Florida Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) warned that the greatest threat to U.S. national security isn’t Russia, Iran or North Korea but China, and that the People’s Republic wants to undermine and replace the international order established by western powers in the aftermath of the Second World War.
“The Chinese government’s political influence operations erode democratic institutions and values,” Rubio said in a speech at the Capitol Hill National Security Forum at the U.S. Capitol on Thursday. “I truly believe that it’s no exaggeration to say that we are in a defining moment for our country; I would say the century. How we handle our relationship with China’s increasingly repressive government and Communist Party will define what is written about the 21st century.”
The Republican defended language in the recently passed fiscal year 2019 National Defense Authorization Act imposing restrictions on Chinese telecommunications companies ZTE and Huawei for spying on the U.S., allowing for participation of U.S. forces in military exercises in the South China Sea and Indian Ocean and letting the president assign a National Security Council staffer to coordinate “a-whole-of-government response” against foreign influence campaigns targeting the United States.
“This is not a trade issue. It is a national security issue and should be viewed through that lens,” Rubio said. “The prevailing wisdom for decades has been that as China got richer with more trade, economic interconnectivity, robust culture and diplomatic exchange that not only would China move toward more political liberalization, but they would become more like us and sort of more amenable to the rule of law, the international rule of law of world trade commerce — and internally.”
“That has not been the case,” he added. “Instead, what we’re seeing is a government at home more aggressive, more authoritarian, more rich and more entrenched and increasingly assertive on the world stage.”
ZTE was hit with a denial of export privileges for making false statements and shipping American merchandise to Iran and North Korea; President Trump recently ordered the Commerce Department to make a deal with ZTE to end approximately $3 billion in penalties, spurring a group of bipartisan lawmakers including Rubio to craft the NDAA amendment.
“This is about having a proper balance between two great powers, because when relations with two great powers get unbalanced, conflict results,” Rubio said. “And they intend to arrive at that point by stealing our technology as their baseline.”
“Their plan is clear and simple — not just to displace America, but displace everybody in the world as the world’s leader in advanced manufacturing.”
In February, Rubio, a member of the Select Committee on Intelligence, questioned FBI Director Christopher Wray on the Chinese-funded Confucius Institutes, which the U.S. maintains is a breeding ground for intellectual property theft and espionage. There are more than 350,000 Chinese foreign exchange students studying at U.S. universities, and schools such as the University of Texas at Austin and Texas A&M University have left the Confucius program.
“One of the things that we’re trying to do is view China as not just a government threat, but a whole of society threat on their end, and I think it’s going to take a whole of a society response by us,” Wray testified.
Rubio said that China’s plan is not just to displace America, but the entire world as the leader in advanced manufacturing, which threatens dominance in biomedicine, diplomatic arenas, scientific spaces and commercial and industrial spaces.
“This is not about sanctions alone. This is about our national security. In recent months, there have been senior members of the U.S. intelligence community who have testified under oath… that Chinese state-directed firms like ZTE, Huawei and others pose real and quantifiable threats to the United States’ national security — not just our military bases, our telecommunication infrastructure, our sensitive research, everything,” Rubio said. “In addition to all of this, the Chinese Communist Party has pulled off the greatest illegitimate transfer of wealth in the history of mankind through the theft of American innovation and ingenuity.”