tv Fmr. Homeland Security Secretary on Heritages China Report CSPAN July 26, 2021 1:13pm-2:04pm EDT
the broadcast is now starting. all attendees are in listen only mode. >> thank you for joining us on heritage events live. we're delighted to welcome you to the preview of the heritage foundation's 2021 china report. we hope you enjoy the program. >> thank you and thank you to everyone joining us online for this discussion. observers have known and lamented the lack of transparency in china across the board, going back many, many years from economy to military to influence operations, not knowing the real extent and the threat that chinese ambition poses to the united states and not knowing the extent of the
human rights front. it's one of the reasons china's government is so opaque to begin with. it's a feature of the system, not a bug. a report on chinese transparency is seeking to get at exactly that problem. i'm going to say more about the report in just a minute or so. and we're going to talk to a couple of contributors to the report. we're pleased to have congressman who's going to make some opening remarks. the covid crisis involving china has served as a wakeup call for the united states on a range of threats posed by the rise of china. more and more people are asking what else are the chinese hiding? he's long been a leader addressing threats from china as well as asian foreign policy issues in general. he's also long been a friend of the heritage foundation.
he is ranking member of the house foreign affairs committee. >> thank you very much, walter. i appreciate it. i want to thank you and the heritage foundation to speak on this very important topic. that's the lack of transparency and cooperation inherent in the chinese communist government. fortunately as is the case with so many initiatives undertaken by the heritage, the hard work and focus and innovative thought you've dedicated to the chinese
transparency project will help to expose the fundamental flaws in our understanding and approach toward the prc and should serve as a critical resource in developing more effective policies to combat the strategic challenges the prc poses to both the united states and our allies across the globe. as i think your report will make clear, we need to continue evaluating our approach with the chinese government. the united states has attempted to play nice with the prc, in hopes that incorporating them into the post world war ii order would push them to become more responsible global citizens. it's now become clear those hopes were, at best, overly optimistic. the communists in beijing were never interested in joining our system. instead, they use our efforts at
engagement against us, hiding their strength, investing heavily in their military and developing strategic initiatives to remake the world in their own image. make no mistake. on every front beijing is challenging the free world and our premise that open societies, free markets and the rule of law automatically result in a prosperous and equitable civilization. the chinese communist party's bid to replace our premise with their own ideology is obvious, whether we look at their fundamental disregard for human rights, the rampant theft of intellectual property, the manipulation of the international trading system or their penchant for secrecy and coverup which only worsened the covid-19 pandemic. as a result of this direct challenge to our way of life,
the united states find itself in a strategic competition we did not seek and we really to not want, but which we must win. for republicans on the house foreign affairs subcommittee and the entire committee overall, this competition is our top priority. that's why, as you mentioned as ranking member of the asian pacific subcommittee and formerly the chair of that committee, i've made advancing our strong policy to counter china my principal objective. fortunately in our subcommittee i've been able to work across the aisle. we work together to expose china's manipulation and lack of transparency. i hope we continue that work in a bipartisan manner. we have republicans and democrats working together, at least on that committee.
that's where i believe the china transparency project and inaugural annual report can be most helpful to those of us in congress dedicated to exposing and combatting the strategic economic and national security threats posed by the chinese communist party. on so many issues, on understanding of what china is doing is incomplete. we derive our strength directly from the people and they have a righting to know what our representatives like myself are doing. the chairman and his ccp leadership cronies derive their strength through division, oppression and manipulation. consequently there's no need for the ccp to communicate its activities to the people, which means it's accountable to no one
but itself. whether it's the belt and road initiative, the origins of covid-19, its investment decisions, human rights practices, beijing's own internal decision making, for that matter, or its drive for technological supremacy, we need a better understanding of what's truly going on in the prc. the prc's opacity is dangerous for three reasons. first, increases the risk of miscalculation. no one fully understands what's happening in china. on the other hand, china seems to be an unstoppable juggernaut, posing an existential threat to peace and freedom throughout asian and the pacific region. on the other hand, they seem beset by internal problems like pending catastrophic debt and serious demographic challenges. the problem is that so many of
our military, economic and business decisions depend on accurately judging china's trajectory, intentions, capabilities and more immediately where they are investing and what they are doing. without a better understanding of china's true intentions, we may underreact, as our track record over the past four decades indicates we will, or overreact, as the case may be, to any given signal. there are inherent dangers presented by miscalculation that can only be avoided by a better, more thorough understanding of beijing's activities and intentions. second, the less we know about what's going on in china, the greater the risk that china's problems will become the world's problems. if the last year and a half has taught us anything, it's that we live in a highly integrated
global society, and significant events in any nation can potentially impact every single person on the planet in ways that were unimaginable just a few decades ago. if beijing had simply shared information about covid-19 earlier and in a more honest and transparent manner, there's a chance it wouldn't have become a pandemic, and it's certain the death toll wouldn't have been nearly as devastating. even without cooperation from beijing, better access to information from china might have allowed us to see the pandemic coming sooner and better prepared to deal with its ramifications in a timely mapper. the more we understand those challenges, the more it becomes clear. if we want to win our strategic competition with china, it will
require a far greater and deeper understanding of china than we greater possess. as the great chinese thinker once said, if you know your enemy and yourself, you need not fear the result of 100 battles. the prc makes that difficult. that's by design. they view secrecy as an asset. they're correct. breaking through this veil of secrecy is critical to helping us design a more effective response to the challenges china poses now and in the future. the more we understand these challenges, the more it becomes clear why heritage's work with china's transparency project can be so valuable to the community. since the ccp won't discuss its own activities, we must do our best to determine independently
both what beijing is doing and what they are capable of doing. the work you have undertaken to make that information more readily available will go a long way towards helping policy makers craft the appropriate policy response in so many areas, whether it's china's economy, their investment, their approach to energy and the environment, their atrocious record on human rights, their growing global influence operations or their massive investment into military systems and technologies. it's critical for us in congress and in the administration and analysts across the policy community to have access to the most complete and up to date information possible. it's my hope and prediction that heritage's annual report will become a touch stone for understanding the prc in the years to come. i know it will help congress to craft better legislation to win the struggle for global
idealogical supremacy between beijing and the free world. i want to once again thank the heritage for doing this very, very important work. i yield back the floor. >> i don't know what else i need to say about the report. that was better than any pitch we've made on its importance. we are going to dig into it a little bit here and i'll give you highlights of what you can expect in the report when it comes out. what we do is systemically look at what information ccp and the government make public and identify gaps in it. needless to say on the official side there are tons of gaps. more importantly what we do is
serve dozens of international efforts, private efforts outside of china that are doing their best to provide this information despite the lack of cooperation from authorities in beijing. we evaluate the state of those private sector efforts, you know, the overall picture they paint, how transparent china actually is in the areas that they're looking at and we provide ratings both for how well the chinese are doing and how well these private efforts are addressing the gaps in information. that way we have a basis, we have a baseline for deciding how much progress is being made or what the lack of progress is. in several areas there's not much progress at all over the last few years. we posted a summary of some of this in the equivalent of the
chat on this software. if you're looking from home, you should be able to see some of the areas i'm talking about. i'll hit just a few of them briefly to give you an idea what to expect which the report comes out. on economic issues, chinese information on its own economy are notoriously unreliable. no surprises there. what we have identified, though, is a need to go behind the numbers and find out how exactly the chinese corrupt these statistics. at what level in the process do they corrupt them? is it in the calculation of the gdp, investment figures, local figures, the province level? where do these numbers become
unreliable and why? make it comes directly from beijing. they've got certain figures to hit and maybe they'll hit them at lower levels whether they can appropriately do so or not. in a range of eight things the chinese are best in this in terms of transparency, but still not great. they've hidden industrial projects and environmental costs under the guise of state secrets state secrets you have no way of accessing. if you try as a chinese citizen, you'll probably find yourself under arrest. if you try as a foreign reporter, you'll find yourself escorted out of the country. the environmental piece is important. this is the one thing that people hold out, well, maybe this is an area we can work with them in. if they can provide us reliable
environmental information, makes it kind of challenging to find ways to work with them on the environment. the worst performance is in transparency around human rights issues. that's probably also no surprise, but what we identify in the report is the prospect of making use of some cutting edge technologies being used to study particular problems in china, like the fate of the uyghurs. there's been a lot of work done with satellite technology, correlating that technology with stories and press stories and internet presence and that sort of thing. it's the sort of approach that would work across the board on other human rights issues or at least should be given a try there. then the last thing mentioned out of the eight areas is on political developments and
military issues in china. both the access to hard copies of documents and online resources have become increasingly scarce in both of those areas. believe it or not there was a time you could walk into a bookstore in beijing and read a book written by a pla general. that access isn't there anymore. similar thing happened with military and political information stored in databases that have been made publicly available in the past. another area it's difficult for us to know what's going on. what's the level of spending in particular categories? the big picture number is mostly from propaganda, doesn't mean much at all. what matters is when you break those numbers down into how much procurement is being done, et
cetera. the report tries to identify some of those gaps and suggests ways that we can improve them. the bigger chinese transparency report also includes a range of topical analytical essays from leading experts in their fields in order to drill down on some specific areas of concern, which brings me to our next speakers, both of whom we're lucky to have with us today and with whom we've worked closely within government and out of government. the first person i'll turn to for questioning is chad wolf, who is former acting secretary of the department of homeland affairs. he's currently a visiting fellow at heritage foundation. he and our vice president for foreign policy contributed to the report on the malign influence of the chinese in u.s.
research universities. then david fife is coming off a four-year stint in the state department. he's now an adjunct fellow at the center for new american security. she is a professional staffer on the that the foreign relations committee. she worked with david on this report. it concerns undersea cables and the threat that the chinese pose there in terms of the deployment of those cables and the potential for using them in ways that could damage u.s. and allied security interests.
so we're just going to jump right in here with discussion. i've got a lot of questions. but we also have a way for you to ask questions online. go ahead and put your question in the chat and we'll try to get to them before we're done here. the first thing i wanted to ask chad as i head over to the chair here is, could you break out the issue of chinese influence in u.s. universities? it's a pretty complicated one. it needs to be broken out and sort of distilled to its essence. what's our current state of knowledge about what's going on there, and are there areas you would identify as things we just don't know quite enough about. both known unknowns and unknown unknowns. >> thank you for allowing me to be part of the report.
i think it's critically important. when i was at the department of home land security we used to look at the threat. it's something i've been talking about. i think it's something that the department of homeland security is taking a closer look at beyond the traditional threats of counter terrorism and other threats the country is facing, this threat from china. a big part of that is what's going on in our universities today. china's ultimate goal is really to be the world leader in science and technology. they're going to need to be able to recruit foreign experts. the way they do that is looking at u.s. institutions and colleges. they can do that by recruiting u.s. researchers and professors to do that through a couple of different programs, one of which
is the confucius institute. the thousands of visas we issue to chinese nationals to come here and study need to be better checked, screened, vetted and we need to periodically check up on them. what we saw is you can do one check but if they're here in the country and they get extensions to student visas for years at a time and go onto graduate programs, you don't have a good idea about what they're doing. this is about disclosure and
holding them accountable to doing what they said they're going to do versus what they might do after being here years and years over team. i think it's a growing issue to really address within our university system. there's a lot of colleges and universities willing to accept funding from the chinese government or chinese-backed institutions without disclosing, without making it apparent what is that relationship and what does that relationship entail. that's what we need to see more of at the end of the day. >> how do you sort the purpose of the students being here? there are some that have no impact on security.
then there are some that have a strong impact. >> we see the majority of chinese nationals coming over more in the hard sciences rather than liberal arts degrees. we see them in the s.t.e.m. fields, which is concerning. it comes back to that transparency and that disclosure, making sure we can vet these individuals and look into what types of programs are they going to study in the u.s. and where did they study in china perhaps and who's backing them,who's providing the funding for them to come over. asking these questions, making them be transparent about that. we see ties to universities back in china that obviously have a direct tie to the military. that's concerning when you're
studying a variety of different subjects. >> thank you. david, the a area you looked at in the paper in one way is vastly different than the area chad looked at. that's in the availability of information. the thing that astounds me about the undersea cable issue is so much of it is hiding in plain sight. the public information about the companies, press reports, et cetera, et cetera. can you give us background on the issue and maybe shed some light on that? >> certainly. the undersea cable issue is interesting, because aspects of it are hard to see or are hidden
and aspects are completely visible. as the major policy and strategic challenge for the united states and for our allies, the issue has been long overlooked in some key ways. one aspect of the problem is that in the internet age it's often hard to understand the systems we rely on because we're dealing with the literally invisible transmission of vast amounts of data. it's still hard to understand and at a minimum complex. part of the challenge can be seen in the contrast with the understanding of satellites. people have in all of our public
imagination a sense that satellites are out there and they're really very important. we've all seen movies where there are dramatic scenes of satellites doing this or that. and yet it's almost not known at all that some 95-99% of global data flows flow not through satellites but through undersea cables. undersea cables are almost entirely unseen. very few americans or american officials have seen an undersea cable at the bottom of the ocean or seen where it plugs into landing sites at some obscure fenced-in area along the coastline. we've had a major expansion of understanding of the chinese
commuist party's understanding to dominate international telecommunications to access data, to be able to manipulate data, to hold vulnerable data flows in the future in possible future crises. we've had all the of the awakening around 5g and huawei. almost all of our attention from a policy perspective has flowed to 5g terrestrial hardware, the question of who will we or our european allies or developing countries in africa use for their 5g base stations. that is an extremely important set of questions. all of those concerns, all of the risk of data to the chinese communist party apply also to undersea cables. the sort of concern, the sort of policy creativity and the sort
of diplomatic seriousness that we increasingly understand we need to apply to 5g when you're looking at terrestrial systems and huawei and also needs to be applied to the u.s. government and under sea cables and who builds them and finances them. >> you mention the sort of different ways that the 5g issues and terrestrial hardware information and the kind of attention they get to undersea cables. being under sea, you can't see them. there's also been a disparity between the way we have treated in the past the threat from russia and the threat from china. maybe in the obama administration they began to
focus a little bit on the threat. what happened there? how come not china? >> you're exactly right. there's an extremely telling difference in the way policy makers have looked at the undersea cable issue as regard russia and as regards china. the u.s. government has a vast interagency that goes back literally generations that focuses on undersea cables, but focuses on undersea cables overwhelmingly in their defense from foreign adversary military sabotage or in defense from natural disasters, earthquakes undersea that might cause outages in these cables. what you mentioned about the russians involves the foreign military threat. there were a lot of spy versus spy type dynamics between the
u.s. and russians during the cold war, for example, around access to undersea cables for espionage purposes and possible military sabotage. this is an aspect of the undersea cable challenge where there is really awareness across governments and militaries and in the u.s. and among our allies. about six years ago in the obama administration you started to see some news reports about the russian navy gaining new capabilities that might allow them to threaten undersea cables. those concerns are real and need to be addressed. what's interesting is that as those sorts of concerns generated greater interest in undersea cables, there was almost completeover sight of the fact that we have real. commercial concerns as well that
come from china. china as a military rival of the united states also the poses potential risks in the military domain. what chinese poses that russia does not is major ambitions in the commercial domain. they have state-backed companies, including huawei, where the main undersea cable construction player out of china was known for a long time as huawei marine networks. it's now been rebranded as hmn tech. it's effectively the same company. it wants to capture a large share of the undersea market, not by sabotage undersea, but by winning contracts from telecommunications company all around the world to build cables. this would be done legally. it would not be an act of military sabotage, but it is
backed by the same sorts of influence companies, the same sorts of massive state subsidies that china uses recognizing that while we protect undersea cables from russian submarines, we also need to have a much better understanding of the commercial landscape where undersea cables are being constructed in alarmer numbers as 5g comes online, as 40% of the world gets onto the internet for the first time. there would be large numbers of contracts and competition run by governments and private consortiums of telecommunications firms. whether those are built by trusted providers from the united states and european around japan, on the one hand, or built by unfortunately
untrusted providers from china subject to all the data sheft and data subversion of the chinese communist party. enormous amounts of our private data and governmental data will be flowing through these pipes for years to come. >> thank you. chad, i want to come back to you for something. then we're going to see if we have some questions from the online audience. could you tell us about the thousand talents program and associated similar type programs, what they're aiming at, what has been the track record since it was the focus of the administration in the last few years? >> sure. the program overall is one of many talent recruitment programs that the chinese government has. the idea here again is to incentivize these individuals from the u.s. that are engaged in research and development to transfer that knowledge from the
u.s. back to china and to do so in exchange for money, for salaries, for grants, lab time and other incentives. so that's concerning, right? usually that transfer of knowledge is for transfer aims for the chinese government. i think the goal of that program started back in 2008 was to recruit somewhere in the neighborhood of 2,000 individuals. >> americans? >> this is internal. highly successful overall. then i think the world and others started catching on more and more. spotlight and focus has been on the thousand talents program. there's been bills introduced into congress. there's been reports saying how we're not really taking this
seriously. it comes back to disclosure and transparency, making sure that if, again, a researcher gets a grant from a chinese institution of some kind, let it be known what that is instead hiding it which is the main concern. over time -- now the chinese government has rebranded this program. it's no longer the thousand talents programs. they call it three or four different names. we talk about that in the report. but there's a lot that we still don't know about it. again, that goes back to that transparency and disclosure that we need. again, the idea that chinese institutions are going to engage with academics here in the u.s. is not necessarily bad. but the concerning part is not understanding what that relationship is and what are the incentives, what are they being paid, by who? let's bring that out into the public, into the open so we can make informed decisions.
>> it's a big country. the united states is a big country with thousands of universities, right? it's hard to know what's going on and how the chinese are engaging. >> and this ties into some of the confucius institutes here into the u.s. which have been dwindling over time because, again, i think we're shining light on this relationship between u.s. institutions and chinese institutions and the lack of transparency there. not really understanding what's going on and there's been several high-profile justice department cases of prosecuting individuals that have abused this, that have not been transparent about the funding and the research that they're doing. >> i think at one point last year, maybe the attorney general made public there was a investigation or an indictment actually every day for some time which actually turns out to be an important function of this report, too, because by showing where the needs are, you can also direct resources there because that's an issue as well,
right? so knowing what's going on is first step. doing something about it, second step. but to do something about it you need the resources there and justice department pretty stretched on. >> director wray from the bureau has been outspoken about this as well. not only the chinese threat to the u.s. specifically, but the threat to universities and what's going on at the university level is concerning. >> thank you. justin, do we have a question from the audience? >> sorry. my mic is not working. >> it is now. >> we have a lot of great questions here. the first one is actually going out for for chad. we've seen the recent administration and congress address confucius institutes and we've seen noticeable impact, but why has it been harder to address the thousand talents program and what makes it so
difficult to target the program directly so that -- >> so the question was really about the thousand talents program, what makes it so difficult to target that like we've done with the confucius. i think if you go back, there's been, i believe it's senate homeland security committee back in -- two years ago. two to three years ago. a very extensive report on the thousand talents program. and how it works. what's the design behind it. the influence here in the u.s. its ultimate goal. there's been a lot of effort to shine a light on this program. i talk about it hand in hand with the confucius institutes. the more light that you shine onto it, the more education that we provide to people. we've seen it on the confucius side where a number of u.s. universities have said, well, it's not worth it. it's not worth having this relationship where i don't know
what's going on. you've seen the number of confucius institutes among campuses drop considerably. i think a high of close to 100. now maybe it's a handful. and those that are still there, i think need to be, again, more proactive, more transparent about that relationship. you know, part of that relationship that we found was in some of those institutes that university professors couldn't talk about, couldn't research certain things having to do with, you know, the prc. so it was concerning, right? you're talking about stifling research and development and thought on u.s. college campuses. not really what you want to do at the end of the day. so i think both of them have the confucius institute issue has taken off sort of recently whereas the thousand talent program has been there. it's been there for several years that we've been looking at. again, i think the chinese government has rebranded the thousand talents program. they now call it two different -- two or three different names, but the intent
is still to recruit individuals and so you have that transfer of knowledge back to china. i think the best thing we can do, there's a number of bills being produced to stop that practice. the best we can do is more transparency, more disclosure so we understand what these are and make informed decisions moving forward. >> it's a problem for a lot of our partners and allies, too. not least of whom are the taiwan ease who have a lot of sensitive information that could help the chinese. and they also have the cultural and linguistic connection. and the proximity. david, i wanted to ask you a similar question around this policy basket. how much transparency is there on the u.s. side in terms of policy development where we are on these sort of -- the amount of information that's being
shared by the government for -- with american people both on the extent of the undersea cable problem and what it's doing to address it. and i don't mean to imply there's any sort of purposeful effort to obscure it, but, you know, sometimes, especially on something that is already a little obscure, there's no effort made to get the information out there. so what's the state of affairs there? >> it's a bit of a mixed bag. when it comes to u.s. policy in terms of our domestic telecommunications infrastructure, the federal communications commission plays the leading role in giving licenses for the construction of undersea cables that come internationally and land on u.s. shores. there's a high degree of transparency around this and there's been a very visible hardening of u.s. policy with respect to cables that are -- would either be built by china's marine networks or built by trusted providers but would
connect directly between the u.s. mainland and china. and so there was -- there are several -- three or four of these connections right now direct between the u.s. and china, but the last license was given by the fcc for such a link in 2017. and since then, you've seen several proposed projects that have not met with the regulatory blessing from the fcc because the fcc has become -- well, completely unable to trust the cables that would land either in shanghai or in hong kong would be free from chinese state subversion. another piece of the sort of u.s. domestic policy mix has to do with technology controls. and there, it's a little more opaque which is, how are we managing things like export controls to see that sophisticated fiber optic technology needed to allow the chinese players to really
compete at the top tier against the more longstanding and more advanced democratic country players. are we preventing american institutions and companies from exporting that advanced technology or are we seeing leakage of a damaging variety? and some of that, frankly, has to do with u.s. companies that would be exporting this technology. and some of it in a way that speaks to some of the points that chad has been raising relates to what american universities are doing, often with the sponsorship of chinese technology and telecommunications companies and whether they are providing technology to china that we would rather that see them provide. and all of these are important policy areas. >> yeah, just something to add, and i think what david is saying is critically important. you talk about the fcc and the undersea cable issue. they rely on, you know, this is a policy decision at the end of the day. they rely on state department, department of homeland security, treasury department, team telecom in providing the
recommendations on these undersea cables. and as david indicated, the trump administration, we took a very proactive view about the threat of chinese not only control in these cables but it's a policy decision. it's really -- we'll have to take a look at the biden administration and what kind of view do they take on this as well? is it a strong and hardened view or are they going to sit back and be influenced by some of the service providers who are funding some of these cables at the end of the day because it makes business sense to them. >> and i would note just furth or chad's point, team telecom is an extremely important for advising the fcc on national security issues and it was through the team telecom fcc process that you saw the first denial of a license application to the specific light cable network about one year ago in 2020. an additional piece of the regulatory regime that's really just emerging that was initially teed up in the trump administration and has been
taken forward by the biden administration is the so-called icts process. this is about the information and communications technology and services supply chain. it's essentially a regulatory and interagency regulatory process for scrutinizing cross-border data flows, which is so much of our economy and clearly seen in the -- led by the treasury but scrutinizes what would be inbound foreign investment into the united states. we now have in the way that the trump administration began, the biden administration has taken forward a framework for looking at cross-border data issues and interagency fashion the flood by the commerce department. but the implementation of this hasn't yet begun and enhances the biden administration and has enormous implications for national and economic security. >> yeah, it's all about getting
ahead of the game, isn't it? critical and emerging technologies and sort of information, the sort of work that's at play in our universities. we have to understand that. we have to understand what the chinese are trying to do at the base of it. we can always control it at the end of the day, but we might not hit everything, right? i mean, all these -- even the export of information, of knowledge, is controllable. we've got to get back closer to the start, right? and that's really what our report is all about is identifying the threats that maybe we don't see that are emerging because they're in their infancy and because they're hidden behind conscious effort on the part of the chinese to hide their activities across the board. with that, let me thank you both for being here today, for talking with us about your contributions to the report. we very much appreciate them and value them.
the house passed a bill last week, 241-182, to give the environmental protection agency oversight of toxic pfas known as forever chemicals. they're man-made chemicals used in manufacturing and some have gotten into drinking water near manufacturing areas. the bill would let forever chemicals be covered by the superfund, toxic waste cleanup program. here's debate on the bill from the house floor. >> thank you, mr. speaker. hr-2467, the pfas action act of 2021 is a comprehensive pacge