Are the United States and the Chinese Communist Party in a new Cold War? How is the Chinese regime a more sophisticated adversary than the Soviet Union?
And how has the world fundamentally failed to understand the true nature of the Chinese Communist Party?
In this episode, we sit down with Bill Gertz, national security correspondent for the Washington Times and author of “Deceiving the Sky: Inside Communist China’s Drive for Global Supremacy.”
This is American Thought Leaders 🇺🇸, and I’m Jan Jekielek.
Jan Jekielek: Such a pleasure to have you back on American Thought Leaders.
Bill Gertz: Great to be here. Thanks for having me.
Mr. Jekielek: You’ve been very clear on China and the Chinese Communist Party. Twenty years ago, you put out “The China Threat,” which remains an important book that I’d recommend to anyone, but recently you’ve been writing a lot about the importance of understanding of the origins of this coronavirus, or CCP virus, as we call it at the Epoch Times. We’ve also been very interested in this question. What have you found?
Mr. Gertz: Well, I’ve interviewed a number of virus experts, including the former Army Medical Doctors who’ve worked at Fort Detrick, which does the US biological weapons research. And they’ve told me that it’s extremely important to get the details, both scientific and regular, on the origin of the virus. The reason you need that is twofold. One, it’s to find cures, therapies and vaccines for the original virus. And second, is to be able to understand and handle any kind of future pandemics. Again, the CCP virus as you say, is the second time China has caused a pandemic, some say the third time, but at least the second time, based on the SARS virus again, this is called SARS-2 in techno speak. And again, it’s very, very important. The Chinese have not cooperated. And at the same time, their propaganda organs are calling for US and international cooperation. They’re in full cover-up mode.
Mr. Jekielek: Well, this is a bizarre reality. On the one hand, you have the Chinese Communist Party saying everyone needs to cooperate. And on the other hand, we have this new headline about suppression of research related to origins of the virus in China. That’s the opposite of cooperating.
Mr. Gertz: It’s clear to me that again, the Chinese are in full disinformation and cover-up mode—that is, the Communist Party of China. And as part of that, they recognize that there have been a number of scientific studies produced by Chinese scientists that have been published in international journals. And this is giving information which is raising more questions about the origin of this virus. Right now the official explanation by the Chinese party is that this came from a wet market, wild animal food market in Wuhan, which we all know was extremely close to the Wuhan Centers for Disease Control, which was conducting extensive bat coronavirus research. That research has not been discussed. I’m amazed that, for example, at these daily White House Coronavirus Task Force briefings, not a single reporter has asked the experts or the president whether or not there is information indicating that this virus leaked from the lab and [whether] the Chinese Communist Party and government been pressed on providing details about that. We’ve got to get to the bottom of this. We’re not going to solve this pandemic until we get the details on how this outbreak started.
Mr. Jekielek: There’s one thing I wanted to clarify. There’s a misconception that has allowed a lot of people to yell “conspiracy theory.” Lab origin doesn’t equal that it was engineered, and that doesn’t equal that it was a bioweapon or something like that. Can you speak to that a little bit?
Mr. Gertz: Absolutely. I will start out by pointing out that on January 26, I was one of the first reporters to write a headline “Coronavirus May Have Originated in Chinese Lab.” And I quoted a retired Israeli military intelligence expert doctor who had studied the Chinese biological weapons program. And this article said that the idea that it escaped from the lab, that it was under research, was very plausible. There was an immediate reaction from both the Chinese; Chinese government denounced it, they sent a letter to the editor, accusing us of spreading a “conspiracy theory,” and several supposed fact checking news outlets like USA Today and Snopes also criticized the article and called it false information.
There was nothing false in that article. In fact, even in that article, I talked about how the Chinese internet was rife with rumors from the Chinese authorities spreading the idea that this virus was actually started by the US CIA, and I predicted accurately what has actually played out now. And again, I was pointing out that nobody knows the origin but, as the FBI would say, this is a clue. We have a laboratory that has conducted extensive bat coronavirus research. We have a market where the outbreak supposedly occurred. We have the Chinese going into that market and completely erasing all information about the animals at that market. And we have the Chinese Communist Party preventing the arrival in China of US and international experts for a period of about two weeks after the outbreak occurred. All of this suggests to me that there is a much bigger story about the origin of the virus and that it clearly is related to some type of research that was being conducted.
And the reason that we’re seeing this conflated notion that it was a but it was being biologically engineered and escaped from the lab is clearly a straw man argument. That doesn’t look at it. Now I wrote in my Washington Times column recently that this view is changing, that even the nature medicine and the top virus experts in the US have re-evaluated that and they’re now saying that it’s clear China has conducted extensive research in unsecure labs like the one at the Wuhan CDC, and there have been escapes of virus from Chinese labs. And therefore these scientists have concluded we have to examine the possibility. Now their main argument is that this was a natural jump. And I think that’s a reflection of a certain political bias in the US scientific community. And some experts have compared it to what happened to the nuclear engineering field after the Fukushima reactor disaster in Japan. The engineers came under harsh criticism, and I think the bio-technical community in the US is trying to avoid a meltdown of their own credibility. They’d rather say that it was the result of some poor peasant mishandling some wild animal meat at a market rather than the escape from a scientific laboratory.
Mr. Jekielek: They were collecting a lot of these bat coronaviruses. There’s even evidence that some of them actually could infect humans. It could have been just one of these in the collection that had gotten out. The thing is, we just don’t know.
Mr. Gertz: And there needs to be a major international pressure on China, to tell you what it knows. Otherwise, again, we’re not going to get to the bottom of this pandemic.
Mr. Jekielek: Bill, you mentioned that this is a cover up. I think most people around the world realize that there’s a cover up. But could you lay out the range of how this cover up exists? It’s not just in one area; it’s in multiple areas.
Mr. Gertz: Sure. I would say that this is a cover up of information of strategic importance. And why do I say that? Because you have to understand Chinese strategy to really understand what’s taking place now, in terms of how the CCP in particular is responding to this crisis. The Chinese strategy has been outlined by Xi Jinping as the so-called China Dream. It’s actually the China nightmare. And that nightmare is that the Communist Party of China becomes the dominant force: politically, economically, financially in every way. And the key part of that strategy is, for China to achieve this Xi Jinping nightmare around the world, they have to go after the United States. And clearly that’s part of China’s strategy. It’s also something that has been outlined in the book by two colonels back in 1999, called “Unrestricted Warfare.” It’s also part of Sun Tsu. Who said the acme of skill is defeating your enemy without firing a shot. And so what we’re seeing now is that China is really jumping on the opportunity, this strategic opportunity, to further weaken the United States. And I think we’re seeing that play out across a number of different areas, most notably in propaganda and information warfare. I’ve argued for many years now that the Chinese Communist Party is engaged in information warfare. I’ve argued that we’re in a new Cold War, that the CCP today is definitely a much more sophisticated version of the Soviet Union, which we saw vanquished in 1991. And they’re doing everything possible to weaken the United States.
Mr. Jekielek: Let’s talk about this information war. On one hand, there’s certain information that’s being suppressed. For example, the research on the virus origins and even whether more of that research can even happen over there. On the other hand, there’s certain messaging which is being pushed really hard. Can you lay that out?
Mr. Gertz: Sure. The Chinese have done a number of studies. And I think one of the more significant ones was published in late January in The Lancet. And it was done by a group of 29 Chinese scientists who looked at the first 41 patients who contracted the disease caused by the Wuhan virus. And in this study, they revealed for the first time that the first patient to show symptoms showed up at the Wuhan Medical Center, that is the Wuhan hospital on December 1. Subsequent to that, there was a period of about two weeks where cases began to mushroom. But the interesting thing is the very first person who showed up was an older man who had no connection to the Huanan seafood market, which the Chinese claim was the origin point of the outbreak. He was an older man, he lived several stops away. But first of all, this indicates that there was no single animal jump if this outbreak didn’t occur from an animal jumping to humans and then continuing; that this was human to human. Subsequent to that, the Chinese have gone into full cover up mode and worse: disinformation mode. There have been a number of reports, unofficial, in Chinese press. For example, the PRC-controlled South China Morning Post reported unofficially that one of the reporters had seen a document stating that actually the first case of the Wuhan flu came up in November. And of course this is part of a Chinese disinformation effort to obscure the Chinese origin of the virus. They have put out the first through their top biologists who said “Well, the outbreak started here but the virus may have come from somewhere else.” Then we saw the Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman accused the US Army, and that lie is based on military sporting games that were held in Wuhan in October. So they’re trying to prevent, as far as we know…we don’t have solid ground truth on the origins, but the most authoritative Chinese source—it was a government funded study—was that late January Lancet report that said the first patient was December 1.
Mr. Jekielek: There was the sequence done by a Chinese lab, and it was published into the public domain, thank goodness. And then that whole operation was wrapped up. And clearly they weren’t supposed to publish that sequence. I found that really disturbing.
Mr. Gertz: Yes, I’ve looked closely at the early stages of the outbreak and we saw a number of extremely troubling things but very characteristic of a hardline communist regime. The first was, again, the suppression of the doctors who were trying to alert their co-workers. And of course, we saw how that ended. One of the top doctors was stricken with a disease and became a major heroic figure in China for someone who’s stood up to the reviled Communist Party of China in trying to get the word out. So the Chinese have been very aggressive going after their scientists. And then as you mentioned, the Shanghai lab that first produced the genome sequencing. He sent it to The National Health Commission and Chinese authorities on January 5. No action was taken. So that scientist then went and published it by himself. And that was two weeks later. As a result of those efforts, his lab was shut down. So clearly, again, information control and cover up are the key features. And yet at the same time, we hear almost on a daily basis, CCP propagandists coming out and saying, “Oh, we need international cooperation. Don’t politicize the virus.” And of course, those are blatant lies and worse, they’re disinformation of a strategic nature, which is basically causing mass deaths and economic dislocation around the world.
Mr. Jekielek: Something despicable is this sort of targeting of Africans, who don’t look Chinese, as if they are the ones that are carrying the virus.
Mr. Gertz: The party has been playing the race card heavily. And of course, the Communist Party of China is one of the most racist organizations in the entire world, discriminating against anyone who’s not Han Chinese. And, of course, we see what’s going on in Xinjiang is basically a crime against humanity. And again, organ harvesting against Falun Gong followers, sending nuclear and strategic weapons materials to Iran and North Korea. You know, I think if there’s any silver lining in this horrible pandemic crisis, it’s that it’s waking up to the world to the true nature of the Communist Party of China, something that, as you mentioned in the beginning, I’ve been trying to do for over 20 years, and I think that’s really a positive step.
Mr. Jekielek: I recently had Maura Moynihan on, talking about talking about the realities in Tibet, and this whole forced assimilation in Tibet, which has been incredibly effective in destroying the culture.
Mr. Gertz: It’s all part of the Communist Party’s drive for global supremacy, as I outlined in my book, “Deceiving the Sky.” I mean, this is an existential threat to the fundamental values of freedom and democracy, free markets, free speech. It’s under assault right now. And it’s incumbent upon people everywhere to wake up to this danger and to push back against it. It’s not simply enough to just look the other way. And I think a lot of the mainstream media in the United States and around the world have done that as well. There’s this liberal left notion that somehow the Communist Party of China, its brand of Marxism-Leninism with Chinese characteristics, is the wave of the future—a progressive force—and that is just not the case. I say it poses an existential threat to all our way of life.
Mr. Jekielek: Even very high level Chinese officials or billionaires aren’t immune if they criticize the party line. They themselves could be subject to censure, like what we saw in the strike card campaigns some years back. I’m wondering if you could talk about the recent case that you outlined. This guy is so highly connected. It’s amazing that he’s being investigated.
Mr. Gertz: This is the story of Ren Zhiqiang. He’s a billionaire real estate tycoon and a member of the Communist Party of China. I’ve been following him since 2016. In fact, in my book “Deceiving the Sky,” I was planning to have a section on him because it represents a significant rift among the senior leadership of the CCP. But it got cut from the book just for space. But recently, Ren was detained by authorities. In March, he wrote a highly critical letter about Xi Jinping, the Chinese Supreme Leader, and this really marked the beginning of his demise. Back in 2016, he did a similar thing. This is not a dissident by any means. This is a party member, and he back then said that unless there was a free and open press, that the party would become a tyrannical regime, which is playing out. Back in 2016 they silenced Ren by cutting off his WeChat account, his social media account, which had, I think somewhere in the neighborhood of 33 million followers, so he was very popular.
But the significant thing about the Ren case is that he is a representative, albeit indirectly, of a very powerful faction within the ruling Communist Party. He is very close to Wang Qishan, who is currently the vice president. Back in 2016, when Ren was battling Xi in public until he was silenced, a very interesting thing happened. The Communist Party disciplinary commission, which Wang headed, issued a statement in support of Ren. It was a very unusual move. But what it signaled to many people in China and elsewhere around the world, that this guy was somebody to watch because he was not just a Donald Trump of China, as he was called at one point, but he represents a real significance. So his detention and the announcement that he had conducted illegal activities is an indication that he’s got a one way ticket to the Chinese gulag, and we’ll be making sneakers over there for Nike pretty soon. And what it says is that Xi Jinping and Wang Qishan, the Vice President and President…all is not well inside of Zhongnanhai, as the leadership compound is known.
Mr. Jekielek: Recently there’s been increased infighting and questions about Xi Jinping’s leadership. What are you seeing?
Mr. Gertz: The experts that I talked to and the officials that I talked to, they don’t think that Xi Jinping’s leadership is threatened. That said, the party in China and Xi, as the leader of that party, are under enormous and growing pressure, not just within China, but from around the world. Xi Jinping is becoming increasingly unpopular. Things have been showing up on social media, coming from within the party, saying it’s time for change, it’s time for Xi Jinping to step down. So the problem is, the US does not have good intelligence on what’s going on inside China. It’s very opaque. We don’t have the sources inside Zhongnanhai that we need. And as I outlined in my book back in 2010, we lost over two dozen recruited agents. The Chinese basically wiped out the CIA’s agent network inside China. It’s been 10 years. My guess is they have not been able to successfully rebuild those networks. So we’re really at a loss to get that kind of inside information about what’s going on.
Mr. Jekielek: Let’s talk a little bit about national security realities, especially the situation in the South China Sea right now. We’re getting all sorts of interesting reports about how the Chinese Communist Party is acting very aggressively—increased flights near Taiwan, sinking of a Vietnamese fishing boat. So what is China doing in the region there now?
Mr. Gertz: This goes back to unrestricted warfare and the ability to seize opportunities. The Chinese military sees that the United States is grappling with the health crisis caused by the CCP virus, and so they’re taking advantage of it by stepping up some of their operations in the South China Sea. We’ve seen them conduct some big naval exercises near Taiwan. The US has responded by sending warships into that area. Just recently, a guided missile destroyer went through the Taiwan Strait. One of the interesting results of the Coronavirus crisis is that the United States is moving closer to Taiwan. This is something that the Chinese didn’t anticipate and do not like. So we’re probably going to see some increased tensions, especially in the East China Sea and in the South China Sea. It’s been a flashpoint. It’s likely to become a more tension filled flashpoint in the coming weeks and months.
Mr. Jekielek: Let’s talk about “mask diplomacy.” On the one hand, the Chinese Communist Party has got Huawei donating ventilators to New York State. It’s got all these masks being sent out. It’s selling a lot of material that it says is being donated. But a lot of this stuff turns out to be defective. Why are they doing this? How did they think it was going to work out positively for them? Of course, at the same time Taiwan is donating masks on a smaller scale, to great fanfare. So it’s just a fascinating juxtaposition. And why would the CCP be sending out this faulty gear?
Mr. Gertz: Right now, the entire world is angry at China, and rightly so. They mishandled the early stages of the outbreak, they allowed 5 million people to leave Wuhan and go all over the world, causing this pandemic to explode in a major way that has basically crippled the entire world economy and forced half the world’s population to be under lockdown. So they’re trying to change the image of China by the donations. On the faulty equipment…my understanding of unrestricted warfare and the way the Communist Party is such a nefarious force. Most people in the world do not understand how evil this party is. It amazes me. It constantly amazes me that people do not understand the nature of this system. It’s entirely possible that the Chinese Communist Party—we don’t know this for certain—but it’s entirely possible based on their strategy, that the way China reacted to the virus was by saying, “well, China’s not going to be the only place that’s going to be sick from this virus,” and therefore they facilitated the spread. They let people travel and that’s what we’re seeing right now.
As for faulty equipment, think about it. If you were to send a thousand test kits and maybe 900 of them were normal test kits, but 100 of them were designed to be faulty tests, you could actually contribute to spreading the virus to a further extent. Again, that’s a worst case scenario, but I would not put it past the Chinese Communist Party to do something like that. If you look at their strategy, in order for China to gain global supremacy, they need the United States and the developed world to decline.
Mr. Jekielek: I’ve had similar thoughts to this Bill, that this is exactly the kind of thing [the CCP would do]. This is what I would tell the viewers: Consider the fact that forced organ harvesting has been a reality in China for at least 15 years, if not longer—murder for organs on a large scales sanctioned by the state. What wouldn’t this organization do?
Mr. Gertz: Because of the nature of the system over there, it cannot be ruled out. It’s not a conspiracy, and anybody that calls it a conspiracy is basically being deceptive or ill-informed.
Mr. Jekielek: Bill, another thing that we’re seeing is Chinese diplomats who typically don’t take stances this provocative, basically going on the warpath, being aggressive on social media, challenging governments, and sending letters. This seems like a new thing. Can you speak to this?
Mr. Gertz: Sure. We’re seeing a shift to a much more hardline ideological stance by Chinese ambassadors and I’ve seen some things that have just surprised me to the point where it’s considered a violation of diplomatic protocol for an ambassador in his country to criticize the host government. And we’ve seen that in the United States. They should start throwing these ambassadors out of the country if they do that. It’s just a violation of the rules. The Chinese diplomatic core and the foreign ministry in general have operated in the past like mafia lawyers. In other words, their job was to basically deal with a criminal client. Again, because they felt that these ambassadors weren’t being aggressive enough. They’re basically telling them to step up the propaganda and disinformation themes. It’s all part of the information warfare to try to maintain China’s spin on the international narrative of the coronavirus crisis.
Mr. Jekielek: Over the last five years, we’ve seen this significant shift in how the US perceives the Chinese Communist Party, how the National Security Strategy changed considerably recently. It’s almost like this whole CCP virus situation is just a validation of this shift.
Mr. Gertz: Well, again, going back to the “seize the opportunity” strategy of unrestricted warfare. We know that the Chinese do not want Donald Trump to be re-elected. I mean, the White House has said that, the President has said that, the Vice President, the Secretary of State. Again, the media is into the Russia hysteria mode, so they can’t focus on that. But that’s clearly what’s happening now. We’re seeing China take the opportunity to try to weaken and undermine Trump. The other thing, they did a big trade deal, which was definitely unfavorable to China. China is going to have to buy 250 billion dollars worth of American products. The president is trying to salvage that by kind of pulling his punches in public in talking about the CCP. And in fact, the trade deal, a lot of people think that it is going to be toast and that the fact that they’re going to try to get another phase of that deal is very difficult now that we’ve been plunged into a global recession. So I think the Chinese now are working behind the scenes and through their information operations to try to further weaken the president. They know that he’s a tough customer, and they would much rather deal with a feckless Joe Biden as president than a Donald Trump, who has pressed the Chinese harder than any US administration in the past 35 years.
Mr. Jekielek: How are they working to undermine the President and the administration, from what you’ve seen?
Mr. Gertz: Well, in the past, what they’ve done is put ads into newspapers, they put those Global Times supplements. The other operations are a little bit more subtle and behind the scenes. Who knows exactly what kind of support they’re giving to the Democratic Party. The US government has not disclosed any more details in recent months. But I recall what the vice president has said, that, based on the information he’s seen from intelligence sources, it’s clear that the Chinese want another president other than Donald Trump.
Mr. Jekielek: Bill, that’s interesting that you say that because there’s a bipartisan consensus emerging around the Chinese Communist Party. Speaker Nancy Pelosi has been incredibly clear on the Chinese Communist Party over the last 20 years. And I think Chuck Schumer does to some extent, as well as the leadership on the Democratic side. What are you seeing?
Mr. Gertz: It is true that there is an emerging bipartisan consensus on the China threat. However, I think that the Democratic Party has never gotten over the 2016 election. They’re still in virulent anti-Trump mode. In other words, they recognize China as a major strategic threat. But their goal is to regain power through the Congress and through the executive branch. And so they’re really pinning all of their efforts on discrediting Donald Trump as president. I think we saw that in the New York Times recently, which went after the president and tried to say that he didn’t act fast enough. You could tell that there was a lack of serious criticism, but it was based more on the emotion of how much the Democratic Party and the liberal news media disliked Donald Trump. I think the President has done a very good job. I think he’s done things like regional and local lockdowns, which are against his nature. And I think that he wants very much to get the country back to work. And I think that we will do that very soon. Again, there’s going to be big political debate about how soon to lift controls and how soon to get back to work. But clearly, I don’t think the virus has been as deadly as it was initially predicted. Now, it is a devastating disease and it has caused many, many deaths, and we have to recognize that, but we also have to recognize that we have a country that needs to get back on its feet—that it has been knocked down and it’s time to get back up.
Mr. Jekielek: So in this vein, this lack of information and disinformation courtesy of the Chinese Communist Party affected the decision making here on the ground. Do you have a sense of this?
Mr. Gertz: Whenever the Secretary of State has been pressed on why we haven’t been tougher on the CCP, his answer has been “now’s not the time,” but he’s made it very clear that there will be a reckoning. Several other officials have also said that. I think the President has hinted that way as well. I think it’s time, that we do it now, that we don’t wait, that we can do two things at once. One is to deal with the health crisis, and and secondly, deal with the Communist Party of China which caused it. And again, there’s this kind of a knee jerk reaction to go easy on the Chinese Communist Party. And that’s been our policy for the last 35 years with devastating results. And so, as I pointed out in my book, we did a 35-year gamble and the gamble was “let’s be nice to the Chinese Communist Party and its government. Let’s look the other way on their human rights abuses. Let’s not press them or sanction them for selling weapons of mass destruction missiles and nuclear goods to rogue states around the world.” And the idea was that this would somehow create a moderated Communist Party. It’s been an utter failure. And it’s time now to tell the many China hands in the US foreign policy community that they were wrong. And that it’s time that they recognize that they were wrong. That to stop worrying about whether they’ll be denied a visa to travel to China, the way that China controls many of these academics. We really need a new policy and let’s start working on a new policy towards China.
Mr. Jekielek: Bill, there’s this letter sponsored by the Asia Society, which is encouraging cooperation, even if there are ideological differences, even if people believe that China did something wrong, that cooperation is still required to move forward. What are your thoughts?
Mr. Gertz: This is the part of the self delusion on the American China hands community, this notion that whatever China does, it’s always incumbent upon the US to seek cooperation. We’ve tried cooperating with them. They failed to cooperate in a strategic way in dealing with this deadly pandemic. And they need to be held accountable for that. And it’s not too early to hold them accountable. And yet we see the same voices of these people who were totally wrong on US policy towards China for decades, trying to defend their position that they weren’t wrong. We just need to say, look, you people were wrong, you helped contribute to creating this strategic threat of Communist China today, and you need to recognize that you were wrong.
Mr. Jekielek: Okay, Bill, we’re gonna finish up in just a moment. Any final thoughts before we do?
Mr. Gertz: In terms of US policy towards China, there are a couple of things I would like to state and this is going to be in a forthcoming monograph of mine. First of all, we need to do a in-depth American-led investigation into the origin of the Wuhan virus. We need to do that without UN interference. And it has to be done in a major, major way. We can’t rely on the Chinese. We know that they’ve lied to us multiple times. Second, it’s time to deal with the international organizations. We need to take aggressive action to basically oust China from international organizations. Peter Navarro, the White House advisor, said recently that of 15 major UN organizations, five have been basically co-opted or taken over by Communist China. We need to expel China from these organizations. And if we’re unable to expel China from these organizations, whether it’s the UN or others, then we should leave those organizations ourselves and create new international organizations that are untainted by Chinese and dictatorships like that. And we move to a global democratic and free market alliance of people. Those are the two top recommendations that I would say that we need to take. I think it’s urgent that we do that.
Mr. Jekielek: One quick question given the reluctance of the Chinese Communist Party to allow any independent folks into Wuhan originally, and destroying the evidence in the wet market, how can this investigation on the origins of the coronavirus be done?
Mr. Gertz: I think the international community should put together a team of experts that can do that. I think that all friendly trade relations with China should be put on hold until that investigation is done. That’s how you do it. You say if you want to trade with the world, then you come clean on this investigation. Otherwise, forget it. We’re not going to be trading with you. We’re not going to have interaction with you.
Mr. Jekielek: Okay, Bill Gertz, such a pleasure to have you on again.
Mr. Gertz: Thanks very much.