Defeating the Chinese Communist Party: What Role for Philanthropists?

In her seminal work on the history of the philanthropic community’s role in winning the Cold War (“Victory”), Nadia Schadlow methodically indexed the role philanthropists played in rallying the United States to better understand and defeat the Soviet Union. 

Today, whether we are in a Cold War 2.0 with the Chinese Communist Party (CCP), or some other form of struggle, the greatest single threat to America’s national security and long-term economic security is the illegitimate and corrupt ruling regime in Beijing. This is the new challenge for America, including her philanthropists. It likely won’t be won in a single generation. 

In an event last summer at the Hudson Institute, where I serve as a senior sellow, the director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), Christopher Wray, stated, “[W]e need to be clear-eyed about the scope of the Chinese government’s ambition. China—the Chinese Communist Party—believes it is in a generational fight to surpass our country in economic and technological leadership. … China is engaged in a whole-of-state effort to become the world’s only superpower by any means necessary.”

As we engage in today’s battle to defend the West from the threats articulated by Director Wray, America’s philanthropists should consider the following as they contemplate their role in this generation’s struggle for control of its future:

  • Defeating China won’t be done with long policy papers, but with activism.  Every think tank in Washington is now trying to build a program on “the China problem.” This is partly because countering the People’s Republic of China is finally a public policy priority. It’s also because the philanthropic community is increasingly asking it’s grantees, “What are you doing on China?” The easiest thing for a think tank to do is  write paper on the CCP. And to an extent, this is valuable – there needs to be an intellectually rigorous understanding of this problem and thoughtful public policy solutions. But too often these papers are written for an audience of other “think tankers” and not for policy makers or journalists who can drive policy and policy debates. If a paper is written that doesn’t have as its conclusion a concrete set of recommendations (with an implementation plan) for federal, state and local regulators and legislators, it’s probably not going to change policy. The question for philanthropists and their grantees shouldn’t be “What papers have you written and what events have you held?” It must be “What public policy did you help change so that America and its allies can defeat the CCP?”
  • We need to know what our adversary says and thinks. The CCP doesn’t hide its plans from the U.S. and its allies; it just assumes we’re too dumb and lazy and distracted by our problems to look for ourselves (and because we’re all corrupt, we don’t really care anyway). As a friend of mine has said, “The first line of defense the Chinese use is Chinese.” There are something like 300 Chinese language, CCP-linked, newspapers operating in the United States today—what are they saying?  Every time the CCP convenes an annual meeting to set the nation’s policies and agenda, it issues a release and a strategy; what the CCP translates for foreigners and what it tells itself and the Chinese people are not always the same. Philanthropists can solve this problem: we need more translation and smart analysis of Chinese media, strategies and journals of all kinds (military, economic, and political). This is not a new concept. In the past organizations, inside and outside of government, existed to do this work. Some smart and thoughtful people outside of government are doing it today, but not at a pace and resource level commensurate with the threat. For anyone of my generation who grew up watching GI Joe cartoons after school, we understand “Knowing is half the battle.” The other half is resources. 
  • Building a cadre of experts. When I started my career in national security over 20 years ago – wow, that hurts to write – the 9/11 attacks hadn’t yet happened. But when they did, knowing the history of the region, the differences between Shiites and Sunnis, and maybe some fluency in Pashto, Dari, or Arabic, became the key to the future of the counter terrorism fight (and a career in national security). Programs doing this work popped up almost overnight.  Being trained to help defeat the CCP will be much harder. First, fluency in Mandarin is a challenge for any native English speaker. Second, it’s not enough to understand Communist Chinese military doctrines, or geography and history, or its approach to state-sponsored capitalism and the most important semiconductor fabrication technologies to own and control—you must understand all of them. The CCP’s presence on our college campuses implicates the technologies it will steal from us, which translates into Communist China’s future economic and military might, which informs its Belt and Road Initiative, and so on. Philanthropists, who, since the Olin Foundation first pioneered academic beachhead programs, can make smart investments in talent development programs. This will help our politicians, academics, lawyers and judges, military officers and stock brokers understand how the CCP is seeking to exploit America’s openness and how we can defend it.
  • Leveraging our diversity.  America remains the great hope of immigrants across the world. We have vibrant communities from Tibet, Taiwan, Xinjiang, Hong Kong and even China.  But we have done a poor job of mobilizing these groups to lead the opposition to the human rights abuses and crimes of the CCP. Whether it’s educating Americans about the CCP’s atrocities against the people of Tibet or Xinjiang or mobilizing the world ahead of the 2022 Beijing Olympics, America’s immigrant communities have a unique moral authority in our domestic debates, and a unique voice to reach nation state allies. Philanthropists can provide the resources to mobilize and organize these groups and communities and support educational and advocacy activities to bring them into the homes, laptops and palms of the American people and their allies. 
  • Build the Left-Right Coalition. Similar to the mobilization of religious and labor groups during the Cold War – for example, the Solidarity movement in Poland – the competition against the Chinese Communist Party must transcend the national security community. The U.S. labor community has opposed the import of goods made from China’s concentration camps.  Environmentalists oppose China’s over-fishing and export of coal power plants as part of its trillion dollar Belt and Road Initiative. American religious leaders are speaking out about the suppression of religion – Christianity and Islam alike – by the CCPy.  Senators on opposite sides of the political divide, like Tom Cotton (R-AR) and Chuck Schumer (D-NY), agree more needs to be done to protect U.S. technology from theft by the CCP. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and then-President Donald Trump agreed  the CCP firm Huawei was (and is) a threat to the security of the West. Here too is a great untapped opportunity for America’s philanthropists: to harness a great, bipartisan, cross-domain coalition of interest groups who have common cause to oppose the behavior of the Chinese Communist Party. We did this during the Cold War, and we must do it again.

FBI Director Wray also stated that “China, as led by the Chinese Communist Party, is going to continue to try to misappropriate our ideas, influence our policymakers, manipulate our public opinion and steal our data. They will use an all-tools and all-sectors approach—and that demands our own all-tools and all-sectors approach in response.”  

America’s philanthropists, as they have time-and-time again, can do the important work  the government isn’t yet doing or isn’t capable of doing. As is ever the case when it comes to America’s future, victory is possible.   

Tim Morrison was a deputy assistant to the president for National Security for President Trump, a long-time House and Senate staffer, and is now a senior fellow at the Hudson Institute. 

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