Sen. Marco Rubio: How the Chinese Regime Co-opts Our Elites and Weaponizes Our Systems Against Us
“If we think that the energy leverage Putin had over Europe was substantial, the leverage China potentially has over America and the West is extraordinary.”
I sit down with Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), vice chairman of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, to discuss how the Chinese regime has been systematically co-opting our elites for decades and leveraging the American system against us, from our innovation to our laws to our free markets.
If the supply chain for any “key industries—ranging from medicine to fighter jets, from technology to food—if any of it comes from China, we should assume that that will be weaponized against us in the future,” Rubio says.
China’s extreme “zero-COVID” lockdowns and the subsequent supply chain disruptions are one of the main drivers of rampant inflation in the United States, says Sen. Rubio. “And this is something they didn’t intend to do. It’s just happening. Imagine if they intend to do it.”
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Jan Jekielek: Senator Marco Rubio, such a pleasure to have you on American Thought Leaders.
Sen. Marco Rubio: Oh, thank you for having me. It’s a pleasure to be with you.
Mr. Jekielek: Senator Rubio, you’re of course the Vice Chair of the Senate Intelligence Committee, and recently you actually chaired a hearing about the Chinese Communist Party’s plans for economic and technological dominance. What do you think are the most important findings of this hearing?
Sen. Rubio: Yes, the purpose of these hearings really is to shine a public light on something that a lot of people on a daily basis are not aware of, and that is that there are all sorts of technologies and industries that are going to be critical to the direction of the 21st century. They’re developing very fast, whether it’s quantum computing or artificial intelligence or 5G or you name it, and we’re in a competition. Whichever nation or nations have the high ground on it and are dominant in those fields are going to benefit from it geopolitically, militarily, and economically, commercially, industrially, across the board.
And so America needs to be very competitive in those fields, and we face an adversary and a competitor in China that is both investing very heavily in this, but also stealing the advances we’re making, reverse engineering them in many cases as a result, to advance their own programs, and subsidizing it with the state.
What the fear is, is that we’re going to find ourselves in a world here very soon where China has established technical dominance in a number of critical fields. And look, there’s no American alive today that has ever lived in a world in which America has been in second place in global technology on any sort of thing. The world looks very different when your country’s not the world leader in a technology and an adversary is. Life looks very different when that’s the case. So I think just making that point and having people understand that is really the purpose, not just of those hearings, but everything else we’re working on.
Mr. Jekielek: Well, and what would you say was the key message that you wanted to send through this?
Sen. Rubio: Well, a couple things. First of all, obviously China’s doing what they’re doing, but there’s a lot of decisions made by American policy makers that are to blame. Our screening for inbound investment where a Chinese company that actually works for the Chinese government comes into the United States, buys up an American company for purposes of getting their hands on some startup technology. We’re not screening that well enough. We’re not investing enough ourselves.
But we also have American companies that because they’ve been promised market share, maybe a small market share in China, but a market share that for them represents billions of dollars a year in earnings, and those companies are willing to go along with China’s demands, including turning over intellectual property. They don’t care if five or 10 years from now, once the Chinese figure out how to do it on their own, they kick those companies out and put them out of business. They’re more focused on the short term profits.
And so I think it’s really important for us to understand that if we think we’re going to free market our way through this, that’s not going to work, because China’s not playing by free market rules. They are playing by mercantilist rules where their companies get to cheat and steal, but ours do not. They expect us to live up to the rules, but they also expect us to allow them to continue to violate them. And you know, that just cannot continue without there being some really dramatic and devastating consequences for it.
Mr. Jekielek: Well, I want to dig into all sorts of things related to the U.S. corporate interaction with China and the Chinese Communist Party. Before we go there, you just made me think of something you’ve said. You said, “Public policy towards China has been held hostage by left radicalism on one side or a lack of corporate patriotism.” I think you were alluding to that in what you just said.
Sen. Rubio: Yes. Let’s say you’re an American company, you’re headquartered in the United States, but you don’t really view yourself as an American company. You view yourself as a global company. You view yourself individually as a citizen of the world, and frankly, you don’t think there’s any interest. Your job is to try to make as much money as you can this next quarter so your shareholders will be happy, your board will give you a new contract and it doesn’t matter if the way you’re doing it is bad for America.
That’s what a lot of companies have decided. It’s not illegal, but it’s what they feel like they want to do. We need to recognize that and understand that that’s how these companies think, and therefore we should not be building public policy on what these companies think is in their best interest.
We have to be acting in the best interest of the country. Our job is to act in the best interest of the United States of America. That doesn’t mean we’re going to go after these companies and persecute them or try to deliberately harm them. But just because some company or some chamber of commerce comes up to DC and says this is bad for American business doesn’t necessarily mean this is bad for America. It might be the right thing to do for our country, even if it may harm one or two corporations. And I hear about it all the time, but you know, it’s something we need to wrap our heads around, or we won’t have those problems in 10 years, because those corporations won’t be American corporations anymore.
Mr. Jekielek: What about the left wing radicalism element that you mentioned?
Sen. Rubio: Well, that’s the alternative. These are the guys that are basically, for example, the American corporations who decide they’re going to boycott the State of Georgia over an election law or boycott Florida over what kids are being taught when they’re five or six years old in the classroom. But they have no problem doing a lot of business in China, including sponsoring the Olympics in China. Any country where there is no human rights, where people are summarily jailed without trial, where right now people in Shanghai are being welded shut inside their homes and where Uyghur Muslims are put into work camps where genocide is being committed, they don’t have a problem doing that.
We have all sorts of industries that benefit from production chains inside of China that include things they know are made by slave and forced labor, but they don’t care, because it’s cheaper. But they have no problem putting up billboards and condemning decisions made by democratically elected American politicians. That’s a real factor here, and that is the focus on that stuff here domestically and the refusal and the failure to focus on this competition we’re in with China and the hypocrisy embedded in that double standard.
Mr. Jekielek: I also want to get into the whole human rights question, because this is something that you’ve been raising awareness about for quite some time, actually, in Congress. Before we go there, I want to touch a little bit on some things that you’ve said related to the Russia-Ukraine war. I guess for starters, how do you view the strategic threat of China versus Russia? And there’s this question, has the gaze been pulled from another important player?
Sen. Rubio: Well, I think China’s hoping so. They’re not comparable. There’s no doubt Russia has strategic and tactical nuclear weapons. They have some conventional capabilities, although clearly not as many as they had two months ago when they suffered atrocious losses and at the hands of the Ukrainian forces who have bravely fought them. And they’re a threat, and certainly a threat to Europe, and have the ability to pose threats to the United States, including in the realm of cyber electronic warfare and the like.
China is on a completely different scale. China is a technological, commercial, biomedical, geopolitical, military, and industrial competitor. It’s not even comparable. I think on a scale of one to 10, China’s a 10 and Russia’s a three. That doesn’t mean they’re not interrelated. I think the Chinese are watching very carefully.
What happens when you invade a neighboring country? What happens when you take land that doesn’t belong to you? How does the world respond? What leverage do they have on us, and what leverage do we have in return? And they’re taking notes and learning lessons from this invasion of Ukraine for their future aspirations, both in the South China Sea, but also in places like Taiwan.
Mr. Jekielek: Well, let me touch on something you just mentioned. What leverage do they have on us, as you describe?
Sen. Rubio: Well, as you look at our supply chains right now, they’re disrupted because of a pandemic. Imagine if they decide to deny us the same things, but not because of a pandemic, but because they want to threaten us into not getting involved in whatever it is they’re deciding to do around the world. Their leverage ranges from 90 percent of the most important antibiotics we rely on in this country are made in China, to the basic 70-something percent of the basic elements involved in these batteries, lithium and the like, that are so necessary, all the way down to obviously textiles and things of this nature. 80-something percent of our generic pharmaceuticals that we rely on in this country also are made in China.
So they’ve got that and they’ve got growing leverage in a number of other fields as well, in telecommunications where Huawei is spreading across the world. And frankly, they don’t know. Just very recently, there were reports in the UK about these cameras that have been installed around different parts of the United Kingdom. Now, they don’t just have cameras, they have microphones, and we know that they’re fully capable of having back doors.
China is going to have a built-in espionage system, including in this country, where we still have not just Huawei equipment, but white-labeled equipment in defense installations of our country. White-labeled meaning we thought we bought it from a non-Chinese company, but the actual equipment, the server, the camera, they just stripped off the label and put on some other label, and it’s installed. And if that has a back door, you’ve basically invited Chinese spies right into your facility.
So the leverage is there and it’s growing. And if we think that the energy leverage Putin had over Europe was substantial, the leverage China potentially has over America and the West is extraordinary. They have the ability to disrupt our economy right now, because we depend way too much on them for both basic raw materials and also finished production of goods, and that’s only growing.
Mr. Jekielek: Well, I definitely want to touch on that and I guess what these lockdowns that the Chinese regime has instituted on many of its major cities, actually, what do those and the supply chain disruptions that are having as a result of that, among many things, what is the lesson for us here?
Sen. Rubio: A supply chain disruption in China that they didn’t intend to happen, they’re doing it because they have a zero COVID policy is one of the main drivers of our inflation. Not the sole driver, but a big part of it. And this is something they didn’t intend to do, it’s just happening. Imagine if they intend to do it. I don’t think we’ll finish this decade without there being something happening with Taiwan. So just imagine we’re getting to that point. China’s decided they’re going to go in, and they say to America, “It’s very simple. If you get involved and aid Taiwan, or for that matter, Japan or whoever else’s territory we want to go after, we are going to cut you off from these things. And you depend on these things.”
Now, not only does that threaten American policy makers, but they know that the businesses that rely on those things are going to be screaming at the door of the Capitol, saying this is hurting our economy. I see it now. The other day, I had an opportunity to talk to one of the companies that makes airplanes, and they were complaining [about] tariffs, that China’s no longer buying airplanes from America. They’re now buying them all from Europe. Basically, the argument was, whatever we did to make the Chinese angry, we have to stop doing it because it’s hurting us. They’re not buying our planes anymore.
That’s just one industry and one company. Imagine that across multiple industries, the impact it would have on our economy and the impact it would have on policy makers. I’m telling you, policy makers would respond to that. If that air maker is in your state and is one of the largest employers in your state, you as a senator are going to go over there and argue on their behalf, and by doing so argue on behalf of the Chinese position on that issue. That’s the leverage they have now. That leverage, if we don’t change course, will only grow exponentially in the years to come and put us at a level of vulnerability this nation has never faced in the modern era.
Mr. Jekielek: I just want to talk about Taiwan a little bit, because you’re suggesting that within this decade you expect the Chinese regime to take action on Taiwan, i.e., try to claim it in some way. Did I understand that correctly?
Sen. Rubio: That’s correct. Yeah, I don’t think we [will] finish this decade without that happening. I think their preference is to have the Taiwanese look at it and say, “The Americans are not going to come to our aid. They don’t have the ability to. The Chinese have standoff offensive capabilities that will destroy their ships and planes. So even if America wanted to come to our aid, they’re not going to, and America’s not going to come to our aid, because they’re going to be afraid of the impact that’s going to have on their economy.”
And once they make that decision that no matter what America wrote on paper, it is not going to come to Taiwan’s aid, then they have no choice but to cut the best deal they can with the Chinese government. I think that is plan A for China. That’s what they would prefer to see happen. But if that doesn’t happen, I think plan B is to take it and to take it by force, to take it very quickly, do a very rapid military engagement that allows them not just to capture it, but to secure it before there can be any foreign engagement, be it from the United States or our allies in the region. They want to be able to do it very quickly before everybody can come in and help Taiwan. That’s their goal.
And so I think that’s their plan B. They prefer plan A, but they’re ready to go with plan B and they’re building up that capability. I don’t think it’s going to happen in the next six months, although anything’s possible, but I most certainly don’t think we’ll finish this decade without that happening one way or the other. We have to be ready for that.
Mr. Jekielek: Well, and this has incredible implications globally. I don’t know if all of our viewers are aware, for example, that the most technologically advanced important chips that are basically made to make all sorts of very important devices, including military devices, that we use function, Taiwan is the production hub for these.
Sen. Rubio: Yes, Taiwan Semiconductors. Certainly, they still have to know how to run that facility, but that’s not the key, although I certainly think possessing that facility would give them tremendous leverage over the world. But they’ve wanted Taiwan going back to the 1940s and that hasn’t changed, and so that’s the way that is and they’re going to do it.
But I think what everybody needs to understand is, there’s something more about that moment. The day that China takes Taiwan without the U.S. being able to stop them will be a linchpin moment in human history. It will be a signal to the world at that moment. That moment will be the moment in which the world will conclude that the United States and the West are no longer the most powerful countries in the world. China is now on top, and the whole world order will change to a China-centric world order at that moment.
That is the symbolic importance of that moment. That’s actually not just symbolic, it’s a very real, including our allies in Asia and around the world are going to say, we are now living in an era where America is no longer the world’s greatest superpower and where America can’t stop China, so we better figure out how to cut our best deal with China. But it will be a pivotal historic moment in the course of human events, really something we haven’t seen in our lifetime. So we’re hoping that day will never come.
Mr. Jekielek: You’ve said that China is actually complicit in Russia’s war on Ukraine. And just to finish up this issue, I just wanted to get you to comment how you think that’s the case.
Sen. Rubio: Well, I think they’re doing everything they can without getting caught to help Russia and Ukraine, whether it’s the provision of ammunition, whether it’s… I think probably the one thing they’d really like to be able to help do is create an alternative banking system that can evade U.S. and Western sanctions, because they’ll need that one day. I think they’re providing them technical and intelligence support to the extent possible. But they don’t want to be associated with it openly. They don’t like the negative publicity that comes with it.
I think they’re probably nervous about the human rights, the atrocities that have been committed, because as more and more of these cities are liberated and the press and other investigators can get in there, we’re going to discover a level of atrocity committed by an advanced industrialized nation that we haven’t seen since the Second World War. The world’s going to be outraged by it.
So I don’t think the Chinese want that to splatter on them, but they certainly view not just Russia as a partner in this endeavor to sort of supplant the United States and the Western liberal world order. Not only do they view them as a partner, but I think they view this war as sort of the opening salvo in that transition, and how this goes, it will set the tone for what happens down the road. I also don’t think they mind that we’re spending a bunch of money and time and troops focused on Russia, as opposed to focused on building up our capabilities in the Pacific.
Mr. Jekielek: Well, right. And most recently, there’s this $40 billion bill that’s on the floor. I think that’s right now being assessed in the Senate.
Sen. Rubio: Yes. And look, I want to help Ukraine. I think we’ve done a lot to help Ukraine. I think we should continue to help Ukraine. But I think we should help them in pursuit of a plan, a plan that says, this is what the U.S.’s role is going to be, and this is how we fulfill it, because otherwise $40 billion, I think we’re going to be back here.
I think we’re going to be back here before October asking for another $40 or $50 billion. And the problem we have in Washington today is five or six people get in a room, they draw this thing up, and then they tell everybody, this is what it means to help Ukraine. You’re either for what we say or you’re against it. And that’s a terrible choice. There’s no strategic thinking going into this.
So it’s $40 billion today. It was something before, and maybe it does cost $40 billion, but maybe the same can be achieved for $20, $25 billion. There’s no conversation on it. Meanwhile, we have significant problems in our country too that we have to confront. We won’t be in position to help anybody if we can’t fix some of the things we face right now in America. A border crisis. We can’t even secure our own border. We have a baby formula shortage in America, which is astonishing. Gas prices are high. Inflation is eating away at our economy. We’re not investing in these important industries that are critical for the 21st century.
I think a lot of Americans ask themselves, how can we find $40 billion to help a cause that we support, but not be able to spend $5 billion on a border wall or $2 billion on dealing with whatever it is, on baby formula shortages or whatever that costs. So look, I want to help Ukraine, but I’m not in favor of spending without a plan, in essence. I think it’s important for us to have a plan and to understand, okay, what does this mean six months from now? Is there going to be another $40 billion come down the pipe? Because that I know we can’t sustain.
Mr. Jekielek: You know, and this is all happening in the context of the Chinese Communist Party doing everything it can to continue its quest towards global supremacy, which you were talking about before. But I don’t actually think this is something that everybody really understands, that this is the plan of the Chinese regime.
Sen. Rubio: Well, I don’t think that’s something they used to admit for a long time. Until very recently their argument was that they were a poor developing country and they were no threat to anyone. I think they don’t try to hide it as much anymore. They’re not hiding their hand, biding their time, and hiding their strength. They’re not doing that anymore. I think they’re pretty aggressive about it beginning in ’07, ’08, particularly under Xi.
But I also think moving forward that I think there’s a growing awareness of that now, and that’s good. But now there’s been a sea-change in the perception. We’re not all the way there yet. I don’t think there’s yet a sea-change or the necessary level of urgency about it. We don’t have 15 years to figure this out, and so we’ve got a lot of work to do and a lot of mistakes to make up for over here very quickly or we’re going to see our options begin to close.
Mr. Jekielek: Well, I fully agree with you about the sea-change of perception. It’s incredible when you compare it to even five years ago—how the perception has changed. But at the same time, we still see huge, huge pushes, whether it’s index funds or various Wall Street companies funds are still pushing a huge amount of money, billions and billions of dollars, some of them passively invested into China. That continues right now.
Sen. Rubio: It does. And I think what’s most concerning is when they do it with the retiree money of federal employees being invested directly into companies that are designing weapon systems to kill Americans in the future. And look, you can make a lot of money for these companies. These companies in China are guaranteed market share by their government. Their government basically tells these companies, “You are the only ones that are going to be able to sell this in China. Plus our government is going to go all over the world and get you contracts to do this stuff as well. And we’ll subsidize the prices so you can beat anyone on price. And if we have to, we’ll bribe the leaders of that country so that they’ll give you this contract.”
So you’re an investment house in the West, America, wherever, and you know, we can make a lot of money investing in these companies. Yeah, we’re investing in a company that’s bad for America, but you know, we’re going to make a lot of money for our investors. They’re going to be very happy with us, and that’s all we care about.
That’s what we see happening. That behavior needs to be acknowledged, and then we need to begin to address it, especially when you tell me that federal employees, every month, every paycheck, are investing their money in a thrift savings plan, which we’re currently holding up four nominees to their board, to a thrift savings plan that is investing in companies that are doing work for the Chinese military.
So think about it this way. You have a sailor somewhere in America investing for his future in the equivalent of the 401(k). That money, his retirement money or her retirement money, is being invested in a company that’s designing the missiles to blow up the ship they serve on. This is nuts, but that’s what’s happening.
Mr. Jekielek: Well, and the crazy thing, Senator, I have to say this, we’ve known about this for quite a number of years. It’s astounding to me that this hasn’t shifted, that this hasn’t changed even at this point.
Sen. Rubio: Well, I believe I was the first one to begin to raise the alarm on it two or three years ago, and it’s been a fight. It’s unbelievable, because you have to understand the mentality of the people that want to serve on these boards and that oversee them is their job is very simple. Get the best return on investment for their shareholders as possible. We want to make as much money back on our investments as possible. It doesn’t matter if what you’re investing in is bad.
Now, interestingly enough, if they were investing in fossil fuels, if they were investing in gun makers, if they were investing in anything like that, then you would have the uproar from the media and the left about no longer making those investments and divesting of these things. If they were investing in Israel, you’d have some people saying they should be divesting. But if they’re investing in the Chinese military or Chinese military-related companies, then that’s fine. And that’s what we’re battling here.
And frankly, on the left, we have the woke crazies that basically don’t care about that stuff, because frankly they don’t think America’s all that special and worth saving. And on the right, we have people that have such a pure market mentality that if it is the best way to make money, if it provides a good rate of return in the short term, it doesn’t matter if it’s destructive to their country in the long term. And so I think both of these approaches are what’s leading us to this point.
Mr. Jekielek: Senator, so why this hypocrisy? For example, my colleague Lee Smith has argued pretty convincingly that a lot of corporate leaders and frankly elites in America have been somehow captured by the Chinese Communist Party, or at least in some ways. What do you think about that?
Sen. Rubio: Well, I think they’ve been captured in the following way. I think they’ve taken a lot of trips to China. I think China has worked very hard for years to influence them. Probably started when they were younger and junior members in the business class. They’ve got a system designed to invite American business leaders, not when they’re the CEO, when they’re a mid-level employee, when they’re starting out in their career. Invite them to trips to China. So they create these personal relationships and this connection to China and begin to indoctrinate them in sort of the Chinese narrative of world events. Over time, these people work their way up the corporate ladder, and then they find themselves as leaders in these companies, and they do so with the framework of the last 20 or 25 years. That’s part one.
Part two is, there’s no denying it. If you ask one of these companies, okay, you’re no longer going to be able to do business in China, that for them, depending on what industry you’re in, would mean a dramatic loss of revenue. How do they explain that to their board and to their shareholders without getting fired? And so that’s the second part of the dynamic. So there’s the practical component of the money and then the long term investment China’s made in a lot of these leaders. And so they are captured in that way.
Look, I think maybe one of the most stunning examples of it is, China already censors American movies. Movies made in America are censored by the Chinese Communist Party, and here’s how. No Hollywood studio will produce a movie that has a Chinese villain or a Chinese Communist Party doing anything bad. You can’t produce that movie, because they won’t show it in China. And anytime you go [and] produce a movie, part of the equation, part of the calculus that you make is, this is how much we’ll make around the world, but this is how much we’ll make in the Chinese market. And China’s using that as a lever.
That’s a little piece, but that’s to give you an example of what we’re going to see in the future. And most interestingly, recently, the last Spider-Man movie that came out, in the closing scene it has a shot of the Statue of Liberty, and the Chinese wanted Sony to take that out. Sony said no, they refused. So it took a Japanese company to defend America’s honor. But every single day there are movies that are not made or are altered and edited, because the Chinese government will not allow distribution, and China and the studios don’t want to lose money.
Mr. Jekielek: Well, and to your point, in this new Doctor Strange movie that just came out, there’s actually a scene where there’s a Chinese Epoch Times newspaper box, and all sorts of people were commenting. How could this possibly land in there? Are they giving the middle finger to the Chinese regime? What is happening here? Of course, it’s one of the most banned media in China at the moment, and this film of course is not playing in the Chinese market. It’s not allowed in.
Sen. Rubio: Yes. Well, and I think you’ll see many things lie that. You’re going to continue to see that, and I imagine that at some point somebody will figure out how to censor that out of the movie. If all it takes to make billions of dollars in China is to just edit some scene, I bet you they’re going to edit that scene unless the person in charge is a very principled person and refuses to do it. But the Chinese have figured out our system. They know how much making a profit is important in capitalism and they’ve weaponized it against us.
Mr. Jekielek: I want to jump to a different topic. The Wuhan lab leak theory, the virus origins, this is something that you’ve been very vocal about. You’ve introduced a number of bills related to it. And I wanted to get your reaction, because there’s this Galveston scientist, Galveston of course a publicly funded institution, tipping off their Wuhan counterpart to the fact that they were going to be investigated, I think by you. What’s your reaction to this happening?
Sen. Rubio: Oh, I’m not surprised. That’s just the email someone found. I think like that, there’s probably been a million examples of things that we don’t and never will know about it. This is exactly what they do. There’s a lot of money in the research field as well. And for years, the Chinese have been hiring American researchers to either share their research with them for money or to just take their research over there, away from the United States. And oftentimes it’s research that began with American taxpayer money.
So I’m not surprised at all. I think that it’s probably even worse than what we know, and I think time will reveal some of that as we dig deeper in it in the years to come. As far as the origins themselves, the intelligence agencies have said publicly that the chances that it is just as likely that this was an accident in the lab as this was naturally occurring, I would argue probably likelier, because China’s had multiple pandemics over the last two years—zoonotic infections. And this is the only one where they have yet to produce the animal that it started in, where they have yet to identify its origin and share it with the world. And it’s been almost two years now.
So clearly something happened here that they don’t want the world to know about. I think their unwillingness to be transparent made it harder to deal with this pandemic. Had we known about this in December, I think we would’ve been able to move quicker on it, isolate it quicker, begin to deal with therapeutics and vaccines a lot faster. There are people in the world that died because China lied, and that’s a fact.
Mr. Jekielek: Well, and there’s this element when I hear about stories like this, and I see this replicated again and again and again in different contexts. But there’s this, for example, complete lack of awareness about the concept of civil-military fusion, which is dominant in how Chinese industry and the educational field interacts and works together. What do you think about that?
Sen. Rubio: Well, because we don’t have that here, right? We have American companies, Apple or Google or Amazon, and they’re companies. They have nothing to do with the government. No one thinks that Apple and Google belong to the government. And so we in our mind cannot understand or ascribe. We ascribe to other countries the same attribute. In the case of China, there is no such thing. I don’t care what company you do, I don’t care what it is you produce or make or what service you provide, nothing is separate from the military and the government. Nothing.
First of all, you wouldn’t exist if they didn’t allow you to exist. And when they come knocking on your door and they say, “This thing that you’re developing,” whether it’s TikTok, whether it’s a rocket, “this thing that you’re developing, we want that for the military as well.” It happens. You don’t have a choice. You don’t have the right to say no.
So in many cases, the people that are successful in those businesses come from government and Communist Party service and military service. There is no distinction between a major Chinese company and the Chinese military and the Chinese government. There is no distinction. They are agents and extensions of the regime, and they only exist because the Communist regime allows them to exist.
Mr. Jekielek: You also have a COVID accountability bill. What do you see is the Chinese Communist Party’s accountability for COVID? Is it that they weaponized the virus, whether it was a lab origin or something else?
Sen. Rubio: Well, I’ve never seen indications that this was a deliberate weaponization of the virus. It’s my view that the likeliest thing that happened here is, these guys do very risky types of research, gain of function and others. They mess around with a lot of things at a lab that has a history of accidents—an unsafe lab. Someone got sick, someone left and got other people sick. They live in a dictatorial system where reporting bad news to your superiors does not get you promoted or rewarded. Someone at the lab basically didn’t want [to] call Beijing and say, “Hey guys, we have a problem,” a lot like what happened in the Soviet Union initially when Chernobyl was melting down. This thing sort of spread.
At some point, the Chinese Communist Party was aware of what was happening, and they’ve done everything possible to keep the truth from coming out, because it makes them look bad, because it makes them look responsible, because of the implications around the world. And then, of course, they’ve spent a substantial amount of time themselves creating all kinds of ridiculous theories about how this, it was America that did this. So America created a virus that actually began in China. I mean, stupid stuff.
But that’s what this is about, and that’s my view of it. My view of it is that the likeliest thing that happened here is, they do very risky research. Not just, they’re doing risky research, they’re doing things in China that are not only unethical, but that we would never allow in the U.S. for safety reasons. And that makes them attractive. A lot of researchers are like, we could never do that experiment in America, but we can do it in China. Let’s take our research there. They’re willing to do these things. There are risks associated with that. And when a problem happens, they’re going to cover it up. They’re never going to accept responsibility for that mistake, because it makes them look bad, both domestically and around the world.
Mr. Jekielek: Well, yes. No, I was going to say that the U.S. was funding some of that research, via proxy or however, but my question is, what then is the actual accountability of the Chinese regime here? What do you feel they’re culpable for?
Sen. Rubio: Well, I think they’re culpable for the death of millions of people around the world. Ultimately, there are people, if we had developed vaccines, if we had developed treatments, if we had responded to this quicker, if scientists had had the initial virus and the code on it and understood it earlier while it was still in China, there are all sorts of things we could have done to keep it from coming here, to controlling it once it got here, to understanding the true nature. We would’ve had months and months and months ahead of time.
Now we’ve got these mutations that are going on, and so we can see those in real time. But the initial virus that spread around the world, they never shared that with anybody. They never shared the initial samples, the genetic code for it, and so it had to all be reverse engineered domestically, and it added weeks and weeks and months and months. So there are people today that had they received therapeutics or a vaccine, or even if doctors had known how to treat it, a lot of people died early on because doctors didn’t know how to treat this. They were being intubated unnecessarily and things of that nature.
There are people that died that would not have died had the Chinese been forthcoming from the very beginning, allowed the world to come in, allowed the world’s best researchers to come in [and] figure this thing out. We would’ve had information months ahead of what we did, and each one of those months represents global deaths that number probably in the millions. One day the true story of all this will be told, I believe. It’ll probably be decades from now, maybe years from now. I hope it’s sooner. And then I think the world will clearly see what we were dealing with here.
Mr. Jekielek: I want to pivot a little bit to human rights, because this has been something, you’ve been involved in the issue of China human rights for a very long time. Often people will ask me when I was working on China human rights and so forth, how is this relevant to me as an American, as a Canadian, on this side of the earth? What do you tell them?
Sen. Rubio: Well, just off the bat, they want to become the world’s most powerful country. If the world’s most powerful country is willing to do these sorts of atrocities to [its] own people, imagine what they would do to you or the people around the world. So first and foremost, you have to understand who these people are, and the best way to understand them is to see how they treat their own people. That’s number one.
Number two is, a lot of the reasons why bad things around the world like we used to see don’t happen is because after World War II, there was this global consensus that there are just things you don’t do. You don’t put people into death camps. You don’t have slave labor to help your industries. These are just things that are not acceptable. If the most powerful country in the world is a country that thinks those things are acceptable, that is going to influence what happens around the world.
And the third thing I would say is that any time you have these sorts of abuses there, they’re also occurring somewhere else. As an example, they’re not just going after the Uyghurs that are inside China, they go after Uyghurs and dissidents in the United States. They send agents here to intimidate people, threaten their families back home, go to people and say, “You know, you really should come back to China. I encourage you to come back to China, because if you don’t, your mom, your dad, your brother, your sister, your kids, your mother, your father are going to have a really tough time back home.” So their long arm is already reaching out into countries all over the world and threatening people. People need to be aware of this. They need to know what we’re dealing with.
Mr. Jekielek: You know, it’s very interesting. I just had Nury Turkel on the show very recently, talking about the Uyghur genocide and the genesis of it. One of the things he told me was that when the credible information was coming out about the organ harvesting, murder for organs regime in China, versus the Falun Gong practitioners and so forth, since nothing was done then, look, now this is something that’s actually happening to the Uyghurs as well. And actually, I might add that today it’s kind of an appropriate day for us to be filming this interview, because it’s World Falun Dafa Day. I think it’s like the 30th anniversary of the modern introduction of Falun Dafa in China, so this is a persecution that’s been going on for a very long time.
Sen. Rubio: Yes. And so again, I think that’s exactly right. I think the Chinese have calibrated the world’s reaction to everything from their intrusions in the South China Sea to these atrocious practices. They believe that ultimately that society is too busy around the world to care too much about these things, that yeah, they’ll complain, they’ll pass some resolutions, there’ll be some protests, but ultimately they’re not going to walk away from the benefits they gain by having a relationship with China. They’re not going to cut us off in these things.
And in many cases, they’ve reached out into college campuses and shut these things down. We’ve had speakers at college campuses, they’ve organized efforts to either harass them when they’re on campus or to get the administration to cancel their events. Listen, you can’t go to an NBA game and hold up a sign about Hong Kong. They would kick you out of the arena.
You can hold up a sign about anybody. You can hold up a sign saying America’s evil, but you can’t hold up a sign saying what China’s doing to Tibet or Falun Gong or Uyghurs or what they did to Hong Kong. You can’t talk about any of these things. You’ll get kicked out of an arena, because the NBA doesn’t want to lose distribution rights inside of China—costs them billions of dollars.
So they’ve learned how to play this game. There are plenty of people cooperating with them, usually over dollars and cents, not ideology, and it’s really unfortunate. We need to reverse that trend, because it’s just one more piece of leverage they have on us.
Mr. Jekielek: I’ve spoken before about the value of relinking trade and other interaction with regimes with their human rights realities. In this case, we’ve just been discussing the Chinese reality. What do you think about that?
Sen. Rubio: Well, we’ve done that when it comes to the Uyghur Forced Labor Act, and the link is very clear. They are making products with slave labor. Not only is slave labor immoral, but it’s free. So what an enormous advantage that is. You’re cheating on labor and you’re also committing this grotesque human rights violation.
What that bill did, my bill, we passed it against a lot of resistance, including from the Biden White House and from the corporate class. It was a bill that basically said if you’re buying products that are made in or with components made in Xinjiang, there is a presumption, a presumption that it’s made by slaves, and you have to prove that it’s not, or you can’t import it into the United States. It made a lot of people angry that depend on products from that area, but that’s a perfect example of how the two issues are linked.
Mr. Jekielek: I guess the question is, should this be done more broadly? And by the way, that is incredibly valuable and powerful legislation that you just described.
Sen. Rubio: It should be done more broadly, because I think like that, there are other human rights abuses that are directly linked to trade advantages on their behalf that hurt our country. And I don’t pursue human rights in a vacuum of just what’s right or wrong, because I think that’s very important and we should always be on the side of that, but where it should turn into concrete policy is when it has implications for our national interest. Any time anywhere in the world there are human rights abuses occurring, that leads to instability. It leads to mass migration. It leads to revolution. It leads to extremist movements that take advantage of that.
And we’ve seen that over and over again around the world, and inevitably that always falls on the lap of the United States, and so there is a national interest involved in preventing these human rights abuses from becoming systemized, because once they do, you’re going to have wars, you’re going to have mass migration, you’re going to have global disruption, and all of those things are going to impact America.
Mr. Jekielek: Senator, as we finish up here, I wanted to touch on a couple of things. One you talked about a little bit earlier, which is this basically the long arm of the Chinese Communist Party reaching into America, reaching into other countries, even countries which are ostensibly some of the freest countries in the world, and dictating policy, getting people fired, having institutions basically protect not the people in America but the Chinese regime. How to deal with this?
Sen. Rubio: Well, I think you have to start prosecuting people that you catch doing this, first and foremost. I think every single time this happens, it needs to be revealed. You need to be proactive, particularly in institutions like academia. And we’ve done that with these road shows that we’re doing in Intelligence, as we meet with people and walk them through what it is the Chinese do to try to influence events there. But I think every time you catch them doing this, if you can arrest the people responsible for it, we should. We need to explain it to the American people that this is what’s happening so that there’s greater awareness.
And we have to make sure that the people that are being chased and intimidated and targeted have the resources and the comfort level of believing, I can call the FBI, I can call a local police department, and they’re going to take me seriously. Some of that work is already happening. It’s something we’ve pushed very hard on, but that needs to continue to happen here in the U.S.
And obviously other countries are dealing with this as well. But that’s how I think we need to deal with it here, expose it and make sure that the people being targeted know that we’re supporting them here and they should not be afraid to call the FBI, they should not be afraid to call the police department and let them know that someone is trying to intimidate them.
Mr. Jekielek: Countering the regime here locally, some of its direct action, but more broadly, what do you see are the key things that America and other nations have to do to counter the CCP threat?
Sen. Rubio: First and foremost, we need to identify what are the key and critical industries of economic and national security in the 21st century? And there has to be an either American or an allied capability to produce those things, from raw material, all the way to its industrialization, all the way to its application and of course its design. If any of that supply chain on any of these key industries, ranging from medicine to fighter jets, from technology to food, if any of it comes from China, we should assume that that will be weaponized against us in the future. I think that is by far the most important thing.
The second is, our military capabilities have to be ramped up, not simply to project power, but to be able to defend against what China is developing. They are developing asymmetric means, a rocket to destroy an aircraft carrier. We have to have the ability to defend that, or we’re not going to be able to use that aircraft carrier. And that’s going to include investments in space warfare or space defense, as well as terrestrial and on the ground.
And then the third is, we have to invest in those industries, not just protect industries but invest in, both from the private sector and to some extent at basic research levels from the public sector. In some of those critical industries, there are things that may not be cost effective to do in America right now, but we can’t depend on China for them or we’re going to be in a lot of trouble. These things are really important for our future in terms of dealing with this threat, and those three things I think are the three most important.
Mr. Jekielek: Well, Senator Marco Rubio, it’s such a pleasure to have you on the show.
Sen. Rubio: Yes, sir. Thank you for having me. I appreciate it.
Mr. Jekielek: Thank you all for joining Senator Rubio and me for this episode of American Thought Leaders. I’m your host, Jan Jekielek.
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This interview has been edited for clarity and brevity.
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