THE first half of 2020 clarified China’s malign diplomacy. The second half clarified China’s espionage. The trouble is: the US Democratic Party is most exposed, so is reluctant to shift from deference. Much will depend on how the conservative minority in journalism and Congress can leverage the latest revelations.
In June, the US National Security Adviser (Robert C O’Brien) launched a series of cross-departmental revelations: ‘The [Chinese Communist] Party is collecting your most intimate data – your words, your actions, your purchases, your whereabouts, your health records, your social media posts, your texts, and mapping your network of friends, family, and acquaintances.’ The collectors include state-subsidised telecoms, computer hardware and software, and medical services (such as Huawei servers and genetic tests).
Other collection activities are even more diabolical, such as the 2015 cybertheft from Anthem, a health insurer, of medical information on 80million patients. In 2016, China acquired (before the US government intervened) the dating app Grindr to harvest personal information such as HIV status for the purposes of blackmail, says the National Security Adviser.
In July, FBI Director Chris Wray described China as the ‘greatest long-term threat to our nation’s information and intellectual property, and to our economic vitality . . . It’s the people of the United States who are the victims of what amounts to Chinese theft on a scale so massive that it represents one of the largest transfers of wealth in human history. If you are an American adult, it is more likely than not that China has stolen your personal data.’
In addition to collecting information, China is spreading disinformation. The FBI Director said that China ‘is engaged in a highly sophisticated malign foreign influence campaign’, specifically: ‘subversive, undeclared, criminal, or coercive attempts to sway our government’s policies, distort our country’s public discourse, and undermine confidence in our democratic processes and values’.
Also in July, the US government ordered the closure of China’s consulate in Houston. Mike Pompeo, the Secretary of State, described it as a ‘hub of spying and intellectual property theft’. That leaves China with consulates in New York, Chicago, San Francisco, and Los Angeles, and the Embassy in the capital. One analyst prescribes closing down China’s diplomatic presence, except the ambassador, family and staff. He expects China to retaliate, but takes comfort that the lack of US consular presence in China would force American businesses to withdraw from local corruption and espionage.
As government officials are careful to point out in each speech, their enemy is the Chinese Communist Party, not the Chinese people. James Olson, who ended his career as Chief of Counterintelligence at the CIA, estimates that there are more than 100 Chinese intelligence officers in New York City alone. FBI Director Wray says that at any time the FBI is carrying nearly 2,500 active counterintelligence cases against Chinese agents. Darrell Issa, one of the few Republican Representatives from California, estimates ‘hundreds of thousands of people that act like spies that are co-ordinated by China’.
Students, often unwittingly, account for most of these. About 370,000 Chinese nationals are in America as students (triple the number a decade ago), of whom about 100,000 rotate every year.
One student spy has just been linked with Democrats at every level from city to national government. The fact that all her targets are Democrats helps to explain how little we have heard about her outside Fox News. In 2011, ‘Christine’ Fang arrived at California State University on the east side of San Francisco Bay. She immediately took leadership of the Chinese and Asian-Pacific student groups, and used the roles to develop relationships with politicians across multiple states.
According to leaks of the FBI’s investigation, these included romantic relationships with at least two city mayors in the Midwest, administrative relationships with mayors and councillors around the Bay Area, and fundraising relationships with at least four US Representatives from California, plus another from Hawaii.
The most disturbing relationship was with a US Representative who sits on the House Intelligence Committee. Eric Swalwell was contacted while he was still a local councilman, a year before he ran for US Congress in 2012. During re-election, in 2014, Fang helped his fundraising (although foreign nationals are prohibited from donating personally). She also placed an intern in his office.
Swalwell has curiously dodged opportunities to clarify the nature of his relationship with Fang. Swalwell claims not to have seen Fang since early 2015, around the time the FBI alerted him (confidentially). She left America in mid-2015. This was before Swalwell married his second wife (2016).
On foreign influence, Swalwell now looks like a hypocrite. He was one of the Democrats who investigated allegations of collusion between the Russian government and the Trump campaign of 2016 (even though these smears originated from the Democratic Party itself). He also tried to legislate a separate investigation into foreign interference.
Swalwell reflects poorly on the Democratic Party, which rushed him on to the Intelligence Committee in 2015 despite his having no relevant qualifications. Later in the same year, the FBI briefed Congressional Democrats about Fang and Swalwell, but they did nothing. Indeed, they got Swalwell on the Judiciary Committee in 2017 (the only one for which he is qualified: he had served in his home county district attorney’s office). He even campaigned for his party’s nomination for President in 2019.
The official conclusions on Fang did not reach the public until the second week of December 2020, when leakers spoke to a private news website. The House Speaker (Nancy Pelosi, another Democrat from California) released a statement of ‘full confidence’ in Swalwell and his membership of the Intelligence Committee. A week later, the FBI personally briefed Pelosi about the evidence against Fang. Pelosi confirmed her confidence.
Why would China target Democrats? Because Democrats are doves on China. Even now, they are inclined to reverse the various new controls imposed by the outgoing Trump administration on Chinese telecoms, exports of American technology, Chinese student access to research, and American participation in the WHO and the UN Human Rights Council (in protest at China’s influence).
From January 2021, the Democrats will almost certainly take control of the White House – possibly the Senate too, depending on the Georgia runoffs. They already control the House of Representatives.
At the top will be Joe Biden, who has always promised to be more agreeable to China, while also claiming that he would hold it to account. As ever, Biden remains vague on how we would square this circle.
One explanation is that he does not want to provoke China into disclosure of his family’s profiteering in China. Joe claims to be ignorant of his two sons’ business there, when Biden was Vice President – incidentally with responsibility for promoting US-China trade. Joe even claims that he never thought to ask why his son Hunter was hitching a ride on the Vice President’s official airliner.
Hunter’s business in China dates from at least April 2010, i.e. 15 months into the eight years that Joe spent as Vice President. He had no known qualifications except the family name. By 2020, Hunter’s earnings in China were worth more than $6million. We know this amount only from a Senate investigation. The media turned a blind eye.
In October 2020, the New York Post published documents from Hunter’s recycled computer. Meanwhile, Hunter’s former business partner Tony Bobulinski released emails and texts to Fox News. These showed Hunter and Jim Biden referring to their father when plotting business in Ukraine and China. Most of the media censored these revelations.
Hunter was already under investigation for not declaring his foreign earnings properly on his tax returns (although federal authorities chose not to tell the public until December). The New York Post continues to publish emails and text confirming that the Vice President’s name was used in Hunter’s and Jim’s business in China. The rest of the media and Democratic Party keep shtumm. Unless Georgians return their two Republican Senators on January 5, the Senate too will go quiet. American sovereignty hinges on a few thousand swing voters in Georgia.