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Grant Newsham: Beijing ‘Taking Notes’ on Russia-Ukraine War As It Plans Taiwan Takeover | CPAC 2022

“If it turns out that Putin is able to take all of Ukraine or even a huge chunk of it and get away with it, the Chinese will take note,” says Grant Newsham, a retired U.S. Marine Colonel and Senior Fellow with the Center for Security Policy. “The Chinese are going to be emboldened to finally settle the Taiwan issue once and for all.”

At the 2022 Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC), we sat down with Newsham to discuss the Russia-Ukraine war, Chinese psychological warfare, and the China-Russia alliance.

To cripple Russia’s war effort, sanctions “have to go after China as well,” argues Newsham. “If it’s just Russia, China will back them up.”


Jan Jekielek: Grant Newsham, it’s such a pleasure to have you on American Thought Leaders.

Grant Newsham: Well, thank you very much. Glad to be here.

Mr. Jekielek: And finally, because it’s been a long time coming. I’ve wanted to have you for a long time and you’re just not usually here on this continent, actually.

Mr. Newsham: No, and I thought you were ignoring me. That was the real problem.

Mr. Jekielek: No, I just love doing them live. But let’s, of course, talk about security realities in Asia because this is your kind of wheelhouse. There’s a lot of questions right now. Russia has invaded Ukraine. What are people thinking in Asia right now as all this is happening? What are the powers in Asia thinking about all this?

Mr. Newsham: Well, the Chinese to start with, they’re taking notes and I think they like what they see but they’re going to wait and see how it plays out. If it turns out that Putin is able to take all of Ukraine or even a huge chunk of it and get away with it, the Chinese will take note.

And by get away with it, I mean, if there’s no real punishment for the Russians, if the Americans and the Europeans just accept this as if they’re completely after some decent interval and business and life goes back to normal, at least as it much as it does after this has happened, Chinese, probably going to think, “Well, Taiwan’s out there, we want it. And we’ve said, ‘We’re going to take it and we’re serious.'”

And they may think that there’s not going to be any punishment they can’t handle. If they do something like Russia did to Ukraine, to Taiwan. So, that is very much the Chinese thinking.

And if it looks like Putin got away with it, gets away with it, Chinese are going to be emboldened to finally settle the Taiwan issue once and for all.

Mr. Jekielek: So many questions right now, right? Okay. Well, first of all, there’s some speculation that the Chinese might be planning to actually try to take Taiwan as right now, while there’s all this, let’s call it distraction, from their perspective, perhaps with what’s happening in Russia and Ukraine.

Mr. Newsham: Well, it’s possible. And that’s sort of a handicapping that’s been going on for a while. Are the Chinese going to, one, use the Olympics sort of as a distraction or a sort of touch off point or Ukraine? And they say people argue over that. My thinking is they’re probably going to wait awhile. And as I said, is to see how the Russian move on Ukraine works out.

Does Russia get hit with such devastating financial and economic sanctions? Does NATO actually wake up militarily? Does the Biden administration do something like reestablish oil independence, or energy independence? Does it show any sign that it’s going to get its financial house in order? Does it show that it’s going to refund or fund the military the way it should be? Are they going to focus on defense rather than woke politics or a national dental plan rooting out white extremism?

And if they’re not going to do those things, China’s going to look at it and do the calculation and think, “If we take Taiwan, nothing much is going to happen to us that we can’t absorb.” And for China taking Taiwan is just immensely important; the advantages that they would get out of it. But I think they’re going to wait as I say, to see how it plays out.

So, that’s going to take probably a matter of months, would be my guess. And my guess, if you held a gun to my head and said, when’s it going to be? I would say from 2023 onwards, you should really be alert for China making its move.

And while China would like to get Taiwan through intimidation, it is willing and it is able to launch a military assault on Taiwan. And the Ukraine playbook is something they say they’re taking notes of. So, when is it going to happen? People are arguing that right and left. But I think they’re going to wait a bit.

Mr. Jekielek: Well, and there are all of these psychological type plays like this recent move by Putin to basically say, “Okay, military, don’t put your wives, elders…” I don’t want to misquote. This is roughly what I read earlier in jeopardy and just take over and you’ll be in a good position to have discussions with me, right?

Mr. Newsham: That’s part of the… I say part of the playbook. And the Chinese have been doing this for years against Taiwan, telling them, “We’re going to get you, you know. You’re this tiny little country. You have no hope.”

And you saw after Afghanistan fell and the Americans were routed from the country that the Chinese were saying to Taiwan, “Look, you think the Americans are going to protect you? Forget about it.” And even just the other day, as I understand it, the Chinese Consulate-General in Osaka in Japan Tweeted out something that basically said, “Well, look at Ukraine, these little nations had better not get the big ones mad at them.”

And some people think they were talking about Japan, but they were just as much talking about Taiwan. That is psychological warfare. It’s trying to wear down the resistance. And that is part of Chinese strategy. And it does have an effect if the Taiwanese don’t think anyone is there to really back them up.

And you have to look at the U.S.’ track record in recent times. And even we’re worried. So, you can imagine how the Taiwanese are feeling. What you’re seeing in Asia is China’s taking notes. Taiwan is as well—watching what’s going on. And the Japanese are too, because Japan knows that it is just as much in China’s crosshairs as is Taiwan.

Mr. Jekielek: So, you have an idea of what China’s thinking based on what you said. There’s been these overtures ostensibly to, you said, maybe Japan, maybe Taiwan. What are the other countries thinking at this point, right? And the other question is, is the U.S. the linchpin in this? Or can Asia do something itself?

Mr. Newsham: Oh yeah. The other countries in Asia, they’re watching it closely as well because what you’re seeing in Asia very much is an ongoing Chinese effort to drive the Americans out of the region. And very few countries want that to happen. Maybe Cambodia and Laos don’t care and North Korea would like it to happen, but everyone else would like the Americans to be there because the Americans are a buffer.

There’s something that keeps the Chinese from just dominating the whole region. So, they’re waiting to see actually what the Americans do. Do the Americans look like a winner, like they can take on this Chinese might? And they’re going to make their decisions based on that.

The only countries that have come out actually strongly against Russia in the Ukraine are Japan, of course, and then Australia and Singapore. Singapore has actually been very straightforward that they are against this—objected to it. And that’s the only Southeast Asian nation that has. So you can see them on the fence waiting to see how it plays out.

Australia and Japan are the ones that will at least go down fighting. They’ll sort of try to resist, but without the Americans there, that no country and no combination of nations in the region can defend themselves ultimately against the Chinese. The Americans are essential.

Mr. Jekielek: But not even as the united front or is the united front impossible?

Mr. Newsham: I don’t see that happening. I think theoretically, if you could construct an argument, but I don’t see it happening in practice. They don’t have really the military might nor even the political capability, the will or the experience of uniting for a common defense.

It’s always been the Americans that have been the guarantor and without them, the whole thing kind of comes apart. And you can see how most of the nations have gotten probably pathologically dependent on the American presence. And they have allowed their militaries to lapse.

The Australians are probably better than most but they would have trouble. New Zealand, if China could probably take it tomorrow, if they landed a couple amphibious brigades on either island and just took it over. The Japanese are finally waking up. But the Japanese military has been, as I said, pathologically dependent on the Americans.

Mr. Jekielek: For a while, they weren’t allowed to have one, right?

Mr. Newsham: Well, they made that choice because the Americans were providing the backup. So, think of it. If you’re a government, you can take $50 billion and spend it on healthcare, roads or trains, or you can spend it on defense. Well, you spend it on healthcare, roads and trains because the Americans are going to cover you and you didn’t see a threat. You could convince yourself there wasn’t really a threat. And it’s really been from about 10 years ago that the Chinese threat to Japan has been sort of unmistakable.

And the Japanese have say, have kind of woken up but they’ve got a long way to go very quickly. They have to still rely on the Americans and the Americans actually need Japanese help.

That’s something that’s new, is that without a solid U.S.-Japan Alliance, that the Americans would really be hard stretched in Asia. And if you throw in events in Europe, you throw in events in the Middle East, with Iran, and then if North Korea does something, the Americans will find it even harder to sort of keep a lid on things. It’s like the Dutch boy at the dike where leaks are breaking out and you’re trying to plug them. This is a very difficult time, probably the most dangerous time we’ve been in my lifetime.

Mr. Jekielek: It seems like a very dangerous time. I’ve heard people saying it’s 1937, 1939 even.  I laugh nervously, but I’ve heard that. What are the implications of this agreement that China and Russia signed and then consummated at the beginning of the Beijing Olympics, of course, because where else would you consummate this kind of an agreement, right?

Mr. Newsham: No. Well, where else?

Mr. Jekielek: Yes.

Mr. Newsham: I think they kind of split the world up, that’s a glib way of looking at it. But I think there is at least, there’s a tacit agreement that each will do what it wants and each will back the other when the time comes. So, you’ll notice what the Chinese have done regarding the Ukraine situation. They said some nice words, but ultimately, they’re happy to see Putin do it and waiting to see how it plays out.

And there was even something leaked, it was from one of the Chinese media, saying, giving their guidance on how to cover this and says, “Don’t criticize the Russians because we will want their support when the time comes for Taiwan.” And there’s some parts of the commentariat. There’s an idea that, “Well, the Russians and the Chinese don’t like each other and the Chinese, they wish Putin hadn’t done this to Ukraine for some reason,” but I don’t give much credence to that at all.

I think it is an alliance of convenience or marriage of convenience, and they both see what each does. There’s a way to bring the Americans down a notch and maybe even just discombobulate the Americans so much that they can’t respond.

And don’t forget, there’s a psychological aspect to all of this. And when say the Americans and the Europeans or whomever feel like they can’t resist, there’s nothing you can do. If you challenge Putin, it’s going to be nuclear war. And there’s any number of reasons to just let it be. That’s dangerous when a country loses that will to resist, to defend freedom, defend its friends. And you could just as easily see this happening in East Asia and probably pretty soon would be my sense of it.

Mr. Jekielek: Which theater is the more important one? I know your area of interest, but I’m sure you can support your argument.

Mr. Newsham: I think they’re both equally important. For now, I’d say both are, and if you don’t pay proper attention to both, that you’re going to suffer. And I don’t think that Ukraine is any less important than Asia at the moment. It’s just the one where there’s more activity going on or more fighting.

Because if you don’t get Ukraine right, if it does look like Russia has… a UN Security Council member has been able to take over an independent country, actually Europe’s largest democracy has just been able to take it over without any real punishment that they can’t withstand, that is going to have an eventual and pretty soon is going to have an effect in Asia.

So if you don’t get both of them right, you’re going to be in really big trouble in the other one sooner, soon enough. And so I don’t… I’ve heard people argue, “Well, China’s the important thing. Asia is the important place. Just ignore Europe and what’s happening there.” But I don’t think that’s the right way to look at it. I think you will pay for that. See, it’s an alluring argument, but in actual fact, what happens in Europe is going to have a direct effect in the prospects for Chinese aggression in short order.

Mr. Jekielek: What would be punishment that Russia would actually feel? Because it sounds to me like you’re saying whatever’s been done thus far, the Russians just don’t really care.

Mr. Newsham: Well, we haven’t done much yet to them. What you would have to do as I see it is the Americans would have to suddenly demonstrate that they are serious about defending themselves, about fighting and defending their friends. And to do that, it isn’t just a question of building up the military, but you have to sort of reshape your national approach to things. And then you start with, one, getting energy independence back so that we’re not dependent on foreign oil, foreign energy, and we can keep our friends supplied with it.

Mr. Jekielek: Because that is there. It’s just ready to go if we want it, right. Is this-

Mr. Newsham: What it’s going to take is an administration to say, “Look, that was yesterday. Today is today, gloves are off and we’re going to get energy independence.” And then you have to cut Russia, for starters, off from the U.S. dollar system, from the world economic system and basically isolate them. And you’re going to have to do the same thing to China actually to be successful, because China is going to support Russia.

And China is just as much of a threat, just as much of an enemy and that’s their language to us. So, attack them on the economic financial front. And you’re going to have to get your military back in order.

After 20 years of this nonsense in the Middle East, the U.S. military has got a lot of work to do to build itself back up to where it is a serious force. And you’ve got to stop this social engineering, the extremist witch hunts, the wokeism that seems to be the priority rather than winning wars.

So you’re going to have to pay more money, but you have also got to remember that a military’s purpose is to fight and win wars. It’s not a social experiment. Somehow America’s got to actually learn propaganda, information warfare, strategic communications like we used to know, and actually start selling America to the world.

Those would be some starters of things you can do, but you have to demonstrate to the other side that you are serious. You’re going to fight back and you can defend yourself as you would do with any bully.

But it’s amazing just how the Americans have let things lapse. And I would note that as everyone’s talked about, we have allowed the Russians to get in a position where they can use energy to extort the Europeans. It should never have happened.

But also when you look at China, which is probably the bigger threat, you have Wall Street pouring in several hundred billion dollars of convertible currency into China every year. [The] U.S. business community does something similar. And so you’re funding this enemy, this country, which says it intends to dominate you, kick you out of Asia, if not destroy you. And that is insane, but you’ve got to get a handle on that.

And you’re going to have to say ban investment into China, ban most commercial transactions with them. And just get along with the free world, the civilized world, living by itself. We’d done this in the past. The world was always a nice enough place before it decided to ship industry to China and build up the PRC.

So those would be some starters, but if you think about it, if you’ve ever been in say a fight with a bully or with somebody, and if he thinks you’re weak, if he smells weakness, it doesn’t matter if you stand up like this and he sees you shivering, he knows he’s got you. And there’s say a psychological aspect to all of this. And you have to ask yourself, who is it in the U.S. government that Putin or the Chinese look at and who scares them? Unfortunately, I don’t know who that is.

Mr. Jekielek: So, you’re talking about projecting. Your advice would be to project strength, to-

Mr. Newsham: You got to do it, for starters. And that you do have to have some substance to it. You can talk tough, but if you don’t have the military to do it, if you don’t have the financial controls to do it, and if you’re printing money worse than a drunken, you’re printing too much money, you’re debasing the currency, that’s not a good thing.

If you still are energy dependent on foreigners, on the Saudis, the Iranians, the Russians, why would anyone take you seriously? You have to ask yourself, if you look at what has happened in Ukraine, the guys who made that decision, how are they suffering?

Are they at any disadvantage than they were? And if it’s a question of making the average Russian suffer, well, the Russians are pretty good at enduring suffering just like the Chinese.

Keep in mind that they, the Russians, still are proud of what they did at Leningrad and Stalingrad. They can absorb plenty of pressure, but if it’s the guys at the top that you have to make them feel like there’s some personal discomfort involved in all of this because they will put up with an awful lot, the Russians will, and to get the political and military advantage of taking Ukraine.

If you show that they can do this, take over another independent country and get away with it, that… And to think of the psychological effects on every country in the world, not just the ones nearby in Europe, but countries in Asia. They’re going to ask, “Well, look, if Chinese are allowed to go after Taiwan and take it, who’s next?”

But you will see them trying to cut the best deal they can with the PRC and hope to get eaten last or maybe not eaten at all. And it will discredit the United States worldwide if the Ukraine thing doesn’t get handled the right way.

And it’s always better to avoid these problems because once they happen, you can… If we were to try and figure out what to do about it, that’s sort of a tough strategy to design on the fly. This is, as we’ve said, a really difficult time. I really can’t overstate that.

Mr. Jekielek: Well, and it’s not clear what will happen. And sometimes in these times you also have these kinds of random events that happen that cause extra mayhem.

Mr. Newsham: Yeah.

Mr. Jekielek: Or perhaps deliberate, I don’t know. But I’m thinking to the beginnings of the world wars and there’s these sorts of unexpected events that influence things in a way, arguably. I mean, this is argued by different historians.

So, it feels like this is a very volatile time. So what’s very interesting is this connection that you’ve made with basically if you were to completely sanction Russian energy, all the assets of the oligarchy, full, complete sanctions from the west that wouldn’t actually do it because the Chinese are supporting them.

Mr. Newsham: Mm-hmm (affirmative). Oh, you-

Mr. Jekielek: They’re supporting also with American money in a way, right?

Mr. Newsham: That makes it even crazier.

Mr. Jekielek: Yeah.

Mr. Newsham: As I said, you have to go after China as well. If it’s just Russia, well, China will back them up and sort of boast through their position. Things will get rougher in China or Russia, more difficult, but they’ll manage. And eventually they would count on the west to tire out. See on Wall Street and the financial class on the business class to say, “Oh, come on, let’s just live with this. Let’s get back to doing business. That’s better than war.”

And that will be the temptation. But if you don’t deal with it, look at it, play it out a bit and see Russia and China and Iran and Venezuela and Cuba, and these, all of this is part of a larger mosaic and just try to do one at a time. Yeah, that probably isn’t going to be as effective as it needs to be.

Mr. Jekielek: I’ve seen a number of commentators say, “Okay, this is the end of Pax Americana.”

Mr. Newsham: It could be, but…

Mr. Jekielek: Do you want to comment on what that is? Do you agree that such a thing exists?

Mr. Newsham: Yeah, I do actually. The thing is, it’s a fairly short lived phenomenon that for some period of time after World War II. It was the American presence around the world that guaranteed a certain stability. That oceans were open for… You could sail the high seas with your ships and nobody would bother you. Boundaries were more or less safe. And usually most countries didn’t try to do anything about that. And it really was because this idea that the Americans were somehow backstopping everything—guaranteeing it.

And it’s probably, I think probably disappeared, probably didn’t exist maybe five years ago, 10 years ago, maybe. But it did last for 50, 60 years. But whether this is the end, you could argue it either way. But the fact that we’re even talking about it shows just how dire the circumstances are. But also whenever somebody is particularly a pundit tells you something, there’s no doubt about this, you should always have pretty great doubt.

Mr. Jekielek: For sure.

Mr. Newsham: And things have a way of working out in ways you don’t expect. If you show that you’re willing to step up and fight and defend your friends and yourself, it has a way, it has this cumulative effect. You draw people in who think, “Well, maybe there is a possibility, one that we can get out of this.” You do have to remember how grim things looked, say in early 1942. It did seem like there was no possibility of rolling back the Japanese or the Germans and yet it happened.

And they say it often happens in ways you don’t expect, but you do have to defend yourself and be able to not just say you’re going to because everyone says they’re going to, but to be able to do it.

So America, energy independence, really cuts financial business ties with China and Russia, goes after the wealth of their top dogs in both countries, gets its own financial house in order and actually gets its society back in order—figure out what is important.

It isn’t going to matter how woke we are if we can’t make a move without Chinese permission to do it. And that is a world that just might happen. I never would’ve thought this would… I’d be saying any of this in my lifetime, but it’s gotten to really a point where I would say we have 50 or even odds of getting out of this. And 10 years ago, I just said we had 90 percent odds, 90 percent  chance of success.

Mr. Jekielek: You mentioned the Russians have an ability to handle suffering. And certainly, the Chinese are plenty used to that in general. Americans seem to be less, although I guess COVID, you could definitely think of it that way.

That’s an interesting question. There’s something to be said about how much suffering a populist can take without, or even while supporting the leadership, right? Sometimes with the Russians, and this might be political messaging, but it almost seems like a lot of people are very happy with what’s happening. And I suspect that’s actually correct, right?

Mr. Newsham: I think it probably is. It’d be my guess. Because the argument, if you talk to Russians is Ukraine, it’s the Rodina. I don’t know what words the Russian use. It’s the family and we’re just taking back what’s ours. It belongs to Russia, what’s the big deal?

And so I would suggest that for many Russians that fighting for Ukraine is very different than fighting for Afghanistan the way they did during the Afghan war.

But for what is it for, something that a lot of Russians think, here’s Russia, there should be. That they can absorb a little more pain, but also you’ve got a regime. When you’ve got a regime that’s willing to kill people who challenge it, that gives them a staying power that democracies don’t have.

Mr. Jekielek: And what do you make of these anti-war protests? Because they’re from… for all accounts actually quite significant anti-war protests within Russia. Yeah.

Mr. Newsham: We’ll see. As I say, we’ll see. We’ve seen protests against the Russian government before and we’ve seen how it ends out. It usually ends up with the application of violence and assassination. So I’m not convinced that it’s going to slow down the Russians very much, would be my guess, just my guess. As I say, these kinds of regimes, they’ll do a lot to stay in power and make people disappear if they have to do it.

Mr. Jekielek: Do you think it’s realistic that crushing sanctions will be put on both Russia and China, which is indeed, I think from what you’re saying, the minimum that would be needed to actually be impactful?

Mr. Newsham: I think it could make a big difference, but I don’t know that that alone would do it. I think it would be the recognition that, one, the top leaders will personally experience some harm, some discomfort and lose everything. Instead of a nice life on your yacht, you’re going to be hunted. You might get to go live in next aisle in North Korea, something like that.

That has to be part of the effort, part of the strategy and the equation. That really, you got to strip, cut these nations off from the wherewithal that keeps them afloat and allows them to say, be this aggressive. You put them in a position where they’re going to have to make some difficult choices, are you going to buy food or you’re going to buy a really powerful military?

And that’s what you do. That’s what economic and financial sanctions are intended to do. But you’ve got to have the military capability to squash anybody who challenges you or to make it just so deadly that the bad guys won’t make their move, because they can smell the weakness just like the schoolyard bully who knows the guy who’s got the lunch money that isn’t going to resist.

And if the fight was over, who can write the best foreign affairs essay or win a debate? We’d be safe. But unfortunately, I think the international situation is not like that and probably never has been.

Mr. Jekielek: Well, Grant Newsham, it’s such a pleasure to have you on the show.

Mr. Newsham: No. Okay. Well thank you very much. I was glad to be here. Thanks.

Mr. Jekielek: We live in an age of censorship and disinformation where some of the most prominent voices, most important voices aren’t actually being heard because they’re being suppressed. I invite some of these people onto the show, onto American Thought Leaders so to stay up-to-date on the most recent episodes in our exclusive content. You can actually sign up for our newsletter at Just hit the checkbox for are American Thought Leaders.

This interview has been edited for clarity and brevity.

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