by Bethany Allen-Ebrahimian · June 11, 2018
It’s not just Russia. China is interfering in U.S. internal affairs, lawmakers say.
Artyom Ivanov/TASS via Getty
A bipartisan group of 12 senators has written a letter to senior Trump administration officials, urging them to craft a “comprehensive strategy” to counter covert Chinese interference in democracies around the world.
Led by Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto (D-NV), the lawmakers outlined the growing threat that Chinese Communist Party activities pose to independent democratic institutions. They asked
Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis, Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin, FBI Director Christopher Wray, and Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats to work together with Congress to coordinate a strategy, to support U.S. companies and institutions facing Chinese pressure, and to work with U.S. allies to expose Chinese influence operations.
“While nations around the globe seek to influence public opinion and policy debates beyond their borders, the nature of Chinese efforts goes well beyond those legitimate activities,” the senators write, according to a copy of the letter obtained by The Daily Beast.
In democracies from Oceania to North America to Europe, the Chinese Communist Party has leveraged financial ties to silence criticism from private companies and media outlets; has cultivated relationships with academic institutions to shape public narratives; and in some cases has intervened directly in democratic politics through party-linked campaign donations.
“China’s long-term objectives with these operations are to undermine liberal democracies, erode the strength of U.S. alliances… [and] supplant U.S. leadership in the world.”
— bipartisan group of senators
Beijing-funded Confucius Institutes, embedded on over 100 U.S. college campuses, have pressured universities to censor sensitive discussions or disinvite controversial speakers such as Tibetan spiritual leader the Dalai Lama. Party cells on U.S. campuses quietly keep tabs on visiting Chinese students. And in late May, a classified Australian government report revealed that China has made major attempts in the past decade to infiltrate Australia’s major political parties.
“The CCP’s long-term objectives with these operations are to undermine liberal democracies, erode the strength of U.S. alliances, weaken the ability of democracies to work against China, supplant U.S. leadership in the world and shape the future of the international order,” the lawmakers write.
Concern about Chinese interference in the United States has been growing throughout the U.S. government in recent months. Among lawmakers, it is largely Republicans such as Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio who have championed the issue.
But Democratic heavyweight Elizabeth Warren is a signatory to the letter, as is Chris Coons (D-DE) and Republican centrist Cory Gardner. The letter’s wide spectrum of support—combined with Hillary Clinton’s remarks in New Zealand last month expressing concern over CCP interference there—suggests that, unlike the investigation into Russian meddling, future attempts to uncover Chinese actions in the United States may have a bipartisan character.
U.S. ally Australia has been the canary in the coal mine on the issue of Chinese Communist Party interference. Beijing’s meddling has dominated the national security debate there for the past year after a member of parliament was found to accepted party-linked money and subsequently changed his foreign policy stance to favor Beijing’s position.
Compared to Russia’s strategy in the 2016 U.S. presidential election, which clearly favored one party and thus has led to caustic partisan bickering, China’s strategy in Australia as an equal-opportunity infiltrator has led to a relative degree of consensus there; a bill to counter Beijing’s activities on Australian soil is currently working its way through parliament.
The U.S. and Australian governments have been in close communication over the issue.
“We firmly believe the United States must continue to support the free and transparent flow of information and the independence of democratic institutions from undue influence, particularly when other governments are seeking to undermine them,” the senators wrote.