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ICYMI: Rubio Speaks on the Threat of Communist China at The Heritage Foundation
Washington, DC – U.S. Senator Marco Rubio (R-FL) addressed The Heritage Foundation on the most pressing foreign policy challenges facing the United States. See below for a lightly edited transcript of his remarks, titled, “Putin’s War and the Threat from Communist China.”
Rubio: It’s good to be back at the Heritage Foundation.
A lot has changed since the last time I was here. You have a new building and a new president. And there is also a new President down the road. Today I want to talk about what has changed the most since the last time I came here — the return of history.
I was raised in the final decades of the Cold War, but I entered adulthood in a world that was rapidly changing. The Berlin Wall was crumbling, the Soviet Union disappeared, and many said we had reached the “end of history.”
It was too easy at that time to believe that peace, prosperity, and optimism would now reign forever. That 5,500 years of human barbarism was now extinct, and globalization and Western liberal democracy would reign forever and be the new order of things.
But that kind of exuberance was never justified, for one simple reason. Technology advances, great powers rise and fall, and the way we live life may change, but there is one thing that will never change.
There is one thing that is the same today as it was 5,500 years ago and will be the same 5,500 years from now — human nature. Human nature, driven by the impulses of a fallen species — the impulses of the powerful to conquer, enslave, and control those they view as weaker than themselves.
Vladimir Putin’s invasion is a shocking reminder of the cruelty and atrocities mankind is capable of in pursuit of conquest and ambition. It is the opening chapter in the return of history. But it will neither be the last nor the most dangerous one. For even as Putin kills innocents and destroys cities in Eastern Europe, an even greater challenge awaits in the Far East.
Right now, we’re doing all we can to help Ukraine repel and defeat criminal invaders. And still, as we talk about what can be done, our options seem constrained. They’re constrained because of Moscow’s nuclear arsenal and because Europe is heavily dependent on Russia’s oil and natural gas.
But in Beijing we are faced with an adversary that has a nuclear arsenal, but also control of critical supply chains, and an influence over global markets not even the old Soviet Union had.
For decades, the members of the Chinese Communist Party hid their true ambition to remake the global order and become the world’s most powerful nation. But they don’t hide it anymore.
They don’t believe in concepts such as “universal rights,” “global engagement,” and “international law” — all these terms that are thrown around. Because their geopolitics reflects human nature. They believe in raw power. They believe because they are a big country, their smaller neighbors must be their tributaries. And they believe the only way for them to become more powerful is to make others weaker, particularly America.
This is the raw, unvarnished truth about the Chinese Communist Party. And the biggest geopolitical blunder of the last quarter century was the naive, bipartisan, widely held belief that free trade and globalization alone could change all of this, and in particular could change them.
As a consequence of that blunder, we did nothing while for over two decades, China has methodically undermined our economic strength by stealing critical technology, manufacturing capacity, and jobs. We did nothing while they destroyed our social cohesion by luring away those jobs, and as a result hollowing out once-vibrant cities and communities.
We did nothing as they used a corporate lust for quarterly profits to infiltrate every segment of American society, from government and business to academia and entertainment. And we do nothing as they flood our cities with Fentanyl in this century with results reminiscent of the opium crisis in Chinese cities in the 19th century.
It took far too long to wake up to this reality. Thankfully, the Trump presidency signaled the end of a flawed bipartisan consensus on China and the emergence of a new consensus, albeit one that is still developing — a consensus that China is the most formidable near-peer adversary our nation has ever faced. But while we have made measurable progress in recognizing that the old bipartisan consensus was flawed, our transition to a new approach is being held back.
We have on the Senate floor a so-called “China bill” that takes meaningful steps toward reinvesting in our nation’s capabilities but doesn’t build sufficient safeguards to protect taxpayer funded research and industrial investment because of pressure from universities and industry. In essence, it pours millions of dollars into activities that the Chinese are stealing from now but with less money — now they’ll just have access to more.
Similarly, the China Initiative, created by President Trump to empower the Department of Justice to counter Beijing’s vast espionage campaign against American universities and industry and research centers, was shut down by President Biden because left-wing activists smeared it as racist and xenophobic — the magic words that can get anything canceled today.
We are not going to be able to address the unprecedented threat posed by the Chinese Communist Party as long as this White House and American politicians continue to prioritize the whims, pet causes, and speech code of progressive identity politics above America’s economic and national security.
And our response to China isn’t just being handicapped by woke-ism. It’s also being handicapped by outdated economic interests.
I said this at the time the Trump Administration entered into Phase One of the deal with China that did little more than boost agricultural trade — and even there the Chinese haven’t kept their word — and give Wall Street the green light to further subsidize China’s economy. Why did that happen? That happened because Beijing deputizes American companies and turns them into their lobbyists and advocates in Washington.
It was American companies that lobbied to stop my bill to block imports made with Uyghur slave labor in China. Not just any companies, iconic brands — Nike, Coca-Cola, and Apple. They were more interested in appeasing Xi Jinping to maximize their profit margins than doing what is both morally right and good for their country.
It was interesting last night to read Disney — which filmed Mulan in Xinjiang, the very province where they have these genocide camps, and then thanked local government officials who run those camps in the credits of the movie — apparently is outraged that in Florida, we won’t be teaching seven-year-olds about gender identity.
There’s nothing wrong with companies wanting to make a profit. A company that doesn’t make a profit won’t be a company for long. That’s what companies do in a capitalist system. But by the same token, we have to understand that we will never be able to confront the threat before us if our public policy is built solely on the pursuit of corporate profit without accounting for what’s in the best interest of America.
There was a time when large American corporations not only made a profit, but did so while also promoting patriotism, pride in the values enshrined in the Declaration of Independence, and respect for the dignity of every person. But today we live in a world where many of our most successful companies — which have addresses in America but consider themselves “citizens of the world” — simultaneously defend or ignore Uyghur slave labor, censor conservative voices in the U.S., and hold compulsory struggle sessions at their offices in service of the woke agenda.
We can no longer afford to allow public policy towards China to be held hostage by leftist radicalism or a lack of corporate patriotism. Because China is no longer hiding its strength and biding its time.
Since 2012, Xi Jinping’s words and actions have made it clear that Beijing believes it now has enough power to begin remaking the international order in its image, and that the time has come for China to reinstate itself as the Middle Kingdom, the dominant power in the Indo-Pacific, and eventually, the world.
China now pursues economic imperialism, entrapping the developing world through the exploitative loans of the Belt and Road Initiative. And they are now an imminent aggressor to our allies and partners in Taiwan, Japan, India, and elsewhere. These trends won’t get better — they will only worsen and accelerate from this point forward.
A few things we can do to address it:
First, it starts with unity and clarity about the threat we face. The gravest threat facing America today, the challenge that will define this century and every generation represented here, is not climate change, the pandemic, or the Left’s version of social justice. The threat that will define this century is China. And we will need a whole-of-society — not just government — effort to match them.
Conservatives need to understand this. Liberals need to understand this. Small businesses need to understand this — and so do businesses like Tesla and Amazon. If these mega-corporations won’t get on board, we need to start asking ourselves why they deserve the protection and patronage of the United States government, if they continually promote and defend efforts that undermine our national security and long-term economic viability.
Second, we need to empower our government to counter Beijing’s infiltration. Those are not words you often hear spoken at The Heritage Foundation. But being a conservative is not being anti-government. It’s understanding that most of the answers to the problems in life don’t come from government. But there are a few things that the government has to do, and one of them is to provide for national security.
And in that vein, the China Initiative should be reinstated. If it needs improvements, then by all means we should make them. But we can’t let partisan politics or our culture wars get in the way of national security.
Nor can our response to espionage and trade secrets theft be one of half-measures, like the so-called China bill the House and Senate are negotiating. Throwing money — your money — at university research that will be easily stolen is not how we defend the national interest.
Third, we need to revitalize our industrial capacity if we’re going to be able to make this an American century, rather than surrender it to communists. A nation dependent on hostile regimes is not going to last long. You can’t be a great power if you’re not an industrial power. You have to be able to make things. That’s why in this country we made a decision a long time ago to buy our weapons, particularly our airplanes, from American companies that make them in America.
Well, the menu of things critical to our national security has expanded. I would argue that semiconductors and the active ingredients in our pharmaceuticals are just as important to our national security as weapons. Relying on a hostile adversary for these things and more will leave us vulnerable and weak.
Think about the hand-wringing we saw over banning Russian oil, which accounts for a small percentage of America’s consumption and can easily be replaced, four times over, through increased domestic production. Now imagine, some years from now, that we’re in a conflict with China. Think about what would happen if they decided, “We’re just going to cut you off of everything — sports equipment, iPhones, the rare earth minerals you need to power your weapons systems.”
Think about all the things that we depend on China and its manufacturing capacity to provide. Imagine being cut off from that. Imagine the leverage that would give them. You think our options are limited now with Russia — we wouldn’t have many in that conflict. It should be obvious to everyone by now that our economic dependence on Beijing is a vulnerability we can no longer accept.
Finally, we need to empower our allies and partners. This is not just a competition between China and America. Beijing seeks dominion over its neighbors. It views them as vassal states, tributary states. That’s its vision for the future of the Indo-Pacific region. These aren’t buffer states — there are no buffer states — these countries just happen to be on the front lines. In the coming months and years, our alliances and partnerships with Taiwan, Japan, Korea, India, and others will be more crucial than ever.
If our European allies are to stand firm against Beijing as well, they will need to be more skeptical of China’s economic overtures. And most importantly, they will need to take greater ownership of their security — so they can take a leading role to counter Putin’s aggression, and so we can focus on the threat of Communist China in the Indo-Pacific.
The horrific invasion of Ukraine has made — or should make — countries across Europe realize they are not living in some sort of post-conflict paradise or utopia. But that realization cannot be a momentary blip that evaporates once Putin loses. It must be sustained so America can prioritize, and direct its resources to effectively counter Beijing in the years to come.
These four things — domestic unity, a strong counter-espionage effort, a revitalized industrial policy, and empowered allies — are crucial to staging a successful response to the threat of Communist China. This is not an exhaustive list, but it is an essential one.
I’ll close by ending where I started. History didn’t end with the 20th century. Right now, we’re writing the history of the 21st century. And when that book is written, it will be about the relationship between the People’s Republic of China and the United States.
There are only two ways forward in that book. It will either be a story of how a rising authoritarian power replaced a free society as the world’s dominant power and ushered in a new dark age of exploitation, conquest, and totalitarianism, and all the worst aspects of human nature…
Or it will be the story of how the people of the United States — the freest, most prosperous, and successful nation in the history of the world — against considerable odds, rallied around the truths this country was founded on and ushered in a century of liberty, justice and prosperity.
This is the fork on the road we must navigate. And the time to choose our path has come.