by Bradley A. Thayer
A new House select committee on China chaired by U.S. Representative Mike Gallagher (R-Wis.) can potentially expose the vast scope of the Chinese Communist Party’s efforts to undermine the United States at home and abroad. It’s vital work that comes at a perilous time.
The Gallagher committee has an enormous task before it. It will have to investigate the CCP in the diplomatic, economic, military, and technological realms. But that is just the start. The committee will need to show how Beijing influences U.S. domestic politics, American media, Wall Street, Silicon Valley, and our colleges and universities.
At the heart of the committee’s mandate is to seek answers to the question: “How did this happen?” Why and how did the United States permit and support the rise of a peer competitive challenge? In other words, why is Gallagher’s committee necessary?
The committee needs to review what previous administrations said and what they actually did to arrest China’s rise. Absent the actions of the Trump Administration, what previous administrations said versus what they actually accomplished will be very modest—next to zero. What did the State Department, the Pentagon, the intelligence community broadly, and the nation’s foreign policy and defense think tanks do to arrest or abet China’s rise? The committee should start with the administration of President George H.W. Bush and work forward.
The historical record will show that the United States failed to balance the threat from the CCP and supported its control over the Chinese people. Major failures will include George H.W. Bush’s work to prop up the Chinese Communist Party following the Tiananmen Square massacre in 1989, when the regime was at its most vulnerable. The Clinton Administration, after critiquing Bush for “coddling dictators from Baghdad to Beijing” during the 1992 presidential campaign, did the same. After a good start, Bill Clinton abandoned linking the renewal of Most Favored Nation status to the CCP’s atrocious human rights record, facilitating China’s economic growth and placing China on the path to membership in the World Trade Organization (WTO), which accelerated its growth.
Clinton deserves particular opprobrium because he facilitated the CCP’s penetration of U.S. domestic politics through the money raised through “coffee klatsches,” Lincoln bedroom sleepovers, and other odious policies that traded Chinese cash for influence. The George W. Bush Administration’s focus on the Middle East allowed China to continue its rise unmolested. The Obama Administration’s “pivot” or “rebalancing” to Asia was feckless. Obama abandoned the Philippines over China’s aggression in the 2012 Scarborough Shoal and did nothing to aid Manila after the Permanent Court of Arbitration ruled in its favor in its 2016 South China Sea decision against China.
Only the Trump Administration took significant action against the CCP.
The United States has made bad decisions for decades in response to the CCP threat and has been so advised and supported in these ruinous decisions by the Washington foreign policy community, media, universities, Wall Street, and Silicon Valley. In an address to the Naval Submarine League shortly before his retirement in December, U.S. Strategic Command commander Admiral Charles Richard said, “as I assess our level of deterrence against China, the ship is slowly sinking. It is sinking slowly, but it is sinking, as fundamentally they are putting capability in the field faster than we are. As those curves keep growing, it is not going to matter how good our [operational plan] is, or how good our forces are—we’re not going to have enough of them. That is a near-term problem.” Richard warned that “the Ukraine crisis that we’re in right now, this is just the warm-up,” adding: “the big one is coming. And it isn’t going to be long before we are tested in ways that we haven’t been tested in a long time.”
To extend Richard’s metaphor, the United States has to plug the holes before it can pump out the water and restore the ship. Plugging the holes means substantive measures to identify the CCP as the existential enemy of the United States, its interests, and its people, and act accordingly. This requires that the elite in Washington, Wall Street, and Silicon Valley acknowledge the threat and eject the CCP from their respective sectors so that the U.S. ship of state may be stabilized.
We have been here before. The 1999 Cox Commission report stated that the Chinese Communist Party had been working to steal U.S. secrets for 20 years (i.e. 1979, when diplomatic relations were established). Unfortunately, due in part to cooperation with China by such defense contractors as Hughes and Loral, the CCP had been steadily undermining the U.S. global position. The commission warned a quarter of a century ago that this had to stop. But the problem has worsened exponentially. Little came of the warnings and recommendations of the long-forgotten Cox Commission.
Gallagher’s committee needs to acknowledge the past—China became a superpower with bipartisan support and in the warm embrace of the U.S. foreign and defense policy elite. For too long, politicians, Silicon Valley, Wall Street, and universities have accepted CCP money and permitted the expansion of its influence in the United States and globally. This needs to end.
To ensure that the past is not repeated, Gallagher’s committee needs to place the CCP’s global aggression, Marxist-Leninist-Maoist ideology, gross human rights violations, genocide against Muslims, and attacks on the American people—through fentanyl and other means—front and center. The Gallagher committee can explain to the American people why the CCP is their enemy and why all Americans need to identify it as their foe. It is a perfect venue to illuminate the CCP’s actions, sustain the focus of Congress and the American people upon them, and to call attention to the fact the CCP threat is nonpartisan—it kills Democrats, independents, and Republicans alike. Moreover, those who invest in China—who take the CCP’s blood money, or allow it to raise capital on U.S. markets—will have the opportunity to explain why they support a genocidal, aggressive, and totalitarian regime.
– – –
Bradley A. Thayer is coauthor of Understanding the China Threat and Director of China Policy at the Center for Security Policy.