China's Infiltration of the U.S.: A Multidimensional Crisis
Written by Olivia Oseroff
An Introduction and History
In October of 1949, the Chinese Communist Party led by Mao Zedong established the People's Republic of China (PRC). The peasant-backed Communist Party beat the Nationalist Party led by Chiang Kai-shek. The United States, who had a relationship with the Chinese Nationalist Party in World War II, unexpectedly supported their exile to Taiwan, ultimately leading to restricted U.S.-Chinese relations for decades to come. A year later, the Korean War began, the Chinese and U.S. relationship became more adversarial as the U.S. backed the South Koreans and China supported the North Koreans. Over the subsequent decades, the First Taiwan Strait Crisis and the Tibetan Uprising led to increased fragility in the region. The First Taiwan Strait Crisis was an armed conflict between the Nationalist Republic of China and the Communist PRC in Taiwan. The 1959 Tibetan Uprising was a series of demonstrations in Lhasa, Tibet, fighting against Chinese influence in Tibet and induced by Tibetans' fear of the arrest of the 14th Dalai Lama. These events further divided the relationship until 1964, when China ran its first nuclear test, beginning a brand new era in Chinese-American relations. In the following decades, U.S. presidents Eisenhower, Nixon, and Raegan pursued a more diplomatic approach with the PRC as China and the U.S. banded together in the rise of the Soviet Union, which above the U.S. became China's most significant geopolitical threat at the time. In 2000, U.S. President Bill Clinton led efforts to increase trade between the U.S. and China, paving the way for China to join the WTO (World Trade Organization), replacing Mexico as the U.S.' largest trade partner.
The U.S. and China in Recent Years
In the last decade, China increased military spending, and the U.S.-China trade deficit has widened. China is the second-largest foreign holder of U.S. debt behind Japan, owning 1.1 trillion dollars. The U.S.-China trade deficit increased from 273.1 billion in 2010 to 310.8 billion in 2020. In 2007, China increased its defense budget by eighteen percent. Their increase in defense spending and trade deficit between China and the U.S. solidified their adversarial relationship.
In 2015, tensions began again as the U.S. strived to protect the interests of smaller Asian countries in the South China Sea. The South China Sea is in the Pacific Ocean, giving way to a third of the world's shipping lanes. The U.S. Energy Information Administration estimates that 11 billion barrels of oil and 190 trillion cubic feet of gas lie in the South China Sea. Such staggering numbers contribute to its sizable geopolitical significance. China, Taiwan, the Philippines, Brunei, Malaysia, Indonesia, and Vietnam surround the sea putting it at the epicenter of a geopolitical dispute over territorial rights. The picture below depicts the South China Sea.
In 2016, newly elected U.S. President Donald Trump discussed honoring the One China Policy at the forefront of the U.S.' China policy for the past fifty years. The One China Policy states that the U.S. formally recognizes only one rightful government (PRC) of China, not two. Additionally, the U.S. never agreed to recognize Taiwan as a Chinese entity allowing the U.S. to maintain an unofficial relationship with Taiwan. This policy has also been a significant contributor to the maintenance of peace between China and Taiwan. However, President Donald Trump adopted an "America-First" approach to confronting China, moving away from previous administrations' "constructive" relationship. In 2018, President Trump imposed tariffs on Chinese imports in aerospace, information and communications technology, robotic, industrial machinery, new materials, and automobiles, excluding common technologies purchased by everyday Americans like cell phones and other personal devices: televisions, computers, tablets, etc. Taxing the more prominent industrial technologies allowed the U.S. to create a market and advance American-made technologies rather than promote Chinese innovation. In retaliation, China enacted the same policy against the United States, taxing 34 billion dollars worth of agricultural products, cars, and aquatic products. By the end of the year, the U.S. hardened its policy on China by utilizing free trade. The hardened U.S. policies were in response to Chinese military aggression, state-led censorship, religious persecution of the Uyghurs, the theft of American intellectual property, and influencing U.S. elections.
During the 2020 Presidential election, there were murmurs that Democratic nominee, Joe Biden, was expected to reverse President Trump's policies regarding U.S.-China relations. Still, instead, Biden has kept many of Trump's policies and arguably escalated tensions through commitments to Taiwan. Throughout his administration, President Trump facilitated numerous arms sales with Taiwan. In 2017, Trump declared the sale of 1.4 billion dollars worth of F-16s to Taiwan, and in May of 2020, Trump announced the sale of MK-48 Mod6 Advanced Technology Heavyweight Torpedoes for an estimated $180 million. Later in September of 2020, the administration sold $600 million worth of MQ-98 Reaper drones. In October 2020, the Pentagon announced a $2.37 billion sale of Harpoon Block II Surface Launched Missiles and Harpoon Coastal Defense Systems. Before leaving office, on January 10, 2021, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo lifted the U.S. Department of State's sanctions that restricted diplomatic relations between Taiwanese and American diplomats, government officials, and service members. As a candidate in the 2020 Presidential election, Joe Biden favored a multilateral approach focused on building alliances and addressing human rights issues rather than tariffs or defense strategy.
Contrary to expectations, the Biden administration has retained a firmer foreign policy regarding China. The Biden administration has expressed a commitment to supporting Tibetan culture, preserving sustainable living, advancing the fight for human rights, and combating the threat of diseases, drug trafficking, and climate change. The administration also has taken a strong stance in defense and economics by investing in American technology and space companies and partnering with allies abroad to combat China's human rights records and malpractices.
In March of 2021, Secretary of State Anthony Blinken and the National Security Advisor (NSA) Jake Sullivan met with high-level Chinese officials in Alaska for Biden-Harris' administration's first meeting. The meeting was the first of many led by the U.S. to combat Chinese aggression on defensive, economic, and technological fronts. Again in a press briefing in March of 2021, the State Department reported genocide and religious persecution of the Uyghur-Muslim population in China's Xinjiang region. In September 2020, U.S. Customs and Border Protection issued five Withhold Release Orders (WRO) prohibiting computer parts, apparel, cotton, and hair products manufactured in the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region (AUAR). The orders banned the products from being exported to the U.S. without clarification that they were constructed without forced labor. Following the 2021 G7 Summit, President Biden issued a WRO on the Hoshino Silicon Industry's silica-based products. In addition, the U.S. Department of Labor released a list of products made by children and forced labor to increase awareness for manufacturers and consumers. At the G7 summit, the U.S. and its allies banded together to introduce a new global infrastructure investment program to compete with China's Belt and Road Initiative.
China's Infiltration of American Society: Politics, National Security, Economics, and Education
Every election cycle, speculations rise of China's influence on specific candidates or intervening in American elections. China employs lobbying and public relations organizations to influence interest groups. In some instances, they will layer corporations or use private citizens to exploit loopholes in U.S. election laws to hide contributions to candidates and politicians. "major Chinese companies publicly acknowledge spending $3.8 million on federal lobbying in 2017 and $20.2 million in total since 2000…Alibaba was the largest source of expenditures in 2017, accounting for $2 million...".
Eric Swalwell, a three-term Democratic Representative from California who made a run for President in 2020, allegedly has political and possibly personal ties with Christine Fang, a Chinese asset in California known for sharing intelligence. While the allegations of whether Swalwell shared intelligence with Fang are inconclusive, his connection to the Chinese aid is not. She is known for sharing intelligence with China's Ministry of State Security. The Ministry of State Security is an agency that combines civilian intelligence, security, and secret police responsible for gathering foreign intelligence highlighted in politics and counterintelligence. As a result, the American political system is increasingly vulnerable to foreign infiltration and influence into inner political circles like Swalwell's. Regardless of whether the allegations against Swalwell are proven, this vulnerability and type of breach in the American political system by China is destructive to our national security and arguably a violation of American sovereignty.
According to Former Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, "the CCP (Chinese Communist Party) will use artificial intelligence to comb through troves of personal data of U.S. citizens found in Chinese technology and apps." The Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) found that in 2017, China hacked Equifax, a credit bureau based in the U.S., gaining the personal information of an estimated 150 million Americans. In 2020, the social media platform TikTok faced allegations of mining its users' personal information. ByteDance is a company based in Beijing, China who created the social media platform TikTok. Like many social media apps and online platforms, the app uses user's interactions to curate a feed of tailored content. In its most basic terms, China's cybersecurity laws require corporations and internet networks to share user data with Chinese authorities upon request. In 2020, President Trump targeted China-based companies in multiple executive orders by imposing tariffs. The allegations, executive orders, and China's cybersecurity laws bring a concern to the U.S. and global citizens about their privacy online.
Huawei is a technology company founded by a former officer from the Chinese People's Liberation Army. The company sells system equipment for telecommunication networks and smartphones to a global market. Since 2012, the U.S. intelligence community has been investigating Huawei for collusion with the Chinese government and its alleged use of the technology to spy on users. Like Huawei, ZTE is also a giant in the global telecommunications market. In 2017, the ZTE company pleaded guilty to violating U.S. sanctions against North Korea and Iran. In June 2020, the U.S. Federal Communications Commission (FCC) classified Huawei and ZTE as national security threats after claiming they used their networking hardware to spy for China.
The FBI, the U.S. Department of Defense, and the Voice of America concluded that the "greatest long-term threat" to the U.S. is China. In a June 2020 press conference, FBI Director Christopher Wray addresses many fronts where China has infiltrated the U.S. in theft and espionage by taking advantage of the openness of the U.S. and our education systems, economy, and political systems.
The threat posed by China extends beyond the security of American citizens; militarily, China has become more threatening in the last 20 years, but they still lag behind the U.S. military. U.S. belief in China as a theoretical military threat to the U.S. is waning, and while not immediate, they pose a growing threat. China's military growth could be accredited to a long-term goal of overtaking the U.S. sphere of influence, advancing nuclear capabilities, and controlling and imposing further regional dominance while combating a U.S. campaign for preservation in East and Southeast Asia. China's interest is to surpass the U.S. in almost all aspects of the world order. Rather than competing with values of free trade, the sovereignty of other nations, and promoting democratic ideals, China plans its pursuit of hegemony in a "whole-of-state" approach with an authoritarian fist and an opposition to liberal democracy, western countries, and the international institutions they created.
Between 2010 and 2020, Chinese buyers have purchased 18,400 U.S. properties. A survey by Statista from 2011 to 2020 shows that in 2020, 12 percent of foreign buyers of American property were Chinese. In addition, CNBC reported that a study conducted by the Rosen Consulting Group and the Asia Society concluded between 2010 and 2015, Chinese buyers spent $93 billion in residential real estate, $208 billion of mortgage-backed securities, and $17 billion in commercial real estate to include office buildings and hotels.
Chinese-owned businesses in the U.S. and American-owned corporations that utilize Chinese labor practices compete with and negatively impact American-owned companies and the U.S. job market. For example, on June 24, 2021, in its 4th Quarter Earnings Call, Nike CEO John Donahoe said, "… we're a brand of China and for China." Donahoe attributes this to their "strong consumer franchise in China, and they feel very connected to our brand." In November 2020, the New York Times reported that Nike, among other American companies, lobbied against a bill banning the importing of products made from forced labor in China.
To combat a significant and ever-growing Chinese ownership in the U.S. economy and business, corporations can move manufacturing back to the U.S., allies like India, or nations in Southeast Asia. United States citizens can focus on buying American-made goods, incrementally bringing jobs back to the U.S., and slowly crippling Chinese influence in the U.S. and global economy.
Besides the trade war and economic superiority on the world stage, intellectual property theft and China's innovation policies have different effects. For example, in response to an International Trade Commission survey, U.S. firms reported decreases in sales, profits, licensing, and royalty fees connected to infringement on their IPR (Intellectual Property Rights).
Over time the Chinese Communist Party has further extended its reach into the American higher education system. According to the U.S. Department of Education, since 2013, American universities have accepted almost 1.3 billion dollars from China. It comes in funding for Confucius Institutions, which are public partnerships between higher education institutions in China and higher education institutions in other countries. They focus on promoting the education of the Chinese language and culture around the globe. It is a program funded by Hanban, the Office of the International Council of Chinese Language, which is not an official entity of the Chinese government. Still, some sources classify Hanban as an affiliate of the Chinese government. Hanban has been criticized for its alleged connection to the Chinese government and its influence in suppressing academic freedom. According to the U.S. Government Accountability Office, only six out of all fifty U.S. states were found without a Confucius institute at a university or college. In an investigation led by the Trump administration, the U.S. The Department of Education found that several U.S. schools failed to report 6.5 billion dollars in gifts from China, Saudi Arabia, UAE, among many others.
The 2008 Thousand Talent Program, a continuation of the 1994 Hundred Talent Plan, is a program to recruit high-level foreign scientists and researchers to relocate their research to China. A report conducted by the U.S. Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Senate Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations studied the program's purpose and any potential threat posed to U.S. security or intellectual interests. However, it was not until 2015 that the FBI identified Chinese talent recruitment as a threat to national security. "Despite the Chinese government's public announcements in 2008 of its intent to recruit overseas researchers with access to cutting-edge research and absorb, assimilate, and re-innovate technologies, the FBI did not identify Chinese talent recruitment plans as a 'threat vector' until 2015."
In March of 2021, China's parliament passed its 14th Five Year Plan outlining priorities from 2021 to 2025. The document lays out plans for economic development, trade, defense, politics, the environment, and many others. In an interview with Radio Free Asia, Cheng Xiaonong, an American-based Chinese economist, said it is "an extension of China's previous Thousand Talents Plan...both plans intend to steal intellectual property and advanced technology...from overseas". In 2018, the FBI began arresting and prosecuting Thousand Talent Scholars for corporate espionage and breaching American research and security.
Consequences and the Importance of the Infiltration
China's infiltration of the American education, political, and economic systems threatens U.S. national security interests and economic prosperity. China's ultimate goal is to utilize soft power to surpass the U.S. in defense, economics, and education. Allowing China to infiltrate these aspects of our country threatens our national security, violates U.S. sovereignty, and promotes the U.S. dependent on China for decades to come.
Joseph Nye, University Distinguished Service Professor, Emeritus and was Dean of Harvard's Kennedy School of Government. Nye served as Assistant Secretary of Defense for International Security Affairs, Chair of the National Intelligence Council, and Deputy Under Secretary of State. Nye defines soft power as the "ability to shape preference of others...by attraction and persuasion instead of simply coercion and payment." Examples of soft power in American foreign policy are our distribution of defense, financial, and humanitarian aid in war-torn areas around the globe, or the exporting of cultural products and ideas like film, music, and food, sharing the "openness" of business in the United States. The Marshall Plan was the United States' way of asserting its dominance after World War II, no matter how they contributed to the damage. The plan was a "massive program" focused on giving aid to rebuild the global economy and the spread of democracy.
Soft power shapes the global perception of these superpowers. While the U.S. has been using it for centuries, China has only recently tapped into its future in using soft power to adapt to the world's changing perception of them. Over the past two decades, initiatives like Confucius Institutions and the Belt and Road Initiative proposed by President Xi Jinping in 2013 to globalize Chinese influence in banks, roads for economic expansion, power plants, railroads, 5G networks, and fiber optic cables. Jinping's plan originally was meant to "forge closer ties, deepen cooperation and expand the development space in the Eurasian region." But later spread to include eastern and central Europe, Latin America, the Caribbean, Central, and Southeast Asia, North Africa, the Middle East, and Sub-Saharan Africa. The plan posed several threats to U.S. political, economic, global health, environmental, and security interests.
China is attempting to create a new world order separate from the one western countries created following World War II. However, the allure of a world order or sphere of influence dictated by an authoritarian government like China fades with examples of the Soviet Union, Cuba, and Myanmar. Moreover, authoritarian values and policies often translate into human rights abuses and a lack of political freedom, as seen in China, Myanmar, and the Philippines today. Further, some experts are still inconclusive as to whether China's use of soft power has worked. Others say that their successes in Africa and Latin America with other authoritarian regimes may not make up for their lack of success in Asia. Currently, public opinion towards China as a nation has mixed responses. A Pew Research Center survey showed that in 2019, spanning across 34 countries, a median of 40% have a favorable view of China and 41% unfavorable.
To continue its stand up to China, the U.S. must maintain a firm, unwavering face in front of the world. Radical political infighting, which expands outside the scope of ideological differences, in the U.S. weakens a much-needed united front to fight Chinese expansionism. A united front is essential to the United States' fight against China and maintaining its global stature. This united U.S. requires both citizens and leaders in the U.S. to unite behind American ideals and beliefs: patriotism, free speech, and the liberty to choose. The U.S. must prioritize minimizing economic stake in China by moving manufacturing to the U.S. and its allies by lobbying the American CEOs in textile and technology industries. The U.S. must also utilize federal and state law enforcement agencies to maintain accountability on unfriendly actors involved in Chinese spying efforts. Regarding China's rapidly growing soft power initiative, the U.S. will have to adapt to continue competing if it hopes to keep up.
The coronavirus pandemic combined with the deterioration of U.S.-China relations over the past decade and the infighting in an unprecedented polarized U.S. has created a complicated relationship between the two superpowers. While China and the U.S. will predictably not ever be allies, there are many possibilities for the future of U.S.-China relations. If China's power continues to grow, the conflict will erupt regardless of how amicable the leadership of either country is. In the slight possibility that in the long term, Chinese political ideology evolves, creating a more liberal China, relations could soften. However, in this situation, several external factors are much more necessary to consider: world order, economic growth, and institutional development. A more realistic scenario is that China and the U.S. maintain equal strength. The current relationship will be maintained avoided by swaying periods of cooperation and competition and a fear of the possibility of mutually assured destruction. If the PRC supports its growth of wealth and strength without compromising its authoritarian values, competition is inevitable.