State Department: Covert, Coercive, and Corrupting: Countering the Chinese Communist Party’s Malign Influence in Free Societies

The following is a selection from the remarks made by David Stilwell, Assistant Secretary, Bureau of East Asian and Pacific Affairs. You can read the full transcript at the Department of State website.


Good afternoon. Thank you to the Hoover Institution, Stanford University, and the Asia Society for inviting me. Thank you to organizers Orville Schell and Larry Diamond. It is an honor to be here today with former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice.  

Our topic today is how the Chinese Communist Party challenges the free and open nature of democratic societies. The prosperity, liberty, and security of the American people, and of our friends around the world, hinges on how we meet this challenge.  

To succeed, effort is required not just by policymakers and national-security professionals, but by all elements of society – and not just in America but around the world.  

A major, worldwide defensive enterprise of this kind is a difficult but noble undertaking. Its foundation is a common threat assessment that the Chinese Communist Party is highly capable, ambitious, and hostile to our basic political principles: democracy, openness, and individual dignity.  

It is important, first of all, that we recognize this challenge. It is also necessary that we give it the priority it deserves, despite the many other pressing matters that inevitably demand attention.   

The Trump Administration’s 2017 National Security Strategy centered on the observation that we are in “a geopolitical competition between free and repressive visions of world order.” Secretary Pompeo says that China is the first challenge he thinks about every day.  

The Chinese Communist Party’s strategy implicates private as well as governmental targets around the world. That is why it is important for all institutions in our society – private and governmental – to understand that strategy and adopt measures to manage risk, counter coercion, and protect free expression. 

The Hoover Institution has been exemplary in this area, including through its 2018 report on “China’s Influence and American Interests: Promoting Constructive Vigilance.”  

I will emphasize three points today.  

First: Influence and interference operations are fundamental to how the Chinese Communist Party engages with the world – with all of us. We might prefer to think of China as simply a trade partner or the home of a great civilization. But the Chinese Communist Party today has taken an adversarial stance toward its neighbors, the United States, and much of the rest of the world. Its goals are not stability or a live-and-let-live respect for the sovereignty of other law-abiding nations. Its strategy is aggressive and intrusive. It not only rejects our democratic political principles but sees them as a prime vulnerability to exploit. China’s role in the world today cannot be understood without reference to the wide array of malign activities that the Chinese Communist Party undertakes to influence our societies in ways that are covert, coercive, and corrupting. 

Second: The principle of reciprocity is vital to understanding the problem and countering it. Reciprocity is basic in international relations. You send your diplomats to my country and I send my diplomats to your country under the same rules; I open my market to your exports, you open your market to mine. Yet for decades we and other countries made exceptions for Beijing. We allowed the Chinese Communist Party to engage with our societies on non-reciprocal terms — and Beijing exploited the imbalance. Now, our insistence on reciprocity is overdue self-defense. 

Third: Coordination among allies and partners is imperative. This problem is global. In many ways we and others around the world are still only waking up to it. We benefit from sharing information and ideas. Beijing prefers to exploit its size against individual countries bilaterally. It is often only by acting in concert that other countries can shift the calculus in favor of reciprocity, transparency, and freedom. And so we must.

Read the full transcript on the U.S. Department of State website.

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