With much of the country’s attention focused on Russian “influence operations” ahead of the 2018 elections, one long-time China watcher says that Beijing has historically posed a much bigger threat to the U.S. than Moscow and continues to do so, though that is changing thanks to the policies of the Trump administration.
“It’s a huge problem. China’s information and influence operations have been extremely effective,” Bill Gertz, senior editor at the Washington Free Beacon and author of several books detailing the Chinese threat to the U.S., told Fox News Tuesday. “They are literally buying up former officials. They are utilizing coercive measures to get U.S. businessmen who have interests in China to do their bidding and very little is being done about it.”
Gertz said that China’s influence operations date back 30 years — to the Clinton administration. At the time, President Bill Clinton was accused by some of accepting illegal campaign contributions from the Chinese government, which were funneled through third parties including a longtime Clinton friend, Charlie Trie.
But China’s influence operations did not stop there, Gertz noted. And he said while Russia also conducts such operations, China’s effort has been far more effective over the years.
“We hear a lot about Russian influence operations. It would China has been doing over the last 30 years is huge compared to what the Russians have done in terms of influencing the U.S. government,” he said. “They have literally changed the direction of American foreign policy towards China.”
He noted further that President Trump’s policies are changing the Chinese influence dynamic.
“Up until the Trump administration there was this narrative through successive Republican and Democratic administrations—the big propaganda theme was China is not a threat. Trump has come out and said, ‘Hey look, the emperor has no clothes. China is a threat,'” he said.
“It’s not just limited to these former officials and congressmen and former commerce officials and the like,” Gertz said. “They are actually going after former military officials.
Analysis: As time goes on, more defense and geopolitical analysts are coming to the conclusion that China, not Russia, poses the greater long-term threat to the security of the United States and our allies. That’s largely due to the fact that Russia’s economy is stagnant while Chinese growth continues at an above-average pace.
While Chinese growth has slowed in recent years — which has certainly garnered the attention of President Xi Jinping and the ruling Communist Party because stagnant economies tend to fuel unrest — Chinese GDP far surpasses that of Russia, giving Xi many more resources than President Vladimir Putin. There is also China’s multi-trillion dollar Belt and Road Initiative, which is spreading Chinese money and influence around the globe.
At the heart of the Clinton-Trie scandal is money — the same thing at the heart of current Chinese influence operations. Gertz told Fox News that the former vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Admiral Bill Owens, “basically has made tens of millions of dollars in China and he formed this organization of former military officials who literally lobbied Congress and the administration to do China’s bidding.”
The difference between Russian and Chinese influence operations is that the former seeks merely to sow division and distrust among the American citizenry, while the latter seeks to favorably influence policy towards Beijing, no matter what form domestic politics takes in the U.S.
When there are monied special interests at stake, the political pushback is the most extreme, which helps explain why the president has gotten a lot of flak over his trade policies with China. But as Gertz notes, it appears that the president and his national security team are very much aware of how Beijing has been, and would like to continue, operating.
Not all military objectives are accomplished on the battlefield.