The Senate Committee on Intelligence held an open hearing yesterday afternoon about actions by the People’s Republic of China which are conspiratorial in nature, but not illegal.
“Countering China’s Malign Influence Operations in the United States” focused on three areas: PRC’s influence on American policy, PRC tactics to shape American political discourse in media and PRC targeting foreign nationals.
Committee Chairman Mark R. Warner of Virginia said the purpose of the hearing was “to better understand the PRC’s malign strategy on the United States.” The Committee must also educate the American public about the PRC’s actions.
“The truth is we need that not just whole of government but whole of society to understand the PRC,” Warner said.
He reminded everyone present at the hearing that America’s distrust is not with the Chinese people, but with the PRC and the Chinese Communist Party (CCP). Actions by the PRC have been espionage-like, but not illegal by law enforcement standards.
“But what makes this different is, frankly, the scale,” Warner said.
The PRC focuses on individuals who shape American politics, including business executives and journalists. Research has shown that the PRC has hired individuals to post on social media and manipulate American politics.
Of concern in the U.S. has been the growth of TikTok, which is owned by ByteDance, a Chinese-based company. Warner said that 150 million Americans spend an average of 90 minutes per day watching videos on the social media platform.
“This is an enormous challenge,” Warner said.
No political advertisements appear that are not sponsored by TikTok.
“I think to further some of the PRC’s goals,” he said.
According to Warner, the American government needs “an overarching framework” to combat technology and to continue to educate the American public and political colleagues about the dangers the PRC creates.
The Committee began the journey to combat the PRC in 2017.
Committee Vice Chairman Marco Rubio of Florida said that many nations have attempted to shape and influence American politics.
“But, where we’re facing now from China goes far beyond what we’ve experienced,” he said. The whole of American society and the American economy are affected and at risk. Technology today is an “attempt of the Chinese Communist Party to subdue us without fighting.”
Dr. Glenn Tiffert, Distinguished Research Fellow at Hoover Institute said “The United Front” is the code name the PRC uses to infiltrate American society in a conspiratorial approach “and win without fighting.” Much of what they do is legal, but the U.S. must develop infrastructure and capacity to make more informed decisions.
Tiffert offered recommendations: increase funding for open research, provide integrated support to other countries, look beyond policy and law, and address systemic and acute risks.
Sarah Cook, Senior Advisor for China, Hong Kong and Taiwan is with Freedom House, a global organization that advocates human rights in Europe and Eurasia. She spoke at the hearing on the PRC’s influence on American media, which includes propaganda, censorship and control of information.
Her research determined that “The United States faces very high degree of media influence from China.” Misinformation and fake media content are major problems.
President of Pamir Consulting Alan Kohler is former Assistant Director of the FBI’s Counterintelligence Division. He said that combatting Chinese malign is a top priority of the FBI.
Fifty percent of all counter-intelligence work by the U.S. is Chinese related, which is 2,000 investigations. Kohler said the American public must be educated on the importance of transparency when dealing with China.
He cited an example as the spy balloon in February 2023 that was eventually proven to be from China.
“The American public can look up in the sky and see that the Chinese government is spying on them,” Kohler said.
Warner said of importance is protect Chinese people here in the U.S.
“It’s fair to say the Communist Party has an active effort inside the United States to target Chinese people,” Rubio said of Chinese exchange students and business owners.
Rubio cited FBI cases from 2020 and 2023, PRC business tactics and how the PRC targets state and local officials.
Tiffert said records exist of incidents of the PRC approaching local individuals and encouraging them to support the Communist Party.
Cook said a public relations firm reaches out to Americans about trips to China, and economically disadvantaged Black communities have been contacted. The goal for the PRC is for Americans to return to America from China with opinions of supporting the PRC.
Sen. Michael Bennet of Colorado said the PRC’s actions “could end our democracy, certainly undermine our democracy.”