Editor's Note: This article was originally published under the name "John David," the former pseudonym of NAS Communications & Research Associate David Acevedo. To learn more about why David no longer writes under this name, click here.
On Thursday, the Policy Planning Staff of the Office of the Secretary of State released a new report titled The Elements of the China Challenge. This comprehensive study examines the so-called “China challenge,” namely the ever-growing threat to human freedom and liberty posed by the Chinese Communist Party (CCP), not only within its own borders but also globally.
In defining the “challenge,” the report’s Executive Summary states:
The CCP aims not merely at preeminence within the established world order — an order that is grounded in free and sovereign nation-states, flows from the universal principles on which America was founded, and advances U.S. national interests — but to fundamentally revise world order, placing the People’s Republic of China (PRC) at the center and serving Beijing’s authoritarian goals and hegemonic ambitions.
China is a challenge because of its conduct. … The party today wields its economic power to co-opt and coerce countries around the world; make the societies and politics of foreign nations more accommodating to CCP specifications; and reshape international organizations in line with China’s brand of socialism. At the same time, the CCP is developing a world-class military to rival and eventually surpass the U.S. military. These actions enable the CCP to credibly pursue the quest — proceeding outward through the Indo-Pacific region and encompassing the globe — to achieve “national rejuvenation” culminating in the transformation of the international order.
The report goes on to explain why the United States has, until recently, overlooked the China challenge; to examine China's conduct in virtually every part of the world, the intellectual sources of this conduct, and the nation’s vulnerabilities; and to lay out a framework for combating China’s influence domestically and abroad.
The State Department splits this framework into ten “tasks,” beginning with securing freedom at home (that is, the United States) by preserving our Constitution, free-market economy, and civil society, and by championing the principles of freedom “through example; speeches; educational initiatives; public diplomacy; foreign assistance and investment; sanctions in more difficult circumstances as well as other forms of non-military pressure; and, where the nation’s vital interests are at stake and all else has failed, military force.”
The ninth of the ten tasks, reforming American education, touches concerns that the National Association of Scholars has long voiced. Elements notes that “America’s grade schools, middle schools, high schools, and colleges and universities have to a dismaying degree abandoned well-rounded presentations of America’s founding ideas and constitutional traditions in favor of propaganda aimed at vilifying the nation.” It calls for the United States to “reclaim its own legacy of liberty,” in part by encouraging “serious study of the history of America’s efforts” to live up to its principles.
The State Department's report also cites the work of the NAS directly, namely Senior Research Fellow Rachelle Peterson’s 2017 report Outsourced to China: Confucius Institutes and Soft Power in American Higher Education. As Elements explains,
[T]he CCP carries out massive propaganda and disinformation efforts. The party uses the Thousand Talents Program (TTP) and other party-run recruitment efforts to target universities and impel students and professors to obtain — lawfully or otherwise — technology, trade secrets, proprietary data, and research and development. It generously funds Confucius Institutes, which specialize in disseminating CCP propaganda, at universities in the United States and in other countries through confidential funding agreements that oblige the institutions to avoid criticism of China and to otherwise comply with CCP objectives.
NAS is by no means alone in its concern and action regarding CCP influence in American higher education. However, we were the first organization to sound the alarm and publish in-depth research on Confucius Institutes and their K-12 equivalent, Confucius Classrooms. The Institutes continue to close (54, by our latest count), largely due to exposés like Outsourced to China and the Senate Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations’ 2019 report China’s Impact on the U.S. Education System. These reports and more continue to inform university administrators, lawmakers, and law enforcement.
If we’ve learned one thing through this work, it’s that the China challenge has proven to be a labyrinthine network of duplicity far more widespread and complex than anyone anticipated. We need all hands on deck to solve it, or to at least mitigate it as much as possible. We commend the State Department for its fine work in helping to expose China’s widespread malfeasance and in setting forth tangible goals to counteract it.
Image: Casa Rosada, Public Domain