Former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich recently finished his latest book, “Trump vs. China: Facing America’s Greatest Threat,” to be published on Tuesday. We sat down with the former Speaker to discuss the rise of Chinese President Xi Jinping, China’s expanding influence on the world stage, the Republicans’ legacy of ‘free trade,’ censorship in the Communist Party, the recent NBA scandal, and even about where he, himself, takes some of the blame for America’s response to the rise of China. The full interview is presented, with light edits, below:
TheDC: Your book is titled “Trump vs. China: Facing America’s Greatest Threat,” so, put simply, what is the greatest threat we face from China?
Fmr. Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich: Well, you saw a little bit of that, frankly, with the NBA. Xi Jinping is a dictator. He has an enormous machine — the Chinese Communist party has 90 million members. By comparison, Trump got 63 million votes. [Xi] is dedicated to expanding China’s influence, and as we just watched in the last few weeks, that includes pressuring people inside the U.S. to give up their freedom of speech, if it in any way makes the Chinese feel uncomfortable. So, I think we have every reason to believe that this is a very serious competitor, who has a very particular view of how the world should operate, and in contrast to our idea of freedom, they believe in a very authoritarian system in which they literally ‘disappear’ people. I mean, you can be picked up and in six months just not exist.
TheDC: You have some Democrats, people like Michael Bloomberg — who flirted with running for president — and he was dispelling the notion that [Jinping] is an authoritarian dictator. Do you think that this should be a bipartisan issue? For example, last night at the Democratic debates — it wasn’t talked about. There wasn’t a single question on China, yet they were talking about Russia. How do we move forward in a bipartisan way to combat China? (RELATED: No China Questions? Warren The Frontrunner? Running Down The Lowlights From The CNN-NYT Debate)
Gingrich: Look, I think the Chinese have very intelligently used their economic power to basically hamstring — if one of the networks were to do a candid report on China, they would no longer have an office in Beijing. A number of people have become billionaires in dealing with China, therefore [they] will always defend China. I mean, Bloomberg the other day gave this very strange interview in which he said it’s really not a dictatorship. Well, you have to ask yourself — where is he coming from? Why would a man who is that smart and that rich be confused about the nature of the Chinese dictatorship? But he was there, in the paper, actively defending that Xi Jinping as not a dictator because after all the estimation is that the Chinese people are happy. Well, that’s nonsense. Their model is that, ‘If you’re not happy, we’ll lock you up.’
TheDC: So, thinking of all this, what prompted you to write this book? Was there a single moment where you realized that something needed to be said?
Gingrich: I think the subtitle [“Facing America’s Greatest Threat”] is the reason why I decided. I’ve written many, many books. I think this is the most important book I have written and maybe ever will write. Because the more I look into it — I’ve been looking at China since about 1960. But the more I look into it and reviewed everything over the last couple of years, the more I realized how wrong I was, but also how dramatically we have failed to understand what this competition was going to be like. And so, I decided that a solid, very serious book — and this is a book, we can go chapter by chapter. I think most people will learn something in every single chapter. I was one of those who thought that there was a real chance that as [China] got wealthier, that they would also gradually emerge as a more open and more democratic society. And it’s very clear now that the contract they have is that the wealth enables them to strengthen the dictatorship. It doesn’t lead to a free society. It leads to a richer and more powerful dictatorship.
TheDC: And I’ve heard some people say that for the longest time we thought that free trade would export this idea of democracy to other countries, and that actually, in some ways, we are now importing authoritarianism. What do you have to say to that? (RELATED: YouTube’s PewDiePie Banned In China)
Gingrich: I think you said it perfectly. In fact, I think I’m gonna steal it from you [chuckles]. I think that’s exactly right — instead of exporting democracy, we were importing authoritarianism. This recent NBA thing is almost a perfect example of that. If we don’t draw some lines and think this stuff through, we are going to have extraordinarily difficult problems. They are gaining power and they are gaining sophistication. They have an organized purpose, whereas we are — as a free society — we have all of the challenges of free societies. It takes us a while to get mobilized, and part of it starts with the conversation you and I are having — to get people to look at it. To think about it … what the truth is.
By the way, I take some of the blame. I was one of the guys who thought that if we allowed [China] to join the World Trade Organization, that it would teach them how to operate inside a rules-based structure, and of course all it did was give them huge economic advantages, and they promptly broke all the rules. So, I think it’s very telling how different they are than they expected them to be.
TheDC: Republicans have run on this idea of “free trade,” for a long time — how do you think that Republicans reconcile that idea of “free trade” with the kind of negative effects it brings on rural and industrial America that we’ve seen in the past 30 years?
Gingrich: Well, I think that we have to recognize that free trade doesn’t exist in China. It’s one thing to have some — if I have a free trade agreement with Great Britain or Canada and it’s genuinely free — that is, I get to ship to you, you get to ship to me — but that’s not what we’re dealing within China. You have a country that engages in hundreds of billions of dollars a year in intellectual property theft, a country which routinely insists that every country which operates in China has to have members of the Communist Party on the board. That’s not free trade. That’s just an extension of authoritarian power through the economy. (RELATED: ‘Fun Times In Beijing’: Hunter Biden Received $700,000 From Company That Held Stake In Chinese Investment Firm)
TheDC: To shift gears just a little bit, the Russian collusion scandal has been the center of what’s been going on as I said at last night’s Democrat debate. They didn’t even mention China once, but talked a lot about Russia. Has the ‘Russiagate’ scandal hurt our ability to stay focused on the rise of China?
Gingrich: I don’t think it has much. I think if it wasn’t Russiagate, it would be something else. I think what you have is a desperate desire by the news media and most of our political elites to avoid thinking seriously about China because it’s ‘too scary’ and because the Chinese react negatively.
TheDC: China, though, is courting Russia as a potential partner, especially with the Belt and Road Initiative —
Gingrich: Well, not just that, but their military alliance —
Gingrich: — I am doing a podcast on the Chinese-Russian alliance. I now do a podcast every Sunday for free, and I am doing three in a row on China, and one of them is on the Chinese-Russian alliance. They are running joint air patrols, they are doing all sorts of things. They recently had a huge exercise together. I think people need to understand that Xi Jinping has said that he regards Putin as his closest friend on the international stage, and has met with him I think 30 some times.
TheDC: What do you think the answer is to that for us? Do we want to be working —
Gingrich: Look, I have very specific proposals at the government level, starting with the idea that you have to realize this is a society-on-society competition — that Huawei is in many ways as important as the Chinese navy. We have to think differently than we’ve ever thought before. I think there should be a center for wargaming at a societal level, probably at the National Defense University that focuses on what the Chinese think and what the Chinese are trying to accomplish. And I think there should be a real effort undertaken to — I wish the U.S. government would publish every Friday or every Monday, but once a week — every open-source example of Chinese activities worldwide. I think people would be staggered if they understood how widespread Chinese activities were.
Newt Gingrich’s new book will be available online and at bookstores across America on Tuesday, October 22.