China is engaged in an “economic blitzkrieg” aimed at replacing America as the world’s leading power, Attorney General William Barr said Thursday, asserting that Washington and Beijing are locked in an ideological battle that will determine whether the democratic, free market system is replaced by a dictatorial, communist system.
In a major speech in Michigan, Mr. Barr said a slate of major American businesses are being duped as they appease China’s communist rulers in a bid to gain market access and favorable trade status with Beijing, which seeks ultimately to dominate the global market.
“The [Chinese Communist Party] rules with an iron fist over one of the great ancient civilizations of the world,” the attorney general said. “It seeks to leverage the immense power, productivity and ingenuity of the Chinese people to overthrow the rules-based international system and to make the world safe for dictatorship.
“The CCP has launched an orchestrated campaign, across all of its many tentacles in Chinese government and society, to exploit the openness of our institutions in order to destroy them,” said Mr. Barr, who called on the “free world” to develop “its own version of the whole-of-society approach” aimed at undercutting Beijing’s push for global economic control.
The speech marked the latest in a Trump administration effort to better educate Americans and the world about the growing threat posed by China and its ruling Communist Party. White House National Security Adviser Robert O’Brien and FBI Director Christopher A. Wray have given speeches highlighting other aspects of the threat, including those stemming from China’s increasingly subversive espionage operations.
Beijing’s drive for global supremacy includes “hundreds of billions” of dollars in state funding for a technology program called Made in China 2025 that seeks Chinese domination of high-tech industries, and the Belt and Road Initiative, which is central to Beijing’s state-led mercantilism and expansionism. “It is clear that [China] seeks not merely to join the ranks of other advanced industrial economies, but to replace them altogether,” Mr. Barr said Thursday.
“To tilt the playing field to its advantage, China’s communist government has perfected a wide array of predatory and often unlawful tactics: currency manipulation, tariffs, quotas, state-led strategic investment and acquisitions, theft and forced transfer of intellectual property, state subsidies, dumping, cyberattacks and industrial espionage,” the attorney general said.
The Belt and Road initiative, he said, is “little more than a form of modern-day colonialism.”
China also is pursuing a Digital Silk Road strategy that calls for cornering the international market on 5G telecommunications technology. Mr. Barr said the plan could lead to mass surveillance and a loss of freedom.
U.S. officials have said China wants by 2030 to dominate the emerging field of artificial intelligence, which will impact economic and military intelligence gathering capabilities. Beijing also appears to be trying to dominate access to rare earth minerals, which are used in high-technology manufacturing.
Mr. Barr warned that the U.S. “is now dangerously dependent on the PRC for these essential materials.” He said predatory Chinese policies have allowed Beijing to overtake the U.S. in manufacturing and have turned the American “arsenal of democracy” into China’s “arsenal of dictatorship.”
Mr. Barr maintained that China does not want to trade with the U.S., but rather to “raid” the country. He pointed to the medical goods and pharmaceuticals sectors and said the U.S. has become dangerously dependent on China for supplies that could be cut off by CCP rulers.
The attorney general said favorable U.S. government policies and investment by American companies have helped China achieve remarkable economic development based on a hope that engagement would produce a nonthreatening Chinese system. Mr. Barr said such a system has never materialized.
“As its ruthless crackdown of Hong Kong demonstrates once again, China is no closer to democracy today than it was in 1989 when tanks confronted pro-democracy protesters in Tiananmen Square,” he said.
Mr. Barr leveled his harshest criticism for appeasing China at the movie industry in Hollywood and at Silicon Valley technology giants. “If you are an American business leader, appeasing the PRC may bring short-term rewards,” he said. “But in the end, the PRC’s goal is to replace you.”
Instead of changing the communist system, U.S. engagement has resulted in “China leveraging its economic power to change America,” said Mr. Barr, asserting that American companies gave in to Chinese government pressure for short-term profits.
“Hollywood’s actors, producers and directors pride themselves on celebrating freedom and the human spirit, and every year at the Academy Awards, Americans are lectured about how this country falls short of Hollywood’s ideals of social justice,” the attorney general said.
“But Hollywood now regularly censors its own movies to appease the Chinese Communist Party, the world’s most powerful violator of human rights,” he said. “This censorship infects not only the versions of movies that are released in China, but also many that are shown in United States’ theaters to American audiences.”
He pointed to examples of several films that have been altered to eliminate stories or characters that might have offended Beijing. In one instance, he said, Disney was pressured into apologizing for a movie about Tibet.
The alterations are a “massive propaganda coup” for the CCP, Mr. Barr said.
With regard to U.S. tech companies, he said, several major firms have “allowed themselves to become pawns of Chinese influence.”
“Over the years, corporations such as Google, Microsoft, Yahoo and Apple have shown themselves all too willing to collaborate with the CCP,” Mr. Barr said.
He cited an example involving Apple in which the tech giant eliminated the news app Quartz after complaints from Chinese authorities that it was sympathetic to pro-democracy protests in Hong Kong.
Mr. Barr said Apple cloud computing in China has made personal data — emails, texts and other user information — vulnerable to Chinese government exploitation.
The attorney general said Apple refused to help investigators access the damaged iPhone of an al Qaeda terrorist involved in the shooting at Naval Air Station Pensacola in December. Yet Chinese authorities can access Apple cellphones sold in China, he said.
Mr. Barr said China has stepped up covert efforts to “cultivate and coerce” American business executives to advance its political objectives. Justice Department officials, he said, have seen Chinese officials and their proxies reaching out to U.S. corporate leaders and pressuring them to support policies and actions favored by the Chinese Communist Party.
“Their objective varies, but their pitch is generally the same: The businessperson has economic interests in China, and there is a suggestion that things will go better, or worse, for them depending on their response to the PRC’s request,” Mr. Barr said. “Privately pressuring or courting American corporate leaders to promote policies or U.S. politicians presents a significant threat.”
He suggested that those who take action in support of Chinese government policies could be violating the Foreign Agents Registration Act, requiring paid lobbyists to register.
Chinese agents also are infiltrating, censoring and coopting American academic and research institutes, Mr. Barr said. “Globalization does not always point in the direction of greater freedom,” he said. “A world marching to the beat of communist China’s drums will not be a hospitable one for institutions that depend on free markets, free trade or the free exchange of ideas.”
He said Americans are recognizing what he called “corporate appeasement” of China.
Several tech companies, including Facebook, Google, Twitter, Zoom and LinkedIn, however, recently took action after China imposed a harsh national security law in Hong Kong. The companies announced that they were suspending compliance with Chinese requests for user data.
“We will see if these companies hold firm and how l
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