The White House recently received a classified report from U.S. intelligence confirming what many already suspected — China’s public reporting of COVID-19 cases and fatalities is “intentionally incomplete” and “fake.” Furthermore, with currently over 1.3 million confirmed cases of COVID-19 globally, if the Chinese government had acted 3-weeks earlier, the number of early cases world-wide could have been reduced by 95%.
While the world pays the price, staying barely one step ahead of the COVID-19 pandemic, the Chinese government focuses on a propaganda war to skirt culpability and shift blame to the U.S. for the virus’ origin.
But China’s game of manipulation and attempts to undermine the U.S. at the highest levels of government and civil society is nothing new. With over 350,000 cases today in the U.S., COVID-19 is evidence that U.S. leaders and citizens should always be watchful, holding the Chinese government firmly accountable.
Calling China “not just a federal issue,” in February, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo warned U.S. governors of China’s reach into middle America: “The Chinese Government has been methodical in the way it’s analyzed our system … assessed our vulnerabilities … decided to exploit our freedoms to gain advantage over us at the federal level, the state level, and the local level.”
Pompeo’s words came about eight months after a 2019 report by a Chinese think tank which rated the “friendliness” of U.S. governors toward Beijing. Most likely a response to the Trump administration’s stricter policies toward China, the report is a way to assess potential Chinese influence on alternate avenues of U.S. engagement, such as on state and local government. Sec. Pompeo, former director of the CIA, warned U.S. governors that China is “working you … (and) the team around you.”
Education and research are other U.S. channels vulnerable to China. The Chinese government maintains strong ties with the approximately 150 chapters of the Chinese Students and Scholars Association (CSSA) on campuses across America which collaborate with Beijing to promote a pro-Chinese agenda and oppress anti-Chinese speech on college campuses.
American taxpayer-funded research has contributed to China’s rise of global leadership during the last 20 years. China recruits top U.S. researchers and scientists through more than 200 talent recruitment plans: “to provide China with knowledge and intellectual capital in exchange for monetary gain and other benefits … all necessary for China’s economic development and military modernization.”
One top professor at Harvard is facing charges of deliberately lying to federal officials about funding from China. One hundred faculty members at Texas A&M University were found to be participants in the most prominent of China’s recruitment plans — the Thousand Talents Plan, despite the fact that only 5 out the 100 reported being involved.
What should concern Americans most is that according to a 2019 Senate report, “… the federal government’s grant-making agencies did little to prevent this from happening, nor did the FBI and other federal agencies develop a coordinated response to mitigate the threat. These failures continue to undermine the integrity of the American research enterprise and endanger our national security.” In addition, members recruited into the talent plans downloaded “sensitive” electronic research data before leaving the U.S. for China.
The Trump administration has taken prudent steps to detangle the U.S. from blatant vulnerability to the Chinese — demanding equitable trade and calling them out as perpetrators of the “worst human rights crisis of our time,” willing them to back down as they seek international domination. Sec. Pompeo says that though the U.S. should not cut all relations with China, it is clear the U.S. must be discerning: “… while there are places we can cooperate, we can’t ignore China’s actions and strategic intentions.”
U.S. governments, interests, and citizens are not exempt from China’s attempts to use, deceive, and manipulate with the ultimate goal of absolute power. The Chinese government’s initial denial, secretly quashing warnings from Chinese medical personnel, and silencing whistleblowers, contributed to at least a 5-week delay in addressing the coronavirus, fueling an exponential spread and costing the lives of thousands of people — a small price in the mind of the authoritarian government.
Being ignorant or unwitting subjects to the manipulation of predators comes with a high price to pay — a price that the world is tallying right now.
Shea Garrison, Ph.D. is vice president of international affairs at Concerned Women for America and policy fellow at George Mason University Schar School of Policy and Government. Ashley Traficant is Legislative Strategist at Concerned Women for America.