DES MOINES, Iowa — The Trump administration is building an international consensus aimed at countering increased Chinese aggression in multiple forms, according to White House National Security Adviser Robert O’Brien.
Mr. O’Brien argued in a speech Wednesday outlining the administration’s foreign policy that President Trump was the first U.S. leader to recognize the errors of “conventional wisdom” toward Beijing that touted the inevitability of political liberalization there as its economy modernized.
Instead, the U.S. and other free nations have begun “standing up against Chinese aggression in all its forms,” Mr. O’Brien told a forum at Drake University that included state and local leaders.
U.S. officials say China in recent months increased its aggressiveness toward Taiwan with large-scale military exercises and jet and bomber incursions. In the disputed South China Sea, China’s military recently fired a salvo of four missiles, including intermediate-range missiles, into the strategic waterway. Beijing says the South China Sea is part of its sovereign maritime territory.
Critics say China has jettisoned a long-standing agreement that permitted the former British colony of Hong Kong to keep its independent legal system for 50 years. Instead, Beijing has imposed a harsh national security law after large pro-democracy protests.
Mr. O’Brien said the Trump administration also has refused to accept one-sided trade policies of the past that benefited China and imposed tariffs on Chinese goods instead. The tariffs sought to compensate for coerced transfers of U.S. technology, intellectual property theft and other tactics that he said slanted the international playing field in China’s favor.
China and the U.S. signed a “phase one” trade deal in January that prohibited forcing American companies to transfer technology to China as the price of doing business, and opened China’s market to billions of dollars in U.S. agriculture and financial services, he said.
The deal also called for Beijing to purchase $40 billion to $50 billion in farm products annually for two years.
Mr. O’Brien said the administration cracked down on the Chinese Communist Party’s large-scale intelligence and security apparatus, operating through state-linked companies such as telecommunications giant Huawei Technologies, from stealing Americans’ personal and private data.
The Justice Department “is prosecuting Chinese economic espionage aggressively,” and a recent White House directive limited the People’s Liberation Army from using student visas to send agents to steal American technology and weapons-related data, he said.
Foreign investment from China that threatens American national security is now restricted, he said, and export controls have been tightened.
The president has also “placed export restrictions on Chinese government entities and companies complicit in human rights violations and abuses,” Mr. O’Brien said.
Activists say China has been engaged in human rights abuses in the western Xinjiang region, including the imprisonment of more than 1 million ethnic Uighurs in what Chinese leaders call “reeducation camps.”
Following the U.S. lead
Mr. O’Brien said democratic nations have begun following the U.S. lead in pushing back against China.
Sweden closed Chinese cultural educational centers called Confucius Institutes, which critics say Beijing uses for covert spying and influence operations. Britain joined the Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Latvia, Poland, Romania and Sweden in limiting the purchase of telecommunications equipment to trusted suppliers for use in future 5G communications networks, effectively freezing out Huawei.
Huawei equipment, which U.S. officials say Chinese intelligence can use for electronic spying, has been banned by telecommunications carriers in India, Australia, South Korea and Japan.
Mr. O’Brien praised Australia’s government for cracking down on covert Chinese influence and infiltration operations targeting the political system. Australia has taken the lead in calling for an independent investigation into the origins of COVID-19, which first emerged in Wuhan, China.
Japan is backing tougher U.S. policies by offering incentives to Japanese companies to relocated manufacturing plants from China to Japan.
“From China to Russia to Iran to extremist groups, the United States faces great challenges, but under President Trump we are rising to the occasion,” Mr. O’Brien said. “The days of leading from behind are over, and the results speak for themselves.”
“Leading from behind” was the buzz phrase used during the Obama administration. Critics say it abrogated U.S. leadership around the world on many issues.
On the administration’s new approach to foreign affairs, Mr. O’Brien said the president was elected based on his different view of how to bring peace and prosperity. The policy is called “America First” and puts the highest priority on protecting the American people — “their needs, their safety, their rights and their values,” he said.
“The president believes, as did Ronald Reagan, that ‘peace through strength’ should be the cornerstone of U.S. national security policy,” Mr. O’Brien said.
Key elements of the Trump policy are strengthening alliances; rejecting agreements or organizations that do not serve U.S. goals; abandoning treaties that are violated by other signatories; and quitting corrupt international organizations, he said.
Mr. O’Brien said the Trump policies have produced a more peaceful and prosperous world.
Among the highlights were the defeat of the Islamic State group’s caliphate; the release of more than 50 Americans held hostage or detained overseas; the replacement of the North American Free Trade Agreement with a new trade accord; and stepped-up operations that denied drug traffickers nearly $4.7 billion since March.
After the speech, Mr. O’Brien was asked about how China’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic affected U.S.-Chinese relations.
“The whole relationship has been colored by COVID,” he said. “When you look at the track record of what China did, it’s deplorable, and there’s no excuse for it. And, at some point, an accounting has to be given.”
Mr. O’Brien said the Chinese government covered up the virus outbreak in its early days, permitting travel around the world that caused the global spread of the disease.
Internally, he said, Beijing silenced doctors who tried to warn people about the virus and at one point forced a Chinese laboratory to remove a DNA sequence for the virus that could have helped virologists handle the outbreak. The Chinese also blocked international virus investigators from going to Wuhan to study the epidemic’s origins.
China’s cover-up was similar to the Soviet government’s handling of the 1986 Chernobyl nuclear disaster, he said.
“It’s pretty devastating what China has done to the world,” Mr. O’Brien said.