China-US relations

US law enforcers should stop China’s influence campaign, says key strategist Michael Pillsbury

  • Michael Pillsbury, hailed by Donald Trump as ‘the leading authority on China’, says it is time to act against Beijing
PUBLISHED : Thursday, 25 October, 2018, 6:46am
UPDATED : Thursday, 25 October, 2018, 11:23pm

US law enforcement should step in to stop a Chinese government influence campaign in the United States, according to Michael Pillsbury, an influential American strategist hailed as “the leading authority on China” by US President Donald Trump.

Pillsbury claimed the Chinese influence campaign dated back more than seven decades.

“A lot of people said words along this line: it should not be law enforcement, it should not be national security,” Pillsbury said at forum on Wednesday at the Hudson Institute, a Washington-based conservative think tank that has grown influential under the Trump presidency.

“I’m very scared when people think it should be a moral principle that US national security law enforcement or congress can’t get involved in these issues.

“We can protect the Chinese diaspora’s human rights and civil liberties, although we are going to have action by the US government.”

Pillsbury was commenting on a reported influence campaign by Chinese embassies and consulates in the United States.

The campaign has reportedly included shaping discussions through Confucius Institutes, mobilising overseas Chinese students to improve the image of the Chinese government and silencing political dissent among overseas Chinese.

Pillsbury, director of the Centre on Chinese Strategy at the Hudson Institute, is a former intelligence official and diplomat.

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During the Reagan administration, he was an assistant undersecretary of defence for policy planning. He is the author of The Hundred-Year Marathon, a book much discussed both in China and the United States, amid tensions between the world’s two biggest economies.

Pillsbury’s influence in the White House was underlined by Trump’s comment that Pillsbury is “the leading authority on China” during an interview last month.

His name was mentioned twice in a speech by Vice-President Mike Pence on China, dubbed by some the “new cold war speech”, which included a long list of criticism of Beijing’s policies, ranging from trade practices to human rights.

Pence’s speech, delivered three weeks ago, was also made at the Hudson Institute.

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During Wednesday’s event, Pillsbury argued that influence operations by the Chinese Communist Party had started as early as the end of the second world war, when Washington sent five-star general George Marshall to stop China’s civil war.

“This debate about how to handle the influence operations by the Chinese Communist Party – what if what Dr Pillsbury says is true, that it first began in 1944?” Pillsbury said.

Summarising Marshall’s unsuccessful mission to broker peace between China’s Kuomintang and the communists, Pillsbury said the Communist Party had “successfully manipulated the US embassy and people back in DC”.

Marshall’s mission was to force the warring parties into a coalition government and to absorb Mao Zedong’s army into Chiang Kai-shek’s, with the dangling carrot of billions of dollars of US military and financial aid to smooth the way. After Marshall’s failed mission, the Communist Party took over China in 1949.

“Yes, I welcome all the new enthusiasm of all the young people who are discovering this just after Xi Jinping took over, just the last couple of years, but I think it goes way back,” he said.