On this week’s episode, Claudia Rosett joins to discuss this month’s policy focus: Facing Down the Rising Threat of China. She covers the historical context of the US/China relationship, explains why China poses a great threat, and shares what can and should be done about it.
Claudia Rosett is a foreign policy fellow with Independent Women’s Forum, and an award-winning journalist who has reported over the past 37 years from Asia, the former Soviet Union, Latin America and the Middle East. She is widely credited with groundbreaking reporting on corruption at the United Nations. Claudia is frequently on TV and radio, and has appeared before six U.S. Senate and House committees and subcommittees to testify on such topics as U.N. corruption and reform, and the Iran-North Korea strategic alliance.
Welcome to She Thinks, a podcast where you’re allowed to think for yourself. I’m your host, Beverly Hallberg bringing on today’s episode. We feature this months’ policy focus, facing down the rising threat of China. Claudia Rosett joins us to give us the historical context of the US-China relationship and breaks down why China poses a great threat, and what can and should be done about it.
But before we bring Claudia on IWF does know that many Americans are facing unprecedented challenges due to COVID-19, and that it’s more important than ever to show what America is made of. IWF is highlighting American ideals of ingenuity, generosity, and kindness. From everyday Americans donating blood to companies providing free food and housing, it’s a beautiful reminder that we’re in this together. Visit iwf.org or check us out on Facebook and Twitter and follow our campaign using #InThisTogether to learn more about the campaign.
Now to Claudia. Claudia Rosett is a foreign policy fellow with Independent Women’s Forum and an award winning journalist who has reported over the past 37 years from Asia, the former Soviet Union, Latin America, and the Middle East. She is widely credited with groundbreaking reporting on corruption at the United Nations. Claudia is frequently on TV and radio and has appeared before six US Senate and House Committees and Subcommittees to testify on such topics as UN corruption and reform, and the Iran-North Korea Strategic Alliance. Claudia, a pleasure to have you on She Thinks.
Pleasure to be here. Thank you.
Well, this is the perfect policy focus for the month of May. I do want to let people know if they’re interested in reading what you’ve written about this they can go to iwf.org to download the policy brief that you wrote up. But I thought we would start with just a general overview about China. There’s a lot people want to know in reference to Coronavirus and the Chinese Government’s lack of information that they shared to us. But I thought it would be good to start with going all the way back to World War II and our relationship with China since then until now. Where did it start and where are we today? I know that is a very big question, but any way to give us just a general overview of how this relationship has developed over the decades?
Sure. In World War II, Japan, actually starting before what we think of as World War II, Japan invaded China. It was then the Imperial Power aspiring to control half the world in alliance with Nazi Germany. And it was basically the US, we were in alliance with the British and in the very end, the Soviet Union in the Asian theater, although they didn’t really take part in helping to liberate China at that stage. They’ve never liberated anything, actually.
But at the end of the war, the government in China were our allies, the Nationalists under Chiang Kai-shek. And that degenerated into a civil war in China with the communist forces under Mao Zedong. And in 1949, Mao prevailed. And on October 1st, 1949, he declared in Beijing from the gate, the big gate of the forbidden city, overlooking Tiananmen Square, he declared the founding of the people’s Republic of China, communist China. And thus began the terrible history of this brutally repressive communist rule in China.
And it was terrible. It was terrible, first of all, for the Chinese. Tens of millions of whom perished over the decades that followed with Mao’s social experiments. One of his first moves was to back North Korea in the Korean War that went from 1950 to ’53. China came in and is one of the reasons that today we have the horrible dictatorship of the Kim family in North Korea.
And during this time, it was Taiwan where … The Nationalists fled to Taiwan, which today is a prosperous democracy. So exactly what we hoped China would become. And we recognized the Nationalists on Taiwan as the government of China until the 1970s. Then came President Nixon’s rapprochement in 1972, he went to Beijing, met with Mao and China took Taiwan’s seat at the United Nations. And in 1979 under President Jimmy Carter, the US recognized China … Beijing as the government of China, switched our embassy from Taipei to Beijing.
So that brings us up to 1979, and then Mao died in 1976. Deng Xiaoping Was in power by the late ’70s, and he announced … Mao’s rule had just beggared China. It was communist collectivism. People were starving. They had nothing. Deng Xiaoping came in and announced these economic reforms. The beginning of the so-called opening up. And this was very nice for China’s economy, but they did not want, and the Communist Party did not want any political reform. They wanted to retain complete monopoly control. That led us in 1989 to the horror that we remember as Tiananmen, which was this huge uprising in China. I covered it. I was working out there at the time and covered the whole thing, including that showdown in Tiananmen Square.
And for weeks there were these enormous protests in China. They were asking for democracy. It was an astounding time in history because this was before the end of the Cold War. It was the very few last few years, but the Soviet union still existed, Mikhail Gorbachev was in charge. And this was the world’s most populous communist state, China had lost control of its capital for the last two weeks of those demonstrations. The people took over. The government just sort of retreated. And I was up there covering it, it was amazing. There was military all around the city, but they did not move in. And then on the night of June 3rd, they moved in. And they moved in with gunfire and armored personnel carriers, and they simply shot people who got in their way. They ran over people with tanks, they took back Tiananmen Square, and they rolled up that democracy movement. And today they have just obliterated the memory.
Okay, that brings us to the 1990s and the beginning of the economic rise of China. Unfortunately, China paid no real penalty for Tiananmen. The government, there were sanctions, they were as quickly eroded. They didn’t matter much. The world kind of moved on, even though we hold candlelight vigils every year on June 4th. But for practical purposes, China actually … China’s Communist Party did well out of it for themselves. They ended this big democratic protest movement, and they began to make a lot of money. And in 2001 under President Clinton, in one of his final acts in office, China was … The US backed their admission to the World Trade Organization.
That gave China access in a big way to world markets. And they began to really make money. And you now have a country where the people on average are much poorer than in the United States. They’ve got about a quarter, but their sort of total gross … Their gross domestic product, depending on how you measure it, rivals that of the United States, okay? They have something like roughly four times as many people. So the individuals are less well off on average, but China has become a major economic power intertwined with the whole world trading system, intertwined with our manufacturing, everything we do in our economic lives.
And with this in 2012, came the rise of the current dictator, President Xi Jinping. And he is a very ambitious, aggressive, repressive tyrant. And he has just been tightening the screws in every direction. Including inside China, where it’s turning into this horrendous sort of techno surveillance state. In Hong Kong, which the British handed over, the former British colony which was handed over to China in 1997. With China promising that for 50 years, it would respect the freedoms and rights to which Hong Kong’s people were accustomed. China’s just thrown that right out the window, is rolling right over them as we speak. And threatening Taiwan, where you now have a Chinese democracy.
And China has become an extremely dangerous, aggressive, belligerent power that aspires to be the dominant power in the world. That’s their … How they put it. That’s not me reading this into it. That is the plan. By the year 2049, the 100th anniversary of Mao’s founding of the People’s Republic. And as we get toward the end of this tale, of course we began to see in late last year, came the emergence of this coronavirus in Wuhan, China. And which has now spread into a ruinous pandemic, counted as infecting people in 188 countries and territories around the world, more than five and a half million people to date and rising.
It’s been of taken a horrendous toll on the United States. Our thriving economy of January is now convulsed and trying to recover. And China has been trying to cash in on all that to make moves on … To crack down on Hong Kong, to bully people, to … It’s been trying to blame the virus on other countries. So that’s what’s emerging as the aspiring dominant power of the 21st century world order. It’s, shall we say, it’s a problem. That is the history of China in a nutshell.
Very well done, because that was a very good overview. I learned a lot just by hearing that timeline. I want to pick up on what you were saying about the Tiananmen Square. We’re coming up on the anniversary on June 4th, which is next week. Hong Kong, there are discussions. I’ve seen reports where China is saying that due to the coronavirus, no Hong Kongers are allowed to protest that day, to walk the streets, to remember Tiananmen Square. Do you think they’re using the coronavirus as a tool to try to tamp down on any type of peaceful protest that Hong Kongers want to have during this time?
Absolutely. There’s no question about it. Hong Kong has been actually highly successful in curtailing, containing the coronavirus. It’s a territory of seven and a half million people. They had experience … Hong Kong itself is an island, it’s contained. So unlike the enormous United States where you have free movement, or we did before the lockdowns through 50 States on a continent, Hong Kong is a small territory, it’s densely packed. But they both have closed for some time now, have made access very difficult. And people in Hong Kong lived through SARS. The precursor relative of this coronavirus. It’s also a coronavirus, that causes horrible pneumonia, and it was more deadly, less contagious than this one. But it emerged from China in 2000 … It began in China in 2002. And this might sound familiar, China covered it up in that case for months. Finally, it began spreading into Hong Kong, and then onto places like Taiwan, and Canada, Singapore.
So, people in Hong Kong were immediately very attuned to something like this. They’ve already lived through a bout of horrible spreading epidemic out of China. They immediately got out their masks and their gloves and all the protocols that we’ve just been learning, they knew. So they immediately adopted them. And they … To date they’ve had fewer than 1,100 cases confirmed as the virus, four deaths. And people right now are really going about without terrible concern. A lot of them are wearing face masks, but they’re getting haircuts, they’re eating at restaurants, they’re taking precautions. But inside the borders, the city is busy. And there’s no reason whatsoever as far as the virus to stop a memorial, or a demonstration, or anything on account of coronavirus. [crosstalk 00:13:15]
Well, let me jump in here. Let me jump in here real quick, Claudia. So when it comes to Hong Kong, when it comes to Taiwan. Let’s just use those two regions right now. What should the United States posture be in defending and standing up for the people in those areas? Do you think there’s anything that can be done more than rhetoric considering how powerful China is and how they plan to take over these regions? Even their activity in the South China Sea is extremely concerning. What do you think the foreign policy position should be of the United States in reference to these areas?
Stand up to them. Keep in mind, first of all, that while China appears … Makes a lot of very ferocious noises and does terrible things, it’s a somewhat hollow power in the sense that it doesn’t have massive support inside. It is a surveillance, repressive surveillance state, for the reason that if it stopped doing that, it’s people would probably overthrow the government. That’s what was going on in 1989, that’s where that was heading. That’s why they took such extreme action, I think. They wanted a reform that was a reasonable reform to ask, free speech and so on. But Communist Parties don’t survive that, as we saw in the Soviet Union in 1991.
And so, we need to understand, I think part of what’s behind China’s aggression and so on right now is that they’re in worse shape. Xi Jinping’s economy is very likely in worse shape than he’s letting on. And he’s making a lot of threats. I think he’s quite dangerous. They might carry through on some of them, and intend to carry through on all of them.
But we’re a great power. We really are. And we have amazing resources when we want to. Americans are … The sleeping giant of Pearl Harbor. If at some point finally they wake up and say, “We won’t tolerate this anymore.” We should get to that point now. Specifically, we can do things like the sanctions that people are looking at now on Hong Kong. I’m not … I don’t … I’m not … I don’t put great trust in sanctions to fix things, but I think in this case, it would damage China in a way that would at least deliver something of a lesson. And people in Hong Kong who would be hurt by this as well, the protesters have basically been begging the US to go ahead and do that, to punish China.
Let’s talk about some of the economics of this all. You were mentioning how Bill Clinton was part of opening up our trade and our economy with China, that has been a posture that is continued through other administrations. And the narrative has been on that, that if you really want to help the Chinese people, you actually open up trade, you export democracy. Has that worked? And if it hasn’t, why hasn’t it worked?
It hasn’t worked because China is run by basically a Leninist party. A party that’s structured in such a way that it’s configured to keep control. It punishes very heavily any individual who tries to defy it. That’s what happened for … Even with those doctors in Wuhan who tried to blow the whistle in the coronavirus, and were arrested, threatened, and so on … And silenced. We underestimated the grip of the Chinese Communist Party. We underestimated communism, basically, because we thought it was gone. The Soviet Union had collapsed, China had reformed economically, and we hoped that this would all lead to political reform.
Instead what the party did was exploit and manipulate that. Free trade is a wonderful thing. It really is. And it should have been a great benefit to all, but China used that access to pilfer technology, to steal secrets, to spy, to try and buy influence at universities, at think tanks. I mean the record of pillage, and plunder, and bribery, and subversion, and manipulation, and exploitation, is really quite spectacular. And what they did, bottom line, is instead of free trade reforming China, China has greatly corrupted the world trading system.
I mean, it’s terrible, but the thing we now face is a need to … Yes, indeed, decouple in any way that matters strategically from China. Remember the threat. As the worst of the coronavirus was hitting that if we didn’t do what they wanted, they would withhold the medicines that are manufactured in China. I mean, not … These were medicines for other medical conditions. There isn’t actually a cure for, or clear treatment for coronavirus. But other medicines that they would withhold them. And the amazing phrase that came out of China’s propaganda department, it’s foreign ministry was … Sorry, Xinhua. Sorry, it was its official news agency. That’s the only kind of news agency they have. They don’t have private news agencies. Was the threat to drown the US in quote, “The mighty sea of coronavirus.” I mean, that’s not what you really want as the end point of free trade, and that’s where China takes it.
So, let’s talk about the decoupling. So there have been renewed efforts due to coronavirus, and a lot of this started when Trump became president and talked about things being made in America again. How do … So when it comes to the manufacturing that’s in China, how much of what is … That we use here, how many of our goods are actually produced in China? And is it something … I’m sure this is not simple, but is this something as simple as trying to move some of our manufacturing to Mexico, as well as in the United States? And what does that look like? Is that a process that can happen fairly quickly? Are we talking about something that’s going to take a long time to unravel considering how long we have been in partnership with them?
The longer it takes, the less likely we are to do it. So it’s difficult, complicated, and it will be expensive. That’s the truth. But it really needs doing because security is at stake. I mean the real scene to be concerned about here is heading for a conflagration that would basically be World War III. You don’t want that to happen. That would be … It’s unimaginable, and yet it’s possible. And where to begin in this, we need to identify exactly what needs to be moved out of China. What is it that we need to make here, or make in someplace where we know we have assured supply? So we are not at the mercy of their blackmail or withholding. And probably the best … Probably it needs to be done with things like tax breaks.
I’ll give you a specific example. Way back in the ’80s, a lot of American pharmaceuticals were made in Puerto Rico because there were big tax breaks for companies to manufacture medicine there. Under the Clinton administration, those were taken away. And that was when manufacturing of medicine began moving to China, where it was cheap, and easy, and there was a lot less regulatory oversight. Then came the World Trade Organization entry of China in 2001, and this takeoff there of manufacturing, where people began investing as well as trading. And China became the principle manufacturer, not just of finished medical products, but of components that go into those. So even though you have, for instance, medicine manufactured in India as well, they get some of their precursors from China.
So, what needs to be done is … This is really a job for the administration and Congress is sit down and go through what are the sectors, including things that supply defense, anything that supplies defense, and things that are actually critical. I mean, it’s probably all right to buy undershirts from China. I don’t think you can stop all business with them. They’ll go through third parties, that’s hard to do. But as far as anything strategic, that’s a really a matter of national security and we should simply … There needs to be, I think a campaign by the administration to an American public, that’s probably already very receptive to it because everyone has been living with the miserable cost of this coronavirus out of China to say, “This will cost the country, but it is in the great interest of our security. This is to make us safe. So China cannot push us around like that.” And then build up the military.
And then last thing … Right, exactly. And the last thing I want to touch on this is what you call techno tyranny. So there has been a lot of news stories and concerns when it comes to China, when it comes to intellectual property and theft. There’s been Huawei, we’ve talked about 5G technology and whether or not we’re going to be using their infrastructure to build that out here in the United States. When you talk about techno tyranny, I’m assuming you’re talking about all of it, but give us at least a little snapshot of the repression of China in this area and what you think the United States should do, what should our policies be?
Yeah, I’m what I’m talking about there mainly is the surveillance state. If China has taken the wonderful advances of modern technology and to a degree not seeing anywhere else on the planet, I think, has invested in endless things that just track everybody all the time. Cameras that identify you everywhere, databases that checkup. And this Orwellian system called social credit, where you get points sort of merits and demerits for whether or not you behave as the party wishes you to. That’s not just a matter of whether you obey street crossing laws, rules. It’s a matter of do you engage in correct study of what they call Xi Jinping’s thought. Okay? That’s the communist dictatorship at work.
And this is an attempt much like the Soviet Union, but technologically much more sophisticated, to engineer the behavior of human beings. It is soul crushing, that’s the basic problem there. It strips away all freedom. People have no privacy, they are tracked everywhere. And again, I refer you to the young doctors who simply discussed in an online chat room, their concerns that this new virus might be really contagious. And the next day were summoned to the police station and threatened with being pressed with actual criminal charges if they didn’t sign confessions that they would no longer be rumormongers. That’s the degree of surveillance. And that’s what I mean by a techno tyranny. It’s a tyranny, and it is reinforced with the worst, most perverse uses of the miraculous things that should be great blessings of modern technology.
Final question for you. The current president, President Trump has been tough on China. In a lot of his rhetoric he’s been hitting them hard on tariffs. Is this the type of toughness that’s needed to try to entangle ourselves from China and have a better level, fair playing field?
Yes, it is. And I think we need a lot more of it. I mean, please credit President Trump, that he has been the first president in generations to actually call China out, stand up to them. We have, unfortunately, one of the things that has encouraged China is decades of both Democratic and Republican administrations, trying to appease China, help China, placate China. And they’ve learned that they could get away with pretty much anything.
President Trump is the first one who said, “No, you can’t.” I would prefer that he did not praise Xi Jinping at all, whatever the diplomatic purpose there might be. I would prefer a more modest approach there. But in terms of action and what he’s done, again he’s done more than any president in a long, long, long time. It was way overdue and I’ve been relieved to see it. And it looks as if he does intend to get tougher. I hope he does. It’s really important. We need to stand up to China.
Essentially, China plays chicken. And they are used to seeing us, the other guy, flinch. Chicken is a dangerous game, but we have got to give China the message that it’s not going to win. It’s a communist tyranny, it belongs on the ash heap of history. A free China, a free mainland China. We have a free China on Taiwan. To have a free society on the mainland would be this incredible asset to the world, and a wonderful thing for the people of China themselves. That’s where ultimately this needs to go. But it starts with telling the Communist Party, “No more. You don’t get away with it anymore.” And President Trump has begun that. I hope he continues.
Well, there’s so much more we could get to. The good thing is you do have a policy brief out, the policy focus is called Facing Down the Rising Threat of China. People can go to iwf.org and get it there. It’s a really good read and gives even more in depth discussion into this issue. We only had so much time today, but Claudia, a pleasure to have you on, a great overview of the history of China and also our concerns today, and we thank you for joining She Thinks.
Pleasure to be here. Thank you.
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