by Nick Hermosilla ’19
U.S. relations with China have been a high profile topic since early 2018, when the Trump administration imposed various sanctions on products from China. But the more important news regarding China has been its repressive policies towards its own people and its malignant influence exerted both in the U.S. and rest of the world.
In 2018, the United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC) issued a report detailing the mass detention of the Muslim ethnic minority know as Uighurs. The initial report stated that upwards of three million people are being held, with the Uighurs being forced into communist indoctrination and hard labor. While the Chinese government initially denied the existence of these camps, they have now admitted to “re-education” camps being present in China’s Uighur-majority Xinjiang province. The Chinese government has justified this as fighting terrorism, but the UNHRC stated that simple expressions of Muslim faith are enough to have some detained.
The Chinese government uses other various systems to keep their people in line with the party. Indoctrination and propaganda are common in every level of education, mass surveillance through facial recognition and DNA databases track people across the country, and censorship across all forms of media is present everywhere. And as of recently the Chinese government has enacted a social credit score system, which grades people on various aspects of life and can limit them from public services like trains or internet access.
What makes these developments in China especially concerning is their desire to export the same authoritarian ideology abroad. This is mainly through the Chinese use of propaganda. For example, the Chinese government regularly sends lists of banned topics in China to Western publishing and media companies, threatening to cut off production of their goods in Chinese factories. Topics include the Tiananmen Square Massacre, Uighur concentration camps, Chinese expansion in the South China Sea, and various pro-democracy and human rights activists. In addition to that, the Chinese government uses educational establishments like the Confucius Institutes, in order to shape perception about China and it’s Communist Party. Recently, many U.S. universities such as Indiana University and MIT have cut off collaboration with the Chinese government.
A similar aspect of Chinese malign influence across the world is the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI). China gives economically unstable countries massive loans and when they’re unable to pay, make deals for resources or land for military bases. And while it’s often described as an economic development plan, the end goal of BRI is for China to establish military bases in various countries, with Pakistan, Djibouti and Tajikistan hosting the newest bases.
China also has been recently trying to get many U.S. allies, like Australia, New Zealand, Germany, and the UK, to allow Huawei, a Chinese telecommunication company, to set up their 5G internet networks. American military and intelligence officials have raised concern over this, noting that China’s laws legally obligate Chinese companies to assist its government intelligence organizations in espionage. This could allow the Chinese government to easily collect private information about European citizens, steal classified information that the U.S. shares with its allies, and even conduct cyber attacks against European facilities. Various American officially have raised this concern, with Secretary of State Mike Pompeo threatening to cut off intelligence sharing with countries that embrace Huawei.
China also presents an espionage threat to the United States at home. Recently, a Chinese woman was arrested at President Trump’s resort, Mar-a-Lago, with various USB drives infected with malware. In addition, the Washington Post and Spectator USA reported that Cindy Yang, owner of the spa that Patriots owner Robert Kraft was arrested at, was advertising access to Trump to various Chinese government and business officials. She also has ties to the Chinese Communist Party’s propaganda department through a group that advocates for the forceful unification of China and Taiwan. In response to these revelations, the FBI has launched a counterintelligence investigation into Yang and her dealings with Chinese officials.