Russia or China? Brian Kennedy on America’s Greatest Threats

May 2, 2019 Updated: May 3, 2019

The Mueller Report showed that Russia did indeed interfere in the 2016 election but that there was no “Russia collusion” with the Trump campaign. The biggest threat facing America today, however, is not Russia, but China.

In this episode of American Thought Leaders we sit down with Brian Kennedy, President of The American Strategy Group, a think tank exploring the existential threats facing America today. He’s also Chairman of the Committee on the Present Danger: China and led the Claremont Institute and Claremont Review of Books for over a decade.

We discuss some of the key dangers facing America today, and the actions that President Donald Trump has been taking to make America more secure against them.

Jan Jekielek: So, you are the president of a think tank that focuses on the existential threats to America and also the principles of the Founding Fathers. I find that very fascinating. What are the biggest existential threats to America today?

Brian Kennedy: Well, I think one of the … the key existential threat is the fact that Americans don’t understand that there is an existential threat. I think we live in a commercial republic here in the United States. We Americans live our lives. We raise our families, we go to church on Sunday, and we expect that there are people in Washington who are worried about the safety and security of the United States. And so in a way the greatest existential threat is that we don’t appreciate that we have enemies abroad, whether it’s Russia or China or parts of the Islamic world that would like to destroy the United States. The real challenge is in a society like ours, getting people to understand that the world’s a dangerous place.

Jan Jekielek: So Brian, the Mueller report, now that it’s been published, it tells us a couple of things. It tells us there was no collusion, we know that definitively. It also tells us that the Russians did interfere in multiple ways. What do you make of this?

Brian Kennedy: Well, the Russians are a great country with great interests. One of those interests is figuring out what goes on in the United States. They’re always going to muck around in American politics, mostly on the margins. They generally have very little impact. The Mueller report can say that there’s interference. Was it decisive? Certainly not. Was it even consequential? Certainly did not seem so. Nothing the Russians did could get those mobs of people going to Trump rallies all around the country. The Russians had zero to do with that. The enthusiasm for Trump’s message came from Trump, and certainly there was no collusion. Think of it this way though. Just common sense. What interests would the Russians have in getting Donald Trump elected? Zero. What was Trump promising? He was promising to have total energy independence. Now, the Russians are a energy-based economy, right? Very often called … Absent all the oil they have, it would be a third-world country with nuclear weapons it is often said. So Trump comes in promising complete energy independence, which is not in the Russian interest. To rebuild the American military–is that in the Russian interest? No. Finally, to build a national missile defense and to be serious about that. Now, if they’re a third-world country with nuclear weapons, if Trump can build a missile defense to negate their nuclear weapons–

Jan Jekielek: It is their only leverage.

Brian Kennedy: Right. The Russian–

Jan Jekielek: And energy, like you’re saying, right?

Brian Kennedy: Right. The Russians knew how to manipulate Hillary Clinton. When she was secretary of state she ultimately sold all or much of our uranium to the Russians. The Russians knew how to deal with Hillary Clinton. Why would they have gambled with Donald Trump? It makes no sense at all. Right? And so this whole idea for the last two years that we’ve been spinning around on Russia collusion is really a disservice to the American people. And I, like many people, wonder: Why didn’t Robert Mueller tell us that there was no collusion? When did he know there was no collusion, and why wasn’t he explaining that to people? He can look into Russian interference. He can look into obstruction of justice, but there was no collusion and he knew it. And he knew it early on. And I think he owed it to the American people to tell them that sooner than he did.

Jan Jekielek: So now let’s look at President Trump’s record. He made these promises, none of which were positive towards Russia, right? And his record seems to suggest that what he actually did isn’t at all positive towards Russia. How could he be a Russian puppet? This still blows my mind.

Brian Kennedy: Yeah. No, he couldn’t be a Russian puppet. There was no reason, as we’ve been saying, for the Russians to even entertain the notion that Donald Trump should be president. The other thing that Trump was, was an assault on elite thinking. He was trying to build a popular movement. He’s built a popular movement in this country. If you’re the Russians, do you really have an interest in a popular movement of the kind that President Trump has been embodying? Do you really want that in the White House? Do you really want a president who believes in America first running the White House? Or would you like a globalist in the White House in the form of Hillary Clinton? Well, certainly you’d want a globalist. The last thing the Russians want is a nationalist in America, first-type president running American foreign policy or American domestic policy. And so that really has been the great illusion we’ve been living under for the past two years, that somehow the Russians wanted Donald Trump to win. And when you see these Democrats on television or on MSNBC, and they’re there, you know, so concerned about Russian interference, where were they before now? They’ve never been concerned about the Russians or the Soviets before now. All of a sudden, now that Donald Trump won, they established a meme, and the meme was Trump was a Russian puppet–that he had colluded with the Russians to win. And they simply continued with that. And that’s not only dishonest but a real disservice to the American people

Jan Jekielek: It seems there’s increasingly more evidence now that the prior administration was aware of the interference that Russia was involved in and didn’t really do much about it.

Brian Kennedy: But they knew it also didn’t make any difference. What little things Russia was doing on the margins in the election, that didn’t have any impact. Anybody with any common sense knew, as I said, those rallies in Michigan and Texas and down South and elsewhere, that was motivated by what Trump was saying, by his pledge to put America first, by striking, you know, tougher trade deals. That’s what motivated those rallies. Not something … not some Russian bots or server farms in the Ukraine or some nonsense like that. And so the American people deserve better than that, I think. And I think president Trump has vindicated their support of him.

Jan Jekielek: So in your mind, does Russia remain an existential threat to America?

Brian Kennedy: Well, they’re sophisticated and they do have nuclear weapons. And they have an intelligence apparatus that is capable of working with great powers like China or manipulating countries like Iran or North Korea. And so to the extent that Russia is a nuclear power with an extensive intelligence apparatus, you have to take them seriously and their nuclear weapons are not to be trifled with. And the fact that we don’t yet have a national missile defense is something we ought to be concerned about. So long as that is the case and President Trump is trying to fix that. But so long as that’s the case, you do have to worry about how the Russians behave and how the Russians could manipulate other countries like Iran or North Korea against the United States–or Venezuela as we’ve seen recently.

Jan Jekielek: Well, so in that vein, what do you make of the North Korean dictator Kim Jong-un’s visit with Putin recently?

Brian Kennedy: I think that just happens in the normal course of things that North Korea is a client state of Russia and with China, and President Kim was going to make sure that President Putin was happy with what was going on. And it was a way of signaling to the world that President Putin still matters, that President Kim is going to entertain his masters, and that this is not a cut-and-dry situation where President Trump can simply, you know, meet with President Kim and get this all resolved, that there are other great countries at play and that it’s much more complicated. I think President Trump fully understands that, which is why he’s not settled for just any deal. He’s going to strike a good deal. Even then, I think president Trump knows that they’re not really to be trusted. And I think people sometimes get confused with how the president speaks about these things. He’ll call somebody my friend or that he has good relations. Well, that’s just good diplomacy.

Jan Jekielek: Right. It seems like he says that with everyone that he wants to deal with, right?

Brian Kennedy: No, absolutely. No, the president says that in terms of simply being a good diplomat and realizing that you can kill people with kindness, but you can also kill them with nuclear weapons. And that we have a powerful military, and we want to be in a position to have a certain kind of freedom of movement in Asia and that the North Koreans are a problem and a problem he’s going to deal with. And I think he’s going to expose the bad behavior of both China and Russia when it comes to North Korea. There’s been this illusion that North Korea is an independent actor. And so what do the Chinese do? The Chinese always say: Gosh, we’d love to help you on these trade deals, but we’re so busy dealing with North Korea. And the Russians do the same as if North Korea would do anything without the either encouragement or permission of the Chinese and the Russians.

Jan Jekielek: So these are the masters that you were speaking of earlier. These are the two? Are there any others?

Brian Kennedy: No, I mean as a practical matter, look at their nuclear weapons program. Who helps North Korea with their nuclear weapons program? China and Russia. Who helps them with their economy? China and Russia.

Jan Jekielek: Doesn’t that feel like a dangerous game to be playing?

Brian Kennedy: If you’re China and Russia? Well, a dangerous game on the one hand, but a game that we’ve been playing for a while here. Look at the Korean War. The Korean War you had the North Koreans invading South Korea and the United States and the U.N. going in to help South Korea. And that was in June of 1950. By October of 1950, the Chinese had put in 750,000 troops that they called volunteers, as if they volunteered and were not called up. Volunteers. And eventually they put in 3 million men against the United States and the U.N. forces. And there was a stalemate as we know in the Korean wars, you know, been the way it has for some time now. But there the Chinese showed that they were not going to get pushed around by anyone. And that even though it wasn’t China that we were invading and that we had no interest in invading China, China was going to do everything they could to demonstrate to the world, especially the United States, that they were going to take their territorial integrity seriously. And again, we weren’t going to invade, and they pretty much knew that. But they wanted to show the world that they’re a superpower too, they are a big country, they are a sophisticated power, and that they in the, at the time, Soviet Union, were going to help the communist world do what it could to expand.

Jan Jekielek: So you’ve recently become the chairman of the committee on the “Present Danger: China” modeled after the committee on the “Present Danger: Soviet Union” back in the day. Presumably, this is where the big existential threat is in terms of foreign powers for us, right?

Brian Kennedy: Right. I mean, I start with the default view that the country could be lost. The United States could be lost. That nowhere in our history books is it written that the United States is going to last forever and that we can do something internally to get things wrong and that we could have external enemies who mean our destruction. When we had the Soviet Union, there were a lot of Americans who understood that the Soviets posed an existential threat. Well, after the end of the Cold War, a lot of serious thinking in this country went away. We had won the Cold War after all. We were the superpower. And everyone thought, well, you know, we’ve solved all these problems and yet we didn’t disarm the Russians. They still possess their nuclear weapons and this very sophisticated intelligence apparatus that we’ve been talking about. But we also had communist China and they weren’t disarmed. They didn’t lose the Cold War. And they’ve been proceeding all these years to build up a first world military, a very formidable nuclear force, formidable navy, and an economy that, if it doesn’t already, rivals the United States.

Jan Jekielek: Built, arguably, by the United States in a way, right?

Brian Kennedy: Built with trade and all the money that was made through that. But through technology transfers that we openly gave them during the Cold War. And also, as we know, over the years either stealing our intellectual property or having forced technology transfers. During that period of time China has become a very powerful and sophisticated, if you want to call them an enemy, you know, some people do. I think they should be seen that way, partly because they think of themselves as an enemy of the United States. And in this country, we don’t really have a group of people who understand that China is that kind of a threat. Everyone thinks of China, and all we think of his trade and manufacturing and those things. We don’t think of them militarily. We don’t think of their intelligence apparatus. We don’t think of their political influence. But the Chinese Communist Party is, in my view, the most sophisticated political force in the world today. It’s able to govern 1.3 or 1.4 billion people. It’s able to extend the reach of China around the world, including the Western Hemisphere. And so China is a real power and I don’t think the American people fully appreciate that. And one reason the committee was started was to explain to Americans that there is this new threat out there that they have to understand that threat and that they’re owed an explanation for that. Because other than Donald Trump who has been talking about China as an economic threat or a military threat? Nearly no one. I mean, you have a few senators here and there who have concerned themselves with this over the years. But by and large, it’s not well understood the extent to which China really is a threat to the United States.

Jan Jekielek: So, you know, it’s been argued using what we call unconventional means or asymmetrical measures that China has actually been waging war on America for quite some time. I want to see if you agree and kind of outline that for us a little bit.

Brian Kennedy: Back in 1999, two Chinese Colonels published a manuscript called “Unrestricted Warfare” in which they describe how to deal with the United States. And they were laying out a wide array of things that could be done. Anything from cyber warfare to economic warfare to terrorism. They raised back in ’99 terrorism as a tool to be used against the United States from nuclear war, you know, et cetera. They lay out what China could do to the United States if China wanted to influence the United States in ways that best served the PRC. We’ve seen two or three decades now of this where they implement certain parts of it. When we think of economic warfare, American policymakers don’t even like to use the phrase. The Wall Street Journal, when you talk about economic warfare, they’re horrified by those things because it suggests war, right? It suggests something serious is going to be … is being done and should be done. The Chinese don’t think of it as economic warfare. I mean, they engage in economic warfare, but they don’t think there’s anything untoward about that. They think that’s just what great nations do. They would think in the course of things, they’re obliged to steal our intellectual property, to manipulate our political system. They think they should have a military that could defeat the United States. The Chinese as a great people are not going to accept that America’s going to be the superpower of the world. They believe they ought to be the superpower of the world. And one can hardly be shocked by that. If you have that many people with that much industrial capacity, with that big a military, with that much ambition, we should not be surprised at all that they want to do the things both in China and outside of China that would make them the most powerful nation on earth. We in this country just don’t think that way.

Jan Jekielek: Well, and on top of that, with this communist ideology basically driving that leadership. Is that how you see it?

Brian Kennedy: Well, the communist ideology of the PRC is a very useful tool for organizing 1.3 billion people. We live in an age of mass communication. People need a reason for why they’re doing something. They need a reason in China for why they should sacrifice, why some people should get rich while others don’t. And the communist ideology has a way of providing a overlay onto Chinese society that has some people rising and some people doing a lot of the work. And it’s a very powerful tool, I think, for governing that many people. If you’re not going to have democracy, and you’re not going to have democracy, you need some ideology to govern them, and communism has been the one they adopted and is totalitarian by its nature, it’s repressive by its nature, but it suggests at least to the people of China that there’s a reason for what they’re doing and why they’re doing it. They’re trying to satisfy the ambitions of communism as they understand it, or socialism with Chinese characteristics. And that I think is a real achievement in an obviously in a very negative, evil, evil way, right? But it’s a great, in a bad way, achievement that China has adapted communism to their current circumstances, and they can meld both certain parts of their economy being capitalism with certain parts being very mercantilist and certain parts being, in a way, an absolute fraud into a governing body with that many people and to project that all around the world. Witness their Belt-and-Road initiative in Europe and their reach into Africa and Latin America. It really does suggest a country that knows what it’s doing. It’s not perfect in its application of these things, but it’s extremely effective. And until President Trump unchecked.

Jan Jekielek: I was going to say, especially if the other side that’s being targeted is asleep at the wheel, right?

Brian Kennedy: Right. No, absolutely. And you saw this recent story of Boeing and the Carlyle group working with a Chinese corporation. I think it’s going to be a big story over the next, you know, few months where they were essentially taking eight or nine satellites and using them–American satellites–and using them for Chinese targeting. And China, you know, Chinese utility rather than American utility. Again, with the cooperation of both Boeing and the Carlyle group. So captains of industry in our country were working with China to make sure that China advanced rather than the United States.

Jan Jekielek: Well, Brian, break that down a little bit for us because to the typical American, you know, what’s the problem, right? We’ve got a few of our star corporations, right? Doing good business potentially. Right? How is that different with China?

Brian Kennedy: Now, that’s a great question. American businesses have thought for a long time they can make money in China, and many of them do. But a lot of it’s just short-term gain. And the prospect of making so much money is what really lures these businesses in. But the Chinese over time do what’s in their interest, and they’re the ones seeking this economic engagement for the benefit of communist China rather than for the United States. But these U.S. businesses, because they’re making so much money in the short run, are willing to sacrifice things like technology transfers or the use of our satellites. You even saw recently that a number of these businesses that had been hacked into by the Chinese. So the Chinese had engaged in cyber warfare against these American businesses, but the American businesses wouldn’t complain to the U.S. Government for fear of being shut out of the Chinese market.

Jan Jekielek: Right.

Brian Kennedy: Well, that’s something we should be concerned with. And you also see the fact that China is going to be coming to to Wall Street over the next decade, you know, with sovereign bond offerings and equity offerings for their state-owned enterprises. … All issued by the Goldman Sachses and the Morgan Stanleys of the world. Should we be concerned with that? And the answer, of course, is yes. It’s one thing for an American business to trade with China. What happens over the next decade when American investors start investing in China? I mean, part of this current trade deal is getting greater access to … for U.S. businesses to invest in China. Well, that didn’t seem like that good of an idea. When you’re investing in a business, you’re investing in its success. When you have all these state-owned enterprises in China … Imagine a world where you had, you know, 100 million American retirees invested in the success, the economic success of China. What will that do to us foreign policy, right? Are we going to challenge China when that happens?

Jan Jekielek: It sounds like a very good strategy for the Chinese Communist Party to employ, to create those really tight relationships as possible.

Brian Kennedy: Absolutely, and that’s exactly what they’ve been doing for all these years. They’ve melded their economy with our economy in such a way that American business elites don’t want to see President Trump discipline the Chinese. But if he doesn’t discipline the Chinese then the Chinese are going to take complete advantage of American businesses. But American business elites are so tied in to that system that we have a kind of corruption and unwinding all that–very difficult. We didn’t have that during the Soviet Union, but we do now with China.

Jan Jekielek: The unspoken thing here is that these businesses in China that the Boeing or Carlyle group are working with, they don’t work the same way as American or other multinational businesses do, and they’re not independent, right, in the same way that the American companies are.

Brian Kennedy: No. Boeing wants access to Chinese markets, and so it’s willing to make sacrifices even if those sacrifices are bad for the American people. The Carlyle Group, they finance all of these different projects. Does the Carlyle group want to be shut out from China and the amount of money they could make in China, even if it’s bad in the long run for the American people? No. And so you’re sacrificing, again, the long-term security of the United States for short-term gains.

Jan Jekielek: Can any Chinese business do something that isn’t positive for the Communist Party? That isn’t positive for the Communist Party?

Brian Kennedy: They could try to, they could try to, but the Chinese Communist Party is going to discipline them. And so China has built a system of both government and an economy that works very well together for the interests of the PRC. In this country we have everybody looking out for themselves, and we haven’t had a political structure or a political awareness until President Trump that we ought to take a hard look at this and make sure that we’re not sacrificing the interests of the American people to some of these trade deals. There’s that old saying, right? That the problem with socialism is socialism. And the problem with capitalism is capitalists. Well, so you have a Boeing or a Carlyle group sacrificing, you know, basically looking out for themselves rather than the country.

Jan Jekielek:The bottom line is the shareholder, not the impact on the typical American.

Brian Kennedy: Right. Even if we’re transferring technology we may need or that we are somehow further intertwining our economy with communist China.

Jan Jekielek: Or it’s impacting national security, arguably …

Brian Kennedy: Right. And we’ve seen this for 20 or 30 years now in our dealings with China. We hoped at one point with communist China that they would evolve into a democracy that had respect for human rights, that would become a respected member of the world community, respecting the rules of trade and finance that other nations aspire to. And most of that effort we put into all that was lost–that the Chinese didn’t become a democratic country. We don’t see today that they’re becoming more respectful of human rights.

Jan Jekielek: So in his book “The Hundred-Year Marathon” Michael Pillsbury chronicles a series of pretty dramatic U.S. Intelligence failures and argues that actually the Chinese Communist Party has basically deliberately set up these ruses. Yes, we’re going to become a more democratic as our economic situation increases and so forth. What do you make of this? Has this actually been a deliberate action on the Chinese side?

Brian Kennedy: Michael Pillsbury’s book “The Hundred-Year Marathon” is, I think, the most important book an American citizen or policymaker could read regarding China because he was present at the creation of modern U.S. China policy. He saw the promises that were made to the United States. He saw all the things the United States gave to China, all the technology, all … I mean, we wanted to give them technology. We wanted to give them certain things so that their economy would grow and they could become the democratic miracle, we hoped, of Asia. Even though we were already seeing it on Taiwan, it was hoped that the PRC would become that. Michael saw all that being developed–

Jan Jekielek: And believed it, I think, right?

Brian Kennedy: And in his book he really also describes how they got it wrong, and we Americans got it wrong, and every hope that we had for China when it didn’t come true we kept on hoping a little bit more. And all the while China was, instead of reforming itself, becoming a more effective communist dictatorship, being able to give out just enough liberties to certain sectors of their own society in order to build this, you know, very powerful economy. Again, it’s not perfect. It has all sorts of flaws in it. But I wouldn’t underestimate. And I think the heart of Pillsbury’s book is that he doesn’t underestimate what the PRC is capable of–that they’re capable of both deception, a military buildup that is formidable and economic manipulation that is second-to-none in corrupting American elites. And I think that’s the real worry of his book–that because they look, as we know the Chinese are an ancient civilization, because they can look so far ahead they’re very good at waiting out someone like a President Trump. They see what he believes in, they know that that’s not something they can openly challenge, and so what can they do to make him happy until he leaves office someday. All the while, slowly, methodically building up their military and building up their relations around the world. And I think Pillsbury’s book is important in the sense that it really does warn us about their sophistication.

Jan Jekielek: So Brian, do you feel like the veil now has been lifted off of American’s eyes, whether it’s the policy establishment, whether it’s the elites, whether it’s the American people? Definitely we’ve seen dramatic shifts in our approach to China. Is this something that you think will only last through the four or eight years that President Trump will be in office? Or is this something that will last longer?

Brian Kennedy: Well, I hope not. I hope this is something that’s going to last, and I do think the veil has been lifted to a degree. But I think you see a contest right now between President Trump taking it serious and looking at every dimension of what the PRC presents to the United States. And you see a great pushback by American elites, business elites that: We don’t want to do the kind of things that might upset this global prosperity. And global prosperity and the prosperity of the American people–we don’t want to sacrifice any of that to this realistic view that the president has of what China really is, which is a communist dictatorship.

Jan Jekielek: Because they have successfully intertwined themselves into the global economy in a very real way. And it’s very difficult now to do anything without it having these repercussions on–

Brian Kennedy: A member of the committee on the “Present Danger: China” Steve Bannon said the other day that Wall Street was the investor relations–

Jan Jekielek: Right, I saw that.

Brian Kennedy: … department of the Chinese Communist Party here in this country. That you look at the Wall Street firms and they’re all looking to come and have big public debt offerings over the next decade and make themselves millions and billions of dollars by business with China. Well, they don’t want to do anything to upset that. And the chamber of commerce types who want to have economic engagement with China, they don’t want any of that. And that’s flying in the face of President Trump in this idea that we’re going to put the interests of the American people first rather than the interest of Wall Street first. And that really is the contest right now. And whether that is going to succeed or not really does depend on whether President Trump has the support of people like the committee on the “Present Danger: China” and other Americans who see the Chinese threat for what it is. Now, I mean, one of our great challenges, I think, is that Americans are optimistic. They meet Chinese people and they very typically have nothing but positive feelings because Chinese people are a very friendly, hardworking, decent, energetic people. And the ones that Americans engage with, they’re naturally going to seem like friends and allies and people they can do business with. Well, even though that’s true substantially, you also have the case that the Chinese Communist Party is building an apparatus that wants to make China the most powerful nation on earth, and that will fly right in the face of whatever business deal may stand in its way. Because the Chinese Communist Party–what matters most to them is power, not money. Money right now will serve them, which is why they engage in trade and finance and business all around the world. But, ultimately, what matters is power–political power, the ability to control China and the ability to control events around the world to the benefit of the PRC. And as a great power that is perfectly understandable. Even if it’s in conflict with the United States, we simply have to be more engaged and better than they.

Jan Jekielek: Well, and the substantial difference is that with all it’s warts, so to speak, America remains a free society, and China very much is not one. And that’s not a system we would want to see in this country and in any country, right?

Brian Kennedy: No, no. And the real sad part, I think, is China’s not becoming the democratic model we had hoped for. They’re not respecting human rights as we’ve seen with the Uighurs and their repression of the Uighurs. So obvious and open is that they’re going to do what’s in their interest, and they’re not going to tolerate dissent. And we’re coming up here on the … 30th anniversary … of Tiananmen Square. And we’re going to be discussing over the next several months: What were the lessons of Tiananmen Square? What were the Chinese trying to tell the world and tell their own people? And I think the message is: We’re going to do whatever it takes to make sure that we’re number one, we will do anything to make sure we’re number one. And you see the ruthlessness at Tiananmen Square and it’s continued year in year out. You can have a leader like President Xi and he can seem friendly, and all the while he’s doing whatever it takes to make sure that the PRC is preeminent. Again, we Americans don’t look at the world that way. All we think about is spring football and baseball and living our lives and raising our families. We don’t see the world for what it is. That’s one defect you might say we have as a commercial republic, maybe a good defect.

Jan Jekielek: I was going to say, this is the kind of defect you kind of want to have, right?

Brian Kennedy: Well, it’s a kind of defect you have in a republic where you send people to Washington to represent you, right? Our system is geared towards: You live your life, and we’ll send representatives to Washington and they’ll make laws and you’ll have an executive who will execute those laws, and you can live in a free society. But when you do that, you better have people in Washington who understand just how dangerous the world is. Because we’ve gone through many, many times in our history where we haven’t understood that. We didn’t quite understand that before World War II. We didn’t quite understand it at various times during the Cold War. And what we fear today is when it comes to communist China and their ambitions that we don’t fully understand it. And part of our purpose with the committee on the Present Danger is to work with policymakers and the administration so that they understand all the facts that are in play when it comes to Chinese strategy.

Jan Jekielek: See, on the human rights side it kind of blows my mind because at the Epoch Times we’ve been covering the persecution of all sorts of groups over the last 20-odd years. And a lot of it was done in a way, mostly underground, right? And that was kind of the success of the Chinese propaganda. A lot of the Falun Gong persecution didn’t get out into the media. Of course there were moments when the Tibetan … the cultural genocide of the Tibetan people, and Uighurs all along, the nuclear tests in Xinjiang, you know, what the impact of that was on people it’s hard to even quantify. But now there are documented concentration camps, arguably, holding a million people out in the open, and you have folks like the president of [BW inaudible] saying, “I’m not aware of this,” you know, with business operations there. It just feels to me very blatant and kind of in your face and like, we can do this–kind of like a Tiananmen square type thing, like we’re going to do this, and I dare you to say anything. How do you read this?

Brian Kennedy: Probably pretty much the way you do. It is kind of shocking, but it’s similar to Tiananmen Square in the sense that they’re using it to send a message to the people of China. Right? The other people … the Han Chinese, that we don’t screw around. What was the lesson of Tiananmen Square when they were killing college students? Now the college students were among the elites of China, and so what message were they sending? That we will not tolerate this kind of behavior from anyone, not even the children of the elites–that you will adhere to Communist Party ideology.

Jan Jekielek: Mess with the political side, and you’re going to feel the full weight of the Party.

Brian Kennedy: You want to question the Chinese Communist Party bad things will happen to you. With the Uighurs or with any other group that they decide to suppress, it is the same thing. We will do this to our own people, and to the world imagine what we will do to you if at some point in the future we’re working together and you cross us. Again, they with a smile have perfected a kind of ruthlessness that should worry anybody doing business with them, any neighbor of theirs, and the free people of the United States. Especially because we in the United States are the only thing standing between them and world domination. … In Europe, they’ve mastered China, and they continue to do so. They have the rest of Asia to concern themselves with, hence their relations in Korea. But they’re also in Europe and Latin America and Africa. And so their ambition has grown as their sophistication has grown.

Jan Jekielek: But “One Belt, One Road” is supposed to be a fully global initiative.

Brian Kennedy: Right. Because they see themselves as masters of the world. Now, does that mean they want us all speaking Chinese, and we’re all going to be in camps the way the Uighurs are? No, that’s unrealistic. But if in that process they can so intertwine themselves in the economies–the advanced economies of Europe and the United States and Latin America–they can dictate events for the next century based on that kind of a sophistication. And we in this country, we just don’t look at it that way, or we don’t look at it that way adequately. And I think the American military and the American State Department and CIA are only now waking up to the fact that if they don’t do something now, there will be bad things in the future for the United States.

And the most worrisome thing, I was going to say, the most worrisome thing is that there will come a point when the PRC says, “We don’t really need to work any longer with the United States, that maybe the United States should no longer be a world power. And let’s say the PRC makes a gross strategic miscalculation and decides to engage us militarily for some reason or another. Well, what will the world look like then? Do we want to get into a war with the PRC? No. But they also don’t want to get into a war with the United States. And it’s in that ambition that they have that boldness that I worry that we may not be adequately prepared, and they may not be adequately deterred. And if they’re not adequately deterred they may make mistakes that would cost the lives of millions of Americans–American civilization, perhaps. But also Chinese civilization. I mean, this is how world wars start–with miscalculations. And to the extent that President Trump is committed to rebuilding the American military and doing those kinds of things that make America strong again, I think that can only serve the interests of peace and the interests of the kind of reform that we hope will someday come to China, however far off that may be.

Jan Jekielek: You’ve made me think that even with all the recent wars that we’ve been involved with, unless you were a family, a gold star family, or you knew veterans or something, a lot of people were just simply quite isolated from the reality that we were at war in a sense. I mean, I know I certainly was to some extent.

Brian Kennedy: Yeah, people didn’t quite appreciate it. We were told that Islam was a religion of peace, that the people who attacked us on September 11 were cowards. And so when you look at that, you think: Well, is this really a problem? And Americans didn’t quite appreciate the real threat posed by the Islamic world. And we’ve gone through almost 20 years of this now, and we’re wondering: What does the world really look like? Enter Donald Trump, and he comes in and thinks, yeah, the world’s a dangerous place. We got to get this right. And so that’s a breath of fresh air in a way for the American people.

Jan Jekielek: So, on that note, it’s actually quite interesting. The Iranian foreign minister is … maybe still is here in the U.S., was recently here, and was interviewed and I thought it was very fascinating. He was basically saying, one: that some members of the administration, I think he named John Bolton even, are looking to create war with Iran and that there’s other Middle Eastern countries that are there looking for that too–Saudi Arabia, UAE [United Arab Emirates], and so forth. But on the other hand he was saying, “But I don’t think that President Trump is going to do that,” because he had these campaign promises that he wasn’t going to start a war and stuff. But it was just, I mean, I’ve never seen an Iranian representative come and speak in this sort of a manner. What do you make of this?

Brian Kennedy: Well, I think Trump’s a great intangible, and the Iranians aren’t quite sure what to make of him. And he’s a bit of a cowboy the way Ronald Reagan was thought to be something of a cowboy, meaning not predictable. And Trump by his own account means to be unpredictable at times. So he’s doing the kind of things that would suggest he’s a serious man. He’s rebuilding the American military, he’s building missile defenses, he’s doing all sorts of things that would suggest we’re going to be really strong militarily. And we know when we’re strong militarily, that’s a great deterrent to other countries. So the Iranians look at that and they think: We don’t want to be next. You had Iraq, you have had Afghanistan, we don’t want to be next. And so let’s try to play nice with them because we’re not sure quite what he’s going to do.

Jan Jekielek: Yeah, and he’s designated the Iranian Revolutionary Guard as a terrorist organization. No one was willing to do that. And what kind of a message does that send?

Brian Kennedy: Well, it sends the message that he’s serious about what it is they do in the world, that the IRGC much like the PLA in China is intimate with the workings of what goes on in Iran. They’re intimate with what the economy is doing, and they operate intelligence apparatus that goes anywhere in the world and seeks what is good for Iran. And so the American military and intelligence community sees Iran as a real danger and a real threat, and Trump is simply responding by designating them as terrorists. Remember, it was in the September 11–the so-called 9/11 report, that the final preflight training for the terrorists who flew planes into our buildings on September 11, their final training was in Iran. Now who thinks of that? So Iran was complicit in the attack? Where did bin Laden’s family go after the attack? They went to Iran. And so here we made war on Iraq and Afghanistan, and yet it was Iran that seems so intimate and complicit with September 11, which has arguably changed America over the last 20 years. You read bin Laden’s diaries. There was this conflict in his diaries between some of his al-Qaida core group who didn’t like the idea of working with the Iranians, but bin Laden said, “My brothers, we have to work with them. They provide financing, they provide intelligence, they provide support. Whatever our differences, we need to work with them.” Now, did we hear that during President Bush’s term or President Obama’s term? Not really. And I think Trump is looking at this now and thinking: We need to be serious. We need to understand who the real enemies are. And that’s a very refreshing and I think useful thing for the American people–understand who really is a threat to America.

This interview has been edited for clarity and brevity.

American Thought Leaders is a new Epoch Times show available on Facebook and YouTube.

 

 

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