- - Monday, April 5, 2021

U.S.-China relations are growing more contentious by the day.

At the tail end of March, China signed a 25-year “strategic partnership” with Iran that will undermine U.S.-imposed sanctions. Shortly before that, U.S. and Chinese officials sparred in front of television cameras when meeting in Alaska for the first time during the Biden era.

If you thought tensions would cool as power shifted in Washington, you would be sorely mistaken.

President Biden has talked a good game around Chinese threats abroad. The administration expressed support for those in Hong Kong standing up against the tyrannical government; given lip service to Taiwan; and recently condemned human rights abuses in the Xinjiang province as “genocide and crimes against humanity.” But short of launching an armed conflict, which I’m not suggesting we do, the U.S. has little effective control in these arenas.

While Mr. Biden gives China an oratorical slap on the wrist for their overseas infractions, his attitude toward the threat they pose domestically is concerning and confused at best. Mr. Biden has taken concrete steps to welcome foreign intrusion within our borders.



Mr, Biden nixed a Trump-era proposal that would have mandated American schools to disclose financial relationships with the Chinese government. The Chinese Communist Party (CCP) has been building a propaganda machine on the back of the American education system. Through the establishment of hundreds of so-called Confucius Institutes or Confucius Classrooms at major American universities and public grade and secondary schools, the CCP has been able to disseminate China-friendly doctrine among our youth.

Perhaps they borrowed the idea from American progressives who have already successfully hijacked large parts of higher learning to create the militant “wokeness” we are now experiencing. It’s a case study of how effective molding young minds can be.

Mr. Biden himself has been caught up in the Chinese pipeline of influence into colleges. In 2018, the Biden Center for Diplomacy and Global Engagement was established at the University of Pennsylvania. During the three-year period around that time, the school took in $61 million in gifts and contracts from China. Tony Blinken, the current secretary of State, managed the Center and oversaw these foreign donations. At the same time, Mr. Biden earned nearly $1 million from the school, despite appearing on campus for just a handful of events and speeches.

CCP money is also flooding into U.S. spin shops to influence domestic policy and public opinion more broadly. Data collected through the Foreign Agents Registration Act reveals Chinese-controlled groups invested $60 million to this end last year alone. That spending is only the tip of the iceberg. Chinese companies — including the app TikTok and holding company Tencent, which is making inroads into the Western world through popular video games like League of Legends — are exerting soft power by collecting personal data on millions of Americans accessible by Beijing. 

The White House has also shelved the forced sale of TikTok to American businesses, and delayed a Trump-era rule that prohibits U.S. investment in companies controlled by the Chinese military. The move to protect investment houses, pension funds and others, which was set to take effect at the end of January, needs a “complex review,” according to the Biden administration.

Even Congress acknowledges the threat posed to investors. Passed with bipartisan support in 2020, a new law requires foreign companies to abide by SEC disclosure rules as a prerequisite to being traded on any U.S. stock exchange. Six months ago, there were 217 China-controlled companies with a total market cap of $2.2 trillion on American stock exchanges that were generally non-compliant.

Curiously, Mr. Biden also suspended a Trump executive order to shield the critically important U.S. electrical grid from foreign attack. The rule empowered the Energy secretary to block the acquisition and installation of power equipment manufactured in China. It was a tool wielded to “reduce the risks that entities associated with the People’s Republic of China pose to the nation’s bulk-power system.”

Using the threat of military might in conjunction with tough talk is a strategy the U.S. successfully deployed for decades. But China isn’t Grenada. We aren’t about to back up the tough talk with actions beyond tariffs. China’s incursions into our country that go beyond a balanced international order cry out to be addressed. If not now, when? And if not, why not?

• Richard Berman is president of Berman and Co. in Washington, D.C.

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