Experts, through a primarily technological lens, discussed the national security threats posed by China and Russia during a panel discussion Friday afternoon at the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC)—the largest annual conservative conference.
KT McFarland from the American Conservative Union Board and the moderator of the panel “Big Tech Is for Sale and China and Russia Are Buying” opened up the talks by noting that the topic of discussion wouldn’t have even been seen as an issue just 5 or 10 years ago, as it wasn’t widely recognized.
Rebeccah Heinrichs, a senior fellow at the Hudson Institute, said China is now very open about its goals and how it wants to dominate the world “technologically, militarily, and diplomatically.”
“It means we have to start competing,” she said on the panel. “It was the Trump administration who really oversaw this seismic shift and helped the United States to take the China threat seriously. We have to put money in our military to make sure we are deterring Chinese aggression in the western pacific.”
The Chinese Communist party uses technology to “censor and to steal,” according to Heinrichs.
“They do it by having these 5G, these next generation technology abilities,” she said, adding that the previous administration’s Secretary of State Mike Pompeo was the face of fighting against this through his “Clean Network” campaign.
The campaign at the time effectively booted Huawei Technologies Co. out of critical telecommunications infrastructure in many countries. The effort, while not well-publicized, secured an array of commitments from governments to exclude untrusted vendors from their fifth-generation (5G) wireless networks.
It’s going to take effort on a federal, state, and individual level to counter CCP influence when it comes to technology, said Heinrichs, noting that a state representative in Florida has introduced legislation where Floridians have to concede to have their data handed over to technology companies.
“You individually have to care that your data is not being sucked up by the Chinese Communist Party and by Big Tech,” she said. “You have to care enough because they can muscle us out, but they can also win by our acquiescence.”
“Do not buy commercial technology and drones off the shelf that are made in China, there’s no distinction in China between the private sector and the military,” she added. “They take all of it, put it in artificial intelligence to sift through all of that information data, and weaponize it against us.”
“The Chinese are engaged in massive espionage to steal our technology, to be educated in our universities to learn what we’re doing here,” she said.
Another speaker on the panel, Former U.S. acting Attorney General Matthew Whitaker, noted that the United States is “still the global leader in innovation.”
But he said the challenge is “that the Chinese understand that and they want to be in a position that once we prove a concept they can steal it.”
“That’s why things like Huawei routers need to be taken out of the entire US communication system,” Whitaker said. “We cannot have a Huawei router in the United States. The Chinese were very involved in the development of the 5G protocol for the first time really in the world system of creating those protocols.”
“It’s a scary time and if we don’t wake up, and if our leaders don’t wake up, I think we are in for a long-term struggle against the Chinese,” he added.
The United States in 2018 banned Huawei technology from use by the government or any of its contractors, and in 2019, the company was added to the Department of Commerce’s Entity List, which effectively bars U.S. companies from selling components to Huawei without an export license.
While Russia is still a “very serious problem, Heinrichs said the country doesn’t have “the same kind of engine that China has economically.”
“[Russia has] a lot of nuclear weapons so they have a serious competitor … but they don’t have the engine and the ability like China has to carry out the amount of destruction that can to undermine the United States,” she said.
“The United States is going to have our lunch eaten, Joe Biden, if we don’t do something about it,” she added. “And it’s going to happen by the Chinese Communist Party. We want to stand with our Taiwanese partners, great contributors to the free world, our South Korean allies, our Japanese allies, our Australian allies.”
“The U.S. has the moral high ground there, we want to put the United States’ influence on things like trade and global business,” she said. “We have to fight for that.”