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ICYMI: Rubio Joins Washington Post’s Please, Go On Podcast
Washington D.C. — U.S. Senator Marco Rubio (R-FL) joined James Hohmann on The Washington Post’s “Please, Go On” podcast to discuss Chinese-Russian relations, the United States’ strategy to combat the threat of China, the latest on Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, and more. See below for highlights and listen to the full interview here.
On the Chinese Communist Party’s support for Russian war efforts in Ukraine:
“My sense is, if [China] can figure out a way to help [Russia] get access to dollars and transact business through an alternative to the SWIFT system, they would explore trying to do that. If they were asked for military hardware of some sort, they would also be willing to do that, although obviously that takes longer to produce and deliver, especially in the middle of a conflict. I don’t think they could deliver it quick[ly] enough to make a difference.
“Ultimately, China is going to try to do as much as it can without getting caught. Even if they do, I think, ultimately, the decision they’ve made is they view Russia as an ally in this broader need to confront the West, and America in particular. I think they’ve also calculated the more powerful Russia is, the more resources [the U.S. has] to spend on Russia, then the less resources and attention there is to be spent on China in the Indo-Pacific.”
On the United States’ post-Cold War approach to countering Russia and China:
“It’s a very different moment. At that time, Russia was the senior partner in that relationship. It was just a different dynamic than we face today. Russia is not the Soviet Union. It doesn’t have its size or its economic weight, even though the Soviet Union’s economic weight was nothing comparable to what China poses today.
“I don’t know what the world looks like 50 years from now. I think [Russia and China] could ultimately have some issues in Central Asia they would run into each other on, and are probably concerned about each other in the Arctic region. In the short- to mid-term, I don’t think China views Russia as a threat. I think they view the United States, and the West writ large, as trying to impede their rise and their rightful place in the world.
“I think from Vladimir Putin’s perspective, he believes the post-Cold War period has been abused by America and the West and part of his legacy is going to be to reset it.”
On efforts to gain support for Rubio’s CURB CIPS Act:
“…I think there is some broader interest among members on my side of the aisle, and we’re obviously exploring that…. But we will have sponsors, and we’d love for it to be bipartisan.”
On the need to reduce the United States’ economic dependency on China:
“It starts with identifying what are the critical industries to our country. What are the things we need to either have a domestic capability to produce or an allied capability that’s reliable and can’t be used against us as leverage, and then setting about to ensure that’s available to us. Some of that does involve what people would traditionally call industrial policy. [It’s] not that I want the government to own the means of production, but there are industries we have to have a native and domestic capability in…whether it’s basic ingredients in pharmaceuticals, whether it’s semiconductors. It’s a lot of the things you’ve heard about traditionally.
“To those who say this is a departure — we have an industrial policy when it comes to the ability to make airplanes and the ability to make munitions. All of our defense contracts, our large ones, are all with American companies. The reason is very simple. We don’t ever want to depend on China for jet fighters and aircraft carriers. I just think the list of what those critical industries are has expanded.”
On what the U.S. must do in order to confront China as a near-peer adversary:
“We’ve reached a point now where there’s broad acknowledgment China poses a real near-peer adversary unlike any we’ve ever confronted. I think the challenge now is that all the muscle memory up [in Washington D.C.], in terms of policy making, is built on a world that doesn’t exist anymore.
“There are great examples — this China bill. It does the right thing in saying, ‘Okay, we’re going to invest in basic research in these key areas so we have more innovation.’ But it doesn’t take the next step, which is you have to protect that [research]. Those research institutes and centers at universities are targets of Chinese espionage. If you’re going to put more money into those systems, but you’re not going to put more safeguards around them, then all you’re going to allow China to do is to steal more.
“That second part, we haven’t been able to do, because the academics and the researchers will complain. By nature, they’re collaborators. By nature, they don’t want restraint. By nature, they don’t want to have to be telling the government, ‘Thank you for your $10 million of research funds, but we don’t want to be reporting to the Director of National Intelligence on a quarterly basis about what’s going on around here and who’s involved.’ We’ve got to be able to break away from that second piece. I think that’s a real[ly] critical part of it.
“The other part about it is wrapping our head around this… I believe in capitalism 100 percent, and one of the reasons why it’s better than socialism is because it’s always going to reach the most efficient allocation of capital. It’s going to move investments to a more efficient place. What do we do in those instances in which the most efficient place or the most efficient outcome isn’t in our national interests? It is probably very efficient to buy rare-earth minerals from China. It’s very efficient to rely on them for the production of our medicine. That’s not in our national interests. It’s also wrapping our heads around that and the notion that just because it’s the most efficient market outcome, [it] isn’t always the best outcome for the country and these critical industries.”
On what the war in Ukraine means for Taiwan:
“It depends on how it concludes. I’m pretty confident at this point that Putin’s operational goals for the invasion are not going to come to pass, which is he wanted to move into Kyiv, topple the government, replace it with a puppet government, and have the country turn into something akin to Belarus, with him having even more direct control over Crimea and portions in the Donbas. He’s not going to be able to achieve those goals.
“It looks like what they’ve done now is recalibrated and are just going to focus the goal, the bulk of their forces on securing the Donbas and probably some of the coastal cities on the Black Sea. I think China watches all that and says, ‘The Russians invaded Ukraine. They did it under certain assumptions. It didn’t play out that way. And they’ve suffered a humiliating setback.’ They don’t want that to happen to them [in] Taiwan. I think they’re going to probably spend a lot of time thinking about whether their assumptions about what would happen in a Taiwan contingency are actually the way it’s going to play out. I think it’s probably given them some thought with that regard.
“The one thing they both have in common is neither the Chinese nor the Russians have recent, extended modern combat experience. The Russians have limited combat experience with an air campaign in Syria. The Chinese have virtually none, other than some border skirmishes. It’s important to understand, because [it is] one thing to exercise these things — another thing is to actually go out and do them.
“I think, for Taiwan, the lesson needs to be, what has been effective for Ukraine is the ability to raise the cost of invasion. If Putin had known Ukraine had these capabilities before the invasion, he probably would have recalibrated his strategy and maybe even his decision-making.
“Taiwan has some complexities. It’s an island. It’s not easy to resupply it. The sort of Western economic unity that has imposed tremendous costs on the Russian economy won’t be nearly as easy to do to the Chinese economy. I think the Chinese are watching how these sanctions played out and figuring out how to protect themselves from these sanctions.”
On Chinese threats to replace the U.S. dollar as the global reserve currency:
“I don’t think we can be cavalier about that notion. In order to replace the [American] dollar as a global reserve currency, you have to have an alternative. I’m not sure China poses a good alternative. There’s very little to no transparency in their government and the amount of debt load they’ve taken on. There’s no transparency in their economy. The numbers aren’t real.
“There might be a desire to maybe diversify, but right now there isn’t one. It doesn’t mean it can never happen. I think it’ll be a struggle for China to play that role, as long as they’re as opaque as they are today about the standing of their economy, the decisions they’ve made. They’ve invested billions of dollars of their own stimulus into all sorts of inefficiencies that we don’t have a full sort of understanding of. Most of the world doesn’t either.”
On Xi Jinping’s efforts to establish his legacy in China:
“[Xi Jinping has] amassed more power than any leader since Mao, and he’s done that to the point where his thoughts, sayings, [and] phrases are incorporated into public policy and become a dogma. If you look at his family experience — I’m not a psychologist, but if you look at his family experience, [growing] up during the Cultural Revolution and some of the things he witnessed in his own family, I think he certainly views that era in China as backwards and not the kind of thing he wants to see happen, not because he’s a liberal in the sense he wants to open them into this country, but rather because he believes China needs to define the future from an international point of view, as opposed to retreat into itself.
“The Chinese have always viewed the last hundred years as a century of humiliation, but largely an aberration. They look at this as an ancient culture that views its standing in the world, for many centuries, as one of the world’s most powerful and influential, even though they chose to look inward [for a time]. They think America is a great power but in decline, and they’re on the rise and this is inevitable. The problem is, the timeframe they view these things is decades — 2030, 2040. We view things [year by year —] 2023, 2024.
“I think, for Xi, what’s clearly important is the reunification with Taiwan. It’s already happened with Hong Kong. These are key parts of his personal legacy. That’s why I always say I don’t think we’ll leave this decade without seeing something happen in Taiwan, one way or the other.
“As far as the psychology of it is, one of the things we have to understand is, just because we think the decision being made by another leader is irrational or doesn’t make sense doesn’t mean they won’t do it, because it may make sense to them. They have a different worldview. They have a different reading of global events, and they have a different reading of history. They have a different understanding of the costs and the benefits, and they’re different from ours, and we struggle with that in general. I think we really struggle with that when it comes to Eastern cultures, who have a different history and experience than in the West. As a result, it’s even harder for us to comprehend it.
“I think the best way to deal with these things is to assume the worst and hope for the best, in terms of your interaction with those countries. Beginning especially in ’07 and ’08, with the economic meltdown that occurred, it really had a powerful impact on Chinese leadership. It accelerated their view that the Western system was in much faster decline than they had anticipated.”
On how to end dependence on totalitarian regimes like Russia and China:
“We have to stop thinking about it as an Indo-Pacific NATO, because that’s not what it’s going to be. I would love for India to join us in the strong actions we’ve seen from Europe. But their number one priority in the world is what they view as the threat from China.
“Their weapons systems, as you said, have been bought by Russia. You don’t just buy those weapons systems. Now you rely on [Russia] to maintain them, to replace them, the replacement parts, and so forth, so when you think you’ve got an imminent military threat just across your border, from Pakistan, but also from China, and your weapons systems you’ve invested in belong to Russia, you can’t afford to get cut off by them, because you can’t afford to replace those with Western systems that are not interoperable with the rest of the things you have. I think that’s their first concern.
“They have a long history of nonalignment. They’ve got a long history, going back to the Soviet Union, of those sorts of military alliances, and so forth. But their number one objective, their issue number one…, is China. Issue number 1-A is Pakistan. Everything else, to them, is far away and not at the top of their mind.
“One of the things we’re going to have to deal with, when it comes to the Indo-Pacific region, is this is not Europe. A lot of these countries want the U.S. to be involved in the region as a counterweight to China. But many of them don’t want us to force them to pick a side, because their economies can’t afford to be completely cut off from China. Not everyone’s going to do what Australia has done.
“We’re going to have to sort of keep our eye on the big picture here and be pragmatic. That’s a tough thing to do in foreign policy, because I myself am idealistic about a lot of things. But in this case, the threat of China is so enormous, we’re going have to be pragmatic about our expectations in these alliances and their purpose.”
On the threat of North Korea:
“We have to understand the number one thing China cares about in North Korea is insecurity. They don’t want a bunch of North Koreans coming across the border. They don’t want a unified Korea because if it’s a unified Korea under the South, they view that as the United States and an American ally is now right on their border. I’m not sure they’re big fans of Kim Jong-un and his nuclear weapons and his displays. But it’s preferable to having a unified Korean peninsula that’s Western-oriented, and preferable to having millions of starving North Koreans coming across the border into China. So that’s what’s on their mind.
“As far as North Korea is concerned, for Kim Jong-un, he’s a relatively young man who has to figure out how to stay in power for a long time. His insurance policy is his nuclear capability. He believes the more capable he becomes, from a nuclear perspective, the more pressure he can bring upon the world and the West to lift sanctions and allow them to gain some economic benefit from that. That’s his primary objective.
“I think it’s a very difficult thing to do, but [we need to] construct a pathway forward that protects South Korea’s interests, because we want an alliance with South Korea. [South Korea’s] number one concern in the world is the guy on the other side of the border from them that possesses nuclear weapons. But, by the same token, we have to try to figure out a path forward that sort of walks North Korea away from some of these impulses. They’re not an expansionist power, they’re not even a great global power, but they have nuclear warheads and the capability of delivering them to the continental United States. It’s a difficult situation we now confront there.
“But China is not going to be able to control him or stop him from doing these things. They can bring some pressure from time to time, but they can’t control it. In the end, they’re not interested. They don’t view him as a threat. They view the threat of him not being there as being greater, not because they’re fans, but because they’re playing geopolitics in a very pragmatic way.”
On the Biden Administration’s proposed military budget:
“The key is not just how much money you spend, but how much money you spend developing the new systems you’re going to need to counter what China is developing, which is anti-access weaponry. Their design is that they want to make it [too] expensive and painful for the U.S. to intervene. Their investments in hypersonics and the like are all designed to make it harder for the U.S. to intervene in any contingency that occurs in the Asia-Pacific region. Once they calculate that once we realize we lose all our aircraft carriers if we tried to intervene, we wouldn’t risk them, that would be the end.
“So we have to have counters to those systems, and we have to invest enough in that. It’s not just quantity here, but it’s quality, because these asymmetric capabilities they’re developing are the real threat to our presence in the region. At the same time, there is a quantity aspect to it. You’ve got to have sufficient manpower, weaponry, air forces, and naval forces to deploy….
“It was unfair and unfortunate that, even as I’m a very strong supporter of NATO, virtually every president in American history has asked NATO to do more in their defense. Some of them are more capable than others in their capability. I hope that what has happened here — it’s been terrible what’s happened in Ukraine — but that it sort of changed NATO’s view of what their capabilities need to be in this moving forward, that no matter what happens, we have to foresee that for the foreseeable future, there will be a threat emanating from the East and Russia, and they’re going to have to have the capability to protect their territory, with U.S. help and assistance and with us being a part of that alliance and continuing to be a part of that alliance.
“Hopefully, that sort of restructured some of their thinking. At least initially, it seems to have, even for the Germans, who for the first time ever, have sent offensive weaponry or military weaponry and hardware abroad to another country. Then you see a number of countries wanting to join the alliance, as well. America’s always going to continue to be indispensable to NATO. Hopefully, the Europeans will view the need to improve their own defense capability.”
On COVID-19 origins and the ongoing lockdowns in China:
“I think the chances it was a laboratory accident that leaked out of the laboratory and infected people is about equal to the chances it’s naturally occurring. Unlike previous pandemics, [with] which very quickly [they] were able to identify the animal and the source, they’ve not been able to do it. That’s my conclusion. It’s the conclusion of a lot of people in the know. Not sure we’ll ever be able to prove it. Maybe one day, we will.
“As far as their lockdown policies… What we’ve learned about COVID is, everyone should assume one day they’re going to catch it…. The hope is when you finally do get it, you’re vaccinated and the treatment options are much better at that point. Everyone who’s tried ‘zero COVID’ has found out it’s a futile endeavor.
“Once you open up, as you have to, people will get infected. They’ve kept their ports and shipping open, but factories have been closed again. You’ll see supply chain disruptions once again are lagged, usually three to six months behind. It’s disrupting cargo and ultimately will disrupt deliveries. As long as we depend as much as we do on China for so many of our products and consumer goods, we’re going to be vulnerable to anything that happens over there and the decisions they make.”
On how the United States can continue to help Ukraine:
“I can tell you that had the West not provided the amount of weaponry it’s provided to this point, this would have gone very differently. I think that’s been invaluable. I want us to continue to do that. [There are] two things we’ve got to start thinking about [now].
“What happens to these sanctions if and when this conflict ends? We’ve got to make a decision here about whether withdrawing from Ukraine alone is the end of these sanctions, or whether these sanctions should stay in place as long as Putin is in power, which is my preference. If he’s in power after 2024, we should consider that to be illegitimate, given the fact he’s manipulated the constitution to remain in power that way. I hope we’ll at least consider leaving some of these sanctions in place as long as he is in power.
“The second is reconstruction and the fact that the Russians have destroyed a tremendous amount of infrastructure in that country, not to mention the human suffering. Who’s going to pay to rebuild it? I think some of these assets that have been seized around the world should be contributing towards that reconstruction effort in Ukraine.”