China Lurks Behind Most Crises Facing America
Since the disastrous U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan last August and Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, it has felt like the world is on fire. But in the midst of these attention-grabbing crises, there is an even more pernicious threat facing the United States and the signs are all around us. Behind most major foreign policy issues lies China.
Take the Iran nuclear deal. Media reports indicate that Iran’s fleet of tankers has ferried at least $22 billion worth of illicit oil to the People’s Republic of China since 2021. This has provided the Iranian regime with a major source of revenue and raised questions about the Biden administration’s lax enforcement of sanctions.
It is as good an example of China’s duplicity as can be found today. But it is not an isolated incident.
Leading up to the invasion of Ukraine, the U.S. approached China numerous times to detail U.S. intelligence suggesting a likely invasion. The U.S. asked China to persuade Russia not to invade. Instead, China simply passed along the intel to Moscow.
What about the deadly and economically devastating global pandemic? China’s role in the origin of COVID-19 continues to be an unanswered question deserving of serious inquiry. In fact, according to an internal memo from the State Department from April 2020, it appears more likely than not that the virus was released from a lab in or around Wuhan, China, such as the Wuhan Institute of Virology or the Wuhan Center for Disease Prevention and Control.
Certainly, China is not a friend of the United States. But is it the most hostile nation threatening our national security today? China is -- let’s not forget -- a communist state that is conducting a “soft war” of propaganda and espionage against the U.S.
For example, China continues to sponsor the controversial Confucius Institutes, spending more than $158 million since 2006 to place them in U.S. schools. These institutes are placed on college campuses, but controlled, funded, and mostly staffed by the Chinese communist government. They are not the innocent cultural centers offering Chinese language instruction they pretend to be. In fact, their legacy is “an epidemic of self-censorship at U.S universities” that funnels students away from “topics likely to offend the Chinese Communist Party.” Allegations of espionage have become quite common, prompting Congress to pass legislation barring universities with Confucius Institutes from also receiving money from the Defense Department. Additional efforts to limit foreign control over these Institutes achieved some success in the Senate but has stalled in the House.
Chinese espionage expands well beyond university grounds. In July 2020, FBI Director Christopher Wray put China’s threat in stark terms:
“The greatest long-term threat to our nation’s information and intellectual property and our economic vitality is the counterintelligence and economic espionage threats from China… Of the nearly 5,000 active counterintelligence cases currently under way across the country, almost half are related to China. It’s the people of the United States who are the victims of what amounts to Chinese theft on a scale so massive that it represents one of the largest transfers of wealth in human history.”
It would be nice if the Biden administration took Communist China’s soft war against the U.S. seriously. But other than a “diplomatic boycott” of the Beijing Winter Olympics -- an ill-defined and novel tactic with little metrics to show for the effort -- the administration has refused to demonstrate serious resolve when it comes to Chinese treachery, theft, and espionage. In fact, it did just the opposite by ending the “China Initiative,” a Justice Department Trump-era effort to combat the growing threat of Chinese espionage and trade secret theft.
But burying our heads in the sand is not going to make this threat go away. More likely, it will only serve to embolden the source of most of our most dangerous crises.
Adam Turner is the Director of the Center to Advance Security in America.
Image: National Archives