- The Washington Times - Sunday, February 16, 2020

Defense Secretary Mark T. Esper stressed one half of the U.S. primary adversaries highlighted in the country’s National Defense Strategy during his comments this weekend at the annual Munich National Security Conference.

“I know there has been much discussion about the challenges from Russia,” Mr. Esper told about 600 national security leaders Saturday at the Hotel Bayerische Hof. “I want to focus on the Pentagon’s top concern: the People’s Republic of China.”

Next year marks the 20th anniversary of China’s admission into the World Trade Organization, which Mr. Esper called “a decision that fundamentally altered the course of international affairs.”

The hope at the time, Mr. Esper said, was that allowing China into the WTO and similar organizations would spur the communist nation to continue on a path of economic reform and eventually political openness, transforming China into a member of the liberal world order.

But, that hasn’t been the case, he said. China has used its new economic power to ramp up internal oppression at home and a more aggressive military posture internationally.

“The Communist Party and its associated organs, including the People’s Liberation Army, are increasingly operating in theaters outside its borders, including Europe, and seeking advantage by any means, and at any cost,” Mr. Esper told the delegates.

The United States is not seeking conflict with China, Mr. Esper said, citing the nearly 18 tons of medical supplies recently sent there to help battle coronavirus along with nearly $100 million in financial assistance to countries, including China, that have been affected by the virus.

“The world is too interconnected for us not to work together to solve some of our toughest problems,” Mr. Esper said. “However, to be a responsible member of the international community, China must be transparent and respect the sovereignty, freedom and rights of all nations.”

Though initiatives such as its “Belt and Road” program, China is exerting financial and political pressure to force what Mr. Esper called “sub optimal security decisions” on other nations.

“The smaller the country, the heavier the hand of Beijing,” the defense secretary said.

While China’s economic growth over the years has been remarkable, it was powered by theft and exploitation of free market economies and universities, Mr. Esper said.

“American and European institutions and corporations face the brunt of these malign activities and we have seen a multitude of examples where our economies and companies have suffered as a result,” he said. “Huawei and 5G are today’s poster child for this nefarious activity.”

He warned that other nations’ reliance on Chinese 5G vendors could render their computer networks vulnerable to espionage or other disruptions. Such a move could put international security agreements at risk.

It could “jeopardize our communication and intelligence sharing capabilities and by extension, our alliances,” Mr. Esper said.

The U.S. is encouraging domestic and allied country tech companies to develop alternative 5G solutions. The Defense Department is now working with them at U.S. military bases to test the technologies, Mr. Esper said.

“We asking our friends to clearly choose a global system that supports democracy, protects human rights and safeguards our greatest asymmetric advantages — our values, our shared interests and our unmatched network of alliances and partnerships,” Mr. Esper told the other security delegates.

“We feel that the choice is clear,” he said.

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