Sen. Ted Cruz has been a stalwart opponent of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) . The Texas Republican has put forth numerous pieces of legislation aimed at countering the CCP through exposing its control over American media, halting its exploitation of our airwaves, preventing it from dominating strategically significant economic sectors that would imperil U.S. national security, and taking aim at its tyranny.
I sat down with Cruz for a broad discussion on U.S.-China policy. What follows is a lightly edited transcript of our June 25 conversation.
Ben Weingarten: What in your view does the Chinese Communist Party ultimately seek to achieve? If it were to achieve it, what would that mean for the life of every American?
Sen. Ted Cruz: Nothing short of world domination. The objective of the Chinese communist government is to become the preeminent superpower on the face of the Earth, the preeminent military power, the preeminent economic power, and to dictate its will across the globe.
I believe China poses the most significant geopolitical threat for the United States over the next century because its ambitions are unlimited and its record of torture, murder, lies, and oppression would only grow worse were China to achieve its objective of global superiority.
Weingarten: Some, including even China hawks, claim the CCP does not really consist of communists. I think David Goldman has said there are more communists in the Harvard area than there are at the upper echelon of the CCP. How would you describe the regime’s ideology?
Cruz: I’m not sure those two geographies are mutually exclusive. Communism in practice has never been about ideology. There are the communist academics in the West for whom Marxism is a lazy intellectual pursuit, and they envision a communist utopia where human nature disappears, utterly devoid of the realities the world has seen with every communist dictatorship that has ever occurred.
In practice, communism is about power, domination, and almost inevitably it has resulted in poverty and misery. The Chinese Communist Party desires to exercise complete control over the Chinese citizenry, their speech, their religion, their economic activities, and over everything they say, do, or think every minute of the day. With technology, that specter is becoming more and more of a reality. Communist governments consistently engage in massive surveillance of their citizens to brutally punish and eliminate the sense. Xi Jinping is quite content to be an absolute dictator.
The steps the communist government will take to preserve its power have been tragically illustrated for the entire world this year when heroic whistleblowers in China, physicians, tried to call the attention of China and the world to the newly discovered coronavirus. The Chinese communist government imprisoned those whistleblowers, punished those whistleblowers, forced them to recant what they had said, and deliberately covered up the outbreak.
Had the Chinese government behaved like any responsible government, had it sent in health professionals and quarantined the infected people, there is a very real possibility that this could have been contained as a regional outbreak. Instead, it became a global pandemic, costing the lives of over 400,000 people worldwide, and destroying trillions of dollars across the globe. The Chinese government willingly, with no hesitation, allowed those 400,000 lives to be lost, because trying to save face, trying to delay revelation of the outbreak, was more important than a half-million human lives.
Cruz: I think the most important foreign policy consequence of the coronavirus pandemic is going to be a fundamental reassessment of the United States’ relationship with China. For far too long, voices in Washington in both parties have been content to be apologists for China, to minimize the risk, to excuse the oppression, the torture, the murder, the lies, all in search of an extra dollar they believed we could make in global commerce.
Over the coming years, I hope we see a significant decoupling from China. Now, that doesn’t mean completely and utterly severing all economic ties. We’re able to engage in commerce with our competitors and with our enemies. What it does mean is being absolutely clear-eyed about who the Chinese Communists are, and the fact that they are our enemies.
It also means not allowing the United States to be vulnerable to Chinese communist aggression. The Chinese government has systematically targeted critical infrastructure, the critical needs in the U.S. economy and in the lives of American citizens. I believe we need to fundamentally alter our supply chain so that critical infrastructure is not dependent on China.
The Chinese government deliberately, strategically, and systematically targeted pharmaceutical production, creating cartels to drive out of business U.S. production and draw much of global production into China, so that we are today incredibly dependent on China for a host of pharmaceuticals — from antibiotics, to blood pressure medicine, to heart medicine, to Alzheimer’s drugs, to cancer drugs, to anti-anxiety and depression drugs — not to mention PPE, from masks and gloves to gowns.
In the midst of this pandemic, at least one state-controlled media outlet in China explicitly threatened to cut off life-saving pharmaceuticals from the United States as a tool of economic warfare. If it were to do so, that wouldn’t be economic warfare; it would be actual warfare. It would be quite literally threatening the lives potentially of millions of Americans.
It makes no sense for the United States to allow our citizens’ health and safety and life to be dependent on the whims and good graces of the Chinese communist government. So I am leading the fight in the Senate to move our critical infrastructure and life-saving necessities out of China and back to America.
Likewise, when it comes to rare-earth minerals, China has systematically targeted what it perceives as structural vulnerabilities for U.S. national security and for the U.S. economy, driving out of business U.S. production of rare-earth minerals, and making America dependent on China. Allowing that to continue is foolishness. That’s why I’ve introduced legislation, the ORE Act, to create strong incentives to bring back to the United States the mining and production of rare-earth minerals, so that from national security to high tech, we are not captive to China’s stranglehold extortion.
Weingarten: How do we ultimately triumph in the realm of 5G networking technology and more broadly, given China’s state-backed efforts to dominate in every major technological field, and willingness to lie, cheat, steal, and operate on a completely economic basis? How does our at least relatively free market approach ultimately triumph?
Cruz: Because we’re stronger, and the principles our nation was founded upon worked much better than do the principles of totalitarian dictatorship, upon which the Chinese regime is based. What we need is a comprehensive strategy to combat and defeat the Chinese communist government. The best modern analogy is Ronald Reagan’s vision for standing up to and defeating the Soviet Union.
Like modern-day communist China, the Soviet Union was an evil, repressive regime, exporting misery and suffering across the globe, and engaged in a local struggle for power with the United States. The Reagan administration, spearheaded by leaders such as Ambassador Jeane Kirkpatrick, began by having a clear-eyed assessment of who the enemy was.
When Reagan described the Soviet Union as an “evil empire,” the intelligentsia here in Washington gasped and clutched their pearls. When Reagan rightly predicted that Marxism-Leninism would end up on the ash heap of history, once again, the supposedly sophisticated analysts in the academy, in the think-tank world, in the press, and in the establishments of both the Democratic Party and Republican Party all shook their heads at the simple-mindedness of this Western cowboy who’d come to occupy the White House.
When Reagan stood just a few hundred yards from the Brandenburg Gate and uttered the immortal words, “Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall,” that clarity, those words, that vision, did more to liberate humanity than any words from any leader in modern times.
The Reagan administration rebuilt our military, implemented the Strategic Defense Initiative, cut taxes, cut regulations, supercharged the economy, highlighted the human rights abuses and atrocities of the Soviet Union … and all of that together combined to bankrupt the Soviet Union, as it could not keep up. Its failed economic system could not keep up with the might of American free enterprise, nor could it keep up with the blinding power of truth and sunlight. Communist dictatorships fear truth and sunlight. We need that same clarity when it comes to [China].
In the Senate, I have endeavored to shine the light over and over and over again on Chinese lies and oppression and murder. …One example: Several years ago, I introduced legislation to rename the street in front of the Chinese embassy “Liu Xiaobo Plaza” after the famed Nobel Peace laureate in China who was wrongfully imprisoned.
Multiple times I went to the Senate floor seeking to pass that legislation. Multiple times Sen. Dianne Feinstein came to the floor to object it. She and I argued back and forth on the Senate floor. She said, “If we do this, it will embarrass the Chinese government,” to which I responded, “That’s not a bug, it’s a feature. That is the objective, is to embarrass these murdering, tyrannical thugs.” The strategy was a strategy borrowed from Reagan. Reagan, likewise, renamed the street in front of the Soviet Embassy “Sakharov Plaza” after the famed Soviet dissident.
After Feinstein had objected repeatedly to my legislation, I decided to use greater leverage to move it forward. I placed a hold on every State Department nominee that President Obama put forward. The Obama administration was deeply dismayed at this use of leverage and came to me asking, “What can we do to get you to lift the hold?”
I said, “It’s very simple. Pass my legislation. Get [Feinstein] to lift her objection.”
They asked, “Can we just pass the resolution instead?”
I said, “No, I want binding legislation that directs the street name be renamed.”
Ultimately, the Obama administration relented. Feinstein withdrew her objection, and the legislation passed the Senate 100 to nothing.
Now, sadly, that legislation was scuttled in the Republican-controlled House of Representatives when Rep. Jason Chaffetz refused to allow it to move forward. I tried to intervene directly with Chaffetz, but he expressed the same desire that Feinstein had expressed, not to embarrass the Chinese government.
Ultimately, however, that legislation produced meaningful change. When the Trump administration began, Liu Xiaobo had passed away, but his widow, Liu Xia, was still in China — held against her will, not allowed to leave the country. Indeed, she had never been able to collect the prize money for her husband having won the Nobel Peace Prize. I had breakfast with then-Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, and he told me in his discussions with his Chinese counterparts, when they enumerated their top-three diplomatic objectives, among them was preventing the street being renamed in front of their embassy.
Pause for a second to reflect why that objective was so high on their diplomatic priorities. The Chinese regime fears sunlight. It fears the truth. Part of the beauty of Reagan’s strategy with Sakharov Plaza [was that] at any time you wanted to write a letter, any time you wanted to give directions to the embassy, you had to acknowledge the name of the dissident, to speak it out loud. Tyranny thrives in darkness.
I told Tillerson to feel free to use me as the bad guy, that I intended to continue to press to pass the legislation. I believed we could get it done, and I pointed out we’d already succeeded in passing it unanimously through the Senate once, so this threat was real and tangible.
But I also told [Tillerson] he could tell the Chinese if they released Liu Xia, I would stop pressing this particular fight. Shortly thereafter, China released Liu Xia. That is one example of just how terrified China is of their tyranny being exposed.
Another example was the hysterical reaction China had to the Houston Rockets’ General Manager Daryl Morey sending one benign tweet about Hong Kong: [“Fight for Freedom. Stand with Hong Kong.”] I’m a Houstonian and a diehard Rockets fan, so I know who Morey is, but most of the world did not until the Chinese government dramatically overreacted, threatening punitive economic measures, which resulted in corporate America groveling, the NBA effusively apologizing to the Chinese overlords, multiple NBA stars praising the Chinese beneficence, [and] Nike eagerly complicit with the Chinese government’s censorship.
All of that showed, first, the power China exercises — that its principal means of power today is economic rather than directly military. American companies, global companies, are so eager for access to the Chinese market that they will willingly be lap dogs to whatever Chinese censorship the Communist Party demands. Hollywood is another example of this slavish obedience.
Second, that massive overreaction shows just how terrified the Chinese regime is of the 2 million people marching for freedom in Hong Kong. That’s why in October of last year, when I traveled to Asia, I flew to Pearl Harbor, then Japan, then Taiwan, then India, and then Hong Kong. [It was] designed to be a tour of major friends and allies surrounding China. The entire focus of the trip was the growing and massive threat China poses. When I was in Hong Kong, I met with the democracy protesters and activists. I dressed in all black and did a Sunday show via satellite, dressed in all black in solidarity with the protesters because it is that sunlight China fears.
Now, combined with that sunlight, combined with that highlighting of dissidence, combined with that highlighting of China’s oppression, torture, and murder, we need real and meaningful legislation and policy to decouple our economy and protect ourselves from vulnerability. That’s why I’ve introduced over a dozen pieces of legislation focused on rare-earth minerals, pharmaceutical research development and manufacturing, Hollywood censorship, Communist Party propaganda in the United States over the airwaves, [and] censorship from the Chinese regime that resulted in the coronavirus global pandemic and took the lives of over 400,000 people.
That’s why I’m continuing to press on every front, to use every tool, every lever we have, to win the global strategic competition with the Chinese communist government.