“Come not between the dragon and his wrath,” King Lear enjoined, but this we must do to upend the wrath that has emanated from the most powerful foe America has faced. As terrible as the coronavirus crisis is, we must imagine a world ten or 20 years from now, in which the People’s Republic of China’s nominal gross domestic product is 50 percent larger than that of the United States.
What power would an unconstrained China wield? What force of arms would they muster to intimidate and to control?
If China’s actions in the coronavirus catastrophe offer any window into this communist regime’s machinations, deceitfulness, and debasement of human life, it is that the threat they represent is unlike anything America has faced.
The Rise of China
At the inception of World War II, many strategists conjectured that both Germany and Japan were destined to lose the war; their populations and economies were too small, and their access to raw materials too tenuous, to be able to wage a protracted war against the Allies. Later, the Soviet Union posed a great challenge.
Throughout the 1950s and early 1960s, CIA analysts predicted the Soviet economy would surpass America’s. This calculus drove many costly American decisions. Today, America’s GDP is at least 12 times Russia’s. China, however, is seemingly destined to outpace the United States in GDP during the next 20 years. Indeed, China has plausibly already overtaken the United States, if GDP is measured by Purchasing Power Parity (PPP).
It is ironic that four American actions enabled this ascent: first, American scientific aid to end famine in China; second, President Carter’s diplomatic recognition of the People’s Republic of China (PRC) and his commitment that the U.S. government engage with elements of the PRC; third, President Clinton’s facilitation of the PRC’s ultimate ascension to membership in the World Trade Organization (WTO) and his expansion of Chinese access to dual-use (civilian/military) technology; fourth, President Obama’s embrace of the PRC as a non-adversarial peer state, which completed the PRC’s envelopment of America’s institutions.
On September 25, 2015, the White House released a statement on U.S.-China Economic Relations. It revealed a disastrously misguided course, for the official factsheet noted, “The U.S. side reiterated its commitment to encourage and facilitate exports of commercial high technology items to China for civilian-end users. Both sides commit to continue detailed and in-depth discussion of the export control issues of mutual interest within the U.S.-China High Technology and Strategic Trade Working Group.”
More troubling was the Obama administration’s enshrinement of Chinese goals for industry penetration and co-option: “The United States and China commit to limit the scope of their respective national security reviews of foreign investments (for the United States, the CFIUS process) solely to issues that constitute national security concerns, and not to generalize the scope of such reviews to include other broader public interest or economic issues. . . . When an investment poses a national security risk, the United States and China are to use their respective processes to address the risk as expeditiously as possible, including through targeted mitigation rather than prohibition whenever reasonably possible.”
The factsheet also declared portentously, “Once an investment has completed the national security review process of either country, the investment generally should not be subject to review again if the parties close the investment as reviewed under the respective national security review process.”
In confronting the present pandemic, fury must be displaced by actions that can alleviate the grave damage loosed on the world. A national strategy must peer into the future, to consider capabilities that must be attained, to meet threats that are unformed, but real.
The Present Danger
It is logical to assume that after some initial point, Chinese political, military, and intelligence officials realized this outbreak of a new virus could be used to damage the economies of the West and thus facilitate Chinese hegemony. Given China’s history of pandemics, its political establishment must have had planning documents in place to serve the Communist Party of China’s interests, should such a scenario of a novel pandemic unfold. Manipulating data would be central to any such operational plan.
On May 7, the PRC recorded its dead in Hubei Provence, whose capital is Wuhan, at 4,512, out of 4,637 for the entire country. According to Chinese authorities, 125 fatalities occurred in all other provinces, which comprise 1.38 billion people.
If the virus did experience exponential growth, and doubled every day, in 28 days it should have infected 268 million people. A 1 percent mortality rate would thus result in millions of deaths, not fewer than 5,000. Even if the PRC underreported its losses by a factor of ten or twenty, these figures do not make sense.
Are there scenarios that explain these numbers? One explanation would involve an accidental release from the virology lab at Wuhan that was almost immediately recognized, engendering swift and firm containment procedures within China, but denied to the rest of the world by China’s continuance of international travel from the virus’s point of origin.
The second scenario is related, but crueler. Given China’s research into biological warfare, it is conceivable that entities within China may have sought a naturally occurring virus that would be just transmissible and virulent enough to cause massive disruption in Western countries, but could be limited and mitigated, given the regime’s foreknowledge, within China. Allied intelligence must determine if either scenario took place.
The PRC represents a multidimensional threat that encompasses all aspects of hard and soft power. Hard power is the use of coercion, monetary enticements, and force to attain policy goals; soft power is using attraction and co-option to attain the national interest. Until this pandemic, American soft power seemed destined to remain the dominant force in world affairs even as the PRC surpassed America’s GDP.
Along with likely future Chinese economic preeminence, America’s national debt and competing priorities will constrain U.S. military power. America’s breadth of soft power was to be the defense against these forces. To withstand Chinese economic might, coupled with near military parity, the United States was to marshal vast reservoirs of soft power, not possessed by other nations.
Our popular culture, free press, and multinational businesses have to this point been liberalizing and democratizing forces, reflecting America’s supremacy in all major forms of soft power. Yet the stability and the endurance of this bulwark must be reconsidered, as the PRC now holds sway over Hollywood and infuses its control and propaganda into our press, businesses, and universities.
The PRC works to transmute America’s soft power, which is made possible by appropriating America’s freedoms, laws, and politicians, who are informed by the academy. Strategic purchases of U.S. businesses and the placement of Chinese companies on American stock exchanges and indexes have also given the PRC enormous suasion over the avenues of American soft power.
The U.S.-China Economic and Security Review Commission has reported that as of February 25, 2019 there were 156 Chinese companies listed on the three largest U.S. exchanges. These firms had a combined capitalization of $1.2 trillion. Through investment and by direct and indirect pressure, the PRC, in its various forms, has influenced America’s most important media companies. These media companies, in turn, own major news networks, services, and publishing houses.
An example of Chinese power in Hollywood is contained in the movie sequel “Top Gun: Maverick.” In the original 1986 film, Maverick’s iconic bomber jacket displayed military patches that included both Japanese and Taiwanese flags. In the new movie, a film made possible through the co-operation of the U.S. Navy, these flags are replaced with meaningless patches rendered in similar colors to obscure what was done. Citing this example, Sen. Ted Cruz has introduced the SCRIPT Act to halt Pentagon assistance to companies whose films are so censored.
The PRC’s insertion into Hollywood has a model: until 1940, Hollywood studio films were subjected to German censorship or cancellation so the studios could retain access to the German market. This censorship also affected American films shown not just in Germany, but worldwide.
The PRC uses similar mechanisms in today’s Hollywood. Only now, the control exercised by a foreign power has far greater reach, for today’s media conglomerates that own the film and television studios also own the major news networks. To maintain access to the Chinese market for film and television, there exists, if not substantial pressure, the business context to manipulate and to bowdlerize news in America. We now face information warfare on a level never experienced.
In the years leading up to WWII, strong business relationships with Germany and Japan partly prevented the free countries of the West from acting decisively to forestall German and Japanese aggression; public sentiment to avoid future wars held sway. Now, the economic and business pressures for America and its allies to foreswear meaningful action against the PRC are as great as can be imagined.
To limit Chinese exploitation and adventurism portends economic strife and the end of a globalist international order that has existed for 50 years. However, if U.S. intelligence services find proof that the PRC knew the virus escaped from its lab, or began in Wuhan some other way, yet locked down travel to other parts of China while permitting international travel from this city, at the time the Communist Party of China prevented essential international fact finding, this state committed what amounts to a war crime.
If this be proved so, then inaction is an invitation for repetition or mimicry. Without a response measured to this assault, we will show weakness and undermine deterrence.
Recalibration of National Assets
The present pandemic makes clear that America must adopt new initiatives to better protect against biological as well as chemical and nuclear threats, including electromagnetic pulse weapons and radiological agents. Heretofore, the U.S. government considered the consequences of a pandemic in abstract terms; we have lacked the institutional structures and vocabulary to institute needed actions, even when significant intelligence was at hand.
After multiple visits to the virology lab in Wuhan by a U.S. delegation, detailed Department of State cables warned of significant safety issues in 2018. These reports, however, caused no meaningful action although the potential transmissibility of the viruses, studied at the lab, had been the focus of acute concern in the scientific community.
What was missing for this intelligence to have made a difference was an established pathway and bureaucracy for urgent transmission of such information to high-level government authorities. Creating such avenues for action is a complex task, for duplicating bureaucracy can be worse than no action at all. The president should engage a special taskforce to map relevant existing government structures and to recommend a new system, which would be robust, investigative, and responsive to a spectrum of future threats.
Concomitant with the PRC’s insertion into U.S. higher education, economy, media, and core businesses, China has embarked on a global strategy that constitutes a new imperialism. The PRC’s Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) seeks to shape alliances on a transcontinental scale, which could include 65 countries that comprise 30 percent of global GDP and 75 percent of established energy reserves.
China appropriates national assets worldwide in loaded energy and development deals. The pandemic will only accelerate this unless countervailing action ensues. In Djibouti, China holds 77 percent of debt. Kenya, Angola, Nigeria, and Zambia were all on the cusp of asset appropriation before the present crisis.
China has lent African nations $124 billion from 2000 through 2016. The largest portion of each loan is not generally provided to the borrower, but spent in China to finance Chinese-made inputs and trained labor. The recipient country, in effect, finances jobs and manufacturing in China. The reward for targeted countries is to have their assets appropriated, due to loan non-performance.
If the West slides into steep recession, developing nations may sell whatever they can in national riches to China for cents on the dollar. The Chinese Belt and Road Initiative will thus be realized. This avarice is the PRC’s Achilles’ heel.
America must exploit this weakness by offering African and developing nations an alternative to the BRI. Facilitating opposition to Chinese aims among these nations must be a central component of a new U.S. strategy. America must exploit China’s susceptibility to client-state erosion. We must innovatively marshal hard and soft power to unseat the PRC from its footholds in Africa and elsewhere.
Should America continue to be locked down for an extended period, the unintended consequences will be massive. Developing nations, deprived of revenue from the sale of their commodities and goods, will surely suffer catastrophic losses and needless death, due to inadequate income to provide for adequate nutrition and health care. Such scarcities, when coupled with impoverished sub-Saharan health systems, will catastrophically overwhelm these systems with coronavirus and other diseases.
By the year 2100, 17 of the world’s most populous cities, comprising approximately 700 million people, will be in sub-Saharan Africa. If ample electricity is not available, mass migration, war, religious extremism, and new pandemics are likely to result. The cost to the world’s nations will be measured in the tens of trillions of dollars. If a pestilence as virulent as Ebola spreads globally, it may take the planet decades to recover.
Africa’s challenges will be replicated across the world. Densely populated urban areas must have electricity to provide clean water, precision farming, jobs, governance, and human advancement. America and its allies must offer reliable, scalable alternatives to the open burning of wood or coal in developing countries, which causes severe pollution and disease.
Development projects must be proffered as the alternative to the PRC’s model of loan, build, seize. Ceding this ground to China can only ensure the continued impoverishment of nations experiencing the highest birthrates in human history. Cabinet officials from the Departments of State, Treasury, Defense, and Justice, supported by intelligence and other agencies, must convene interagency groups to develop a set of initiatives to undermine and to replace the BRI.
Of all the forces in the world today, only weapons of mass destruction (WMDs), disease, and the PRC can meaningfully affect our nation’s course. So these three specters should dominate the efforts of America’s intelligence community. Terrorism (that does not involve potential WMDs), Russia, the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, and Iran are secondary in their capacity to damage the United States.
If China did, indeed, prohibit internal travel from Wuhan while permitting international travel, such information should have been conveyed immediately to U.S. national authorities, but it remains far from certain that such transference took place. The director of national intelligence should be charged by the president to study, report, and institute a government-wide recalibration of our intelligence assets to support the reordering of our intelligence priorities and to instigate new, allied measures to counteract Chinese subterfuge and misinformation operations.
Counterintelligence must also be a priority. Chinese usurpation relies on that state’s financial power, coupled with a belligerent type of soft power referred to as sharp power. The country couples classic disinformation operations using an array of social media platforms with “or else” stratagems that relay consequences for countervailing actions to inculcate passivity.
The PRC reportedly uses artificial intelligence (AI) to support decision and game theory to prioritize its intelligence efforts. These techniques were developed in the United States, but America’s most senior leaders generally do not use them for making decisions. This must change, for with AI, there is the potential to counterpunch in real time.
Intellectual Property Theft
Any response to China must hold trade as a central concern. An array of policies must address trade imbalances and China’s theft of intellectual property (IP). America’s 2019 trade deficit with China reached $345.6 billion, which does not include China’s IP theft.
Total losses of this type to the U.S. economy far exceed $2 trillion in the last ten years alone. This sum could have made two million American families instant millionaires. Such loss estimates are conservative: IP theft does incalculable harm in reducing incentives for U.S. companies to invest in research and development, for it makes little sense to invest in something that will be stolen.
These losses to U.S. competitiveness are immense and take many forms: in 2011, 75 percent of China’s $12 billion domestic software market was satisfied by pirated software, much of it stolen from American companies. Due to this, Chinese PC business-related software spending was 7 percent of comparable U.S. software spending. This conveys massive competitive advantages to Chinese firms and entrepreneurs.
Another aspect of IP theft is system compromise. The Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) antiballistic missile, along with other U.S. weapon systems, has been found to contain counterfeit parts that may reduce mission performance, if undiscovered. The Chinese have reduced emphasis on blatant, transparent thefts, governmental involvement, and insertions, but have increased in their sophistication and breadth.
The arsenal of American policy tools must be systematically used to minimize such negative consequences. The exception for national security reasons to the presumption in favor of free trade is embodied in the WTO as well as our nation’s trade laws. We must expand the use of Section 232 findings, which require the president determine whether imports “threaten to impair the national security.” Section 232 could be employed to ensure that a specified level of the nation’s supply (net of exports) be provided by domestic or allied sources for drugs and medical products.
Ending Chinese IP theft will require a concentrated effort by the U.S. government working with American industry, and would yield enormous benefits. If allied governments joined this effort, the PRC would be impinged, and have no avenue of complaint.
As an initial step, the NATO countries, Australia, Japan, and South Korea should develop the means to rapidly pass intelligence about industries and companies that possess key technologies believed to be at risk or targeted by China. For counterfeited items, with particular concern for the compromise of military equipment through the unintended incorporation of Chinese-made parts, a system of etching, lithography, and secret coding by time, date, and place of manufacture may secure each part and thus inhibit Chinese compromise of our military systems.
The 2013 IP Commission Report prepared by former Director of National Intelligence Admiral Dennis Blair and Ambassador John Huntsman stated that the following measure be considered in the context of IP theft, “if the loss of IP continues at current levels” and other remedial actions fail, “Recommend that Congress and the administration impose a tariff on all Chinese-origin imports, designed to raise 150% of all U.S. losses from Chinese IP theft in the previous year, as estimated by the secretary of commerce.”
U.S. imports from China in 2019 amounted to $452.2 billion, resulting in a net trade deficit of $345.6 billion. Assuming IP losses due to China of $270 billion for 2019, the imposition of the suggested tariff would yield $405 billion in revenue, wiping away the entire trade deficit. But tariffs at this level would actually reduce trade substantially, which the PRC fears.
Combined efforts to stem IP theft will have little long-term affect unless they are married with measures to prohibit or to take back the PRC’s ownership of key U.S. and allied businesses, which has been facilitated through proxies and front companies. The Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States (CFIUS) is charged with the responsibility to determine if the security implications of foreign investments disqualify pending mergers or acquisitions of American companies or their operations. The Exon–Florio Amendment (50 U.S.C. app 2170) grants the president the authority to block any investment or acquisition if a “foreign interest exercising control might take action that threatens to impair the national security.”
President Trump signed the Foreign Investment Risk Review Modernization Act (FIRRMA) into law in 2018. FIRRMA essentially enlarged the scope of CFIUS to include consideration of a transaction’s impact on U.S. manufacturing and the protection of transformative technologies. The transactions now assessed include not only acquisitions, but licenses, sales, real estate, minority holdings, and stakes in venture capital funds. The expanded compass of CFIUS is critical, but more must be done.
To chart an enhanced course for CFIUS, the world’s nations should be categorized into five tiers. Kept classified, these groupings would comprise Allied, Friendly, Non-Aligned, Adversarial, and Belligerent nations. The latter two categories should generally preclude ownership or significant minority positions in U.S. enterprises. Employing this approach, the PRC could be judged an adversarial state.
Depending on the final U.S. government verdict on Chinese responsibility for the spread of the virus, America might demand reparations. If so, such reparations should be scaled not as a function of the ravages of the disease, but as a function of the Communist Party of China’s duplicity in their presentation of the facts concerning the genesis of the disease, its evolution, its spread, and the party’s alleged acts to hoard personal protective equipment and limit travel within China from Wuhan, while promoting international travel from the affected region.
A precedent must not be set for reparations to be determined by a disease’s initial point of origin, for viruses do occur naturally and this process can only sometimes be controlled or mitigated. Instead, compensation or private lawsuits must derive from complex, preferably multinational, assessments of state malfeasance or criminality. America’s actions in this regard must not be framed in such a manner that may call into disputation the Public Debt Clause section of the Fourteenth Amendment.
Measures to counteract China’s coronavirus subterfuge should prevent a parallel event from occurring in the future. Key to such ability is the requirement for open, international inspections of biological laboratories in the same manner and with the same diligence as is required in the inspection of nuclear facilities. A new, multinational initiative must include all components of security and intelligence services to create a biological threat-response capability equivalent to that of our Nuclear Emergency Support Team (NEST), whose mission is to be “prepared to respond immediately to any type of radiological accident or incident anywhere in the world.”
Associated with this facility must be the creation of B Teams, of the type employed to assess Soviet strategic-force capabilities during the Cold War. Such teams would provide a competitive view to that generated by a particular bureaucracy. This forces investigators to hone their analyses, providing the decision-maker with far more comprehensive information than a single source could generate.
Just as government uses a series of gradated codewords to classify nuclear accidents and events, the United States and its allies need to create a common vocabulary for biological incidents. These designative terms should mirror those in use as nuclear-incident descriptors. Using these new terms will permit enhanced and specific response times to biological emergencies.
The United States must make common cause with its traditional allies to confront and contain China. Importantly, Islamic nations must form a barrier opposed to Chinese infringement. Indeed, only an assembly of Islamic nations can press successfully for humane treatment for China’s 25 million Uyghur Muslims.
Needed political realignment also requires America’s close association with India. This nation ranks third in the world in GDP (PPP), and its population almost equals China’s. India is thus crucial to the containment of communist advancement.
Any manufacturing now done in China for or by American companies can be better accomplished in India, for it is the world’s largest democracy, offering a degree of openness the PRC will never match. Military co-operation between the United States and China should largely cease (except for crisis de-escalation exercises); equivalent exchanges and exercises with India must be substituted.
India operates an aircraft carrier and is completing its own design. Although large, India’s navy requires modernization. Enhanced Navy-to-Navy development, procurement, and operations must be pressed.
Another component of an enhanced relationship between the United States and India could be the inclusion of the United Kingdom and the 54-member-state Commonwealth of Nations. This association comprises 20 per cent of the world’s land and is a natural alternative for mutual development that may be substituted for China’s BRI.
10 Actions the United States Must Take
The problem is not the Chinese people, nor their proud heritage that stretches back thousands of years. It is communism. We must challenge China:
- Return all production of our medicines, medical supplies, and equipment to the United States or to countries that are our allies;
- Enact severe limits on Chinese graduate students in all scientific subjects; shutter all Confucius Institutes at American universities until they be stripped of their propagandistic mission;
- Entrench principles and restrictions so that China can buy no more of our corporations, universities, or national assets;
- Help deny, across the world, the ability for China’s Huawei to deploy its 5G networks, systems, phones, and devices, as tools for espionage, industrial and otherwise, could be implanted in these systems;
- Threaten to extend tariffs substantially if the PRC does not make all virus data and sites available to our scientists, so that we may understand fully the genesis and the spread of the present pandemic; the PRC must also release any COVID-19 whistleblowers and eliminate all wet markets;
- Put into law criminal penalties for any American company or individual who shares proprietary or sensitive information with China, when such information has application to our defense, high-technology, or energy-related industrial base;
- Accelerate Freedom of Navigation passages and exercises through waters that China falsely claims, with maximum U.S. naval power expressed; in this, we should include, when possible, ships of the British, the Australian, and the Japanese Navies;
- Undertake determined efforts to deny China’s Belt and Road Initiative, especially in Africa; extend alternative terms to key nations on the brink of asset appropriation due to China’s predatory lending practices;
- Announce a new military package to reinforce Taiwan’s defensive capabilities. To this end, we should consider the sale of the F-35 due to the deployment of the advanced Chengdu J-20 fighter by China. This sale would either be as a replacement for the pending transfer of less-advanced F-16Vs to Taiwan or as a supplement to this force;
- Radically reduce IP theft. Explicate that China’s economic expansion would have been impossible without their theft of American technology; produce and distribute lists of American technologies and products stolen or copied by China; urge other free countries to do the same, so that the world will recognize this danger.
China is on the verge of becoming a peer competitor in soft power and sharp power. This must mean burnishing American advocacy and influence by vesting our power within the connectivity and informational domains that we dominate. Such influence, however, may only be retained with a floor of allied containment of China.
A new, decentralized World Wide Web must be pursued with vigor. Censorship on major web platforms threatens to limit personal freedom and expression. This very much supports the Communist Party of China’s aims.
Brewster Kahle, founder of the Internet Archive, has joined Sir Tim Berners-Lee, inventor of the World Wide Web, in calling for the creation of a decentralized web, more resistant to government and corporate control. Such a new web architecture would constitute a great advancement for freedom movements across the globe. Kahle says, “China can make it impossible for people there to read things, and just a few big service providers are the de facto organizers of your experience. We have the ability to change all that.”
During the present pandemic, China’s most abhorrent exports may be fear and disinformation. Twice before this crisis, and in the living memory of many Americans, our nation has experienced pandemics. According to the CDC’s website, during the 1957 Asian Flu, “The estimated number of deaths was 1.1 million worldwide and 116,000 in the United States.”
The U.S. population in 1957 was 172 million; thus, adjusted for our present population, the Asian Flu would have killed 222,000 Americans. Of the 1968 Hong Kong Flu, the CDC has written, “The estimated number of deaths was 1 million worldwide and about 100,000 in the United States.” America’s population in 1968 was 201 million; adjusting for today, the Hong Kong Flu would have killed 164,000 Americans. Neither pandemic altered American economic life.
While some may argue the present pandemic could be much worse than the two that preceded it, the present dread, stoked by a foreign power, has certainly ruptured America’s economy in ways inconceivable before it. To cower in the face of this pandemic and to not make the hard choices necessary to ensure American primacy is to be unfair to future generations.
The way we have answered this pandemic is not repeatable: our array of actions cannot be mounted if another wave or pandemic strikes. This is our gravest sin: we have shown China, Russia, and Iran, as well as terrorist actors, that our nation may be brought low if faced with a new pathogen.
To establish deterrence so a future malevolent actor sees our capacities both to endure and to respond, America must exact a high price from the People’s Republic of China. In this cause, we must seek the support of all the free nations of the world.
If America had done a tenth of what China has done to the world, even given the most charitable view of their acts, the PRC would do anything to make us pay. If we are not willing to act, and decisively, we are leaving the field to an unhindered, unremorseful, and ravenous state with a degree of relative economic power that we have not faced since the War of 1812.
This pandemic has almost certainly uncovered treachery by the PRC. It did not have to be planned. It is enough that the communists seized on it, took advantage of it, and had special knowledge of its origin. To prosper, we must reclaim America’s principles, lest we grant China victory in a great, undeclared war.