“I see the Chinese government’s effort to outmaneuver the U.S. technologically as one of the most alarming threats we face,” said Senator Mark Warner (D-VA) at a Brookings event on the implications of China’s growing global role for American foreign policy and national security. The event launched a new Foreign Policy at Brookings initiative, “Global China: Assessing China’s Growing Role in the World.” Sen. Warner, whose congressional roles include vice chair of the Select Committee on Intelligence, called the project an “absolutely critical new initiative on China.”
After remarks, Sen. Warner participated in a dialogue with Ambassador Victoria Nuland, a Brookings nonresident senior fellow and former assistant secretary of state for European and Eurasian affairs during the Obama administration. Highlights of the senator’s remarks are below. Visit the event’s web page for full video.
China’s whole of society strategy
Senator Warner argued how China, and specifically the Chinese Communist Party, can force Chinese companies and researchers to act on behalf of China’s national interest, and is using “unorthodox deployment of espionage to steal military-industrial secrets.”
“I believe,” he said, “under President Xi a newly assertive China is pursuing a sophisticated whole of society strategy that exploits all elements of state power to strengthen China’s position in the world at the same time with a conscious effort to diminish America’s influence in the world.”
Sen. Warner described laws in 2015 and 2016 that compel all Chinese citizens and companies to support China’s national security, the Chinese government, and China’s Communist Party.
All of this has set the stage for China to aggressively deploy every level of power in service to the state and at the same time exploit the openness of our society and other western societies to gain geopolitical and economic advantage. “All of this has set the stage,” he added, “for China to aggressively deploy every level of power in service to the state and at the same time exploit the openness of our society and other western societies to gain geopolitical and economic advantage.”
“We are facing another Sputnik moment”
Sen. Warner compared today’s competitive technology landscape to the time when the Soviet Union gained distance on the U.S. in the space race by launching the first earth satellite—Sputnik. “In a world that moves at internet speed,” he warned, “we can’t wait until we have all the answers to wake up to this challenge. … China has a plan” in areas including 5G, artificial intelligence, and biotechnology, and “President Xi is not playing for second place.”
China is leading on 5G, Internet of Things
Sen. Warner described specific technology and business cases where China’s aggressive pursuit of technology and rules leadership leaves the United States and its allies in a vulnerable position. “We don’t fully appreciate what will happen if we end up with a world dominated by Huawei and ZTE equipment and standards that are driven by China alone,” he said. “That has enormous national security implication that I don’t think we’ve fully thought through.”
He also focused on 5G, which among other applications powers the “internet of things,” devices that are becoming ubiquitous in homes, cars, offices, and elsewhere.
“The truth is,” Sen. Warner asserted, “China isn’t shy about employing aggressive and sometimes underhanded techniques to further … their advantage over the United States.”
The senator also discussed issues ranging from Chinese students in the U.S. who are being forced to return to China with their intellectual property, to China’s expanding social control systems (which are also being exported globally), to China’s economic espionage and IP theft.
Among other recommendations, Sen. Warner said that “we need to make sure we can take steps to protect our technologies and preserve American leadership over the next few years.”
After the senator delivered his remarks, Amb. Nuland began discussion by inquiring whether tensions over China’s growing role in the global system stemmed from great power competition or fundamental ideological differences. While hesitant to characterize it as an “East-West free enterprise struggle,” Sen. Warner characterized the notion that Chinese tech companies and businesses are subject to CCP’s control and rule, as opposed to shareholders, as “deeply concerning.”
In response to a question from Amb. Nuland concerning the resurgence of geopolitical rivalry, Sen. Warner stated he believes it to be a “manageable conflict,” in part due to the depth of economic integration. However, the United States, in Sen. Warner’s view, must adapt to the reality that significant developments in education, science, innovation, and technology are no longer guaranteed to be Western-driven. While for “most of our live times, Americans would have set those standards” today’s technological competition “will take a level of reckoning” with which the Senator believed we have yet to fully grapple.
Sen. Warner concluded by restating the need for America to reassert world leadership, and to avoid losing the long-term challenge in IP and tech for short-term win.