Gen. Robert Spalding: How China’s Communist Party Is Using the Pandemic to Expand Its Global Influence

March 25, 2020 Updated: April 6, 2020

Amidst the CCP virus pandemic, how is the Chinese Communist Party using the doctrine of “unrestricted warfare” to attack America?

How is it leveraging medical supplies to do so?

How should the US respond to the Chinese regime’s information warfare campaign against the US and other free nations, and its attempts to make the West more economically reliant on China?

What are some important considerations for dealing with coronavirus in the US?

In this episode, we sit down with General (Ret.) Robert Spalding, a senior fellow at Hudson Institute and author of “Stealth War: How China Took Over While America’s Elite Slept.”

Spalding retired from the U.S. Air Force as a brigadier general after more than 25 years of service. He is a former China strategist for the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and the Joint Staff at the Pentagon, as well as a senior defense official and defense attache to China.

Jan Jekielek: General Robert Spalding, great to have you back on American Thought Leaders.

Gen. Robert Spalding: Thank you. Great to be back.

Mr. Jekielek: You’ve written the book, “Stealth War,” a very important book. I think every American should read it.

A tweet you put out caught my eye. You said, “We are witnessing the unleashing of the full effect of unrestricted warfare. Trade war blocking of masks and related medical supplies, information war to make it seem like the US created the #CCPvirus and all while dealing with a global pandemic.” So you’re saying the Chinese Communist Party, the Chinese regime is unleashing war on America, but not a conventional war? Tell us more.

Gen. Spalding: Well, if you read [the book] “Unrestricted Warfare,” I think it’s on page 145, they talk about the additive properties of different elements of warfare that they talk about throughout the book. So the book itself, or the report written by [two People’s Liberation Army colonels Qiao Liang and Wang Xiangsui]… talks about using financial warfare, trade war, economic war, media war, political war, ideological war, to essentially undermine and overpower a superior military opponent. So it does talk about some use of military arms, but primarily the document is talking about how the openness of globalization and the internet presents an opportunity for inferior opponents to really subdue a militarily superior opponent. And so in the additive properties, their idea is to create a new form of warfare when you begin to add these things cumulatively at the same time.

The elements being played out as we speak is both in terms of trade war, where they’re blocking the movement of masks, and at the same time they’re blocking the movement of supplies to the United States. They’re increasing the movement of supplies to other countries. So they’re trying to essentially make it look like the Chinese Communist Party is a savior of Western Europe, for example. At the same time [they are using] this opportunity in the aftermath of the coronavirus pandemic that they created to solidify their control over global supply chains, to increase their level of deployment of things like 5G technology. It’s all in their pronouncements.

In addition, they’re using ideological warfare to essentially convince allies and partners that not only did they not create the CCP Virus; that in fact, the US Army is the one that’s culpable for creating the virus. And at the same time, they’re preventing any CDC researchers from doing forensic investigation of the origin of the virus. So they’re covering up the actual truth while essentially creating a new truth on the ground. And because they control all the data coming out about the coronavirus or the CCP Virus, then it’s all according to the narrative that they themselves control. At the same time, they just had their ambassador to the United States distance himself from the claims that the virus was started by the United States. And that created a media cycle here in the United States saying that there’s a rift within the Chinese Communist Party. All of these are ploys by the Communist Party. And it shows the true power of globalization and the internet. … And so this is, this is laid out completely in that report, and I talked about in my book, but it’s hard for people to grasp how powerful this new type of warfare is, because we’re so used to the traditional type of warfare with planes and ships and bombs and tanks.

Mr. Jekielek: General Spalding, you mentioned earlier that the CCP somehow created the virus. I just want you to clarify what you mean by that because there’s all sorts of people saying all sorts of things that the CCP created versus their narrative that the US created it.

Gen. Spalding: What I said is they created the global pandemic. They destroyed the initial samples taken from the sick in Wuhan—where they had the genome sequenced—they destroyed all of that. They destroyed the evidence. They covered up. They hid. They prevented researchers from getting into the country. And they basically said, well, they see no evidence of human-to-human spread of the virus. At the same time, hundreds of thousands of people were leaving Wuhan, and going to all points of the compass. So I’m not claiming that they created the virus, although we won’t know because they’re not going to allow CDC observers to get to the P4 lab or speak to researchers, or really do this required forensic investigation. But we can say with 100% certainty that the Chinese Communist Party created the global pandemic. If they had worked three weeks earlier to stop the spread, 95% of the current infections happening around the world would have been prevented.

Mr. Jekielek: I’ve been watching some of the messaging coming out of our State Department from the spokesperson, Morgan Ortegas, and she’s been challenging some of these statements by the Chinese Communist Party. She called out Chinese officials for the WHO report from calling COVID-19, a “dangerous pathogen.” How is the WHO involved in all of this?

Gen. Spalding: Well, first of all, let’s go to that quote that you just read to me. She used the term COVID 19. That term was actually negotiated between the WHO and the Chinese Communist Party. So in fact, even when we are counteracting Chinese Communist Party propaganda, we in some ways are still perpetuating Chinese Communist Party propaganda because we allow them to name things, and this naming of things is very powerful. And I’ve talked about this before—how China seeks to put their own name on something in order to control how it is portrayed. So, even within that, as she’s countering propaganda, she is allowing the Chinese Communist Party to control the narrative.

But it’s clear that the WHO is under the influence of the Chinese Communist Party. Every action they’ve taken is to make the Chinese Communist Party look better. And really, they’ve enabled the Chinese Communist Party to actually create this global pandemic. They’re the ones that could have stepped in and acted much sooner to call this an international emergency, to call it a potential for a global pandemic, to talk about human-to-human spread of the disease. But they actually failed to do that. They failed to be aggressive. And they’re not aggressive when it comes to the Chinese Communist Party because they’re influenced by them.

Mr. Jekielek: Presumably they seek to not lose access to the 1.3 billion people in China. But then I guess I’m asking myself the question, how much access to real information do they really have?

Gen. Spalding: This is the same challenge that our own diplomats have. There was a recent article in the Wall Street Journal, decrying the fact that we move so many diplomats out of the embassy and therefore they don’t have access now that we’re trying to coordinate efforts on the CCP Virus. The truth of the matter is that the political officers at the embassy didn’t have access before. In fact, when I was a defense attache in Beijing, I negotiated the return of the UUV (unmanned underwater vehicle), because I was the only one in the embassy that actually had access, and I had access through the People’s Liberation Army. The political officers had no access to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. In fact, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs wouldn’t speak to them. And many times they would not grant them an audience.

And so this idea that because we moved personnel and their families out of China to protect them from the CCP Virus, that we’re somehow culpable… it just really goes to show how uninformed people are about what the true nature of the Chinese Communist Party is, and what the nature of our relationship is. It’s a one-sided relationship where they dictate the terms. And for the most part for the last 30-something years, we’ve been accepting those terms. What we’ve said is no longer going are we going to accept those terms. We are going to create fairness and reciprocity in the relationship. And of course, as we force fairness and reciprocity in the relationship, then all kinds of people come out of the woodwork here in the United States criticizing the Administration for that.

Mr. Jekielek: How could it possibly be so one-sided? It’s supposed to be diplomacy, right?

Gen. Spalding: Well, because we don’t stand up for ourselves, and we haven’t stood up for ourselves. Again, we believed that we needed Chinese cooperation. There was this fundamental belief that the US was on decline, and China was on the rise. And therefore, we needed to take a second position to the Chinese Communist Party.

By the way, this is a regime that absolutely has 100% control over its economy, over its industrial policy, over its financial policy, over everything. And we know that to be an inefficient way to organize human activity. In fact, it’s terribly constraining, but because they’ve had access to our technology, innovation, talent, and capital, they’ve been able to make it work. And we’ve [blindly] enabled that… and forced ourselves to play the second class citizen. We need to be on a fair and equal level—and this is entirely what the National Security Strategy is about—they cannot compete with us in any way, shape, or measure because of the nature of the closed regime that they perpetuate.

Mr. Jekielek: So the Chinese Communist Party officials are telling us and the Chinese people in the world that the outbreak is basically over, that everything’s fine. Is the outbreak over in China in your view?

Gen. Spalding: I don’t think we have any way of knowing. They’ve locked down. They’re expelling journalists. And I think what they’re trying to do is start their factories up, increase exports so that they can ship, thanks to all of these countries that are having challenges. Meanwhile, they’ll come up with recovery acts, and they’ll have cash that they’ll use to buy some of these products. And in fact, that’s what the Chinese Communist Party is hoping for: this increasing reliance on them as a supply chain provider, and on them as the savior.

[They are going to say] “this is how societies ought to be arranged. We have a better model.” Some people in this country, particularly the very wealthy elites, already believe that. … Let’s go back to the end of World War II. Europe was devastated because of the war. What did the United States do? We had the Marshall Plan. We gave money to rebuild the industrial capacity of Europe so that they could stand on their own two feet. You can almost look at this as a similar situation where the productive capacity of both Europe and the United States has been decimated, and the Chinese are coming in and saying, “Not only are we going not going to help you rebuild your productive capacity, but we want you to become even more dependent on us for the supply chain.” Because they know, if they cut off pharmaceuticals to the United States, what are we going to do? We don’t have antibiotics, they cut off masks, what are we going to do? So this is their goal: to be able to have this coercive power over the world. And they’re using the CCP Virus to perpetuate, accelerate, and deepen that.

Mr. Jekielek: I’m happy to hear you’ve adopted the phrase “CCP virus.” We were talking about naming earlier. That’s the way we choose to call it here at the Epoch Times. Tell me why.

Gen. Spalding: It really goes to the heart of who started this global pandemic and why. It’s talking about the nature of the regime, and this need for control, and its need to protect its own legitimacy through controlling the narrative, and secrecy. When it saw this virus come out, it was worried about its legitimacy, and so rather than being transparent and calling the WHO, … it hid for as long as it could until it can no longer hide it because it was, in fact, a spreading pandemic. By then we lost a chance to prevent 95% of the current infections.

Mr. Jekielek: Trace that out for me because that seems like a bold claim.

Gen. Spalding: They hid the evidence of the coronavirus in the very beginning. They prevented a [inter]national emergency from being called. They prevented the CDC and WHO from coming in. … They could have kept it contained in Wuhan, but they let it escape into the world.

Mr. Jekielek: But how can we say this 95% number are you referring to? I saw there were some studies done on this. Are you referring to one of those?

Gen. Spalding: Yes, I’m referring to the study that said [if a state of emergency had been] announced even a week earlier, we would have 64% fewer infections. If it would have been two weeks, it would have been 85 or 84%. And then three weeks would have been 95%. And if really if you think about it, at the same time, they were saying there was no human-to-human infection that they noticed, which was a lie. Almost on the very same day hundreds of thousands of people were flying out of Wuhan on airliners and on trains.

Mr. Jekielek: “No human-to-human transmission,” I believe was said by the WHO on January 13. Did that actually influence US policy?

Gen. Spalding: I think it did. Because if we had known there was human-to-human transmission, I think we would have moved to act sooner to close off air travel between the United States and China. As it was, the President acted fairly quickly. But because we didn’t have the full information, he was soundly criticized for it. And of course, it’s turned out that he made a great decision, but he could have made it even better decision, if the Chinese Communist Party hadn’t covered up and hid the information.

Mr. Jekielek: There’s a lot of people arguing that this is a wake-up call that we should be reshoring manufacturing, and I would like to get you to speak to that.

Gen. Spalding: What Xi Jinping said at Davos still stands in terms of what the Chinese Communist Party believes and desires. And that is for openness, the open borders of globalization, the internet, which continues to allow them to insinuate themselves in democracies everywhere. And they see the coronavirus as an opportunity to do that. And particularly because countries are going to be relying on them for medical supplies since they’re going to have the only factories open. Now, of course, we don’t know if they actually have control the virus within their own borders, because they’re not a transparent organization. … I think this crisis is actually really going to reinforce to the American people how important it is that we have our own supply of drugs and weapon system components that we need to defend ourselves. And we shouldn’t be reliant on a regime that repudiates everything that we stand for, and uses that economic and financial tie to coerce us into abandoning our own principles.

Mr. Jekielek: What do you think the economic reality is in China at the moment? Do you have any intel on that?

Gen. Spalding: The belief is that they’re going to be severely constrained for the first and second quarter but they’re going to come roaring back in the third quarter. I don’t have any reason to doubt that they’re going to try to put their people back to work and start to crank up their factories. I think their problem is going to be that the rest of the world is not going to be ready to take a lot of those supplies because our economies are slowing down. So I think they’re severely weakened in terms of their economy… I also see an opportunity for democracy to basically re-right the ship and strengthen ties amongst democracies… So what I’m talking about here is preventing the Chinese Communist Party from building the digital pipes of tomorrow in 5G.

… In fact, the CCP went to India. They said, “Let us help you with the coronavirus. We’ll build 5G networks because we use our 5G networks to monitor the population and find out who has fevers and quarantine them.” So this surveillance state that they built in China, they’re using this virus crisis as an opportunity to showcase it to the world and say, “we built this automated capability to monitor and control our population. And we would like to share that with you.” And of course, in times of fear, it seems attractive, but what you allowed them to do is essentially sinuate themselves even deeper into the veins of your society.

Mr. Jekielek: We’ve said that there isn’t a good future for the Chinese people with the Communist Party. Is there some sort of opportunity for the democracies of the world to help the Chinese people?

Gen. Spalding: Oh, there definitely is. And I think the biggest way that they could help the Chinese people is by bombarding them with the truth. You know, during the Cold War, we had something called the US Information Agency. And during the Reagan administration, they actually pumped billions of dollars into feeding the truth through Radio Free Europe, and the Voice of America, into the former Soviet states.

Radio Free Asia, Radio Free Europe, and Voice of America have been severely weakened in this post-globalized world, this post-Cold War world. It’s time for us to beef it back up to really portray the values and the principles that the United States stands for, and to counter propaganda.

When I lead a delegation to observe the Taiwan elections, what I found is a burgeoning civil society dedicated to writing the record, and providing facts to the people of Taiwan because the Chinese Communist Party had so effusively pumped propaganda into that country. And the state itself was making efforts to be very quick at responding to propaganda and refuting it. We haven’t built that into our system. We have an enormous Pentagon. We have the ability to build F-35s, and pick carrier battle groups and nuclear subs. But we cannot counter the information warfare coming out of the Chinese Communist Party because their entire system is based on that type of warfare. We’re just not good at it yet. We don’t have the resources, the personnel dedicated and trained to understand it and to counter it. This is a challenge for democracies, not just the United States, every democracy. … Hopefully, we’re going to come through this. We’re going to be stronger economically and financially, but more importantly, we’re going to be much more aware of the Chinese Communist Party.

Mr. Jekielek: So I want to talk about Taiwan a little bit. What could the US government do right now to shore up its promotion of US values?

Gen. Spalding: They can go to Taiwan and begin to look at some of their non-governmental organizations. Certainly, their government organizations are dedicated to fighting the propaganda from the Chinese Communist Party… If you inoculate society and make them aware, to educate them, and then it is possible to fight this spread of this propaganda. But you have to be much more aware of it and you have to have the right people and the resources dedicated to it. I think we’re going to get there. But we’re going to have to fight through this crisis to prevent the Chinese Communist Party from taking advantage of it, and increasing their power over us.

Mr. Jekielek: Taiwan is excluded from the WHO, but it seems like they really didn’t listen to the WHO’s opinion and formed their own opinions about how to deal with the pandemic.

Gen. Spalding: Yes. They’re much more aware of what’s going on in mainland China. And they didn’t rely on the WHO because they had their own information that said, “Hey, this is a problem. We need to do something about it.” So you have to ask yourself, who would you rather want as a member of the United Nations and the WHO?

Mr. Jekielek: Let’s talk about the economic and social situation here in the US. There seems to be this kind of tension between containing the virus and not devastating the economy. Please tell me a bit more about how you see this.

Gen. Spalding: …Hype artists are trying to say that if we don’t essentially lock down this nation for five months, we’re going to have millions dead. And, I say okay, show me the data. And the data comes from models… The problem with models, whether you’re talking about epidemiology or an economics, is the assumptions. The assumptions they put into the models don’t reflect the actual data coming out. Even the worst hit, like Italy, when you actually plug in the real numbers, the infection rates and the fatalities actually go down to something much more resembling the flu, not the millions of dead in America that these people are claiming.

Then, if after one week of closing the country, you have 3 million layoffs already, and you’re facing millions more, and the prospect of tens of thousands of companies going out of business that will create severe social disruption and devastation in our population. … In fact, you can look at how Hong Kong and Singapore handled it differently in the schools. Hong Kong closed schools. Singapore did not. You did not see very much difference in the numbers. In fact, the Hong Kong people last week were protesting in the streets, in spite of the fact that they’re facing the CCP Virus. So the models are incorrect. They clearly have worst-case scenario assumptions built into them. What we’re actually seeing now the data is much more like the common flu, maybe a little bit more severe. And that’s not to say that I don’t agree with social distancing, and trying to flatten the curve to allow our medical system to respond, to allow the production of the equipment and remediation drugs that are needed, but we can’t shut it down for five months [without] creating permanent damage to the economy in a way that may take a decade at least to come out of. And so these are the things that have to be weighed by the President. …He’s probably going to make a decision that puts us back to work, but does so in a kind of a staggered manner so that people who are less at risk and can go back to work, those who are more at risk can voluntarily decide to stay home, and then the government will take care of them.

Mr. Jekielek: Aside from the information warfare that we already discussed, what should the US government be doing?

Gen. Spalding: This is really unprecedented in that, if you go back to other times in our history, post World War II, during the Cold War, we had this tremendous manufacturing and productive capacity that we could use to help other nations. We’ve offshored it. We don’t have it anymore. We can’t even produce for our own selves. And so, one of the challenges is that we would like to help other nations. I think we are to the extent we can, but most of the supplies are being produced in China. That’s really how they have such an advantage now—this almost soft power advantage to push manufacturing supplies out that they themselves have the capacity to produce. It is an incredibly powerful reminder of how industrial policy, how national security flows from economic security, how our economic vitality, our science and technology capability is so important to how this nation is portrayed around the world. And we essentially stopped investing in ourselves for 30 years. We have an opportunity now to really go back on that, to revisit that, to rebuild our manufacturing capacity infrastructure, STEM education, research and development, and build a world-class society. And it’s tragic that we had to find this out on the back of a global pandemic. But inevitably, this is how policy change comes—only through being knocked around a bit, then you realize that you made some strategic errors that need to be rectified.

Mr. Jekielek: So you’re saying there will be a kind of silver lining despite the havoc that’s being wrought right now?

Gen. Spalding: People are down. They’re losing faith. They’re scared. But I’m telling you, I believe this country is going to come back stronger than ever. It’s going to rise like a phoenix out of the ashes of globalization and the internet. And we’re going to show the world what it is to be a free country, where we protect civil liberties, human rights, rule of law, and free trade. And we actually promote that not just in our own country but abroad. And we’re going to work with our allies and partners to help strengthen that. This is a great opportunity to be alive in the United States, and to really be witnessing the rebirth of democracy once again. And, I think that’s the way it has to be. It’s very easy to get comfortable, and forget about how precious freedom, human rights, and civil liberties are, and that other people don’t have them. And to the extent that we don’t pay attention to that, it’s very easy for us to lose focus and to lose them.

Mr. Jekielek: General Rob Spalding, such a pleasure to speak with you.

This interview has been edited for clarity and brevity. 
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