During recent high-level talks in Alaska, China’s top diplomat Yang Jiechi spotlighted “deep-seated” human rights issues in the United States, propped up “Chinese-style democracy” and criticized the United States for “interference in China’s internal affairs.”
It’s a carefully laid trap, says Miles Yu, a senior China policy advisor to former Secretary of State Mike Pompeo.
How does Chinese communist propaganda exploit American sensitivities around race? And how is the Chinese Communist Party now using the horrific massage parlor shootings in Atlanta to advance its agenda?
In this episode, we sit down with Miles Yu, senior fellow at the Hudson Institute and longtime professor at the United States Naval Academy, to discuss how the Biden administration should approach its relationship with China.
Jan Jekielek: Miles Yu, such a pleasure to have you back on American Thought Leaders.
Miles Yu: Nice to be back with you again, Jan.
Mr. Jekielek: So Miles, let’s talk about this recent meeting in Alaska. Tell me what are your thoughts?
Mr. Yu: First of all, overall, even though there’s a lot of squabbles, a lot of confrontational remarks on both sides, actually, in a very interesting way, it’s probably a good thing to have happened, because it truly reflects the nature of U.S.-China relationships—that is, both sides should really state your true intentions, what you think of each other, instead of all this smooth, sugary diplomatic talk that was very deceptive in the past. We now know what the Chinese think of America and their ultimate understanding of American democracy.
[Soundbite] Chinese State Councillor, Yang Jiechi: 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. According to opinion polls, the leaders of China have the wide support of the Chinese people.
Mr. Yu: They’re here to basically try to discredit American democracy, try to score a cheap shot. That actually is very educational to the rest of the world, to see how Chinese diplomats truly function. I think it’s also very important to know that the Chinese begged [for] this meeting to happen, and it did happen, but it happened in a way that’s not what we wanted to happen, because the new administration, it seems to me, wanted to basically extend some kind of olive branch to the Chinese side: “Hey listen, let’s sit down [and] talk about real issues. We’re not going to shy away from your human rights issues, from the regional tension issues, from your military and economic expansion. In the meantime, we are seeking areas of cooperation.”
The Chinese side completely blew the American side away. Instead, it launched into a diatribe against the American system and a critique of America, to say America is not qualified even to be an equal partner with China in talking about issues like human rights. That shows to me that there is a lack of sincerity on the Chinese side. They came to Alaska not to solve problems, but score cheap propaganda to promote its own political agenda in Alaska. That’s both unfortunate and also a farce in a way, because this is a very important opportunity [that] China missed.
On the other hand, I also quite understand why China took the stance it did. The Chinese State Councillor, Yang Jiechi and the Chinese Foreign Minister, Wang Yi came here at a very unique time when China is unprecedentedly isolated internationally. So they try to blame America, try to shift its international isolation to focus on America, as if the U.S. is the only country that really makes China suffer, the U.S. is the only confrontational country that puts China in a position where it is now. That’s not the case.
The U.S. has enjoyed a much broader international consensus that took place during the Trump administration; the new administration continues that. China knows its isolation and China knows it’s a pariah state in the international arena. Therefore, they come here to vent. They come here to basically shift the focus of the real issue of the day, which is the global challenges posed by the Chinese Communist Party.
It’s also a big lesson for the new administration to learn from. That is: you have to deal with China with candor, with strength—with unapologetic strength—and self-confidence in our own democratic system. Do not let Chinese propagandists take advantage of you.
Mr. Jekielek: With respect to this harsh tone, it seems to be a breaking of diplomatic protocol, perhaps. What do you make of that?
Mr. Yu: In the truest sense, Chinese diplomats are not really diplomats per se. They are the agents of the will of the Central Committee of the Chinese Communist Party. To be more precise, it’s the voice of Xi Jinping himself, the generalissimo, the chairman of everything in China.
Yang Jiechi has been known as a gentleman, as a man of political skill, and that’s why he was chosen to be the major interactor with the major countries of the West. When General Secretary Xi Jinping wants him to behave like a bully, like a wolf warrior, he will. He has no choice. So this shows a lack of individuality in the Chinese diplomats. Of course, diplomats all have some function of that sort, but in the Chinese case, it’s so pronounced and it’s so obvious that it created endless comedy among internet [users]. You can see [this] from even many of the netizens’ [comments] in the Chinese cyberspace. They mock him, and so this is basically typical Chinese politics.
Mr. Jekielek: There were indeed a lot of people, as you said, mocking the top Chinese diplomats. At the same time, there were a lot of criticisms of the way the U.S. administration handled it. You mentioned that one of the lessons was that the administration should act from a position of strength. What’s the next step in your mind? What would be the advice you would offer as the next step after this encounter?
Mr. Yu: I would point out immediately the hypocrisy and the irony of the Chinese diplomats, top diplomats, who lectured America on the virtue of democracy. We’re talking about the regime that systematically wipes out entire ethnic groups solely [for their] cultural and religious identity. We’re talking about the regime that has starved or killed tens of millions of people, and that policy still continues. We’re talking about a country that systematically conducts organ harvesting. We’re talking about a country that systematically conducts suppression of the most extreme kind in modern history against dissidents, against religious groups such as Falun Gong, such as underground Christian church, such as Muslims in China.
I also have to point out the spin, the post-Alaska summit spin, was also very telling because the Chinese government doesn’t even have the guts to print out the complete transcripts of both sides. The only print out the Chinese side, which is well-prepared and full of propaganda high pitches, and they didn’t really show the Americans’ response, and I think that’s probably the high point of hypocrisy and also cowardice.
So for a country of that nature to criticize America as unworthy of a democratic system is absolutely crazy. It’s also ridiculous. It actually shows the supreme hypocrisy of the Chinese Communist Party. We Americans criticize our system because we wish our system to be better. When the Chinese Communist Party criticizes the American system, it doesn’t wish us well. They challenge the foundation of American democracy. It basically tries to destroy and discredit the entire system of freedom and democracy. They are completely different. When we deal with countries like China, we have to keep this perspective in mind. Otherwise, we’ll just be taken advantage of.
Mr. Jekielek: We’ve witnessed the erosion of rights, what a lot of people describe as the destruction of this once free and open city of Hong Kong. People are concerned that this will actually happen to Taiwan, that this same model of—whatever you want to call it—pacification, takeover, putting into effect this national security law and essentially, the Chinese Communist Party ideology into a once free city, that the same model will be applied to Taiwan. What are your thoughts?
Mr. Yu: China basically is a country of authoritarian rule. [The Chinese Communist Party] ruled China for decades with extreme repression. Now, China is beginning to expand the perimeter of its rule beyond China’s border. First, in Hong Kong, and Hong Kong’s fall is actually a logical corollary to that kind of system, and then it’ll go to Taiwan. Obviously, Taiwan is resisting this. They saw the true nature of the “One country, two systems” formula, which is based on hypocrisy, an empty promise. There’s no credibility left for the Chinese government to lecture the Taiwanese on the virtue of “One country, two systems” because that’s not going to happen.
So I think the Hong Kong government’s despicable submission to Chinese authoritarian rule is also another tragedy, because Hong Kong is based upon a high degree of autonomy as promised by the Chinese Communist Party in 1984—that didn’t happen. For this large number of Hong Kong officials to openly applaud the Chinese Communist Party’s takeover of Hong Kong, the destruction of Hong Kong’s autonomy, is really, truly, truly, unspeakably sad.
Mr. Jekielek: In fact, China, under the Chinese Communist Party of course, is actually lecturing the world from its seat at the UN Human Rights Council. I was just watching this video—
[Soundbite] Chinese official at the UN Human Rights Council: The implementation of the national security law in Hong Kong has put an end to disorder and leads to better enjoyment of human rights by the Hong Kong people. The decision by the NPC [National People’s Congress] to improve the electoral system in Hong Kong will provide institutional underpinning to the full implementation of the principle of Hong Kong being governed by patriots in the long term interests of stability, in line with the principle of “One country, two systems.”
Mr. Jekielek: Seems like a very different message [from what] you’re telling me.
Mr. Yu: I watched the video partially, I couldn’t swallow the whole thing, because it’s just total nonsense. What this Chinese official at the UN Human Rights Council was saying was that Hong Kong is more stable. By which, they basically mean there’s no dissent. He is not 100 percent right. The most stable society as defined by him will be North Korea. There’s absolutely no dissent, because to do otherwise is very dangerous. I think the kind of stability that he’s talking about is basically the silencing of all fresh ideas and innovativeness under an authoritarian regime. I don’t think anybody in the world with a decent understanding of [what] human rights [is] really all about should buy that kind of rhetoric.
Mr. Jekielek: I want to jump back to the discussion of how the U.S. should approach China and the Chinese Communist Party. There was a recent op-ed that I read—and frankly, I found it shocking—in The New York Times. It was by Ian Johnson, someone who’s a very seasoned China hand, been in China for 20 years, did some of the best reporting, I remember 20 years ago, about the persecution of Falun Gong. I think he won a Pulitzer for it. He had a very surprising message, to me.
He suggested that the U.S. should reduce sanctions of Chinese officials, should avoid calling Taiwan a country, restart Peace Corps and the Fulbright scholarship programs, stop attacking Confucius Institutes, lift restrictions on visas for some Chinese Communist Party members, a whole slew of recommendations. Tell me about what you think of this?
Mr. Yu: First of all, I’m very glad he was not in charge of any U.S. government policy toward China. Otherwise, it would have been a disaster. Secondly, I do understand where he comes from. For people who are stationed in China for work, particularly as a journalist, you very likely will develop a very deep love for Chinese culture, Chinese people. As a result, many people really, really want to have a smooth exchange program set up with China, engaging Chinese people in a non-governmental fashion. They will spend a lot of time in China with many Chinese friends, and they themselves have gone native, so to speak. I understand there’s a tremendous affection for that part of the cultural aspect.
On the other hand, what people often forget is the Chinese Communist Party exercises total control of access to foreigners to those Chinese organizations, Chinese people, Chinese cultural events. The Chinese Communist Party uses that leverage of state control shamelessly to force Western compliance to its party line. If you don’t comply, or if you show any sign of disagreement, no visa for you, no procedural cooperation for your going to China, and that will be a disaster for a lot of people whose career is [related to] China.
I don’t think this is an isolated case. There are a lot of cases like this. I think that we as Americans should really stand firm to our principles.
Mr. Jekielek: There’s a lot of discussion in America right now of anti-Asian racism, and this, of course, is something that the Chinese Communist Party has become very interested in, and as you’ve seen, has taken to lecturing America about its problems. I want to give you a chance to speak to that.
Mr. Yu: Racism, particularly racism against Asian Americans has been a very controversial topic. I think in the Chinese diaspora, you have very different kinds of reactions, basically broken into two groups. For the first generation of Asian Americans overall, they are overwhelmingly supportive of the idea that somehow there’s no systemic racism against Asian Americans, because they have come from countries that often conduct systemic discriminations.
For Chinese Americans, you come from a country where the state policies were instituted to conduct wholesale discrimination against people of different gender, different geographical location, your residential registration system, your job opportunities. And of course, ethnic minorities: a Uyghur and a Han will have very different experiences in communist China. That’s systemic; that’s institutionalized. So for most Chinese Americans who migrate to this country after having lived in a different system where institutional discrimination is rampant, they do not regard the attacks on Asian Americans, on Chinese Americans in some cities as systemic. Rather, they tend to treat them as isolated incidents.
For Chinese Americans, for Asian Americans who were born and conceived in liberty, and grew up in this country, they are much more sensitive to incidents that were viewed as isolated by the first generation immigrants—as something reflective of a systemic problem—different perspectives. Absolutely, we should pay attention to these kinds of egregious acts against Asian Americans like we saw in Atlanta last week. We should definitely exercise the legal and judicial prosecutorial rights to hold these criminals to justice. On the other hand, we should not go over the top to use these incidents as evidence to prove that America is fundamentally a country that’s racist and discriminatory.
The founding principle of this country is: All men are created equal. That’s a promise. The promise has to be struggled for its full realization. For the last 200 years, that’s precisely what Americans have been doing. In today’s America, there are no systemic institutionalized policies or laws to discriminate [against] the whole set of ethnic, religious, or even immigrant groups. Obviously, there are a lot of bad guys who are racist, who are discriminating against different people of different identities. But to me, they’re not the mainstream American system. They are the isolated incidents that should be treated seriously, but we should not overreact.
I know it’s very difficult to talk about this issue. This issue also has been dragged into the American debate of Left versus Right. The ironic thing is, in my view, if there’s any institutional discrimination against Asian Americans, it’s the liberal college and university admissions policies, because you have a large number of Asian Americans whose children were discriminated against, in very extremely liberal institutions, universities, [and] colleges. We should focus on that much, much more, instead of on some of the tragic incidents that seems to me are very isolated.
Most Asian American [immigrants] would find this country very welcoming. Otherwise, they would not have gone through all this trouble to come to this country. America is the most welcoming country in the world because we accept the most immigrants each year from all parts of the world. I know we should not be bragging about this, but that’s a simple fact. If we trust the human condition, the human condition is that nobody would willingly come to a country knowing that he will be discriminated against.
Mr. Jekielek: What do you make of the Chinese Communist Party wading into this issue?
Mr. Yu: Chinese Communist Party is almost entirely immune to sarcasm and irony. This is a country that conducts a wholesale genocide against the Uyghurs. This country that has killed tens of millions of ordinary Chinese for political reasons, has starved to death almost 40 million people. This is one of the most brutal regimes in human history, deeply racist with some extreme ideologies that categorise the whole nation into different groups, and some of them were completely deprived of basic rights.
So for a regime of this nature to criticize America as being racist is just the height of hypocrisy. This is just a CCP [Chinese Communist Party] cynical ploy to delegitimize the American model of governance, to discredit American democratic virtues, and we should never fall for that.
I think in another area of oversensibility, which I totally understand, is the issue of our political leaders using, for example, Chinese geographical locations to identify a particular problem, [such as] the “China virus” or “Wuhan virus.” Again, there is a difference between the first generation Asian Americans and the people who are born here. For many first generation Americans, this is not a problem because many of them will say Wuhan virus or China virus. Even today, the entire population of Taiwan, over 26 million people, still use “Wuhan pneumonia” to identify the scourge that broke out in Wuhan in 2019. So are they all racist? No, or they would all be racist against themselves.
For the longest time, probably half of the Chinese population used Wuhan virus, [“Wuhan yiqing” 武汉疫情]. As a matter of fact, it’s a designation of a location where it first occurred. It’s nothing to do with race. People with common sense understand that this is not racially motivated. But when it’s spoken by Western leaders, many people became very sensitive, and overly sensitive, perhaps. I don’t know where it came from, but I don’t think it’s entirely justified to say that if somebody says, Wuhan virus, it’s therefore racist. That’s too simple. I think we should be vigilant about any racist remarks, but we should never, again, as I said before, overreact. Otherwise, we’ll just render the Chinese Communist Party another tool of propaganda, another opportunity, to promote its own party line.
Mr. Jekielek: To kind of avoid this issue to some extent, at The Epoch Times, we call it “CCP virus” or “Chinese Communist Party virus.”
Mr. Yu: I don’t dispute that. For me, it’s Wuhan virus, because it doesn’t really mean that the Chinese people should bear the stigma of that virus. It simply means this virus started in Wuhan. This is indisputable fact. If we dispute that, then we fall into the Chinese cynical attempt to deny the fact that this whole virus started in Wuhan. The Chinese government is spending enormous amount of money and energy worldwide to find another possible point of outbreak of this virus, outside of China, which is ludicrous. This is the political-geographical implication of avoiding the use of Wuhan virus. For the Chinese Communist Party, it has a particular point, a point of propaganda, a point of policy management, so this is something that we should be very aware of.
Mr. Jekielek: Because they never want to accept responsibility for anything.
Mr. Yu: In the eyes of the Chinese Communist Party, the party itself is infallible. You cannot say the Chinese Communist Party did this wrong or did that right. When the Wuhan virus broke out in Wuhan, the first thing the Chinese Communist Party was thinking of was not how to prevent it, how to be transparent, how to tell the world the danger of this. The first thing was to make sure that the Chinese Communist Party’s image would not be stained. So Xi Jinping’s very first talk about this was about how to showcase the Chinese Communist Party’s overall greatness in combating this virus, and he wanted to promote what he called, “zheng nengliang,” [正能量]—the positive energy—which means that all reporting, all truth-telling journalists, doctors, and scientists should not say anything negative about this virus. That is absolutely dangerous, and it has done the world a great harm. This is the ultimate culpability of the Chinese Communist Party in creating and causing this global catastrophe.
Mr. Jekielek: Any final thoughts before we finish up?
Mr. Yu: God bless America. God bless the people of China and the United States.
Mr. Jekielek: It’s such a pleasure to have you on.
Mr. Yu: Glad to be with you.
This interview has been edited for clarity and brevity.