We are very excited to bring Heritage Explains to a new serialized format. That means that instead of one-off episodes, we are bringing you short series of shows, focused on explaining a particular topic. Why? Because we at Heritage know that we are at a crucial time in our nation's history. There are a few key issues that we must get right. And this topic, the one we're doing right now, as we speak, is one of them: The Threat of the Chinese Communist Party.
China is the biggest security threat facing American and the world right now.
But sometimes, it can be hard to believe that. For instance, if China is such a big enemy, why can't I find a coffeemaker that's made in the U.S.? Heritage President Dr. Kevin Roberts and Director of Asian Studies Center Jeff Smith help explain.
John Popp: From The Heritage Foundation, this is Heritage Explains.
Mark Guiney: Hello and welcome back to Heritage Explains. Folks who have been listening to the podcast for a while will notice that we sound a little different than usual. First of all, some new voices, starting with mine.
I'm Mark Guiney. I work here in the communications department at The Heritage Foundation, coming to you from our very own podcast studio right here at The Heritage Foundation headquarters on Massachusetts Avenue in Washington D.C. I'm very excited to present to you a new format for this podcast. For many years, Heritage Explains has been delivering high quality, one-off podcast episodes on every policy issue under the Sun. Big Tech, ESG, the cost of insulin, rogue prosecutors, the border, Russian nukes, just about everything you can think of. Today, we're excited to bring Heritage Explains to a new serialized format. That means that instead of one-off episodes, we are bringing you short series of shows focused on explaining a particular topic.
Why? Because we at Heritage know that we are at a crucial time in our nation's history. There are a few key issues that we must get right. And this topic, the one we're doing right now as we speak, is one of them. The threat of the Chinese Communist Party. China is the biggest security threat facing America and the world right now, but sometimes it can be hard to believe that. Here's what I mean.
So, I'm fortunate enough to be getting married in a couple of months and my fiancé and I were working on a wedding registry. We're trying to be conscious of what we put on there because we believe in supporting small businesses, especially here in the U.S. And we're trying to look for stuff that is high quality and will last, and we're trying to avoid buying anything that was made in China.
Of course, here at The Heritage Foundation, we've got a pretty firm stance on the Chinese Communist Party. There's been a lot of concern in recent years about human rights issues, economic issues, social issues and so on. So, it made sense to us to try to prioritize Made in the USA products. And for a while, went pretty good. Eight quart stockpot made in Pennsylvania, wooden spice rack made in Oregon, cotton bath towels made in Georgia. So far so good. But then we got to appliances. We were trying to find a coffee maker. Now I'm not talking about a weirdly shaped glass jar that you put some kind of filter in or a plastic thing with a plunger that you press. I'm talking about a regular old, plug it into the wall, put coffee in it, go, put your pants on, come back later, there's coffee, coffee maker.
So, we started looking at them. Cuisinart, made in China. Hamilton Beach, made in China. Mr. Coffee, that guy is made in China. Long story short, we couldn't find one that is made and manufactured in the US. Same story for food processors, blenders and so on. So many of these things that we use every day are made in China. Our smartphones and laptops are often manufactured there. American universities host pro-China Confucius Institutes. The Chinese Communist Party lobbies our government in Washington. Entertainment giants like Hollywood and the NBA seem eager to bow down to the requests of the Chinese government. And yet we say that the Chinese Communist Party is the biggest global threat to America in the world. We're so connected and yet so at odds. Why is this the case?
For this first episode, we're going to take a bird's eye view of this China situation. What's going on and why does it matter? Luckily, I found somebody around here who's got that bird's eye view.
Kevin Roberts: I'm Kevin Roberts, and other than the custodial duties that I have, very happily, I'm the president of The Heritage Foundation.
Guiney: Are you a coffee drinker?
Roberts: I am. I am a coffee aficionado.
Guiney: Dr. Roberts is the leader of the organization here at Heritage, and I explain my coffee maker problem to him.
Roberts: I'll begin to square that circle by responding to your wonderful personal anecdote about getting married with a personal anecdote from someone, me, who's been married for more than a quarter of a century. And over the weekend, my dear wife Michelle was going out to shop for something and I raised my eyebrows. By the way, you should only do infrequently in your many years of marriage upcoming. And she said, "I know, not in China." And our youngest daughter, who's a young teenager, when she's shopping for something, says, "Yes, dad. I know not to buy it from the bad place." And all that to say, a few years ago when we as a family realized we had to square our own circle, which is about our own consumption of products being made in China, probably in sweatshops, perhaps only barely, figuratively, with the blood of Christian martyrs and the [inaudible 00:05:00]. I'm not overstating this, this is an evil, evil regime in all of world history.
I then, to get to the heart of your question, had to reckon with a very disturbing reality as a policy leader. At that point, I was leading the Texas group, obviously now leading Heritage, and it was, this. This was the squaring of the circle, which is your squaring of the circle. We believe in the free market. I believed my entire life up to that point, three or four years ago, that America and all of its goodness and persuasiveness and power of the free market would turn China into America. And I woke up one morning and I realized I was wrong. That in fact, we can't square the circle. The only way to begin fixing the problem is to stop consuming those products.
And then on a policy level, which of course is what you and I and our colleagues at Heritage are concerned about, changing policy to understand what time it is in America. And what time it is... And I don't do hyperbole. I'm not a dramatic person. It's almost too late to fix this problem. We do have time and I am optimistic we're going to do it, but the pain that you're feeling with your wedding registry, the pain my wife felt when I raised my eyebrows, "Don't you be buying that if it's made in China!" Of course she was very happy to just comply, but she supports this enthusiastically. That's what every America needs to feel as we articulate these policy solutions from Heritage.
Guiney: There's a lot of bad guys in the world.
Roberts: I've noticed that.
Guiney: Syria, Iran, Iraq, there's a whole long list. And of course it goes without saying, but when we use the term China in this context, we're always talking about the Chinese Communist Party, not the people of China. But what differentiates the government in China from all these other bad guys?
Roberts: Excellent question. I'll try to be succinct. Number one, their economic power, sort of thinking about the products we consume, how dependent we are on just the Chinese market. If you're the National Basketball Association, just ask them. They might be the bad guys too though. But to stick to the question. The Chinese have more economic power by many exponents than the Soviet Union ever did. In fact, the lack of economic power is one of the reasons we were able to defeat the Soviets. Ultimately, Reagan's brilliance, in sort of layman's terms, was we can outspend them in military buildup and they can't keep up. And their attempt to keep up will bankrupt them. That's what happened. And of course the social turmoil that followed happened as well.
The second thing is their military power is increasing, and our colleagues here at Heritage are a little more optimistic than some observers in the movement. And I think our colleagues are right in saying as it stands now, Chinese military power is not quite equivalent to that of the United States, but the trend is really bad. And so something's got to give. Either there's got to be some geopolitical force that causes the Chinese to draw back their military production, unlikely to happen, highly unlikely to happen, or the United States is going to have to be more efficient and effective at our own military spending.
But then the third thing is, and I think in a lot of ways, Mark, this is the most nefarious, it is the most nefarious and it's the most powerful, Chinese espionage in the United States is unlike anything the United States has faced. I'm a child of the Cold War, not an expert in it, but lifelong student of it and familiar therefore with espionage tactics of the Soviets. They were very good. The British are and were very good. The Israelis were and are very good. But the Chinese are particularly potent at espionage. Why? Because they've paired it with American consumption behavior. So whether it is the app TikTok, with all of the videos, which of course at Heritage we forswear and we encourage everyone to get off of, whether it is Chinese espionage using American taxpayers dollars in our universities, or whether it is CCP police who are active in the United States, rooting out pro-American behavior by Chinese Americans here in the United States. All of those things, the espionage power, the economic power, the military power, you put those together and I don't think the Soviet Union at its height comes even close to the power that the CCP has right now over the United States.
Guiney: So, we've heard it said here at Heritage and elsewhere in the conservative movement that we've got China wrong. Can you talk a little bit more about that?
Roberts: Yeah, I'll just respond to your question with a headline. We, all of us we, like the royal, royal we...
Roberts: ... got China wrong. The conservative movement, the United States of America, I, Kevin Roberts, got China wrong. The Heritage Foundation got China wrong. And by saying that, I'm not saying that any of that was poorly intentioned, certainly not on behalf of Heritage. I don't think I was poorly intentioned in thinking that America's going to turn China into America. I know our friends in the conservative movement were not. And I even give the remaining reasonable, center, left people in D.C. and state capitals the benefit of the doubt on this, because I know I was completely wrong. We just realized we've been duped. And it's because of our goodness as Americans, and at least speaking for myself, some naivete that I just think America's just going to win all the time. Hopefully given what we believe as Americans, we are a peace-loving people, especially for people of faith, that we're not going to have to fight a war to win. We're just going to win because of the free market and the virtue and persuasiveness of our ideas.
And you know what? It's okay to admit that we were wrong because the intentions that went into that were pure as a people, certainly as a conservative movement. I can speak for the movement. And it's just gratifying to me to see this groundswell of movement away from that incorrect position, born out of a lot of ignorance about Chinese culture over millennia, to a position that still recognizes the beauty of the Chinese people themselves, the culture itself, but knows that the Chinese Communist Party with its 94 million members wants America and our ideas to cease to exist.
And just hang on that for a moment, if you may. Not just America [inaudible 00:11:28] just want to see the end of the nation state, the Republic known as the United States of America. They want the ideas on which this country is based, which of course date back for millennia as I often talk about, to go away. We better be prepared for the fight of our lives.
Guiney: Let's keep going down, because we're going down.
Roberts: I'm going to follow your lead.
Guiney: Okay. So, what would be a worst case scenario? 10 years, we don't get this right. What does the world, the United States look like?
Roberts: Well, if your timeline for the worst case scenario is 10 years, I'll answer that. But the worst case scenario would be the CCP invading Taiwan anytime soon, because we're not prepared. And the Taiwanese are right-minded but not prepared. The United States needs some time to arm the Taiwanese. But let's just assume that's not going to happen because there are, to inject a little bit of optimism, there are some reasons to think China's not ready for that either.
And so to answer your question with this 10 year timeline, the worst case scenario would be that over the subsequent election cycles, both on the Democratic and Republican sides of the conversation, two things happen. The first is there isn't a real substantive policy conversation about what to do with China. And the second is, and this is coming from someone, me, who's a strident conservative, I believe you got to bloody the nose of the radical left before you decide you want be civil with them, there has to be some bipartisan legislation that comes out of Congress and comes out of state capitals, not for the sake of being sweet about bipartisanship, although that's nice when it happens genuinely, but for the following reason. That's the vocabulary the Chinese understand. In other words, if there is bipartisan, forceful legislation from Congress, from state legislatures, then the CCP leaders will realize America's getting it right.
So, the absence of those things would begin to constitute the worst case scenario 10 years from now. And then 10 years from now, if that's happened, then we are militarily weaker. We will not have addressed the focus of the Secretary of the Navy, of the Secretary of Defense right now, which is that pronouns of servicemen and servicewomen are more important than military power. I'm not being gratuitous in saying that, it's true. The Secretary of the Navy over the last few days has said climate change is the most pressing threat facing the Navy, facing the Department of Defense. This is beyond absurdity. It almost sounds like fiction. So, worst case scenario would be the United States continues to talk that way.
But then on the other side of the equation, which is the Chinese side, they've continued their military buildup, especially in nuclear weapons and especially in their navy where they would be on par with the United States. Our naval power up to this point has been one of the main military reasons that we've remained so influential globally. And also that the Chinese continue to keep their tentacles, if you will, in the American economy. And by that I don't just mean that they've got lobbyists who, as we sit here on Capitol Hill, no doubt present in the Capitol lobbying on behalf of CCP interests. But more importantly, that they are in the homes of Americans with products that frankly need to stop being imported. That's the worst case scenario.
Notice I didn't even say that they've "invaded us" militarily, which I think of course is a tall, tall order for the Chinese, especially over 10 years. The postscript mark, and it's really important to mention this, culturally, the Chinese are the most patient adversaries we have ever confronted. And given the wonderful cultural attribute of Americans, which we inherited from the British of our impatience in these things, we have to remember that and we have to have a very persevering impatience about preventing that worst case scenario.
Guiney: So, something you mentioned in there that I think would be helpful for us to understand now is kind of here at home. Obviously, one could say that Heritage is a conservative organization.
Roberts: One might make that observation.
Guiney: But of course not everyone in America is conservative and there's political difference of opinion. Our friends on the liberal side of the aisle, do they see this as as big of a problem as we do?
Roberts: The state of the play regarding the threat from China as it's perceived here in the nation's capital is poor but improving. And so, just to contrast where the state of play is today versus a year ago, it's better. And it's better in part to your question, because more political leaders on the left are recognizing the threat from China. And I think one piece of evidence that we'll be looking for here at Heritage as a measure of success of the revitalized effort that we're leading against the CCP is if when Congress has hearings on some of this legislation, that they don't descend into the typical partisan battle and party line votes. But in fact, there's a real bipartisan effort at the committee level and of course when the full vote comes from the full chamber at confronting the threat. And I'm cautiously optimistic that will happen.
And I will say, to give President Biden slightly partial credit on this, about every third time he speaks about China or Taiwan, he's right. At Heritage. We have this beautiful privilege and burden of telling the truth even when it hurts. And I mean, I'm very happy just as an American citizen that the President, whoever he or she would be, happens to be right some of the time. It's just that I think his advisors then get around him after he makes these good pronouncements. We've seen this recently with Taiwan. And they say, "Don't say that again." That speaks to what remains a real obstacle on the left, which is they're not quite there. And so, one of the things we're trying to do at Heritage is not just give our natural political allies, the conservatives in Congress, the intellectual ammunition they need to fight this battle politically, but also to be really good at messaging, to continue to do what we've always done, which is be very willing to work with people on the left who want to be leaders on this issue.
You and I know this, anyone in this building knows this. If the most radical leftist member of Congress, whoever that would be, walked into Heritage today and said, "I'm with you on China, would you help me?" Oh my gosh. We would help them as much as we would help any other member of Congress. That's the beauty. And I was going to say, this has been my private goal that something like that happened. Well, now it's public.
Guiney: Not anymore.
Roberts: Yeah. And that's good. And I think that would tell me the following, a recognition that I had because of my friend and mentor, Newt Gingrich, with whom I speak often about this, about China. He said, "Kevin, if we can get China right, then all of the issues we're confronting in the United States domestically begin to fall into place." So, we begin to realize at stake with poor education, that's what's at stake with poor tax policy, that's what's at stake in all of these domestic issues.
Guiney: So at the moment, the reason we're doing this season at this time, is because we have this China paper coming. And a lot of times for institutions like our own, people are like, "Well, you're a think tank. You publish papers." So, what's the big deal about that? Why are we publishing this big paper and how is that paper going to lead to action?
Roberts: Well, if I may, a really important caveat, I know some people like the phrase think tank. I really dislike it, even though I've led to and lead I guess the largest conservative one in the world, because it does make it sound like we're just sitting around stroking our beards. And we're not. In fact, you know, our policy colleagues know, that our rule at Heritage is every word we write in a paper is oriented around policy change. And so, sometimes that means we have to write a lot of words. So, this paper on China, which frames it rhetorically as a new Cold War, is really long. It's one of the longest papers we have published in a long time. It's a landmark publication.
Now, perhaps in the think tank world of old, we might have just patted ourselves on the back for the beauty of that academic product, right? And there is some of that in D.C. It's not here in Heritage. But here at Heritage, every part of that paper has to be the foundation for taking action. And you and I know, hopefully listeners of this podcast know, that paper, any paper that we publish is just the first step toward affecting policy change in Congress and increasingly in state capitals. We have a slew of policy recommendations in this paper, and obviously we'll get into that over the next few weeks. But point here today is to say that those are not empty solutions. These are not words we've just sort of randomly put on a page. They're not ideas that we think sound good. Each of these ideas, of which there are several dozen, is something that we will go lobby for on behalf of the everyday American, otherwise we would not have put it in print.
Guiney: A question that you're very fond of asking at the Kevin Roberts Show is, for our guests, if you could wave a magic wand. So, if you could wave a magic wand and have everybody in America know one thing about this situation or take one action in this situation, what would it be?
Roberts: I'll wave the magic wand twice, because I can be abusive that way, you've given me the magic wand. So, the first one is for everyone to know, this affects us all. It doesn't matter who you are. It doesn't matter how big your city is, how small your town is, what job you have, where your people are from. It affects us all. Everything we buy, where our kids go to school, what we consume on the internet, the news outlets who they're owned by, it affects us all. So, we all should care.
The second thing is, magic wand, the first thing to do, well, this actually is a really big deal. It is D.C.-focused and it would have a substantive result. But what I also really like is the signal it sends to everyday Americans and especially to Xi Jinping and the people who brought them to power. Forbid the Chinese Communist Party from spending one dime lobbying in the nation's capital of the greatest republic in the history of the world. That's the shot over the bow that would give me confidence we're going to prevail.
Guiney: It's crazy that that's allowed.
Roberts: It is crazy. Even as I'm saying this, I'm thinking, Roberts, people will think you're making this up. I swear to you, tens of millions of dollars are spent by the CCP on lobbying in D.C. And therefore when not, if we forbid it, that's when we would know America's beginning to win this new Cold War.
Guiney: After my conversation with Dr. Roberts, I couldn't quite tell if I felt better or worse. The problem seemed to be a lot more dire than I thought, but he also had a lot of optimism. There's a lot of conversation these days at Heritage on China, and that conversation is driving one of the biggest written products that Heritage has produced in a long time. It's a paper called Winning the New Cold War, A Plan for Countering China. At this moment, a plan seems like a good idea. I sat down with Jeff Smith, the man of Heritage who is driving the train on that project. Good morning.
Jeff Smith: Good morning.
Guiney: Could you introduce yourself, please?
Smith: Jeff Smith, the director of the Asian Study Center here at Heritage, formerly the Research Fellow for South Asia.
Guiney: You're also very well known as our institution's most decorated flag football player, which I think comes a surprise to no one because you're an imposing gentleman. I'd like to think of myself somewhat as an imposing gentleman as well. So, I was just going to pose a quick hypothetical to you before we get into it. So, let's say that I'm on my 20 yard line. You're on the 10, I've got the ball. Can you give me the over/under on my making the TD Like the percent? And this is, we're here for precision. So just-
Smith: Highly unlikely in flag football. In real football, even less likely.
Guiney: What can I say? The man tells it like it is. It's safe to say that you've been doing this South Asia thing for a while. I won't bore everybody with everything, but you've written articles for Foreign Affairs, Wall Street Journal, War on the Rocks, Foreign Policy, CNN, Harvard International Review, been featured in the New York Times, Economist, Reuters, BBC. It goes on and on and on and on and on. How did you get into this kind of work? Why South Asia?
Smith: I first got into the foreign policy field studying international terrorism. I was in college when 9/11 struck and immediately became interested in why these Islamist extremists were targeting American cities. While the field of study for Middle Eastern and Arabic studies, I would say, was fairly saturated, there was a large cadre of experts already in Washington, and there was a whole new generation that was interested in studying the Middle East, there was comparatively fewer people interested in South Asia and in these Islamist extremist groups operating in Afghanistan and Pakistan. So, I was drawn to that field and eventually the focus broadened to include India and the US/India relationship and the geopolitics of South Asia and the Indo-Pacific.
Guiney: What is it about this region of the world that keeps you interested? Would you ever want to study something else?
Smith: There's so much going on in the Indo-Pacific, so many overlapping economic and security trends that are relevant to the United States. You've got this rising power in India. You've got China's growing influence, reach into the Indian Ocean, into South Asia.
Guiney: So, you listened to Dr. Roberts' interview.
Guiney: He had a [inaudible 00:25:22] response to the idea of, okay, we're a think tank, we write papers, but what's the point of a paper? Which I thought was a very good response. Can you talk about the paper? What's it called? What are our ambitions for it?
Smith: The paper is called Winning the New Cold War, A Plan for Countering China. And this is likely to capture a lot of attention and some headlines because the phrase Cold War is, in some corners, very provocative. And the point we try to make in the paper is that first of all, China has been deploying Cold War tactics against the United States for many years. We've been afraid to call it a Cold War here because we fear that that will make a Cold War-like competition inevitable. But if you sit down and look at the facts, the reality is China has been engaging in a Cold War against us for some time. And if you look at what the actual definition of a Cold War is, it's essentially a state of very heightened political economic propaganda rivalry between two states, short of actual physical conflict. And it's hard to argue that that doesn't apply to the state of the US/China relationship right now.
Now, people have been reluctant to use it because it obviously evokes memories of the U.S./Soviet Cold War, and they say, well, but China's different and the relationship is different. And that's absolutely true, but there's no rule that says every Cold War has to be exactly the same, right? Hot Wars take very different forms. And Vietnam looked very, very different from World War II, and looked very different from the invasion of Afghanistan. This Cold War likely will look different from the U.S. Soviet Cold War, but that's okay.
I think it's also important to remember one of the defining characteristics of the Cold War was that we didn't go to war with the Soviet Union. And that is the hope again, today. We don't want conflict with China. We want to avoid conflict with China, and we want to make sure that if we do have to have a conflict with China, that we're in a position to win. But what this paper is about is essentially acknowledging the extreme rivalry that has seized this relationship. And it also isn't afraid to acknowledge that China is an adversary, that this is the current state of play, and that we are willing to provide a series of policy recommendations to Capitol Hill and the executive branch on how to step up our game in this rivalry.
Guiney: Are you optimistic about our future concerning China?
Smith: I'm always optimistic about America's future. I think our future is bright. I think we're resilient people. I think we've overcome very significant challenges in the past. Some of the trends are heading in concerning directions. Certainly the expansion of Chinese military power is concerning. And if you look at the trend lines, they give our military planners some cause for alarm.
It's also concerning that in some ways, China is a more capable adversary than the Soviet Union was. And that's concerning to me. The Soviets were militarily very capable, but economically, they were never a peer of the United States. China has the economic power to pose a major problem for the United States. Not only does it have the GDP growth to sustain concerning military spending, but it's deeply enmeshed in the global trading system. And so China is the largest trading partner for many countries, most years including ourselves.
Guiney: Which is why I can't find coffee maker made in the United States.
Smith: Exactly, exactly.
Guiney: So what's the takeaway here? Well, the short answer, from what I gather, is this. It's complicated. The China problem is one that has many, many parts, economic, social, cultural, political, military. But at The Heritage Foundation and on Heritage Explains, we specialize in problems with lots of parts, making them simple, making them understandable, and finding solutions to them. So, in the next five episodes of this podcast, that's exactly what we're going to be doing, digging into the problems presented by China and finding solutions to them. And I am very much looking forward to that.
And as to the coffee maker question, Dr. Roberts had some advice on that as well. With all this in mind, what's your advice on the coffee maker front?
Roberts: Actually, I'm aware of one that is not made in China. It's not made in the United States, to your point, it's made in Europe, but I can tell you it's a really good coffee maker and there are no instructions in the Chinese language.
Guiney: That's good.
Roberts: Now your follow up should be, Kevin, will that be the gift that I'm getting from you and your wife? And then I would say, Mark, it's expensive.
Guiney: Oh. Well, you do work at a nonprofit.
We'd like to thank Dr. Kevin Roberts and Jeff Smith for being our first guests on this new season of Heritage Explains. On next week's episode, we're going to be focusing on the ways that the CCP is at work here in the United States. We're going to talk about TikTok, the U.S. border and drugs, and yes, those lobbyists. Make sure you're here. We'll see you then.
Heritage Explains is brought to you by more than half a million members of The Heritage Foundation. It's written and produced by Mark Guiney, Lauren Evans, and John Popp. Production assistance by Alexa Walker and Jeff Smith. Special thanks to Dr. Kevin Roberts.