The American promise, which includes representative democracy, liberty, equality, and other rights found in the Constitution, is under threat—most seriously by the Chinese Communist Party (CCP).
The CCP controls the world’s largest economy by gross domestic product (GDP) when considering the purchasing power that China’s GDP buys. The CCP controls a military twice the size of the U.S. military by number of troops and is by certain measures, including supercomputing, artificial intelligence, and hypersonic missiles, more advanced than the United States in terms of military technology.
Diplomatically, China can muster more votes in the United Nations General Assembly than can the United States and its allies, on issues such as human rights for the Uyghurs or development economics. Beijing achieves this kind of political and economic influence primarily through monetary incentives, including development financing for entire countries, or targeted infusions of contracts and cash to powerful companies and influential individuals. The CCP engages in these forms of corruption, some of which are legal and others not, in the United States as well. This essay focuses on how the CCP infiltrates the United States, the threat this poses, and potential solutions that citizens can advocate.
In the United States, the CCP infiltrates economic, political, academic, and media elites in much the same manner that it attempts to do so in other countries.
Beijing chooses America’s most powerful economic interests and offers them privileged and highly lucrative access to Chinese markets, which consist of 1.4 billion people and a nominal GDP of $14.72 trillion in 2020. These companies include America’s biggest corporate names, including Apple, Boeing, Goldman Sachs, and J.P. Morgan.
Because these corporations make so much money in China, and because their China revenue could be cut off at any minute by the CCP, they are incentivized to comply with CCP wishes. They know that non-compliance could zero-out their China revenues, destroy their profitability, and tank their stock price. At times, the CCP seeks to use its influence in these big corporations to get board seats for CCP members. Sometimes they have no need for this, when existing board members, including U.S. citizens, know the rules of the game: Deliver for the CCP, or lose your company’s profitability and your leadership position in the process.
The CCP typically infiltrates political elites by delivering revenues through campaign donations, consulting agreements, or as direct bribes. These revenues are almost always delivered by middlemen, whether they be large corporations that manufacture in China, billionaires whose enterprises do extensive business in China, or nonprofit organizations with Chinese revenue streams.
U.S. billionaires linked to business in China, including Stephen Schwarzman, Larry Fink, and Michael Bloomberg, have been some of the most effective conduits of Chinese influence at elite political levels in both parties. But the CCP also attempts to access politicians through their family members, for example, business with both the Trump and Biden families.
Academia, the mainstream media, and think tanks, all of which are at elite levels of knowledge production, and which together are largely self-referential and exclusive of alternate viewpoints and sources, have one thing in common: corporate funding. Substantial amounts of this corporate funding come from businesses that are reliant on trade with China to maintain their profitability, and thus their stock valuations. Academia is particularly reliant on direct business from China, in the form of tuition from Chinese nationals, which for state schools is in the form of much-needed and highly lucrative out-of-state fees.
The threat of CCP infiltration in the United States is multiple and global. It is global because the United States is the only country in the world with a military capable of containing or defeating China’s People’s Liberation Army. Once the U.S. military is defeated or neutralized, including through infiltration, Beijing will very quickly become globally hegemonic.
The United States, along with Europe, is one of only two regions in the world capable of using economic tactics, such as sanctions, to force Beijing into becoming a responsible stakeholder in the international community. If the United States and Europe are neutralized through infiltration, they will be unable to stop China’s economic rise. With the CCP in control of China, China becomes the economic vehicle that the CCP rides to global hegemony.
There are multiple overlapping solutions to Beijing’s infiltration of the United States. The most effective solution is to firewall off the economic means by which the CCP accomplishes such infiltration.
First, economic decoupling from China will weaken Beijing’s economic power through fewer trade and investment opportunities. It also cuts off the conduits upon which Beijing relies for political, economic, and ideological influence.
If Apple and Boeing aren’t manufacturing planes and iPhones in China, and not selling to China, then Beijing can’t use market access to compel these U.S. companies to influence U.S. politics in a manner that paralyzes our military and economic defenses against the CCP. Sure, these companies initially make less money selling to China, but they can divert their sales and manufacturing to U.S. communities and allies, strengthening the United States and its allies in the process. More manufacturing jobs in the United States means higher wages, more government revenues, a deeper and more diversified industrial ecosystem, and ultimately a militarily and economically stronger United States, relative to China, than previously.
Second, firewalling politics from the influence of money makes it impossible for Beijing to use the many corporate conduits of influence, including U.S. corporations, to paralyze U.S. defenses against the CCP. This would mean new laws, and strengthened laws, to end the revolving door between high government positions and the lobbying, think tank, and corporate job positions that provide outsized incomes in a quid pro quo for political influence when a candidate is in office. It would mean laws against China-linked corporations funding think tanks and universities that are then economically incentivized to support soft-on-China analysis and advocacy.
Third, firewalling the media from China-linked funding—especially, for example, direct Chinese state media advertising—would remove a means of influence over editorial and publisher decision making. The take-home profits of shareholders in a media company are directly linked to advertising, and if that advertising is from CCP organizations such as China’s state media, then a conduit is opened to influence publishers and editorial decisions, not to mention the advertising itself, which is often in the form of large inserts geared to appear as if they are legitimate news reporting when, in fact, they are CCP propaganda.
The key to ending CCP infiltration of the United States, and of any country, is to cut off the means that Beijing uses for such infiltration: money. America’s promise is in its ideas of liberty, freedom, equality, and property, all of which are interrelated—and which handily beat Beijing’s own communist ideology that is based on control of the many by the few.
To remain strong and robust, American values must be protected from the erosion of the CCP’s growing economic power, which can destroy our values where human willpower is weak. Where that weakness is found among American elites, and it often is, there America’s promise is most at risk.
Anders Corr has a bachelor’s/master’s in political science from Yale University (2001) and a doctorate in government from Harvard University (2008). He is a principal at Corr Analytics Inc., publisher of the Journal of Political Risk, and has conducted extensive research in North America, Europe, and Asia. He authored “The Concentration of Power” (forthcoming in 2021) and “No Trespassing,” and edited “Great Powers, Grand Strategies.”