The U.S.-China Economic and Security Review Commission has reported that as of February 25, 2019 there were 156 Chinese companies listed on the three largest U.S. exchanges. These firms had a combined capitalization of $1.2 trillion.
On May 20, 2020, the U.S. Senate approved, without objection, the bipartisan Holding Foreign Companies Accountable Act; it is now in the House of Representatives, having been introduced by Brad Sherman (D-CA). This legislation, if signed into law, could, in effect, force certain Chinese firms to be delisted from U.S. exchanges. According to the official summary of this legislation, “This bill requires certain issuers of securities to establish that they are not owned or controlled by a foreign government. Specifically, an issuer must make this certification if the Public Company Accounting Oversight Board [PCAOB] is unable to audit specified reports because the issuer has retained a foreign public accounting firm not subject to inspection by the board. Furthermore, if the board is unable to inspect the issuer's public accounting firm for three consecutive years, the issuer's securities are banned from trade on a national exchange or through other methods.”
Thus, in effect, Chinese companies would be compelled to use public accounting firms that are inspected by the PCAOB, after an initial period of required disclosures, to be made if a business is not presently in compliance with this requirement. This is very important; to be most meaningful, however, we should implore the U.K. to follow our Senate’s lead and to enact similar measures to protect Britain’s financial markets.
Through investment and by direct and indirect pressure, the PRC, in its various forms, has influenced America’s most important media companies. These media companies, in turn, own major news networks, services, and publishing houses. An example of Chinese power in Hollywood is contained in the movie sequel Top Gun: Maverick. In the original 1986 film, Maverick’s iconic bomber jacket displayed military patches that included both Japanese and Taiwanese flags.
In the new movie, a film made possible through the cooperation of the U.S. Navy, these flags are replaced with meaningless patches rendered in similar colors to obscure what was done. Citing this example, Senator Ted Cruz has introduced the SCRIPT Act to halt Pentagon assistance to companies whose films are censored in service to Chinese demands.
The PRC’s insertion into Hollywood has a model: until 1940, Hollywood studio films were subjected to German censorship or cancellation so that the studios could retain access to the German market, which before World War I had been the second-largest in the world. It is critical to note that this censorship affected American films shown not just in Germany, but worldwide.
This history is crucial because it provides the context for the PRC’s penetration and its mechanisms of control in today’s Hollywood. Only now, the control exercised by a foreign power has far greater reach, for today’s media conglomerates that own the film and television studios also own major news networks. Therefore, to maintain access to the Chinese market for film and television, there exists, if not substantial pressure, the business context to manipulate and to bowdlerize news in America to curry favor with China.
We now face information warfare on a level never experienced. This battle, moreover, has been waged almost entirely in one direction: against the United States. Misled by the majority of our press, we, as a society, have entered a palace of mirrors, each distorting the image of what is real. It is, therefore, critical to understanding that many persons perceive the present crisis as hyperreal, in the sense that its predominant narrative, which postulates no intrinsic Chinese governmental culpability, has supplanted the true nature of this pandemic.
This has occurred because the narrative has been shaped by sources controlled by the Communist Party of China, which are amplified by sympathetic or by unwitting members of the media in the West. The created narrative is thus more real to the public, due to its narrative strength, than is the actual situation. Cyberwarfare is another agent. Without the immediate dissemination of veridical information, errant public-policy decisions are bound to follow.
In the years leading up to World War II, strong business relationships with Germany and Japan prevented the free countries of the West from acting decisively to forestall German and Japanese aggression. Public sentiment to avoid future wars, after the losses in the Somme and in Verdun, held sway. Now, the economic and business pressures for America and its allies to foreswear meaningful action against the PRC are as great as can be imagined.
To act decisively to limit Chinese exploitation and adventurism portends economic strife and the end of a globalist international order that has existed for fifty years. We must, however, put ourselves to the question: Do we have a choice?
If the intelligence services of the United States and its allies find proof that the PRC, knowing that the virus had initially spread from its virology lab in Wuhan, or emanated from some other source, such as the city’s wet market, locked down travel to other parts of China while permitting international transport from this city, at the time the Communist Party of China prevented international fact finding, this state committed what amounts to a war crime. If this is proved so, then inaction is an invitation for repetition or mimicry, for the path to disassemble America is manifest. Without a response measured to this assault, we will show weakness and undermine deterrence.
- Recognize the nature of the PRC’s multi-dimensional threat, no matter the near-term cost.
- Take decisive, bipartisan action to limit the PRC’s misappropriation of elements of American soft power.
- Provide the public with highly accurate and timely information about the coronavirus and the PRC’s role in the present disaster.
- Pass the Holding Foreign Companies Accountable Act; support similar measures in the U.K. and elsewhere.
- Deny the PRC access to American media companies, especially those that control news networks; pass the SCRIPT Act.
Even without specific reference to China, the present pandemic makes clear that America must adopt a manifold of new initiatives to better protect against biological as well as chemical and nuclear threats, including electromagnetic pulse weapons and radiological agents. Possibly more destructive than a pandemic would be a failure of our power grid resulting in a protracted black-sky event, in which electricity is no longer available from our established infrastructure. This can be caused by cyberterrorism, by an electromagnetic pulse, or by kinetic damage to key nodes.
Heretofore, the U.S. Government considered the consequences of a pandemic in abstract terms; we have lacked the institutional structures and vocabulary to institute needed actions, even when significant intelligence was at hand. Resulting from multiple visits to the virology lab in Wuhan by a U.S. delegation, detailed Department of State cables in 2018 warned of substantial safety issues.
These reports, however, caused no meaningful action although the potential transmissibility of the bat-borne viruses, studied at the lab, and the ramifications of such transference to persons, had been the focus of acute concern in the scientific community. What was missing for this intelligence to have made a difference, in order to avert a future, worldwide crisis, was an established pathway and bureaucracy to permit the time-urgent transmission of such information to decision-making authorities at the highest levels of government.
The creation of such avenues for information and decision-making is a complex task, for the duplication of existing bureaucratic elements can be worse than no action at all. Therefore, the president should engage a special taskforce to map existing, relevant governmental structures and to recommend a new system, which would be robust, anticipatory, investigative, and responsive to a spectrum of future threats in this domain. Part of the solution must be the creation of interagency groups that can speed intelligence and threat assessments to senior officials in order to promote rapid and preventative action.
Another strand that must be realized is the modern replication of World War II’s War Production Board to ensure a measure of autarky in the production of a range of medicines and related raw ingredients. Domestic production of critical medical devices must also be pursued, with consideration given to the enactment of targeted, multiyear tax cuts and other incentives for American companies that repatriate production from China.
In the case of medicines and medical equipment, supply vulnerability studies must be instituted to determine the net levels of domestic and allied manufacture necessary to ensure supplies of these goods in a time of emergency. The 1984 National Security Council Stockpile/Industrial Mobilization Planning Study, one of the largest investigations of its kind, can provide a template for the required interagency analysis and recommendations.
The War Production Board brought together cabinet officials and the CEOs of major U.S. corporations to ensure the extraordinarily rapid expansion of war-related production. From 1940 to 1943, aircraft production increased fourteen-fold. This was accomplished, in part, through the introduction of a Controlled Materials Plan, which by allocating, through a system of preferences, key materials to designated industries and factories, guaranteed the unhindered production of required armaments. Employing a public-private structure, rapid increases in the production of medications and equipment may be attained.