an MRI.

The central government led by this pro-PRC prime minister, refused to give him the funding to get the MRI outside the country, which would’ve been standard operating procedure for the premier of a province, unless he took the investment from the Chinese, which is an exportation of the Chinese social credit system, “Accept the Chinese into your heart, or you die. Accept the Communist Party in your province or you get no treatment.” And he said, “No.”

If you want to see people who are willing to die, rather than take Chinese Communist Party money, go look in the Pacific, they are there. They are actually all over, and there tend to be people who believe in something bigger than themselves—people of faith, people who believe in their community, people who care about their family, which can give you an indication of how to fight back.

But that is also the exact definition of the people that Chinese Communist Party tries to destroy inside of China. They know that they are a threat to them. They know faith, family, community, and freedom are kryptonite to the Chinese Communist Party.

Daniel Suidani said, “No, I’m not going to take the money.” People who believe in the same things as he does, which is faith, family, and freedom, heard about it. One of them in India said, “We can’t let you die.” And he happened to know President Tsai in Taiwan and called President Tsai. President Tsai said, “Come to Taiwan, we’ll bring you to Taiwan for the medical treatment you need.”

And he got the treatment that he needed, and eventually, he came back. Now, what’s missing from this story? What were the Australians doing? Because the Australians are the five eyes partner that is supposed to be leading the Western engagement, especially in that part of the Pacific. They didn’t offer him any help, and he had to transit through Australia to and from Taiwan, and none of them ever went to talk to him.

No debriefing, no courtesy visits, nothing, which is a bit of a different issue. But it’s telling that countries that we may not be identifying as frontline fighters in the fighting against the Chinese Communist Party like India will act in way. There’s an individual in India, but it’s consistent. In fact, Prime Minister Modi is going to be going to Papua New Guinea, which is a neighboring Pacific Island country in the beginning of the year. It’s the first visit by an Indian Prime Minister to Papua New Guinea, because they’re worried. They’re worried that China is coming in and the Western Five Eyes’ construct is failing.

Mr. Jekielek:

Let’s talk for a moment about Papua Guinea because it’s generally, not a country you think about very often. I think of cargo cults, things that I’ve read from the past. But this is actually, a pretty sizable country in its own right and pretty significant in the region.

Ms. Paskal: 

It has a larger population and a larger land mass than New Zealand. It has gold and copper and all sorts of stuff. If we weren’t still looking at it through colonial lens, we would be paying a lot more attention to Papua New Guinea than we would to New Zealand. The relationship with New Zealand is historical, and there are installations and it’s part of infrastructure.

If you’re India and you’re not part of that Western construct to begin with, Papua New Guinea potentially offers you a lot more in terms of potential for engagement. It’s very strategically located, and also a very complex country. It has scores of languages, if not more. It needs help in everything in the education sector and healthcare sector.

But the reason you’re going to hear about Papua New Guinea is there’s one section of it called Bougainville, which had a civil war. There was a civil war between Papua New Guinea and Bougainville over a big mine that was in Bougainville. And it was a very bloody, horrible civil war. And very recently Papua Guinea was an outright colony of Australia until 1975.

As part of that decolonization, the Australians wanted to keep control of some of the mining assets, including this mine, and it contributed to the civil war. The civil war ended with a peace treaty 20 years ago, which hasn’t been fully enacted. But in the peace treaty, there is a provision for an independence referendum. They had the independence referendum, and 97 per cent voted for independence. And now, it has to go through the parliamentary process.

This is another clue as to how China will look for fragmentation. If Bougainville doesn’t get independence, it’s very likely the civil war will reignite. If it does, and the West isn’t part of both sides of the discussion, the Chinese will come into whichever side the West isn’t on and they will be very happy to have a civil war where it’s backing a side that becomes more alienated from the West.

If we accept that Bougainville is going to go independent because that’s what its people want, and that’s what was in the part of the process for the peace treaty, then instead of having just one country that’s friendly to the West, we can have two countries that are friendly to the West.

We can see that as an opportunity, but we need to build from the ground up. Again, this is what the Chinese Communist Party doesn’t like. It doesn’t like stable, peaceful communities. Instead of doing what the Chinese did in the case of the Solomons, where the Chinese gave weapons to Sogavare, this corrupt, pro-PRC Prime Minister, the Australians said, “We’ll give you more weapons.” They can say, “The Chinese are going to give you weapons? We’re going to work with you on a peace treaty. We’re going to help bring real security and stability to the population, not weapons. We’re going to fight your warfare with peace.”

Mr. Jekielek:

What I’m thinking to myself right now, and maybe there’s some other viewers that are thinking this as well, this entropic warfare, as you’re describing it, it seems like the U.S. may have engaged in similar type practices in some parts of the world that didn’t work out very well. This isn’t an issue of whataboutism, it’s more just like how is what the PRC is doing different from what the U.S. was trying to do at one point?

Ms. Paskal: 

I would equate it more to what the British were trying to do in the 19th century—divide and conquer to set up a colonial government. That is more of the model, because that’s very much the end game that Beijing wants to set up. You can see it in a place like the Solomons. It is sort of self-governing like a British colony, but the resources are being extracted. The foreign policy is controlled essentially out of Beijing. The locals are suppressing the other locals, that kind of thing. It’s very much just a colonial model. And it’s an open deference to China. There were a lot of American covert activities, but there weren’t necessarily publicized.

You didn’t necessarily want the American ambassador going through the center of town on a carpet of rose petals or something like that. But the Chinese do, they want to be acknowledged as being the center of all under heaven. The U.S. didn’t do a lot of great stuff. But if you’re trying to look to history to understand what this model is, so that you can figure out how to fight it, it’s the colonial model, the classic European colonial model, especially the British model, which from a Chinese perspective was successful for a very long time, and is more relevant.

Mr. Jekielek:

Very interesting. So, there is this whole idea of wanting to establish the rest of the world as a vassal states to the CCP, ultimately. Is that how you see it?

Ms. Paskal: 

Yes. There is the imperial vassal state, and you pay your tribute. As I see it getting set up in a place like the Solomons, the advantage of looking at the Pacific Islands is that they are very small. The Solomons are 350,000, 400,000 people, something like that. You can see the mechanisms a lot more clearly. The layers are a lot thinner. You can see who China is targeting, and what they’re going after. You can see they go after democracy and the judiciary and the media.

There’s more to the Daniel Suidani story. They tried to do a vote of no confidence. In fact, they’re trying to do another one. I was doing an interview with somebody from that team and they were saying, “We’ll go to the court.” My experience on this is, by the time you’re saying, “We’ll go to the courts,” the Chinese have the courts.

Before a big action is taken, they will have tried to block off all of the escape routes. So, the judiciary will have been compromised, the media will have been bought off, as well as definitely social media, before a big move is made. Just to give you an idea of how far down the road the the Solomons are, they are the headquarters of one of the major fisheries, and the regional fisheries organizations are there.

The U.S. was doing a patrol with Coast Guard cutter in the region. It was a Coast Guard cutter, an anti-illegal fishing patrol, which all the countries in the regions say they want. It was supposed to come into the Solomons to refuel, and it was refused entry. Currently, no foreign military ships are allowed entry into the Solomon’s. But they’re letting the Australians and the New Zealanders in, which tells you something.

But American ships can’t go in, British ships can’t go in, and Indian ships can’t go in. I’m sure the Chinese can go in if they want. But they have closed their ports to the country that died on their beaches to liberate them the last time. And this isn’t what the people of this Solomon’s want. Effectively, it is elite capture.

Mr. Jekielek:

It’s very interesting to me. I’ve been thinking a lot about what we’ve been learning about in the Twitter files. I’m going to make a bit of a leap here. You mentioned how important the capture of the media and social media is, and that these institutions have a real power to shape public opinion.

You say that in the Solomons that people’s opinion isn’t there. But my guess would be if these institutions are captured somehow or very aligned in the CCP direction that is changing.  With this Twitter files release, we see how public opinion has been shaped. We’ll be seeing a lot more of that, for example, around President Trump. We’re probably going to learn more about what happened with respect to COVID policy. We’ve seen all sorts of dumps of emails showing this interaction between different institutions to shape opinion. My point is, it’s very powerful. My question is, how does what we see happening there relate to what we see happening there? Is there any comparison in your mind?

Ms. Paskal: 

Yes, there’s a lot of comparison. The goal would be to take over easily. We talked about unrestricted warfare, and the 24 warfares, there are all these different warfares. There are three warfares that we hear about the most, which is psychological warfare, media warfare and lawfare.

They would prefer to create a CCP-friendly domestic environment through positive media portrayal, that kind of thing. But they’re also happy to create division in this society, so that you get this entropic effect, and the citizens are fighting each other rather than looking at what’s happening from the outside, coming at them from the outside.

If you’re fighting over whether to defund the police or not, because there are people who are hooked on fentanyl, who are creating havoc within your society, and your focus is on that, “Do we defund the police? Do we have money on top? How do we do that domestically?” You’re not asking who’s pumping in the fentanyl, right? What you’re doing is teaching people to hate each other.

In the U.S. especially about two years ago, you started to hear a lot of language comparing this period to the civil war, when Americans are fighting Americans. I would argue that a better comparison would be the war of independence, where you’re trying to free the country from outside influence and control, in this case from China.

If you’re focused on a civil war and not a war of independence, it’s obviously beneficial for the outside power, because it’s easier for them to walk right in, and find the factions that are more likely to support it. How do they do that? They do it through social media.

And COVID was great for them. We were all stuck inside looking at our computers. It helped them gather metadata and put together profiles to feed into the AI systems, to do mass customized manipulation, and to get into our heads. We were sitting there in front of a machine that had the capability to get right into our brains and create an environment that is conducive to the things that China wants to get out of the United States. But this is global.

In the case of the Pacific Islands, the main entry point is Facebook. It’s not the nightly news, it’s not the New York Times, it’s Facebook. They have enough fake profiles, and they also focus a lot on languages. The people at the local Chinese embassy will speak the like the locals. If they’re in Tongan, they’ll speak Tongan. If they’re in Samoa, they’ll speak Samoan. That means they can get onto Facebook, and they can start to affect the debate at various levels.

There was a case recently in the Marshall Islands, which was very important case, and we can get to it. They almost brought down the government, and the the amount of bribes was only $7,000 and $22,000. The amount of money needed, if you can find the right person through this profiling and affect the society to get it ready for these things, is very, very small.

Mr. Jekielek:

Fascinating. Very briefly, what happened in the Marshall Islands?

Ms. Paskal: 

If somebody asks you which countries are the best friends of the United States, so what would you say?

Mr. Jekielek:

Canada, I’d like to think.

Ms. Paskal: 

So, would I.

Mr. Jekielek:

Right. We’re both Canadian.

Ms. Paskal: 


Mr. Jekielek:

What were you going to say?

Ms. Paskal: 

There are three countries, Palau, the Marshall Islands and the Federated States of Micronesia that have through the voluntary Compact of Free Association, that’s the name for the documents, given over their defense and security to the United States of America. They literally trust their lives to the United States of America. The Pacific Islands, you think they’re small, but when you look at the zone they cover in the Pacific, they are as large as the continental of United States, and it starts from just behind the Philippines.

If you have that zone and you have Guam and the Marianas, which are part of the United States, the security perimeter of the United States goes from Hawaii all the way to just behind the Philippines. That’s how important those countries are. They push the front line of the U.S. from Hawaii all the way to essentially the other side of the South China Sea.  It is very, very important strategically. Those countries are independent countries, but they have these Compacts of Free Association with the U.S. Every 20 years, there’s a financial component to it. The people of those countries can work in the U.S. In fact, many of them serve in the U.S. military at a higher rate than the general U.S. population.

They are in a lot in place like Arkansas, and they are in different places all over the U.S. We are in a period right now when the financial component is being renegotiated, and it happens every 20 years. In the meantime, two out of the three recognize Taiwan, including the Marshall Islands, which is the location of the U.S. Kwajalein Missile Base.

A Chinese couple who got ahold of Marshallese citizenship around 2018 decided to try to set up essentially a country within a country. Remember this is a country that recognizes Taiwan. They wanted to set up on an atoll called Rongelap, an equivalent of special administrative district, which would have its own visa requirements, and customs requirements.

It would essentially be a little China-run node within the Marshall Islands. To do that, they needed legislation passed. To do that, they paid off a whole range of different people, and they came within one vote in the parliament of the Marshalls of getting their way, and that was in 2018. And it was only because the president stood against it that it didn’t happen. That president lost the next election and the effort restarted.

The FBI got involved because the NGO through which they were running the bribery money is based in New York and is affiliated to the United Nations. And the Marshall’s wasn’t the only country they were involved with. They’re involved with Vanuatu, and the high-ranking people from Bangladesh were at the launch party. And this, from the outside, looks like a Chinese intelligence operation.

Because they had that headquarters in New York, the FBI could get them extradited. They were in the Philippines and brought to New York to stand trial. Just within the last couple of weeks, they pled guilty, which means we’re never going to actually find out what happened. But they came very close to creating a country within a country in the middle of one of the most strategically important zones that the United States has is Indo-Pacific defense architecture. They had a free run for a few years, which shows how unmonitored the area is, and how active the Chinese political warfare is.

Mr. Jekielek:

I see. There was a plea deal, but there won’t be discovery of what actually happened. Is that what you’re saying?

Ms. Paskal: 

Yes. Not only will we not get to hear more about what happened apart from what was in the indictment in the Marshalls, we’re not going to hear about their relationship to all these other countries, and what other operations they had going in all these other countries.

Now, it could be that they’re part of the plea deal was that they are giving intelligence to all relevant organizations in the United States. I would hope so, but that’s not guaranteed. I personally believe in transparency, and it would be helpful for the people of the Marshalls to see that the United States believes in transparency, accountability, and rule of law, and that they learn who in their country is playing these games.

Mr. Jekielek:

Do you think that the American establishment fully grasps the significance of this perimeter that you’re describing?

Ms. Paskal: 

How can I answer in a polite fashion? No. When the compacts were originally set up in the 80s, there were people in Congress who had fought in the Pacific Theater. They might have been wounded there. They knew people who had died there. They understood the cost of creating these relationships in the first place, the cost and blood and treasure. They knew what these countries were, and they also knew that U.S. Guam is right next to these countries. They’re neighbors.

Now, there are high-ranking people in the U.S. administration who cover this professionally, who have said when they were originally given the assignment, they couldn’t find them on a map. These are people who are in expert positions on the topic. It’s not through lack of intelligence or devotion to the US or anything like that. It’s just that we don’t talk about them anymore.

Mr. Jekielek:

I want to talk about another nation in the region, Taiwan. But before we go there, you’re doing something to help people understand the significance.

Ms. Paskal: 

Talking to you. But apart from that, there is a lot of growing interest by testifying before Congress and talking to various other people. We’re also trying to understand more about how the three Freely Associated States, Palau, Marshall Islands, and the Federated States of Micronesia can be in a better position to defend themselves.

The interest of the U.S. might wax and wane. I would hope it would become strong and stay strong. But things change. All they want to do, and for the most part is to be able to defend themselves to be safe. Their strategic location means, they’re on a maritime highway if somebody’s trying to get from Asia to America or vice versa. They’re never going to be unimportant. Because the U.S. took responsibility for defense and security, their defense and security abilities have been frozen in aspect.

Mr. Jekielek:

As many countries, even the number of European countries, maybe at a dramatically different scale, are still in that boat, right?

Ms. Paskal: 

Yes, that’s right. What’s starting to happen is they’re starting to look at setting up their own national security councils. Palau has a national security coordinator, and she’s very good. She’s a former prosecutor, and she’s trying to create an office and get out information about what China’s doing in the region. Palau is a country with a population of 20,000 people, and they put out a national security strategy. She put out a research document on the illegal activities of one of the Chinese spy ships, the Yuan Wang 5, in Palau waters, showing it going up and down the cables and creating problems for them.

The other two countries are also in the process of thinking about putting in their own national security councils. Wang Yi, the Chinese Foreign Minister went through the region in the spring with his two documents, which was a common vision for China in the Pacific Islands, and then a five-year plan to achieve it. The president of the Federated States of Micronesia, President Panuelo, put out a letter saying, “This is one of the most game changing things we’ve ever seen in our lifetimes.” And specifically, it tied Chinese ambitions in the Pacific Islands to Taiwan, and said they want to take Taiwan peacefully, if possible, and by force if necessary. And that’s why they’re looking at the Pacific Islands.

Mr. Jekielek:

You mean game changing, but not in a positive aspect.

Ms. Paskal: 

Yes, game changing in a way like when you’re playing a baseball game and a typhoon comes through, that kind of game changing, completely overturning what’s there already. This is the one of the three countries that does recognize China. He was writing a letter to other Pacific Island leaders saying, “This is really dangerous. We see the Chinese ships going up and down our cables. We see all this other stuff going on, and we know this is about Taiwan.”

They’re ready to talk about their security environment. That’s why they are looking at putting together these national security councils. That’s a topic that I’m trying to learn more about and figure out if there’s a way to be helpful in setting up something. They’re leading it, but they don’t even know. In fact, not many people know how the U.S. National Security Council works.

How can the systems work together effectively? In the Freely Associated States, those compacts are actually managed through the Department of Interior, not even the state. So, the state is negotiating, but the money’s supposed to run through interior, but it’s a defense thing because of their location. But the post office is involved because they have U.S. postal codes.

So, there’s all these different departments and agencies that are FEMAs, and everything’s involved. It’s uncoordinated on the U.S. side, and the FAS has somewhat limited capacity. We need to try to figure out if there are institutional adjustments or creations that could streamline both sides, so that they can fit together more like Legos and not more like a hammer and a screw. The two pieces really don’t fit particularly well at the moment.

Mr. Jekielek:

This is of much greater importance to the U.S. than many people realize. There’s one lesson from everything we’ve heard today, and I hope some of the right people are listening. Let’s jump to Taiwan because this is the critical question. There were just elections in Taiwan, which I think surprised a lot of people. What are the implications of that from your analysis? And also, why exactly, it’s so obvious from that five-year plan, that vision that the Chinese foreign minister had, that Taiwan is the target.

Ms. Paskal: 

If you look at what they ask for in the plan, it’s things like, “We’ll help you set up fingerprinting labs, and we’ll help you run your customs, and we’ll help you do forensics. It’s getting into the nitty-gritty of a security state. “We’ll help you train your police, and we’ll help you do all of those. That’s why it’s so interesting to take a look at the Pacific Islands, because you can be sure that this is the same thing they’re trying to do in Africa or South America. But because it’s so small and because the Pacific Islands are leaking all the time, you can actually see what it is.

If you want to take Taiwan, and we know that Chinese want to take Taiwan, you look at this power projection from the coast of China or maybe from the South China Sea Islands, and then you build out from there. If you take Taiwan, and you plan on holding Taiwan, Taiwan is the center, and then the circle goes out from there. If the circle goes out from there, those are those Pacific Islands.

You can’t be secure in holding Taiwan unless you also hold those islands. Guam would be in that periphery. But you don’t hit Guam, so you don’t provoke a response from the U.S. But you’ve got your pieces in place in all the other ones. For example, in Palau, something that the national security coordinator has brought out is that the U.S. is looking at putting in an over-horizon radar station. Chinese interests have bought real estate in very strategic locations that give it line of sight into where the U.S. installation would be.

You want to use that installation, but who knows, the power gets cut off, and a missile comes in from a house right next door, and you don’t know what it is. But you know that China knows what it is. They’ve done a survey of every piece of valuable real estate in each of those Freely Associated States and figured out where are the U.S. facilities are that they would need to disable.  They investigate whether they can buy or lease a shop, an apartment, or something within the line of sight.

If you’re going to take Taiwan and hold Taiwan, you need to have functional control in at least that band of Pacific Islands. And if you go down the map and you’ve got Solomons and PNG and maybe Vanuatu, then you can cut off the Australians and the New Zealanders, who are functionally irrelevant anyway. And it also makes it a lot more difficult for Japan to come down from the north.

This is the World War II map, right? It is exactly the same thing. The island chain defense, which is part of what Taiwan is, that island chain off the coast of China is a Cold War thing. The geography hasn’t changed except China has built itself new islands in the South China Sea that allow it to project power even further out.

Mr. Jekielek:

Not a lot of people are aware that taking Taiwan is central to the education of anyone in the Chinese military. That is a foregone conclusion as I understand it. Where are things at with us?

Ms. Paskal: 

As Xi said at the 20th party conference, they prefer peaceful reunification, but no means are off the table. All means are available. There are a million guesses. If you look at how they’re building their navy and their rocket force, they’re building it to be able to do it, and also with the amphibious capabilities of the Marines.

With civil-military fusion, their roll-on, roll-off ferries, the use of civilian aircraft, they have enormous capabilities, an enormous lift already. It would be hard to argue they are not designing a military capable of that specific task. This is what they’re building for. Would they prefer to wait until 2024 and get a different administration that just capitulates, or has a two country, one system-type agenda? Yes, they would.

Xi has staked his reputation on delivering Taiwan, but it doesn’t stop with Taiwan. If you take Taiwan, that’s the necessary preliminary step for doing what we know they want to do, which is push the Americans out of the Indo-Pacific, particularly the Pacific, and push American functional, operational capabilities back to Hawaii. This was in 2008.

There’s testimony, one of the admirals said that a Chinese officer come up to him and said, “Why don’t we take Hawaii West and you take Hawaii East and don’t worry about it. We’ll report back to you if there are any problems.” That sort of thing. He took it as a joke. I don’t think it was a joke. I think that’s really the goal.

If they take Taiwan, then what will all the American allies in the region think? Will the Philippines think that the U.S. is going to back the Philippines? What will the Japanese do? What will the Malaysians do? What will the Indonesians do? You get a whole band of failure of U.S. ability to protect allies and partners in the region.

And so, countries scramble to cut a deal with China hoping that they’ll be eaten last, so to speak. And then, that pushes out one way, and then it pushes out the other way towards the Pacific, which is why the Indians are so nervous, and why Prime Minister Modi is going to Papua New Guinea again.

India is helping to rebuild Angkor Wat in Cambodia. They’re doing defense deals with Vietnam. They’re trying to give the countries in the region the ability to fight China, so that China doesn’t come at them by the land border or up into the Indian Ocean. Because right now, that if Taiwan goes, that whole region doesn’t look good.

Mr. Jekielek:

Some people watching might be thinking to themselves, “The U.S. is just way over extended. There’s a big war support for Ukraine. I’m concerned. I think the U.S. needs to focus on its own problems, which are considerable.” Why is Taiwan and that whole region so important at this stage?

Ms. Paskal: 

This is, I would argue, and I would take the Chinese at their word on this, a battle of systems. So, you have a choice. You have a choice of a system like you’re seeing happen in the Solomons. You accept the Chinese Communist Party into your heart or you die, or you have a system where you have the ability to live a free life in the faith of your choosing, with the people you care about. And the state isn’t trying to make sure that you are just a supportive component of its ambitions.

We’re back to the old battle of systems that you always tend to see with an authoritarian regime, in this case, the Chinese Communist Party. They are fundamentally expansionist. They don’t know how to not expand. They’re not going to stop because it’s like Russia and the Ukraine. Some people will argue, if you just give Russia that portion of Ukraine, then it will feel secure. There’s another portion next to that portion of Ukraine, and that will make the Russians feel secure also.

And so, they’ll want a little bit more, and then they’ll want a little bit more, and then they’ll want a little bit more. You can ask if people in Lithuania or Poland what they feel about that, just give them a little peace and the alligator will be satisfied. It is the same with the way the Chinese Communist Party looks at it. It will just expand, expand, expand, and expand.

If it takes Taiwan, the U.S. will have demonstrably failed at defending a successful democratic open society. That is a key component of the strategic architecture of the Indo-Pacific. It is a very, very big win. Taiwan is incredibly important strategically, philosophically, economically, and any way you can imagine. That’s why China wants it, wants to destroy it, and then turn it into Hong Kong.

Mr. Jekielek:

And not to mention chip manufacturing.

Ms. Paskal: 

Yes. The chip manufacturing is important, but when you get back to comprehensive national power, it’s like COVID, okay? Wherever it came from, China knew it had a problem. There was this virus that was in Wuhan, and what did they do? They blocked internal flights, and they allowed external flights, so it was allowed to spread.

They turned what was an domestic epidemic into a global pandemic. Because if your mentality is comprehensive national power, you’re going to take a hit when you know you’ve got a problem. But if everybody else takes a hit also, and you use that arbitrage moment to gather PPE, and to position yourself, you can come out relatively ahead, which they did. The same thing with the chips. If the chip manufacturing is destroyed, it hurts China, but it hurts everybody else also. So, if they can be in a position where they’re hurt relatively less, they come out ahead.

Mr. Jekielek:

There’s been some compelling arguments made that the vision of the world that you described, in the West there are quite powerful entities and people endeavor for a similar vision. The way that our societies responded to COVID reflects that. Some of these folks might say, “Okay. Fine and good that the CCP wants this, but we have our own struggle that we need to have here as well.” How do we deal with this?

Ms. Paskal: 

We’re Canadian, eh? So, let’s talk about the truckers. Did you watch any of the commission?

Mr. Jekielek:

Yes, I’ve been following the issue closely.

Ms. Paskal: 

So, for those who are not graced by God to be Canadians, we had this trucker thing and the Canadian government invoked the Emergencies Act, which had only ever been invoked during serious terrorist incidents in the early 1970s.

Mr. Jekielek:

Right. By Trudeau’s father.

Ms. Paskal: 

By the father of Trudeau, the current Prime Minister, and during the war. And it was invoked during what was until then not an illegal protest. Part of the act is that, subsequently, you have to have a commission of inquiry into whether this was legitimate use of the act or not. There have been these weeks of testimony that have been presented. Everybody has to testify, including the Prime Minister. The testimony has, for me as a Canadian, has actually been terrifying. One of the people who testified was our deputy prime minister, and she was talking about the freezing of bank accounts.

What was happening was, the bank accounts of the families of truckers were being frozen, so that the families would call the trucker and say, “I can’t get money to feed the family. I can’t get money out of the bank account. We can’t pay, I can’t buy food for our kids,” as a way of applying pressure for the truckers to come home. Well, it worked, right? That is to me, the Chinese social credit system style of control. And there were reports, there’s more documents that have been coming out that there was also a thought to make people report to the police station before their bank accounts were unfrozen.

Remember, these protests were not illegal. We’ll see the outcome of the inquiry of the commission, but thinking of the mechanisms of state and using them in that way is really terrifying to me. I don’t know where it’s going to go. This is something that’s in progress, but this is not dissimilar in concept, although it’s in scale to what somebody like Daniel Suidani went through in Malaita province, where wrongthink is punishable in ways that are not what I thought my country would do to its citizens.

Mr. Jekielek:

What you’re talking about is a very good point. One of the upcoming interviews that we have on American Thought Leaders is with Aaron Kheriaty about his book The New Abnormal, which talks about how under emergency power a state exercised all power that is very difficult to roll back, even if you ever lift that state of emergency. And in many cases that decision hasn’t been made in some democratic countries. So, your point is very interesting. This is not a finished story, and this is an opportunity for people in a free society to act as free citizens.

Ms. Paskal: 

I don’t think anybody sought Elon Musk coming. They are things that happen in these systems like the Twitter files that will change behavior. We know that other tech companies are quickly deleting files as quickly as they can, but our system is better than the Chinese system. It just is, and it has self-correcting mechanisms and things can get bad. If there is some core of that system left, it can self-correct.

I heard what happened with that testimony and I didn’t accept it. The danger would be if I thought, “Oh, yes, that’s normal and that’s fine. Why shouldn’t they report to police stations?” Then, they’ve gotten into my head, then this whole psychological warfare through social media, that stuff has gotten to me. And then, we’re really in trouble, unless people feel like this isn’t normal and discuss it and get back to some of the basics of what gave us the ability to have these societies in the first place. If you’re in the United States of America, it’s being willing to cross a frozen river in the middle of the night on Christmas Eve, and go and kill your enemies, right? Because they are trying to force you into submission.

Then, as long as those discussions are being had and those thoughts are being thought, then there’s hope. You don’t have to be stuck in this moment. It can be part of this pendulum that occasionally goes back and forth. And that’s why, again, the Elon Musk Twitter story isn’t finished either. So, I’m not despairing. I don’t think we’ve lost the entropic warfare attack on our cultures and our countries, but the attack is there. We are under attack. That definitely needs to be acknowledged and internalized and understood, and then countered.

Mr. Jekielek:

The thing that I want to get to the bottom of is how these different types of attacks intersect with each other? How is the Chinese Communist Party using its entropic warfare to further create more entropy here and make things chaotic enough that it just might be able to achieve its ends? That’s what I want to get to the bottom of.

Ms. Paskal: 

What the Chinese Communist Party is very good at doing is identifying real problems, legitimate grievances, and then leading you to the wrong solution. To use a silly example, if the problem is that your ice cream is too cold, then the solution is burn down the creamery. That’s a very simple example. But if your problem is racism in society, which is a completely legitimate problem, your solution is to cut the society up into racial groups and pit them against each other for what are presented as scarce resources. That’s a solution that serves external goals and benefits China, not necessarily the United States of America or Canada.

The way to counter that, to get back to the Pacific Islands in a case like Bougainville and Papua New Guinea, is to acknowledge there is a real problem here. Bougainville was promised or fought for independence and signed a peace treaty. If the solution being presented is to reignite a civil war to get it, that’s not great.

Get back to that real problem and figure out what the real solution would be, which I would argue would be to get back to that original treaty. It’s very hard to sign a peace treaty. You’re in a war, people have died, you’ve done terrible things, the hurt is there, but you’ve decided to put that aside for a hope for the future. That takes an enormous personal sacrifice. It’s very difficult, but they did it, and they did it in the Solomons 20 years ago.

Those sacrifices should be honored and should be built upon. Then, you’ve got a real problem, but you’ve got a real solution that has buy-in domestically. And China hates that. First, forget what China thinks because it’s really about the people. But in that situation, China can’t find purchase. The cracks aren’t there. It’s like a sheet of ice which has little cracks in it, and China will jump on it and jump on it until the cracks break open and the ice flows all disaggregate.

If you can keep it together and bind it together and put another layer of water on top and reinforce the situation, China hates it, and the people are better off for it. Similarly, they’re going to look for cracks and disagreements and real problems, and we should solve them before they have a chance to exploit them.

Mr. Jekielek:

Cleo Paskal, it’s such a pleasure to have you on the show.

Ms. Paskal: 

Thank you. It’s always great to see you. Thank you.

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