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Combating China’s Influence Operations

China has lately been infiltrating a wide range of US institutions – from universities and think tanks to the mass media and state and local governments – as well as the Chinese-American community. The only way to stop it is with a strategy of "constructive vigilance."

NEW YORK – As trade negotiations between the United States and China limp toward an uncertain conclusion, much of the world remains fixated on the potential escalation of the conflict between the world’s two largest economies. But narrow discussions about tit-for-tat tariffs, Chinese mercantilism, and intellectual-property theft fail to recognize the broader implications of the trade war: the US and China are losing their ability to interact in a manner that is anything but adversarial.

For the US, China represents a rapidly escalating threat – a perception underpinned partly by the large bilateral trade surplus and China’s brazen efforts to capture American technology. But it is also – and perhaps more importantly – driven by China’s pursuit of military hegemony in the Asia-Pacific region, its rapidly growing overseas investments, its attempts to reshape global policy debates, and its efforts to exert influence over other countries, including the US itself.

Such efforts, FBI Director Christopher Wray warned last year, include the use of non-traditional actors to infiltrate democratic institutions, especially in academia. In this sense, Wray concluded, the “Chinese threat” is more than “a whole of government threat”; it is “a whole-of-society threat.” Our recently published report, China’s Influence and American Interests – the product of a 23-member working group that we co-chaired, convened by the Hoover Institution and the Asia Society – confirms this fear.