Book Review: Robert Spalding, Stealth War: How China Took Over While America’s Elite Slept (Portfolio, 2019)

A B-2 “Spirit” Stealth Bomber (above). Though Robert Spalding’s Stealth War: How China Took Over While America’s Elite Slept bears the name of the exquisite machinery depicted, the book actually concerns something different. Stealth War refers to how China has quietly waged a six-front war on the economy, military, diplomacy, technology, education, and infrastructure of the US, and has been winning. Spalding provides piercing judgments, a novel-like reporting of actual events, and a clarity that allows him to cast a cold eye on China policy analysis and intelligence analysis both past and present. He has interestingly taken his own dissatisfaction, disappointment, and anger over how badly the US has handled China, placed the country in some danger, and safely expressed it on paper, turning it into a positive force to better understand how things have taken shape and how events are unfolding before the eyes of every US citizen.

As of late, there has been an altogether different spring in Beijing’s step. Without a shadow of doubt, Beijing now has a broader attitude towards Asia, a broader attitude towards the world, than it ever had before. Very convinced men and women in China awake each day invigorated with the idea that their country will soon be the dominant power in the world. Some might say it has been a long-standing perspective held among Chinese Communists. However, it would appear this view is being clinged to stronger now than ever. Long ago, Beijing formulated a long-term plan to eventually become the world’s dominant power. That plan has been underway without pause for decades. Few who planned it, lived to see the type satisfying results that have blossomed in recent years. Surely, People’s Republic of China President and Communist Party of China Party Secretary Xi Jinping hopes that under his leadership, the long sought goal of dominance will be achieved. In statements and speeches, he has often assured the Chinese people that the hopes and dreams of the Party and the people will be manifested. Though the idea of China being the world’s dominant power may be a pleasurable thought in Beijing, the moral and ethical implications are remarkably overwhelming. The notion of China achieving that goal is a frightening prospect, terrifying leaders in other countries whether its friend or foe.

US President Joe Biden recently reminded before a Joint Session of the US Congress that “Our greatest strength is the power of our example, not just the example of our power.” Perhaps many Asia observers and analysts would agree that such is not the case for China. Despite having the structure, a perceptible veneer to those unfamiliar with its ways, of being a multiparty system at the national level, for all intents and purposes, China is a single party, Communist, authoritarian state. The course of its leadership of the world might follow the same pattern as China’s censorship approach. Whatever China wanted would be dictated and punishment would closely follow behind its threats to those who disobey Beijing. The dynamics of relationships with cautious allies as the Russian Federation, for instance, would change, as China would likely want it at least to be tacitly understood that it was the “senior partner,” the leader. Discussion about China and its moves toward becoming the dominant world power is no longer outside the realm of even everyday conversation among the US public. If the people were provided with the full facts on China’s rise in competition with the US it would likely take the breath away of many. China stands convinced of the correctness of both its points of view and its actions.

The subject of this review, Robert Spalding’s Stealth War: How China Took Over While America’s Elite Slept (Portfolio, 2019), has been promoted as a book which discusses how China has quietly waged a six-front war on America’s economy, military, diplomacy, technology, education, and infrastructure, and has been winning. It might be enough for greatcharlie just to describe Spalding’s exceptional achievement with Stealth War as providing piercing judgments, a novel-like reporting of actual events, and a clarity that allows him to cast a cold eye on China policy analysis and intelligence analysis, both past and present. However, Spalding, even more, has interestingly taken his dissatisfaction, disappointment, and anger over how badly the US has handled China, placed the country in some danger, and safely expressed it on paper, turning it into a positive force to better understand how things have taken shape and how atrocious events are unfolding right before the eyes of every US citizen.

Although packed with excellent suggestions, the book is not about moving from choppy waters to calmer times. It is about preparing the US, using all tools of its power, military, diplomatic, economic, political, and information (media) power, to best handle what is happening with China and the worst that will most likely, or will eventually, come from its direction. Have no doubt that as a retired US Air Force Brigadier General, Spalding is well up on how the US could take on China militarily, and win. Spalding has presented his findings and judgments in such a way to plant good, well-thought out, seeds with the hope they will take root well. It is difficult to see how policy analysts and policymakers in the US, Democrat or Republican, would not recognize that Spalding is largely in the right.

In this review of Stealth War, greatcharlie hopes it can demonstrate how those reading the book for the first time will be provided a full picture on the matter. Hopefully the review will spark their exploration of the book to see what they can draw from Spalding’s meditations. For those who have already read Stealth War, this review hopefully will provide an opportunity to consider perspectives not thought of during their first look. In this review, greatcharlie will not run through Stealth War chapter and verse as it typically has in preceding book reviews. While still offering what it may humbly call its well-considered opinions and commentary, greatcharlie will discuss what it feels is the essence of the work, how Spalding stirs the development of perceptions and insights through the manner in which he presents his facts. Admittedly, being somewhat assiduous over facts in reviews, greatcharlie has often been somewhat prolix. A conscious effort has been made by greatcharlie to avoid again presenting what one reader acidulously, and lyrically, described as “a typical edifying, yet verbose greatcharlie review.” There is no desire to create a challenge for some readers to stay onboard with a post until the end of the ride. (Despite our deeming it necessary to do so, greatcharlie apologies to all readers for severely curtailing the discussion of the text of Stealth War in this review. It is recognized that Stealth War is a book of such quality that some readers might view taking such a step as a sort of malfeasance.)

Acknowledged as the master of the heroic couplet and one of the primary tastemakers of the Augustan age, British writer Alexander Pope was a central figure in the Neoclassical movement of the early 18th century. In “An Essay on Criticism,” a didactic poem first published anonymously in 1711 when the author was 23 years old, in greatcharlie’s humble view superbly gets to heart of the reviewer’s mission, explaining: “But you who seek to give and merit fame, / And justly bear a critic’s noble name, / Be sure your self and your own reach to know, / How far your genius, taste, and learning go; / Launch not beyond your depth, but be discreet, / And mark that point where sense and dulness meet.”

The author of Stealth War, Robert Spalding (above), is by no means an outsider with special access, looking in on the situation. He is an erstwhile insider, who worked within the deepest points, most grave points, of the US military and other national security bureaucracies. It must be noted that being a former US Air Force brigadier general, B-2 Stealth bomber pilot and unit commander, among many other accomplishments, Spalding was a member of an unique, elite caste of military officers who are not quick to speak out, do not lightly show emotion, at least publicly or react because of it, never fret over a perception without the full facts, would hardly speak idly, and whose views when expressed should be taken very seriously. Spalding spoke truth to power at the Pentagon and the White House, and speaks of only what he knows to be the truth in Stealth War. His scruple does him much honor.

The Author

Robert Spalding retired from the US Air Force as a brigadier general after more than 25 years of service. If US Air Force officers were listed by achievements–perhaps they are somewhere in the Pentagon, Spalding would surely be among the luminaries. His Air Force biography provides the best picture of the experience and knowledge he possess. Minus his list of educational accomplishments, it reads as follows: “General Spalding received his commission through Fresno State University’s ROTC program in 1991. He earned his doctorate in economics and mathematics from the University of Missouri at Kansas City in 2007. The general attended undergraduate pilot training in 1993, and was subsequently assigned as a B-52 Stratofortress co-pilot in the 5th Bomb Wing at Minot Air Force Base, North Dakota. He subsequently transitioned to the B-2 Spirit at Whiteman Air Force Base, Missouri. In 2001, he was selected as one of three Air Force Olmsted Scholars, and was a distinguished graduate of Mandarin Chinese language training at the Defense Language Institute in Monterey, California. Afterward, the general attended Tongji University in Shanghai as a graduate research student. He then returned to Whiteman Air Force Base as a B-2 evaluator pilot and assistant director of operations for the 393rd Bomb Squadron. The general was then assigned to the Office of Secretary of Defense’s Prisoner of War Missing Personnel Office as the military assistant for the deputy assistant secretary of defense. During the Iraq surge in 2007, General Spalding deployed to Baghdad and directed the Personal Security Coordination Center. After a stint at the Air War College at Maxwell Air Force Base, Alabama, he was reassigned to the B-2 at Whiteman Air Force Base. While at Whiteman Air Force Base, he was the chief of safety, operations group commander and vice wing commander. He was then selected as a Military Fellow at the Council of Foreign Relations in New York. General Spalding then served as the chief China strategist for the chairman of the Joint Chiefs, the Joint Staff at the Pentagon, Washington DC. His next assignment led him back to China as the Senior Defense Official and Defense Attache to China in Beijing, China. Prior to his current assignment he served at the White House as the Senior Director for Strategic Planning at the National Security Council, Washington D.C.”

Spalding is by no means an outsider, with special access, looking in on the situation. He is an erstwhile insider, who worked within the deepest points, most grave points of the US military and other national security bureaucracies. It must be noted that being a former US Air Force brigadier general, B-2 Stealth bomber pilot and unit commander, among his many impressive accomplishments, Spalding was a member of an unique, elite caste of military officers who are not quick to speak out, do not lightly show emotion, at least publicly or react because of it, never fret over a perception without the full facts, would hardly speak idly, and whose views when expressed should be taken very seriously. Spalding spoke truth to power at the Pentagon and the White House, and speaks of only what he knows to be the truth in Stealth War. His scruple does him much honor.

As of this writing, Spalding is set to publish a new book with Sentinel in April 2022, War Without Rules: China’s Playbook for Global Domination. In War Without Rules, readers are again presented with the perspectives and insights on US-China relations through the lens of a man with years of experience on such matters. Resolved that the Communist Party of China’s leaders believe that there is no sector of life outside the realm of war, Spalding illustrates how they have gone about that by use corporate espionage, global pandemics, and trade violations to achieve dominance. The ultimate goal of the Party is world dominance. Spalding provides insight into how US citizens can be made better aware of China’s tactics in order to mitigate its creeping influence.

Polybius (c. 204-122 B.C.), the Greek “pragmatic historian,” and intriguingly an eyewitness to the siege and destruction of Carthage accompanying none other than Cornelius Scipio Aficanus as one of his commanders. In his noted work, The Histories, Polybius covers the period from 264 BC to 146 BC, focusing primarily on the years 220 BC to 167 BC, and detailing Ancient Rome’s conquest of Carthage, which allowed it to become the dominant force in the Mediterranean. Additionally in The Histories, Polybius offered what he believed were the process and traits required of a good historian. Among all things enumerated, he emphasized: “All available evidence must be collected, thoroughly sifted, soberly weighed, and, lastly, the historian must be animated by a sincere love of truth and a calm impartiality.”

Spalding’s book is far from a dispassionate clinical study of US-China relations. Spalding is not presenting Stealth War at any point in the book as an intermedial. If one is looking for a book written by such an author, Stealth War would be the wrong choice. Being that he is in every way a patriot, Spalding’s position concerning the US interests versus China or any other country for that matter is vigorously partisan for the US. Moreover, he is not reluctant to confide his thoughts on such matters either. Readers should expect his relative partisanship to be the dominant tone of the text. However, Spalding’s patriotic tone does not degrade into anything akin to jingoism or chauvinism. His partisanship does not impact the quality of Spalding’s analysis. He is in fact very critical of US decision making on China. To the extent that he vigorously engaged in the process of collecting relevant evidence and sought to present the absolute truth, Spalding demonstrates all of the traits that Polybius would likely agree qualifies him as a solid reporter of past events.

While Spalding puts readers in the full picture, at the same time, he does not attempt to squeeze every issue dry so to speak. What he does present, however, provides enough to leave no doubt as to China’s actions and intentions. It is his book, and his prerogative to preclose as his present the facts as he knows them.

As a read, the book is presented in a way by Spalding as not to be too heavy going. Often, analysis becomes more uncertain as it becomes more sophisticated. His examination admirably allows for safe passage on each occasion to the very heart of the matter. There are no exaggerated claims. There is nothing to debunk. Surely, China would insist and seek to create the impression that statements made by Spalding regarding election interference, cyberattack, espionage, theft of intellectual property are simply Innuendo and insinuation. The notion of a misunderstood China offends all of Spalding’s reasoning.

People’s Republic of China President and Communist Party of China Party Secretary Xi Jinping (above) celebrating the Centennial of the Communist Party of China. Long ago, Beijing formulated a long-term plan to eventually become the world’s dominant power. That plan has been underway without pause for decades. Few who planned it, lived to see the type satisfying results that have blossomed in recent years. Surely, Xi hopes that under his leadership, the long sought goal of dominance will be achieved. In statements and speeches, he has often assured the Chinese people that the hopes and dreams of the Party and the people will be manifested. Though the idea of China being the world’s dominant power may be a pleasurable thought in Beijing, the moral and ethical implications are remarkably overwhelming. The notion of China achieving that goal is a frightening prospect, terrifying leaders in other countries whether friend or foe.

A Courageous Act by Spalding

Spalding speaks independently with his own points of view. It should be reminded that when he published Stealth War in October 2019, few from the ranks of his fellow military commanders with his experience had effectively and successfully reached an audience with such perspectives on China. Much as the man standing on high rock in the painting, Der Wanderer über dem Nebelmeer (The Traveler Contemplating a Sea of ​​Clouds) (1818) by the 19th century German Romantic painter Caspar David Friedrich. The “Dean of Cold War Historians” and Professor of Military and Naval History at Yale University, John Lewis Gaddis, suggests that the position of the character above the precipice and in front of a tormented landscape is contradictory because “evoking the domination over a landscape but at the same time the insignificance of the individual who is included in it.” In greatcharlie’s interpretation, Spalding could be represented by the man standing as he sees dangers that his country faces at the present and tries to imagine and consider responses to those unknown that it may face in the future. He fiercely desires to mitigate them, and thereby allow the US public to rest more easily. 

The practice of understanding the competition between powers and the clashes that result in the establishment of a dominant power was well-demonstrated more than two millennia ago by the Athenian historian and general, Thucydides (c 460 – c. 400 BC)  . The primary focus of Thucydides’ studies was the burgeoning competition and eventual clash of Athens and Sparta. Sparta was the superpower in the region, particularly militarily. As the Athenian empire rapidly grew with determination, to Thucydides, it clearly was just a matter of time before the two powers would clash.

In his book, Greek Political Thought from Homer to the Sophists (Cambridge University Press, 1995), Michael Gagarin presents Thucydides explanation for the Peloponnesian War which states the following: “I will first write down an account of the disputes that explain their breaking the Peace, so that no one will ever wonder from what ground so great a war could arise among the Greeks. I believe, however, that the truest reason for the quarrel, though least evident in what was said at the time, was the growth of Athenian power, which put fear into the Spartans and so compelled them into war, while the explanations both sides gave in public for breaking the Peace and starting the war are as follows.” 

There is a sense, a feeling, within the pages of Stealth War that Spalding believes the unwanted crisis, war between the US and China, will come. To that extent, he wants the US to be best prepared to fight that war and to win. There is a definite materiality in what he presents. Specific points of China’s attack on the US and suggestions on responses are clearly laid out by Spalding in the 11 chapters of his book’s 256 pages They are organized and titled as follows: Chapter 1: “Unrestricted Warfare”; Chapter 2: “How We Got Here”; Chapter 3: “Economy”; Chapter 4: “The Military Crisis”; Chapter 5: “The Digital Battlefield”; Chapter 6: “Modern Warrior 5.0: The 5G Future”; Chapter 7: “Politics and Diplomacy”; Chapter 8: “Stealing Intellectual Property”; Chapter 9: “World Domination via Infrastructure”; Chapter 10: “Sino Solutions: How to Combat and Stop China’s Stealth War”; and, Chapter 11: “Beating China at Its Own Game”. In his discussion of each issue, Spalding first looks from within, taking a deeper dive into impressions of the situation that he has developed over years of immersion in all aspects of the matter. His discussion of issues reflects the realist, the pragmatic thinker that he is. 

Support for Spalding’s pragmatic approach to examining China’s behavior vis-a-via the US, and the world, appears to have been provided more than two millennia ago by the aforementioned Thucydides. Thucydides is sometimes credited with founding of what is known as”political realism.” It is unknown to greatcharlie whether Spalding actually does or does not associate himself with the world of political realism, and it would go out on shaky ground to claim either was the case. Yet, Spalding’s discussion of China’s ambitions appears to manifest aspects of that theory. Central to political realism is the assumption that humans, deep down, are selfish, fearful, ambitious, and self-interested. As for countries, they are driven to safeguard national interests. To that extent, the tragic choice to go to war stand as indispensable tools in the management of state affairs and diplomacy: statecraft. As a result, the world has become a place in which each country may find themselves in conflict with competitors with similar interests, ambitions, and goals (targets charted by time).

In his search for a reason, a rationale, a purpose, for the current state of relations with China, Spalding, led by data available to him, explains it was the errant policy positions of former US administrations. At the core of those policies pursued, according to Spalding, was the misguided belief that economic development would lead the way to China’s transformation to a more democratic form of government and away from Communism. Given the manner in which he explains it, readers are left to contemplate how such a horrifying blunder could continue on for so long.

Even when the First Chairman of the People’s Republic of China Mao Zedong (left) was offering his olive branch to US President Richard Nixon (right), he reportedly regarded the US as the enemy, and that Chinese documents “likened it to Hitler.” Spalding notes Pillsbury recounts how People’s Republic of China Foreign Minister Zhou Enlai, during a meeting with US Secretary of State Henry Kissinger, proclaimed “America is the ba.” The Chinese interpreter rendered this statement as “America is the leader.” That was a blatant mistranslation: “ba,” as used in most political language, means “tyrant.” When the translator was later asked why he softened Zhou’s language to Kissinger, he said, “It would have upset him.” At the time, US policymakers and decisionmakers were too interested in embracing a policy of helping China in order to destabilize the Soviet Union to concern themselves with the Communust Party of China’s hostile attitudes toward their country.

China Found Advantage in Pro-China Policies of the Past

Providing some framework for understanding the approach China took toward the situation, Spalding explains that war between countries in the 21st century looks much different than war in the 19th and 20th centuries. He notes that instead of bombs and bullets, it is about “ones and zeros and dollars and cents: economics, finance, data-information, manufacturing, infrastructure and communications.” He insists that today if one controls those fronts, “you can win a war without firing a shot.” Spalding calls it a simple logical strategy that leaders in the West have been very slow to grasp. To provide a taste from the text, Spalding elaborates further on matter in Chapter 1: “Unrestricted Warfare” on page 14: “Military might is only one way to express aggression, only one of many ways to attain power. In China’s view, economic power strengthens all the fields of potential engagement. In other words, money bolsters the military but also bolsters every other sphere of engagement imaginable. It can be used to influence and sway political leaders in foreign countries, silence ideas, and purchase or steal technology. It can be used to manufacture goods at dirt cheap prices and drive competitors out of business, or weaken rival economies. It can be used to create an army of academics, who fan out to gather scientific, technological, and engineering intelligence that can be used to further other goals.” 

To that extent, Spalding goes on to clarify the matter by stating that perhaps one of the most important and revealing documents of the Communist Party of China is a 1999 work entitled Unrestricted Warfare. Written by two senior colonels in the PLA, Qiao Liang and Wang Xiangsui, it discloses a number of prospective strategies that could possibly shift the balance of power throughout the world in China’s favor. Spalding insists that Unrestricted Warfare should be required reading for all branches of the US government and for business leaders because it outlines the strategy at the root of China’s policies in the world. He quotes a passage of the document that states: “The new principles of war are no longer ‘using armed force to compel the enemy to submit to one’s will,’ but rather are ‘using all means, including armed force and non-armed force, military and non-military, lethal and non-lethal means to compel the enemy to accept one’s interests’.”

Past US Administrations: Blind as Beetles

Given what Spalding reports, it seems at one point, opinion in nearly all foreign policy circles in the US were adverse to the suggestion of an aggressive China that would challenge the US position as a the world’s leader, or as Chinese government spokespersons and Communist Party of China leaders refer to as US dominance in the world. It is to go out on shaky ground to ask readers to remember that sentiment was heard during the 2020 US Presidential Campaign when then Presidential candidate Joe Biden referring to China stated: “I mean, you know, they’re nice folks, folks. But guess what? They’re not competition for us.”

Spalding notes that in The Hundred-Year Marathon: China’s Secret Strategy to Replace America as the Global Superpower (Henry Holt and Co, 2015), China observer Michael Pillsbury discloses that even when the First Chairman of the People’s Republic of China Mao Zedong offered his olive branch to US President Richard Nixon, he regarded the US as the enemy, and that Chinese documents “likened it to Hitler.” Spalding notes Pillsbury recounts how People’s Republic of China Foreign Minister Zhou Enlai, during a meeting with US Secretary of State Henry Kissinger, proclaimed “America is the ba.” The Chinese interpreter rendered this statement as “America is the leader.” Pillsbury said that was a  blatant mistranslation: “ba,” as used in most political language, means “tyrant.” When the translator was later asked why he softened Zhou’s language to Kissinger, he said, “It would have upset him.” At the time, US policymakers and decisionmakers were too interested in embracing a policy of helping China in order to destabilize the Soviet Union to concern themselves with the Communust Party of China’s hostile attitudes toward their country.

US President Bill Clinton (left) and General Secretary of the Communist Party of China, Jiang Zemin (right). From 1993 and 1998, there were several meetings between Clinton and Jiang. One the surface, US-China relations were mostly positive, a situation Spalding would explain was due to a desire in Washington to satisfy Beijing. Clinton signed a law passed by Congress establishing permanent normal trade relations with China. With the relationship codified, US investor confidence soared, as did business. China’s economy roared forward, too, due to a confluence of events: China was then accepted as a member of the World Trade Organization, Apple unveiled the iPod, and an eruption of digital goods turned into a stampede of international investment. Spalding makes the acidulous remark that many policy makers and business investors then, as well as years before, seemed to assume capitalism has special powers that could melt away authoritarianism and totalitarianism. Yet, despite China’s exponential growth, Spalding notes, as predicted by James Mann in his book, The China Fantasy: Why Capitalism Will Not Bring Democracy to China, the Communist Party of China only honed its brand of authoritarian capitalism.

Spalding remarks acidulously that many policy makers and business investors of the past seemed to assume capitalism has special powers that could melt away authoritarianism and totalitarianism. He goes on to discuss James Mann’s book, The China Fantasy: Why Capitalism Will Not Bring Democracy to China (Viking Adult, 2007), in which the author calls the West’s idea that China will morph into a liberal democratic society “the Soothing Scenario,” Mann summarizes the logic this way: “The country’s rapid economic growth will lead to far reaching political change as well. Eventually, increasing trade and prosperity will bring liberalization and democracy to China.” Spalding also points to Mann’s discussion of the opposite of the Soothing Scenario: “The Upheaval Scenario,” in which doubters envision China collapsing as a result of economic chaos or some kind of mass revolution. The result is turmoil and chaos. Spalding explains that Mann was way ahead of the curve when he wrote his book in 2007–a time when China was literally exploding with commerce and manufacturing. Six years earlier, then US President Bill Clinton signed a law passed by Congress establishing permanent normal trade relations with China. With the relationship codified, US investor confidence soared, as did business. China’s economy roared forward, too, due to a confluence of events: China was then accepted as a member of the World Trade Organization, Apple unveiled the iPod, and an eruption of digital goods turned into a stampede of international investment. Yet, despite China’s exponential growth, Spalding notes, Mann did not adhere to either the Soothing or Upheaval scenario. For Mann, all signs indicated that the Communist Party of China would continue to hone its brand of authoritarian capitalism.

There was not simply a gap between a perception of Chinese actions and intentions with a perception exemplar of the political realism school of thought as that of Spalding. Moreover, there appeared to be a gap between perception and reality on China among US political leaders and policy makers. They saw no urgency in responding effectively to what Beijing has been doing. The reality was hardly missed in Beijing that it would not be possible to simply rise to the mantle of the world’s dominant power. In order to possess the title of the world’s dominant power, China had to dispossess the US of it.

Spalding presents the subtle differences between logic and lunacy in expressing the actions of US political leaders and policymakers coddling a China determined to surpass the US, a thought many within policy circles and the general public in the US might still find difficult to wrap their heads around. Yet, Spalding curiously manages to forge an intriguing link for the US public, and imaginably the world at large, to what once quietly resided in the hearts and minds of senior military decision makers on China as well as what may generally reside in them now.

To that extent, the book has become, and will likely remain for some time, a stimulus to the discourse on US-China relations for a broader audience than other books on the subject. As awareness increases on the realities of that relationship, there has been an albeit gradual shift in perspectives on China. In foreign policy circles, it has been a gradual turn. In business circles, it has been an even slower transition, but somewhat steady. As he insists upon immediate change in response to developments, Spalding, himself, notes that “Some critics will accuse me of being alarmist or sensationalist.” Perhaps it will turn out in the end that the necessary change in thinking occurred too slowly.

Though not felt within the society as a whole but more so among a finite set of those in the national security bureaucracies whose responsibility is to keep an eye on China, there is a sense of foreboding similar to that which characterized the Cold War era when it was in full gallop during the 1950s and 1960s. Indeed, they are plenty worried. Many are worried enough to express their own concerns, if able, if permissible, in books after leaving the respective services, military, diplomatic, intelligence, sounding the claxson loudly on China’s moves much as Spalding had already done with Stealth War. In Graham Greene’s The Ministry of Fear (Penguin Classics, 2005) is found the line: “He had been frightened and so he had been vehement.”

Indeed, since the time Spalding published Stealth War, more have joined him in shining increased sunlight China’s activities, not just on the coronavirus disaster or in the realm of national security, but a multitude of other actions, all, nonetheless, malign. Included among those actions would be: predatory investment scams directed against trusting governments of often small and less industrialized countries; intrusion of sovereign waters for mass fishing; intellectual property theft from companies and research labs that have invested millions in research and development into that which was stolen; and, demands of censorship insisted upon of those in any arena who have received funding from, or are doing business with, China, concerning anything the Communist Party of China does not want discussed. Beijing must accept that as a result of such actions, impressions of China have not exactly been positive worldwide.

The Key Chapter at the Moment: Chapter 4: “The Military Crisis

Spalding states on page 43 in Chapter 4: “The Military Crisis”, “Fortunately, for the moment, China has no interest in engaging in a ground war, or any kind of war that entails actual violence and physical destruction.” Nevertheless, it is a coming war between the US and its allies against China which haunts the story that Spalding tells and has kept many readers turning the book’s pages to find clues as to why and how it will all come about. Though Spalding admirably discussed the issue of a possible war between the US and China, he explained the situation as it existed at the time he wrote Stealth War. It appears that the problem has metastasized a bit on the diplomatic and economic front since. 

No doubt, the Communist Party of China is not expending enormous financial and material resources only to pose a potential threat to Taiwan’s self-rule and somewhat attenuated sovereignty out of academic interest or worse, some banal amusement; far from it. It is not Spalding’s message, but after aggregating what he explains with more recent events, what becomes clear can be stated in simple words for political leaders in Washington and Taipei: “The Red Chinese are coming!” If this assessment is in error, and upon greatcharlie proved, better news could not be reported for the sake of international peace and security, and humanity itself.

In the top senior policymaking offices of the civilian leadership of US and its Western and Eastern allies, officials surely believe uniformly that a show of force is the most effective option to respond to and deter: China’s territorial ambitions particularly regarding Taiwan and the waters of the Western Pacific, China’s displays of naval and air power and China’s threatening words in rebuff to US leadership and dominance in the region and the world. The most formidable show of force policymakers have used is joint exercises between US Navy aircraft carrier battlegroups and aircraft carriers of its allies and having US warships transit the Taiwan Straits. In addition to being a show of force, such deployments also serve as an excellent opportunity for the US and its allies to project joint power and demonstrate their commitment to collective defense, rehearse cooperation, and particularly allow allies to appreciate the benefits of US leadership. Based on what Spalding explains, some readers might conclude that such displays of force by the US and its allies more satisfy the need for some ostensibly strong action and serve more to soothe international concerns, provide a display of leadership, and domestic consumption. In reality, the aircraft carrier battlegroups, as mighty as they are, present themselves as easy prey for Chinese missiles.

Spalding explains that China has thousands of precision warheads tied to a sophisticated command and control system. He expounds on this by pointing out that the Dong Feng-26 (DF-26) ballistic missile–46 feet long, 44,000 pounds, and built to carry both conventional and nuclear warheads–was designed to obliterate aircraft carriers. The DF-26 has a range of 2,500 miles, which means it can strike US warships in the western Pacific Ocean, including ships based in Japan. In the specific context of defending Taiwan,, he gets across the idea that in order to deploy a carrier’s bombers on a mission in the South China Sea, the carrier would have to come within the range of DF-26 and other missiles that would destroy it. Though noting that the US Navy has SM-6 interceptor missiles, thought to be capable of destroying the DF-26, Spalding leaves no doubt that the sheer amount of smaller, long-range ballistic missiles at China’s disposal and the blazing speed with which these weapons travel–six thousand miles in thirty minutes–pose, at the moment, an enormous threat to US warships. To that extent, he writes: “It is conceivable that an undetected conflict might end in thirty seconds. Game over.” That is a hard saying.

Gnawing on the subject a little bit more, Spalding explains that assessed from an economIc standpoint, the PLA constructed a $1 billion dollar missile system designed to destroy a $30 billion ship. Spalding says that there is no doubt our carriers are valuable and powerful machines. However, in plain English he also states that “their effectiveness in policing the Pacific is now extremely limited.” To that extent, ironically, having US and allied aircraft carriers sail within the range of the DF-26 may repeatedly send the wrong message at an exorbitant cost. In terms of deterring China regarding Taiwan, the move may have repeatedly demonstrated that the US and its allies would be unable to act in a way to halt an assault on the island while at the same time avoiding unacceptable losses. No greater support could be provided to the cluster of expressive hawks the leadership in the Communist Party of China under Xi, clamoring for an assault on Taiwan sooner than later.

China’s Dong Feng-26 (DF-26) ballistic missile (above) was designed to obliterate aircraft carriers. The DF-26 has a range of 2,500 miles, which means it can strike US warships in the western Pacific Ocean, including ships based in Japan. So do the math: in order to deploy a carrier’s bombers on a mission in the South China Sea, the carrier would have to come within the range of DF-26 and other missiles that would destroy it. The sheer amount of smaller, long-range ballistic missiles at China’s disposal under a sophisticated command and control system, and the blazing speed with which these weapons travel–six thousand miles in thirty minutes–pose, at the moment, an enormous threat to our ships. Spalding says It is conceivable that an undetected conflict might end in thirty seconds. Game over. It is a hard saying.

Following up on Spalding’s statement in Chapter 4 that the US cannot fight a ground war with China, he expounds on that point by stating products from China are crucial for the production and operations of much of the US military’s weapon systems and gear. He states directly that “the amount of goods that have been shipped and continue to be shipped from China for military use is mind-boggling.” Spalding goes into detail somewhat by offering examples of the daunting amount of military equipment that contain components made in China. He says the propellant that fires out Hellfire missiles, which are launched from helicopters, jets, and drones, is imported from China. He points the glass in night-vision goggles contains a metal called lanthanum, a large majority of which comes from China. He also points to computers that US military and naval officers write plans and reports and print them on come from China predominantly. Instructional videos are watched on screens made in China.

Spalding reminds that there are laws mandating that the US military buy goods that are made in the US. However, he believes that the US has gone too far with outsourcing and has reached a point where it is unable to defend itself and its interests without Chinese manufacturing and logistical support. If supply lines were cut from China, or even if a trade war broke out with embargoes, Spalding predicts the US military would have a nightmare sourcing its needs and getting them to the battlefield. Spalding quotes a 2015 essay by retired US Army General John Adams which states: “Our almost complete dependence on China and other countries for telecommunications equipment presents potentially catastrophic battlefield vulnerabilities.”

The Nuclear Dimension

On China’s nuclear capabilities, on page 201 in Chapter 10: “Sino Solutions: How to Combat and Stipop China’s Stealth War”, Spalding revealed that his greatest concern was that as the US seeks to balance our economic relationship, the PLA will continue to be left unrestricted. Spalding explains that unfortunately as a consequence, the US needs the threat of its nuclear arsenal as a deterrent. Spalding says the assumption is if course that these bombs will never be used. Nevertheless, he feels that “invoking fear of the unthinkable–the madman or Wildman theory of negotiation–often works.”

Delving a bit into the realm of conjecture, it is conceivable that warplanners in China may assess that they do not have the time to develop nuclear parity with US in order to offset the massive advantage the US has with its nuclear arsenal and that Washington would likely use as leverage to impact China’s choices in a conflict  However, they may have assessed that it might be feasible to create a sufficient nuclear counterbalance to threaten a rapid response retaliatory nuclear strike or sufficient first strike to convince the US that some resolution might be best to avoid incurring unacceptable losses of people and property.

From background to foreground: USS Carl Vinson (CVN-70), (Japanese Maritime Self-Defense) JS Ise (DDH-182), HMS Queen Elizabeth (R08), and USS Ronald Reagan (CVN-76). Spalding explained that from an economIc standpoint, the PLA with the DF-26 constructed a $1 billion dollar missile system designed to destroy a $30 billion ship. Spalding says that there is no doubt our carriers are valuable and powerful machines. However, he also states that “their effectiveness in policing the Pacific is now extremely limited.” To that extent, ironically, having US and allied aircraft carriers sail within the range of the DF-26 may repeatedly send the wrong message at an exorbitant cost. Other than providing the US and its allies the opportunity to rehearse cooperation, display joint power, and appreciate benefits of US leadership, in terms of deterring China, the move may have demonstrated that the US and its allies are unable to act in a way to halt an assault on Taiwan while at the same time avoiding unacceptable losses. No greater support could be provided to the cluster of expressive hawks within the Communist Party of China’s leadership, clamoring for an assault on Taiwan sooner than later.

Other Thoughts That Billowed Up in This Reader on Taiwan Via Spalding’s Dialectic Ladle

In the end, central to the argument to take military action to gain and retain control of Taiwan, is what was central to arguments on how the US managed to place itself in such a challenging position with Beijing: the character of US political leaders. That is stated not to put into question the personal qualities of the men and women who have honorably and admirably chosen to dutifully serve the people to the best of their abilities.  Rather, it is to suggest that fighting the type of war that the US might be required to prosecute, defeat China, thwart China’s ambitions, drive it off and forever away from Taiwan might not be characteristic of certain leaders. In taking that course, there would be the potential for millions to die in China, unacceptable losses on the side of the US and its allies, and as grotesque as the thought may be, China could potentially level an unexpected, crippling blow to US naval and air forces could also result. What might be hoped in Beijing to be a limited lighting war launched in the name of protecting China’s sovereignty, could become total war, a war of national survival. The nature of the one who would make the decision in the US on how to respond to China’s aggression will make all of the difference. Perhaps in Washington, a decision has already been made on how to proceed in such a contingency. Perhaps the decisions on the defense of Taiwan have been established as protocols. In defense of its ally, US political leaders may be obliged to comply with them. In the end, it boils down to what the US political leaders want from the situation, a war ending in a type of Pyrrhic victory with losses or a struggle resulting in some acceptable or tolerable new paradigm that allows for an Irenic victory, in which the two opposing sides find some resolution and at least a modicum of satisfaction.

Post factum nullum consilium. (Counsel is of no effect after the fact.) To race well, a jockey and horse must be one animal. The horse must be superbly harnessed. When a horse does not run well, it is typically considered that it may have a poor jockey. On China, military capabilities and resources, state diplomacy to include economic and public diplomacy, and policymaking must also function together as one figurative animal. The expectation is for senior policymakers to master the situation through their management of it. When this is the case, they can often be more precise, to an extent exact, in policy planning , formulation, and implementation. Evidence of that can be found in the fact that their figurative brush strokes will appear finer.

Policies that seem to be too far off from the realities of military capabilities and resources, military power, and diplomatic exchanges and inroads may evince to competitors and opponents that policymakers are out of touch with the real situation and acting on mere perceptions and perhaps surmisal. Parsing out such concerning the US must be an ongoing process, an obsession, in Beijing at the moment. It would be part of the effort to determine how the US might react when presented with a situation as an assault on Taiwan.

In the US, producing the very best answers to situations is made more difficult because there are a variety of views and interests within the national security bureaucracies that must be balanced when policy is being made. if decisionmaking were directed, controlled by a single source, as in China under the Communist Party of China, under the command of Xi, a magician may seem to be somewhere in the mix who is clearly aware of what to do and how to do it in a way that keeps China a step or more ahead of its main competitor or opponent. Perhaps that is Xi, himself. On the other hand, some policy analysts perceive that for too long there has been a blindness to the best interests of the US that borders on madness. A sense is given off by them–to include Spalding it seems–that it may be too late to really change the course of things by implementing new approaches.

What might be hoped in Beijing to be a limited lighting war launched in the name of protecting China’s sovereignty, could become total war, a war of national survival. The nature of the one who would make the decision in the US on how to respond to China’s aggression will make all of the difference. Perhaps in Washington, a decision has already been made on how to proceed in such a contingency. Perhaps the decisions on the defense of Taiwan have been established as protocols. In defense of its ally, US political leaders may be obliged to comply with them. In the end, it boils down to what the US political leaders want from the situation, a war ending in a type of Pyrrhic victory with losses or a struggle resulting in some acceptable or tolerable new paradigm that allows for an Irenic victory, in which the two opposing sides find some resolution and at least a modicum of satisfaction.

At the outset of the review, greatcharlie explained that the book would not be broken down to the fullest extent possible, but hopefully enough so to raise interest in readers to take a look at the book. There is so much more to discover in Stealth War. The book is a steady flow of information, data, and expressions from beginning to end. Spalding is the purveyor of a foundation upon which an honest discussion can be had on US-China relations or simply the China Threat at all levels, from the senior government policymaker to the average US citizen.

There nothing that greatcharlie appreciates more than a book that stirs the readers curiosity, inquiry into the author’s judgments, greater consideration of their own views on the matter, and elicits fresh insights based on what is presented. That is exactly the type of book that Stealth War is. It is assured that after the first reading Stealth War, one would most likely go back to the book and engage in that stimulating process again and again. There is no telling what insights and how many might be brewed up from within readers after they have had a chance to read through it. Too much pleasure has been lost whilst abstaining from this delightful book. As greatcharlie suggested earlier here, those reading this review who have already read Stealth War would do well to go through the book again. 

Perhaps needless to say but it is nonetheless stated, with absolute conviction and relish, greatcharlie unequivocally recommends Spalding’s Stealth War to its readers.

By Mark Edmond Clark

Commentary: Will the Real Dong Jingwei Please Stand Up?: Comparing Features of Popular Images of China’s MSS Vice Minister

People’s Republic of China Vice Minister for counterintelligence of the Ministry of State Security Dong Jingwei (far right), and People Republic of China Minister of Public Security Zhao Kezhi (center), were among five Chinese officials attending the 16th Meeting of the Security Council Secretaries of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization Member States on June 23, 2021. On June 23, 2021, officials of the People’s Republic of China Embassy in Washington presented this photograph of Dong’s very public appearance at the Shanghai meeting as proof that he is in China despite rumors that he had defected to the US four months before. The point at issue is whether the photograph presents the real Dong.

In June 2021, rumors had taken flight concerning the alleged defection of Dong Jingwei, the People’s Republic of China Vice Minister for counterintelligence of Zhōnghuá Rénmín Gònghéguó Guójiā Ānquán Bù (Ministry for State Security of the People’s Republic of China) or the MSS–China’s relative equivalent to the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA). Dong was alleged to have defected in mid-February, flying from Hong Kong to the US with his daughter, Dong Yang. After arriving safely into US hands, Dong allegedly provided government officials with information about the Wuhan Institute of Virology that purportedly impacted the position of the administration of US President Joe Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris on the origins of the COVID-19 pandemic. However, by late June 2021, US officials began reaching out to the news anonymously to say reports of Dong’s defection were not true. and hinting that he remained in China. The mainstream news magazine Newsweek reported on June 22, 2021 that it was informed by a US government official that reports about Dong’s defection “are not accurate,” without elaborating. A second US government source, also speaking on condition of anonymity, said the rumors were “absolutely untrue.” Although reticent about the rumors for the longest time, on June 23, 2021, officials of the People’s Republic of China Embassy in Washington informed that Dong made a recent public appearance despite claims that he had defected to the US four months before. Curiously, the photograph has not been widely accepted as incontrovertible proof of Dong’s identity, that he still resides in China, or that he did not defect among many independent China-watchers.

Before the controversy of the rumored defection, one would have had great difficulty finding Dong Jingwei’s name anywhere it might even be expected. Two resources for such information that greatcharlie’s will reach for first are: Peter Mattis and Matthew Brazil, Chinese Communist Espionage: An Intelligence Primer (United States Naval Institute Press, 2019), and I. C. Smith and Nigel West, Historical Dictionary of Chinese Intelligence (Historical Dictionaries of Intelligence and Counterintelligence) (Scarecrow, 2012). Following the blow-up of the defection story, numerous articles online have appeared and online encyclopedias such as Wikipedia and Britannica, have developed enough information to provide decent–though some were not so verifiable–biographies of him. As was noted in greatcharlie’s June 30, 2021 post entitled The Defection That Never Was: Meditations on the Dong Jingwei Defection Hoax,” never before has Dong’s name, or any other senior MSS counterintelligence official’s name, been bandied about in the US or global newsmedia in the manner it has been lately.

What would imaginably now be a greater issue for inquiring minds than Dong’s biography, is the matter of his actual image, how he actually looks. A number of photographs of him have cropped up along with the many new articles, but two particular images of Dong have been very popular. As the two images have far more similar features than dissimilar, one could very easily understand how it might present a challenge for many to distinguish between their facial features of the individuals in the photographs. Yet, both photographs, in reality, display enough distinct aspects to allow one to discern fairly significant differences between them. If they are photographs of two different men, one may actually be Dong. Here, greatcharlie gives making comparisons between the two images of Dong the old college try.

The June 16, 2021 tweet from the US based, Chinese pro-democracy activist, Han Lianchao. In the now famous tweet, Han stated he heard a rumor from an associate that Dong Jingwei had defected to the US. Han’s tweet was picked up the next day by SpyTalk, an online news site offering reports on national security topics, with an emphasis on US intelligence operations. SpyTalk’s analysis was then widely reported and discussed mainly by conservative newsmedia outlets, and gradually reported by some in the mainstream newsmedia. Along with Han’s commentary was the popularized photograph allegedly of Dong Jingwei.

The first image mentioned above was made available widely via Twitter on June 16, 2021 as a result of being in a photograph attached to a tweet by the US based, Chinese pro-democracy activist, Han Lianchao. In the now famous tweet, Han stated he heard a rumor from an associate that Dong had defected to the US. Han’s tweet was picked up the next day by SpyTalk, an online news site offering reports on national security topics, with an emphasis on US intelligence operations. SpyTalk’s analysis was then widely reported and discussed mainly by conservative newsmedia outlets, and gradually reported by some in the mainstream newsmedia.

The second fairly popular image is included with his biography in Wikipedia. The individual in the Wikipedia photograph appears to be the same individual in the photograph that the Chinese government released of Dong attending the 16th Meeting of the Security Council Secretaries of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization Member States on June 23, 2021. He is the same individual in a photograph taken when Dong was part of a delegation led by Chen Yixin, Secretary-General of the Commission for Political and Legal Affairs of the Communist Party of China Central Committee, to attend the second round of a bilateral high-level security dialogue in Berlin on Sept. 21, 2018. In the photograph, Dong is first from the left. It is alleged to be the earliest publicly available photograph of Dong after he began serving as Vice Minister for counterintelligence in the MSS. Dong took on the position of Vice Minister in April 2018. 

A photograph taken when Dong Jingwei (far left) was part of a delegation led by Chen Yixin, Secretary-General of the Commission for Political and Legal Affairs of the Communist Party of China Central Committee, to attend the second round of a bilateral high-level security dialogue in Berlin on Sept. 21, 2018. It is alleged to be the earliest publicly available photograph of Dong serving as Vice Minister for counterintelligence in the MSS. Dong took on the position of Vice Minister in the MSS in April 2018.

Si parva licet componere magnis. (If we may compare small things with great.) By placing the photograph of Dong from greatcharlie’s June 30th post beside the photograph from his biography in Wikipedia, using only the naked eye, one can find clear distinctions in at least seven areas of their respective faces. To allow readers to follow along with comparisons of facial features, the June 30, 2021 greatcharlie post photograph is included here as Figure 1. The Wikipedia photograph is included here as Figure 2. A chart that identifies parts of the human face is included here as Figure 3. Readers should refer to that chart to locate points of the face mentioned in Figures 1 and 2. The seven specific points on the face address include: philtrum; philtral columns; philtral dimple; nasolabial grooves; nasal septum; mentolabial sulcus; and, facial marks.

Figure 1 

Dong Jingwei June 16, 2021 Twitter Photograph

Figure 2 

Dong Jingwei Wikipedia Biography Photograph

Figure 3 

Face Chart

Philtrum

The philtrum on the individual in Figure 1 forms a visually straight canal with the philtral columns formed in straight lines from the nasal septum to the top of the lip. They are somewhat thick on both left and right. The canal of the philtrum appears relatively symmetric in its depth and width to the corresponding height and width of each philtral column. On the individual in Figure 2, the philtral columns appear shorter than those of the individual in Figure 1. They are separated enough to form the philtrum into a wider and somewhat deeper canal than that of the individual in Figure 1. 

Philtral columns

Although they are not marked on the chart in Figure 3–greatcharlie apologizes for that omission, the two columns of the philtrum running from the septum of the nose to the top of the upper lip are called the philtral columns. At the point the philtral columns touch the top of the upper lip–known more precisely as the vermilion border–in Figure 1, two delta shaped points form. Those delta shaped points are not present on the upper lip of the individual in Figure 2. On the individual in Figure 2, the philtral columns contact the upper lip in a way to form a horseshoe or “U” shape. The upper lip, itself–as aforementioned, called the vermillion–forms only moderate curves at the points on which the philtral columns contact it.

Philtral dimple

The philtral dimple, not marked in the chart in Figure 3–again, our apologies–is the gap between the two philtral columns where they contact the upper lip. On the individual in Figure 1, the philtral dimple is pronounced between what are visually two triangle shaped points, both left and right at the base of the philtral columns. On the individual in Figure 2, the philtral dimple is a far less pronounced facial feature.

Nasolabial grooves

The nasolabial grooves on the individual in Figure 1 are very pronounced both right and left. They begin at a point above the wings of the nose appearing to make contact with the dorsum of the nose. The nasolabial grooves on the individual do not contact the wings of the nose. They stretch in near straight lines down and to the left and down and to the right, reaching just outside the edge of the angles of the mouth. The nasolabial grooves on the individual in Figure 2 are not as long as that of the individual in Figure 1. They curve inward and contact the top of the wings of the nose of the individual. Although the nasolabial grooves are not as pronounced on the individual in Figure 2 as those of the individual in Figure 1, where they become more apparent is closer to the wings of the nose. They are somewhat deeper and the skin around them appears thicker than that for Figure 1.

Nasal septum

The nasal septum at the point where it contacts the philtrum on the individual in Figure 1 is thin. The point at which the nasal septum contacts the philtrum On the individual in Figure 2 is somewhat thick. The nasal septum also appears shorter to some degree. The individual in Figure 1 appears clean shaven beneath the nasal septum and over the philtrum to the upper lip. The individual in Figure 2, in all photos available publicly, maintains very slight hair growth, perhaps a deliberate, modest “designer stubble,” beneath the nasal septum, covering the philtrum down to the top of the upper lip and across to the angles of the mouth.

Mentolabial sulcus

On the individual in Figure 1, the mentolabial sulcus, the line or furrow formed between the base of the lower lip and the base of the chin, is prominent. There is an apparent blemish–mole, birthmark, scratch, bruise–beneath the mentolabial sulcus along its right edge, at a point just inside “the line.” The mentolabial sulcus on the individual in Figure 2 is barely perceptible. It has a somewhat curved shape. The chin on the individual in Figure 1 appears somewhat “U” shaped. The chin on the individual in Figure 2 appears more “bow” shaped. The length between the base of the lower lip and the base of the chin is shorter on the individual in Figure 2 than on the individual in Figure 1.

Facial marks

On the individual in Figure 1, there is a mole, birthmark, slight injury (scratch or bruise), beneath the mentolabial sulcus, beneath and just inside the right edge of it, not making contact with the line itself. On the individual in Figure 2, there are no similar marks on the face.

Finally, the most obvious difference between the two men is that one in Figure 1 wears eyeglasses. The individual in Figure 2 does not wear eyeglasses. It is possible, however, that the individual in Figure 2 does wear eyeglasses, but simply removes them when taking photographs.

Additional Observations Concerning Photographs

Signs of Aging

Eheu fugaces labuntur anni. (Alas, the fleeting years slip by.) What might be perceived beyond the physical about how two individuals in the photographs projected themselves at the moment their pictures were taken is that they are respectively professional, intelligent, well-minded, well-dressed, well-groomed, Chinese officials. However, from what information is publicly known, and what one may accept as true about Dong is that he is currently 57 years old, reportedly being born on November 18, 1963, one can attempt to correctly perceive aspects of his physical condition, too! To that extent, one might consider how age might impact the appearance of the real Dong.

There are many who really do not begin showing signs of aging until a bit later than 57. (By no means does one become “past one’s prime” or “over the hill” after reaching age 57!) Yet, there are some fairly common, and commonly understood, changes in appearance that normally occur. As one ages, the appearance of the face and neck typically changes. Loss of muscle tone and thinning skin can often give the face a flabby or drooping appearance. The skin also tends to dry out and the underlying layer of fat shrinks so that your face no longer has a plump, smooth surface. To some extent, wrinkles cannot be avoided. If readers would look back at the two photographs of individuals both identified as Dong in Figures 1 and 2, they will notice that the individual in Figure 2 has a rather plump, smooth surface. There are no wrinkles or furrows visible on the face. There is considerable muscle tone in the face in all three photos of him presented here, most prominently along the jaw. The individual in Figure 1, exhibits the more dried skin that comes with age. The visage of the individual is strong but there is no pronounced muscle tone. (It must be noted that in another photograph included here below in which the same individual identified as Dong in Figure 1 is seen, slight furrows can be discerned on his forehead.)

Sun exposure and cigarette smoking are likely to make them develop more quickly. However, there is no way for greatcharlie to determine whether the individual in the photograph is a heavy smoker or is regularly exposed to the sun. There is no way available for greatcharlie to determine whether these factors relate to the individual in Figure 1 either.

In another sign of aging, the number and size of dark spots on the face increase as well. It was noted earlier that there is a blemish on the right side of the face of the individual in Figure 1. However, there is no available way for greatcharlie to determine when that individual acquired the blemish. There are no discernible spots on the face of the individual in Figure 2.

With aging, the loss of bone mass in the jaw reduces the size of the lower face and makes your forehead, nose, and mouth more pronounced. The nose may lengthen slightly. In both Figures 1 and 2, there is no indication of the loss of bone mass in the jaw. The noses of the individuals in Figures 1 and 2 do not appear to have suffered ill-effects of age such lengthening. In fact, the skin on both noses appears rather smooth and plump.

A common transformation due to aging is for the fat from the eyelids to settle into the eye sockets. This can create the appearance of sunken eyes. make. The lower eyelids can slacken and bags can develop under your eyes. The weakening of the muscle that supports the upper eyelid can make the eyelids droop. This may limit vision. There is nothing to indicate any of these aspects have impacted the appearance of either individual in Figure 1 or 2. As the individual in Figure 1 wears eyeglasses, any effects on his eyes may have been influenced by them. (It must be noted that in another photograph included here below in which the same individual identified as Dong in Figure 1 is seen, it appears that there is a hint of bags under the eyes detectable through his eyeglass lenses.)

A most apparent sign of aging is gray hair on the scalp, and gray hair on the scalp, and on the eyebrows and eyelashes as well. One the individual in Figure A, there is no ability to determine whether he has gray hair in his eyebrows or eyelashes. Except for the hair above his forehead, one cannot see the hair on his scalp to determine if there is gray hair. (It must be noted that in a photograph included here below in which the same individual identified as Dong in Figure 1 is seen, his hair parted on the left side of scalp, revealing what appears to be gray hair.) The individual in Figure 2, on the other hand, clearly has no gray hair in his scalp, eyelashes, or eyebrows. In fact, as aforementioned, there is slight hair growth on his upper lip. It is decidedly black giving him a very youthful appearance. To that extent, the individual in Figure 2 appears to be younger than the individual in Figure 1, and perhaps younger than 57-years-old.

Countenance of the Face

Duriora genti corpora, stricti artus, minax vultus et major animi vigor. (Hardy frames, close-knit limbs, fierce countenances, and a peculiarly vigorous courage, mark the tribe.) In addition the changes in the face that come with aging, one’s work can be manifested in the countenance, too! As explained in greatcharlie’s June 30, 2021 post, the primary mission of MSS counterintelligence is the infiltration of all the foreign special service operations: intelligence and counterintelligence services, as well as law enforcement organizations worldwide to protect China’s citizens, secrets and technology from foreign spies. Counterintelligence may very well be the greatest manifestation of the paranoia business, but it, as all other elements of the intelligence industry, requires wisdom, reason, and logic to be performed well. If progress through interviews or interrogations of the subject of an investigation indicates that an investigator is on the right track, there will be an attempt to find another door inside to open and pass through in order to get deeper on matters. Such technique is honed and polished over the years. 

John le Carré, the renowned author of espionage novels of the United Kingdom who served in both the Security Service, MI5, and the Secret Intelligence Service, MI6, during the 1950s and 1960s, speaks to this point in The Secret Pilgrim (Alfred L. Knopf, 1990) when his main character, George Smiley a senior and well experienced intelligence officer for The Circus–MI6 in nearly every respect, tells a group of probationary intelligence officers in the fictional foreign IntellIgence training school in Sarratt that he was the one who debriefed his arch rival from Moscow Center, the headquarters of foreign intelligence service of the Soviet Komitet Gosudarstvennoy Bezopasnosti (the Committee for State Security) or KGB.  He was known only by the name, Karla, and was captured in Delhi after escaping the US. Explaining to the trainees in general about the nature of interrogations, Smiley says at times they are “communions between damaged souls.” However, when MSS managers have determined the situation demands rough treatment, imaginably compelled by some exigent circumstance, and when the decision will align with the thinking and plans of the Communist Party of China leadership, surely coercive measures will be employed to include forms of torture. That work surely takes its toll, often manifesting its pull on the countenance of those who have engaged in it. The aphorism is quite appropriate here: “L’habit ne fait pas le moine.” Still, perception might lead the reasonable to choose the individual in the photograph of Figure 1 to someone more apparently carrying such a burden based on appearance, and perhaps a bit of intuition. Ut imago est animi voltus sic indices oculi. (The face is a picture of the mind as the eyes are its interpreter.)

An image of Dong Jingwei matching that from the June 16, 2021 Twitter photograph (above). If these popular photographs of Dong in Figures 1 and 2 presented here are actually of two different men so be it. This practice may turn out to be of greater use by China’s intelligence services than anyone outside of the country might have imagined. However, there remains the real possibility that both photographs exist to completely deceive observers, and Dong’s true image is not present in either of them. If that is the case then in the possible effort to conceal his identity, Dong has done the thing completely.

Concealing an Intelligence Chief’s Identity: Not an Uncommon Practice

The idea of a director, senior executive, or key operations manager of an intelligence service taking steps to conceal his or her identity would not be unique in the annals of secret intelligence. Turning to a handful of examples, in greatcharlie’s November 13, 2019 post entitled, “Book Review: Markus Wolf, Man without a Face: The Autobiography of Communism’s Greatest Spymaster (Times Books, 1997),” it was explained that Markus Wolf, chief of the foreign intelligence service Hauptverwaltung Aufklärung (the Main Directorate for Reconnaissance), commonly referred to as the HVA of the erstwhile Deutsch Demokratische Republik (German Democratic Republic) or GDR, lived a life in relative obscurity, brilliantly concealing his presence and the footprint of his organization as both operated against the West. His memoir’s title, Man without a Face, was a direct reference to the fact that at one point, Western intelligence services only had a blurred photograph of Wolf while he attended the Nuremberg Trials from which elements within the CIA managed to identify him in 1959. Unable to collect an up-to-date photograph from which to identify Wolf afterward, for a long-time he was referred to among Western intelligence services as the “man without a face.” As the story goes, only after a GDR defector, Werner Stiller, identified Wolf in a photograph in 1979 for the counterintelligence element of West Germany’s Bundesamt für Verfassungsschutz (Office for the Protection of the Constitution) or BfV did that change. The photograph of Wolf was captured by Säpo, Sweden’s National Security Service, during a visit he made with his wife to Stockholm in 1978.

At the time Stephen Dorril wrote his authoritative book, MI6: Inside the Covert World of Her Majesty’s Secret Intelligence Service (Free Press, 2000), Richard Dearlove, then head of the United Kingdom’s Secret Intelligence Service–colloquially known as M16–was virtually unknown. A contemporary photograph was not published in the newsmedia. According to a BBC report, when Stella Rimington in 1992 was named the first female chief of the United Kingdom’s Security Service–known colloquially as MI5–her neighbors finally discovered what she did. Even her children learned of true occupation for the first time. No official photographs accompanied her name at that time. However, later, official photos of her were provided after photographers managed to take what was described as “a very blurry picture of her out shopping.”

Sidelights

If these popular photographs allegedly of Dong in Figures 1 and 2 here are actually of two different men so be it. It may turn out that using decoys may be a practice in greater use by China’s intelligence services than anyone outside of the country might have imagined. Perchance as a result of the Dong defection matter, it has been brought to light to the world all at once. The sense of security the practice may create perhaps brings comfort to those who would otherwise be under the chronic stress caused by adversaries attempts to surveil and monitor their activities by a variety of means. 

There remains the real possibility that both photographs exist to completely deceive observers, and Dong’s true image is not present in either of them. If that is the case, then in the possible effort to conceal his identity, Dong has done the thing completely. The two photographs focused upon here will continue to be published perhaps until another plausible image, or perchance another two or more, of Dong surface at some time and via some source of Beijing’s choosing.

A quote from Arthur Conan Doyle cited in greatcharlie’s June 30th post on Dong’s rumored defection might be worth repeating here. In “Adventure IV. The Boscombe Valley Mystery” of his twelve short stories in Doyle’s The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes published in the Strand Magazine (1891), his main character, Holmes, states: “Circumstantial evidence is a very tricky thing. It may seem to point very straight to one thing, but if you shift your own point of view a little, you may find it pointing in an equally uncompromising manner to something entirely different.”

The Way Forward

Omne ignotum pro magnifico. (Everything unknown seems magnificent.) Without pretension, greatcharlie states that it does not have any information that would allow it to judge which photograph holds Dong’s true image. As promised, greatcharlie has only sought to parse out a few possibilities here. What is presented are simply perceptions based on observations made of less than a handful of photographs. Certainly in China, there are more than a few people in the MSS, MPS, the State Council, and the Communist Party of China who know exactly what Dong looks like and which of the two photographs, if either, depicts him. It may very well be that the causality for the use of mixed images of Dong is based on an effort to increase security. However, just as greatcharlie, a nonpracticioner, “amateur sleuthhound”–as one reader sardonically  referred to the editor–has examined two reported images of Dong in photographs, Expert, professional analysts in US and other allied intelligence services have doubtlessly examined all of the photographs out there that purportedly include Dong using AI and other advanced technologies, and have reached to their own conclusions. Thus, despite any possible efforts to conceal Dong’s identity, they likely have a fair idea of how Dong looks, too!

As greatcharlie has noted in previous posts, in our ordered universe, it is expected that everything will follow its design. Order in the human mind is established by patterns that one can decipher. With the smattering of facts, evidence, and insights available, one can still postulate, and see if a theory formulated on what the whole Dong episode was all about can be confirmed by facts through investigation. It may not always be a tidy process. Wary of the moves Chinese intelligence can make, some might contend the matter of the varied images of Dong may actually be part of some recherché plan to create greater mystery around his identity. Imaginably, it would be viewed as a subplot hanging from a greater MSS disinformation plot to foster a bizarre defection rumor. On the other hand, some might go as far as to assert a more fanciful theory such as the leadership of MSS, in an effort to impress Communist Party of China leaders ahead of, and during, the Centennial of the Communist Party of China the decided to provide a modest demonstration of the organization’s capabilities. Thus,, MSS may have decided to have a little fun with US counterintelligence services by “just messing with them” as the saying goes, making certain that Party’s leaders were in on the joke. The whole matter has certainly had quite a meretricious effect worldwide. Of course, such a move would hardly be a schema, and perhaps the last thing one should expect from MSS. Still, though it may be improbable, it is all the same conceivable. One can be assured that similar overimaginative assessments, judgments concerning the Dong defection episode will continue to be made and published primarily online. Their creation will be driven by the fact that for inquiring minds, the curious, the enthusiasts demand more answers on the matter. In Areopagitica (1644), the great 17th century English poet and intellectual, John Milton, explains: “Where there is much desire to learn, there of necessity will be much arguing, much writing, for opinion in good men is but knowledge in the making.”

The Defection That Never Was: Meditations on the Dong Jingwei Defection Hoax

People’s Republic of China Vice Minister of State Security Dong Jingwei (above). Beginning in February 2021, Dong became the subject of a rumor alleging that he, along with his daughter, defected to the US. The possible implications of his supposed defection were staggering. It was eventually revealed and proved that the rumor was pure fiction.  Never before has Dong’s name, or any other Chinese counterintelligence official’s name, been bandied about in the US newsmedia or worldwide in the manner it has been lately. An attempt is made by greatcharlie to some degree how this all came about and what was the purpose of it all.

Rumors of the alleged defection of Dong Jingwei, a vice minister of the People’s Republic of China Ministry of State Security–China’s relative equivalent to the Central Intelligence Agency, were the subject of intense discussion in the US newsmedia and social media particularly in June 2021. Allegedly, Dong fled China in February 2021 and handed himself over to US intelligence officials. Dong would have been one of the highest-ranking officers from China’s Intelligence Community, and the Chinese government in general ever to defect to the US. Yet, alas, the rumored defection never occurred.

People’s Republic of China President and Communist Party of China Party Secretary Xi Jinping, is now highly selective, positively picky, about those who serve in national security positions in his government. Considering what would be the most likely nature of the man or woman who would be able to serve as his Vice Minister at MSS for counterintelligence, it is hard to form a mental picture of where the rumor that Dong had defected to the US with his daughter, or who, or better, what organization, may have actually given it wings. It is harder to understand how those who ignited the rumor of Dong’s defection intended to benefit from its formulation and promotion. It is hardest to envision who among those with any knowledge of the Chinese government and the national security apparatus would believe, would ever consider defecting to the US no matter what the circumstances may be within the Communist Party of China or in his personal life. One could imagine Dong would be a deadender, sticking with the Party and his country until the rattle. There is always the possibility–though there are absolutely zero newsmedia reports anywhere that suggested some proceeding mental health episode had befallen him–that Dong may have been overwhelmed by some cacoethes. Barring that, there was no earthly reason to believe that he would defect, and to the US nonetheless. The puzzle now having been “resolved”–the whole truth is out there somewhere, greatcharlie gives a go at parsing out some of these issues hoping it does not come off as l’esprit de l’escalier. In that process, greatcharlie, albeit, steps out on shaky ground to present some unsolicited–and hopefully not unwanted–suggestions on how similar false reports in the future might be given appropriate consideration. Unusquisque mavult credere quam iudicare. (Everyone prefers to believe than to think.)

Some might conclude after noting the topic of this post that this is one more by greatcharlie on Chinese espionage in the US. Some, perhaps duly, might also grumble to the effect: “Now greatcharlie is all China, all the time!” While greatcharlie approaches the defection that did not happen out of academic interest, this examination, much as those of proceeding posts, is part of an ongoing effort by greatcharlie to give consideration of what it could offer to contribute to development more effective approaches to such hostile intelligence collection efforts against the US. Indeed, with the objective of being transparent, greatcharlie must disclose that on the matter of Chinese espionage in the US it is partisan, giving its complete support to the US, the homeland. Readers will likely discern facts are interpreted from that perspective. However, no information is skewed or bent with preconceived ideas or bias.

Who Is Dong Jingwei?

Dong was born on November 18, 1963. He is presently 57 years old. In China it would be of some significance to note that he is of Han nationality. As for his studies, he has earned a master of science degree. The only publicly reported member of Dong’s family is his daughter, Yang–also known as Dong HuaHua on social media, who as part of the defection hoax was said to have allegedly fled China with him. She is the ex-wife of Alibaba executive Jiang Fan, who now heads the company’s powerful e-commerce platforms, Tmall and Taobao. 

Dong is a member of the Communist Party of China. Highlights of his career include service as the Secretary of the Party Committee and Director of the State Security Department of Hebei Province. He is a Member of the Party Committee and, of course, Vice Minister of the Ministry of State Security. With some reluctance, greatcharlie calls attention to the reporting of the popular online encyclopedia, Wikipedia. Referencing Intelligence Online, Wikipedia explains that heading the State Security Department in Hebei was significant for Dong because it was a province which has reportedly produced many of Xi’s securocrats.” Loyalty to superiors, age and regional background apparently won him favor with senior party officials under Xi. He then became part of the “Xi Jinping Clique,” one of the main political factions within the Communist Party of China. By 2018, Dong was close to Xi. Other important Communist Party of China titles, and accolades as much, provided to Dong include: Representative of the 18th and 19th National Congress of the Communist Party of China; and, Member of the 13th National Committee of the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference.

Zhōnghuá Rénmín Gònghéguó Guójiā Ānquán Bù (Ministry for State Security of the People’s Republic of China) or the MSS, where Dong is vice minister, is an intelligence service responsible for foreign intelligence, counterintelligence, and internal security as well. Their impact stems mainly from providing consumers in Beijing to include the Communist Party of China leadership, the Party’s key organs responsible for foreign and national security policy, and ministers and senior executives of appropriate ministries and organizations of the State Council, as the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, with data that may shape their decisions.

As noted in greatcharlie’s July 31, 2020 post entitled, “China’s Ministry of State Security: What Is this Hammer the Communist Party of China’s Arm Swings in Its Campaign against the US? (Part 1),” the primary targets of the MSS hands down are its chief competitor, the US, the Russian Federation, Australia and New Zealand. The advanced industrialized countries of Western Europe would also fall under its watchful eyes. In the countries of Eastern Europe, China has achieved some prominence in their space. China must equally measure its national interests, and particularly its national security against Japan, South Korea, Vietnam, Indonesia, Thailand, the Philippines, Malaysia, and Singapore. Taiwan, which Beijing declares is part of China, is a special case and a very important MSS target. The second rung of competitors would include India, Pakistan, Nepal, and Mongolia. India has doubtlessly garnered a bit more attention from MSS due to its ongoing border struggle with China. MSS has stepped up intelligence operations throughout Africa to support and facilitate its effort to extend its geopolitical influence and acquire oil, rare Earth minerals, and fish. Africa is estimated to contain 90 percent  of the entire world’s supply of platinum and cobalt, 50 percent of the world’s gold supply, 66 percent of the world’s manganese, and 35 percent of the world’s uranium. Africa accounts for almost 75 percent of the world’s coltan, which is a key mineral required for the construction of electronic devices, including cell phones. Well over 10,000 Chinese firms are operating on the continent with 25 percent located in Nigeria and Angola. China has also expanded its military presence in Africa, rivaling the level of US military equities there.)

In defining counterintelligence, James Olson, the former chief of Counterintelligence for the Central Intelligence Agency and author of To Catch a Spy: The Art of Counterintelligence (Georgetown University Press, 2019), which greatcharlie reviewed for its January 2021 post, states that it “consists of all the measures a nation takes to protect its citizens, secrets and technology from foreign spies.” The primary mission of MSS counterintelligence is the infiltration of all the foreign special service operations: intelligence and counterintelligence services, as well as law enforcement organizations worldwide. MSS shares the counterintelligence role with Zhōnghuá Rénmín Gònghéguó Gōng’ānbù (Ministry of Public Security of the People’s Republic of China) or MPS. MPS is an intelligence service under the State Council in charge of the country’s internal and political security and domestic intelligence.

The achievements of MSS in the US have certainly been no mean feat, and should not be underestimated. As discussed in the February 26, 2021 greatcharlie post entitled,”Suggestions for Resolving the Conundrum of Chinese Intelligence Operations in the US: Fragments Developed from a Master’s Precepts,” the tide of essentially unchallenged Chinese espionage has lapped up so much information, eroded so many formerly reliable defenses, that each day the situation moves closer to the tragic and the terrible. Hopefully, among possible dissenters, an interest, not solely due to exigency, will grow on the idea. Chinese intelligence services have hampered the work of US businesses, research and development firms, high-tech firms, academia, and the federal government itself. They have created spy networks within institutions critical to US economic security and defense. They have attempted to inconvenience the US in its efforts to improve bilateral and multilateral relations in under-developed, less industrialized countries and even long time friends of the in certain regions, and multilateral institutions that the US actually had a hand in creating. One might speculate that having achieved countless victories with near impunity inside the US, Chinese foreign intelligence services now very likely conduct counterintelligence exercises in the field, likely in a nondisruptive way vis-a-vis ongoing operations, to ensure that in their present state, their intelligence networks are free from US counterintelligence detection and interference and that no intelligence service from anywhere could play havoc with them.

Dong (above)  once headed the State Security Department in Hebei, a province which has reportedly produced many of Xi’s securocrats.” Loyalty to superiors, age and regional background apparently won him favor with senior party officials under Xi. He then became part of the “Xi Jinping Clique,” one of the main political factions within the Communist Party of China. By 2018, Dong was close to Xi. Other important Communist Party of China titles held by Dong include: Representative of the 18th and 19th National Congress of the Communist Party of China; and, Member of the 13th National Committee of the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference.

As with all other elements of the intelligence industry, counterintelligence work requires wisdom, reason, and logic to be performed well. It is not the nature of intelligence services to regularly use force and aggression to halt an opponent, shut down its networks, thwart its operations, and intercept its intelligence officers, operatives, and informants. The intellect is the tool used for doing so. It stands to reason that in order to be a successful vice minister for MSS counterintelligence. Dong must be a man who has a deep understanding of how people tick, how they fit in and feel where they live and work, and how they can get the ones they have targeted tangled up in their respective espionage enterprises.

In attempting to ascribe certain traits to Dong given his role at MSS, those considered by greatcharlie may appear to be mere abstractions. However, the few traits listed here along with a reliable intuition and challenging experiences within his own intelligence organization may very well have enabled Dong to perceive likely thinking, decision making, planned approaches, and actions within adversarial intelligence services. These same traits perhaps have also assisted Dong in successfully navigating the top rung of China’s national security apparatus and to perform well at the side of leaders of the Communist Party of China.

One might first postulate that Dong possesses the traits of clarity, purpose, and focus. Surely, Dong puts his intentions forward for the best outcome possible. Clarity would allow Dong to concentrate with intention on what is ahead, on what needs to be done. One might expect that Dong believes by now that serving in MSS, performing executive duties for counterintelligence is his purpose. To that extent, purpose was likely revealed to Dong when he discovered the ability to use intuition to understand what may be clear to others. He would be able to focus on what truly matters, and understand what needs to be avoided, such as anything that might frustrate, seriously inconvenience, hamper, or inevitably destroy his organization’s efforts

Dong would be an intelligence officer and political leader of great energy,enthusiasm, and creativity. That energy is transmitted through the MSS. In the US, it would be transmitted not only to officers in the field but to errant citizens and Chinese émigrés recruited to serve the purposes of the intelligence service. He would exude a positive attitude that encourages officers, operatives, and informants to do their utmost in the field. He would be able to find unlocked potential in situations and determine ways to uncover what may be hidden away

What Was Reported on Dong’s Alleged Defection

Relate retero. (I tell what I have been told.) Some simple falsehoods went some way to explain and support what was from the outset a questionable story. From what can be gathered about the episode, stories about Dong’s alleged defection initially emanated from conservative websites in the US. Newsweek points decidedly to a June 4, 2021 report from the conservative political commentary website, RedState, as a source of the rumor. Discussion within conservative circles reportedly became even more intense as days passed. There was considerable discourse on Dong’s defection found in Chinese-language, anti-Communist newsmedia outlets in the US and on Twitter.

Among those who reported on the defection, there was general acceptance of the sequence of events. The defection scheme as laid out was indeed mad-capped. Dong allegedly defected in mid-February, flying from Hong Kong to the US with his daughter, Dong Yang. Dong supposedly provided the US government with information about the Wuhan Institute of Virology that allegedly impacted the position of the administration of US President Joe Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris on the origins of the COVID-19 pandemic. According to Han Lianchao, a former People’s Republic of China Ministry of Foreign Affairs official who defected in the wake of the Tiananmen Square massacre, Dong’s defection was raised by the Director of the Central Foreign Affairs Commission of the Communist Party of China Yang Jiechi, and People’s Republic of China Foreign Minister Wang Yi at the US-China Summit in Anchorage, Alaska in March 2021. On June 16, 2021, Han, citing an anonymous source, alleged that in Anchorage, Yang and Wang demanded that the US return Dong to China, but US Secretary of State Anthony Blinken refused. Subsequent reports, coupled with analyses by China specialists continued as Dong’s precise whereabouts remained unknown. Speculation had even reached Chinese social media threads after Dong had not been seen or photographed for several weeks.

While preparing a story on the alleged defection, SpyTalk, an online news site offering reports on national security topics, with an emphasis on US intelligence operations, had sought comment from the State Department last week, however, it did not respond. In the first public clarification put out by the US government on the affair, a US official, speaking anonymously, “reached out” to say reports of Dong’s defection were not true. With regard to Dong’s whereabouts, he stated “We can’t confirm or deny where he is exactly,” but hinted he remained in China. The official refused to go any further. When SpyTalk asked why the Biden-Harris administration sought to knock down rumors of such a high level defection, an ultra-sensitive issue, the official reportedly stated, “that’s more of a policy question”and referred SpyTalk to the White House. Reportedly, the National Security Council did not respond to SpyTalk’s request for comment.

Notably, Newsweek reported on June 22, 2021 it was informed by a US government official that the reports about Dong’s defection “are not accurate,” without elaborating. A second US government source, also speaking on condition of anonymity, said the rumors were “absolutely untrue.” Yet, such reporting still did not cause those insisting on the defection to retreat back, away from the issue. It is always a capital mistake to reach conclusions before having all of the facts on a point at issue.

The Chinese government, itself, delayed publicly addressing the stories about his alleged defection. Then on June 23, 2021, officials of the People’s Republic of China Embassy in Washington informed that Dong made a recent public appearance despite rumors that he had defected to the US four months ago. According to minutes released by the Communist Party’s Central Political and Legal Affairs Commission, Dong was among five Chinese officials who attended the 16th meeting of the Security Council Secretaries of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) Member States on June 23, 2021 Reports of the meeting were also shared on Weibo, China’s largest social media service.

Sources of the Hoax: Views on That in the Newsmedia

The Daily Beast quoted Robert Manning, a former top Asia specialist in both Republican and and Democratic administrations for more than 30 years as saying the decision of the Biden-Harris administration’s willingness to address such a normally highly secretive issue was “to excise an unnecessary additional irritant in the still downward-spiraling bilateral relationship” between the US and China. The Daily Beast also reported another possible motive was to beat back a Republican campaign to deflect blame for the COVID-19 pandemic in the US from the erstwhile administration of US President Donald Trump to China’s Wuhan Virology Lab and, by extension, Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, who has been critical of the former president’s response to the disease. In the same vein that the motivation may be domestic politics, the Daily Beast reported that a leading China watcher suggested the objective was to head off Republican accusations that the Biden-Harris administration was “hiding a defector who has info on the lab leak or [other] embarrassing stuff.” Essentially amplifying what was aforementioned here, the Daily Beast explained reports of Dong’s defection originated in conservative circles here and abroad that have been critical of the scientific consensus that the COVID-19 pandemic was transmitted from animals in Wuhan’s “wet market.”

On June 4, former Fox News reporter Adam Housley tweeted that “US intelligence has a Chinese defector with Wuhan info. and China is trying to produce variants that suggest it came from bats to cover up that coronavirus originally came from a lab.” Housley’s report was referenced by RedState, which alleged that “a person believed to be among the highest-ranking defectors ever to the United States from the People’s Republic of China has been working with the Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA) for months.” Citing anonymous sources “inside the intelligence community,” The Daily Beast further reported that Red State cautiously claimed “the defector has direct knowledge of special weapons programs in China, including bioweapons programs,” and that the alleged information had created “a sudden crisis of confidence in Dr. Anthony Fauci.”

In a June 24, 2021 Washington Times story, it was suggested by a former National Security Agency counterspy that the defection rumors were “part of a Chinese disinformation effort to distract attention from growing international concern over reports the coronavirus pandemic may have originated in a Wuhan laboratory.” If that intriguing possibility is true, it would seem that the other shoe dropped when Dong was seen at a meeting with the head of MPS later in the month. It might be said the some in the US newsmedia are so expectant and desirous of good news for the US on the Chinese espionage front, that some outlets were even ready to jump at a contrived one. he US Intelligence Community did not flinch in response to the defection reports at any point until,  as aforementioned, one US official spoke “just looking to correct the record.” 

Other Suggestions

One can only imagine–if he was actually unaware that the fiction of his defection, would be laid on so thick in the newsmedia worldwide–what Dong’s immediate reaction was when he received news that he was the subject of a farce that put his loyalty and honor in question. Dong was imaginably a little put out. It may have also caused him some embarrassment, some loss of honor. While the truth of Dong’s loyalty to the Communist Party of China and his country would eventually be made very clear, he would surely recognize that once his name was associated with he would indubitably feel was a damnable rumor, that taint would still stick, even if only to some small degree, long afterward. 

 Perchance that the defection rumor was contrived by MSS, then it would be accepted honorably as an unavoidable sacrifice he had to make with the aim of protecting China. Perhaps some monitoring should be done to see if somewhere along the line in the near future, there is some sudden mention of Dong awarded some high honor for his “service” from the Communist Party of China. Perhaps he would receive the award from Xi, himself. That may very well signal, and could help support the idea, that the defection story was indeed part of some nefarious MSS scheme.

Quis custodiet ipsos custodes. (Who watches the watchmen.) Dong has unlikely gotten lost in any hurt. Yet, one might speculate that perhaps somewhere, someone believes Dong pretends to have an inner strength, nerve, that he actually lacks. Though the true source remains publicly unknown, so far to greatcharlie’s knowledge, no one has been denounced at least publicly in China for having responsibility for igniting the rumor against Dong. One could hypothesize that if the source of the rumor was actually in China, it may have been the case that Dong recognized attempting to establish blame among any rivals for the episode would only be corrosive, and trying to reconcile with some sense his own guilt for leaving himself open to the of such a rumor would be self-defeating. In such a hypothetical case, an expression of such acrimony within days of the celebrations of the Centennial of the Communist Party of China taking place in Beijing on July 1, 2021, would unlikely be of any benefit to Dong politically, professionally, or personally. To that extent, in the eyes of Communist Party of China leaders, he likely would do himself much honor by deciding to hold his tongue at this time, if he even needed or desired to speak out at all.

Arthur Conan Doyle in “Adventure IV. The Boscombe Valley Mystery” of his twelve short stories in The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes published in the Strand Magazine (1891) had his main character, the damnably good detective Holmes, state the following which is apposite here: “Circumstantial evidence is a very tricky thing. It may seem to point very straight to one thing, but if you shift your own point of view a little, you may find it pointing in an equally uncompromising manner to something entirely different.”

Xi Jinping’s Counterintelligence Concerns

Xi has placed considerable focus on police, judges, prosecutors, public security, and state security officers as part of a new Communist Party of China drive against graft, abuses and disloyalty in their ranks. Xi has ordered China’s security forces to be loyal to the Party, serve the people and be impartial in law enforcement. Xi also demanded the police force forge iron-like discipline and conduct. In his address at the ceremony, Xi lauded the major contributions made by the Chinese police to safeguarding national security, social stability and people’s interests, He called them a mighty force that can be fully trusted by the Party and the people, and spoke highly of the major contributions made by the Chinese security forces to safeguarding national security, social stability and people’s interests. Xi also called upon the security forces to uphold the Party’s absolute leadership.

People’s Republic of China President Xi Jinping (above) has placed considerable focus on police, judges, prosecutors, public security, and state security officers as part of a new Communist Party of China drive against graft, abuses and disloyalty in their ranks. Xi has ordered China’s security forces to be loyal to the Party, serve the people and be impartial in law enforcement. Xi also demanded the police force forge iron-like discipline and conduct. Clearly, Dong has been mindful of Xi’s concept and intent and obedient to the new counter-espionage regulation that came into effect in April 2021.

Would Beijing Call It a US Counterintelligence Plot?

As discussed already here by greatcharlie and in previous posts, little progress has been made in halting it or even making a discernible dent in Chinese intelligence operations. Many minds in the US national security bureaucracies are certainly working fiercely on this matter of utmost importance, but it seems too few facts have been collected for them to run on to break new ground or produce anything worthwhile. Trails of espionage may lead to the MSS and PLA, directly in many instances, but those who commit the devilry of spying on Beijing’s behalf, in the US and from China, are seldom caught. With estimates as high as 25,000 Chinese intelligence officers, operatives, and informants on the loose in the US, it is difficult even the most partisan US observers such as greatcharlie to deny China has secured a massive advantage for itself. Publicly, there appears to be not much of anything comparable achieved to knock back Chinese espionage.

Dong’s team and counterintelligence executives and managers of the other Chinese intelligence services surely study the tactics, techniques, procedures, and methods of US foreign intelligence and counterintelligence services. They would seek to better understand and prepare for expectant future attempts to covertly insinuate operatives into the Chinese foreign and national security apparatus, including particularly both the clandestine posts and covert networks of civilian and military Chinese intelligence services and Communist Party of China organs operating overseas.

Dong and his counterintelligence managers at MSS doubtlessly understand the situation the US Intelligence Community has faced, scoring few victories and suffering many defeats in the intelligence struggle with China, and they very likely recognize that US foreign intelligence and services are anxious to turn the situation around and get some things going. They have likely concluded US foreign intelligence and counterintelligence services are under stress and are bound to take risks to score a victory or win the whole ball game. 

To that extent, one might imagine it could plausibly be claimed within MSS headquarters that whole episode was a US counterintelligence artifice, designed to twinkle out Chinese intelligence service officers and operatives based on the their reactions by some the following: movements–attempt to leave US; communications–sending communiques by codes and encryption to provincial departments and municipal bureaus to confirm rumors and see instructions on next actions; contacts–reaching out to network managers in distress or panic; and, email, text, call, and meet other intelligence officers to parse out situation as reported. Alternatively, also with a counterintelligence purpose, the US could be said to have attempted to smoke out prospective defectors among those officers and operatives, attempting to convince them that some “tower moment” for Chinese intelligence service operations in US had occurred and the moment had arrived to choose to remain part of Communist Chinese system or seek refuge in the US. 

Dong and his manager further parsing out the matter might have speculated that beginning in February 2021, he may have been out of pocket for an extended period or on medical leave for some illness. Such speculation could go further to suggest the US Intelligence Community became aware of the situation, which would have been a chilling prospect in itself for MSS counterintelligence, and sought to capitalize on it 

What might cause Dong and his managers some discomfort even though the whole defection story was revealed as a hoax, and if it was the actual source of the hoax, is that for a while at least there appeared to be good news about success against China. Even if proven false, it would be good to have such positive news reach the ears of the US public, and Beijing would not want that. Further, even though the truth is out, the belief may exist among many in the US public that the “super secret” US Intelligence Community may have truly scored the specified success, and now, for reasons unknown, want to conceal it. Among conspiracy theorists in the US, the imagination may have also been given fuel to run wild and the whole matter of the defection will linger for a while. Chinese intelligence services would likely hope that some sense of discouragement might reach into the psyche of the US public over how Chinese espionage in their country appears unstoppable, even though it may be an issue somewhat outside of the average citizen’s day-to-day concerns.

As for the Communist Party of China, propaganda elements might eventually seek to use the whole circumstance to an advantage against the US. The goal would be to embarrass the US by making it appear as if the US Intelligence Community conjured up a story of defection because that has had no real successes at all against China. What would then perhaps be called “the big US lie” or something to that effect would doubtlessly be denigrated by Beijing through declaring it as being too contrived, unsubtle, poorly executed, and further evidence of how little the US Intelligence Community knows about the Chinese intelligence services. Then again, there may just be silence from Beijing.

A Novel MSS Counterintelligence Tactic to Smoke Out “Disloyalty in the Ranks?”

It would appear Dong may have actually been expecting to face something out of the ordinary from US and other foreign counterintelligence services much as discussed here, and it factored into MSS calculations on operations against the US. According to a story in the June 18, 2021 edition of the South China Morning Post, a report on a seminar on a counter-espionage regulation that came into effect in April 2021 was posted on Changanjian, the social media account operated by China’s top law enforcement agency, the Central Political and Legal Affairs Commission of the Communist Party of China. At the seminar, Dong urged the country’s intelligence officers to step up their efforts to hunt down foreign agents and insiders who collude with “anti-China” forces. A read-out from the seminar quoted Dong as explaining: “The promulgation of such regulations provides us, the principal agents responsible for counter-espionage work, with the legal means to prevent, stop and combat criminal activities that would jeopardize our national security.” Dong went on to state: “This will reinforce our responsibility in counter-espionage work, and enable us to do a better job in organising and mobilising all social forces in waging ‘people’s warfare’ against espionage activities.”

In addition to Dong’s expressions on catching foreign spies, the actual report as posted stated that the intelligence officers must also go after “insiders” and “people who bankroll their activities behind the scene.” On that point, the report additionally noted: “At present, infiltration and spying activities by foreign intelligence agencies and hostile forces have increased significantly.” It went on to say, “In particular, there are individuals who have willingly become ‘insiders’ colluding with foreign intelligence agencies and hostile forces and engaging in anti-China activities.” The South China Morning Post story lastly noted the insistence in the report that “All state security agencies must stand firm … deepen and carry out our various counter-espionage work to safeguard our national security.”

Given what was stated by Dong at the June 18th seminar on the counter-espionage regulation that came into effect in April and the report on the event, it may be grotesquely improbable, yet all the same conceivable, that the defection hoax was actually an MSS loyalty test on a grand scale to as was suggested, to step up their efforts to hunt down foreign agents and insiders who collude with “anti-China” forces.

Attempting to look at thinking in MSS from the outside, trying to put moments and trifles from recent events in order and give them a deeper meaning, greatcharlie hypothesizes that Dong and his counterintelligence managers at MSS could not be certain of how the US Intelligence Community, and other foreign intelligence services for that matter, might apply pressure to its officers and operatives. For them, that is always the pinch. To do something more than just study the matter, they may have created a scenario that would likely shock MSS personnel in the field: the defection of the MSS Vice Minister, for counterintelligence nonetheless. That might explain why Dong’s good name was thrown into the mix of something so repugnant. Dong and his managers could test what may have been a working theory on the likely causality of some occurrence, in this case it would have been collusion with anti-China forces, and see if it could be confirmed by facts through investigation. Indeed, Dong and his managers would have wanted to see for themselves how officers and operatives in the field would respond to a very deceptive approach that perchance in their minds could have plausibly been attempted by US counterintelligence.

Many of the MSS foreign intelligence networks and operations in the US, and elsewhere overseas, are run by MSS Provincial departments and municipal bureaus. It would most likely be the case that foreign intelligence and counterintelligence managers of those departments and bureaus would have understood that there would be no reason to leave their locations or try to leave the US in the case of such a defection. It would stand to reason that their identities as spies would likely remain unknown for the time being and everything would be handled by Beijing to prevent their capture and keep them safe. That would likely be instilled in training and before deployments. Expectantly, as a result of training, loyalty and dedication, equanimity and sangfroid would be displayed by officers and operatives. However, through experience one might postulate Dong could have felt that there are patterns one can discern that establish order in the human mind. An unexpected blow to the MSS leadership as a defection of its chief of counterintelligence, which they depended upon for their very lives, might surprisingly elicit inordinate behavior among trained officers and operatives.

Dong might have conceptualized further that if one of his officers or operatives had even considered going over “to the other side” or perhaps might have already been in “friendly contact” with so-called “anti-China” force, the former might fear of being uncovered by an alleged defecting chief of MSS counterintelligence might impel them to act, the latter might want to use the situation to capitalize on the connection already made and go to the other side. (After reading what is presented here, perhaps some may accuse greatcharlie of having too much imagination, others may say, too little.)

A Thought about Future Defections by Foreign Intelligence to the US

As expressed in previous posts by greatcharlie, how the US handles every defection will surely shape decisions by officials to defect in the future.What US counterintelligence services do with defector would certainly have value for MSS to the extent that it could be used to discourage, plant in minds of officers and operatives that turning to the US would not be a wise choice. What prospective defectors might gather from the whole Dong business is that his or her defection could easily become a very public matter, very quickly in the US and eventually worldwide. It could be imagined by them that facts concerning who or what, when, where, how, and why would somehow be leaked to the news media. Rather than a serious concern, their defection might be presented and looked upon at least among some in the US as a banal amusement. Bookmakers in Las Vegas may very well have been taking bets on the outcome of it all: “Did he or did he not defect?, and “Will he stay in the US or be returned to China for one of our spies?” Regardless of the rank or position a prospective defector might be, he or she would hardly get the impression that the way Dong’s name was tossed about was nothing to signify, but rather unseemly. They would perhaps recognize that they would have little cause to expect any better treatment for themselves. None of this should be looked upon as exaggeration or fanciful if the Dong episode might be considered at all instructive. Using the backdrop of this episode as a gauge, one can only imagine what would go through the mind of an intelligence officer of adversarial country, wanting to defect when thinking about the treatment and well-being of his or her family members and himself or herself, how seriously their situation would be taken by the US, and what would be their final disposition. That may not portend well for the US Intelligence Community or prospective defectors. Hopefully, that will not be the case.

The Way Forward

Praeterea qui alium sequitur nihil invenit, immo nec quaerit. (Besides, he who follows another not only discovers nothing but is not even investigating.) Despite pronouncements of Communist precepts that are designed to allow the society to evolve socially, economically, and politically, declarations to maintain an orderly society though a system of justice demanding obedience and assurances from the Communist Party of China on the smooth running of the state and conduct of government affairs aimed at supporting a high quality of life for the people, visible and publicly released reports of scientific achievements in the medical field to high-tech, greater endeavor in the vast ocean and into space, and the notices of accomplishments externally on foreign affairs and guaranteed that the country cannot be threatened, bullied, or taken advantage of ever again, China is nonetheless a nontransparent society. What one knows about China is what Beijing says is true. Independent observations that defy its realities are anathema in Beijing, and can be responded to harshly. There is plenty of secrecy. The frugal release of information on the Wuhan virus is the latest best example of that. Beijing, without fail, will double down further in secrecy when it comes to national security. Yet, to discerning eyes, what the world observes China doing also speaks volumes about what is highly likely being decided behind the scene. That was especially true in this case when ostensibly a man viewed widely in the Communist Party of China as one of the country’s most loyal and dedicated servants, was accused of what could be called the unthinkable. 

While Dong’s name has never been bandied about in the US newsmedia or worldwide in any way close to the manner it has been in just days before thus writing. For those somewhat familiar with such matters, greatcharlie’s editor, himself, being simply an enthusiast and nonpracticioner, well-separate from the intelligence world, the notion that that he of all people in Chinese intelligence would defect would be a bombshell neatly as big if Alexander Bortnikov of the Federal’naya Sluzhba Bezopasnosti Rossiyskoy Federatsi (Russian Federation Federal Security Service) or FSB, was said to have defected instead. That is simply unimaginable. 

Revenons à nos moutons. The hope of US counterintelligence should be “simply” to come into positive contact with an officer, operative, or informant with an albeit some leaning toward an idealistic vision of China as the dominant power and shape of the world for the future, but with reservations, serious reservations. Those sentiments would need to be worked on. The next best hope would be to find the officer, operative, or informant who is not doing things for an ideal, and whose reasons for turning on China would be venal. 

Given the peculiarities of the world of intelligence, this analysis should not be considered too extravagant. The desire of greatcharlie is that nothing in this post would be deemed too fanciful by readers and a bit of their curiosity on the topic at hand would be satisfied. Admittedly, it would be doubly satisfying to know what is presented here might  resonate with a few in US counterintelligence services grappling with the Chinese espionage conundrum. However, if greatcharlie has not achieved the latter, the 18th century French Enlightenment writer, historian, and philosopher, François-Marie Arouet, known by his nom de plume Voltaire, sums up its sentiment in Poème sur la Loi naturelle (1756), Quatrième partie: Je n’en dirai pas plus sur ces points délicats. / Le ciel ne m’a point fait pour régir les États, / Pour conseiller les rois, pour enseigner les sages.” (I will not say more on these delicate points./ heaven made me not to govern states, / To counsel kings, to teach wise men. Spero melior. (I hope for better things.)

Food for Thought for US Companies Maintaining Robust Operations in China despite Beijing’s Strained Relations with Washington

The Great Wall of China (above) actually consists of numerous walls built over two millennia across northern China and southern Mongolia. The most extensive version of the wall dates from the Ming dynasty. Despite the Great Wall’s construction, China has always been relatively open to contact and trade with foreigners. The Communist Party of China would explain that due to such openness, in more recent times, China was the victim of Western “imperialist,” “capitalist” countries that reaped huge benefits from it. Many foreign companies currently operate in China, but their host, quite different from the past, is a world power. The Communist Party calls China’s success the vindication of an ancient civilization after a ‘century of humiliation.” China desires to take the title of the dominant power in the world and in its quest has created a challenging situation with the US. US companies in China must closely watch how US-China relations “progress,” and well-consider what prospective outcomes could mean for them.

Many in the US government’s foreign and national security policy bureaucracies and the US Congress with the responsibility to monitor what China is doing apparently do not want to tell too much about its actions and intentions and what its intelligence services are doing against the US, possibly for fear of metaphorically frightening the horses,  the US public. The Communist Party of China has at least demonstrated to itself that it had all the cleverness to outwit, outmaneuver, and surpass some preceding US administrations in its quest to establish the People’s Republic as the world’s dominant power. China’s accomplishments in that direction are now recognized by many policy experts as being far more significant than once realized. Relatively recent, popular books on US-China relations cut to the foundation of that which was perhaps previously satisfying and assuring in US policy circles about Beijing’s actions and intentions. While is far from exhaustive, among list of such books that greatcharlie has read or reread on the matter are: Michael Pillsbury, The Hundred-Year Marathon: China’s Secret Strategy to Replace America as the Global Superpower (Henry Holt and Company, 2015); Steven Mosher, Bully of Asia: Why China’s Dream is the New Threat to World Order (Regnery Publishing, 2017); Robert Spalding, Stealth War: How China Took Over While America’s Elite Slept (Portfolio, 2019); and, Bill Gertz, Deceiving the Sky: Inside Communist China’s Drive for Global Supremacy (Encounter Books, 2019). Those with a keen interest in what has popularly been called “The China Threat” surely possess copies of one or more of these texts and likely have frequently made a long arm for copies in their libraries for reference. Though recognizing their popularity, greatcharlie would not dare hint at some rank or order of them for it would only open the door to judgments of its choices which is beside the matter. For its April 30, 2021 post, greatcharlie reviewed Gertz’s Deceiving the Sky. Of course, a treasure trove of excellent, recent academic books on US-China relations have been presented by university press and think tank publishers, which includes a few greatcharlie has appreciated and recommends: Michael E. O’Hanlon and James Steinberg, A Glass Half Full?: Rebalance, Reassurance, and Resolve in the U.S.-China Strategic Relationship (Brookings Institution Press, 2017); Elizabeth Economy, The Third Revolution: Xi Jinping and the Chinese State (Oxford University Press, 2018); Clyde Prestowitz, The World Turned Upside Down: America, China, and the Struggle for Global Leadership (Yale University Press, 2021); and, Ryan Hass, Stronger: Adapting America’s China Strategy in an Age of Competitive Interdependence (Yale University Press, 2021).

Despite readily discernible differences of each text, their respective discussions harmonize on the point that China is in the midst of implementing a strategy to supplant the US as the world’s dominant power. Some say the deadline for this takeover is 2049, the one-hundredth anniversary of the founding of the People’s Republic, but others believe it may come earlier. (Some policy circles in the US have assessed dispiritedly that it has happened already.) To that extent, on an additional common point, the authors explain how preceding US administrations, with an apparent tinge of romanticism, misguidedly believed that the US could somehow guide and manage China’s industrialization, trade and overall economic development and thereby impact its political and social development. They also explain how, in some instances, the US government has unwittingly assisted China in achieving its goal of world dominance. In fact, each author essentially declares that China is a national security challenge for the US and its allies. China has made that very clear by building island seabases to secure claims of sovereignty over waters in the South China Sea, conduct overflights of the airspace and naval incursions into the waters of US allies in the region, regularly organize parades of their latest weapon systems, and marches of tens of thousands of men, stupefying to the eyes. The authors by in large suggest that the US should implement a more competitive strategy toward China, as it really is, to get a handle on it, by using all instruments of national power and urging US allies in Asia and outside to do the same. The efforts of the aforementioned authors, and many authors of notable books not discussed here, to expose China for the danger they believe it poses is driven not by antipathy but rather by evidence. There is materiality on the balance of negative probabilities which they have dug up in their research and revealed in their works. 

Given what generally presented, it would appear that China may not be the safest country for US companies to operate in at the present. Being steeped in matters concerning China, and they certainly are, one might presume that senior executives of firms there have already formed positions. Perhaps the best answer for senior executives of US companies is to consider moving their operations to a country that presents no risk or at a minimum, far less risk than China at the moment while the opportunity still exists. Yet, as many US companies are operating robustly in China, clearly moving out is not the course that all senior executives would agree upon. With un fil di voce, greatcharlie, cautiously takes on the task of shining some light on why they would continue operating in China despite problems their firms could face as a result of a collapse in US-China relations or even conflict between the two countries. Some not so subtle changes in attitudes and behaviors of Chinese officials toward the US in recent times are examined to develop insights on specific reactions that should be expected from Beijing. The possibility is considered that Beijing may have plans to make their companies targets of its wrath in the event such dark days come. Simply with the possibility of trouble on the horizon, it would seem their respective companies will soon become targets of China’s public security and intelligence services in very apparent ways. Along with think tank scholars, academics, policy analysts, and military and diplomatic officials, journalists, and students that would hopefully be an interested audience for this essay, greatcharlie would hope that senior executives of US companies with considerable operations in China, might take note as it directly concerns their efforts. Absent from the discussion is any mention of the identities of companies that have placed themselves in, or may have in some way fallen into, a somewhat precarious position in China as greatcharlie believes that information is immaterial, away from the heart of the matter. As for the senior executives of US companies, they are only referred to in the third person as the sole goal here is to touch upon the likely prospective broad range of thinking among them, not to throw the spotlight upon anyone. Make no mistake, greatcharlie is not offering any business advice to anyone. It is stated without pretension that such would be out of its province, and any impressions of the kind caused by this writing should not be given flight. The aim is to provide a look at some important issues from a new angle, provoke thought, and contribute to the greater discourse on the matter at hand. Non enim parum cognosse, sed in parum cognito stulte et diu perseverasse turpe est, propterea quod alterum communi hominum infirmitati alterum singulari cuiusque vitio est attributum. (For it is not having insufficient knowledge, but persisting a long time in insufficient knowledge that is shameful; since the one is assumed to be a disease common to all, but the other is assumed to be a flaw to an individual.)

People’s Liberation Army forces on parade in Beijing (above). In the past, US administrations believed the US could somehow guide and manage China’s industrialization, trade and overall economic development and thereby impact its political and social development. Some scholars assert that in certain instances, the US government unwittingly assisted China in achieving its goal of becoming the world’s dominant power. China is surely a national security challenge for the US and its allies now. It has made that very clear by building island seabases to secure claims of sovereignty over waters in the South China Sea, conduct overflights of the airspace and naval incursions into the waters of US allies in the region, regularly organize, parades of their latest weapon systems, and marches of tens of thousands of men, stupefying to the eyes.

“Perfidious Communist China”

“Perfidious Albion” is the nickname that French Emperor Napoleon Bonaparte would use to acidulously refer to his arch rival Great Britain, which he considered to be treacherous in international affairs, distrustful of foreigners, and had a knack for frustrating his plans. Albion is a literary or poetic term most often used for Britain or England of Ancient or historical times. The term, “Le perfid Albion,” was said to have been first used by Augustin-Louis, Marquis de Ximenès, the 18th century French poet and playwright. In the same vain that the term, “Perfidious Albion,” was used by Napoleon, perhaps the term, “Perfidious Communist China,” could be used in Washington in reference to China as US leaders must remain suspicious and distrustful of it. Leaders of the Communist Party of China do not leave any room for doubt that they are determined to bring down the US in order to claim the title of dominant power in the world. Moreover, they are clearly willing to use whatever jiggery-pokery it takes and use, so far within tolerable limits, the aggression needed to achieve that goal. 

Becoming the world’s dominant power may not seem to some as a worthy pursuit for a developed, industrialized country. The US essentially fell into the role and has held it as a matter of events, fate, and necessity, though arguably some political leaders in the early years of the 20th century, such as President Theodore Roosevelt, envisioned the country reaching the top. Many countries and national leaders in the past two centuries that sought the mantle can now be found upon what former US President Ronald Reagan in 1982 referred to as the “ash heap of history.” Yet, it is the Communist Party of China’s pursuit nonetheless, and Beijing seems to be moving inexorably toward that goal. The strategy to reach its objective apparently from the start was far larger in conception than some in US foreign and defense policy and business circles still appear willing to consider. 

The words of the Chinese officials have begun to reflect the Communist Party of China’s unsheathed antipathy toward the US. The Party, itself, might explain the words of the Chinese officials rightfully manifest the tone of a country once victimized, yet not demoralized by Western “imperialist,” “capitalist” countries that reaped benefits from it. (Truth be told, by the late 1800s, China was “carved up like a melon” by foreign powers competing for spheres of influence over trade and territory.)  The Party line is that China’s success is the vindication of an ancient civilization after a “century of humiliation.” Their words have the flavor of officials from a country that has been executing a clearly defined strategy to unseat the US as the world’s dominant power. It often smacks of something personal for members of the Communist Party of China. With regard to the officials and diplomats of the People’s Republic of China Ministry of Foreign Affairs, this behavior was briefly discussed in the June 30, 2020 greatcharlie post entitled, “Commentary: China’s Coronavirus Tack Includes More Abrupt Officials and Political Warfare; Its Diplomatic Tool Must Endure the Consequences.”

Such qualities in Chinese officials words could be ascribed to those expressed by the People’s Republic of China delegation led by the Director of the Central Foreign Affairs Commission of the Communist Party of China Yang Jiechi, and People’s Republic of China Foreign Minister Wang Yi at bilateral meeting with a US delegation in Anchorage, Alaska in March 2021. The US delegation led by US Secretary of State Antony Blinken and US National Security Adviser, Jake Sullivan. Blinken, indeed, started the meeting off by telling the delegation from China that the US intended to address “deep concerns” over the treatment of the Chinese citizens in Xinjiang and Hong Kong and the situation with Taiwan. However, Yang responded boldly, taking a bit of time to express sharp criticism of the US over what he described as its struggling democracy, poor treatment of minorities, and over its foreign and trade policies.

Yang’s words of reproach and his demeanor were completely out of character for an opening statement, particularly a very public one, for a bilateral meeting between industrialized powers. If the matter were not so serious and the prospects for improved relations between the two countries so grim, it might have been characterized as satire and marked down as a response. Needless to say concerning the speeches given by the two senior officials of the Chinese delegation in Anchorage, bon mot, they were not! Previously, there was an apparent Chinese doctrine of moderation in talks with other countries. Calmness and authority was once shown not only in diplomacy but in all circumstances by officials. This more assertive approach as of late has pulled Chinese officials from their more traditional conservative, stolid posture.

Overall, Yang, as well as Wang when he spoke immediately after him, comported themselves with an astringency which some critics would agree uncloaked the true nature of the regime. Certainly, as discussed in greatcharlie’s April 30, 2021 post, one could not help but get the impression by the vexatious words used lately by Chinese negotiators that all talks and perhaps the overall situation with the US, something even more is going on with Beijing’s thinking. It may very well be that leaders of the Communist Party of China have been satisfied enough with its accomplishments and ongoing progress towards surpassing the US that they have approved behavior by officials in interactions with foreign counterparts that would indicate the transition of power has already occurred. In the New American Bible, it is written in Luke 6:45: “A good person out of the store of goodness in his heart produces good, but an evil person out of a store of evil produces evil; for from the fullness of the heart the mouth speaks.”

In its April 30, 2021 post, greatcharlie also postulates that the Chinese officials appear to be presenting themselves as symbols of national resistance to US power. The Chinese officials wanted not just the US delegation, but the world to pay heed to their exhortations concerning the US. Such public behavior is part of what is known as united front work under Communist Party of China. During the current rule of the People’s Republic of China President and Communist Party of China Party Secretary Xi Jinping, united front work calls for the never-ending, enthusiastic promotion of the Communust Movement, the Communist Party of China, Xi, and the People’s Republic, and a lot of other things. The Communist Party of China is happy to foster animus toward the US wherever it may be found in the world as well as cause foment over such where it can. James Baldwin, the 20th century US novelist, playwright, essayist, poet, and activist, rightly recognized in his fascinating September 23, 1979 New York Times interview: “The world changes according to the way people see it, and if you alter, even but a millimeter the way people look at reality, then you can change it.”

The future situation is not entirely clear. One might reasonably suspect that while Beijing wants a peaceful resolution to the most stressing geopolitical issues it faces with regard to the US, it is uncertain whether they would even imagine accepting a balanced one. Real success for Beijing may very likely mean achieving some major advantages across issues in contention with the US. Looking at the extreme alternative, measuring what it might lose against what it might gain in some limited use of force, its judgments are likely balanced on perceptions of the will of the US to act and to sacrifice in such a way to actually protect its interests and allies in the region. Another factor included in the forecasts of Beijing’s moves would perhaps be the temperament of Xi. Conflict of any kind would have a dreadful impact on US companies in China. The lead up to any turn for the worse would likely mean problems for their operations and their employees in-country. As would be expected, some US companies have moved out or have expressed plans to move out. Other companies appear to be tiptoeing in the same direction. Still, there are those firms that are not just reluctant, but unwilling to take a new course. 

People’s Republic of China President and Communist Party of China Party Secretary Xi Jinping (above). In an April 30, 2021 post, greatcharlie postulates that the Chinese officials appear to be presenting themselves on the world stage as symbols of national resistance to US power. That was apparent during a bilateral meeting in Anchorage , Alaska in March 2021. Chinese officials wanted not just the US delegation, but the world to pay heed to their exhortations concerning the US. Such public behavior is part of what is known as united front work. Under the current rule of the People’s Republic of China President and Communist Party of China Party Secretary Xi Jinping, Chinese officials appear required to engage in a never-ending, enthusiastic promotion of the Communust Movement, the Communist Party of China, Xi, and the People’s Republic, and a lot of other things.

Do Not Rely on Beijing’s Goodwill!

Knowing what is wrong is not as great as knowing how to fix the problem. Moreover, one must accept there is a problem and be willing to fix it. In his philosophical and autobiographical treatise, “Discourse on the Method of Rightly Conducting One’s Reason and of Seeking Truth in the Sciences” (1637), the renowned 17th French philosopher René Descartes wrote: “And thus, the actions of life often not allow any delay, it is a truth very certain that, when it is not in our power to determine the most true opinions we ought to follow the most probable.” In the small hours of the morning, one might imagine US executives look within to find the truest answer to how to proceed given all that they have been informed of respectively. 

What greatcharlie has discovered in its own research and the voluminous scholarly sources that support the view that danger lies ahead is that from the aggregate of respective discussions in recent books and other publications in this vein, this idea can be confidently drawn by business executives in question, too! More so, executives sophisticated enough to create a successful space for their companies in China have sufficient information available to them even beyond what outside experts offer, to include reports from the US government, that would allow them to grasp the potential impact of decisions they might make. Undoubtedly, capable and diligent regional specialists in their own companies have collected and presented similar information on the dangers of remaining in China. Everything asserted about the threat Beijing poses to US companies can be substantiated by a history of necessary commiserations between company senior executives and decision-makers of the Communist Party of China.

Yet, while it is most apparent that China’s recent past clearly is not without stain, that fact appears to be by the by to those senior executives of US companies working robustly in China who choose to remain. They will not allow their minds to be biased by theories and suspicions suggested by those who do not have the type of investment at stake in China as their respective companies. They are unwilling to condescend to what they would call fear mongering about the Communist Party of China. China appears to have won many of them and those in that number will hear nothing against it. In this discussion, greatcharlie leaves aside any suggestion that the continued investment by US companies in China is the result of some urge among their senior executives to act in a knowingly dangerous way, l’appel du vide. What those business executives may believe is that in their own assessments of Beijing, they have the advantage of being well informed through what they might characterize as their own most informative, “regular” contacts and “substantive” conversations with officials of Chinese government bureaucracies and leaders of the Communist Party of China. They may believe their relationships with them are strong, bien entretenue. Many appear willing and some comforted by refusing to look beyond what Beijing presents about itself. In that respect, some have become metaphorically tone deaf to warnings concerning all urgent matters now underway. It was expressed by Aristophanes in Clouds (423 BC): “To invoke solely the weaker arguments and yet triumph is a talent worth more than a hundred thousand drachmae.”

As for Beijing’s guile and maneuvering, some of the senior executives even at this point would doubtlessly declare that the evidence that has publicly presented on its malign actions and intentions as something akin to an albeit a peculiar rag bag of singular happenings. Ironically, they might sarcastically note that some new wrinkle of China’s malevolence comes to light practically “every ten seconds” as the 20th century US humorist Sam Levenson might remark to defuse the tension caused by the subject.

In A Mountain of Crumbs: A Memoir (Simon & Schuster, 2010), Elena Gorokhova recounts growing up under the Communist government of the Soviet Union in the 1960s, and tells of her discovery of the hidden truths about adulthood and her country’s profound, brazen lies. Gorokhova recounts: “The rules are simple: they lie to us, we know they’re lying, they know we know they’re lying but they keep lying anyway, and we keep pretending to believe them.” The regime in Communist China operates in a similar deceitful fashion both at home and abroad. There are doubtlessly many more aspects of Beijing’s thinking and behavior that have not as yet been discerned or at least publicly reported. They may become known only after a situation literally blows up. One might state that within the Communist Party of China, the powers of evil are exalted, anything negative is possible. 

The latest word from the US Intelligence Community is that the US supply chain from China now faces real threat. There are a few normal factors that can affect US supply chains, including production shortages, trade disruptions and natural disasters. However, the US National Counterintelligence and Security Center (NCSC) has warned that “actions by foreign adversaries to exploit vulnerabilities in US supply chains pose unique counterintelligence and security threats.” According to the NCSC, foreign adversaries are increasingly using companies and trusted suppliers as “attack vectors” against the US for espionage, information theft and sabotage. Officials warned that those actions compromise the products and services that “underpin America’s government and industry” and warned of the effects–“lost intellectual property, jobs, economic advantage, and reduced military strength.”

What is shared by the US government on Beijing’s plans and intention toward companies foreign working in China should be fully heeded by US companies. Beijing would of course become indignant claiming Western arrogance would lead accusers to say an idea was stolen. Perhaps Chinese government spokespersons would rely upon words similar to those of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s fictional character Sherlock Holmes, who in “The Adventure of the Dancing Men,” the third story of 13 in the The Return of Sherlock Holmes (1905), stated: “What one man can invent, another can discover.” 

Simple facts can go some way to explain what might be recognized as a charitable position. To that extent, distortions of truth from Beijing or other trusted or favored sources are far more satisfying as a result of an infatuation with a present preoccupation. In arguments, the business executives will mistakenly grab the nearest evidence to hand that would uniquely support their perspective. What they might characterize as the “stirring of alarm” would likely be inexplicable to those who have not abandoned the idea that China acts in goodwill. They would likely assert that China’s sense of a rivalry between itself and the US is natural given geopolitical, geostrategic, economic considerations alone. Indeed, among those reluctant to accept what present evidence insists upon, one might find that almost every decision to carry on with their current business plans in China is likely founded upon a mix of reality and imagination.

As reported in the Wall Street Journal on March 26, 2021, in the weeks that surrounded the inauguration of President Joe Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris, Chinese leaders waged an information campaign aimed at the US business community. It included a flurry of speeches, letters and announcements. Of special note was a February 2021 speech by the Communist Party of China’s  foreign policy director, Yang, to a virtual audience of US business leaders and former government officials. Initially laying out a very positive situation for investment and trade opportunities in China, he then offered the stern warning that Tibet, Xinjiang, Hong Kong and Taiwan are “red lines” that anyone from the US should remain silent about. He also made the demand that the business community lobby the new Biden-Harris administration to reverse Trump administration policies toward China which he excoriated. 

Without the intent of being folsom, greatcharlie states that there are highly qualified individuals that serve as senior executives at companies. In their respective fields, these professionals are generally known and admired for their astute judgments, being steady and reliable, and having keen minds and the laudable capacity to reason. Finding answers to such situations were what the executives were hired for. Being incommoded by the regulations of China’s bureaucracies would by no means be new to them and they would expect to find a way to work around any problems. Their thoughts would remain focused on optimizing their respective companies’ investments in China. That would be the vintage way of thinking, so to speak.

One might go as far as to suppose that some US business executives may feel that if accomplishing that meant being under some recherché obligation to Beijing, they would accept that. They doubtlessly would expect to gain additional favor from the Communist Party of China through such loyalty. As a bonus of taking such a step, they might believe they would be taking the steps that would allow them to avoid a serious dilemma in the near future. (Such would hardly be a schema Beijing would feel obligated to follow, and indeed, something one should not plan for.) One might expect to occasionally hear expressions of appreciation from US companies to the most senior leaders of the Communist Party of China and the Chinese people for their “magnanimity.” In fact, they have been heard. Those companies could do no greater service for Beijing than to take such a course. Those in the US outraged by China’s overall behavior toward the US and its allies would very likely call it a perverse allegiance.

Perhaps conditions for some companies were never idyllic to start, and any new circumstances that arise are just one more hurdle to overcome. One might suppose that for senior executives of US companies in China, navigating any problems that have arisen so far has been a bit similar to white water rafting. It is a challenge, but in the end overall satisfying. To speak more in metaphors, senior executives of most US companies still operating in China likely feel that they successfully managed the disturbed sea of those relations by monitoring essential currents and will achieve further success by navigating them intelligently. Indeed, in many cases having spent years inveigling their way into many meetings with Communist Party of China leaders and government officials they likely feel that have created links with them near equal to those that exist between those same Party leaders and officials that the executives of China’s state-run companies. They are likely confident that as a result of those linkages, their companies’ investments In China are to the greatest extent possible shielded from any possible troubles in relations between Beijing and Washington. In corporate conference rooms and meetings with Communist Party of China or other government officials, any dark imaginings of Beijing’s behavior evaporate fastest. Conceivably, ideas and attitudes expressed In those same conference rooms of US companies are very likely encapsulated with the quip: “I will believe it when I see it.” There may very well be companies planning to simply carry on even under the worst circumstances should it come to that. 

Yet, many have doubtlessly assessed that contrary to the reports of experts, they have so far had no reason to regret, nor do they believe they shall have any reason to regret their speculation in China. Until they are caused to accept anything to the contrary, one could imagine certain senior executives of US companies would happily seek to remain in their offices in China. The claim that Beijing could turn against them in some profound way may simply be a counterfactual. Perchance senior executives still engaged in robust operations in China believe Beijing’s intentions are the best and would refer to all of the negative talk of Beijing’s intentions as slander. Presumably, senior executives of US companies, having minimized in their own minds the danger that China presents, might suggest to other senior executives whose companies are similarly invested in China, that no one should get ahead of oneself in reaction to what they may have heard or observed of those companies that have moved out. Perhaps the retention of that mindset, a certain stubbornness among some, may be a prime obstacle in convincing them to open their eyes. Assuming that all have the best intentions at heart, one might believe that differences in thinking among senior executives of US companies are mostly a matter of clarification 

There are situations in which even the most accomplished business executives might find themselves helpless. No US firm should count upon the goodwill of Beijing to help see them through the storm of greatly deteriorated relations, or the catastrophe of a clash, between the US and China. Beijing time and again has proven that it is unworthy of such trust. Most US companies operating in China or have an extremely close relationship with Party leaders and government officials, they should not expect that they would be able to just carry-on as they have been no matter what. By the mere fact that they are Western companies representing Western capitalism, there would be a fairly good chance that they would fall afoul of the Communist regime in Beijing. That has been a reality all along.

To be as frank as possible, the Communist Party of China has no love for them. Without a shadow of doubt, many Party leaders yearn to reach that day in the future when China can show its true colors, declare broad powers over all foreign companies and severely alter terms of any signed agreements to immensely favor its own interests, if a firm is allowed to remain in China at all. Surely they believe there would be more than one parallel Chinese firm of its respective industry to replace just about every foreign entity, except those as the National Basketball Association (NBA), and could take on their markets even in the US.

Director of the Central Foreign Affairs Commission of the Communist Party of China Yang Jiechi (above). In the weeks that surrounded the inauguration of US President Joe Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris, Chinese leaders waged an information campaign aimed at the US business community. It included a flurry of speeches, letters and announcements. Of special note was a February 2021 speech by the Communist Party of China’s foreign policy director, Yang, to a virtual audience of US business leaders and former government officials. Initially laying out a very positive situation for investment and trade opportunities in China, he then offered the stern warning that Tibet, Xinjiang, Hong Kong and Taiwan are “red lines” that anyone from the US should remain silent about. He also made the demand that the business community lobby the new Biden-Harris administration to reverse Trump administration policies toward China which he excoriated.

Recent Displays of Beijing’s Tactfulness toward Foreign Companies

The renowned English philosopher and physician, John Locke, in An Essay Concerning Human Understanding (1689), wrote: “I have always thought the actions of men the best interpreters of their thoughts.” There have been a few  fresh events in China concerning foreign companies operating there over the grave issue of members of China’s Uyghur ethnic minority from the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region (XUAR) in China’s far west, being used as forced labor in factories. They may provide some clues as to the sort of subterfuge and sophistry senior executives of US companies still operating in China should expect, and perhaps things even more intense. (In citing news articles concerning these events, greatcharlie felt some reluctance given a few US companies are directly mentioned in them and that information is central to understanding the events that occurred. However, to the extent that these incidents were well-supported in the news media, the sense that anything fresh about the firms was being revealed was mitigated.)

In an extensive new report by the Australian Strategic Policy Institute (ASPI), a think-tank founded by Australia’s government, between 2017 and 2019, the Chinese government relocated at least 80,000 Uyghurs from Xinjiang in western China to factories across the country where they work “under conditions that strongly suggest forced labour.” The report further explains that the manufacturers using these transported Uyghurs supply at least 83 international companies making everything from footwear to electronics. Regarding the Uyghurs, the Chinese Communist Party is waging a targeted campaign against Uyghur women, men, and children, and members of other Turkic Muslim minority groups in Xinjiang, China. Abuses have included coercive population control through forced abortion, forced sterilization, and involuntary implantation of birth control; the detention of more than one million Uyghurs, ethnic Kazakhs, ethnic Kyrgyz, and members of other Muslim minority groups in internment camps; forced labor in facilities nearby or affiliated with the internment camps; the destruction and closure of mosques and other religious sites, prevention of youths from participating in religious activities, forced political indoctrination or “re-education.” 

Beijing has denied all of these claims, declaring them to be unjust aspersions. It has stated that rather than running forced labor camps, it is providing vocational training, and that its measures are needed to fight extremism. Recall that Xinjiang was an issue broached by Blinken at the bilateral talks in Anchorage. In January, Washington had banned Xinjiang cotton used widely by clothing producers for Western markets. The US, the European Union, United Kingdom, and Canada have imposed sanctions on Chinese officials for alleged human rights abuses in Xinjiang in March 2020. . China retaliated with sanctions on European lawmakers and institutions.

According to a March 27, 2021 Bloomberg report, Hennes & Mauritz AB (H&M), the Swedish multinational, expressed the view in March 2021 statements that it’s “deeply concerned by reports from civil society organizations and media that include accusations of forced labor and discrimination of ethnoreligious minorities.” It was a risky move for H&M given that China is one of the five biggest markets for the company in terms of revenue with 5.2% of the group’s total sales in 2020. The company had opened 505 stores in China as of November 30, 2020. The company’s access to China, the Communist Party of China, and to customers was put on the line. Almost immediately, H&M encountered what was characterized as backlash over its statements from the company concerning issues surrounding Xinjiang. The company quickly removed its statement on Xinjiang from its website, on a separate link on its homepage expressing the same stance on Xinjiang cotton remained active.

Authors of the news story notably recognized that China’s response to H&M was markedly stronger than its previous pushback when foreign brands crossed political lines. Xi had already set a red line on the issue of China’s human rights record, and foreign companies surely understood at that point that addressing the issue in any way would mean picking a side. In a briefing in Beijing, Gao Feng, a spokesman for the Chinese Commerce Ministry, essentially proscribed H&M’s statements as slanderous ravings. He reportedly said: “We can’t tolerate any forces bringing shame on and tarnishing the pure and flawless Xinjiang cotton.” He went on to state: “Chinese consumers have acted in response to the so-called business decisions made by some companies based on false information. We hope the relevant companies will respect market laws, correct wrong practices, and avoid the politicization of commercial issues.”

As would be expected, H&M’s statement was blasted by organizations such as the Communist Youth League and the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) on social media. However, there was also rising outcry and calls for a boycott on Chinese social media against an undated H&M statement over its website that also expressed concern about reports of forced labor in Xinjiang. At least six stores in the lower-tiered cities of Urumqi, Yinchuan, Changchun and Lianyunang have been shut down by the owners of the properties, according to mall operators in those areas who were contacted by Bloomberg. Local media have reported more closures and pictures showing H&M’s brand billboards being removedThe global clothing retailer’s outlets have also vanished on Apple Maps and Baidu Maps searches.

Adverse effects from the H&M’s statement about forced labor in the contentious region of Xinjiang have spread to other Western brands that have voiced their views on the matter. DW News noted that the Better Cotton Initiative (BCI) declared in October 2020 that it was suspending cotton sourced from Xinjiang for the 2020-2021 fashion season, also citing concerns over that region’s human rights. BCI, formed in 2009 and based in Geneva, Switzerland  states that it was formed to make global cotton production better for the people who produce it, better for the environment it grows in and better for the sector’s future. Its goal is to transform cotton production worldwide by developing Better Cotton as a sustainable mainstream commodity. Members include US-based Nike, Germany-based Adidas, Japan-based Fast Retailing, as well as China-based ANTA. Certainly, BCI members would not comment idly on such a grave matter or any matter for that case.

As foreign companies speak out concerning Xinjiang and forced labor, they are being targeted for treatment. China’s government-aligned English language newspaper the Global Times cited Burberry and New Balance as having made “cutting remarks” about Xinjiang cotton two years ago. It also cited the brand Zara as having expressed a “zero-tolerance approach towards forced labor.” ANTA, a Chinese shoe brand announced it was quitting BCI and would continue buying Xinjiang cotton–prompting a spike in its share prices on Hong Kong’s Han Seng Index.

Chinese social media users expressed umbrage against Western sanctions over alleged abuses of Uyghur Muslims in Xinjiang province by ostracizing further global clothing and footwear brands. DW News quoted one “netizen” as stating: “If you boycott Xinjiang cotton, we’ll boycott you. Either Adidas quits BCI, or get out of China.” Social media posts in China have reportedly also mentioned the Japanese and US brands Uniqlo and Gap but it was unclear whether the people posting messages were private citizens or government plants online. Two popular Chinese television stars, Wang Yibo and Tan Songyun, reportedly said they would end promotional work for Nike over remarks it made in 2020. China’s People’s Daily newspaper began a social media campaign via the microblog Weibo, using a slogan translating as “I support Xinjiang cotton. Citing Reuters, DW News explained many Chinese online users said they would instead support local Asian brands such as Li Ning and ANTA, prompting share price surges in Hong Kong. The US government has called attention to China’s state-run social media campaign and boycott against foreign companies that refuse to use cotton from Xinjiang. State Department deputy spokeswoman Jalina Porter stated that tactic amounts to a state-run “corporate and consumer boycott.”

Taking a closer look at what has been directed at Nike, according Reuters it faces rather a singular social media storm in China over its statement concerning Xinjiang Indeed, anger with Nike reportedly erupted on Chinese social media late immediately after China’s netizens spotted a statement from the sporting goods giant saying it was “concerned” about reports of forced labour in Xinjiang and that it does not use cotton from the region. There is a well-known love affair among the Chinese people and basketball shoes worn by NBA players. It was no small matter. 

Topics around the Nike statement were among the highest trending on China’s Twitter-like social media Weibo the day it was revealed and the social media backlash had a wider fallout. It was in direct response to Nike’s statement concerning Xinjiang and social media criticism on social media, that the agency representing actor Wang Yibo stated on Weibo that he has terminated his contract as a representative for Nike. It was not apparent when exactly Nike had put out the statement. It did not have a date on it. Nike explained in the statement: “We are concerned about reports of forced labor in, and connected to, the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region (XUAR).” It also stated: “Nike does not source products from the XUAR and we have confirmed with our contract suppliers that they are not using textiles or spun yarn from the region.” To prevent further interference, Hu Xijin, editor-in-chief of the state-run Global Times urged Western companies to be “highly cautious” and not to “suppress China’s Xinjiang” in a social media post. To do so, Hu anticipated, would “undoubtedly arouse the anger of the Chinese public,” he added. He did not single out any companies.

Jean-Jacques Rousseau, the 18th century philosopher, writer, and co)mposer of the then independent Calvinist city-state of Geneva, explained in The Social Contract (1762): “Virtue is a state of war, and to live in it we have always to combat with ourselves.” Naturally, foreign companies operating in China will attempt ameliorate and perhaps resolve Xinjiang controversy or any other with Beijing, senior executives of those companies be assured that the Communist Party of China’s memory of even temporary disrespectful acts and what its leaders may perceive as betrayal through declarations of concerns on what are in reality documented human rights abuses, substantiated by Western government sources, will be long.

A heavily secured industrial park in Xinjiang, China (above). In a report by the Australian Strategic Policy Institute, between 2017 and 2019, the Chinese government relocated at least 80,000 Uyghurs from Xinjiang in western China to factories across the country where they work “under conditions that strongly suggest forced labour.” The report also explains that manufacturers using these transported Uyghurs supply at least 83 international companies making everything from footwear to electronics. The Chinese Communist Party is waging a targeted campaign against Uyghur women, men, and children, and members of other Turkic Muslim minority groups in Xinjiang, China. Abuses have included coercive population control through forced abortion, forced sterilization, and involuntary implantation of birth control; the detention of more than one million Uyghurs, ethnic Kazakhs, ethnic Kyrgyz, and members of other Muslim minority groups in internment camps. Beijing has denied such claims.

Experience Speaks?

Memores acti prudentes futuri. (Mindful of what has been done, aware of what will be.) As aforementioned, with consideration of a full range of facts on the current situation between the US-China, to include many discussed here, as well as other key business considerations, some US companies have accepted that the risks are too great to remain and rather than wait for a crisis to arise. To the senior executives of those companies, China’s true, malevolent nature appears to be self-evident. Aware of those practices first-hand, they watch likely in horror as other US companies confidently stroll into the Chinese tangles from which they avoided or feel they escaped. Hope undoubtedly remains even among those companies that have already left that Xi and the Communist Party of China are not intending anything tragic. Any positive prospects for their future reinvestment in China surely rest upon what comes next with Xi and the Biden-Harris administration.

Those with a turn of mind to commit themselves to a defense of China’s behavior as a “competitor” of the US, and commit to even greater investment there, may eventually find themselves obliged to be a bit more obedient to Beijing’s wishes if events cause the authoritarian Chinese government to make its true self clear to them. If that day comes, the sense of the scale of its malignant being and purpose will likely be overwhelming. Those dead-enders, though they would hardly see themselves as such, will discover just how masterful Beijing has been at deception, offering satisfying explanations and signing agreements that really had no meaning. 

Some senior executives whose companies remain in China may already fear doing anything to subvert Beijing and incurring its wrath upon their respective interests. Others will perhaps be paralyzed to act in a crisis having been sufficiently instilled with fearfulness over a perception that the Chinese government will become noisy and rough. Even then, reaching a low point but not yet bottom, it would not be too late to accept the loss, as wise business executives sometimes must do, and move out.

Fallaces sunt rerum species. (The appearances of things are deceptive.) The security of US companies, all foreign companies, working in China, is a subject greatcharlie previously broached on the individual employees of those companies might face. Certainly, security offices of any US companies whose executives and staff frequently visit China should have long since arranged opportunities to brief those employees on problems they could possibly face in China. Such briefings might include the discussion of ways to subtly execute defensive measures to defeat Ministry of Public Security (MPS), Ministry of State Security (MSS), PLA Joint Staff Department human intelligence groups, and any Communist Party of China intelligence organs (e.g., the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference, the super secret and malignant International (Liaison) Department, the United Front Work Department, and the Propaganda Department) from capturing information that meets their organizations’ immediate intelligence requirements as well as whatever information that managers of those spy organizations may deem useful otherwise.

What was presented in the discussion of the December 13, 2020 greatcharlie post entitled, “Meditations and Ruminations on Chinese Intelligence: Revisiting a Lesson on Developing Insights from Four Decades Ago” on security precautions employees of foreign companies must take in China seems worthy of review as background. The discussion is preclosed here. Only the more apposite points are presented.

As discussed, the foreign visitor is always a potential target for province and municipal offices of MPS and MSS. The capability of Chinese authorities to use technological means to keep a close eye on foreigners and detect, apprehend, and deal with those who protest and oppose the government has been enhanced immensely. Two sensational articles in the New York Times, “A Surveillance Net Blankets China’s Cities, Giving Police Vast Powers” dated December 17, 2019, and “Inside China’s Dystopian Dreams: A.I., Shame and Lots of Cameras,” dated July 8, 2018, well lay out the increased use of technology in MPS and MSS surveillance efforts. Reportedly, as part of Xi’s effort to have the security services take on a greater role in China, he has launched a major upgrade of their surveillance capabilities. China, as a result, has become the world’s largest market for security and surveillance technology. It is reported that almost 300 million cameras have been installed in the country. Government contracts are supporting research and development into technologies that track faces, clothing and even a person’s gait. MPS officers on the beat have been observed using experimental gadgets such as facial-recognition glasses. In Zhengzhou, police and security services can use software to create lists of people. They can create virtual alerts when a targeted  individual approaches a specific location. They can acquire updates on people every hour or every day, and monitor anyone with whom those people have met, particularly if there exists a report that one or both individuals have committed an infraction.  Yet, while the new technology may ostensibly provide police and security services with a way to track criminals, it also improves their means to crack down on sympathizers of the protest movement in Hong Kong, critics of the Communist Party of China, and critics of the police and security services, themselves. Worse, it better enables the police and security services to target migrant workers who travel from the countryside to fill China’s factories and ethnic minority groups as the Uyghurs.

On the street, the surveillance of foreigners will typically be relatively light, calibrated to ensure utilization of an optimal number of officers and informants in the role of surveillance operatives in the field. Doing so also facilitates the monitoring process. The more surveillance one uses the more reports that must be reviewed to find one aggregate picture of what occurred. MPS counterintelligence officers will regularly collect and closely review reports on a foreigner’s behavior via informants among neighbors in the vicinity of their residence and locals among colleagues at work. They would be interested in knowing if they have engaged in behaviors that would make them open to recruitment. Their attitudes toward China and its system would be important. The friendships they have made would be of interest. From the reports of informants and technical surveillance, assessments of what type of temptations could be used, if necessary, to bring them to China’s side based on observations of the foreigner’s lifestyle. 

In its December 13th post, greatcharlie additionally cites Articles 9, 11, 12, and 13 of the National Security Law of the People’s Republic of China, as adopted at the 15th session of the Standing Committee of the Twelfth National People’s Congress to explain that for citizens of the People’s Republic of China, the motivations of money ideology, conspiracy, and excitement do not factor in such a decision to come to call of their country’s intelligence services. The law requires them to do so. If any motivations at all could be said to factor in a Chinese citizen’s decision to obey the direction of an intelligence service, expectedly the Communist Party of China would list faith and adherence to the ideals of the Communist Revolution, the Communist Party of China, patriotism, and the homeland. Supposedly, revolutionary zeal drives the heart of China as “one beating heart.”

Since that writing, the NCSC provided, on Twitter, three articles from China’s National Intelligence Law of 2017, Cybersecurity Law of 2016, and, National Security Law of 2015. NCSC explained its aim in doing so was to help those entering an agreement with a company based in China better understand the legal landscape and that Chinese companies will provide data they obtain or information stored on their networks to China’s state security apparatus upon request. More directly, the NCSC wants US citizens to better understand by its message that Chinese companies and citizens are required to assist in intelligence efforts against them by law. Under Article 7 of the PRC’s National Intelligence Law (2017), NCSC cites: “All organizations and citizens SHALL support, assist, and cooperate with national intelligence efforts in accordance with the law, and shall protect national work secrets they are aware of.” Under Article 28 of the PRC’s Cybersecurity Law (2016), it cites, “Network operators SHALL provide technical support and assistance to public security and national security organs that are safeguarding and investigating criminal activities in accordance with the law.” Under Article 77 of the PRC’s National Security Law (2015), it cites, “Citizens and organizations SHALL provide the following obligations for safeguarding national security,” and then cites section specifically (5), which instructs: “Provide national security authorities, public security authorities, and military authorities with needed support and assistance.”

The foreign businessman, scientist, engineer, academic or any other type of professional  working closely with a Chinese counterpart in China may not be aware that he or she is being monitored by that same friendly colleague. It should be expected. When told, it may be so emotionally shocking to outsiders  that it may very well be near impossible to believe. Perhaps refusing to accept that reality is the only way a foreigner can continue to function comfortably in China. In any event, it is the responsibility of the Chinese citizen to engage in such activity under the National Security law. To that extent, friendship with Chinese colleagues may never be authentic as there is an element to the interaction between the foreigner and the Chinese citizen that is cloaked. China comes first. The foreigner is inconsequential to that reality. Ordinary people doing a little this and a little that for the MPS as well as the MSS is a norm.

Although it has not as yet become a commonplace problem, if a foreigner visiting China for the purpose of business or tourism, accepts  documents, notebooks, and books, the traveler might discover quite surprisingly that he or she is carrying items that contain sensitive data the possession of which could be considered criminal. Those illicit materials would have been presented to the traveler intentionally, perhaps even by a Chinese citizen with whom the traveler may have a positive personal relationship, almost certainly at the behest of MPS or MSS. It was said somewhere that it is terrible to find an enemy in a friend, but it is much worse not to find a friend in a friend. (Given the uncertainty of what may result from contact with Chinese intelligence and counterintelligence units, ordinary Chinese citizens typically will not seek out contact with them nor independently engage in activity with foreigners outside of the workplace on matters related to their work. They will focus on true personal relationships on personal matters, human interests.)

One must also be very cautious about accepting recording devices or recorded materials, or any devices, thumb drives, dvds, or materials that may include video or audio recordings unless one can be absolutely certain as to their contents. Documents contained in any of these media may prove to be government documents concerning confidential matters, and not any run-of-the-mill confidential matters at that. One must immediately open the documents and read them before those who presented them using a laptop or tablet. The review of the recordings posthaste could be passed off as an affected display of ebullience and appreciation of the gift and wonderment about what it holds. 

As things stand, from year to year, the situation has not gotten better in terms of stability and safety. If troubles between the US and China ever begin to arise with regularity, such as detainments of employees of US companies, one might expect some form of ransom will be discreetly demanded by Chinese officials with a warning not to acknowledge their villainy to the world. More than just an aggressive act, it would be an expression of Beijing’s power over those companies, designed to work in the psyche of the US business executives. If a US companies is resolute about remaining in China, it would to be willing to accept that the situation could change rapidly for the worse, new ground rules could be put in for operating in a flash, and it would know without doubt who is really in charge. They would need to accept that ties back to the US would have little meaning to Beijing. The Communist Party of China would surely delight in exercising such power over Western “capitalist” guests. The door opening in that direction of what is outlined here can already be heard creaking.

President Xi in his People’s Liberation Army uniform on parade (above). It would be more than likely that if a military conflict between the US and China arose on the greater world stage, Beijing would lash out at available US targets right at home such as US companies and their employees. Indeed, when leaders of Communist Party of China are exhausted of tricks and manipulations, they often turn to the cane. If US companies were to face such a situation, the matter would need to be put right by senior executives of those companies at the crisis point, if at all possible.

Prospective Problems Ahead

ata volentem ducunt, nolentem trahunt. (Fate leads the willing, and drags the unwilling.) As US companies, by their own devices, continue to entangle themselves in meshes with Beijing, they may be grooming themselves to become subject to its machinations. An impregnable collection of evidence already indicates that Beijing’s desire to control Western business communities attitudes and behavior toward nearly anything Chinese. Perhaps one day US companies will awaken to the true character of the Communist Party of China and the Chinese government after it is too late. Once any extraordinary conduct is exhibited by Beijing toward one or more US companies  it would be almost impossible for the US government to chuck itself in the mix in a calibrated way that mitigates such steps as opposed to exacerbating the situation.

As it was explained in the 14th century by the English lawyer, author, and statesman, Saint Thomas More, “What is deferred is not avoided.” Caught in such a conundrum, it would be best if US companies had already laid plans to respond to such a contingency well in advance of it. It would be the only way to have a fighting chance of getting some handle on it. Complete consideration of Beijing’s immoral side must be part of that assessment. Exactly how business executives might intend to put the matter right on their side under such circumstances is unknown. In spite of contingency planning, it is hard to see from greatcharlie’s vantage point what cards US business executives could realistically play to sway Beijing in such a crisis. They would be in a weak position to negotiate relief from Beijing. Perhaps it was in the process of planning for such a contingency, that senior executives of such companies along with their security offices recognized that it was time to leave.

Conceivably, the senior executives of some US companies in China might hold the idea that they might serve as “go-betweens,” neutral emissaries, who, while loyal to their US homeland, are also loyal and responsive to their Chinese hosts, and assist in finding some settlement between the US and China during a conflict. The idea would unlikely interest Beijing in wartime. Despite any notions senior executives might have of their ties to China and relationship with leaders of the Communist Party of China, during a war, they would most certainly be tagged as enemy aliens, perhaps dangerous enemy aliens, and handled with due care by MPS and Party security organs. In an atrocious yet very possible scenario, they may be tasked to perform high profile duties against their will for the Party’s Propaganda Department. United Work Department and International Department operatives might force them without compunction to any point resembling a front line of the conflict to demonstrate the senior executives recognition that China was on the correct side of the struggle and any of its actions against the US were righteous. Chinese security services might force them to visit foreign capitals, accompanied of course, to give speeches on how the US allegedly may have wrongfully threatened China’s interest and caused the conflict. One could imagine a hundred possibilities and none of them would be good for the senior executives. At about that point, the business executives will have the truest and fullest understanding of the Communist Party of China.

Interestingly enough, any decision by Beijing  to take steps against one or more US companies would undoubtedly be a measure decided upon in its own contingency planning in the event of a sudden ratcheting up of contentious relations with Washington. To that extent, what might happen to US companies stranded in China in such circumstances would assuredly be a fixed fate. Leaders of the Communist Party of China, under such circumstances, would hardly be inveigled by the platitudes of foreign business executives to be more lenient toward their companies. Any Party leaders would feel both angered and shamed if that perception was created about them within the Party’s membership. It is imaginable that such a bargaining effort would be responded to violently.

Essentially, any breakdown in relations between the US and China, or worse, a military conflict, would have an unfortunate effect upon the position of US companies operating there. More than likely, it would cause Beijing to lash out at available US targets right at home such as those US companies and their employees. Indeed, when the brains of the leadership of Communist Party of China are exhausted of tricks and manipulations, they have often turned to the cane. If US companies were to face such a situation, the matter would need to be put right by senior executives of those companies at the crisis point, if at all possible.

The Way Forward

Aligning the suppositions offered here on thinking over remaining in China with specific senior executives of US companies operating in China undoubtedly would not be too difficult for numerous investigative journalists if they preferred to do so. Yet, as mentioned on the outset of this post, their identities are immaterial with regard to the objective here which was to provide a picture of the challenging circumstances that those business executives face particularly from China’s public security and intelligence services, shed light upon what they are likely discussing among their counsels, and present insights on the decisions they have reached given the paths they have taken.

If credit might be given to their line of thinking of those US business executives resolute about remaining in China, it might be provided by F. Scott Fitzgerald in a February 1936 Esquire magazine essay entitled, “The Crack-Up.” Fitzgerald explains: “the test of a first-rate intelligence is the ability to hold two opposed ideas in the mind at the same time, and still retain the ability to function. One should, for example, be able to see that things are hopeless and yet be determined to make them otherwise. This philosophy fitted on to my early adult life, when I saw the improbable, the implausible, often the “impossible” come true.” However, it cannot be denied that those executives are placing their respective companies’ interests in a vulnerable position by remaining on the ground in China. Some might call that a calculated risk. 

Worrisome is the possibility that some may be unable to fully grasp the effect of their own actions. If placed in a trying position by external events as a collapse in US-China relations or a military conflict between the two, it is hard to imagine how US business executives would preserve their respective companies’ operations in China or more generally, how they would actually act. They may very well be placing themselves in what could become a serious dilemma. Concerning those executives laser focused on the bottomline–some might say they should be, they might do better to employ their minds on the matter of the well-being of their employees and equities in China before there is some tumultuous event. Perhaps some would say greatcharlie is over-egging the pudding here. However, greatcharlie hopes only to be of some material assistance.

The world exists in an ordered universe and one expects everything to follow that design. There are patterns one can discern that establish order in the human mind. Illusion must never be chosen over fact. Any senior executive of a US firm operating in China should have already been sufficiently aware of how Beijing is acting. Sentiment is a poor substitute for true feeling and fact. Ignorance more often than not dissolves into tragedy. While they are in a position to reexamine the facts, they should do so while there is still time available. Qui ipse si sapiens prodesse non quit, nequiquam sapit. (A wise man whose wisdom does not serve him is wise in vain.)

Book Review: Bill Gertz, Deceiving the Sky: Inside Communist China’s Drive for Global Supremacy (Encounter Books, 2019)

People’s Republic of China President and Communist Party of China Party Secretary Xi Jinping in People’s Liberation Army uniform (above). Successive US administrations, both Democrat and Republican, stuck to a belief that by maintaining good relations with China and conducting trade and other business with it, the Communist regime in Beijing would eventually evolve into a free market, democratic system. However, it is clear now that China has reverted to its Maoist Communist roots. Instead of becoming more moderate and more democratic, China has become a more repressive dictatorship domestically. Internationally, instead of becoming more integrated, China has emerged as a dangerous threat to peace and security as it seeks to become the world’s dominant power. How this all came about and what the US can expect from all of this is elaborated upon in Deceiving the Sky: Inside China’s Drive for Global Supremacy.

In Deceiving the Sky: Inside Communist China’s Drive for Global Supremacy (Encounter Books, 2019), Bill Gertz, the author, directs a flood light on China’s practices that are designed to undermine the US economy, weaken and ultimately defeat the US military, and diminish the global influence of the US. An emphasis of Gertz’s discussion is how US leaders have repeatedly failed to understand the preparations in which Beijing is engaged to ready China for a confrontation with the US in the near future. Gertz also asserts the US leaders have also habitually failed to take appropriate steps to deter and act appropriately in response to Beijing’s threatening moves. An example of how destructive and impactful such delinquencies have been is the US response following Beijing’s use of the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) to crush the democratic aspirations of thousands of Chinese in Tiananmen Square in June 1989. China was sanctioned. However, Gertz says that far more consideration should have been given to how China would and actually did react to sanctions. Gertz says what China actually did was launch an unbridled campaign over the next three decades to steal and otherwise acquire some of the most valuable technology from the US. The theft has been staggering, estimated to be as much as $600 billion annually in stolen technology and intellectual property. However, in successive US administrations, both Democrat and Republican, there was a wilful blindness toward what was occurring. They stuck to a belief that by maintaining good relations with China and conducting trade and other business with it, the Communist regime in Beijing would eventually evolve into a free market, democratic system. 

Gertz says the outcome of this decades long policy failure by the US has been the emergence of an expansionist, hard line Communist regime headed by a supreme leader, who took power in 2012, with unchecked powers matched only by Mao: People’s Republic of China President and Communist Party of China Party Secretary Xi Jinping. Gertz asserts that Xi has ruled with an iron fist. China has reverted to its Maoist Communist roots. Instead of becoming more moderate and more democratic, China has become a more repressive dictatorship domestically. Fundamental freedoms rights and prosperity for the Chinese people have essentially been eliminated.Internationally, instead of becoming more integrated, China has emerged as an ever more dangerous threat to peace in security as it seeks to become the world’s dominant power. Communist ideology is the centerpiece for that Chinese drive for dominance. How this all came about and what the US can expect from it all is elaborated upon in Deceiving the Sky: Inside China’s Drive for Global Supremacy.

The attention of greatcharlie was drawn to Deceiving the Sky at first upon recognizing the title’s reference to “The Thirty-Six Chinese Strategies.” The Thirty-Six Chinese Strategies or Stratagems are a collection of tactics that can be applied to very different situations. The strategies are derived from military tactics applied during the Warring States Period (403-221 B.C.) or during the Three Kingdom Period (220-265 B.C.). Comparisons are naturally made to other Chinese military texts such as Sun Zu’s Art of War focus on military organization, leadership, and battlefield tactics, the Thirty-Six Strategies, is a unique collection of ancient Chinese proverbs, more apt for the fields of politics, diplomacy, and espionage. The origins of this book are unknown. No author or compiler has ever been mentioned, and no date as to when it may have been written has been ascertained. Deceiving the Sky is the first stratagem of the thirty-six.

Gertz explains in the text that the title Deceiving the Sky comes from an ancient Chinese strategy used by generals to win battles called deceive the Sky to cross the ocean. As the story goes, an Emperor was hesitant to launch a military campaign against neighboring Koguryo, now Korea. In reaction, one of his generals convinced the Emperor to go to dinner at the home of a wealthy peasant. As the Emperor entered the house for a meal, the residence moved. The emperor had been tricked onto a boat ended for battle across the sea. Rather than disembark, he ordered the military campaign to advance, and the battle was won. What is derived from this story is that a leader’s determination to win a war should be so unrelenting that even an Emperor, viewed in Chinese culture as the son of heaven or the Sky, can be deceived. Translated into military precepts, deceiving the sky suggests that a commander: 1) Openly act as if intending to do one thing then do something else; 2) Create false alarms until the opponent no longer takes notice of alarms; 3) Lull the opponent into a sense of false security by appearing innocuous. Then when the opponent ignores you, one can attack at will; and, 4) One can also do the reverse, acting mysteriously and pretending to know things onees do not. Try different things and watch the opponent’s responses. The opponent will react most strongly to that which creates most concern. (See Stefan Verstappen, The Thirty-Six Strategies of Ancient China (China Books and Periodicals, 1999))

As Gertz discusses how China has acted against the US in recent decades, no doubt is left about how pertinent this ancient yet timeless stratagem is to its approach. According to Gertz, the strategy well-reflects the Marxist maxim that the ends justify the means. Beijing practices strategic deception known in the ancient formula as using false objectives to facilitate true objectives. It is another way of describing the Communist strategy of using all means warfare against the US which is the sole obstacle to China crossing the ocean and achieving the rightful place as the most powerful state in the world. Nemo repeite fuit turpissimus. (No suddenly becomes bad.)

So impressed was greatcharlie with Deceiving the Sky, it has sought to allow its readers to gleen enough about the book in a review that they would choose to well-thumb its pages themselves. What greatcharlie can state in all conscience that if one really does not have much time to dig deep into the crisis of Chinese actions and intentions, Gertz’s breakdown of the whole matter is about as accurate and concise a report on the matter as one is going to get. What is most impressive to greatcharlie about the book is the manner in which it stimulates thought on the grave issues concerning China. As greatcharlie has stated in previous reviews, books that can stir a fire inside the reader, and a passion for a subject, are the most memorable and most enjoyable to sit with. The role of reviewer, an unsolicited intermediary between a book’s prospective reader and the author, is a responsibility that greatcharlie takes seriously. Rarely if ever, will greatcharlie read a book then take the time to write a negative review, presenting its judgments on the shortcomings and failures of an author’s toil on a manuscript. It is greatcharlie’s preference to provide reviews of books that readers of blog can enjoy and from which they may edify themselves. Never is harm intended.

Gertz is an award-winning national security journalist and author of eight books, four of which were national bestsellers. He is currently national security correspondent for The Washington Times. On China, he is accepted in both journalistic and foreign and national security policy circles as being an authority. Even more, he is something of a treasury of knowledge on its pursuits versus the US. Confidential sources for years within the US national security bureaucracies have shared what they have reasoned was permissible with Gertz that clarified much about personalities, events, and situations concerning China with all possible precautions concerning national security firmly in mind. Gertz’s considerable standing among federal employees in rather sensitive positions is a reality that the most senior executives in the US government have recognized and have begrudgingly accepted. Gertz has been a guest lecturer at the FBI National Academy in Quantico, Virginia; the Central Intelligence Agency; the National Defense University at Fort McNair, and, the Brookings Institution.

The Author

Gertz is an award-winning national security journalist and author of eight books, four of which were national bestsellers. He is currently national security correspondent for The Washington Times. As a journalist, he recognizes his responsibility to speak truth to power. On the issue of China, he is accepted in both journalistic and foreign and national security policy circles as being an authority. Even more, he is something of a treasury of knowledge on its pursuits versus the US. 

Confidential sources for years within the US national security bureaucracies have shared what they have reasoned was permissible with Gertz that clarified much about personalities, events, and situations concerning China with all possible precautions concerning national security firmly in mind. Gertz’s considerable standing among federal employees in rather sensitive positions is a reality that the most senior executives in the US government have recognized and have begrudgingly accepted. In his biography posted by the Harry Walker Agency, a speaker’s bureau, it is noted that former Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) Director R. James Woolsey stated: “When I was DCI [Director of Central Intelligence] Bill used to drive me crazy because I couldn’t figure out where the leaks were coming from. Now that I’ve been outside for two years, I read him religiously to find out what’s going on.” During the 1990s, Secretary of Energy Bill Richardson told the author: “We talk about your stories at Cabinet meetings.” Defense Secretary William S. Cohen once remarked to China’s military intelligence chief that Bill “has access to more intelligence information than anyone I know.” Former Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld once told him: “You are drilling holes in the Pentagon and sucking out information.”

Gertz has also been a guest lecturer at the FBI National Academy, the CIA, the National Defense University at Fort McNair, the Brookings Institution, and Hillsdale College. He has participated in the National Security Studies Program at the Johns Hopkins University School of Advanced International Studies and the Syracuse University Maxwell School of Citizenship and Public Affairs.

In Deceiving the Sky, Gertz has provided a most discouraging account of how the US has fared in a “struggle” to claim the perch of the dominant power in the world which China has promoted. At the same time, he answers in an admirable way the questions that US policy makers and decision-makers should be asking. To that extent, he has supplied the US foreign and national security policy bureaucracies with their deficiencies. An earlier work by Gertz, The China Threat: How the People’s Republic Targets America (Regnery, 2000), was prescient in assessing Communist China’s goals and intentions. Deceiving the Sky includes new details of the danger and proves his warning was correct. Gertz warns that if nothing significant and lasting is done, it will only get worse.

Gertz digs into the dark roots of Beijing’s plans. Readers will find that the information Gertz provides will prove to ring true on every issue. He demonstrates that there are clearly greater issues hanging from any issue with China than usually appear at first glance. Surely, presenting a full excavation of China’s actions and intentions was unlikely desired or practical given the larger audience Gertz sought to reach. Perchance if Gertz were to write enough works on the matter he will manage to at least touch upon all of its many aspects. Gertz is not a storyteller. His job is not to entertain, despite what his publishers might desire without the ultimate objective of every publisher which is to sell books. As a journalist, he delivers the news, lays out the facts as they are, and to the extent that he may provide analysis, he edifies and enlightens with his insights. Gertz has the power to intellectually stimulate with his words

The present situation between the US and China is recognized by many scholars, academics, policy analysts, and journalists as being unhealthy. Gertz’s reports on Chinese plans and actions have run concurrently to those of other journalists and scholars writing on the subject and the main features of their stories tally. Indeed, a lengthy list of authors have written fine books on the matter and offer similar perspectives. Concerning those other books, greatcharlie would not dare offer even a short-list of them for it would only open the door to judgments on the the selection of them and perhaps their numerical order. As this review is focused on Gertz’s work, all of that would be beside the matter.

It would be difficult to convince greatcharlie that Gertz wrote Deceiving the Sky with the objective of eclipsing the whole of its kind. What he has done is add an invaluable volume to the body of literature that accurately discusses “The China Threat.” He articulates the struggle in a manner that gives all matters that hang from it real meaning. Gertz only asks readers to follow closely what he has written and learn. Some seem disposed to remain content with that situation as long as it lasts. Though he lays it all out impressively before his readers, those not so warm to Gertz’s views will for themselves determine what if anything in the book is essential and what is not. Certainly, one must also accept that not everyone will be attuned to the scream of writers such as Gertz on the real and immediate threat China poses. 

Multi cives aut ea pericula quae imminent non vident aut ea quae vident neglegunt. (Many citizens either do not see those dangers which are threatening or they ignore those that they do see.) To those who seek to find normality and safety in what China is doing in Asia and beyond and see it all as being modest enough, it is likely Deceiving the Sky put their noses are not out of joint. Whether they might be characterized as rejectionists or alarmist in accord with their responses to Gertz, nothing in Deceiving the Sky was apparently intended to harshly cut so deep into the foundations of thinking of proponents of an ascending China that they should find his facts and deductions threatening to their own analyses or interests. He is not on the attack. His goal is to illuminate. He encourages all readers to simply evaluate for themselves how things have actually been moving and where they are actually heading. Not just out of a sense of professional satisfaction but rather the urgency and importance of the matter, he would welcome and wish for an effort by them to test the virtues of what he presents.

Xi and senior decision makers on foreign policy within the Communist Party of China albeit are individuals of an exceptional nature judging from what they have displayed of themselves in challenging the US for the position as the world’s dominant power. That is a desire that they have in abundance. They have shown themselves to be a thoroughly bad lot. Gertz paints an even more sinister picture of Xi in a discussion of historical figures among his role models.

To accept that China would cause the release of COVID-19 through what might be called deliberate negligence would cause one to accept China was capable of any fantastic outrage. Doubtlessly, many already believed that. Gertz would perhaps be among their number. China was frugal with information about COVID-19 enough so that rather than being seen as heroes, they have set themselves up as the antagonist of every Western country, primarily the US, struggling to resolve the COVID-19 pandemic in this all-too real global tragedy. Many in the federal government foreign and national security policy bureaucracies and the US Congress with the responsibility to monitor what China is doing, have refrained from telling too much about its actions and intentions and the full extent of what its intelligence services are doing against the US to the public possibly for fear of figuratively frightening the horses. An unwavering conviction over China’s malign intentions appears to be a luxury that many especially in US foreign policymaking circles sense they cannot afford to have. They understand that one’s political fortune could possibly be balanced against it. That job has really been left to individuals as Gertz.

It appears important to note that in more than one spot in Deceiving the Sky, Gertz’s discussion on US policymaking on China is colored by his political perspective, recognizably conservative. As aforementioned, Gertz is a national security correspondent for the Washington Times, a daily newspaper with a conservative political alignment and was employed in that position at the time he wrote Deceiving the Sky. The book was published in 2019, and Gertz also expressed some satisfaction with the decision-making of the administration of US President Donald Trump under a strategy of competitive engagement. (Readers for whom this will pose some problems have been forewarned.) Not to make a labor of this matter, suffice it to say that such digressions in the text should not distract somber and astute readers from taking into consideration the healthy, accurate, and urgent message Gertz offers exposing the true intentions. That discussion, in greatcharlie’s assessment, is not partisan.

What greatcharlie Found Most Interesting

Deceiving the Sky is 256 pages, portioned in 13 chapters and a titillating conclusion. It presents what could perhaps be called a catalogue of sins by China. The range of Gertz’s coverage of China’s activities in Deceiving the Sky can be readily observed in his descriptive chapter titles. They include: Chapter 1: How Communists Lie: The 2007 ASAT Test; Chapter 2: The East Is Red: Communism with Chinese Characteristics; Chapter 3: China Wars: The Failure of Pro-China Appeasement; Chapter 4: The Coming Space War with China; Chapter 5: Assassin’s Mace in Space; Chapter 6: Seeking Digital Superiority: China’s Cyberattacks; Chapter 7: High-Tech Totalitarianism; Chapter 8: Chinese Intelligence Operations; Chapter 9: Influence Power: Beijing and the Art of Propaganda and Disinformation Warfare; Chapter 10: Financial and Economic Warfare with Chinese Characteristics; Chapter 11: Corporate Communism: Huawei and 5G; Chapter 12: Military Might: World Domination Through the Barrel of a Gun; and, Chapter 13: Flashpoints at Sea and China’s String of Pearls Expansion. He sums up the book with the thought-provoking segment: Conclusion: What Is to Be Done? Declare China an Enemy, Liberate the Chinese People. 

It would be impossible for greatcharlie not to receive the lessons and messages of books as Deceiving the Sky and feel compelled to ruminate upon them. Yet, in this review, greatcharlie’s focus is not turned dutifully and perhaps expectantly toward the fundamental and vital issues of concern such as China’s military growth, military strategy, investment in space platforms, ties to Russia, moves in the South China Sea, threat to Taiwan, and other issues of the utmost importance concerning its expansion and hegemony in its the Far East and ambitions beyond Asia. Regular readers of greatcharlie are aware that the blog’s editor has a keen interest in what author’s offer about what makes those of interest to them tick. For years, such independent analyses by reliable sources have often saved federal bureaucracies an infinity of extra trouble by offering insight on what may very well be on the minds of decision makers in foreign capitals. After examining a sufficient record of an individual’s attitudes and behavior in the aggregate sometimes, their motives may still remain inscrutable and those writing books on their policy making and decision making with little resource may turn to speculation. An additional interest of greatcharlie of late are the activities of Chinese intelligence services in the US.

Four chapters in which Gertz offers insights into the thinking of the leadership of the Communist Party of China at the present and into the future  and Chinese intelligence services that caught greatcharlie’s attention are: Chapter 2: The East Is Red: Communism with Chinese Characteristics; Chapter 3: China Wars: The Failure of Pro-China Appeasement; Chapter 8: Chinese Intelligence Operations. Insights Gertz offers in the book’s close, Conclusion: What Is to Be Done? Declare China an Enemy, Liberate the Chinese People, are also worthy of special note.

According to Gertz, no other Chinese leader since Mao has embraced the rigid orthodox Communist ideology more than Xi Jinping, who came into power in 2012. Soon after, Xi engaged in a ruthless, albeit less viable, ideological cultural revolution of his own, a political purge of thousands of officials, some were among the most powerful players in the system. By 2018, under Xi, the Party once again emerged with Mao-like devotion to the Socialist ideal of creating New Chinese Man. He lays out how Xi has assumed more power than any Chinese leader since Mao.

Chapter 2 The East Is Red

It is in Chapter 2, Gertz’s more fully explains, as mentioned earlier, that no other Chinese leader since Mao has embraced the rigid orthodox Communist ideology more than Xi Jinping, who came into power in 2012. Soon after, Xi engaged in a ruthless, albeit less viable, ideological cultural revolution of his own, a political purge of thousands of officials, some were among the most powerful players in the system, such as regional Communist Party boss Bo Xilai, police, intelligence and security czar, Zhou Yongkang, and former Vice Chairman of the Central Military Commission, General Guo Boxiong. 

Gertz reminds that beginning in the 1980s and over the decades that China noted the post-Mao policy dubbed “reform and opening up,” Gertz has readers cast their minds back to the years when Chinese Communist leaders went to great lengths to hide their ideology. He states that “ideological speeches were reserved for Party meetings and three-hour long recitations on the great works of the Party.” He continues further explaining that propaganda organs deliberately substituted the more-moderate sounding Socialism in place of Chinese Marxist-Leninsm in a strategy designed to win widespread support from non-Communist countries around the world.

Gertz then emphasizes how all of that changed with Xi. By 2018, the Party once again emerged with Mao-like devotion to the Socialist ideal of creating New Chinese Man. He lays out how Xi had assumed more power than any Chinese leaders since Mao. Gertz notes that following the death of Mao, the next leader of China, Chairman Deng Xiaoping, argued that Mao’s fanatic view of the World Communist Revolution needed to be changed. In its place, he adopted a new strategy called “Beyond Ideology and Social Systems” that sought to scale back Maoist ways but not give up Communism. Deng intentions were not benign. Gertz asserts that Deng believed world peace was at hand and that China should find a way to exploit it. To that extent, Gertz writes, Deng put forth China’s pragmatic strategy enabling massive trade and investment with the Capitalist world. As Gertz explains,”Bide our time, build our capabilities” was the Dengist ideology, and when the peace eventually collapsed, China would be ready both economically and militarily to dominate. Interestingly, despite appeasement of China by successive US administrations after Chinese tanks crushed the hopeful democracy movement in Tiananmen Square in June 1989, Gertz notes that Beijing continued to harbor the conspiracy theory of US plans to subvert and contain the People’s Republic.

As a very intriguing and instructive point, Gertz explains that “Chinese Communism mimics religion-it presents a version of history with a journey of deliverance played out in chapters written in a chosen language. It boasts its own priesthood–political commissary ubiquitous throughout–and an enforced infallibility of its leadership.” There are prophets and devils, along with a council of senior religious leaders who have the power to change or interpret the Communist historical narrative. Gertz goes on to state that Party loyalty equals morality; doubting history is blasphemy, heresy and treasonous. He then declares: “There is a chosen people, the Chinese, a promised land, China, temples, pilgrimages, faith in the face of contrary facts, deep intrusion into the personal life of each person, and the indoctrination of children into the tenets of Chinese Communism.”

Perhaps a very apparent expression of Chinese Communism as religion is through united front work. To better understand united front work, greatcharlie turns to the expert source for perspective, Peter Mattis. Since leaving the CIA, where he was a highly-regarding analyst on China, Mattis has published a number of superlative essays on Chinese intelligence and counterintelligence. Mattis, along with a former military intelligence officer and diplomat, Matthew Brazil, published a superb book, Chinese Communist Espionage: An Intelligence Primer (United States Naval Institute Press, 2019). According to Mattis, the central element to understanding what the Chinese Communist Party is doing and why to shape the world outside the party is united front work. Mao described the purpose of this work as mobilizing the party’s friends to strike at the party’s enemies. In a more specific definition from a paper in the 1950s, the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) defined united front work as “a technique for controlling, mobilizing, and utilizing non-communist masses.” In other words, united front policy addresses the party’s relationship with and guidance of any social group outside the party. To that extent, as Mattis explains, united front work entails shaping those outside the party, and not simply the Chinese people or world outside the People’s Republic of China. United front work must also be a tool of political struggle. It is not confined to activities that we would call propaganda or public diplomacy. It is not limited to covert action. In 1939, Mao wrote: “Our eighteen years of experience show that the united front and armed struggle are the two basic weapons for defeating the enemy. The united front is a united front for carrying on armed struggle. And the Party is the heroic warrior wielding the two weapons, the united front and the armed struggle, to storm and shatter the enemy’s positions. That is how the three are related to each other.” Mao’s outline of united front work within the party’s toolbox remains as the core understanding of it within the Communist Party of China today. United front activities have “aided” the Communist Party of China in resolving several dilemmas of the post-Mao era. That was most apparent following the Tiananmen Square and the death of Deng.

Evaluated on the basis of the united front policy system, the Communist Party of China’s management of political influence operations runs to the very top of the party, involving senior leaders directly. The policy system extends through the party’s hierarchy and spills over into China’s government ministries as well as other state-owned and state-administered organizations. The State Council ministries to include the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and many other organizations with a party committee offer unique platforms and capabilities that the united front policy system can draw upon for operational purposes. United front work is conducted wherever the party is present. To that extent, as Mattis explains, united front work is not an “influence operation” or a campaign. It is the day-to-day work of the party. The importance of united front work to the Chinese Communist enterprise is the reason why Xi has repeatedly emphasized the importance of a working organ of the Communist Party of China’s Central Committee, the United Front Work Department (UFWD ), to China’s rejuvenation. Among experts on China, UFWD is generally understood to be a Party intelligence organ,

One could only have imagined that foreign policy decision makers at the top of the Communist Party of China were aware that if the COVID-19 disaster was not put right with urgency, it would have had an unfortunate effect on US-China relations. Relative to the enormity of the crisis created, Beijing’s response could not reasonably have been considered apologetic or a recognition of their misstep at all. Overall, the design of the response appeared to be to protect the image and reputation of the Communust Party of China, and leave the impression that it was infallible in its response.

United front work in diplomacy can often be a dominant feature. Diplomacy with leading industrialized Western countries and prominent industrialized countries in their own region is used as a platform to promote the message of the Communist Party of China and bolster its standing. To discern such efforts, one might watch for matters stated publicly that might have little purpose in a more private setting and in fact might be best conveyed on the sideline meeting or during a break in bilateral or multilateral talks.

The reason for this is that the target audience of those comments will not be the party to the negotiation. The target is the people of China and people of underdeveloped and burgeoning industrialized countries who erroneously might see China as having eclipsed the power of leading industrialized countries and directly confronting them. China’s effort to pull countries of the Third World in Asia and Africa and even countries in Eastern Europe, with a particular focus on the Balkans, within its sphere of influence to turn a phrase has the characteristics of a near collection mania. However, the behavior of the Communist Party of China perhaps has had its best results among countries led by tyrants and other potentates who themselves have engaged in the ions old quest for dominance in their region or in the world. Aliquis latet error. (Some trickery lies hidden.)

A tangible demonstration of how China is leading the march to a “better” future for the world, by taking on US power publicly. This was recently done during a two-day bilateral meeting from March 18, 2021 to March 19, 2021 at the Captain Cook Hotel in Anchorage, Alaska. A  US delegation led by US Secretary of State Antony Blinken and US National Security Adviser, Jake Sullivan met with a People’s Republic of China delegation led by the Director of the Central Foreign Affairs Commission of the Communist Party of China Yang Jiechi, and People’s Republic of China Foreign Minister Wang Yi. The two-day meeting got off to a tense start, with a public display of the strained nature relations between the US and China. 

Blinken laid out many of the areas of concern, from economic and military coercion to assaults on basic values. Sullivan made clear that the overriding priority of the US was  to ensure that its approach in the world and approach to China benefits the US public and protects the interests of US allies and partners. Further, he explained further that the US did not seek conflict, but welcomed stiff competition and will always stand up for its principles, for its people and its friends.

Yang responded boldly, taking a bit of time to express sharp criticism of the US. He spoke with great authority. There was an air of ceremony in his reproach. Yet, through his words were evinced the restricted, mental prison of Communism. His statement must be examined in some detail to allow readers to sense the style, tone, rhythm, mood, the expression of indignation, and the recognition that a new world order is on the horizon that will have Chinese characteristics. One can discern a certain flavor in expressions of united front work in diplomacy.

Yang explained: “We believe that it is important for the United States to change its own image and to stop advancing its own democracy in the rest of the world. Many people within the United States actually have little confidence in the democracy of the United States, and they have various views regarding the government of the United States. In China, according to opinion polls, the leaders of China have the wide support of the Chinese people. So no attempt to–the opinion polls conducted in the United States show that the leaders of China have the support of the Chinese people. No attempt to smear China’s social system would get anywhere. Facts have shown that such practices would only lead the Chinese people to rally more closely around the Communist Party of China and work steadily towards the goals that we have set for ourselves.”

In an effort to turn a disadvantage into advantage with mere words, Yang went on to say: “On human rights, we hope that the United States will do better on human rights. China has made steady progress in human rights, and the fact is that there are many problems within the United States regarding human rights, which is admitted by the US itself as well. The United States has also said that countries can’t rely on force in today’s world to resolve the challenges we face. And it is a failure to use various means to topple the so-called authoritarian states. And the challenges facing the United States in human rights are deep-seated. They did not just emerge over the past four years, such as Black Lives Matter. It did not come up only recently. So we do hope that for our two countries, it’s important that we manage our respective affairs well instead of deflecting the blame on somebody else in this world.

Ostensibly speaking on behalf of peoples “oppressed” and formerly oppressed by Western powers as China, itself, once was. Yang was particularly biting, stating: “The United States itself does not represent international public opinion, and neither does the Western world. Whether judged by population scale or the trend of the world, the Western world does not represent the global public opinion. So we hope that when talking about universal values or international public opinion on the part of the United States, we hope the US side will think about whether it feels reassured in saying those things, because the US does not represent the world. It only represents the government of the United States. I don’t think the overwhelming majority of countries in the world would recognize that the universal values advocated by the United States or that the opinion of the United States could represent international public opinion, and those countries would not recognize that the rules made by a small number of people would serve as the basis for the international order.”

No doubt was left as to his loyalty and dutiful nature toward the Communist Party of China as Foreign Minister Wang performed his united front responsibilities expressing the following position: “China certainly in the past has not and in the future will not accept the unwarranted accusations from the US side. In the past several years, China’s legitimate rights and interests have come under outright suppression, plunging the China-US relationship into a period of unprecedented difficulty. This has damaged the interests of our two peoples and taken its toll on world stability and development, and this situation must no longer continue. China urges the US side to fully abandon the hegemonic practice of willfully interfering in China’s internal affairs. This has been a longstanding issue, and it should be changed. It is time for it to change. And in particular, on the 17th of March, the United States escalated its so-called sanctions on China regarding Hong Kong, and the Chinese people are outraged by this gross interference in China’s internal affairs and the Chinese side is firmly opposed to it.”

Latrant et scitis estatint praetesquitantes estis. They bark, so you know that you are in front of them.) One could reasonably presume any genuine negotiations planned by Chinese officials was secondary to what was stated at the outset of the meeting. Nothing stated by them could have led one to believe they were negotiating, seeking to establish common ground and points of agreement on issues and ways to come together on the most nagging ones. The meeting in Anchorage, Alaska provided a grand stage. The target audience of the Chinese officials’ reproaches was not really Blinken and Sullivan who were present in the room, but rather the people of China stand people of underdeveloped and burgeoning industrialized countries who would likely see China directly confront the US through their words. The Chinese officials sought to establish separate warring identities between the US and China. They sought to create the impression that some equipoise of power had already been by China versus the US.

Further, the Chinese officials clearly wanted to establish an image for the world to see of how disassociated China’s worldview was that of the US. They also appeared to want to demonstrate that China’s old view was more closely related with underdeveloped and burgeoning industrialized countries. They wanted to create the impression that there were both positive and negative forces present at the meeting, setting China up as the positive force and the US as the latter. 

Director of the Central Foreign Affairs Commission of the Communist Party of China Yang Jiechi in Anchorage, Alaska, March 2021 (center). Gertz explains that in the 21st century, “the US is facing the potential of a new world war by miscalculation involving China that has been quietly and systematically building up what it terms comprehensive national power–military, diplomatic, economic–for what the Chinese Communust leadership believes will be an inevitable showdown in creating a new anti-democratic socialist and communist world order without the US.” In his most acidulous commentary, Gertz declares that “the pro-Beijing hands in and out if government were complicit in these policy crimes that deliberately appeased China through a rigid, establishment view that ignored the reality of the People’s Republic and cast it as a normal nation and not as a nuclear armed Communist dictatorship.” Gertz says that it was not until 2015 that the pro-China view was recognized as being no longer sustainable.

Chapter 3: “China Wars: The Failure of Pro-China Appeasement”

In the four decades after the period of reform and opening up began in 1972, Gertz says that “the vast majority among a relatively small and close knit community of China experts who glowed into government policy positions, intelligence agencies, and the officer corps from universities and think tanks produced one of the most serious failures of foreign and security policy in US history.” Gertz explains again that “forty years of willful blindness about China led to the adoption of disastrous policies toward China that have produced a new era of danger many experts see as analogous to the 1930s,” a period when shortsighted diplomats and policymakers prevented the US military from preparing to meet the threat of the growing power of the Japanese Empire. As that story goes, tabletop war games against Japanese forces were forbidden. The ruling elite feared that “it would create a new Japanese threat where there was none.” Gertz says that similarly, pro-Beijing hands created another strawman argument for the appeasement of China. In the aggregate, the result according to Gertz has been “a devastating run of policies toward Beijing that avoided all reference to China’s illicit activities and behavior from the massacre of unarmed pro-democracy students in Beijing’s Tiananmen Square in 1989, to China’s role in stealing US secrets on every deployed nuclear weapon in the US arsenal and hastening their spread globally by supplying nuclear warhead design secrets to Pakistan.”

Cuiusvis hominis est errare, nullius nisi insipientis, in errore perseverare. (Any man can make a mistake, only a fool keeps making the same one.) Gertz explains that in the 21st century, “the US is facing the potential of a new world war by miscalculation involving China that has been quietly and systematically building up what it terms comprehensive national power–military, diplomatic, economic–for what the Chinese Communust leadership believes will be an inevitable showdown in creating a new anti-democratic sociakist and communist world order without the US.” In his most acidulous commentary, Gertz declares that “the pro-Beijing hands in and out if government were complicit in these policy crimes that deliberately appeased China through a rigid, establishment view that ignored the reality of the People’s Republic and cast it as a normal nation and not as a nuclear armed Communist dictatorship.” He goes on to state the dominant pro-China community of both officials and non-government experts “inflicted serious damage on US interests by consistently producing biased and misleading assessments on both China’s intentions and capabilities.” Gertz says that it was not until 2015 that the pro-China view was recognized as being no longer sustainable.

As greatcharlie discussed in its March 29, 2021 post entitled, “Listening to and Understanding the Positions of Others: A Requirement for Thoughtful and Fruitful Talks in All Cases,” diplomacy has been defined as the established method of influencing the decisions and behavior of foreign governments and peoples through dialogue, negotiation, and other measures short of war or violence. In its practice, its key for negotiators to ensure the other side is listening and understanding what they are communicating. That necessitates managing negotiations without arousing hostility. Any awkward situations must be handled with tactfulness. 

Although only in office for a few months at the time of this writing, the administration of US President Joe Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris presumably has used US citizens, individuals with the very best reputations to contact Beijing through so-called back channels. Those individuals would be doyens, men or women of the world with a natural turn for diplomacy, and for discreetly presenting issues of concern and arranging delicate matters as a point of honor for Washington. China appears to commit itself to nothing where the US and Western countries are concerned, or where any other country is concerned for that matter. China’s government is founded on a movement that produced a revolution. It believes it provides a way of living based on Mao’s teachings that should be embraced for all humanity. It will never be satisfied until it puts the rest of the world’s government’s on a solid footing in that direction.

Whether diplomats, intelligence officers, Communist Party of China operatives, or businessmen, they spout the old propaganda line while overseas, “Communism is the wave of the future.” The Biden-Harris administration’s policy makers will have ample opportunity to test theories on how to get the best results from US bilateral relations and economic competition with China. Gertz does not use page space to present readers with exact details of how the US has bargained and negotiated with China, or the tone heard during opportunities in which they communicated bilaterally. The outcomes of such talks speak for themselves. It is one thing to establish a competitor firmly in one’s mind to help drive the effort “to up one’s game.” It is wholly another thing to seek something akin to world domination and to find a way up by stealing from, forcing out, and stepping upon, others. China is attempting to do all of the latter to the US. China will almost always be happy to meet with US officials to negotiate and sign any agreements both to humor themselves, satisfy those among US policy makers and decision makers naive enough to believe there would be any hope of hampering China’s march to dominance, and mollify others who may “fear” the change that Beijing assures is coming.

Qui cumque turpi fraude semel innotuit, eriemsi verum dicit amittit fides.  (Whoever has once become known for a shameful fraud, is not believed even if he speaks the truth.) One could go as far as to say it is delusional to persist in communicating entreaties of that kind to Beijing. This is especially true when it is clear how the troubling behavior in question is associated with China’s quest for dominance. There is no shortage of ambition. One cannot show a tender conscience to Beijing without soon facing a test of will or other undesired effect. The next generation may say preceding ones were dull indeed not to recognize and respond to China’s maneuvers. To go on in partnership with the Chinese, US administrations have forgiven, while not warranted, its worsening behavior. They have forgiven much. Diplomatic outcomes on contentious matters may often be part of larger arrangements, schemes of the Chinese. Indeed, Chinese negotiators will expect that parties to a negotiation will be willing to accept and start with the conditions they initially present. They will strenuously negotiate. If the Chinese can find no flexibility and no further room for satisfactory results from the negotiations they may alter their position more in line with the other party’s terms. The other party may be eager to accept China’s new amiable terms but they may be unaware that there could be a catch. A follow-on malign action, may weaken the benefit of any settlement on the same original matter. An opportunity for the Communist Party of China to test the the virtues of this approach presented itself with the Trump administration when it negotiated and signed a trade agreement in 2020. The Communist Party of China was already aware of the burgeoning COVID-19 crisis at home. It no longer appears Beijing is disposed to negotiating fairly, nobly, on anything. This may appear all the more the case as Beijing may feel it is moving closer and faster to its goal of overcoming the US as the world’s dominant power. After examining this, readers should recall the discussion earlier in this review of the “decieving the sky” strategy ascribed to China’s approach. It is very fitting. Quite so!

By the time the second action is realized by the second party, be it the US or otherwise, it is usually still too unfathomable to imagine that the more malign outcome was sought all along by China. By the time it may be accepted by the second party that every step taken by China was part of one larger scheme, the dye will have long since been cast. In its business of conquest, Beijing almost always does everything completely. China’s efforts in this manner do not seem to have an end.

US political leaders must be willing to do the hard yards to ensure its position is protected. This is not a situation that can be nuanced through talks at the negotiation table. China will not surrender any of its gains or leave what appears to be clear paths to its objective for anything the US might offer, except surrender or capitulation.

However, those US political leaders might also consider the words of Paine, 18th Century American political writer, theorist, and activist of the American Revolution asserted in The Crisis No. V (1778): “To argue with a man who has renounced the use and authority of reason, and whose philosophy consists in holding humanity in contempt, is like administering medicine to the dead, or endeavoring to convert an atheist by scripture.”

Workers in a high-tech facility in China (above). Gertz explains that an expert source in the US Intelligence Community revealed to him that Chinese intelligence operations only began receiving the attention they deserved in the late 2010s after China stopped using more cautious methods and adopted bolder approaches to stealing secrets and recruiting spies. Citing a retired source from the US Intelligence Community, Gertz notes that Chinese intelligence activities are akin to a storm. That Chinese intelligence storm is a secret assault on the US that is without parallel since that mounted by the Soviet Union in the 1930s and 1940s. Gertz explains that current Ministry of State Security recruitment efforts are focused on all US citizens with access to secrets China wants. Those secrets come in two main categories: counterintelligence information about Chinese working for US intelligence, and government secrets and even openly available information that will boost China’s military and civilian modernization and industrialization programs.

Chapter 8: Chinese Intelligence Operations

In Chapter 8 “Chinese Intelligence Operations”, Gertz takes the reader into the arcane world of espionage via the operations of Chinese intelligence services in the US. US counterintelligence services have tried to grapple with the matter of Chinese espionage, however the situation with the activities of Chinese intelligence services nevertheless has become an impossible one for them. The anecdotes that Gertz presents well depict the course of that intelligence struggle. He reconstructs the drama of each case. He does this so clearly, that one would believe that he was present in each case to watch events unfold.

At the core of the chapter’s discussion, Gertz explains that today, the Ministry of Public Security (MPS), Ministry of State Security (MSS), and People’s Liberation Army (PLA) intelligence agencies, along with the United Front Work Department, a Communist Party intelligence unit, are the leading forces of China’s intelligence power. Gertz supports the well-established view that the power of those services is focused solely on maintaining and expanding the power of the Communist Party of China in its drive for global domination. At the end of the chapter, Gertz briefly explains that there was ano important reorganization of the PLA intelligence departments has been eliminated. Oversight of the PLA’s technical intelligence capabilities (including cyber, signals, and imagery intelligence) now resides with the new Strategic Support Force under the Central Military Commission. To provide a bit more detail on that transition, the Second Department of the People’s Liberation Army, responsible for human intelligence, the Third Department of the People’s Liberation Army, the rough equivalent of the National Security Agency, responsible for cyber operations, and a Signals Intelligence, or a Fourth Department of the People’s Liberation Army, responsible for electronic warfare have been rolled into the new Strategic Support Force. The PLA’s human intelligence operations are managed by the Joint Staff Department, and comes under the Central Military Commission. Surely, Gertz is aware of all of this. However, as the main focus of Deceiving the Sky was shed light on the realities of China’s attitudes and behavior, actions and intent, with regard to the US, it was reasonable for him to preclose where he saw fit in his discussion of the Chinese intelligence services.) As for the United Front Work Department, as mentioned earlier in this review, it is one of four key bodies of the Communist Party of China’s bureaucracy at the central level for building and exercising political influence outside the party, and especially beyond China’s borders. The other three are the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference, the International (Liaison) Department, and the Propaganda Department.

Regarding MPS, Gertz says that it is the Chinese version of what has been called intelligence led policing that seeks to preempt crime. Yet, unlike the West, where laws limit the activities of police and security services, Gertz says Chinese security operations have few boundaries. One feature of the MPS is a system called “the Big System” that seeks to fuse masses of data from Chinese police and intelligence services into one program. Big intelligence is the intelligence version of the PLA’s drive for “informatization,” a term used for high technology analysis activities. 

Gertz informs that the massive police intelligence apparatus promises to make it more difficult for those seeking democratic political reforms in China to operate. As Gertz puts it, dissidents and enemies of the state as well as actual criminals will find it hard to plan and organize without leaving behind digital breadcrumbs that security services can collect and connect. He notes that theos MPS has also created the Golden Shield, a military style command structure designed to share intelligence throughout China. The systems have created pathways designed to breakthrough bureaucratic obstacles and link data. Golden Shield involves automatic analysis and cloud computing for analyzing masses of data including computerized facial, voice, and gait recognition. While MSS and PLA focus their spying operations on technology acquisition, MPS agents are engaged in spying on Chinese dissidents in the US.

Citing a former CIA director of counterintelligence, Gertz notes that Chinese intelligence activities, lay those of MSS and the PLA, are akin to a storm. That Chinese intelligence storm is a secret assault on the US that is without parallel since that mounted by the Soviet Union in the 1930s and 1940s. Gertz appears absolutely taken by the fact that penetration of US national laboratories has led to the loss of at least six nuclear weapons designs and the enhancement of Chinese offensive and defensive capabilities. Gertz explains that current MSS recruitment efforts are focused on all US citizens with access to secrets China wants. Those secrets come in two main categories: counterintelligence information about Chinese working for US intelligence, and government secrets and even openly available information that will boost China’s military and civilian modernization and industrialization programs. The modus operandi of MSS counterintelligence Includes the recruitment of foreign intelligence officers and their agents for work as double agents. Gertz tries to get to the center of the mystery of how MSS was able to completely destroy the CIA’s networks in China through combination information from an operative within the CIA and communications system breach. An estimated 30 agents were caught of which three were killed.

Beyond its own human intelligence activities, the PLA, particularly what Gertz, as mentioned, still refers to as the 3rd Department of the PLA, has engaged in a cyber campaign which has inflicted considerable damage to include the theft of sensitive government trade and industrial secrets.

Much Gertz explains here, greatcharlie has also observed in previous posts that little progress has been made in halting it or even making a discernible dent in Chinese intelligence operations. Many minds in the US national security bureaucracies are certainly working fiercely on this matter of utmost importance, but too few facts have been collected for them to run on to break new ground or produce anything worthwhile for that matter. Trails of espionage may lead to the MSS and PLA, directly in many instances, but those who commit the devilry of spying on Beijing’s behalf, in the US and from China, are seldom caught. With estimates as high as 25,000 Chinese intelligence officers, operatives, and informants on the loose in the US, it is difficult even the most partisan observers such as greatcharlie to deny China has secured a massive advantage for itself. Publicly, there appears to be not much of anything comparable achieved to knock back Chinese espionage. If US counterintelligence services had ever managed to achieve some significant breakthrough on the Chinese intelligence front, one would hear “singing in the valleys.” US intelligence services, much as those of other countries, abhor the prospect of public scrutiny, but it is too late now to be concerned by such anxiety.

The deluge of Chinese espionage has torn away so much information, eroded so many formerly reliable defenses, that each day the situation moves closer to the tragic and the terrible. Hopefully, among possible dissenters, an interest, not solely due to exigency, will grow on the idea. Chinese intelligence services have hampered the work of US businesses, research and development firms, high-tech firms, academia, and the federal government itself. They have created spy networks within institutions critical to US economic security and defense. They have attempted to inconvenience the US in its efforts to improve bilateral and multilateral relations in under developed, less industrialized countries and even long time friends of the in certain regions, and multilateral institutions that the US actually had a hand in creating.

In Aristophanes’ play, Birds (414 BC), the character Epops states: “The wise can often profit by the lessons of a foe, for caution is the mother of safety. It is just such a thing as one will not learn from a friend and which an enemy compels you to know. To begin with, it’s the foe and not the friend that taught cities to build high walls, to equip long vessels of war; and it’s this knowledge that protects our children, our slaves and our wealth.” Chinese intelligence services, perhaps at one time, expecting to face something out of the ordinary, that US counterintelligence services would have a few tricks up their sleeves, have not been challenged in any way that has halted or deterred their cyberintelligence or human intelligence activities. Chinese intelligence services have unfortunately managed to do their job successfully, collecting mountains of secret and information from the government bureaucracies and research and development sites, private businesses, high-tech firms particularly, academia, and think tanks. Surely there must be an atmosphere of optimism in the halls of the headquarters buildings of the Chinese intelligence services. The Communist Party of China most likely delights that without openly admitting to possessing such intelligence capabilities, at least through perception, it has that power over the US. 

One can imagine that on more than one occasion, resources, energy, and time were squandered following a false scent. (God help those who have been wrongfully suspected and falsely accused by mistaken or errant officers of any of the US counterintelligence service. It happens. No amount of reparation could ever fix the psychological and material damage very likely done to innocent targets and their loss of reputation and honor.)

Nam qui peccare se nescit, corrigi non vult. (If one doesn’t know his mistakes, he won’t want to correct them.) Perhaps US counterintelligence services are applying old ways of thinking to a new type of intelligence struggle that bears little resemblance to previous ones. The key to it all remains out there somewhere. Finding those who would be capable and disposed to sniff it out using traces available would seem to be the real task ahead. One might presume that US counterintelligence services would hardly imagine anyone from outside the bureaucracy would be capable of producing some shred through their amateur study of the matter. Indeed, some senior executives and managers of US counterintelligence services, determined to stand as solid pillars of standard thinking and behavior that will not be blown down by the winds of change, may brook the idea of bringing in outsiders to handle sensitive matters. They may be mistaken. 

The solution to this espionage riddle, at least based on public reports, appears no closer within their reach. If the matter has not indeed already been settled, it may seem to some that it is at least at the edge of the end. The chance for US counterintelligence services to exhale will not come for a while. Chinese intelligence services do intend to let it come at all. US counterintelligence services have not despaired of getting a handle on the situation. Uppermost in the minds of senior executives and managers in US counterintelligence services is whether anyone within the bureaucracy can produce the magic that will allow them the ability to gain and retain the initiative in a cause that appears to be lost. They must press ahead on the forward foot.

A US B-2 bomber and two US F-22 fighter jets fly in formation (above). The rocky nature of US relations with China is a matter of great urgency. Yet, Gertz is not planting seeds of war in a time of peace. Despite how he labels his conclusion, he does not propose war as a solution. He still holds hope that US officials will come across something along the way that might bring a solution to the crisis. Gertz explains that there is a growing bipartisan political consensus that new strategies and policies urgently are needed to deal with China. Ostensibly to assist in that effort, he presents a set of 14 recommendations for a policy of liberation for the Chinese people from the yoke of Marxist-Leninism with Chinese characteristics.

Conclusion: What Is to Be Done? Declare China an Enemy, Liberate the Chinese People

Readers might recall the words of the 16th century Italian diplomat and political theorist Niccolo Machiavelli in his famous instruction guide for new princes and royals by The Prince (1532): “There are two ways of contesting, the one by the law, the other by force; the first method is proper to men, the second to beasts.” The rocky nature of US relations with China is a matter of great urgency. Yet, Gertz is not planting seeds of war in a time of peace. Despite how he labels his conclusion, he does not propose war as a solution. Prosing out on that matter, he still holds hope that US officials will come across something along the way that might help them develop a solution to the crisis.

Gertz explains that there is a growing bipartisan political consensus that new strategies and policies urgently are needed to deal with China. He does not believe it will be impacted by what he calls the national predicament, a seeming loss of clarity amid increased political polarization. To assist in finding that solution, he presents a set of 14 recommendations for what he hopes will be a policy of liberation for the Chinese people from the yoke of Marxist-Leninism with Chinese characteristics. Gertz emanates a sense of assurance in his writing that the recommendations he offers in Deceiving the Sky would obtain good results.

Each of the 14 recommendations is sufficiently self-explanatory, some are accompanied here with a précis of his summary on it or greatcharlie’s own comments on it. Together, his recommendations have a cumulative effect. They include: 1) Information: Conduct aggressive competition in the realm of ideas. He proffers that the first step in creating a free and democratic China would be regime change, an effort to peacefully oust Communist Party of China; 2) Reciprocity: Restrict access by China to the US in ways equal to Chinese restrictions. A key measure would be to counter Chinese financial warfare with a US program of economic warfare; 3) Intelligence: Shift the focus and operating methods of American intelligence toward more robust and aggressive operations and more effective analysis. Rather than accept being pushed back on its heels, Gertz recommends that the US Intelligence Community should step up aggressive intelligence and counterintelligence operations against the Communist Party of China and the PLA; 4) Foreign Policy/Diplomacy: Restructure and Reform the diplomatic system. Such reforms would need to be implemented in a way that would allow the US to better confront and counter growing Chinese hegemony; 5) Alliances: Create a pro-freedom, pro-prosperity, and pro-rule of law network in Asia. What was already seen in the Trump administration and still being seen in the Biden-Harris administration is Gertz recommendation that the US develop “a global network of democratic alliances targeting China that will seek to pressure Beijing into abandoning its totalitarian communist system and global designs.”; 6) Cultural/Educational: Severely restrict activities by Chinese nationals in the US who are abusing the American system. Gertz suggests that such activities should be restricted in recognition of the subversion and technology theft threats many unfortunately pose; 7) Counterintelligence: Major strategic counterintelligence operations and analyses should be implemented that focus on aggressively targeting Chinese intelligence and security services; 8) Economic: The US should begin a gradual policy of disengagement from Communist China economically; 9) Financial: Plan and carry out covert financial warfare operations against China; 10) Military Exchanges: The Pentagon and US Military must adopt a new policy that recognizes the Communist Party of China and the People’s Liberation Army as the main enemy; 11) Military Missile Defense: Expand American Regional missile defenses. As part of a strategy of neutralizing China’s massive and growing force of ballistic, cruise and hypersonic missiles, Gertz says US missile defenses around the world should be expanded; 12) Military Gray-Zone Warfare: Develop asymmetric warfare capabilities designed to negate Chinese military, cyber, electronic, and psychological warfare capabilities; 13) Political: Create a Parliament in exile. The creation of a “democratic Chinese parliament in exile” that will develop new policies for a free China is an old chestnut.; and, 14) Russia: Play the Russia card. One might call Gertz the suggestion that the US should play the “Russia card” against China by seeking a free and democratic Russia aligned with the free world somewhat fanciful.

Most notable to greatcharlie in the context of this review is Gertz’s recommendation on “Foreign Policy/Diplomacy: Restructure and Reform the diplomatic system.” In his summary of that recommendation, Gertz suggests that US diplomats and foreign service personnel should be retrained in the use of new and innovative diplomatic methods and techniques for the information age that emphasize successfully implementing new strategic objectives toward China that reject the failed diplomacy of the past. The new diplomacy will be rooted in honest assessments and understandings of the true nature of Communist China. A new objective will be to report on and take steps to force an end to the systematic abuse of human rights in China as a high priority. The US should seek to create a new alliance of nations that will seek to isolate China and spur internal democratic political reforms and promotion of freedom and free market systems in the region. Strategic and economic dialogues such as those in the past that produced no results must be ended. New engagement should be limited to conducting bilateral and multilateral talks on concrete, achievable objectives such as verifiable arms limitation and enforceable trade agreements. It certainly would not be velvety going forward if such a course were followed, but perchance US values and interests would be well-served.

In Deceiving the Sky, Gertz’s research sheds an extraordinary side light on the undeniably aggressive thinking of Beijing. While US political leaders are still in a position to reexamine the facts, they should do so. Surely, if any of them were to take the time to look at Gertz’s book with an open mind, it would given them the necessary nudge to begin thinking in that direction. Deceiving the Sky could also lend support to deliberations among colleagues on the matter. 

There are likely quite a few citizens in the US who have heard about China’s aggressive activities. Surely, they would appreciate reading Deceiving the Sky as it would provide them a firm basis for understanding the many issues involved. As greatcharlie has already stated in this review, information from the text that is discussed here only represents a fraction of what the reader will find in Deceiving the Sky. For greatcharlie, the book was both edifying and a pleasure to read. Without hesitation, greatcharlie recommends Deceivibg the Sky to its readers.

By Mark Edmond Clark

Commentary: China’s Coronavirus Tack Includes More Abrupt Officials and Political Warfare; Its Diplomatic Tool Must Endure the Consequences

Communist Party of China Headquarters (above). The Communist Party of China’s line on the coronavirus pandemic has been thoroughly questioned in the West, especially in the US. Beijing’s finger wagging in response has not resulted in some grand conversion of anyone in the US or anyone in the world to China’s point of view. If Beijing stays on its current course, activities in support of the Party-line will surely intensify. Political warfare units and officers overseas of the Chinese intelligence services possess the know-how to propagate the Party-line and are being relied upon. A quiet sense of resentment has likely risen among Ministry of Foreign Affairs diplomats and professionals who seem to be increasingly tasked with making right turns on the truth and have watched as their legitimate work, to promote China’s policy interests, is regularly supplanted by intelligence efforts.

From the moment the coronavirus outbreak began, the People’s Republic of China was not able to overcome and resolve all challenges that beset it. Facing that reality appears to have shaken the psychological foundations of China’s Communist Movement to its core. Under the somewhat mechanical guiding principles of the Communist Movement reinvented by Chairman Mao Zedong insist that China must be forever driving upward and making progress. All efforts should be directed at pushing China to meet its destiny of taking a dominant position in the world. If China did not reach the top, it would remain a sheep not a shepherd. The volumes of collected concepts and quotes could not offer answers for Beijing to quickly and effectively contain the coronavirus, Having failed to meet the needs of its people, Beijing then failed to prevent a coronavirus outbreak worldwide which it must have come to term with by now. Thereby, any sense of failure has likely been intensified. Yet, Beijing has refused to give up the ghost and has continued to extol the virtues of its medical, scientific, and advanced technological capabilities. The identity of the Party is dependent on a certain worldview concerning the Communist Movement, the teachings of Mao, China’s greatness, and China’s world dominance in the future. When that worldview was threatened, the Party would only hold even more tightly to it and potentially double-down on that line of thinking. That possibility of doubling-down most likely led to the decision by Beijing to contain the virus in China as robustly as possible and contain any information just how bad the situation was. Certain medical approaches were approved and taken. Concern over what might have happened outside China was not given equal importance. and few real steps, if any, were taken that related to a concern over an outbreak. No alternative ideas concerning an almost certain outbreak from the discerning and wise in Beijing–academics, scientific scholars, any with relevant expertise–were investigated or allowed any light. Controversies were to be avoided. Those few who said anything contrary to the Communist Party of China line were effectively silenced.

Indisputably, the Communist Party of China’s line on the coronavirus pandemic clashes with the truth. It has been questioned in the West, especially in the US. Although finger wagging at the US in response may seem morally invigorating, it has not resulted in some grand conversion of anyone in the US or anyone in the world to China’s point of view. It certainly has not improved relations with the US. In China, the Communist Party of China, the National Party Congress, and the State Council of China are the immediate sources of all the daily needs of the Chinese people, that certainly would include information. The government would like to convince the Chinese people that international affairs, it says what it has to say, does what it has to do, to lay up a future of world dominance for China. Given this, perchance Beijing has continued this course because it believes the rebuke of the US has served to assure the Chinese public that there is no ambiguity in what the Communist Party of China has determined are the facts. Beijing may believe it is helping Chinese citizens live their lives fully and clear because they are provided “the truth.” By now, though, a good number of Chinese citizens are aware that one cannot know with certainty what is real from what one hears from the government.

In hac re ratio habenda est ut montio acerbitate. (Reason should be held to (applied) in this matter so that the admonition may be without harshness.) While greatcharlie would prefer to avoid being seen as providing advice to Beijing–which in reality would most likely have no interest in its meditations on the matter. Nonetheless, one might say out of academic interest, greatcharlie has sought to conceptualize what Beijing could have done on the world stage when the coronavirus epidemic began in China and offers some thoughts on what it could still do today to recurvate better present itself as “a leader” on the world stage. Related to that, greatcharlie also takes a brief look in the abstract at why any immediate change in the attitudes and behavior may not occur so quickly as its diplomatic tool, the People’s Republic of China Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MFA), has been going through a type of transition contrary to its purpose of building better relations with other countries.

As a net result of its ongoing tack concerning the coronavirus pandemic, Beijing has thoroughly encased itself in the dreadful mistakes it made by unintendedly, yet repeatedly, shining light on what it did not do right and by its continuous attempts to muscle its way out a disastrous situation with words and actions cobbled together inconsistently in an unsuitable emergency public relations campaign. It would seem that in undertaking its current course, not one appropriate contingency has been considered.

If one were to allow Beijing a bit of latitude, purely out of academic interest, its response to the Western, particularly the US, may be the sense that Chinese leaders might have seared into their psyches over decades about Western perceptions of China. That sense might be informed by utterances of identifiable relics of bigotry from a bygone era to the effect that China is nothing for the West to worry about and the Chinese lack the intellectual power and scientific and technological know-how to ever match US capabilities. That was the case when former US Vice President Joe Biden stated: “I mean, you know, they’re nice folks, folks. But guess what? They’re not competition for us.” To that extent, Chinese leaders view their country a being wronged for too long and they endeavor to right that wrong. (Interestingly, in the administration of US President Barack Obama from which political leaders who have made such statements mostly emerge, a laissez faire attitude resulted in policies on China lost in the wilderness that failed to genuinely protect or promote US interests. The delinquency and lethargy of previous administrations also allowed for the steady progress of China versus US power and further advances in technology.)

Certainly, the moment for immediate action has passed. However, a better course than the one taken, to be brief, would have been to accept the reality of their situation, listening to those in their own country who presented the truth about the virus, and fully acknowledging all of the different developments as they happened, the good, the bad, and the ugly. Most important would have been to be the very party that sounded the global alarm, proactively suggesting constructive precautions to all countries, interacting closely with those leading industrial powers which could have a real impact in stemming the problem worldwide while there was still at least a modicum of time for all countries to act, not just China. Beijing could have worked strenuously with international organizations to include the UN Security Council, fully alerting them that the threat that global pandemic may be in the making. Within those institutions, practical and promising forward-looking recommendations to forge a synergistic international response could have been formulated and promoted by China. The flurry of positive action, that would most noticeably include Beijing’s humble recognition of its errors, would have been an astonishing, powerful display of international leadership by Beijing, albeit over a crisis it caused. The fact that something akin to this approach was not undertaken, and perhaps not even considered, has been a sticking point for Trump.

If it so chose at this stage, Beijing could still direct energy and resources at pecking away at the shell in which they trapped themselves much as a chick breaking out an egg. Nuanced approaches requiring positive action by all relevant bureaucracies across the government to create a positive image and firm, favorable picture that a sanguine China is taking all affirmative steps possible should need to be developed. They would need to be finessed, reshaped continuously, to maximize impact upon viable opportunities to break out its self-inflicted shell the country’s earlier missteps. It would also require more humble cooperation with the rest of the world, not reckless antagonistic verbiage that has so far only triggered the never previously considered process of genuinely isolating China from the international community, international trade and political economy, that is slowly gaining momentum. Rather than experiment with anything new, thoughtful, and inspired, Beijing simply turned to the derivative tactics of locking down and concealing less-desirable and outright unpleasant developments. Disappointingly, the leadership of China appears to lack the reflexes, sensibilities, and sadly, the sophistication, to turn toward the more advanced notions required for positive cooperation. Perhaps, brooding leaders of the Communist Party of China have managed to convince themselves that the main front in all of this is a battle of wits between East and West, in which two disparate political and economic systems compete for dominance.

If no erosion of its current positions occurs, and Beijing stays on its current course, one can expect activities in support of them to intensify. Seemingly, the quondam Cold War era, in which such thinking held prominence is apparently not dead, at least not in the foreign affairs parlors of the Communist Party of China, as well as the Chinese intelligence services, particularly the Ministry of State Security (MSS), and to an extent, departments of the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) and intelligence elements of the Communist Party of China. The MSS, a civilian intelligence agency, comparable to some degree to the US Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), is the embodiment of the logic that created the Chinese system’s intimidating, authoritarian order. Since 1983, it has choreographed events to accomplish the Communist Party’s purposes worldwide. With regard to China’s coronavirus crisis, MSS possesses the know-how through specially trained personnel in political warfare units and officers overseas who could engage in active measures, propagating the line of the Communist Party of China. So far, the apparent political warfare attack against the US, has not been the smashing success leaders of the Communist Party of China were hoping for. However, its effects are doubtlessly being felt throughout the foreign and national security policy apparatus of the Chinese government. With regard to the MFA, large swathes of activities concerning China’s foreign relations with other countries have been taken out of the hands of the diplomats and other professionals at the MFA and put in the hands of the intelligence services.

Materiam superabat opus. (The workmanship excelled the materials.) In the offices of the MFA, there is very likely a very quiet sense of resentment among professionals having chosen to represent China and promote its policy interests worldwide only to have their legitimate activities regularly superseded and supplanted by the machinations of the Chinese intelligence services at the behest of Communist Party of China. After decades of proudly engaging in complex, meaningful diplomatic work, mostly behind the scenes, with the goal of having China respected and reckoned as a power that can have a significant impact in international affairs by the international community, it is surely difficult for MFA diplomats and other professionals to watch as China, instead of further establishing its place among dominant powers, is now earning a reputation as an international pariah.

The purpose of diplomacy should be to prevent war. Bilateral and multilateral contacts with other countries, statements, press releases, and other messaging should not have the aim of antagonizing and raising the ire of leaders and other decisionmakers in foreign capitals. MFA diplomats and professionals would surely prefer to avoid a tit-for-tat situation with the US in which one act of retribution would lead to another from China. With every new act, the chance that a serious outbreak of violence increases.

As mentioned, MFA is ostensibly the primary government agency with a portfolio of implementing the foreign policy and managing diplomatic affairs of China, however the ministry now finds its diplomatic efforts with the US being increasingly supplanted by MSS efforts to conduct active measures such having journalist, academics, and other policy scholars promote the Communist Party of China’s hardline and by intensifying its efforts to steal a wide variety of technologies from US companies and universities. More recently, that nefarious work has included efforts to steal the fruits of money, time, and research into therapies and vaccines for the coronavirus. MFA diplomats may find themselves more and more dragged into MSS operations and those of other Chinese intelligence services as their efforts intensify. In a recent incident, it was discovered that a biology researcher at the University of California-Davis lied about her ties to the PLA. After being interviewed by the Federal Bureau of Investigation, she sought refuge in China’s San Francisco consulate. While it has not been definitively established that she was engaged in intelligence work in the US, there is a high probability she was. The PLA would not knowingly deploy an officer to the US without tasking her with some intelligence function. MFA is a consumer of information from cloak and dagger work, and it’s diplomats would prefer not to be sacked into the business of obtaining it.

One might suppose that it was already enough for MFA diplomats to tolerate a policy generally understood to be in effect that has MSS personnel assigned to China’s embassies and other permanent diplomatic missions overseas for up to six years, with a few remaining in post for 10 years if required. Reportedly, in the US, there are seven permanent Chinese diplomatic missions staffed with intelligence personnel. When the accommodations to the MSS aforementioned are added to this, it most assuredly piles on to a heap of discontent that has been long standing.

To enlarge on the point of how MFA is intriguingly being utilized in the larger more belligerent approach of China toward the US, recall how early into the coronavirus crisis, the world witnessed the Department of Information of the MFA using a far sharper tone. As time moved on, it seemingly devolved into being simply a direct mouthpiece for the Communist Party of China, providing some cover for the Party’s own offices. What was being declared about the US has been far from plausible, and apparently manifested anxieties, fears, over outcomes of grave errors made within China. Press briefings amplified those statements online with a bit more vigor. Spokespersons propagating the stronger line were abrupt in what is the approved Party fashion. Indeed, all MFA officials comported themselves publicly with an astringency which some regime critics would say uncloaked the true nature of the regime. Disinformation was also being spread from MFA sources through posts on Twitter. Those who are following this matter closely will hardly forget the shocking and incredulous tweet from Zhao Lijian, the Director of the Information Department of China’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs in which he tried to direct blame at US for the coronavirus epidemic in China. From @zlj517 on March 12, 2000, at 10:37 AM, Zhao wrote: “2 CDC was caught on the spot. When did patient zero begin in US? How many people are infected? What are the names of the hospitals? It might be US army who brought the epidemic to Wuhan. Be transparent! Make public your data! US owe us an explanation!”

The hallowed diplomatic doctrine of the MFA has been moderation in all things. Calmness and authority must be shown not only in diplomacy but in all circumstances. The more recent assertive approach has pulled MFA officials from their more traditional conservative, stolid posture. Reportedly, the transition in approach is due to something called “Wolf-Warrior diplomacy.” The name derives from high grossing, action films, “Wolf Warrior” and “Wolf Warrior II,” that feature Chinese special operations forces in battle against China’s adversaries. While the films present a false reality, the nationalistic ideas and ideals they  promote apparently cross-polinated with thinking of China’s leadership on real foreign and national security issues.

Res ipsa repperi facilitate nihil esse homini melius neque clementia. (I have learned by experience that nothing is more advantageous to a person than courtesy and compassion.) With good reason, somber and astute foreign policy analysts worldwide have found it difficult to believe that MFA diplomats and professionals are pleased to adhere to a policy that is named after and centered upon a banal amusement. There is some indication that the Wolf Warrior diplomacy is not novel, but rather has been in effect for a decade. However, the requirement that MFA diplomats and even officials of other government ministries take on a “fighting spirit” has really been something insisted upon by Chinese President Xi Jinping. Wolf Warrior diplomacy is all seen is a response by Beijing to highly biased perceptions of China presented especially in Western media. Recall, that notion was touched upon earlier here. Biases heard from overseas by China are often perceived not only as ideological but racist. There is also a prevalent perception in China that as the country has become more powerful on the world stage, other countries increasingly sense that it poses a threat to their respective interests.

The official position on the impact of Wolf Warrior diplomacy on Chinese diplomats and professionals is that it has raised their morale and encouraged a more assertive style. Yet more plausibly, MFA diplomats and professionals feel Wolf Warrior diplomacy is a load of bollocks, and they could mercilessly dissect the shortcomings of that diplomacy and anything produced under it. Intriguingly, expressions of traditional Chinese diplomacy and professionalism have been heard here and there. Comments of that nature made by the People’s Republic of China Ambassador to the US Cui Tiankai about the anti-US declarations from Beijing were highlighted in greatcharlie’s March 31, 2020 post entitled, “Commentary: Beijing’s Failed Political Warfare Effort Against US: A Manifestation of Its Denial Over Igniting the Coronavirus Pandemic”. Reportedly, Cui told the HBO news program “Axios on HBO” that he stands by his belief that it’s “crazy” to spread rumors about the coronavirus originating from a military laboratory in the US. Cui even called this exact conspiracy theory “crazy” more than a month ago on the CBS News program, “Face the Nation.” well before the spokesperson for the Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs first began publicly promoting the conspiracy. However, despite such coruscating flashes of what could be called true MFA sensibilities, strong disagreements felt by diplomats and professionals are generally left at the door of their office buildings. At best a very cautious demarche should be attempted in house by the most secure diplomats in the face of decisions and policies of the leadership in an authoritarian, and arguably totalitarian, Communist state. That demarche should never be looked upon by outside observers as a fuite du courage, as much as a pragmatic, existential necessity.

Perchance, more MFA diplomats and professionals disagree with Communist Party of China line policies than one could imagine. No one hoping for the best for China would want to see good thinking officials engage in some une enterprise désespérée that could result in having them brutally weeded out of the system. At least for the time being, nothing that could relatively “bring down the house” should be uttered. Having been directed to promote policies based on the attributes of a fictitious character from an action film, MFA diplomats and professionals have done so without question both overseas and at home. The Ancient Greek philosopher Aristotle stated: “It is the mark of an educated man to be able to entertain a thought without accepting it.”

At one time, the MFA had a clear cut choice between being a mediator and an enforcer of China’s foreign policy. Its diplomats displayed a certain style and nuance as they made offers and discussed the proposals to resolve issues with other countries. Wolf Warrior requires a hardline stand every time. Insights will not advance efforts, dogma will. In following, as time passes, the MFA will likely be forced to make half turns away from the truth, ensuring that it is never on the correct side of issues. As the MFA is used more and more as a tool to proclaim the aggressive message of the Communist Party of China, it places into question whether the ministry will even keep its main job of making peaceful entreaties with foreign governments. While diplomats might meet with the foreign diplomatic counterparts, there would be superficiality to those contacts. It would be diplomacy after a fashion, albeit in an unsatisfactory way. The work of MFA diplomats, as it once was, would be finished. Maliuolum solacii genus est turba miserorum. (A crowd of fellow suffers is miserable kind of comfort.)

The fact that the Chinese government initiated the ongoing coronavirus disaster cannot be credibly truthfully argued against. Sadly, Beijing so far has not demonstrated any interest in acting appropriately concerning the present matter of the coronavirus. It will most likely attempt to continue to assail the global media with waves of distortions. Nevertheless, despite that having transpired, it is not too late to turn the situation around. China can put the present time to good use. The US, as the true dominant power in the world must maintain its poise. It must not react. It must act in a measured way using effective means, at a time and place of its choosing. Despite all the dissatisfaction and disappointment felt toward China, the US must interact as amiably as possible. Surely, the two countries are not at a point yet when the dark waters of despair have overwhelmed their leaders. When diplomats from both sides meet, they must approach each other with a certain buoyancy and hope. Consilio melius contendere atque vincere possumus quam ira. (We can compete and prevail better through wisdom than through anger.)

A Worried Europe Finds Scant Reassurance on Trump: It May Be Provided Outside the Counter-Trump Milieu

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US President Donald Trump has not projected the sort of geniality toward Europe that would relax its leaders. Insecurity over populism and Russian Federation President Vladimir Putin has overwhelmed European leaders, officials, analysts, academicians, and journalists, but Trump seems to worry them almost equally. They do not get him. Perhaps the best hope now would be for European leaders and officials to step away from the current environment and try to quietly examine Trump from a different angle for the sake of transatlantic relations.

According to a February 19, 2017 New York Times article entitled, “A Worried Europe Finds Scant Reassurance on Trump’s Plans,” diplomats, generals, policy experts, and security officials traveled to the 2017 Munich Security Conference from all over the world seeking clues to US President Donald Trump’s ideas and intentions on foreign and defense policy, but left without much reassurance. The highest ranking members of the Trump administration that attended the conference, held from February 17th to February 19th, were US Vice President Mike Pence and US Secretary of Defense James Mattis. Both addressed the conference, but reportedly adhered to prepared statements. Pence’s presentation, in particular, was eagerly awaited. In his address, he explained that he carried a direct message of reassurance from Trump, but his words received little approval from keen observers of Washington present. R. Nicholas Burns, a Harvard professor and former US Under Secretary of State gave Pence credit. Burns said, “The vice president said what he had to say, and I applauded.“ He went on to explain, “But there were very few specifics, and everyone noted that Mr. Pence did not once mention the European Union, which for most Europeans is the central institution, not NATO. Europe is going through a very tough time, and they expected a big public embrace of these institutions from the leader of the West, the United States.” Burns went on to explain, “They know that President Trump has repeatedly questioned the relevance of both NATO and the EU and has encouraged Brexit, and many Europeans fear he may work for a weakening of the EU itself.” He continued, noting, “All this ambivalence makes them very nervous, and it’s hard for Pence to overcome.” US Senator John McCain, referred to in the New York Times article as a conference regular, said that the administration was “in disarray,” and added,“The president, I think, makes statements and on other occasions contradicts himself. So we’ve learned to watch what the president does as opposed to what he says.”

Europe has managed to promote multilateral cooperation under difficult circumstances in the past 70 years. Perhaps the best example of that cooperation was the formation of NATO in 1949.  There was a sense of uncertainty, a degree of instability, and a real threat from the Soviet Union. Foreign policy and global strategy were not well-coordinated among Western capitals. However, with the leadership role of the US, but also with distinctive leading roles played by European countries, what is the now well-known as the Western perspective grew. Pragmatic and patient efforts were to coordinate the policies of Western European countries together with the US and Canada until a new system of European security was developed. Currently, there is increased anxiety in European capitals with regard to EU unity, a rise in populism, and the threat posed by Russian Federation Vladimir Putin and his armed forces. Uncertain of the new US administration’s intentions and plans regarding the support of Europe, European leaders and officials have been turning left and right, asking questions, searching for useful answers. Finding genuine, constructive answers in what could called a counter-Trump milieu has proven most difficult. Indeed, with all of the news media stories, and the nonstop rebuke of Trump by political opponents at home and pundits worldwide, there hardly seems space available in the current environment to introduce into the discourse other facts or evidence about the US president other facts or evidence about the Trump administration without obstruction.

Perhaps the best hope now would be for European leaders and officials to momentarily step back from the current discourse and during that pause, try to quietly examine Trump from a different angle for the sake of Europe. That reexamination might include new research and bilateral meetings with senior US officials. Europe must bridge the growing gap in relations with the US. False appearances and errors in judgment can be dispelled by the truth. To simply take the approach du jure, engage in groupthink, or succumb to the angry mob about Trump, is a misuse of intellect, a misuse of will. Demands cannot be so great, tied so much to the dignity of a nation or movement, or their own pride and ego, that European leaders and officials would allow themselves to become the impediment to finding a way to work with Trump. Aequam memento rebus in arduis servare mentem. (Remember when life’s path is steep to keep your mind even.)

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At the 2017 Munich Security Conference, US Vice President Mike Pence’s address was eagerly awaited. He offered reassurances from Trump. However, the Europeans wanted a public embrace of their institutions by the US, but they say it was not given. There hardly seems space available in the counter-Trump milieu in Europe for anyone to introduce other facts or evidence about Trump and his administration without obstruction.

Prominent Europeans’ Responses to Trump at Munich

Animus quod perdidt optat atque in præterita se totus imagine versat. (The mind yearns for what is gone and loses itself dreaming of the past.) National leaders are expected to project a certain geniality. In democracies, that geniality can boost a candidate’s appeal to the public in elections. Once in power, that geniality makes for great optics, and to a degree may still help shape public opinion, but the main task of a leader is to perform one’s duty and responsibilities well. Trump has not projected the sort of geniality toward Europe that would relax leaders in Brussels or any of the national capitals. There has been a tumultuous clamor in Europe over him. The most apparent causality for the Europeans are the ties of a few senior members of the Trump administration might have with the Russian president. Europe’s expression of  such irritation and concern exposed the considerable degree of insecurity, and to a degree, fear, that overwhelms the latest generation of European analysts, academicians, and journalists not only over populism, Putin, and Russian military power, but the US almost as much. They appear unable to read Trump and discuss him in a way that cannot seem to avoid use of obloquy. The nascent days of the Trump administration certainly contrast in this way with those of administration of US President Barack Obama. Obama seemed to specialize in studied ambiguity on foreign policy, speaking comfortable words to address urgent and important issues as well as outright provocations. It was in line with what then Vice President Joe Biden called “the new tone” of US foreign policy at the 2009 Munich Security Conference. The Obama administration held the promise of a kinder, more thoughtful US than was observed with the administration of his predecessor US President George Bush. Biden urged Europe to ramp up its efforts and partner with the US in an effort to re-establish a workable world order. Those early days with Obama in office appear sorely missed by the Europeans. However, waxing nostalgically about the Obama administration will not serve European leaders well. Moreover, with nostalgia, one more often remembers the best and filters out the worst. Some might recall that Europe voiced concern over how passively Obama responded to provocations such as Russia’s threat to deploy weapons against former Soviet republics and cut natural gas supplies to Europe, and Iran’s launch of a satellite and development enough uranium to fuel a nuclear bomb.  Now, concerns are being expressed about another US president’s response concerning European security.

When he addressed the 2017 Munich Security Conference, Wolfgang Ischinger, the former German ambassador to Washington who organizes the conference, queried whether Trump would: “continue a tradition of half a century of being supportive of the project of European integration, or is he going to continue to advocate EU member countries to follow the Brexit example? If he did that, it would amount to a kind of nonmilitary declaration of war. It would mean conflict between Europe and the United States. Is that what the U.S. wants? Is that how he wishes to make America great again?” French Foreign Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault expressed his displeasure with the fact that Pence had not sent a message of support for the EU, something Ischinger had suggested Pence provide before the conference. Elmar Brok, head of the foreign affairs committee of the European Parliament and a party ally of German Chancellor Angela Merkel stated, “Pence and Mattis and Tillerson can come here and talk about the importance of the transatlantic relationship and NATO–and that is all good.” However, Brok went on to state, “But we don’t know what’s coming on Twitter tomorrow morning.” Daniela Schwarzer, the director of the German Council on Foreign Relations stated without ornament, “People were not reassured.” She continued, “They think that Trump is erratic and incalculable. We all want to hear what we want to hear. But everyone knows that any Trump official could be gone tomorrow, or undercut in another tweet.” Still, Schwarzer intriguingly stated that words were also deeds. She explained, “What he says also changes reality.” In that vein, she proffered, “If you put NATO or the European Union into doubt, it changes their credibility and damages them.” Ulrich Speck, a foreign policy analyst at the Elcano think tank in Brussels, said the conundrum that former US Secretary of State Henry Kissinger evoked when he famously asked who he should call when he wanted to talk to “Europe” seemed to have been “turned on its head.” Speck continued, “Now Europe is asking who it should call if it wants to talk to the United States.” One unnamed European diplomat reportedly likened the challenge of figuring out who to listen to in the Trump administration to the task of “Kremlinologists” during the Cold War. Major ignotarum rerum est terror.  (Apprehensions are greater in proportion as things are unknown.)

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US Secretary of Defense James Mattis at the 2017 Munich Security Conference (above). No benefit will be derived from undermining the US leadership when a response from the US against Russia might prove crucial to Europe’s well-being. European leaders and officials must recall that the ties between the US and Europe have a long history. It is a bond which no US administration would genuinely desire to ignore or want to break. In time, Europe will likely understand that the relationship is still of great value to the US and is appreciated.

News Media Reports and Their Possible Impact on the Matter

When one is less certain about the objective truth, the possibility that one might be drawn elsewhere for answers increases. Lacking any formal statements from the the Trump White House or State Department to analyze US policies, it appears that some in European capitals have turned to the US news media interpretations of political events and decisions of the Trump Administration. In the US, the news media serves as a watchdog over government power and political activity. It is a source from which the public can inform itself on the decisions and actions of elected leaders and appointed officials. The news media is at its best when it can provide the public with a look inside government bodies and operations. Its role in the society is sacrosanct. “Freedom of the press” is one the Bill of Rights, the first ten amendments of the US Constitution listing specific prohibitions on government power. The implications of comments emanating from the Trump administration about the “fake news media” being the “enemy of the American people” are considerable. Ignoring the “fake,” Some have gone as far as to say that denunciation of the news media is the “greatest threat to democracy” they have seen. The news media, the unofficially recognized “Fourth Estate” or fourth branch of government given its importance to the democracy, is not the enemy of the US public. Such comments were unlikely fully considered before spoken, and eventually became fodder in an ongoing struggle between the Trump administration and certain US news media houses. It appears the aim of those grave words initially was to reject and certainly sting some in the news media in response to reports questioning the character of Trump administration officials, but not to be destructive, or to indict the news media as a whole. Events surrounding the Trump administration have gained increased attention. There is a reality that news media houses would like to present attention grabbing headlines to promote readership and viewership, which helps them fill advertising space and increases profit. Indeed, it must be noted that the news media, while a sentinel for democracy, is also a major industry, and managers in  houses seek to satisfy the appetites of their customer base. To patronize in order to connect with the customer is a business practice. In the case of reporting on Trump, most journalists in newspapers of record, to their credit, have written articles that are often measured in composition, providing ample qualifications alongside each postulation. Due to the doubts attached, it stands to reason that information presented in this way should neither be viewed as weighty nor reliable. Others have sought to convince readers that stories are bigger than they are. Such articles exaggerate the truth to the exclusion of it subtleties. Even more, some journalists’ judgments of matters they report about the Trump administration have often insinuated themselves into their articles. That approach on occasion has very likely served to inflame passions and appeal to the lower nature of many readers and viewers, domestically and internationally. What has been stated here may appear as a foray by greatcharlie into media criticism, but actually the intent is to highlight the current environment surrounding the US news media from which many European leaders and officials may be collecting information on the administration.

Recent examples of the type of reports described, include a February 16, 2017 Wall Street Journal article entitled, “Spies Keep Intelligence From Donald Trump on Leak Concerns,”  stated: “US intelligence officials have withheld sensitive intelligence from President Donald Trump because they are concerned it could be leaked or compromised, according to current and former officials familiar with the matter. The officials’ decision to keep information from Mr. Trump underscores the deep mistrust that has developed between the intelligence community and the president over his team’s contacts with the Russian government, as well as the enmity he has shown toward U.S. spy agencies.” The Wall Street Journal article further stated: “In some of these cases of withheld information, officials have decided not to show Mr. Trump the sources and methods that the intelligence agencies use to collect information, the current and former officials said. Those sources and methods could include, for instance, the means that an agency uses to spy on a foreign government.” However, within the article, the following qualification was provided: “A spokesman for the Office of Director of National Intelligence said: ‘Any suggestion that the U.S. intelligence community is withholding information and not providing the best possible intelligence to the president and his national security team is not true.’” Further clarity on the matter was provided in the article with the following: “It wasn’t clear Wednesday how many times officials have held back information from Mr. Trump. The officials emphasized that they know of no instance in which crucial information about security threats or potential plotting has been omitted.”

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German soldiers in formation (above). Lacking any formal statements from the the Trump White House or State Department to analyze US policies, some in European capitals may have turned to the US news media interpretations of political events and decisions of the Trump Administration. Some of those reports may served to inflame passions and convince them that their worst fears regarding US relations were being realized. That would include facing Russia alone.

In a February 14, 2017 New York Times article entitled, “Trump Campaign Aides Had Repeated Contacts with Russian Intelligence,” stated verbatim: “Phone records and intercepted calls show that members of Donald Trump’s 2016 presidential campaign and other Trump associates had repeated contacts with senior Russian intelligence officials in the year before the election, according to four current and former American officials. The New York Times article continued: “American law enforcement and intelligence agencies intercepted the communications around the same time they were discovering evidence that Russia was trying to disrupt the presidential election by hacking into the Democratic National Committee, three of the officials said. The intelligence agencies then sought to learn whether the Trump campaign was colluding with the Russians on the hacking or other efforts to influence the election.” The article created greater intrigue with the following: “The officials said that one of the advisers picked up on the calls was Paul Manafort, who was Mr. Trump’s campaign chairman for several months last year and had worked as a political consultant in Ukraine. The officials declined to identify the other Trump associates on the calls. The article went on to explain: “The call logs and intercepted communications are part of a larger trove of information that the F.B.I. is sifting through as it investigates the links between Mr. Trump’s associates and the Russian government, as well as the hacking of the D.N.C., according to federal law enforcement officials. As part of its inquiry, the F.B.I. has obtained banking and travel records and conducted interviews, the officials said.”

In a similar way to the February 16th Wall Street Journal article, the February 14th New York Times article provided qualifications on this intriguing information, explaining: “The officials interviewed in recent weeks said that, so far, they had seen no evidence of such cooperation.” The New York Times article also disclosed: “Mr. Manafort, who has not been charged with any crimes, dismissed the officials’ accounts in a telephone interview on Tuesday. ‘This is absurd,’ he said. ‘I have no idea what this is referring to. I have never knowingly spoken to Russian intelligence officers, and I have never been involved with anything to do with the Russian government or the Putin administration or any other issues under investigation today.’ He added, ‘It’s not like these people wear badges that say, ‘I’m a Russian intelligence officer.’” Additionally on the matter of contacts, the article continued: “Several of Mr. Trump’s associates, like Mr. Manafort, have done business in Russia. And it is not unusual for American businessmen to come in contact with foreign intelligence officials, sometimes unwittingly, in countries like Russia and Ukraine, where the spy services are deeply embedded in society. Law enforcement officials did not say to what extent the contacts might have been about business.” The article added: “The officials would not disclose many details, including what was discussed on the calls, the identity of the Russian intelligence officials who participated, and how many of Mr. Trump’s advisers were talking to the Russians. It is also unclear whether the conversations had anything to do with Mr. Trump himself. There was also mention in the article of an FBI effort to assess the credibility of information contained in a dossier that was given to the bureau last year by a former intelligence operative of the United Kingdom. The New York Times article stated: “The dossier contained a raft of allegations of a broad conspiracy between Mr. Trump, his associates and the Russian government. It also included unsubstantiated claims that the Russians had embarrassing videos that could be used to blackmail Mr. Trump.” However, that information came with a qualification, which stated: “The F.B.I. has spent several months investigating the leads in the dossier, but has yet to confirm any of its most explosive claims.”

Even the February 19th New York Times article that impelled the writing of this greatcharlie post projected a negative tone. Some unfavorable judgments of the Trump administration infiltrated the article’s description of European responses to remarks made by US officials. The articled noted: “An audience anxious for signals about the Trump administration’s stances on NATO, the European Union, Germany and the Russia of President Vladimir V. Putin, whom Mr. Trump so openly admires, was only minimally soothed. It mostly heard boilerplate assurances about United States commitments of the kind that previous American administrations had rarely felt the need to give.”

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A NATO meeting in Brussels (above). There are considerable incongruences between what is being assumed today about the Trump administration’s approach to Europe and what has been US policy over 70 years. Europe should be hopeful over its future with the US, not anxious or intimidated. Years of success should not be forgotten by Europe over the prospect of working with the new US president to firm up some aspects of the relationship. 

Demonization and Confirmation Bias

Poenam irae saepe videmus. (We often see the penalty of anger.) In the February 19th New York Times article, Artis Pabriks, a former Latvian foreign and defense minister and now a member of the European Parliament, was quoted as saying “The Cold War was won not just by weapons but by propaganda and soft power.” Pabriks then offered the observation, “And on German television, Trump is a joke for everybody. We’re concerned also about American prestige.” In Western media, particularly social media, sites that encourage or present hostile assessments of celebrities, political figures, or those who may have drawn the spotlight to themselves for one reason or another, grab more attention than all other. The attention and approval one can gain from engaging such commentary has made it may in part help make it commonplace.  Indeed, there is a tendency for many, perhaps even most, to demonize those with whom there is disagreement. Demonization has often morphed into hatred. This behavior was both very apparent and very virulent in the 2016 Presidential Campaign. Going back as far as the 18th century, many said worse. Often such hostile talk led to duels. Still, the intensity and sheer volume of exchanges and reports of exchanges that jammed social media and news media streams made what was expressed not only pervasive, but practically unavoidable. The environment has not improved, but perhaps has become worse since then. There is still the punch and counterpunch between political opponents, pundits, and the news media, itself, with the Trump administration. Disagreements seem to have become endless feuds. For European leaders and officials, the danger lies in stepping into this struggle, taking one side or another in the exchange in the US  about the Trump administration because they believe the status of the US president falls with their interests and their constituencies want to know where they stand on such a popular and controversial, yet also delicate matter.

There are considerable incongruences between what is being assumed today about the Trump administration’s approach to Europe and what has been US policy over 70 years. Europe should be hopeful over its future with the US, not anxious or intimidated. Years of success should not be chucked out by Europe over the prospect of working with the US to firm up some aspects of the relationship. There are insistent efforts to advertise Trump’s perceived weaknesses. Some news media houses have approved stories that include unwarranted extrapolations. Only European leaders and officials would know what moves them to believe one thing or another about Trump. It may be experience, intuition, or mores. Despite the importance of relations with the US, it could be hypothesized that some may harbor negative beliefs in general about their ally. In any event, confirmation bias can be a result of the direct influence of desire on beliefs. Confirmation bias suggests that individuals do not perceive circumstances objectively. An individual extrapolates bits of data that are satisfying because they confirm the individual’s prejudices. Therefore, one becomes a prisoner of one’s assumptions. If European leaders and officials want certain ideas about Trump to be true, they end up believing them to be true. Such an error could have lead them to cease collecting information when the evidence gathered at a certain point confirms the prejudices they may feel are true. After developing that view, for the most part, they would embrace any information that confirms it while going as far as to ignore or reject information that makes it unlikely.

Attempting to confirm beliefs comes naturally to most individuals, while conversely it feels less desirable and counterintuitive for them to seek out evidence that contradicts their beliefs. This explains why opinions survive and spread. Disconfirming instances must be far more powerful in establishing truth. Disconfirmation requires searching for evidence to disprove a firmly held opinion. With regard to their understanding of the Trump administration, European leaders and officials must appropriately verify their conclusions. One approach is to postulate facts and then consider instances to prove they are incorrect. This has been pointed to as a true manifestation of self-confidence: the ability to look at the world without the need to look for instances that pleases one’s ego. For group decision-making, one can serve a hypothesis and then gather information from each member in a way that allows the expression of independent assessments.

President Trump Meets With British PM Theresa May At The White House

United Kingdom Prime Minister Theresa May and Trump (above). Political and social pressures to conform to a counter-Trump outlook may exist in Europe, but relations with the US are too important for European capitals to allow the situation to deteriorate so acutely. European leaders must not embrace any information that confirms any individual biases or prejudices they might have about Trump. The thinking that may have caused them not to consider alternatives must be subtracted.

Groupthink in Europe on Trump

With all of the news media stories, and his nonstop rebuke by political opponents at home and pundits worldwide, an environment that would welcome an unobstructed examination or public discussion of other facts or evidence about Trump is practically nonexistent. Antipathy may strong enough in some European leaders and officials that they may be disinclined to take a second look at anything pertaining to Trump. Indeed, among them may be cynics who are uninterested in the truth. They may wrongfully view any effort rectify the situation as obsequiousness in the face of US power, placing political pressure on colleagues who may want reconsider some issues. Some may claim seeking to work with Trump would pose some moral dilemma. However, such could exist only when one knows the objective truth, disapproves of the course of events and is constrained from conforming to external demands. Enumerated here are many of the symptoms of groupthink. Groupthink occurs when a group makes faulty decisions due to group pressures lead to a deterioration of ”mental efficiency, reality testing, and moral judgment.” The term was coined by social psychologist Irving Janis in Victims of Groupthink: A Psychological Study of Foreign-Policy Decisions and Fiascoes (Houghton Mifflin, 1972). Groups affected by groupthink will tend to ignore alternatives and take irrational actions that dehumanize other groups. Groups become especially vulnerable to groupthink when members are similar in background, the group is insulated from outside opinions, and there are no clear rules for decision making.

The eight symptoms of groupthink documented by Janis include: the illusion of invulnerability which creates excessive optimism that encourages taking extreme risks; a collective rationalization, by which group members shrug off warnings and do not reconsider their assumptions; a belief in inherent morality by which members believe in the rightness of their cause and therefore ignore the ethical or moral consequences of their decisions; stereotyped views of “out-groups” or negative views of “enemy” make effective responses to conflict seem unnecessary; direct pressure on dissenters by which group members are under pressure not to express arguments against any of the group’s views; self-censorship which thwarts the expression of doubts and deviations from the perceived group consensus; the illusion of unanimity which creates the assumption that the majority view and judgments are unanimous; and, self-appointed “mindguards” who are group members that protect the group and the leader from information that is problematic or contradictory to the group’s cohesiveness, view, and decisions.

Decisions shaped by groupthink have a low probability of achieving successful outcomes.When the above symptoms, and such conditions by all indications exist to some degree among foreign policy officials in European capitals making decisions on the Trump administration, there is a reasonable chance that groupthink will happen. However, it does not need to be so. Groupthink occurs when groups are highly cohesive and when they are under considerable pressure to make a quality decision.  Within respective capitals that might be the case, but among countries cohesion is attenuated. The political and social pressures to conform to counter-Trump outlook may exist, but relations with the US relationship is too important for too many countries to inexcusably allow the situation to deteriorate so acutely.  European leaders and officials should drive themselves to realistically appraise courses of action available to them. Any carelessness and irrational thinking that led to the failure to consider all alternatives along the wrongful path to  groupthink must be subtracted.

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A US F-22 Raptor (above). Ensuring Europe’s well-being is in the interest of the US. If grave harm ever came to any US ally or partner in Europe, the impact in all quarters in Washington would be shattering. It would guarantee a devastating, immediate response by Trump.  Europe faces no danger of abandonment by the US despite how Trump or his senior officials may sound. Trump only speaks of pruning the leaves and branches of the tree, he does not want to poison the root.

European Leaders and Officials Must Act under Pressure

Diu in ista nave fui et propter tempestatem nubesque semper mortem expectabam. (I was on board that ship for a long while, and I was constantly expecting death on account of the storms and clouds.)  Among Trump’s immediate thoughts about Europe have been to make some changes with regard to security. The big issue is failure of some European countries to meet their financial commitments to NATO. In reality, some European countries have been remiss, consistently failing to meet a 2 percent GDP goal agreed to by alliance members. Trump wants to resolve that issue with the Europeans. However, Europe faces no danger of abandonment by the US despite how his words or those of his senior officials. To use a soft metaphor, Trump only speaks of pruning the leaves and branches of the tree, he does not want to poison the root. (Certainly, if Trump’s goal was to get Europe’s full attention with his statements, he has succeeded in that.) Yet, many in Europe have formed opinions that contrast with this reality. They may not be disposed to pursuing the truth, fearing what the truth may be. Worrying about US actions and intentions is a new type of stress, posing unfamiliar and unimaginable challenges.

University of Chicago Executive Vice Provost and Professor of Psychology, Sian Beilock, has spent years investigating how people perform under pressure and avoid failure. She has published more than 100 papers on the subject, and recently won the 2017 Troland Research Award from the National Academy of Sciences for her research. Her most recent book, How the Body Knows Its Mind (Simon & Schuster, 2015), discusses what scientists have learned about the influence of body movement on brain activity. It includes tips such as pacing around a room for a creativity boost. At the Human Performance Laboratory, where she is director, Beilock and her colleagues explore the physiological mechanisms by which people buckle under pressure. They have measured the amount of cortisol in a person’s saliva to gauge stress levels and have used neuroimaging to see which areas of the brain are activated during high-pressure situations. Beilock has found that individuals are capable of making just about anything become a stressful, high-stakes activity. She explained, “Some of the greatest chokes are on the Olympic stage, but they also happen when you can’t say eloquently what you want to say in a meeting.” Overthinking often trips people up. “It’s paralysis by analysis,” Beilock says. Individuals can get confused when they think too much, worry too much, about what they are doing.

Beilock also tests subjects’ reaction times and accuracy at the Human Performance Laboratory to understand performance failure. She often includes golfers in her research. Many golf pros claim the sport is 90 percent mental making it an ideal forum for her research. At the professional level, some golfers fail to perform well in front of spectators. Beilock has found golfers easily become stressed when caused to think about the technical aspects of their swing. She explained,  if you really want to mess with a golfer’s game, you could just say, “That was a great shot! What were you doing with your elbow?” On her blog, Beilock calls attention to Bruce Ollstein, a former drill instructor and US Army Psychological Operations officer, who delved into the effects of stress on golfers in his book, Combat Golf: The Competitor’s Field Manual for Winning Against Any Opponent (Viking, 1996). Ollstein explains that a few choice words will typically have a deleterious effects on a golfer’s morale and performance. Among those methods, Ollstein listed: hand out some “gimmies”; plant seeds of doubt; leave them “hanging”; and, silence is golden.

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German Chancellor Angela Merkel and US Vice President Mike Pence (above). European leaders and officials must no longer fall prey to attention grabbing news stories about Trump, some of which have supported very wrong notions in Europe about his plans. They must be wary of experts who postulate on very important matters from the abstract. Additionally, they must guard against self-deception.

It may very well be that, albeit unintentionally, US foreign policy experts in discussing Trump with their European colleagues as well as with European leaders and officials, they may have had a deleterious effects on their perspective, morale, and performance. Leaders and officials may have been thrown a bit off-kilter, and delayed getting both involved and into a working rhythm with the Trump administration after learning of US news media reports and comments from the Obama administration in its waning days. Consider that from the start of 2016 Presidential Election, uncertainty was created about what a Trump victory would mean for Europe given some harsh campaign comments on NATO. It likely had a chilling effect on them. However, assurances also came from all quarters that former US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton would win the election. After the election there was more turmoil, and before the Europeans could formulate an approach to Trump, they encountered a flurry of reports detailing his inexperience and how unprepared he was to appropriately handle foreign policy decisionmaking. Doubts were expressed about his advisers perspectives and abilities. Questions were raised about Russia’s influence on the election result and Trump’s campaign. Stories were told of a war between Trump and the US Intelligence Community, and rumors swirled that Trump might face impeachment.

At Munich, US  foreign policy experts were reportedly making statements that perhaps may have unwittingly done even more to plant seeds of doubt and undermine the confidence of European leaders and officials in their abilities to reach out to, or work with, Trump. Consider the comments by Julianne Smith, a former principal Director of European and NATO Policy in the Office of the Secretary of Defense and Deputy National Security Adviser to former US Vice President Joe Biden in the February 19th New York Times. Smith reportedly explained people would be reassured “for about five hours, or maybe through the weekend.” What remains unresolved, she said, is who will come out on top in what she called a battle among the three centers of power in the White House: Trump, Bannon and White House Special Adviser Jared Kushner, Trump’s son-in-law. On Pence, Derek Chollet, a former Assistant Secretary of Defense for International Security Affairs in the Obama administration, who is now with the German Marshall Fund of the United States, proffered, “His [Pence’s] mission was always going to be hard, but it was made even more so by the questions about his lack of influence inside the White House.” As for beginning a story that has no end, and letting one “hang,” doubt was left by US experts at Munich left as to what lies ahead with the Trump administration.   Smith went on to explain in the New York Times that Europeans were disturbed when retired US Navy Vice Admiral Robert Harward turned down an offer to replace Trump’s former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn because he would not be given autonomy over his staff.  She said, “Our allies don’t know who is their interlocutor and what phone number to call.” She went on to state, “And talk of hedging NATO commitment on financial contributions did rattle the alliance,” even if European members acknowledge that they need to pay more for collective defense. As for convincing the Europeans that Trump has basically been silent on his intentions and letting them dwell on their inabilities, anxieties, US experts explained to them that they were not told enough in Munich still to understand or plan for relations with the administration. The US historian and foreign policy commentator Robert Kagan dismissed Pence’s address in Munich as a “robotic salute to the man in power.” Although Pence tried to tackle the doubts of European leaders and officials head-on by explaining at the start that he was speaking for Trump, Kagan reportedly noted disapprovingly that he went on “to mention the president 19 times in the course of the 20-minute speech.”

U.S. President Donald Trump listens to a translation during a joint news conference with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe at the White House in Washington

With a second look at Trump, European leaders and officials may recognize an intriguing duality. In business, he engaged in high stakes negotiations and hefty transactions, but also displayed talent as a builder, a man who created things.  Designing and constructing buildings was an art for Trump. As a media celebrity, he lived a life of high drama while he entertained. During the 2016 US Presidential Campaign, Trump’s capabilities seemed to coalesce in an interesting and effective way.

Knowing the Real Trump

Quid enim est stultius quam incerta pro certis habere, falsa pro veris? (What, indeed, is more foolish than to consider uncertainties as certain, falsehoods as truths?) The renowned 19th century Prussian statesman, Otto von Bismarck said “Politics is the art of the possible.” To better understand Trump and improve relations with the US, European leaders and officials must set aside their personal preferences. There are some solid reports that present positive perspectives on Trump. Those reports as well as any that may even appear feeble, must be examined. The analytical process in the current environment must be akin to a crucible in which irrelevancies are burned off and result is the truth. If European leaders and officials could disassociate themselves from the mixed, very often negative, signals emanating out the political milieu in the US, they might recognize an intriguing duality about Trump. In business, Trump for decades engaged in high stakes negotiations and hefty transactions. He displayed talent as a planner, manager, and builder, a man who created things. The German philosopher Friedrich Wilhelm Joseph von Schelling said, “Architecture is music in space, as it were a frozen music.” The architecture of Trump’s buildings and music would have things in common such as rhythm, texture, harmony, proportion, and dynamics. For Trump, designing and constructing buildings was an art. He could become lost in it. That was Trump’s world, too. As a media celebrity, he lived a life of high drama while he entertained and bedazzled. During the 2016 Presidential Campaign, Trump’s varied capabilities and interests appeared to coalesce in an interesting and, albeit, effective way. On the surface, Trump was self-confident, audacious, brash, and bombastic–some might add boorish, yet in his planning, he was humble, meticulous, perceptive, and innovative. European political leaders might take special note of how Trump, facing constant waves of invective, even calumny, dug deep inside himself and always found a way, leaving other candidates trailing in his wake. This stands in stark contrast to the notions of Trump’s alleged vacuity, which is more often deceitfully served up by a variety angry, aggressive, envious, and ambitious sources camped in all directions. They all certainly have reasons for their positions. The presidency represents a huge change for Trump and he continues to recurvate from being a very successful businessman and celebrity known worldwide to a more potent, more formal, and in many ways, more narrow role. Regarding all of the opprobrium, Trump has seen other winds and has faced other storms.  He has no reputation for faltering in adversity.

When Trump stated “America First” during his inaugural address on January 20, 2017, he was presenting the term as a concept, a guiding principle indicating that his administration would consider the interest of the US over anything else. Trump will unlikely be disposed to subordinating the interests of the US to the wishes of any country. However, ensuring Europe’s well-being is in the interest of the US. If grave harm ever came to any US ally or partner in Europe, the impact in all quarters in Washington would be shattering. It will guarantee a devastating, immediate response by Trump. The Trump administration continues to evolve. Recently, US Army Lieutenant General H. R. McMaster, a renowned military strategist and national security expert, became Trump’s new National Security Adviser. Looking toward the future with optimism, the US president will most likely find his stride very soon on relations with Europe. A new balance may be observed and perhaps many European leaders and officials will appreciate Trump’s very formidable, comprehensive capabilities. After all that has been said and done, some Europeans remain optimistic. Thomas Matussek, a former German ambassador to the United Kingdom and the UN, said that “people will be reassured to some degree, because they want to be.” He contrasted Trump and White House Special Adviser Stephen Bannon: “Trump’s not an ideologue, like Bannon, but pretty pragmatic and innovative, subject to discussion.” Robin Niblett, the director of Chatham House, a London-based research institution, expressed optimism saying: “Trump does not come in with a fixed foreign-policy agenda on many issues, so there is contested space and room for influence and maneuver.” Niblett recalled Trump’s early “flip-flops” on Israel and NATO, but then explained: “Trump’s fixated on certain things, like trade and jobs and America’s place in the world, but there seems to be room for influence.” Artis Pabriks, a Latvian member of the European Parliament mentioned earlier, said that he trusted Mattis and McCain, and applauded the recent introduction of US and other NATO troops into the Baltic States and Poland.  He expected Trump will keep that policy approach in place.

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The Trump administration continues to evolve. Recently, US Army Lieutenant General H. R. McMaster (above), a renowned military strategist and national security expert, was named Trump’s National Security Adviser. Looking toward the future with optimism, Trump will likely find his stride soon on relations with Europe. A new balance may be observed and European leaders and officials may come to appreciate him. Many times, from bad beginnings, great friendships have sprung up.

The Way Forward

In Act I, Scene iv of William Shakespeare’s play, Measure for Measure, Lucio, a man living the “sporting life” in Vienna, was urged to speak with Isabella, a St. Clare nun, about her brother Claudio’s arrest by Angelo, the very officious, upstanding acting executive of the city.  Lucio sought to convince Isabella that she could successfully use her wit and influence to have her brother released. In that effort, Lucio speaks to famous lines to Isabella: “Our doubts are traitors and make us lose the good we oft might win by fearing to attempt.” Man-made dilemmas are not mysteries, but puzzles. While one may be confused, or tested by a puzzle, they have solutions. For now, the solution to strengthening Europe’s relationship with the US is temporarily hidden, temporarily misunderstood. Talk about Trump in Europe has absorbed not only regional and national leaders and other officials, but the public’s attention in every country of the continent. Due to what will eventually be recognized as misunderstandings, there have been some bouts of words, albeit a bit attenuated, which have created some disturbance, hurt some feelings, caused some wounds, on both sides of the Atlantic, but they must be soothed and healed. European leaders and officials must act before a numbness sets in, before Europe is inured by the idea that it cannot work with the Trump administration, that it must face challenges such as a resurgent Russia alone. With obstinacy, they must seek to regularly engage with Trump and administration officials in rational, concrete discussions to find agreement or a satisfactory middle ground on issues.

The process of changing the current environment should begin with the application of the objective truth to analyses of the new US administration. Europe must reexamine what it knows about Trump. Being readily available, the US news media should naturally be seen as an open, overt source of information on Trump and his administration. However, not all news media houses produce news the same way. Mistakes are also made. While it albeit serves as a watchdog for the democracy, admittedly, some US news media have  propagated very negative perspectives of the Trump administration. European leaders and officials must not fall prey to attention grabbing lines about Trump, some of which have supported very wrong notions in Europe about his plans. They must also be wary of experts who postulate on very important matters from abstractions. Additionally, they must guard against self-deception. All of the plans and actions of European leaders and officials must be directed toward benefiting the lives of their people. Certainly this prescription cannot be more grievous than the danger of poor relations with the US.

Many times, from a bad beginning, great friendships have sprung up. Until Europe sets forth to establish firm ties with the Trump administration, there is only the prospect of receding into a gloomy world, in which the potential of the transatlantic relationship will be frozen. To escape from it, some might deny reality and create a substitute reality in which they might concede that the only prospect for peace is a concordance with their most likely adversary, Russia. The idea of wanting to turn desperately to false reality reminds of the poem Ode to a Nightingale by the English poet, John Keats. In this 1819 ode, Keats emphasizes the difference between the gloomy physical world and the dreamlike, spiritual world of the nightingale. In the fifth stanza, Keats stimulates the reader’s senses by describing that very fragrant, floral, gossamer imitation of reality: “I cannot see what flowers are at my feet, / Nor what soft incense hangs upon the boughs, / But, in embalmed darkness, guess each sweet / Wherewith the seasonable month endows / The grass, the thicket, and the fruit-tree wild; / White hawthorn, and the pastoral eglantine; / Fast fading violets cover’d up in leaves; / And mid-May’s eldest child, / The coming musk-rose, full of dewy wine, / The murmurous haunt of flies on summer eves.”

Book Review: Robert Gates, Duty: Memoirs of a Secretary at War (Alfred A. Knopf, 2014)

Former US Secretary of Defense Robert Gates (above) wrote Duty not to tritely vent anger and disappointment over his recent experience in the US government, but to engage in a sincere effort to improve the government’s handling of defense and foreign policy issues. 

In a March 25, 2014 Wall Street Journal editorial entitled, “Putin’s Challenge to the West,” former US Secretary of Defense Robert Gates wrote: “Mr. Putin aspires to restore Russia’s global power and influence and to bring the now independent states that were once part of the Soviet Union back into Moscow’s orbit. While he has no apparent desire to recreate the Soviet Union (which would include responsibility for a number of economic basket cases.), he is determined to create a Russian sphere of influence—political, economic, and security—and dominance. There is no grand plan or strategy to do this, just opportunistic and ruthless aspiration. And patience.”  Gates, an American statesman, a former cabinet member of two administrations, patriotic and dedicated to his country, now out of government, sought to contribute to the US policy debate on Russia by writing this assessment of Putin’s moves in Ukraine.  Much as he was compelled to use his experience as a national security official, and expertise on the former Soviet republics to write his editorial, Gates was inspired to write his latest book, Duty: Memoirs of a Secretary at War (Alfred A. Knopf, 2014).

Some reviewers have referred to Duty as a tell-all, arguing Gates was motivated write it by the urge to settle scores.  They point to the fact that it would seem impossible for any future president to hire Gates for a cabinet post.  However, Gates intentions were not so banal, and at 70, he certainly is not concerned with gaining a post in any future administration.  Just as when he decided to leave civilian life to take the position of Secretary of Defense in the Bush administration in 2006, Gates saw the possibility of sharing today the benefits of his experience, lessons he learned, and mentoring from those who selflessly protected the US for decades under far more demanding, dangerous circumstances.  As the US heads into dark territory with Russia and perhaps Iran and North Korea, his comments in Duty will prove significant to those who need to know what to do. Never wanting to see his country or president fail, writing Duty, with great passion and candor, was a way for Gates to ignite positive change and improvement.  Undeniably, he has managed to reach administration officials and Members of Congress, many of whom were unwilling to listen to his advice while he was serving in government.  In using this method to reach official Washington, calling attention to what he saw as the error in its ways, Gates put much at risk. Yet, in that way, Duty is truly an articulation of Gates’ generosity.

Some reviewers have found it enough to say Gates rose from the ranks at the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), joining in 1967 via the US Air Force, but that is not enough to help readers understand the prism through which he views service in government.  The CIA of the Cold War years was different in many ways for the Agency today.  As he moved through numerous major events in his early career, Gates worked effectively as yeast within wheat flour, quietly, perhaps initially undetected.  Yet, over time, he was seen as having a positive impact through his work, eventually recognized as being part of the process of moving things forward.  He was never the sort to be negative or appear disgruntled.  During his career, Gates likely came in contact with CIA officers such as, Donald Gregg, Robert Ames, Gary Schroen, Jack Devine, Dewey Clarridge, Claire George, James Lilley, William Buckley, James Delaney, William Colby, Richard Helms, and Vernon Walters, with whom dozens of stories of ingenuity, courage, sacrifice, and patriotism are coupled.  Contacts with such associates and a multitude of others helped Gates develop a greater understanding of the world and other ways of thinking, on top of all he was learning directly through his duties as an analyst on the Agency’s Directorate of Intelligence.

As Gates reached the senior ranks of the organization, especially the job of Deputy Director of CIA, his work at headquarters was supplemented by travels worldwide, to establish or ensure understandings and agreements the Agency had with foreign personalities, some with whom most professionals and the average person would never wish to come in contact.  By that time, Gates was also made very familiar with the more esoteric, advanced, and somewhat frightening aspects of the US intelligence community’s activities.  Outside of CIA, he worked closely with Brent Scowcroft, as well as with Colin Powell and James Baker, legends in the world of US foreign and defense policy.  He was Deputy National Security Advisor during the fall of the Soviet Union.  Eventually he would become the Director of CIA. Gates’ counsel was highly valued among senior foreign and defense policy officials and presidents.

Before Gates came back to Washington to serve as Secretary of Defense, he served as President of Texas A&M University and a member of several corporate boards. He moved away from the worries of national security, leaving the job to the capable hands of others.  While developing the minds of young men and women was the concept and intent behind his service at Texas A&M, he also had a chance to reflect on his life and career.  That time of calmness and peacefulness allowed him to sharpen his discernment and see what is really inside himself.  It was likely in that period, that Gates recognized the importance of being candid and forth-right with associates.  Being polite is a virtue; silence is golden. However, remaining silent when change or action is necessary is wrong.  When the flock has strayed, remaining silent is failure.  Having developed a reputation for nearly a century for being discreet, Gates, with Duty, seemingly put the concept of being forthright in full effect in order to repair matters.  He is honest about his associates, appropriately self-critical of his own judgments, and candid in reflecting on issues that might have been handled better.

With much attention being given to Gates criticisms, the fact that Duty is an interesting history of his work as secretary is nearly lost. Gates feels that he met the job’s challenges to include: managing the activities of the armed forces globally; developing the department’s budget, overseeing the research, acquisition, and procurement process for new systems; directing the Defense Department’s relations with allies and partners overseas, managing relations with other departments such as State, Energy, Homeland Security; directing the relationship of his department with the White House and the Congress; and, managing the relationship between the military services and the president.  When Gates arrived at the Defense Department, its bureaucracy was comfortable and resisted pressure to shift to a wartime footing, dragging its feet on urgent military needs as well as neglecting to adequately care for wounded warriors.  Gates explains how he assured $16 billion was in a supplemental budget to get thousands of much needed MRAP troop-carriers built and sent quickly to Iraq and Afghanistan, against objections from the service chiefs.  He produced a budget in the first year of the administration of US President Barack Obama that cut or curtailed 33 weapons programs, including the F-22 stealth fighter.  He changed the Army’s promotion board and thus allowed some of the most creative colonels, whose careers had been thwarted, to advance to the rank of general.  When he discovered the horrors at Walter Reed Army Hospital, he fired the Secretary of the Army and fixed the situation immediately.  He also fired the Air Force Chief of Staff for slowing down production and delivery of reconnaissance drones, which in Iraq helped the troops spot roadside bombs and track down the insurgents who planted them.  In agreement with just about all other reviewers, Gates’ descriptions of how he managed to successfully lead and effectively direct the Defense Department with a combination of cooption and coercion, tempered by decades of government service at the senior level, makes Duty a book that should be read by every future US Defense Secretary, as well as political and business leaders, and defense and foreign policy makers in any country.

Yet, the history of his tenure as Defense Secretary served as background to all of his appraisals of behavioral and attitudinal changes among officials and officers in the government since he left in 1993.  Gates clearly saw it as emblematic of a degraded quality of service to the US.  That apparently startled him the more than anyting else.  At the lower levels, Gates found the behavior of young members of the National Security Council staff unsettling.  The National Security Council (NSC) staff was dominated by young congressional and campaign staffers who had little or no experience in foreign policy.  Gates explains the young staffers would engage in meddling to include making calls to four-star generals.  Having served in similar positions under four previous presidents Gates says such actions would have constituted “a firing offense” in previous administrations.  There was apparently no model for the young staffers to follow that remotely resembled what Gates had known in the past.  Rank and title had lost its meaning.  Perhaps the assumption was made by younger staffers that all were equally finding their way as students in school.  They were likely never told and never consiered  that most older, senior professionals possessed a depth of knowledge tha coiuld have been useful to them.  Interestingly, during the Cold War, the KGB and GRU likely would have avoided any attempt to contact such young staffers as described by Gates, judging them as too erratic, possessing a far greater sense of importance than deserved, and displaying questionable judgment.

While former Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton was praised by Gates, characterizing her as cooperative and capable, many other senior officials at the White House also drew criticism from him.  Gates appraised Tom Donilon, the second National Security Advisor in the Obama administration as suspicious and distrustful of the uniformed military leadership to the point of stating in a meeting that it was “insubordinate” and “in revolt” against the White House.  At one point in an Oval Office meeting, Donilon was so argumentative about military operations that Gates contemplated walking out of the room in anger.  “It took every bit of my self-discipline to stay seated on the sofa.”  Gates referred to former White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel, as “hell on wheels” and “a whirling dervish with ­attention-deficit disorder.”

Gates’ criticism of US Vice President Joe Biden has received considerable note in the media.  He depicts Biden as being loud and garrulous and a comical “motor mouth,” obsessed with politics over substance.  At the same time, he says Biden is “simply impossible not to like.”  Gates explains how Biden presumes to know more about counterterrorism than an experienced Special Operations general.  However, Gates only assessed that as an aspect of Biden’s “relentless attack” on “the integrity of the senior military leadership.”  Gates noted that Biden “has been wrong on nearly every major foreign policy and national security issue over the past four decades.”  What he faults Biden most about is poisoning Obama’s relationship with his generals.  Gates stated, “I thought Biden was subjecting Obama to Chinese water torture, everyday saying, ‘the military can’t be trusted.’ ”

Regarding the presidents he served as a Defense Secretary at war, Gates explains President George W. Bush and his aides squandered the initial military victories in both wars by mistakes and short-sighted policies.  He expressed dislike for Bush’s “freedom agenda” as “too simplistic” and his objectives in Afghanistan as “embarrassingly ambitious (and historically naïve).”  He believes that the invasion of Iraq and the revelations about renditions, Abu Ghraib prison, and Guantánamo “fueled further anti-American feeling.”  Yet, Gates admits admiring Bush as “a man of character, a man of convictions, and a man of action.”   Readers may find an incongruity in these statements, Gates understands that presidents also have feelings, make errors, but have the right to be treated respectfully.  Errors on the other hand do not have rights and errors made by authorities should be given attention. Gates successfully managed to assist Bush by accelerating the isolation of Vice President Dick Cheney with a number of political maneuvers.  He clearly saw Cheney’s advice as questionable.  Before he left office, Gates reveals that Cheney advocated bombing both Syria and Iran. Gates explained that he almost singlehandedly kept Bush following through on that suggestion regarding Iran.

Gates served Obama well, encouraging and supporting him.  Gates clearly understood there were enormous gaps in Obama’s background, knowledge, and understanding with regard to national security.  Coming into the administration, Gates let the president know that he would be with him and would stand by him.  He asked Obama to trust him, and promised not to fail him.  Gates hoped there would be a process by which he could impart the best of what he knew for the president to absorb.  Indeed, the president spoke in confidence with Gates, often seeking out his counsel.  For Obama the policy making process on Afghanistan was agonizing and left him wary of his generals.  Concerned over being disrespected by them, Obama asked Gates, “Do they think because I’m young that I don’t see what they’re doing?”  However, Obama eventually became non-receptive to certain reasoning. Gates indicates that was perhaps due to competing messages from Biden and others.  Such competing voices, even worse, were further confusing the situation.  Some officials misunderstood what Gates had learned long before that the weight only falls on the president’s shoulders.  Clarity of thought is especially critical on tough issues.

Gates explains a break occurred with Obama in April 2011, just he was departing the administration.  Obama had previously agreed that Gates would restructure the defense budget but that its size would not be altered. In the face of midterm elections and fiscal pressures across the board, White House Chief of Staff, William Daley, informed Gates that he would need to cut the budget by another $400 billion over the next 10 years. Gates explained “I was furious.”   He writes. “I pointed my finger at Daley and said, ‘This White House’s word means nothing!’ ”  True, the president’s job is to set national priorities, and political changes unavoidably alter those settings; it’s the Defense Secretary’s job to devise the best strategy given his limited resources.  Yet, Gates, well aware of that, perhaps is not recounting the whole story of the agreement.  Perhaps it included a quid-pro-quo that was reneged upon.  Gates disappointment also could have been due to what he recognized as a pattern of mistrust and suspicion plaguing the White House’s relations with the Defense Department since 2009.  Gates already had a deep distrust of Obama’s staff, feeling betrayed on major promises made about the defense budget and about the process of allowing gay soldiers to serve openly in the military.  On top of that, Gates explained being in the White House Situation Room and thinking that “the president doesn’t trust his commander, can’t stand [Afghan President Hamid] Karzai, doesn’t believe in his own strategy and doesn’t consider the war to be his.  For him, it’s all about getting out.”

If there was a point in the book where Gates could be said to have been aggressive and questionably constructive, it is in his discussion of the US Congress.  Gates sensed a superficiality about Congressional efforts, in which Members were not thinking deeply in the long term interests of US.  He witnessed a senselessness among those seemingly addicted to the insignificant.  He calls Members of the Senate “hypocritical and obtuse” and is angered by the “kangaroo-court environment” in committee hearings.  Gates states that the House of Representatives has “more than its fair share of crackpots” and “raving lunatics.”  He points to “rude, insulting, belittling, bullying, and all too often highly personal attacks” by Members.

Perhaps the real window into Gates soul was his thinking about the troops.  Gates really cares.  He was essentially traumatized by his role in sending US soldiers overseas to fight in Iraq and Afghanistan.  He admits to crying over letters of condolence that he signed, later mulling over in bed the lives of those killed or wounded.  His emotions are genuine.  At one point Gates writes “I did not enjoy being secretary of defense.”  At another, he recalls telling a friend in an email, “People have no idea how much I detest this job.”  He reveals in Duty’s conclusion that he has requested to be buried in Section 60 of Arlington National Cemetery, the resting place of many of those killed in Iraq and Afghanistan.

The 19th century Hanoverian military thinker, Carl von Clausewitz stated, “Strength of character does not only consist of having strong feelings, but maintaining one’s balance in spite of them.”  Duty is not part of an effort by Gates to angrily vent disappointment over the government, but a sincere effort to improve US national security.  Too many have looked at the work from the wrong perspective. Gates understands that US strength was created through patriotism, dedication, hard work, and real sacrifice.  He has asked that those serving in the government now perform in that manner.  For that reason, Gates saves his criticism especially for those professionals and officials who set the example and standard for the young staffers.  With a sense of respect and collegiality toward his president and his associates, Gates was quiet while in government, but silence does not obviate intellectual inquiry or activity of the spirit and of the soul.  Now, Gates has voiced his thoughts.  Hopefully Gates will continue to speak out as loud as he can.  Without question, greatcharlie.com highly recommends Duty to all of its readers.  In time, it will be viewed as one of the greatest Washington insider memoirs ever.

By the way, Gates did more than assess the situation with Russia over Ukraine in his March 25th Wall Street Journal editorial.  He also offered a way forward worth considering. He explained: “The only way to counter Mr. Putin’s aspirations on Russia’s periphery is for the West also to play a strategic long game. That means to take actions that unambiguously demonstrate to Russians that his worldview and goals—and his means of achieving them—over time will dramatically weaken and isolate Russia.” If negotiations betwee the US ad Russia over Ukraine fail, we shall see if his advice is taken, and see how it goes!

Russia Is Ousted From Group of 8 by US and Allies: Things Aren’t Improving on Ukraine, But Maybe General Dempsey Can Change That

US Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, General Martin Dempsey, is cast in the same mold of a long line of senior military leaders who have effectively advised US presidents in time of crisis.

According to a March 24, 2014, New York Times article entitled “Russia Is Ousted from Group of 8 by US and Allies,” US President Barack Obama and other leaders of the Group of 8 industrialized democracies cast Russia out of their organization to punish Russian President Vladimir Putin for his annexation of Crimea.  The leaders also threatened tougher sanctions against Russian interests if Putin escalates aggression against Ukraine.   When asked to discuss such efforts to compel a change in course by Russia, Putin and Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov have literally shrugged their shoulders.  Other Russian officials have scoffed and mocked such measures with great bluster.  Where possible, Putin has taken parallel actions against US and other Western interests in Russia. 

Though it seems Putin may be content with his military achievements so far, US officials, policy experts, journalists, as well as pundits outside of the policy making process, insist upon ratcheting up the situation, publicly declaring that an even greater threat exists from Putin.  Indeed, they pessimistically imagine Putin engaging in further aggression, ostensibly attempting to also annex territories of various former Soviet republics in which ethnic-Russian populations dominate, using the pretext of self-determination with those groups.  In doing so, they perhaps unwittingly have suggested Putin’s actions may mirror former Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic’s efforts to grab ethnic-Serbian held territory in break-away Yugoslav republics to form a “Greater Serbia.”

Putin is astute enough to realize Crimea may be more than enough for Russia to handle.  As former US Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage recently commented at a Center for Strategic and International Studies event, “We’re going to see if Crimea becomes a small bone in Putin’s throat.”  In that vein, the US and its Western partners will have their hands full, too, trying to build Ukraine up economically, politically, socially, and militarily. Russian media reports remain rife with suspicions and accusations of US involvement in the collapse of the regime in Kiev that was friendly to Moscow.  They emphasize to the Russian people that their country has an upper hand in the situation.  One news anchor in Moscow reminded Russian viewers that “Russia is still the only country in the world capable of turning the U.S.A. into radioactive ash.”

On the positive side, meetings between US Secretary of State John Kerry and Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, who have regularly worked together on other urgent and important issues for both countries, have already begun.  Every effective channel reportedly has been opened by the US to express a message to Russians of US concerns about Ukraine.  However, there seems to be a notion held by Putin and Russian officials in their heightened state of alert that any efforts to find common ground with the US would amount to appeasement.  Expressions of US positions have been interpreted as US demands, eliciting a reflex response by Moscow not only to reject those positions, but any proposals drawn from them.  Communications are now somewhat mangled.  All important telephone conversations between Obama and Putin have been reduced to bristling confrontations between the two.  By all accounts, the conversations very likely would have been a finger-wagging sessions between Putin and Obama if they had taken place face to face.  The situation remains tense and dangerous.

Thinking outside of the box, handling the Russians, even with very apparent political and diplomatic aspects of the problem, might be facilitated with more input from a member of the US national security team who had recent success in negotiating with senior Russian military officials on critical defense matters.  That individual is US Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, General Martin Dempsey.  In addition to knowing what the most concerning Russian military capabilities and possibilities for action might be, his professional military experience, depth of knowledge, understanding of history, insights and worldliness, make him someone Obama perhaps could rely on more heavily for advice on the Ukrainian crisis.  Indeed, as a senior military officer he may possesses the capability of being effective in advising Obama in such crises in a way perhaps not possible for other presidential advisers at the moment.

Dempsey was recommended for the job of Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff by then Secretary of Defense Robert Gates. Gates had already nominated Dempsey to be the Army Chief of Staff. In his recent book, Duty: Memoirs of a Secretary at War (Knopf, 2014), Gates explains that Dempsey had commanded forces in Iraq and command in Iraq or Afghanistan was a quality he wanted in the next chairman.  Gates also thought Dempsey had also performed superbly as the deputy commander and acting commander of the US Central Command.  When notifying Dempsey of his decision to nominate him as chairman, Gates explained to Dempsey that he was well-equipped to face the challenges of the budget, to lead the chiefs as a team, to maintain cohesion, and to help a new secretary of defense manage the relationship between the military services and the president.  Obama has clearly been very satisfied with Dempsey, selecting him twice as chairman.

Dempsey has dealt with a challenging agenda since assuming his present post.  Most relevant in the Ukraine crisis has been Dempsey’s part of the process of ensuring sustained positive US-Russian relations.  Dempsey recently demonstrated his ability to manage line of communication and promote constructive conversations with the Russians when he met with General Valery Gerasimov, Chief of the General Staff of the Armed Forces of the Russian Federation on January 21, 2014, in Brussels.  In that long-scheduled meeting, Dempsey displayed solid judgment and diplomatic acumen to advance an agenda for bilateral military relations.  The two generals produced a workable agreement that detailed 67 activities on which the armed forces of the US and Russia would continue to cooperate, despite pre-existing political and diplomatic problems and new concerns that arose over security assistance at the Sochi Olympic Games.  Indeed, the meeting came amidst a blitz of criticism leveled against Putin and organizers of the Games by US officials.  Those criticisms served to create the impression worldwide that the Games in Sochi were not safe to visit. The comments were almost perfectly designed to evoke the worst reaction possible from the Russians. 

Upon seeing Gerasimov, Dempsey likely noted he was a tough general, but not totally devoid of charm. As recounted through press reports of the Moscow Times, RT, RIA Novosti, Interfax, and other Russian press offices and of the American Forces Press Service (AFPS), Reuters, and the New York Times, Dempsey sought cooperation from Gerasimov through encouraging him to consider their unique situation as commanders of the most powerful military forces in the world.  Both were well aware of the esoteric, advanced, and frightening technologies that could be brought to bear in war and the need to maintain peace and stability in their nations’ relations and throughout the world.  Cooperation was the best way to achieve that end.  Dempsey was quoted as saying, “I think we have an opportunity to advance the relationship on areas of common interest.” Issues such as the US missile defense system, vehemently opposed by Moscow, were discussed.  However, Dempsey noted to Gerasimov’s apparent appreciation that Russia was a vital partner to NATO providing supply lines for its mission in Afghanistan, agreeing to allow the movement of nonlethal material to and from the war zone through Russian territory.  That rail and road network is becoming increasingly important as protests in Pakistan choke efforts to use the more convenient supply lines there.  Dempsey reassured Gerasimov about US and NATO efforts to ensure stability in Afghanistan after the departure of the International Security Assistance Force at the end of 2014.  Gerasimov asked for regular updates on the US and NATO effort to train, advise, and equip Afghan National Security Forces, as well as Afghanistan’s ability to maintain and control transportation lines in and out of the country. In an AFPS interview, Dempsey was quoted as stating: “We agree that a stable Afghanistan that is not a sanctuary for terrorism is in our common interests.”

By the end of the meeting, Gerasimov was comfortable enough to endorse “regular contacts” between their militaries as “quite useful.”  Pointing to the less than congenial political and diplomatic relations between the US and Russia, Dempsey said it was important for the militaries “not to foreclose on conversations, even if at some points there are disagreements that prevent the forward movement” in other parts of the relationship whether political or diplomatic.  There could be no better time to consider using of that effective line of communication than now.

At the same meeting, to ensure a safe and secure Olympics, Dempsey made a nearly open-ended offer to Gerasimov to provide “full assistance” from the US military, echoing an offer made to Putin by phone that same week.  Gerasimov’s reaction of expressing a need for anti-IED technology was plausible to the extent that Islamic militants could have used roadside bombs against Russian government or civilian vehicle at the Games.  However, Russian Islamic militants were viewed as more likely to carry out a martyrdom operation (suicide attack) than plant a roadside bomb and detonate it at a distance.  If Gerasimov hoped to exploit US concerns and generosity, that all stopped with Dempsey.  He understood the implications of just giving it away, nonetheless, Dempsey remained quite respectful of the Russians’ request.  He understood that it was after all the job of the Russian security services to seek advantages over potential adversaries, and the effort to exploit the thinking among US political officials should have been expected.  There was a guarantee that Dempsey despite Gerasimov’s push for US technology would be guided foremost by his duty to defend the US.  Abiding by that, Dempsey seemingly, instinctively stood his ground against Russian appeals “in the interest of improving military cooperation and communication” while truly seeking to further military ties likely more earnestly than his Russian counterpart.

Dempsey’s insight on working with military elements of the Russian government could help his president through this crisis.  Dempsey may very likely be able to demonstrate that there is a way to deal with Russians even under current conditions.  He may be able to bring Russia to the diplomatic table, despite the very militaristic and aggressive mindset in which Russian leaders are currently steeped.  In a pinch, he may very-well act as a brake on any possible runaway breakdown in US-Russian communications. 

However, to be most effective in providing perspective and military advice from the chiefs for Obama on Ukraine, Dempsey would need to heed lessons from his experience with Obama on Syria in August 2013.  From that experience, Dempsey likely foresaw difficulties advisers would have in getting Obama to rapidly come to terms with any plans or proposals offered on Ukraine.  Providing a range of military option to effectively achieve objectives based on the president’s concepts, would be not be sufficient enough with Obama.  On Syria, Dempsey was initially tasked with providing advice and viable options for calibrated military strikes in response to Obama’s expressed goal of deterring and degrading Assad’s ability to use chemical weapons. In his Rose Garden statement, Obama took comfort in Dempsey’s advice, stating confidently: “The Chairman of the Joint Chiefs has informed me that we are prepared to strike whenever we choose.  Moreover, the Chairman has indicated to me that our capacity to execute this mission is not time-sensitive; it will be effective tomorrow, or next week, or one month from now.”  Yet, Obama was actually driven to resolve the crisis not by military action, but in a manner that would allow his worldview—that problems can be solved at the diplomatic table using reason and logic—to win through.  Unable to quickly find that handle to the situation, uncertainty and indecisiveness ultimately prevailed.  Obama was apparently paralyzed by fears of a bitter scenario that would have the US and the region embroiled in a larger conflict as a result of such action.  That was coupled by his concerns over the legal ramifications and international implications of military action against Assad regime.  Not knowing how best to respond, Obama strayed from a path of assertive and decisive action which most likely would have achieved all military goals and had a strong educational effect on Assad.  After making very shrill accusations that the regime of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad had crossed his red-line by using chemical weapons, Obama made the now world renown decision not to take military action.  Obama settled for a deal Russia proposed and negotiated with the US to eliminate Assad’s chemical weapons stockpile.

Seeing how wrenching and difficult the decision making process on Syria was for his president, Dempsey surely understands that to ensure advice to Obama on Ukraine would be effective, the advice of the chiefs on military aspects of the situation would need to go in tandem with helping Obama remain strong and of good courage in the face of daunting circumstances.  Fears of greater problems stimulate the imagination, can lead to a pessimistic outlook on the future, and often cause a leader to deviate from a path.  Remaining confident a resolute when a crisis is brewing is made more difficult in a dispute such as the one between the US and Russia on Ukraine, when party seems determined to maintain an environment unfavorble for communication.  Dempsey’s advice in that respect would need to be direct and personal.  An example of how Dempsey might proceed would be to first put matters in perspective by discussing Ukraine from the context of the military stalemate that has existed between the US and Russia during and since the Cold War based in part on first-hand experience as a US Army officer.  Following that, Dempsey could assist Obama in understanding the calculated risks and possible outcomes of a variety of diplomatic and military initiatives with Russia given assessments made both in the past and present to make the situation more controllable for his president.  Consideration of what is possible to do and what will likely be faced would also facilitate reaching decisions on options to help bring Putin and Russian officials to a point where negotiation on the issues might be possible.  That is the advice Obama apparently wants foremost.  Along the way, Dempsey could continually assure Obama that he has the full support of the military chiefs.  He could assist Obama in mulling over possible courses of action to ensure a sharpening of his perception and clarity of direction.

Boiled down, Dempsey’s role would be that of mentor or coach for Obama, who apparently is still trying to understand how to manage US military capabilities, leveraging US strength through diplomacy and engaging in decision making on the use of force to deter and defeat opponents.  Putin and Russian officials may discern “tweaks” in Obama administration’s message and communications prompted by Dempsey, and respond favorably to a request to negotiate.

The Way Forward

The US and its European partners have met to discuss and level sanctions and other economic actions against Russian interests in retribution to the Crimea-grab and to deter Russian efforts to further destabilize a weak Ukraine.  However, Putin has executed plans to annex Crimea and a return to the status quo ante will not occur.  For Obama’s advisers, finding ways to bring Russia to the diplomatic table, given the confrontational attitude of Putin and Russian leaders, has been challenging.  However, resolving the Ukraine crisis may more importantly require bringing Obama to see and understand that it requires a certain agility to develop solutions for coping with opponents whose thinking is different from his own.  “Might doesn’t make right,” an utterance recently heard from Obama, is not best philosophy to which one might subscribe when dealing with real aggression.  This is particularly true for the US which predicates its ability to engage effectively in diplomacy worldwide on its capability to enforce its policies and protect its interests with considerable military power.

Advisers such as Susan Rice, Antony Blinken, Wendy Sherman, and Samantha Power, in addition to well-experience officials as Joe Biden, John Kerry, Chuck Hagel, and John Brennan, certainly have a great deal to offer to Obama.  Yet, results show that they, most likely for various important reasons, have been unable able to reach Obama over the Ukraine crisis in a manner that has allowed him to appear truly in control of the situation.  There is a certain “human element” to advising leaders in time of crisis. In recent history, a line of remarkable senior military officers have very effectively served their presidents in a manner described here. Included among them are: Maxwell Taylor, Brent Scowcroft, Stansfield Turner, Alexander Haig, Colin Powell, and James Jones.  Dempsey was recommended as chairman based on his military experience.  That same military experience made him “expert” in encouraging, advising, and coaching fellow commanders in difficult circumstances.  Dempsey’s counsel would truly help his president in dealing with Putin and the Russians beyond the battlefield or even the diplomatic table.  Hopefully, Obama will somehow come to understand the benefits that would come from more fully utilizing Dempsey, and seek “greater” counsel from him soon.