The United States’ response to the global ambitions of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) will have historic implications and will determine whether the United States and its liberal democratic allies will continue to shape their own destiny or whether the CCP and its autocratic tributaries will control the future, according to U.S. Attorney General William P. Barr.
U.S. Attorney General William Barr at the Gerald R. Ford Presidential Library.Speaking at the Gerald R. Ford Presidential Museum in Grand Rapids, Michigan, on July 16, Barr said the CCP rules with an iron fist over one of the great ancient civilizations of the world. He said it seeks to make use of the immense power, productivity and ingenuity of the Chinese people to overthrow the rules-based international system and to make the world safe for dictatorship.
On June 24, National Security Advisor Robert O’Brien spoke about the CCP’s ideology and global ambitions, saying, “The days of American passivity and naivety regarding the People’s Republic of China are over.” On July 7, FBI Director Christopher Wray described how the CCP pursues its ambitions through industrial espionage, theft, extortion, cyberattacks and malign influence activities. A speech that Secretary of State Mike Pompeo delivered on July 23 summarized what is at stake for the United States and the free world. “I hope these speeches will inspire the American people to reevaluate their relationship with China, so long as it continues to be ruled by the Communist Party,” Barr said.
The attorney general said China’s economy has quietly grown from about 2 percent of the world’s GDP in 1980 to nearly 20 percent today. He said that by some estimates, based on purchasing power parity, the Chinese economy is already larger than that of the United States. Barr stated that the general secretary of the Chinese Communist Party, Xi Jinping, who he said has centralized power to a degree not seen since the dictatorship of Mao Zedong, now speaks openly of China moving “closer to center stage,” “building a socialism that is superior to capitalism” and replacing the American Dream with the “Chinese Solution.”
“The People’s Republic of China is now engaged in an aggressive, orchestrated, whole-of-government — indeed, whole-of-society — campaign to seize the commanding heights of the global economy and to surpass the United States as the world’s preeminent superpower,” Barr said.
Barr said that a centerpiece of this effort is the Communist Party’s initiative, Made in China 2025, a plan for PRC domination of high-tech industries like robotics, advanced information technology, aviation and electric vehicles. Backed by hundreds of billions of dollars in subsidies, he said, this initiative poses a real threat to U.S. technological leadership. He said that despite World Trade Organization rules prohibiting quotas for domestic output, the Made in China 2025 initiative sets targets for domestic market share sometimes as high as 70 percent in core components and basic materials for industries such as robotics and telecommunications. It is clear that the PRC seeks not merely to join the ranks of other advanced industrial economies, but to replace them altogether, Barr said.
“For American companies in the global marketplace, free and fair competition with China has long been a fantasy,” Barr said. “To tilt the playing field to its advantage, China’s communist government has perfected a wide array of predatory and often unlawful tactics: currency manipulation, tariffs, quotas, state-led strategic investment and acquisitions, theft and forced transfer of intellectual property, state subsidies, dumping, cyberattacks and espionage. About 80 percent of all federal economic espionage prosecutions have alleged conduct that would benefit the Chinese state, and about 60 percent of all trade secret theft cases have had a nexus to China.”
The attorney general said the PRC also seeks to dominate key trade routes and infrastructure in Eurasia, Africa, and the Pacific. He said it spread its power and influence through what looks like foreign aid, but that actually are investments designed to serve the PRC’s strategic interests and domestic economic needs through a form of modern-day colonialism.
“Just as consequential, however, are the PRC’s plans to dominate the world’s digital infrastructure through its Digital Silk Road initiative,” Barr said. “I have previously spoken at length about the grave risks of allowing the world’s most powerful dictatorship to build the next generation of global telecommunications networks, known as 5G. Perhaps less widely known are the PRC’s efforts to surpass the United States in other cutting-edge fields like artificial intelligence (AI).”
Whichever nation emerges as the global leader in AI, Barr said, will be best positioned to unlock not only its considerable economic potential, but also a range of military applications, such as the use of computer vision to gather intelligence.
In Barr’s view, the United States is dangerously dependent on the PRC for rare earth materials used in consumer electronics, electric vehicles, medical devices and military hardware.
America made China’s meteoric economic rise possible, the attorney general said, with a free flow of aid and trade. Barr cited how China’s communist leaders lured American business with the promise of market access, and then, having profited from American investment and expertise, turned increasingly hostile.
“The PRC used tariffs and quotas to pressure American companies to give up their technology and form joint ventures with Chinese companies,” he said. “Regulators then discriminated against American firms, using tactics like holding up permits. Yet few companies, even Fortune 500 giants, have been willing to bring a formal trade complaint for fear of angering Beijing.”
The attorney general said China has become the United States’ largest supplier of medical devices, while at the same time discriminating against American medical companies in China. He said America also depends on Chinese supply chains for pharmaceuticals. Meanwhile, he said, Chinese nationals working as employees at U.S. pharma companies have been caught stealing trade secrets both in America and in China, and the CCP has long engaged in cyber-espionage and hacking of U.S. academic medical centers and healthcare companies.
“The ultimate ambition of China’s rulers isn’t to trade with the United States, it is to raid the United States,” Barr said.
“Although Americans hoped that trade and investment would liberalize China’s political system, the fundamental character of the regime has never changed,” the attorney general said. “As its ruthless crackdown of Hong Kong demonstrates once again, China is no closer to democracy today than it was in 1989 when tanks confronted pro-democracy protesters in Tiananmen Square. It remains an authoritarian, one-party state in which the Communist Party wields absolute power, unchecked by popular elections, the rule of law or an independent judiciary. The CCP surveils its own people and assigns them social credit scores, employs an army of government censors, tortures dissidents and persecutes religious and ethnic minorities, including a million Uighurs detained in indoctrination and labor camps.”
Additional points from Barr’s speech:
- Reacting to the size of the Chinese market and requests to censor films if they are to be shown in China, Hollywood now self-censors scripts in a massive propaganda coup for the Chinese Communist Party.
- Corporations such as Google, Microsoft, Yahoo and Apple have shown themselves all too willing to collaborate with the CCP.
- The CCP has stepped up behind-the-scenes efforts to cultivate and coerce American business executives to further its political objectives — efforts that are all the more pernicious because they are largely hidden from public view.
- The CCP also seeks to infiltrate, censor or co-opt American academic and research institutions.
“Globalization does not always point in the direction of greater freedom,” Barr said. “A world marching to the beat of Communist China’s drums will not be a hospitable one for institutions that depend on free markets, free trade or the free exchange of ideas.”
The American people are more attuned than ever to the threat that the Chinese Communist Party poses “not only to our way of life, but to our very lives and livelihoods,” Barr said. “And they will increasingly call out corporate appeasement.”
The attorney general said that if individual companies are afraid to make a stand, there is strength in numbers. He quoted Supreme Court Justice Lewis F. Powell Jr. as saying, “Strength lies in organization, in careful long-range planning and implementation, in consistency of action over an indefinite period of years, in the scale of financing available only through joint effort, and in the political power available only through united action and national organizations.”
Despite years of acquiescence to communist authorities in China, Barr said, American tech companies may finally be finding their courage through collective action. He said that following the recent imposition of the PRC’s draconian national security law in Hong Kong, many big tech companies, including Facebook, Google, Twitter, Zoom and LinkedIn, reportedly announced that they would temporarily suspend compliance with governmental requests for user data. True to form, Barr said, communist officials have threatened imprisonment for noncompliant company employees.
“We will see if these companies hold firm,” the attorney general said. “I hope they do. If they stand together, they will provide a worthy example for other American companies in resisting the Chinese Communist Party’s corrupt and dictatorial rule.”
As Barr concluded his remarks, he said, “The CCP has launched an orchestrated campaign, across all of its many tentacles in Chinese government and society, to exploit the openness of our institutions in order to destroy them. To secure a world of freedom and prosperity for our children and grandchildren, the free world will need its own version of the whole-of-society approach, in which the public and private sectors maintain their essential separation but work together collaboratively to resist domination and to win the contest for the commanding heights of the global economy. America has done that before. If we rekindle our love and devotion for our country and each other, I am confident that we — the American people, American government and American business together — can do it again. Our freedom depends on it.”
Don Bishop, Executive Editor and Associate Publisher of AGL Magazine