The top Republican on the Senate Intelligence Committee said the Chinese Communist Party overwhelmingly remains the top long-term threat to the United States and that the Biden administration needs to bring back the China Initiative to defeat it.
Sen. Marco Rubio delivered a speech at the Heritage Foundation on “Putin’s War and the Threat from Communist China” on Tuesday, in which he said the U.S. broadly needs to do four things to counter the China challenge successfully: pursue domestic unity, implement a revitalized industrial policy, empower Western allies, and ensure a strong counterespionage effort. One key to the final point, in the eyes of the Florida Republican, is the Biden administration reconstituting the Trump-era China Initiative that the Justice Department scrapped.
“The China Initiative that was created by President Trump, it was created to empower the Department of Justice to counter Beijing’s vast espionage campaign against American universities and industry and research centers,” Rubio said. “That was just shut down by President Biden because left-wing activists smeared it as racist and xenophobic. Of course, those are the magic words that get anything canceled or anything shut down.”
Rubio continued: “Look, we’re not going to be able to address the unprecedented threat posed by the Chinese Communist Party as long as this White House and American politicians continue to prioritize the whims, the pet causes, the speech code of progressive identity politics, putting that above our national and economic security, and our response to China isn’t just being handicapped but wokeism. It’s also being handicapped by outdated economic interests.”
The DOJ announced in February that it would pull the plug on the 2018 initiative aimed at cracking down on China’s economic espionage following a year of criticism from some fellow Democrats, hundreds of university professors, left-wing activists, and the Chinese Communist Party itself. Republican senators, led by Rubio, are urging Attorney General Merrick Garland to reconsider the DOJ’s decision to shutter it, questioning the DOJ’s newer, vaguer strategy aimed at “Nation-State Threats.”
Assistant Attorney General Matthew Olsen, who runs the DOJ’s National Security Division, said in February he decided to end the China Initiative, contending that the effort could have been perceived as racist, even though he acknowledged that China poses an “evolving, significant threat.”
“We have to empower government to counter Beijing’s infiltration,” Rubio said Monday. “Now, those are not words you often hear spoken at the Heritage Foundation by any speaker in power or government, but here’s the thing: Being a conservative is not being anti-government. It’s understanding that most of the answers to problems in life don’t come from government, but there are a few things the government has to do, like provide for the national security.”
Rubio added: “And in that vein, that’s why this China Initiative should be reinstated. If it needs improvement, let’s improve it. By all means, we should make those improvements. But we shouldn’t be letting partisan politics or all this other stuff that’s going on in our cultural warfare in our society get in the way of an issue that is vital to our national security.”
The China Initiative attempted to shine a light on the CCP’s coordinated efforts to steal research and technology from the U.S., with a particular focus on rooting out academics who concealed their ties to China.
Numerous people have been convicted through the China Initiative, including Harvard professor Charles Lieber.
The CCP has attacked the China Initiative and has seized on U.S.-based efforts by professors and activists to end it. The U.S. Heartland China Association, a pro-China business group that counted two key Biden administration picks as strategic advisers, also likened the DOJ’s China Initiative to “McCarthyism.”
Rubio also critiqued the “China bill” being considered by Congress, which many Republicans have said does not do enough to actually compete with the CCP.
“We have, right now, as we speak on the Senate floor, this so-called China bill, and it takes meaningful steps towards reinvesting in our nation’s capabilities,” the Republican said. “There are good things in that bill, but it doesn’t build sufficient safeguards to protect taxpayer-funded research and industrial investment, and it’s because of pressure from universities and industry.”
The Pentagon’s fact sheet on its 2022 National Defense Strategy listed as a top priority “defending the homeland, paced to the growing multi-domain threat posed by the People’s Republic of China.” Director of National Intelligence Avril Haines said this month that China is an “absolutely unparalleled” long-term priority for the U.S. intelligence community.
Rubio’s speech comes as China attempts to present itself as a peace mediator in Russia’s war against Ukraine while amplifying Kremlin narratives that point the finger at the U.S. while justifying the war.
“Vladimir Putin’s invasion is a shocking reminder of the cruelty and the atrocities that man is capable of in pursuit of that instinct toward conquest and ambition. And it’s the opening chapter in the return of history,” Rubio said. “But it will neither be the last chapter nor will it be the most dangerous one. For even as Putin is killing innocents and destroying cities in Eastern Europe, there is a greater challenge that awaits America and the world in the Far East.”
Rubio emphasized: “In Beijing, we have an adversary that also has a nuclear arsenal, but it also controls critical supply chains and has an influence over global markets that not even the old Soviet Union had. You know, for decades, the members of the Chinese Communist Party hid their true ambition to remake the global order and to become the world’s most powerful nation. They don’t hide it anymore.”