Acting Secretary of Homeland Security Chad F. Wolf delivered remarks at a virtual event hosted by the Heritage Foundation detailing the enduring threat from the People’s Republic of China (PRC) and DHS’s strategy to confront it.
By Acting Secretary Chad F. Wolf
Heritage has been an indispensable partner during my time as acting secretary, and I appreciate their continued efforts to communicate and amplify the great work of the dedicated men and women of the Department of Homeland Security.
Our founders had a powerful vision for this nation. To be a bastion of freedom, a shining “city upon a hill,” and a beacon of hope to those suffering across the world—including those fleeing oppressive, authoritarian regimes.
The United States has tirelessly pursued that vision—from correcting the gravest injustices within our borders to defeating tyrants, terrorists, and oppressors around the world.
America’s global leadership delivered our victory in the Cold War. The fall of the Soviet Union—one of the greatest moral triumphs in American history—ushered in an unprecedented period of freedom, peace, and prosperity. But as we reveled in the afterglow of our Cold War victory, Communist leaders in Beijing were biding their time, learning from the mistakes of others, and preparing to mount a civilizational challenge to America.
Today, the threats to our peace and prosperity emanate largely from China. To be clear, when I describe the threat from China, I am speaking of the leaders in Beijing—not the Chinese people who suffer under the oppression and authoritarianism of their own government.
The Chinese Communist Party (CCP) picked up the mantle of Communist ideology and has adapted it to our times. Today, the ideology that fueled the Soviet Union is alive and well in China. The CCP views the current free and open liberal economic and democratic world order as a political and ideological threat. It wants to reshape the world in its image: centrally-planned and authoritarian. A world in which the Chinese government can pick the winners and losers. Where every decision isn’t about helping the most people—but instead about helping the Chinese regime.
The ideological mindset is important to understand because it drives the CCP’s actions including right here in the Homeland—threatening our economy, our people, and our way of life. They employ underhanded tactics to destabilize Western nations and further their ends. Instead of competing fairly on a level playing field, China undermines the international system. Instead of fighting on the conventional battlefield, China wages secret disinformation and propaganda wars to cripple us from within.
The results they have achieved thus far should concern every American. There is a connection we must all recognize: the Chinese Communist Party’s authoritarian ideology and China’s malign actions are intertwined.
They share a philosophical premise: the belief that the CCP can ruthlessly pursue its ends regardless of whom it hurts along the way—be it millions of people now at risk of COVID across the globe or China’s own oppressed citizens, who cannot start their families, practice their faiths, or speak their minds without the fear of swift and inhumane government retribution.
But the ideology is also tied to China’s strategic actions against the United States in a practical way. In the truest sense of the word, it is a totalitarian state.
The centralization of Chinese political, technological, and economic power, the monopoly on resources and industry, the disregard for human rights and dignity, and their own people’s fear of government retribution—these traits, together, make the Chinese regime a serious threat to the United States and to the entire world.
This combination of qualities enables the Chinese Communist Party to undermine the values of liberal democracies—liberty and equality, honesty and transparency. Their government has launched political, economic, and cultural attacks that harm our Homeland and our people. It is high time for us to recognize these attacks for what they are—and to respond accordingly.
In October, I released the Department of Homeland Security’s first-ever Homeland Threat Assessment, which lays out the range of threats we at DHS combat every day. And believe me, we had a lot to say about China.
The threats emanating from Beijing are many:
China attacks the legitimacy of our political system. Each day, Chinese operatives engage in disinformation campaigns designed to mislead the American public, pressure political figures, shape US discourse in China’s favor, and shift responsibility for the deadly COVID-19 pandemic to others.
These operatives exploit cultural and commercial ties to lobby our state and local governments to adopt pro-China policies. Beijing abuses its economic leverage to manipulate major American companies into toeing the Party line at the expense of truth and free expression. As we have recently seen, they engage in espionage at even state and local levels of our government.
China poses a high cyber threat to the Homeland—demonstrated by continued cyber espionage against the US government and businesses and their increasing ability to threaten and potentially disrupt US critical infrastructure. China’s cyber capabilities should alarm all Americans. A cyber-attack on our critical infrastructure could be catastrophic.
China also intentionally undermines the strength of our economy.
China is a top threat to US supply chain security and a persistent source of counterfeit goods. Whereas American businesses are the world leaders in innovation, China is the world’s leader in counterfeits. Chinese counterfeiters send fake medicines, contaminated cosmetics, and defective auto parts–to name but a few–in massive volumes. And sadly, the PRC exploited the COVID crisis by sending us fake Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) – directly hurting American citizens.
Foreign investment from China has proven to be a threat as China continues to pursue select investment in the United States to gain new technologies that it cannot produce domestically in order to develop its own industrial base and secure access to critical supply chains.
American companies are put out of business due to the unfair practices used by China, significantly harming the livelihoods of countless Americans. The hollowing out and undercutting of industries that are critical to American production and employ millions is a persistent and enduring threat posed by Chinese business tactics.
China exploits our academic and visa systems to advance its military and economy, using a wide range of government, non-government, and private actors and platforms. For example, they use visiting professors, scholars, and students to steal information or replicate the work done in the United States.
China abuses our free market economy by stealing trade secrets—harming the very American companies and free market system that have helped to lift hundreds of millions of Chinese people out of poverty.
Finally, and perhaps most close to home for many Americans, China has directly harmed the lives of countless Americans. Fentanyl and precursor chemicals from China pour into our country—often trafficked by transnational criminal organizations.
In addition to this scourge of Chinese-manufactured drugs that kill tens of thousands every year, COVID-19—which originated in China and made its way to the United States after an inept and deceitful response from the Chinese government—has claimed the lives of more than three hundred thousand Americans and harmed millions more.
Simply put, our people are suffering and dying every day because of the Chinese Communist Party. As the acting secretary of Homeland Security, I can tell you the plain truth: the most long-term strategic threat to Americans, to the Homeland, and to the American way of life is coming from Beijing.
It would be impossible to detail each and every threat the Chinese Communist Party presents to the United States, but those I have mentioned today are some of the most egregious attacks we have seen thus far. The rise of China has come at a tremendous cost to the American people—and that cost will continue to add up if we stand idly by.
I cannot stress this point strongly enough: China threatens the livelihood, prosperity, and well-being of each and every American. Your homes, your schools, your jobs, your retirement accounts, and your health are all at risk.
Our struggle with China is nothing short of a civilizational conflict. In the United States, we value our liberty and independence. We value the right to self-determination. We value that individuals can come together to solve shared problems, free from government coercion. We value the First Amendment and the freedoms it protects—to say what we think and to practice our faith. We value innovation and creation over theft and mindless replication. Simply put, Americans value life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.
Today, it is imperative that we have a shared understanding regarding the threats we face. Only then can we come together to protect the Homeland against China’s actions.
Unfortunately, many of the most powerful members of our society have failed to recognize this threat—or worse, have chosen to ignore it.
The first priority of American leaders should be to protect the American people—not to act as sycophants and mouthpieces for Chinese propaganda. Yet too often politicians, at all levels of government, have fallen short of these ideals.
Corporations across a variety of sectors—many of whom are household names—bow to China’s will. Major technology companies, which have seen unparalleled success thanks to our free and open economic system, have turned their backs on the principles and the country which helped foster their growth.
A 2017 US Trade Representative report found that Chinese theft of American intellectual property costs our country as much as $600 billion each year. Our responses to such behavior have been weak or nonexistent.
Meanwhile, our own media institutions, tainted by Chinese influence, refuse to report on this threat. Even worse, sometimes American media itself is the platform for CCP propaganda.
For example, China Daily, a well-known CCP mouthpiece, paid millions of dollars to major American newspapers to print pro-Beijing supplements designed to look like real news articles. Entertainment media has also fallen under China’s trance. Today, major Hollywood production companies and directors censor products to please Beijing in the hopes of tapping into the Chinese market.
China’s ability to compromise the most powerful institutions, companies, and politicians in our country highlights the threat posed by the Beijing regime to the rights and freedoms of everyday Americans. This threat requires a swift response. Otherwise, five, ten, twenty years from now, will we look back and ask, “how did we allow this to happen?”
From day one, president Trump has been clear that this Administration will not stand idly by as a foreign power manipulates and degrades the freedom and prosperity of the American people. To combat the threat posed by China, the president is leading a whole-of-government response. DHS is proud to play a critical role in this strategy, tapping every resource our Department has to offer.
Chinese actions undermine the integrity of our immigration and border security systems. Accordingly, we have tightened our screening procedures against individuals we believe may steal sensitive information and technology for the CCP.
We are also banning the entry of Chinese students and researchers with ties to their Military Civil Fusion strategy. China got the message: tens of thousands of Chinese students have left to avoid detection or further action. Our Department conducted additional screening and vetting as these individuals left our country—identifying critical counterintelligence threats and preventing the theft of vital information.
These actions have reined in the spread of Chinese propaganda. Where previous administrations allowed the indefinite stay of known CCP agents who disguise themselves as legitimate media, we have limited their stay and curbed their influence.
We are preventing CCP operatives from immigrating to the United States by updating our implementation of Congress’s longstanding requirement to exclude Communist and totalitarian party members. These are just some of the steps we’ve taken to address the Chinese threat to our border and immigration systems—but we must do more.
That begins with our plan to implement longstanding law regarding the danger posed by the CCP. Today I’d like to announce that DHS will be taking the following immigration- and travel-related actions:
Consistent with recent action taken by the Department of State, US Customs and Border Protection (CBP) is working to limit the period of admission for CCP members visiting the United States—who in the past might have received 10-year visas—to a maximum of one month. We are also working with State to consider further restrictions on visa validity periods for CCP members.
We are also using all available tools to keep Chinese nationals from concealing their CCP membership or evading disclosure requirements. We are initiating regulatory reforms to impose transparency requirements and shed light on CCP front groups operating on US college campuses and in public schools.
Given Beijing’s failure to timely accept return of illegal aliens who have had their day in court and received final orders of removal, I recommended and the State Department has issued visa sanctions on China.
In Fiscal Year 2021, we will be specifically welcoming refugees who are nationals or habitual residents of Hong Kong. In the travel domain, we are engaging with Taiwan regarding Taipei’s pending application for preclearance for US-bound travelers.
With these actions—and others—we will block China’s exploitation of our border and immigration system.
To address the China threat, law enforcement plays a critical role. As the nation’s largest law enforcement organization, DHS has been intercepting dangerous and illegal drugs originating in China—especially opioids. In 2019 alone, DHS seized enough fentanyl to kill every American four times over, much of which is believed to have originated in China.
Our Homeland Security Investigations agents at ICE have protected the American people from COVID-19 related fraud by arresting criminals, seizing millions of dollars of illicit proceeds, and making over 750 seizures of fraudulent and prohibited material originating in China or Hong Kong. We seized tens of thousands of packages originating in China, which included counterfeit COVID-19 test kits, and we uncovered 12 million counterfeit masks intentionally sent to Americans.
We also continue to investigate individuals, companies, and networks with Chinese ties attempting to misuse US military and dual-use technologies for Beijing’s benefit. We are targeting Chinese entities peddling counterfeit products and goods made with forced labor.
Our targeting includes seizing products originating in Xinjiang, an autonomous region in Western China that is home to the Uyghur ethnic minority—millions of whom the CCP has imprisoned in concentration camps and forced to work in factories. We have had several successes on that front, including the recent seizure of 13 tons of products made with human hair—presumably taken from detainees in the Xinjiang camps.
Earlier this month, CBP issued a Withhold Release Order (WRO) to detain shipments containing cotton and cotton products originating from the Xinjiang Production and Construction Corps —the most recent of several WROs responding to the scourge of forced labor in the Xinjiang region.
This is just the beginning of our law enforcement’s crackdown on the CCP’s abuses. Looking forward, we are continuing to develop and hope to soon issue a region-wide WRO for key categories of products produced with forced labor in Xinjiang. We also took significant measures to protect the 2020 election from Chinese interference.
In August, our partners in the Intelligence Community notified the public that the Chinese Communist Party has been expanding its efforts to shape policy in the US and manipulate politicians to favor Chinese interests.
In response, DHS partnered with local election leaders across the country to make sure our elections were as safe and secure as possible. These partnerships included briefings for state and local officials so they can protect themselves against espionage by CCP meddlers, as well as the identification and development of countermeasures for cyber vulnerabilities.
As I have repeatedly emphasized, economic security is homeland security and DHS is leading the way, protecting the American economy from the Chinese threat. We are working hand-in-hand with American companies and law enforcement to prevent the import of goods produced with Chinese slave labor and have alerted companies to espionage vulnerabilities in our information and communications infrastructure.
Through our participation in the Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States, we are working to mitigate the risk posed by Chinese foreign investment. Earlier this year, DHS—along with the Department of Justice and Department of Defense—recommended that the Federal Communications Commission deny the connection of a state-of-the-art undersea cable between the United States and Hong Kong. This denial was necessary to mitigate national security concerns and protect US consumer data.
DHS is also coordinating with US partners to secure Americans’ sensitive information against the Chinese Communist Party’s attempts to exploit the growing 5G internet infrastructure. We will be issuing a business advisory cautioning against using data services and equipment from firms linked to the People’s Republic of China.
This advisory highlights numerous examples of the PRC government leveraging PRC institutions like businesses, organizations, and citizens to covertly access and obtain the sensitive data of businesses to advance its economic and national security goals.
DHS flags instances where Chinese companies illicitly collect data on American consumers or steal intellectual property. CCP-aligned firms rake in tremendous profits as a result.
As an example, DHS is reviewing entities such as the Chinese manufacturer TCL. This year it was discovered that TCL incorporated backdoors into all of its TV sets exposing users to cyber breaches and data exfiltration. TCL also receives CCP state support to compete in the global electronics market, which has propelled it to the third largest television manufacturer in the world.
We are also working to combat Chinese malign influence in the Western Hemisphere and partnering with other government agencies—including the U.S. Agency for International Development, with which DHS will be singing a Memorandum of Understanding to foster development for a Hemisphere free from Communist manipulation.
As acting secretary, I am immensely proud of the work DHS has done to recognize the threat China poses to the Homeland. We remain vigilant and will continue to call out the threat clearly. But for all we have done, we must do more. That is why I am pleased to report that DHS will soon be releasing our Strategic Action Plan to Counter the People’s Republic of China—an innovative document built from president Trump’s 2017 National Security Strategy and the 2020 US Strategic Approach to the People’s Republic of China.
I thank the DHS China Working Group members for their work in developing this action plan and for their continued efforts to coordinate, prioritize, and articulate the Department’s responses to the threat posed by Beijing.
As I conclude, I want to reiterate an important point:
The Chinese Communist Party’s ideology and China’s recent malign actions are linked. This allows them to coerce their entire population—many of whom are innocent and unwilling—to launch attacks against the United States and other Western nations. They simultaneously attack the legitimacy of our political system, undermine the strength of our economy, and directly harm or kill American citizens.
The Communist threat we unwisely believed was behind us in the last century is not a ghost of the past. It continues to stalk freedom and liberty today in the form of the Chinese Communist Party. It is a clear and present danger we cannot afford to ignore, for the good of our country, our way of life, and our civilization. To be successful in this fight, we must continue the work of spotlighting and sternly responding to Beijing’s attacks against the United States, including economic espionage, visa fraud, and privacy theft.
As China leverages every aspect of its society to attack our country, we too must mobilize a whole-of-society response. It is imperative that every American business, every media institution, every citizen, and every concerned party recognize and guard against this threat. With your help, America will not become the next victim in a new era of Chinese Communism.
The threat we face from China is a serious one, but I have faith that our country can rise to meet the challenge. We must stand together against the darkness of totalitarian oppression, just as we have done so many times before.