About the topic
The United States’ approach to China since the Communist regime in Beijing began the period of reform and opening in the 1980s was based on a promise that trade and engagement with China would result in a peaceful, democratic state. Forty years later the hope of producing a benign People’s Republic of China has evaporated. The Communist Party of China deceived the West into believing that its system and the Party-ruled People’s Liberation Army were peaceful and posed no threat. In fact, these misguided policies produced the emergence of a 21st century challenge that may be as dangerous to the United States and its allies as the Soviet Union was. How can it meet this challenge?
About the speaker
Bill Gertz is an award-winning national security journalist and author of seven books, including Breakdown: How America’s Intelligence Failures Led to September 11 and The China Threat: How the People’s Republic Targets America. He last spoke at the Westminster Institute on his 2017 book, iWar: War and Peace in the Information Age. He is currently senior editor of The Washington Free Beacon, an online news outlet, and national security columnist for The Washington Times.
Gertz has an international reputation. Vyachaslav Trubnikov, head of the Russian Foreign Intelligence Service, once called him a “tool of the CIA” after he wrote an article exposing Russian intelligence operations in the Balkans. A senior CIA official once threatened to have a cruise missile fired at his desk at The Washington Times after he wrote a column critical of the CIA’s analysis of China. China’s communist government also has criticized him for his news reports exposing China’s weapons and missile sales to rogues states.
Robert R. Reilly:
I needn’t tell you about Bill Gertz’s book because it’s almost disappeared. Bill will be available to sign some copies after his presentation. Now you all know that he’s an award-winning national security journalist and author of seven or now eight books?
Robert R. Reilly:
Eight books. This is number eight, including Breakdown: How America’s Intelligence Failures Led to September 11. Apropos of tonight, another book, The China Threat: How the People’s Republic Targets America. The last time Bill spoke at Westminster it was at the debut of another book of his, that one called i-War: War and Peace in the Information Age. I won’t include other information. You already received the invitation, but simply remind you of these two wonderful stories that Bill was called by a member of the Russian Foreign Intelligence service a quote, “took of the CIA,” which sounds even nastier today. However, a senior CIA official once threatened to have a cruise missile fired at his desk at The Washington Times after he wrote a column critical of the CIA’s analysis of China, so Bill has all the right enemies. His topic tonight is “Deceiving the Sky: Inside Communist China’s Drive for Global Supremacy.”
What I’m going to talk about tonight is the threat from China. I often start out by explaining how I kind of got into this China study business. It goes back to around 1999. I was writing a story on the Chinese military, the PLA, for The Washington Times. Back then the Pentagon was much more press friendly and they used to give you background briefings, so I went for a background briefing and at the end of the briefing, a colonel came in and said, “The General would like to see you,” somewhat ominous. Well the general turned out to be the Director of the DIA and he sat down at the end of the conference table and said, “Bill, China is not a threat,” and my first response was, “Well, why do you think that?” And he said, paraphrasing, because they said they’re not a threat.
So I realize that this level of deception – I kept hearing this phrase, China’s not a threat, China’s not a threat – it’s part of Chinese deception, and that’s a big part of understanding the threat from China is understanding their deception. Fast forward a couple years later, and Bob mentioned my book The China Threat, which was a play on the Chinese phrase ‘the China threat theory’. That’s where the diplomats and intelligence personnel are tasked to mind the China threat theory around the world to measure how opposition to Beijing’s advancement will hinder or promote it. So basically, in The China Threat I feel that there turned out to be a Chinese spy working for the DIA. His name was Ron Montaperto. He was convicted of lesser espionage charges, essentially passing Top Secret information to Chinese military attaches, and so I realized that there was a major problem in not just the U.S. government but significantly within the U.S. intelligence community. That’s kind of the opening to my book.
U.S. Policy Toward China
I’d like to touch on a little bit about U.S. policy. In the past it has been consolation and engagement. I like to describe it as a 40-year gamble by business, academic, and policy people that if we just trade with China, if we’re just nice to China, if we don’t treat China as an enemy, that this will have a moderating influence, and the market will have this miracle transformation and turn a nuclear-armed Communist dictatorship into a benign, normal power. Well, guess what? It was an utter failure. It didn’t work.
And Trump is one of the first presidents in forty years to really take a look at what is going on in the China threat and how did he come upon that? Well, very early when he was president-elect, he held a meeting at Trump Tower in early 2017 where he brought in all the top executives from Google and all these top titans of industry, and asked them what was on their mind. And basically all of them said the threat from China, they’re stealing our intellectual property, so Trump has done something which is fairly unique in that he more than any other president he has linked U.S. economic security more directly to U.S. national security, overall national security, and that has had an effect of impacting every facet of the U.S. government.
It’s truly a radical shift in policy, so the military now understands more about the China threat, the law enforcement community is cracking down on Chinese spying. I mean just earlier this week they arrested a Chinese espionage agent. He was a courier out in California and so we’re seeing a major crackdown on espionage. The intelligence community is still a challenge and I’ll get into that in a little bit.
Okay, so the outline of China was described as a challenge, a strategic competitor and the challenge from China, and that was kind of a compromise between the forces in government who want to continue the conciliatory policy towards China and others who say look, this is really a significant strategic problem for the United States. They didn’t call it an enemy or an adversary. The reason is simple. China over the past forty years has drawn the U.S. economically into its system in a very inextricable way, that we are totally wedded to their economy, and if we were to automatically declare them an enemy, it would be economically detrimental to us, but it’s a good first step in the sense that we can now begin to what I call decouple from China.
So here’s what the new strategy says. It said that Chinese are against American power, influence, and interests. They’re attempting to erode American security sand prosperity. They’re making economies around the world less free and less fair. They’re growing their militarily and they’re controlling information and data to repress their society and expand their influence. This then changed to the National Defense Strategy. First was the National Security Strategy, White House and then the Pentagon. That’s where they describe China as a strategic competitor, using predatory economics to intimidate its neighbors while militarizing features in the South China Sea, that’s the new flashpoint. China wants to shape the world consistent with their authoritarian model–gaining veto authority over other nations’ economic, diplomatic, and security decisions.
And here’s the payoff pitch: they have an all-of-nation, long-term strategy seeking Indo-Pacific regional hegemony in the near-term and displacement of the United States to achieve global preeminence. This is really significant because for forty years the intelligence community told us again that China wasn’t a threat and that their only ambitions were to create a military capable of taking over Taiwan. Now for the first time we understand that it’s not just a regional threat, it’s a global threat. They’re still fighting over this internally in government. As I said, if anyone has government experience, they know the strength of bureaucratic resistance to change, but I’m really optimistic that things are starting to change.
Vice President Mike Pence gave a speech in October. This was really a landmark speech. I don’t know why Trump didn’t give it. Trump began with a much greater strategic outlook on various things. He’s The Art of the Deal, he’s working to make a trade deal. So it fell to Pence to outline this strategic threat and I’ve been covering this issue as a journalist for many, many years, and I’ve never heard a more succinct, clear and defined explanation for what China was doing.
So here are some of the things that he talked about. China is using economic, diplomatic, military efforts to expand their influence in much more proactive ways, and Trump is seeking a new approach, he said. It’s based on fairness, reciprocity, and respect for sovereignty, so he’s saying look, we want to have a fair relationship, we want to do business with you, but we can’t do it the way it’s been done.
Since ’91, Pence said that the U.S. has been making trade concessions under the assumption that a free China would be inevitable. Well, guess what? It’s a hope unfulfilled. And then he mentioned one of the programs. That’s just one of them. It’s called Made in China 2025, and this is China’s blueprint for cornering world economic markets, to use its economic power as a means to expand its global dominance. It’s interesting that after the White House exposed this Made in China 2025 strategy, the Chinese propaganda outlet said oops, we tipped our hand, and they put out a directive: no more mention of Made in China 2025. And then he also said there was greater repression and expanding the military.
And then he talked about election meddling, which has been – I guess if you’re aware, it’s been a major subject in Washington for the last couple of years – and it was Pence’s assessment that China clearly wants a different American President. They are working to get rid of Trump, and again, this is not getting the kind of attention that the Russia meddling got. There’s almost no attention to it and I think that this is a testament to China’s influence and information power, that they can squelch this kind of discussion.
Pence then quoted from a leaked propaganda and censorship notice, which said how China was going to go about its information operations attacking the United States, “Strike accurately and carefully, splitting apart different domestic groups” in the U.S. Well, clearly that’s having a very big effect if you look at how divided we are. He then quoted a senior U.S. intelligence official who said, ‘Russian influence ops pale in comparison to what China is doing’.
I want to talk about Chinese ideology because I spend a lot of time in the book talking about this because it’s clear that this is one of the major deceptions used by China. It is to convince the world that they are not really Communist, and I encountered this probably about fifteen years ago. I was in New York for a debate with a group called Intelligence Squared and I was on the ‘China is a threat’ side and there was a Stapleton Roy, one of Kissinger’s proteges, was on the pro-China side, and there was a businessman. And afterwards, the businessman came up to me and said, “I’ve been doing business in China for twenty years and I’ve never met a communist,” and I literally laughed. And I told him, “Well, I think you should go visit the PLA Museum in Beijing,” which I was able to do, and inside the PLA Museum, you will see statues of Marx, Engels, Lenin, Stalin and other communist founders. China has not abandoned its communist ideology. It’s a myth to think that they have.
So their ideology is derived from Soviet Marxism-Leninism and it has a blend of some historical Chinese elements, as well as what they call ‘socialism with Chinese characteristics’. That’s a euphemism. It’s interesting to note that the current leader, Xi Jinping, who I’ll talk about a little bit more. He did his doctorate on scientific socialism., which is the euphemism for communism. And Xi Jinping has emerged as an unparalleled leader, the strongest Chinese leader since Mao Zedong, the founder, and he has put out what’s known as the ‘China Dream’, which I describe as a Communist Party of China nightmare, and this is their blueprint for China to become a global hegemon, the sole superpower, to dominate the world. And he equates this to Chinese history as if this is the inevitable end of history, that China will assume its rightful place as the dominant power in the world.
In reality, the PRC is a revolutionary communist state engaged in enemy politics towards the United States. This is a key feature of the Chinese system that is constantly overlooked: extensive use of lies and deception, and now we’re seeing the Hong Kong protests, which is a battle for democracy. I visited Hong Kong many, many years ago and I felt that this enclave, this former British colony, was a democratic dagger pointed at the heart of Beijing and it is, and it’s continuing to be that. These democratic protestors in Hong Kong are very serious people and they’re very seriously committed to promoting democracy in Hong Kong. And of course, the Chinese are trying to gradually squeeze Hong Kong and turn it into a Marxist-Leninist state.
This is a quote from Miles Yu, who is a Naval Academy professor of Chinese military history, and it’s worth reading. He says, “To sustain a communist system such as the PRC’s and to enhance internal unity under the CCP, Chinese supreme leaders after Mao Zedong, from Deng Xiaoping and Jiang Zemin to Hu Jintao and Xi Jinping, all diligently campaigned to create an image of the US government as the monstrous superpower determined to ‘contain’ China in each and every way. Chinese supreme leaders use this theory of a US-led capitalist conspiracy to destroy socialist China as the most potent justification for maintaining a draconian totalitarian social order and an increasingly technologically sophisticated, authoritarian and omnipotent national security state.” This sums up the Chinese ideology for sure.
And there he is. You can see what’s happening today. This a propaganda poster from Beijing within the last five years, and you can see that they’re venerating Xi as a new Mao. And I report in the book that for many years Mao’s residence in the leadership compound known as Zhongnanhai was a museum. Well, Xi Jinping has moved into that. He lives there now. Again, this has been unreported.
Since he came to power in 2012, I think the way to describe his rule has been purge. He has instituted under the ostensible guise of anti-corruption, he has instituted a purge that has gotten rid of thousands of mid-level officials and some of the most senior communist party leaders, anyone perceived as a potential threat, especially in the military, is immediately ousted, and this has created a very unstable situation. Of course, it’s hard to measure that, but clearly if you understand the system there, these top communist party leaders are kind of like mafia families like the Sopranos, and they have business interests and its money interests, and they’re all interconnected, and so that when one of these crime families is ousted in a purge, they’re out of luck, and they’re not happy about it, so you’re starting to see this growing instability. On the outside of course, you’re not able to see it.
He’s also expanded what is known as United Front Work. This is an old Soviet phrase. United Front Work department was liason with foreign Communist parties. Under Xi Jinping, this has become the key influence tool, so all of the influence operations and intelligence operations designed to influence foreign audiences are under this United Front Work department. And then again at the 19th Party Congress he fully assumed power. He put his thought in the Constitution. This is the first step to ultimate power is getting your particular brand of communism codified in the constitution, and he extended his term so he’s now party leader for life, and there’s a reason for that as well. After Mao died in ’76, there was a power struggle. Mao’s wife and a group called the Gang of Four were trying to take power and resume Mao’s insane, murderous policies. Deng Xiaoping took over and his changed ideology was it doesn’t matter if a cat is black or white as long as it catches mice, so he instituted a more pragmatic approach. Under Deng Xiaoping, the watch phrase in China was buy our time, build our capabilities, but under Xi Jinping, it is now the China Dream, the Belt and Road Initiative and China is on the March, and they’re using every means possible to do that.
This is an interesting set of pictures. This is an event that took place in 2012, which really I think was the first time we saw some of the instability. This is an armored vehicle coming from Chongqing to Chengdu, and what had happened was a regional party chief named Bo Xilai who had become kind of a neo-Maoist – he used to have big rallies where everybody would rave, have flags and everything. His top deputy was a guy named Wang LiJun, and he defected to the United States dressed up as a woman, snuck off to the U.S. Consulate in Chengdu, was able to sneak into the building, and he brought a tremendous number of secrets to the United States.
But guess what? He was turned back. Under Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, he was regarded as someone who had a bad human rights record because as police chief he was as brutal as other Chinese police chiefs. So a tremendous opportunity to get inside information, which again is a hard target in China, and Hillary Clinton wrote about it in her book. She said basically that they didn’t want to embarrass the Chinese by keeping a defector, so that shows you what a problem it was.
So what happened was he got in the embassy and Bo Xi Lai then sent Peoples Armed Police forces and they encircled the entire U.S. consulate in Chengdu, and there was a major standoff until a party official from Beijing came down and met with a party official from Chongqing and they worked it out, and because the United States wasn’t supporting the defector, he was turned over, and now he’s in prison or he’s probably dead.
Here is the architect of American engagement in China. That’s Henry Kissinger. And it’s an interesting thing, Kissinger developed what became known as the China card, and this was a strategic gambit to align with Beijing against Moscow. And you could argue it was effective for its time, but after the collapse of the Soviet Union in December of 1991, the policy was never reevaluated. The pro-China alignment with Beijing was kind of on autopilot and that led us to even greater problems.
Engagement with China
And now we’re coming up to this debate. This is the esteemed journal Foreign Affairs and they had a debate: did America get China wrong? The answer: yes. And so this was really one of the first times we were even seeing in academic circles that this unfettered engagement policy was a mistake.
I said it began with Kissinger, continued, accelerated during the Clinton administration. We granted WTO status even though it wasn’t a market economy. And I like to point out, perhaps the most serious disaster from the engagement policy took place during the ’90s when the Clinton administration decided that we were going to do nuclear cooperation with China. So our nuclear weapons laboratories, Los Alamos, sent scientists to China and China would send its scientists here. Well, in a very few years, the assessment of the CIA – this is a public assessment – was that China through espionage had obtained secrets on every single deployed warhead in the U.S. arsenal, including the W-88 warhead. So that’s pretty much a major catastrophe from our security standpoint. The FBI has never resolved the case. There was the case of Wen Ho Lee; the FBI botched the investigation. They never prosecuted him even though he was convicted for passing classified defense secrets.
But then it gets worse. The Chinese then proliferated warhead technology to Pakistan, which developed its own small warheads from missiles and has them today. Then the AQ-Khan nuclear supplier network proliferated that technology to North Korea, to Iran, to Syria, and to Libya. And we learned about this in 2003 when Libya gave up its nascent nuclear program and we found in the documents they turned over, which are now in Tennessee at one of the laboratories there. They were Chinese language documents on how to design a small warhead. So I mean when you think about the grand scheme of things, this is what engagement has brought us. We’re still dealing with nuclear threats, growing nuclear threats, from Iran and North Korea not to mention China itself.
So Trump initiated this shift after that Trump Tower meeting, and the trade war really is just an outward sign of the new policy, it’s couched in trade terms because that’s Trump’s expertise. I recently talked to a senior U.S. official who told me about the status of the trade negotiations. In May, the United States drafted with China a very detailed, 150-page agreement that was designed to really come to terms on the trade issues, and the document included dealing with things like cyber attacks, currency manipulation, the support for state industries, other unfair trade practices, and even China’s export of opioid fentanyl into the United States. And so here they had worked hard and long on this agreement, and then at the very last minute, the senior Communist Party officials said uh-uh, we’re not doing this deal because if we sign this agreement, it’s going to acknowledge we did all of these things, and so that’s where we are right now with the trade talks. I don’t think there’s going to be much of a trade agreement. There’s a big battle over trying to make concessions, trying to separate out some of those things that are in the agreement, and to try to fashion some deal that they could sign and declare that we’ve now resolved the trade issue.
I also should mention space cooperation. There was space launch cooperation with China, and that really was another disaster as a lot of U.S. companies helped fix the Chinese missiles which were blowing up on the launchpad. And in China, it’s not like here, NASA is a civilian organization. The Air Force does our nuclear missiles. Well in China, the PLA does everything, so by improperly and illegally providing the technology that helped to fix their civilian space launchers, we effectively helped them to figure out how to design effective long-range missiles, and we’re now seeing the results of that. We just saw it in the parade this week.
Chinese Intelligence “Storm”
I’m going to talk a little bit about what I call the Chinese Intelligence “Storm.” And this is a quote from Mark Kelton. Until 2015, he was head of CIA counterintelligence, and he described the Chinese counterintelligence storm as a “secret assault on America that is without parallel since that mounted by Moscow in the 1930s and 40s. Beijing’s ongoing intelligence campaign has garnered no more than episodic public attention, and then only when a spy is arrested or a high-profile cyber-attack detected.”
To put it bluntly, in the intelligence front, China is killing us. This was what I call the CIA’s disaster. Beginning around 2010 [during the] Obama Administration, China began arresting and recruiting CIA assets, and within a few years, at least 27 and as many as 30 recruited CIA agents were caught by the Ministry of State Security. They were imprisoned or executed. In one case, one of our recruited agents was brought out in a courtyard and publicly executed in front of all his comrades. They launched obviously a major counterintelligence investigation, FBI and CIA, and they couldn’t even determine for years how it happened. It was either traitors within the CIA or it was a breach in the secret communications system used to communicate with agents or a combination of both, which is even more alarming.
I’ll elaborate on that a little bit. In the grand scheme of the intelligence community, the CIA does a lot of things. It does technical work and it does analysis, shall or may, that kind of stuff. But their main mission is they are the HUMINT manager. In other words, they are in charge of recruiting people as spies around the world, and its been an unmitigated disaster because they lack good counterintelligence.
So here’s the list. We start with the Soviet Union and Russia with Aldrich Ames and Robert Hanssen. The CIA lost all of its agents in Russia. Move eastward in Eastern Europe, all of the agents there were doubled or compromised. Further east to Cuba, we lost all of our agents in Cuba. They were paraded before TV cameras in Cuba. Just recently, an Air Force counterintelligence officer, a woman, converted to Islam and defected to Iran, and disclosed the existence of at least forty CIA assets in Iran. And now we have China.
Is there any other place in the world where the CIA has had another disaster? We don’t know, but the question I have is who would spy for the United States? People are volunteering to help our country, they love our country, but how could you spy for this country when all of your agents are captured or killed?
Okay, so, here are a few of the headlines. These are some stories, the targeting of the Internet of Things, the recent arrests, influence operations, funding of think tanks in Washington. This is a landmark study that was put out by the White House.
China’s Economic Aggression
There was a big fight in the White House with the traditionalists saying ‘you can’t say economic aggression’. Well, they said economic aggression. Why? Because they did the statistics and they measured that every year the United States is losing between $250 billion and $600 billion in lost intellectual property and technology. No nation can survive with that kind of loss, especially when the economy is based on high technology and intellectual property, so we are seriously in big trouble if we don’t stop this and we are starting to stop that. And this was a report in June 2018 that outlined that.
Now I’ll go through some pictures. This is their electronic surveillance. They have created what I call in the book ‘high tech totalitarianism’. They have created a social credit system, which is similar to what you have as a financial credit score. And it’s such an issue now that people in Beijing are afraid to cross the street or jaywalk without being identified by facial recognition or gait recognition technology and losing social credit. When you lose social credit, you become a regime opponent, you can’t buy or rent rooms or houses, you can’t travel on air travel. It’s truly a very effective tool and it’s growing.
Back in the Clinton administration, we welcomed, we said oh, let’s give them all the internet technology, let’s get them wired up. Bill Clinton said the Chinese won’t be able to control the internet. He said trying to control the internet is like trying to nail jello to the wall. Well, they’re very close to nailing jello to the wall. I was in Beijing in June of 2018 with then-Defense Secretary Jim Mattis and you could really feel that this is an information desert. And it’s an information desert at a time when the entire world is exploding with information technology.
We’re using social media in a way that we never thought we would do. I think this is a real vulnerability for the Chinese, that they’re going to try to control this information and there’s going to be an explosion or a revolt against that control, but they’re doing it, they’re controlling it. This is some of their surveillance technology, facial recognition. This is the United Front Work Department, which I mentioned earlier. I wanted to show this is where our enemies are attacking us from. They put out these inserts that are appearing as part of their influence operations. Here is the headline here: “Book tells of Xi’s fun days in Iowa.” So they inserted this into the Des Moines Register in order to generate opposition to Trump’s reelection or just Trump generally from farm states, which may be having a problem with the tariffs.