Posts tagged: national security

Derk Bodde and Why We Need to Restore the China Fulbright Program

By , November 30, 2020
A young Derk Bodde, around 1943

It often comes as a surprise to most Americans when they learn that the first country to participate in the Fulbright program was not the United Kingdom, where the Rhodes and Marshall scholarships send students, or even a country in Europe.  Rather it was China. And it would be Derk Bodde, a Chinese historian, fluent in Mandarin, who would earn the title of America’s first Fulbright scholar. 

Soon after the U.S. and China signed the Fulbright agreement on November 10, 1947, Bodde wrote to the Fulbright Board.  For months he heard little.  But in March 1948, the Fulbright Board called Bodde, asking if he would accept a scholarship to China. The Board needed an immediate response since it planned to issue a press release that day announcing that the Fulbright program had begun.  Bodde replied yes and five months later he, his wife and eight-year-old son were on a boat to Beijing.  “Such was the unorthodox beginning to an unorthodox journey which was to culminate in a decidedly unorthodox year in China” Bodde would recount two years later in his memoir, Peking Diary: A Year of Revolution

Bodde’s time in Beijing would be unorthodox because he, and the 20 other China Fulbrighters, arrived as China was in the midst of a civil war.  When World War II ended in 1945, so too did the ceasefire between the ruling Nationalist party (“Guomindang” or “KMT”) and the insurgent Chinese Communists.  By the time Bodde arrived in August 1948, Beijing was on the cusp of falling into Communist hands, an event that occurred on January 23, 1949, midway through his time there.

But Bodde would complete his full Fulbright year and would share his experiences in his 1950 memoir, Peking Diary.  With accounts showing the efficacy of the Communists’ initial rule in Beijing – clamping down on run-away inflation, adding order to a society that had gone astray, returning students back to classes, promising an end to government corruption, and responding to the people’s grievances  – Peking Diary was instrumental in explaining why the people of Beijing readily accepted Communist rule. Bodde, reading various Chinese newspapers daily, also reported that the Communist takeover in China was not some Soviet-led effort, the reigning orthodoxy of Washington, D.C foreign policy circles.  Instead, Bodde saw the Chinese Communist revolution as uniquely Chinese, a response to the deep problems plaguing Chinese society.  U.S. policymakers ignored this reality at their peril Bodde maintained. 

People’s Liberation Army enters Beijing, January 1949

Peking Diary, with its eyewitness account from an American fluent in Mandarin and familiar with the culture, shows just how foolish the Trump Administration was to terminate the China and Hong Kong Fulbright programs, an action it took in its July 14, 2020 Executive Order.  The Fulbright program has been vital in deepening U.S. policymakers’ understanding of China, with Fulbrighters returning from the country, sharing their experiences and their perspectives.  Bodde is just one.  More recent China Fulbright scholars have testified before Congress, have published op-eds, have written various reports and have broken the story of the mass internment of Uighurs in Xinjiang.  All of these efforts gives U.S. policymakers a much more nuanced perspective of China.

Senator J. William Fulbright, the architect of the program, never wanted it to be used to promote the U.S. government’s foreign policy goals such as providing information to government policymakers.  For him, the Fulbright program had one goal: world peace through the humanizing of other cultures and people.  “If international education is to advance these aims – of perception and perspective, of empathy and the humanizing of international relations – it cannot be treated as a conventional instrument of a nation’s foreign policy.  Most emphatically, it cannot be treated as a propaganda program designed to ‘improve the image’ of a country. . . .” Fulbright told an audience in 1967, after seeing his program exploited during the Cold War for U.S. foreign policy goals.

Mutual understanding of other cultures, which in turn fosters peace among people, is and should remain the Fulbright program’s primary purpose.  But as much as Senator Fulbright may not agree, we can’t ignore that the program does serve to educate the U.S. government in understanding a country that for the last 40 years has been in a state of constant transformation.

But, with the termination of the China and Hong Kong Fulbright programs, we lose this crucial information source when we need it most.  For the first time in recent history, China is emerging on the world stage, not to play a bit part but to be the director of the show.  It’s imposition of the Hong Kong National Security Law, which ignores its obligations under international treaties and disregards Hong Kong law, reflect that fact.  Today, one could imagine another “Diary” written by a Fulbright fellow except this diary would be situated in Hong Kong with a people rejecting Communist rule instead of welcoming it.  Unfortunately, with the Fulbright program terminated in Hong Kong and China, that book will not be written. 

What we could be missing out on without Fulbrighters in Hong Kong – eye witnesses to the protests

If world peace alone is an insufficient reason for the Biden administration to reinstate the China and Hong Kong Fulbright programs, our own self-interest should be enough.  The knowledge that Fulbright fellows bring back to the United States is vital to the country’s interests and its national security.  The Biden administration must modify the July 14 Executive Order by revoking the provision terminating the Fulbright program in China and Hong Kong.  Why would we put ourselves at a disadvantage?

To see our earlier essay recounting the history of the Fulbright program and its success in China, click here: Biden Should Bring Back the China Fulbright Program on SupChina.

The TikTok Red Herring

By , August 5, 2020

For the past couple of weeks, the Trump Administration has been saber-rattling about TikTok, a Chinese-based social media platform popular among America’s youth and full of silly short videos – relatives dancing together, kids lip-syncing, teens sharing beauty tips.  According to Reuters, 60% of TikTok’s active users in the U.S. are between the ages of 16 and 24.  The idea that TikTok is a national security threat and a danger to our democracy seemed preposterous.

But over the weekend, these seemingly preposterous ideas became very real, with U.S. President Donald Trump stating that he was going to “ban” TikTok from the U.S. market.  And on Monday, Slate’s What Next podcast took on the TikTok debate, interviewing Axios reporter Bethany Allen-Ebrahimian on the reasons behind the Trump Administration’s desire for a ban.  While an informative interview on the Trump Administration’s justifications behind its threats to ban TikTok,  China Law & Policy came to realize that it’s time to take a deeper dive on TikTok.

Is TikTok A National Security Threat? 

Much of the What Next interview centered around TikTok as a national security threat, arguing that because TikTok’s parent company, ByteDance, is located in China, TikTok may have to share information with the Chinese government under Chinese law.  As China cybersecurity expert Samm Sacks recently noted, theoretically, this could happen.  But according to TikTok, it does not maintain any U.S. users’ data in China.  Instead that information is kept on servers in the U.S. and in Singapore.  Additionally, TikTok has allegedly cut off China-based engineers to TikTok’s source code and data.

Bytedance and TikTok founder Zhang Yiming

There is potential here for the Chinese government to obtain a large swath of U.S. users’ data, especially if the protections that TikTok has allegedly put in place don’t work.  But as Sacks points out, we have no evidence that this has actually occurred. But yet, the U.S. government is asking the American public to accept a forced a sale of TikTok to a U.S. company – something that feels more and more like a shakedown – without providing a scintilla of evidence that this song-and-dance social media platform popular among teenagers is an actual national security threat.  Our elected leaders owe us more than just conclusory statements. If they want us to forgo one of the core tenants of our society – a free and flourishing market economy – they need to provide us some evidence.

And as Sacks points out in her piece, if the Trump Administration is truly concerned about potential national security threats, it would be wise to develop a system to test the safeguards companies have put in place to guarantee that U.S. users’ data will not be used by any government:

The way to deal with this problem is to develop a country-agnostic set of criteria with robust rules not just for TikTok, but for how all companies collect, retain, and share their data. Instead of playing a game of whack-a-mole against a rotating cast of Chinese tech companies, the U.S. would be wise to spend more time developing legislation and standards for how all companies, regardless of country of origin, protect online privacy and secure data.

But such forward-thinking ideas that would actually solve the problem do not seem to be a part of the Trump Administration’s TikTok calculus.

Is TikTok A Danger to Democracy?

According to Allen-Ebrahimian, the Chinese government could use TikTok to wage a campaign of disinformation to influence our elections.  But that danger is not unique to TikTok.  Remember the 2016 election and Russian interference?  According to the Mueller Report, that election interference was largely done on Facebook through fake accounts and purchased ads.  TikTok is no more or less susceptible to disinformation than any other social media platform, be it FaceBook, Instagram, Snapchat, YourTube or Twitter.  There is nothing holding the Chinese government back from using those sites if TikTok is banned in the U.S.

But if you’re China, why stop there?  As Jeremy Daum recently pointed out, the best way for foreign governments to influence our elections is through limitless donations to Political Action Committees (PACs) by U.S. subsidiaries of state-owned enterprises. After the Supreme Court’s decision in Citizens United  v. Federal Election Commission, this is perfectly legal.   By treating corporations the same as individuals, Citizens United leaves the door wide open for foreign influence in our politics. In the case of Chinese corporations, this also means foreign government involvement. Most multinational Chinese corporations, like Haier, China Telcom, and China State Construction Engineering Corporation (CSCE), have U.S. subsidiaries. These are companies incorporated in the United States: Haier’s U.S. subsidiary, Haier American Holding Corporation, China Telecom’s subsidiary, China Telecom Americas, and CSCE’s subsidiary, China Construction America, are all incorporated in Delaware.

Under Citizens United, all three of these subsidiaries are citizens of Delaware and enjoy the same political speech rights as any other citizen of the United States. Citizens United does not permit us to look behind their corporate veil to see their relationship to foreign corporations. Haier, China Telecom and CSCE are all officially government-run. While the Chinese government does not meddle in the corporation’s daily affairs, it will exert its influence if it suits the government’s self-interest. For example, in 1994, Haier, a manufacturer of washing machines and refrigerators, was pressured by the Chinese government into acquiring a pharmaceutical company, a venture that ended badly.  And while Citizens United forbids “foreign influence” on a U.S. subsidiary’s political donation decisions, how are we going to find that smoking gun in the complex and complicated world of multinational corporations?

TikTok is not the demise of our democracy.  We are.  In the past four years, neither Congress nor the Trump Administration has done anything to put in place structures that protect our elections from foreign interference via social media.  And a decade later, Citizens United still stands.

Conclusion

There are serious issues with TikTok. It is necessary to understand better what it does with U.S. user’s data and some of the examples of censored speech, especially if the speech is anti-China, are problematic and need to be looked into.

But in the end, these are insufficient bases for the extreme tool of divestiture for national security reasons.  Banning TikTok is not going to solve our problems.  Setting up smart laws, rules and systems that ensure that foreign tech companies are not national security threats nor a danger to our democracy will go a much longer way.  But that doesn’t seem to be in the cards with this Administration.

For Those Who Don’t Have TikTok – Three Fun TikToks:

@thearielleWhen your old jam comes on! 🔥 ##foryoupage ##fyp ##comedian @mattjcutshall♬ original sound – thearielle

@afrobysaraawho’s down for this challenge? ##familychallenge ##familygoals ##nobodydancevideo ##fyp ##foyou ##viral♬ original sound – sara.afro

@jalaiahharmonLike we hit the lottery 🆙🔥🥳 @addisonre @charlidamelio♬ original sound – _.xoxlaii

China Passes National Security Law

Ready for National Security!

Within a day of its publication of the second Draft Foreign NGO Law on May 5, the Chinese government also published for comment a Draft National Security Law.  Today, that document became law. Although criticized for its vagueness and breadth, the passed law is still just as broad if not more so.  The new law also covers protection of seabeds and adds the word “extremism” to the provision on terrorism (Article 28), a provision that immediately follows the one that protects “normal religious activity” and calls for the opposition to foreign influences and interference in domestic religious affairs (Article 27).

The law itself comes off more as abstract principles. But make no mistake, the Chinese government and the Public Security Bureau which has oversight of the Law, means business.  The fact that they elevated this abstract document to the level of a law is a telling sign and foreign governments should be looking at it carefully.

The full English translation of the National Security Law has been published at China Law Translate and can be found here.

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