On Wednesday, just moments after Joe Biden took office, China’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs sanctioned 28 members of the outgoing administration, including Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, National Security Adviser Robert O’Brien, and UN Ambassador Kelly Craft.
According to Chinese state media, these Trump officials were guilty of ‘crazy moves which gravely interfered in China’s internal affairs.’ Those ‘crazy’ moves include, presumably, condemning the Chinese Communist Party’s genocidal campaign against religious minorities in Xinjiang province, or its atheistic crackdown on Chinese Christians.
In addition to ‘interfering,’ these officials allegedly ‘offend[ed] the Chinese people’ and ‘seriously disrupted U.S.-China relations.’ I guess that refers to some, such as Secretary of Health and Human Services Alex Azar, who traveled to Taiwan.
Under the new sanctions, these officials are now barred from entering China. But more important—and more ominous—institutions associated with them are also restricted from doing business with China.
Now, it’s tempting to laugh off these sanctions, as I did last summer when China sanctioned me. You know, you won’t have a second honey moon in Wuhan, or you’ll have to vacation in a non-genocidal country. But these sanctions are no laughing matter. They’re not bluster. They’re another step in China’s long-term campaign to coerce Americans at every level of government and business. They are a direct attack on the independence of U.S. policy toward China, and an attempt to blackmail the Biden administration with personal financial ruin in the future if they dare to stand up to the Chinese Communist Party. Some may start to think about the potential damage to their future, and they may start to sweat a little bit.
Now, you may say, ‘good, I’m glad that former government officials can’t cash in on their service and go to influence peddling firms like West Exec or Albright Stonebridge, and sell access to the Chinese.’ I might even agree with that point.
But consider a few other hypotheticals.
The Chinese state media singled out book publishers as just one example of who could pay the price.
Many public officials like to write memoirs, and these memoirs often add a lot to our understanding of current events. But Chinese state media singled out book publishers as an example of companies that would be banned from China if they associated with sanctioned individuals. And, in fact, China has already used American books as pawns in the trade war with the United States. So, will major publishing houses really risk losing access to the Chinese market for all their other titles to strike a book deal with, say, a former Biden cabinet official who was tough on China and ended up getting sanctioned? It’s unclear, but I would say doubtful.
Other public officials practice at big law firms, and I know that we all make jokes about lawyers, but it’s an honorable profession. And there’s nothing wrong with practicing at a big law firm, and they may plan to return to their firms after the administration is over. A lot of those law firms have clients with close ties to China. And even if a former public official has no client with any business in China, will those law firms really take back their old employees if it means potentially losing valuable clients who are afraid of angering the Chinese Communist Party? Again, I’d say it’s unclear, but perhaps doubtful.
Once you consider these hypotheticals and others that don’t involve influence peddling or anything untoward, you can begin to see the insidious consequences of these new sanctions. Beijing wants to scare the Biden administration into doing its bidding—and they want to scare U.S. businesses into blacklisting any official who irritates the Chinese Communist Party.
Therefore, I call on the Biden administration to treat these sanctions as a day-one assault on the independence of its foreign policy, by denouncing this intimidation in the strongest possible terms.
But as the Chinese Communist Party is determined to prove, actions speak louder than words.
So, I also call upon President Biden to act reciprocally by sanctioning Chinese officials who are responsible for this blackmail campaign against his administration. Those officials shouldn't be able to ferret away their fortunes in the U.S. banking system the way so many corrupt Chinese oligarchs do, nor should their princeling children get degrees from our top universities or internships at prestigious Washington think tanks.
President Biden should also refuse to nominate for senior positions individuals who are professionally or financially entangled with China who could be compromised by the mere threat of sanctions.
Finally, President Biden should determine whether Chinese Ambassador Cui Tiankai was involved in these sanctions. And if so, he should be expelled immediately for this egregious effort to subvert American foreign policy.
And that’s just for the short-term.
America must also begin to disentangle our economy from China, to decouple our economies. The Chinese Communist Party’s sanctions only pose a threat because American society is so deeply compromised by Chinese influence.
American corporations, the big banks, think tanks, universities, film studios, even our sports leagues—even Lebron James—are all addicted to Chinese cash. They're all part of a new China lobby that's deeply invested in the status quo and thus hostile to any efforts to redefine U.S.-China relations in America's interest. This lobby makes their money in China. They make their products in China. They've made their bed in China. And now, they are all vulnerable to pressure from the Chinese government.
America hasn't been in a bind since our earliest days when our young republic was encircled by hostile imperial powers. Even during the Cold War, America had few entanglements of the sort we face today. The U.S. had very little trade with the Russians. We competed in separate lanes like runners in a race.
The New Cold War with China isn't so orderly. Communist China is wealthier and has more people than did Soviet Russia and our economies have become deeply entangled. These new sanctions are just the latest example of how that entanglement threatens our security and prosperity.
Here's how the United States can beat China in this strategic competition.
First, the United States should impose restrictions on inbound and outbound investment with China. Wall Street has financed China's industrial and technological development for more than four decades and has become compromised for the bargain. That has to end.
Second, the United States should move supply chains for critical goods such as semiconductors and pharmaceuticals out of China and back to American soil.
China today may be the so-called factory of the world, but it was corporate America with its army of bankers, lawyers, and consultants who built that factory. That's got to end as well.
Third, the United States must restrict the flow of knowledge and advanced technology between our country and China. American colleges, universities and research laboratories are the finest in the world, but they allow Chinese nationals to participate even in cutting edge research with military applications. And this research has an alarming tendency to end up in China in the weapons fielded by the People’s Liberation Army against our own troops. That information pipeline needs to be shut off—and many of those Chinese nationals need to go.
None of these steps will be easy, but the Chinese Communist Party’s punitive sanctions against Trump administration officials, and its blackmail campaign against Biden administration officials, demonstrate that decoupling our economies is both necessary and urgent.
The Communists in Beijing have lulled too many Americans into complacency and dependency over the course of many years. They now intend to blackmail even our government into inaction. So, our intention must be different.
The United States must break free of Chinese Communists’ suffocating grasp, fight back, and win.