Foreign Influence on U.S. Policy is Taboo Subject

It is well documented that the Chinese government attempts to use (a very small minority of) ethnic Chinese living in other countries as instruments of its foreign policy. This includes using them as intelligence sources as well as agents of influence. Almost any experts on Chinese strategy will say so. Joshua Kurlantzick, author of “Charm Offensive,” touched on the subject in his book, and discussed it in a recent podcast interview, although he was careful to preface his statement with a disclaimer clearly meant to preempt critics who would accuse him of prejudice toward ethnic Chinese:

It’s not right necessarily to correlate people that are ethnic Chinese with China. But definitely since the late ’70s, when China started to open up its economy, they realized that some places ethnic Chinese could be sources of capital, and in the last few years they realized that, particularly in Southeast Asia . . . that if they kind of reached out to them they could use them to kind of promote goodwill in those countries.

But members of the ethnic Chinese diaspora are sometimes used by the Chinese government for much more than promoting goodwill. In another recent WPR podcast interview, Chinese dissident Wang Juntao, put it more bluntly:

Even in the United States and European countries the Chinese government uses [the] overseas Chinese community to do some intelligence work and some kind of official work. For the Chinese government, they control all independent organizations. . . . In other countries, for example, the United States and China friendship association[s], those associations in the United States are independent organizations. But in China it’s always controlled by the intelligence department, they assign leaders there. In South America I believe they use it the same way. It sounds like [an] independent organization, or its the civil relations between two communities, but actually it’s controlled by the Chinese government.

And so, in the case of Norman Hsu, a Chinese-American who is now under investigation by the FBI for raising money for the Hillary Clinton campaign in illegal ways, the obvious angle to explore is whether Hsu had any connection to the Chinese government. Especially given the fact that Hsu seems to have had close contacts with figures known to be connected to the Chinese military.

And yet, reading the New York Times story on Hsu today, the possibility that Hsu is an agent of influence for the Chinese government is not even mentioned, much less explored. The article is uncanny in the manner it avoids this elephant in the room.

Some will no doubt accuse the Times of wanting to protect Clinton by ignoring the national security angle of the story. But we suspect the glaring omission has much more to do with an instinct toward political correctness in covering stories about ethnic minorities.

Read the publicly available filings of U.S. lobbying firms, and it quickly becomes evident that the United States allows foreign influence in its decision-making to an extent unrivaled by any country in the world. And yet, we often seem unable to conduct an honest debate about the subject, even when such influence involves illegal activity, because of critics’ fears about being branded xenophobic or racist, whether the subject is a debate about U.S. policy toward Israel or how U.S. businesses influence American policy toward China. It’s an absurd failing of our discourse on U.S. national security.

David Remnick put it well in a recent article in the New Yorker on the political scientists Walt and Mearsheimer and their famously controversial treatise on the Israel lobby. Remnick notes that the two scholars’ “announced objectives have been badly undermined by the contours of their argument — a prosecutor’s brief that depicts Israel as a singularly pernicious force in world affairs.” And yet, while not endorsing the conclusions of Walt and Mearsheimer, Remnick recognizes the larger problem, by way of quoting Zbigniew Brzezinski:

Lobbying is inscribed in the American system of power and influence. Big Pharma, the A.A.R.P., the N.R.A., the N.A.A.C.P., farming interests, the American Petroleum Institute, and hundreds of others shuttle between K Street and Capitol Hill. Zbigniew Brzezinski, President Carter’s national-security adviser, recently praised Mearsheimer and Walt in the pages of Foreign Policy for the service of “initiating a much-needed public debate,” but he went on to provide a tone and a perspective that are largely missing from their arguments. “The participation of ethnic or foreign-supported lobbies in the American policy process is nothing new,” he observes. “In my public life, I have dealt with a number of them. I would rank the Israeli-American, Cuban-American, and Armenian-American lobbies as the most effective in their assertiveness. The Greek- and Taiwanese-American lobbies also rank highly in my book. The Polish-American lobby was at one time influential (Franklin Roosevelt complained about it to Joseph Stalin), and I daresay that before long we will be hearing a lot from the Mexican-, Hindu-, and Chinese-American lobbies as well.”

This is a subject that it should be possible to discuss more often with such forthrightness.