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June 08, 2021

Inhofe Questions Expert Witnesses About U.S. Government Strategy to Compete with China

U.S. Sen. Jim Inhofe (R-Okla.), ranking member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, today questioned witnesses about threats from China, and how the U.S. government can better coordinate a response to these threats, at a hearing on the United States’ strategic competition with China. 

Witnesses included: Matt Pottinger, former assistant to the President and Deputy National Security Advisor, and Distinguished Visiting Fellow at Stanford University’s Hoover Institution; Dr. Evan Medeiros, Penner Family Chair in Asia Studies in the School of Foreign Service and the Cling Family Distinguished Fellow in U.S.-China Studies at Georgetown University; Dr. Sheena Chestnut Greitens, Associate Professor at the Lyndon B. Johnson School of Public Affairs at the University of Texas – Austin; and Ms. Bonnie Glaser, Director, Asia Program, at the German Marshall Fund of the United States. 

Inhofe: Thank you, Mr. Chairman. The PDI [Pacific Deterrence Initiative] — well, first of all, in my opening statement, I mentioned it didn’t really comport with our language in the defense authorization bill of 2021. Mr. Pottinger, General McMaster tells us, of course, you were the top China expert during the Trump Administration.  Now as I mentioned in my opening, the budget request gets the Pacific Deterrence Initiative all wrong. As I said, there was clearly a disconnect there, and we’ll work with the Pentagon shortly here. PDI is about having the right infrastructure and combat-credible U.S. military force posture west of the International Date Line to deter and compete with China. It’s not about buying ships and aircraft. From your time, Mr. Pottinger, at the NSC, in the military arena, do Chinese leaders pay close attention to the military infrastructure and forces we have stationed forward in theater? Do our allies and partners pay a lot of attention to the PDI and what it funds?

Pottinger: Senator Inhofe, thank you. Absolutely. The answer is a resounding yes on both those fronts. The Chinese Communist Party — every time we expand our infrastructure and give ourselves more places to operate out of, it complicates quite badly their military strategy. It complicates their plans for things like coercing Taiwan, and our allies — so they notice it, our allies notice it just as much. My experience was that a lot of our partners around the region usually knew our defense budget better than we did. They noticed every dollar that was committed or withdrawn from FMF [foreign military financing] sales or from training, and other activities in the region. So, I couldn't agree more that the PDI is really about building infrastructure. It's about improving our force posture in theater, giving us that versatility and that redundancy to be a formidable deterrent.

Inhofe: That’s good. Dr. Greitens, the Chinese Communist Party has built a police state that would make the Soviets blush, but they’re doing it with new technology, and they are exporting the technology that makes monitoring and repression possible. How are they using that technology to repress the Uyghurs and the people of Hong Kong, and what should the U.S. do to fight back against the global proliferation of this technology?

Greitens: Thank you, Senator. There’s a lot in that question. Let me try to answer concisely. We often hear a lot about the fancy technology that collects data from Chinese citizens, but the heart of a surveillance project is actually the back-end database and platforms that put all of these information from different collection points together. That's what enables the CCP to look at your behavior, know where your parents work, where your children or your child goes to school, your ID number, your passport and travel history, your religion, to use facial recognition to identify how many times you've scanned into the mosque this week, whether you've bought gas or bought a knife recently, just to take a few examples. All of that can be put together in an algorithm, and we've seen that when this use of this kind of surveillance technology was applied in Urumchi or Xinjiang, for example, visits to religious sites dropped off sharply because if you hit a certain quota in the algorithm, you would be flagged for detention and re-education, and it made people, quite frankly, afraid to pray. So, so that's the role of that surveillance and these surveillance algorithms play in the oppressive project that the CCP has constructed, especially in Xinjiang, and that same national security framework under last year’s Hong Kong national security law is now being applied and the process of being constructed in Hong Kong as well.

I think that there are a couple of steps the United States could and should take. First of all, the United States really needs a robust interagency strategy to address the proliferation of Chinese surveillance technology worldwide. That includes a plan for engaging more actively with international organizations that are involved in technology standard setting. It includes a lot of the efforts that some of my colleagues have mentioned today about making sure that the United States is competitive in key technologies and that those technologies are protected from illicit tech transfer to China. And we also need to recognize that some of the countries that are adopting Chinese surveillance technology are doing it because they're trying to solve a governance problem like crime, and this technology doesn't actually work very well for solving crime problems in most cases, but we need to address the underlying challenges that are leading some of those countries to turn to China, and so we need to make sure that we have robust efforts to do that. Finally, I'll say that when repression increases domestically, the only available sites of opposition and pursuit of freedom often move abroad. So the United States could and I believe should take steps to support people from Hong Kong, for example, who want to claim refugee or asylum status in the United States, given the increasing climate of political persecution there. Thank you.

Inhofe: Well, thank you, Dr. Greitens, you covered it all. Thank you, Mr. Chairman.

Click here to watch Inhofe’s opening remarks.

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