Miles Yu, who witnessed the devastation of Mao’s Cultural Revolution as a boy growing up in China, has now emerged as one of Secretary of State Mike Pompeo’s most influential advisers on U.S.-Sino relations. Below are excerpts of an interview Washington Times correspondent Bill Gertz recently conducted with Mr. Yu, now a senior member of the policy planning staff in Mr. Pompeo’s office.:
TWT: Tell me about your background. Where were you born and what was it like growing up during the Cultural Revolution?
Miles Yu: I was born in an obscure small place in eastern China’s Anhui province but grew up in the Chongqing area in southwestern China. My primary and middle school years were during the Cultural Revolution. Although I was too young to actively take part in the political madness, my childhood innocence was brutally upended by the communist revolution’s violence, absurdity, ideological shriek, destruction of social trust and public mores, and utter hatred for anything Western or “bourgeois”. These childhood experiences and memories have forged my elemental distaste for revolutionary radicalism and my deep disdain for Western apologists for the Chinese communist government and its many crimes.
TWT: What role did the Tiananmen pro-democracy protests and subsequent massacre play in your life?
Yu: If Ronald Reagan inspired me to come to America, Tiananmen rekindled my hope for freedom and democracy for China. Tiananmen turned me from a nerdy graduate student into a vocal supporter for Tiananmen protesters.
The biggest thing I did after Tiananmen was for nearly four years, I hosted a lecture series at Berkeley called the China Forum where I gave voices to Chinese dissidents such as Harry Wu, Wuer Kaixi, Liu Binyan and Fang Lizhi, and provided a public forum for marginalized American scholars to show their vindication on the CCP regime’s nature, and for many mainstream scholars and officials to deliver their mea culpa, offer analysis and re-evaluation of the China situation. Other speakers included Ambassador James Lilley, Orville Schell, Thomas Metzger, Tu Weiming, Frederic Wakeman, Jr., Bette Bao Lord, and Martin Malia. We printed the English transcript of these talks and the subscribers came from all over the country.
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TWT: Tell me about your work as a Naval Academy professor. What are some of the highlights of teaching Naval Academy students?
Yu: I have been a professor of modern China and military history at the Naval Academy since 1994, straight from Berkeley. It’s both an honor and a privilege to be able to teach the defenders of American liberty and democracy. It completely fulfills my intellectual aspiration inspired by Ronald Reagan back in the early 1980s. All these years, when I walk into a classroom, I see not only college students eager to get a good education, but also the faces of midshipmen who voluntarily pledge their lives to make sure American democracy will not die. That means a tremendous amount to me, especially in this cynical age of ours when the fundamental goodness of the American system has even to be questioned by many among ourselves. Having grown up in communist China and now living my American dream, I think the world should be incalculably grateful to America, because, as Reagan said, America represents “the last best hope of man on Earth.” I truly believe that.
TWT: As a China expert, what are some of the shortcomings of past U.S. policies toward the PRC?
Yu: There have been some successes for the U.S. in dealing with China and a great number of Americans have dedicated to improving the bilateral relations. Yet until very recently, U.S.-China policy had been dominated by what I’d call the “missionary sentiment” toward China and the Chinese people. Under such a conceptual frame, China needs America’s altruistic help to step into the modern world, make it a responsible stakeholder, teach it how to behave in a civilized world.
And we believed that. America’s founding creed is “all men are created equal,” and if we provide China the chances — get them into the [World Trade Organization], open up our markets, science labs and weapons depots, etc. — China will surely begin behaving just like us, following the rules and respecting intellectual property rights. Implicit in this approach is that the Chinese communists are not really communists. They are pre-industrial and incapable of carrying out a grand communist experiment guided by modern Western radical ideology, with its roots in Germany and Russia.
So this kind of missionary sentiment effectively ruined our China policy during World War II, when a group of China-born young men of American missionary parents dominated our China policy ethos, which was carried on for many decades at the State Department and other U.S. government agencies, even long after the Nixon’s trip to China in 1972.
With such mentality, the U.S. made monumental blunders — related to the outbreak of the Korean War, the ideological roots of the Soviet-Chinese split over the purity of Marxism-Leninism (not Soviet communism vs. Chinese nationalism). There are more reasons, but I won’t get into detail for sake of time and space.
TWT: What has President Trump brought to China policy? How as Pompeo developed and implemented new policies toward the PRC?
Yu: Recently I attended an event and heard a former senior official from a previous administration who ran our China policy state that the Trump administration has no China policy, only a China attitude. He was completely oblivious to the fact that China policy under his shop didn’t have [a policy] either. We not only have the right policy but also the right attitude toward China based on principled realism.
Under the Trump administration and with Secretary Pompeo at the helm in the State Department, we don’t just “manage” the bilateral relations with China, we innovate and seek results and modify some basic precepts of the relationship that are dinosaurs not reflective of reality. President Trump and Secretary Pompeo ended the long-practiced “anger management-based” China policy model — formulating our policy by calculating how not to make China sufficiently angry at us to save the constantly strained relationship — that had become a vicious cycle whereby the [Chinese Communist Party] essentially dictated much of our China policy and initiatives. President Trump came along and cut out the mumbo-jumbo.
The result is that the U.S. has extracted far more concessions from China and regained our China policy initiative in such a way that we now dictate the terms of bilateral discourse based upon results, transparency, reciprocity and most importantly, our national interest and founding principles.
The Trump administration started big and decisively, because we not only want to do things right, but also make sure we are doing the right things. We changed some of the conceptual foundations. At the outset of this administration, the White House revamped our strategic outlook and the president issued a landmark and far-reaching National Security Strategy in December 2017. Subsequently, the Pentagon issued the companion document known as the National Defense Strategy. Both documents ushered in an age of Great Power Competition in which China no longer will be treated by the U.S. as merely a “card” to be played in order to reach other strategic goals. Instead, China is at the top of our national security agenda, as there is no bigger threat than China and no other more important strategic goal than stemming China’s threat to the world.
All in all, I would say the Trump administration is the only American administration in nearly seven decades that effectively holds the [Chinese] government accountable for its malign actions in a meaningful way, whether they are related to Xinjiang, Hong Kong, predatory trade and currency manipulations, industrial, military and cyber espionage against the U.S.
We also began to robustly, without apology, uphold rules and laws governing the international commons, standing up against China’s bluffs and gaining more peace and security as a result.
The Navy, for example, has sailed American warships through the Taiwan Strait, an international waterway, more than 15 times in under two years despite China’s warnings, a feat unimaginable under any previous administration since Nixon. This act alone essentially internationalizes the waterway vital to Taiwan’s defense. American leadership in the Taiwan Strait [has been] followed by navies of many allies.
On a strategic level, President Trump singlehandedly changed the global dialogue on China, placing China at the top of America’s national security priority, re-orienting America’s strategic assets toward Asia-Pacific, not just with empty talk but with real commitment.
Secretary Pompeo has repeatedly stated that the challenge to the world posed by the Chinese regime is “the central threat of our times.” He made an important speech last October at the Hudson Institute in which he announced that the U.S. government could no longer ignore the political and ideological differences between China and the United States. We are not seeking confrontation — we are interacting with China based upon what China is but not what we wish it to be. In that historic speech, Secretary Pompeo also clearly stated that the Chinese Communist Party today is not the same as the Chinese people.
We have fought back against China in its attempts to dominate the world’s critical communications networks through Huawei and its 5G equipment, gaining more and more support from friends and allies.
We are the only major nation that actively exposes the CCP’s wholesale cover-up of the Wuhan virus that has ravaged the world, and demanded transparency from the Chinese government. Secretary Pompeo has spoken out forcibly in support of Hong Kong’s pro-democracy protesters, condemned in the strongest possible terms against the [China’s] racist atrocities against the Uighurs in Xinjiang and other places in China.
Upon Secretary Pompeo’s certification of Hong Kong’s lack of sufficient autonomy, the president ordered the termination of Hong Kong’s special treatment. Unlike previous presidents, President Trump respects the will of the American people and without much hesitation signed overwhelmingly passed congressional bills into law, including the Taiwan Travel Act, the [Asia Reassurance Initiative Act], the Hong Kong Human Rights and Democracy Act and the TAIPEI ACT.
Under Secretary Pompeo’s leadership, the State Department has also placed religious freedom and global women’s right as part of the core actions of the American diplomacy. The list goes on and on.
All in all, this administration under President Trump and Secretary Pompeo’s strong leadership has been conducting a most realistic, most active, most productive, most efficient China policy in recent memory, with strong bipartisan support, without apology, without illusion about ourselves and the CCP government. Yes there have been fewer banquets and fruitless “strategic dialogues” with the Chinese leaders, but today’s bilateral interactions are of substance and results-oriented, either on trade, reciprocal exchanges or demand on coronavirus transparency.
The new American national security agenda treats the Chinese communist government as a worthy and serious strategic competitor armed with a Marxist-Leninist ideology and a hijacked, China-centric Chinese nationalism that places China as the moral and governance leader of the world at the expense of freedom and democracy.
TWT: Recently a new Strategic Approach on China was issued by the White House and it faulted past policies for not producing the desired results. How should the United States approach China strategically?
Yu: What’s so interesting about this document is that it says we have been wrong about China for the past several decades.
Richard Nixon in 1972 said similar things about how we had been wrong about our then-China policy. Before that, in 1949, when the [Communist Party] took over China, the State Department issued a China White Paper that also said we had been wrong about China for the previous decades. This is a sad history of constantly getting China wrong. The reasons for this peculiar phenomenon are the ones I mentioned earlier.
TWT: What role does Marxism-Leninism play in China today? What do people need to know about the role of ideology by Beijing?
Yu: [Chinese President] Xi Jinping is a diehard Communist who believes in the ideology.
In 1954, Mao Zedong laid out what has been considered the foundational creed and motto for the communist nation: “The essential force that leads our cause is the Chinese Communist Party; the theoretical foundation that guides out thinking is Marxism-Leninism.”
That fundamental CCP governance philosophy has not changed a bit in today’s China. Anyone in today’s China who openly challenges this precept will end up in jail or worse. For many Americans, especially, and sadly, for many key U.S. policy makers who have spent a career on China affairs, this is completely unknown to them.
In Ralph Ellison’s “the Invisible Man,” the black protagonist in the book lamented his problem, “It’s not that I am invisible, it is that you refuse to see me.”
This remains also true in the China field — It is not that the CCP is not ideologically driven, it is that we refuse to see it that way.
Without understanding the deeply ideological impulses of PRC domestic and international policies, we cannot grip how the communist theories such as epic struggle between the socialist and capitalist systems, the Leninist “weakest link,” Mao Zedong’s “Continuous Revolution” and other Marxist-Leninist dogmas dominate the CCP’s strategic calculations. Look at today’s CCP’s initiatives: the Belt and Road Initiative gambit, its ruthless war against organized religions of all kinds, its crusade against the American “Black Hand” forces in Hong Kong’s protests, and its Leninist approach that can be seen in the latest Hong Kong national security law abomination — all have their Marxist-Leninist theoretical justifications.
Even fighting the coronavirus is viewed as a manifestation of the CCP’s glory and communist invincibility — the day after Xi Jinping convened a Politburo emergency meeting on the Wuhan outbreak, the CCP general secretary called for the party members’ sacrifice in fighting the outbreak, and instructed, ” The advanced nature and purity of a Marxist party will not persist naturally with the passage of time. … Every party member must constantly purify his thoughts, rid of spiritual virus and pollution through ceaseless self-inspection, self-analysis, and self-reflection.” That was on January 8, 2020, at the peak of the Wuhan outbreak.