For decades, conventional wisdom held that it was only a matter of time before China would become more liberal, first economically and, then, politically. The more we opened our markets to China, the thinking went, the more we invested capital in China, the more we trained PRC bureaucrats, scientists, engineers, and even military officers, the more China would become like us.
Prior to Donald J. Trump taking office, it was under this premise that we welcomed China into the World Trade Organization (WTO) in 2001 with vast concessions, overlooked gross human rights abuses and turned a blind eye to widespread technology theft. As China grew richer and stronger, we believed, the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) would liberalize to meet the rising aspirations of its people.
We could not have been more wrong — and this miscalculation is the greatest failure of American foreign policy since the 1930s. How did we make such a mistake? We did so by ignoring the Chinese Communist Party’s ideology. Instead of listening to their leaders and reading their key documents, we believed what we wanted to believe — that they were Communist in name only.
Let us be clear: The Chinese Communist Party is a self-proclaimed Marxist-Leninist organization. The Party General Secretary Xi Jinping sees himself as Josef Stalin’s successor. In fact, as journalist and former Australian government official John Garnaut has noted, the Chinese Communist Party is the last “ruling communist party that never split with Stalin, with the partial exception of North Korea.”
Under Marxist-Leninism, individuals do not have inherent value. People are merely a tool to achieve the ends of the nation state. These ideas may sound remote, but they are as fundamental to the Chinese Communist Party as the Bill of Rights is to Americans.
China is not a workers’ paradise. Xi Jinping’s Marxist-Leninism is a totalitarian ideology, which holds that all important aspects of life should be controlled by the Party, especially ideology. Beijing’s efforts to dominate political thought are stated openly and pursued aggressively. The Party is obsessed with ‘ideological security’ and issued a policy in 2013 stating that there should be “absolutely no opportunity or outlets for incorrect thinking or viewpoints to spread.”
Within China, this policy means mandatory study sessions on Communist ideology and the required use of smartphone apps teaching so-called “Xi Jinping Thought.” It also means complete Party control of media and heavy censorship. Outside sources of information are banned — from foreign newspapers to Twitter, Facebook and WhatsApp.
The Chinese Communist Party reinterprets religious texts, including the Bible, to support Party ideology. It locks up millions of Muslim Uyghurs and other minorities in re-education camps where they are subjected to political indoctrination and forced labor. If you express views contrary to the Party line, you are jailed.
Americans should be concerned — Mr. Xi’s ambitions for ideological control are not limited to his own people. Efforts to control information and expression globally are well under way. Nearly every Chinese language news outlet in the U.S. is controlled by the Party. Americans hear pro-Beijing propaganda on more than a dozen FM radio stations. Twitter has removed more than 170,000 CCP-linked accounts since August for spreading propaganda.
In addition to influencing the information Americans receive regarding China, the Chinese Communist Party is increasingly using its leverage to control American speech. For example, when the general manager of the Houston Rockets tweeted his support for peaceful Hong Kong protesters, the CCP announced its team’s games would not be shown on Chinese TV. The Party used its economic power to pressure others in basketball, including star players, to criticize the tweet on behalf of Beijing.
In other instances, under pressure from the CCP, American, Delta and United Airlines removed references to Taiwan from their websites. Mercedes Benz apologized for posting an inspirational quote from the Dalai Lama. In post-production, MGM digitally changed the invading military from China to North Korea in the “Red Dawn” remake.
The Chinese Communist Party is also gathering data on individual Americans — your words, purchases, whereabouts, health records, posts, texts and social network. It collects your data through “backdoors” built into products that Chinese businesses such as Huawei and ZTE sell around the world — and they steal it.
In 2014, the Chinese hacked Anthem Health Insurance; in 2015, the Office of Personnel Management, which holds security clearance information; in 2017, Equifax; and in 2019, Marriot Hotels. In these instances alone, China gathered key information on more than 300 million Americans, to include names, birth dates, Social Security numbers, credit scores, health records and passport numbers.
In 2016, a Chinese company even bought the dating app Grindr to harvest its data, including the HIV status of users, before the U.S. forced a divestiture on national security grounds.
How will the Chinese Communist Party use this data you might ask? The same way it uses data within China’s borders: to target, influence, coerce and even blackmail you to say and do things that serve the Party’s interests.
The good news is that America has finally awoken to the threat. President Trump is taking decisive action to counter it. These actions include preventing companies that answer to the CCP’s intelligence and security apparatus — to include Huawei — from accessing your data; requiring propaganda outlets to label themselves as such; imposing export and visa restrictions on entities and people complicit in repression; limiting the People’s Liberation Army’s ability to use student visa programs to steal U.S. technology; and restricting federal employee pension plans from investing in Chinese military and intelligence companies, among others.
Under Mr. Trump, the days of American passivity and naivety regarding China and its Communist rulers are over. Mr. Trump understands that lasting peace comes through strength. We are the strongest nation on Earth, and we will not bend. We will speak out, we will fight back and, above all, we will stay true to our principles — especially freedom of speech. These ideas stand in stark contrast to the Marxist-Leninist ideology embraced by the Chinese Communist Party.
• Robert O’Brien is the assistant to the president for national security affairs.