Facing the Threat of the Chinese Communist Party

Understanding the CCP’s extent, and intent, is key, says Clyde Prestowitz
By Thought Leaders
Thought Leaders
Thought Leaders
October 28, 2021 Updated: October 28, 2021

Nearly 20 years after China was admitted to the World Trade Organization, China hasn’t become more democratic or free. And Western capital has ultimately only strengthened China’s communist regime.

“We were fooling ourselves,” says Clyde Prestowitz.

Prestowitz was a leader in the first U.S. trade mission to China in 1982, and he’s served as an adviser to four presidents, both Republican and Democrat. He is the author of “The World Turned Upside Down: America, China, and the Struggle for Global Leadership.”

Here’s an excerpt of an interview with Jan Jekielek, host of EpochTV’s “American Thought Leaders.”

Jan Jekielek: What comes through in your book is how important the supremacy of the Party is to the leadership, and frankly, to anything anyone ever does there, right?

Clyde Prestowitz: Right. It’s important for people in the West to try to get a grasp of the extent and intent of the Chinese Communist Party. We say Chinese Communist Party, but we could also say a Leninist party.

What’s the difference? The point here is that Lenin established a model for governing in which complete power is concentrated in the hands of very few people who are the party. The characteristic of a Leninist party is one that it seeks to control everything narrowly, in very few hands.

And secondly, it’s paranoiac. That means that it has to survey constantly what’s going on in every element of the society, be it medicine or arts or engineering or whatever it is. The party has to know what’s going on and surveil that and be sure that there’s no threat to the party there.

You see that in what is developing in China with surveillance using artificial intelligence to track people and social scores and so forth. That grows out of this paranoia of the party.

Imagine that the president of the United States named, appointed, every governor of every state, every mayor of every city, every CEO of every major corporation.

The few top leaders of the Chinese Communist Party have a program. They have a complete strategy. They’re thinking: What is our technology strategy? What is our military strategy? What is our welfare strategy? They have a completely coordinated strategy across the board, and nothing is being left to chance.

This is so alien to the West, and particularly to the individualistic United States, that it’s hard for us to grasp. But if we don’t grasp that, we can’t adequately respond to the challenge that China poses.

Mr. Jekielek: Something that you mentioned is this idea that Xi plays a central role in choosing the CEOs of all the major corporations. Is that really true?

Mr. Prestowitz: Well, think about it. One-third of the Chinese GDP is generated by state-owned corporations. The heads of the state-owned corporations are directly named by the Party. So already, he’s naming at least one-third of the major CEOs.

Mr. Jekielek: Those are the massive companies.

Mr. Prestowitz: Yes, right. Those are the huge state-owned things. They’re spread all over the world. I mean, the Port of Piraeus in Greece, several of the ports in Australia, are run or owned by state-owned Chinese corporations.

Even when the Party doesn’t directly name the head of a corporation, the head of that corporation, whoever it is, is subordinate to the Party.

More important even than that is this: Let’s take an American corporation. Everybody knows Apple. Many people have iPhones or they have some Apple product, right? Now, in America, we call Apple an American company, and it technically is because it’s incorporated in America.

But think about it this way. In Washington, D.C., Tim Cook is a very powerful player. He spends millions of dollars in Washington on lobbyists, lawyers, advertising, you name it. He has power in Washington. He has instant entrée. If he wants to talk to President Biden, he picks up the phone and he talks. If he wants to see a senator or a congressman, he gets that meeting. He makes big donations.

Apple, the corporation, makes political donations. He is a powerful force in Washington. In China, he’s on his knees. He kowtows, just like all the other Chinese. He has no political influence at all in China.

To give you what this means, in 2015, the FBI in the United States was investigating a case. In order to solve the case, they needed to be able to open an Apple iPhone. They asked Apple to help them. And Apple said, “No way. We are not opening anything for you. FBI, go jump in a lake.” The FBI said, “OK, we’ll take you to court.” They began court proceedings against Apple.

Now, as it turned out, the FBI found an independent technologist who helped them open the phone, and so they dropped the cases. But Apple absolutely refused to cooperate with the U.S. government and the FBI.

OK, fast-forward to 2019, and kids are demonstrating in Hong Kong against the imposition of the communist system in Hong Kong. Apple has, in its App Store, an app called Hong Kong Map Live, which, if you have the app, means that you can look at Hong Kong in real time.

What the kids were doing was they were looking at Hong Kong in real time and they were saying: “OK, the police are over there. We’ll demonstrate over here.” That just drove Beijing crazy. The China People’s Daily, the mouthpiece of the Chinese Communist Party, began writing very strong editorials against this app.

Within two days, that app was out of the App Store. That gives you an idea of the relative [power]. In America, Tim Cook would not have taken the app out of the App Store, but in China, he takes it out.

Everything that Apple makes is made in China. Given that, in China, Tim and his team have virtually no power. Given that everything they make is in China and given how dependent they are on the Chinese infrastructure, we need realistically to recognize that Apple is a Chinese company. It’s not an American company.

Apple will respond more quickly to what Xi Jinping wants than what Joe Biden wants. Xi Jinping is much more powerful vis-a-vis Apple than Joe Biden. Many other American companies, General Electric, FedEx, you name it, are all kowtowing. They have to kowtow to the Chinese Communist Party. They effectively have become captives of the Chinese Communist Party.

Mr. Jekielek: America, as you say, was convinced that it would reshape China, the Chinese regime, in its own image, but you say, “Well, actually it was America that was reshaped somehow.”

Mr. Prestowitz: The Americans had a view, and it became the view of the establishment. Whether they were Republican or Democrat, they were all convinced it was going to become a liberal, free-market, democratic world. Globalization became a watchword.

It’s now obvious that China is not going to become like us. It’s obvious that the Chinese are not aiming to become part of our rules-based order. China is building its own order.

Our battle is not with the Chinese people. It’s with the Chinese Communist Party.

Mr. Jekielek: Give us a sense of where you’re going.

Mr. Prestowitz: Xi Jinping is now taking measures to impose greater control and greater oversight of individuals in China to control them more. The more a free-world entity invests in China and helps to strengthen this anti-free speech, anti-liberty, anti-soul Communist Party, the more it’s not about money. It’s about fundamental human values.

I think that increasingly major corporations are going to find it very difficult to justify making money at the expense of human values. I’m optimistic that’s the direction it’s going to go.

There are some other things we need to keep in mind. China has been growing economically very rapidly. But it’s also aging rapidly. Its population is going to shrink dramatically. Today, there are 1.4 billion Chinese. By the end of the century, it’s going to be down to about 700 million, about half of today’s present population.

In my view, we need to make America the leading manufacturing country and the leading technology country. We need to do that with our allies. We need to pull the free world together.

As long as you’re dependent, you’re vulnerable to coercion. Coercion is China’s way of operating. So we need to make ourselves independent of coercion.