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Will Biden’s Nominees Confront China?

Staffers adjust U.S. and Chinese flags before the opening session of trade negotiations in Beijing, China, February 14, 2019. (Mark Schiefelbein/Pool via Reuters)
Five questions the Senate should ask the president’s senior appointees

With the nomination season for the Biden administration’s most-senior appointees underway, understanding the nominees’ views on the most significant threat to the national security of the United States and its allies — the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) — should be a significant part of the Senate’s advice and consent.

Already during the nomination hearings for the Secretary of Defense, the Secretary of the Treasury, the Secretary of State, and the Director of National Intelligence, the challenges posed by the CCP have had top billing. This is as it should be.

While national security has traditionally been treated as the domain of just a few federal departments and agencies — the Pentagon, the State Department, the intelligence community, and the National Nuclear Security Administration (a semi-autonomous component of the Department of Energy) — it’s now clear that this siloed way of thinking uniquely exposes us to the malign activities of the Chinese Communist Party.

As just one example, consider CCP activities that have placed the Department of Education at the center of national security for the first time. The Thousand Talents Program, a CCP venture, identifies academics who facilitate American innovation and brings them into contact and friendship with Beijing. And then there are the dozens of Confucius Institutes operating on college campuses across the United States, supposedly for innocuous cross-cultural contact but in reality serving as bases for CCP operations and propaganda. The fact that the Biden administration has withdrawn a rule requiring educational institutions to report any relationships with Confucius Institutes raises serious concerns about their appreciation of the role of these initiatives in the CCP’s malign influence campaign.

Similarly, the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) has always had a role in biodefense — especially during the pandemic. However, with scandals at the world famous M.D. Anderson Cancer Center and the Moffat Cancer Center related to China’s attempts to steal American medical breakthroughs, HHS, too, now has a national-security role. The Department of Justice, the Department of Commerce, NASA . . . the examples go on and on.

There is a clear bipartisan consensus for a whole-of-government effort to contest the multifaceted CCP campaign to undermine our democracy and steal our innovations. See, for example, the recent task-force report led by former George W. Bush administration official Ambassador Eric Edelman and now Biden administration Director of National Intelligence Avril Haines. Given the unprecedented breadth and scope of the threat, senators of both parties should consider the following as standard questions — essentially a litmus test — for every Biden nominee before the Senate:

FBI director Chris Wray stated that “China, as led by the Chinese Communist Party, is going to continue to try to misappropriate our ideas, influence our policymakers, manipulate our public opinion, and steal our data. They will use an all-tools and all-sectors approach — and that demands our own all-tools and all-sectors approach in response.”

Do you agree? If confirmed, what tools would you use in the response to the CCP’s tactics?

Recently, the General Secretary of the Chinese Communist Party, Xi Jinping, corresponded with the former chairman of Starbucks, Howard Schultz, asking him to help improve U.S.–China ties. Starbucks, which has 4,800 stores in China, has significant exposure to the Chinese marketplace, making it highly susceptible to the pressures of the CCP.

How will you, if confirmed, handle an approach from an American businessman who is lobbying you at the direction of the Chinese Communist Party or who is under financial pressure from the same?

There is a free, open, rule-of-law oriented, democratic Chinese republic operating as a responsible stakeholder in the world today: Taiwan. Her nearly 24 million people are ideologically aligned with the West, and the United States in particular. The United States is Taiwan’s second-largest trading partner, and Taiwan is the ninth-largest trading partner of the United States; over 400,000 American jobs depend on trade with Taiwan. Taiwan had one of the most successful responses to the coronavirus that originated in Wuhan, China.

If confirmed to your position, do you know who your counterpart in Taiwan is? Do you pledge to work closely with this counterpart, as you would with any counterpart from a democratic ally or partner country?

The People’s Republic of China has set out to systematically corrupt most, if not all, international organizations, from the World Health Organization to the International Telecommunications Union, the Food and Agriculture Organization, and the International Civil Aviation Organization. The United Nations itself reportedly works with China to maintain “slush funds” through its development programs.

Most every federal agency and department has an office for international cooperation: If confirmed, how will you work with that office to ensure you are countering the pervasive influence of the Chinese Communist Party across the international community?

Secretary Pompeo, Secretary Blinken, and then-candidate Biden have all agreed that the actions of the Chinese Communist Party in Xinjiang constitute a “genocide” against the Uyghur Muslim people.

Do you agree? And how will you, if confirmed, turn the authorities and influence of your office to honor the words “never again”? Will you attend the 2022 Olympic games in China as a member of a U.S. delegation while the CCP is committing genocide?

In 2013, shortly after seizing power, the General Secretary of the Chinese Communist Party, Xi Jinping, pledged to the Party that “capitalism is bound to die out and socialism is bound to win. This is an inevitable trend in social and historical development.”

Every nominee to come before the Senate must understand that role and the stakes involved in the contest against the CCP. The Senate must exercise its constitutional role to ensure that President Biden’s nominees understand and appreciate this threat. One thing we can all agree on: There’s no advice and consent in China.

Tim Morrison was a deputy assistant to the President for National Security for President Trump, a long-time House and Senate staffer, and is now a senior fellow at the Hudson Institute.

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