The Importance of Being Candid: On China’s Relationship with the Rest of the World

  • Friday, 23 October, 2020
    13:00 - 14:15

The Colin Cramphorn Memorial Lecture (I)

The Importance of Being Candid: On China’s Relationship with the Rest of the World

by

Matthew Pottinger

Deputy National Security Advisor to the President of the United States

Matthew Pottinger is Assistant to the President and US Deputy National Security Advisor. Mr. Pottinger served as the Senior Director for Asia since the start of the Trump Administration in January 2017. In that role, Mr. Pottinger advised the President on Northeast Asia, Southeast Asia, and Oceania, and coordinated U.S. policy for the region.

Before joining the National Security Council staff, Mr. Pottinger ran Asia research at a New York-based investment firm and, prior to that, was the founder of a consultancy serving American investors in East Asia. Mr. Pottinger served as a U.S. Marine, with active duty in Japan and three combat deployments to Iraq and Afghanistan, followed by reserve duty at the Pentagon and the Defense Intelligence Agency. Prior to military service, Mr. Pottinger lived and worked in Taiwan, Hong Kong, and China from 1997-2005, reporting for Reuters and The Wall Street Journal. He is fluent in Mandarin.

 

INTRODUCTION

DEAN GODSON: Good afternoon, my name is Dean Godson, I’m Director of Policy Exchange, I have the privilege, pleasure of being your host for this 9th Colin Cramphorn Memorial Lecture.  As many of you will know and remember, Colin was the much-loved Chief Constable of West Yorkshire at the time of the 7/7 bombings, the last Deputy Chief Constable of the Royal Ulster Constabulary and first Acting Chief Constable of the Police Service of Northern Ireland.  He was taken from us tragically early by cancer, still remembered with much fondness.  We’re delighted that his widow, Lynn, is here with us today online and with other members of the family.  I know you will all wish to, on behalf of everyone here, to wish them all the very best and to thank them for continuing to be patrons of this lecture which would have, I know, meant so much to Colin.

As I say, this is the 9th such lecture and our guest of honour today, our keynoter, Matt Pottinger is Deputy National Security Advisor to the President of the United States.  He was previously a distinguished journalist with the Wall Street Journal and then joined the US Marine Corps and won combat decorations for his service in Iraq and Afghanistan.  He’s one of the leading authorities in the US government on China and that is why uniquely today we are innovating today here at Policy Exchange because as a more than fluent Mandarin speaker, Matt’s address today will be delivered in Mandarin for the sake of audiences across the world and indicating his belief that China is not defined solely by the People’s Republic of China and its representatives, that there is a wider engagement to be had with audiences across the world, Mandarin speaking and others, so good evening to anyone coming in from the Indo Pacific region and China in particular, good morning to all of you in Washington.

Matt, as I say, will make his remarks first in Mandarin and we’ll then open the floor to questions for 35 minutes or so of questions.  As I say, we are delighted to be doing this here at Policy Exchange with the importance of this subject of the wider Indo Pacific region and China in particular.  We have our own Indo Pacific Commission, chaired by former Canadian Prime Minister Steven Harper, which will be publishing in the near future its findings and it work.  Also, because of the particular importance of this subject and because of the proximity to the US Presidential election, we are having actually two Cramphorn Memorial Lectures in close succession, one obviously the one today by Matt Pottinger and the other next week by Dr Kurt Campbell of the Asia Group, one of the leading authorities on Asia from the last Democratic administration of Barack Obama, of particular significance because people are increasingly aware in this country that in an era of polarisation in America, the area of the Indo Pacific and China is one subject where discussion and even a measure of consensus is still possible in the United States.  So, thank you to Matt Pottinger for honouring us in this way, we look forward to hearing your unique address and insights and then open to wider discussion, thank you Matt.

 

SPEECH TRANSCRIPTION

I’d like to thank Dean Godson and Policy Exchange for inviting me to deliver the ninth annual Colin Cramphorn lecture.  We all look forward to a time when we can gather again in person for events like this.  With new vaccines and therapeutics on the near horizon, I’m optimistic that day will soon arrive.  In the meantime, let’s pretend we’re at the Red Lion pub and enjoy this convivial, trans-Atlantic video conference between Westminster and the White House.  I’m betting on a lively discussion following my set remarks.

As most of you know, England and America are two countries separated by a common language.  In order to bridge that divide, I’ve decided to give my remarks in Mandarin.

Truth be told, Dean Godson asked me to bust out my Chinese for the sake of higher ratings.  Dean knew that a video of an earlier speech I delivered in Mandarin, about China’s May Fourth movement, was viewed more than one million times.  Dean may have also known that a subsequent video I recorded in English for the Ronald Reagan Institute was, by contrast, barely noticed by even my own staff.

Naturally, Dean calculated that a white guy speaking in stilted Mandarin would be a bigger box-office draw than whatever message the white guy might be trying to convey.

So be it.  As a character on The Simpsons once put it: “Come for the freak, stay for the food.”

Delivering these remarks in Mandarin has another benefit:  It allows friends in China to join a conversation that is taking place with increasing regularity around the globe: A conversation about China’s relationship with the rest of the world.

FOREIGN INTERFERENCE IN HISTORY

But first, a smidgen of history to underscore what’s at stake.

Near the end of the 18th century, across the water and many miles from England, a group of visionary men drew up a constitution.  The document they framed was designed to limit the powers of government, assert the rights of the people, and chart a path toward what they hoped would be a lasting democracy.

I’m talking, of course, about… Poland.

“Poland?” you ask.  Don’t be embarrassed if 1790s Poland didn’t turn up in your high-school textbooks.  Unlike the more famous U.S. Constitution, which was adopted just a few years earlier and still serves as the supreme law of the American republic, the Polish experiment with constitutional government was strangled in its infancy.

The problem was foreign interference.  A faction of the Polish nobility felt threatened by the influence they would lose under the new constitution.  So they sought Russian help in reestablishing the old order.  Catherine the Great seized the opportunity to invade and then partition Poland—she took the east and Prussia took the west.

Then, after defeating a revolt led by Tadeusz Kosciuszko, a Polish military hero of the American Revolution, Russia—along with Prussia and Austria—carried out a final partition of Poland-Lithuania in 1795.  The young Commonwealth was erased from the map altogether.

I mention Poland’s failed experiment for two reasons:  First, it’s a reminder that democracy, while unrivaled in terms of legitimacy and results, is neither invincible nor inevitable.  Second, interference in the affairs of free societies by autocratic regimes is a phenomenon that is waxing, not waning.

To stave off meddling, it never hurts to have favorable geography—a luxury Poland didn’t enjoy.  Poland’s 18th Century neighbors were powerful European monarchies.  America’s neighbors, by contrast, were the two best friends a fledgling democracy could ever ask for—the Atlantic and the Pacific.

FOREIGN INTERFERENCE IN THE CYBER AGE

But in the cyber age, autocratic governments can concoct disinformation, inject it into the public discourse of nations, and amplify it through self-improving algorithms from the other side of the earth.  Are the blessings of oceans and channels sufficient barriers against this sort of meddling?

Not if the citizens of free and sovereign nations yield to complacency.  Nations, including democracies, are undergoing the first stage of a real-life “stress test” of their ability to withstand covert, coercive, and corrupt influence by high-tech autocracies.

This may seem odd, because the autocracies are so vastly outnumbered.  But they compensate by marshalling the full resources of their states, by learning from one another’s successes and failures, and sometimes by coordinating with one another.

Economic strength isn’t a prerequisite for waging cyber warfare.  Thus, we see hackers tasked by Moscow and Tehran attempting to undermine confidence in the upcoming U.S. presidential election. But no regime has more riding on its ability to influence the perceptions, policies and priorities of foreign populations than the Chinese Communist Party.

THE PARTY’S “MAGIC WEAPON”

In truth, we should’ve expected this.  The Communist Party’s victory in the Chinese civil war owed less to its combat prowess against superior Nationalist forces than to its ability to infiltrate and manipulate the language, thinking, and actions of its adversaries.  This is why the current Party leadership is redoubling its emphasis on “United Front” work.

The defining feature of United Front work is that it’s not transparent. The clue is in the name.

China’s United Front Work system is a gigantic government function with no analogue in democracies. China’s leaders call it a “magic weapon,” and the Party’s 90 million members are required to support its activities.  While the system has many branches, the United Front Work Department alone has four times as many cadres as the U.S. State Department has foreign-service officers.  But instead of practicing diplomacy with foreign governments—the Chinese foreign ministry handles that—the United Front gathers intelligence about, and works to influence, private citizens overseas.  The focus is on foreign elites and the organizations they run.  Think of a United Front worker as a cross between an intelligence collector, a propagandist, and a psychologist.

I know that sounds like the opening line to a joke.  But United Front work is serious business, and it affects you and me.  After all, the raw material for psychologists is data about their patients.  The Party is compiling digital dossiers on millions of foreign citizens around the world.  The exposure last month of a Chinese database on at least 2.4 million people around the world—including many of us on this call—speaks to the Party’s sheer ambition to wed traditional Leninist techniques with powerful new tools of digital surveillance.

The company building these dossiers, Shenzhen Zhenhua Data Information Technology Co, supports what its CEO reportedly calls “psychological warfare.”  Zhenhua harvests and organizes public and private data about us for exploitation by its clients, which are organs of the Chinese security apparatus, according to its website.

The dossiers Zhenhua is compiling include people in virtually every country on earth, no matter how small.  They include members of royal families and members of parliament, judges and clerks, tech mavens and budding entrepreneurs, four-star admirals and the crewmembers of warships, professors and think-tankers, and national and local officials.  They also include children, who are fair game under Beijing’s rules of political warfare.  No one is too prominent or too obscure.

Zhenhua isn’t a particularly large or sophisticated actor in the United Front world.  It may even be acting opportunistically, because it thinks the Party will reward it.  Far more powerful tech firms, including famous Chinese app developers, play a much bigger role in this kind of work.

Assembling dossiers has always been a feature of Leninist regimes.  The material is used now, as before, to influence and intimidate, reward and blackmail, flatter and humiliate, divide and conquer.  What’s new is how easy we’ve made it for autocrats to accumulate so much intimate data about ourselves—even people who’ve never set foot in China.  We leave our intellectual property, our official documents, and our private lives on the table like open books.  The smart phones we use all day to chat, search, buy, view, bank, navigate, network, worship and confide make our thoughts and actions as plain to cyber spooks as the plumes of exhaust from a vintage double-decker bus.

The Chinese Communist Party has reorganized its national strategy around harnessing that digital exhaust to expand the Party’s power and reach.

THE PARTY’S GOALS

But what’s the ultimate point of all the data collection and exploitation?  What is Beijing trying to influence us to do?  The Party’s goal, in short, is to co-opt or bully people—and even nations—into a particular frame of mind that’s conducive to Beijing’s grand ambitions.  It’s a paradoxical mindset—a state of cognitive dissonance that is at once credulous and fearful, complacent and defeatist.  It’s a mindset that on Monday says “It’s too early to say whether Beijing poses a threat,” and by Friday says “They’re a threat, all right, but it’s too late to do anything about it now.”  To be coaxed into such a mindset is to be seduced into submission—like taking the “blue pill” in The Matrix.

How does Beijing do it?  This is where United Front propaganda and psychology come into play.  The Party’s overseas propaganda has two consistent themes:  “We own the future, so make your adjustments now.” And: “We’re just like you, so try not to worry.”  Together, these assertions form the elaborate con at the heart of all Leninist movements.

The Kiwi scholar Anne-Marie Brady, a pioneer in sussing out United Front ploys, points to the Party’s global campaigns—“One Belt, One Road” and the “Community of Common Destiny for Mankind”—as classic specimens of the genre.

Brady calls United Front work a “tool to corrode and corrupt our political system, to weaken and divide us against each other, to erode the critical voice of our media, and turn our elites into clients of the Chinese Communist Party, their mouths stuffed with cash.”

The con doesn’t always work, of course.  Facts sometimes get in the way.  The profound waste and corruption of many One Belt, One Road projects is an example.  When the con doesn’t induce acquiescence, the Party often resorts to intimidation and repression.

Take Hong Kong, where demonstrators took to the streets by the millions last year to protest Beijing’s efforts to undermine Hong Kong’s rule of law.  If “socialism with Chinese characteristics” was the future, the demonstrators seemed to prefer staying firmly in the present.

So Beijing resorted to Plan B.  It demolished Deng Xiaoping’s “One Country, Two Systems” framework and deprived Hong Kong of the autonomy that made it the most spectacular city in Asia.

HOW WE DEFEND OURSELVES

None of this is reason for panic, mind you.  It’s true the West is going through one of its periodic spells of self-doubt, when extreme political creeds surface on the left and the right, and some ideas are so foolish that, to paraphrase George Orwell, only an intellectual could believe them.  So let’s pull up our socks and get back to common sense.

On the foreign policy front, President Trump has ingrained two principles worth sharing here, because they’re designed to preserve our sovereignty, promote stability, and reduce miscalculation.  They are reciprocity and candor.

Reciprocity is the straightforward idea that when a country injures your interests, you return the favor.  It is eminently reasonable and readily understood, including by would-be aggressors.  It’s an inherently defensive approach, rooted in notions of fair play and deterrence.

Candor is the idea that democracies are safest when we speak honestly and publicly about and to our friends, our adversaries, and ourselves.  This can take some getting used to.  When President Reagan was preparing to give a speech in Berlin, several of his staff tried desperately to get him to remove a phrase they found embarrassing and needlessly provocative.  Luckily, President Reagan went with his gut, and delivered the most famous line of his presidency:  “Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall.”

Some will argue that confrontational rhetoric turns countries into enemies.  This old chestnut of the U.S. diplomatic corps masquerades as humble policy, but is in fact quite arrogant because it presumes nations act primarily in reaction to whatever the United States says or does.

Clever adversaries use such thinking against us.  By portraying truth-telling as an act of belligerence, autocrats try to badger democracies into silence—and often succeed.  “This is the first and most important defeat free nations can ever suffer,” President Reagan said at Guildhall.  “When free peoples cease telling the truth about and to their adversaries, they cease telling the truth to themselves.”  Public candor actually promotes peace by reducing the space for strategic blunders.

Public candor applies to our internal affairs, too.  There can be no double standard.

When Louis Armstrong performed in the Soviet Union as a cultural ambassador of the State Department, he spoke frankly about racial bigotry in the United States.  When Reagan famously referred to the Soviet Union as an “Evil Empire,” he explored America’s own “legacy of evil”—including anti-Semitism and slavery—in the very same speech.

XINJIANG

So it is in a spirit of friendship, reflection, and, yes, candor, that I ask friends in China to research the truth about your government’s policies toward the Uyghur people and other religious minorities.  Ask yourselves why the editors of The Economist, in a cover article this week, called those policies “a crime against humanity” and “the most extensive violation in the world today of the principle that individuals have a right to liberty and dignity simply because they are people.”

As a Marine who spent three combat deployments fighting terrorists, I can tell you that what is taking place in Xinjiang bears no resemblance whatsoever to an ethical counter-terrorism strategy.  Such abuses are what the Chinese diplomat P.C. Chang was trying to prevent when he helped draft the 1948 United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights.  There is no credible justification I can find in Chinese philosophy, religion, or moral law for the concentration camps inside your borders.

WHAT EVIL FEARS MOST

Colin Cramphorn, for whom this lecture is named, was Chief Constable of West Yorkshire before his death from cancer in 2006. Colin worked the most notorious terrorism cases in British history, from the Omagh car-bombing to the London suicide attacks of 2005.  When your day job is to confront evil, it’s hard to avoid dwelling at night on big questions about the human heart.  Colin, a voracious and varied reader, sometimes consulted the writings of C.S. Lewis.

I’m told he found particular solace in The Screwtape Letters—Lewis’s brilliantly imagined monologue of a demon toiling in Satan’s bureaucracy.  (John Cleese recorded a pitch-perfect rendition of the book a few decades ago, by the way.  It’s on YouTube.  I’m told Andy Serkis has recorded a version that gives Cleese a run for his money.)

“The safest road to Hell,” old Screwtape advises his nephew, “is the gradual one—the gentle slope, soft underfoot, without sudden turnings, without milestones, without signposts.”

I suspect Colin drew hope and courage from the knowledge that evil, properly identified and exposed, is frail—even farcical.  And that calling it out in public—giving it “signposts”—inoculates us against temptation and liberates us from fear.  As my friend Tony Dolan told me: “The great paradox of institutionalized evil is that it can be enormously powerful but also enormously fragile. Thus, it is compulsively aggressive and ultimately self-destructive.  It senses its own moral absurdity.  It knows it is a raft on a sea of ontological good.”

“What evil fears most is the publicly spoken truth.”

So speak up, everyone.  And raise a glass tonight to the good constable Colin Cramphorn and to like-minded public servants the world over.  They have our love and our thanks.

 

QUESTION AND ANSWER

DEAN GODSON: Matt, thank you for a truly brilliant and memorable address.  You have now very kindly agreed to answer questions.  Just two items of protocol here, please put your virtual hands up and please also look into the camera when you’re speaking because of the exigencies of the virtual event.  The final house rule that all of you will be aware of, no question too outrageous, you just have to state your name and organisation before pronouncing.  David Brunston, if you can just restate for the record your name and organisation, you wanted to ask a question.  David, we can’t hear you.  A number of people have been texting in to me, some of them wanted to be asked anonymously, Matt, so if I can use Chairman’s privilege to ask on their behalf.  A little more detail, is the strategy, the CCP strategy of wolf diplomacy, is it too far gone now?  Could you say more in a bit more detail, they ask, what in your view, the US administration’s perspective, the counter measures should be?

MATT POTTINGER: Dean, thanks so much.  You know, I think in a way the wolf warrior diplomacy is an expression of a moment of a kind of desperate opportunism.  In a sense, I think as many countries have caught on to the scope of Beijing’s ambitions and have started to push back where they think or the community of nations think they go too far or are damaging to countries sovereignty or interests.  I think the process of pushing back has led to a bit of a dropping of the fig leaf, if you will, and this more combative approach to diplomacy, it’s a more coercive approach to diplomacy so I think that what all countries need to do – and this is for the sake of stability by the way, this is in the interest of re-establishing a kind of equilibrium and more constructive, results-oriented relationship between China and the community of nations.  I think the two ideas that I talked about in the speech and that are central to President Trump’s approach, the reciprocity but also the candour, will help go quite some way in restoring that balance.

DEAN GODSON: Brilliant, thank you and I’ve been asked to ask the question on behalf of David Brunston of Reuters and the question he wants to ask is how would you expect US policy under a second Trump administration to evolve and how it would differ from a policy that the Biden administration might pursue?

MATT POTTINGER: Yes, so people advising Vice President Biden talk about what he thinks a good policy would be but in terms of President Trump’s approach, I think first you have to take stock of the fact that there is a new consensus and the forging of that new consensus about China is something that has happened under President Trump’s watch, it is in no small part because of the policies that he’s taken and the result has been that it has actually, as you alluded to in the introductory remarks, Dean, it’s a bipartisan, it’s a whole of society consensus and as you read polls popping up all over the world, you see that it’s not just an American consensus anymore either.  We’ve led that consensus, that’s been President Trump’s hallmark, probably the most key legacy and shift in American foreign policy in quite some time but there are a lot of other countries that are now starting to, at a minimum, share a very similar consensus on the diagnosis of what the problem is and increasingly, a lot of countries, our European allies, allies across the Indo Pacific region and beyond, who are exploring and in some cases taking similar steps to those that President Trump has advocated for.

DEAN GODSON: Thank you.  The next question is from the Right Honourable Lord Mandelson, former Deputy Prime Minister and European Commissioner.  Peter, your question if you can come in.

PETER MANDELSON: Dean, thank you very much indeed and I hope you can hear me.

DEAN GODSON: Loud and clear.

RT HON LORD MANDELSON: I have been rather impressed by Matt Pottinger’s lecture and I find myself actually a supporter of both reciprocity and candour and as somebody who, when I was Trade Commissioner, was equally accused of using confrontational rhetoric towards China when I described them as a trade juggernaut out of control, I can see its usefulness.  Can I ask though this question to Mr Pottinger?  For China in a sense to lose, the West has to win and the West has not been winning during the last four years.  With humility and self-criticism, could Mr Pottinger explain to us why he thinks the West has not been strengthened in its coherence and its unity during the last four years and why we have been less able to act in a joined-up way towards China and other international questions than we have during other periods since the Second World War?

DEAN GODSON: Thank you. Matt.

MATT POTTINGER: Thank you, that’s a great question and a great thoughtful prelude to the question as well, thank you.  Look, President Trump came in following what I believe and certainly the people who elected him believed was a lengthy period of failure in American foreign policy and really more of a failure of broader foreign policy in the West.  We got in lengthy wars under sort of a I think a misimpression that we would be able to inject democracy into far corners of the earth by the barrel of a gun, those have been enormously costly.  Those are things that really have done damage, I think, to the West.

China’s entry into the WTO and all of the policies, really the assumptions that led to that and I shared those assumptions 20 years ago so I don’t blame or cast aspersions for what was actually very optimistic bold policy taken by the United States and the West to try to help China become more liberal, first economically and then we hoped politically as well but I think we’ve now taken stock of the fact that some of those assumptions were generous but misplaced.  In fact, really the high watermark of China’s opening and liberalisation was December 11th 2001, which I think was the date China entered the WTO.  After that, all of those reforms that we so eagerly anticipated by bringing China into the WTO, actually flatlined, things started to plateau for about a decade and over the course of the decade that we’ve just concluded, we saw those reforms go into reverse.

We’ve seen a far greater concentration of power in the hands of the state over the economy, over people’s lives and what we’ve learned is that optimistic period, the reform and opening period if you like, was unfortunately an interregnum, it was an interregnum between the totalitarianism of Mao’s rule and a new technologically enhanced totalitarianism under the current leadership and I’ve heard some refer to it as an attempt at so-called exquisite totalitarianism. I think that that’s a good encapsulation of what has now being attempted, this experiment that Beijing is running to see whether or not it can improve on the failed approach of all the other Leninist states of the 20th century by compensating for the failures of those systems through advanced technology and totalitarian surveillance.  So, in short, I think this period that you’re referring to that you characterise as a sort of insufficient pulling together of the West, you’ve got to have a little bit of historical perspective that we’re going through a massive change from the post-Cold War era of the last few decades to a new one that takes stock of some of the failures of the last 30 years.  Thanks.

DEAN GODSON: Brilliant, thank you.  Next, Deborah Haynes, Foreign Editor, Sky News. Deborah, are you coming in?

DEBORAH HAYNES:  Hopefully.  Hi, thank you very much, thank you for letting me ask a question and thank you for that fascinating presentation.  In terms of how you were describing how the United Front is implementing China’s policies, is what we’re seeing now, given that China is this rising power, a kind of a global battle over ideologies?  I mean there’s no rule book that says that China has to adopt the rules based system and carry on using it if it’s the predominant power and if that’s the case, could you just spell out what the danger is if liberal democracies, who are far more fractured now than they have been, if they don’t stand together and stand up for the ideologies of free speech and human rights and all the things that we believe in, that we will see this big global division between those who side with China technologically and ideologically, and those who side with the West, much more than we’ve ever seen before?

MATT POTTINGER: That’s also a great question.  So, American foreign policy has had this element, this tradition of realpolitik which, you know, there are nations that calculate on the basis of their own cold self-interest and also running in our veins is this tradition of our own revolutionary liberal democratic world view.  They run in our veins like iced water and hot water and hopefully they remain in good enough balance that your blood stays at a good temperature.  But you’ve hit on something, the truth is that you cannot ignore the ideological dimensions and ideology is just a fancy word for world view, right.  We do have a markedly different world view from the Chinese Communist Party, a different approach to the world, different ideas about quite a lot and that’s not true of China as a whole.  The Chinese Communist Party is firmly in command of China, obviously, but China is a lot of things.  It is a pretty remarkable civilisation that I have devoted a huge part of my adult life to living in and studying and enjoying and I still do; the history, the culture and the unbelievable drive and energy and entrepreneurialism of the Chinese people.  But that ideological dimension is unavoidable and if we try to ignore it, if we try to pretend that it’s only a matter of cold self-interest on both sides, that it’s a Thucydides trap as some like to frame it, I think we’d actually put ourselves on a path towards a more destabilised future than if we were to talk quite frankly to ourselves, our allies and yes, to our adversaries about those differences so that we can avoid miscalculation.

DEAN GODSON: Thank you, Matt.  Next question from Alexander Downer, our Chairman of Trustees here at Policy Exchange and, of course, the longest serving Australian Foreign Minister in the country’s history and High Commissioner in London.  Alexander.

HON ALEXANDER DOWNER AC: Thanks Dean, I hope you can hear me.  I think, speaking as an Australian, it has to be said that we Australians had a fairly solid although not tension-free relationship with China for many years under Jiang Zemin and Hu Jintao and Australians have been really taken aback by the aggression in recent years of the Xi Jinping administration so my question is a little bit like Peter Mandelson’s, if there’s a second Trump administration what specific steps will the United States be taking to help countries like Australia which have been targeted by China, particularly Australian trade has been targeted by China, to help build a sense of collective security amongst liberal democracies in the Indo-Pacific region.

MATT POTTINGER: Yes, that’s a great remark that you made and Australia has been in some sense the canary in the coal mine.  Australia – by the way, when people claim that provocative and frank, candid language is what causes China to act out in this sort of wolf warrior way, I always point to Australia as well as India as the counter examples there because India and Australia are two countries that had, really went out of their way to extend warmth to China in their people to people and commercial ties.  These were countries that did seek to integrate their economies certainly, especially in the case of Australia and yet, when the Australian government just earlier this year had the temerity to ask the World Health Organisation whether there could be a general investigation into the origins of the coronavirus, China retaliated for that wholly reasonable request that Australia made.  By the way, the World Health Organisation members voted in the largest majority in the organisation’s history in favour of the motion that Australia raised to investigate the origins, how is it that millions of us now have been infected with this disease?  China retaliated by putting tariffs on Australian barley, cancelling beef exports and describing … their arch-propagandist said that Australia is chewing gum stuck to the bottom of China’s shoe and it is time to scrape it off.  So, there you have a pretty good counter-argument to the notion that by being extra-friendly to China and hiding some of our candour, that that would lead to a happier bilateral relationship doesn’t stand up.

That building a sense of solidarity, I like the way that you put it, a sense of collective action actually I think you put it, is exactly right and President Trump signed a national security strategy in 2017 and a series of sub-strategies, some of which are public, some are not.  One public one I’d refer you to is a White House statement which we published just this spring called ‘The US Approach to the People’s Republic of China’.  It is a very straightforward, plain spoken document about the assumptions that we’ve had to modify about China’s ambitions and intentions and part of the approach is first, to work closely with allies as we’ve been doing, to ensure that we do not overly rely on supply chains being rooted in one country in particular.  It’s not good policy to put all of our eggs in one basket so we are working carefully and that will be, I think, at the heart of a second term agenda but I also want to point out, you remember that there was a kerfuffle during the last election campaign over the idea of a Trans Pacific Partnership and the Trans Pacific Partnership was a multilateral trading organisation.  It had a very good, I think, objective; the objective, and I hope I’m not misspeaking, you’ll get to talk to Kurt Campbell when he gives remarks and he’s someone who knows this better than anyone but I think one of the overarching objectives was avoid a scenario where all of the countries of Asia become totally dependent on China for their trade and their economic prosperity by increasing trade with the West, with the United States, so that all those countries in a sense can hedge, they can feel they have got security in their trading relations globally.  We support the objective, as I just stated it, but not the methodology and the bottom line was that the American people lost faith in the idea of multilateral trading bodies and that’s why both candidates in the 2016 Presidential election turned their backs on the TPP.

What we’ve done instead is work on bilateral trade relations, so President Trump modified the NAFTA agreement, he modified the Korea Free Trade Agreement and struck a new trade agreement with Japan, so Japan would have been 90% of America’s trade with the TPP countries and now we have a solid bilateral free trade agreement with Japan that can be built upon further and what has happened with the President’s … with the tariff’s that he put on China, to impose costs on China’s rampant theft for decades of American intellectual property, those tariffs had the salutary effect of driving more investment as well as more trade, away from China and into those same countries, those TPP countries, that we’re talking about so we have actually ended up serving a very similar objective to what people were trying to achieve through TPP but through bilateral trade agreements.

Bilateral trade agreements are easier to enforce, they leave the US with more flexibility so that if one country is cheating, we can apply remedies against that country without having to violate the rules of an entire or withdraw from an entire body of 11 or 12 countries.  So, that’s an eminently reasonable thing and the President gets accused often of being overly bilateral but I just wanted to mention one point that I never see in the press which is that the European Union has something above 70 bilateral free trade agreements with the world, which is about three times the number of bilateral free trade agreements that the United States has.  So, yes, part of a second term agenda is very much about building on those dynamics that are now in play to build, as you put it, that sense of collective security and collective prosperity.

DEAN GODSON: Thank you Matt.  Because time is short, I’d just like the last question to be taken as a brace of questions from two people who have stuck up their hand, Martha [Goniza] and Dominic Lawson.  So, Martha then Dominic and then, Matt, if you could answer them as an ensemble before we wind up.  Thank you.  Dominic, do you want to go ahead first?

DOMINIC LAWSON: Yes, first of all, Matthew, congratulations on a brilliant and in fact moving speech.  It was intentionally moral and you quoted President Reagan who was entirely moral, I’m afraid that President Trump, his message to the Chinese is exactly what you said we shouldn’t do which is it’s all about self-interest.  It is only about trade and he has never mentioned religious minorities or the Uighurs and I wonder therefore if you are right, which I think you are, that the battle has to be conducted at the level of morality and what prospect that opens up for a victory in that ideological war if there is a second Trump administration?

DEAN GODSON: You can take that one now, Matt.

MATT POTTINGER: Okay, sure.  If you look at the totality of President Trump’s foreign policy, the moral component, if you look at the actions that President Trump has taken, the policies that he has put into effect, the moral component is unmistakable, it is unmistakable, whether it was the speech that he gave at the National Assembly in Seoul in 2017 comparing North and South Korea, I refer you to that, it was Reaganesque in many respects and a deeply moral speech, it was enforcing red lines that had been drawn but hadn’t been enforced on the use of chemical weapons against the Syrian people by their own government, twice now that the President has enforced that line and done it within the framework of a moral imperative.

If you look at the fact – here’s another one that I have never seen reported by the way in the news, the Trump administration is the only government on earth that has imposed costs, concrete costs on the People’s Republic of China for the concentration camps in Xinjiang.  President Trump approved back in October of 2019 first, so a full year ago he began taking action on this issue.  He put in place export bans on companies and organisations that are complicit in building those camps and the system that has been built in Xinjiang.  He followed up with import bans on products coming from that part of the world, including tons of human hair that was processed by and we fear also shaved from the heads of Uighur prisoners in China’s camps.  He then followed up with that by putting Treasury Department sanctions on a sitting member of the Chinese Communist Party politburo as well as other people who are complicit in building these camps and this system, so if you look at what President Trump does and not what the media says, I think that the moral component cannot be denied.

DEAN GODSON: Matt, thank you, I’m afraid that’s it for now.  It’s been a brilliant and memorable Cramphorn Lecture.  There’s an old line in Whitehall, ‘Choose your predecessor with care’ and you’ve set a phenomenally high bar for all our speakers for this keynote address of ours in the years to come, a combination of your record of action, thought and as a bureaucratic warrior makes you formidable indeed.  I think everyone who are seeing this for the first time today and many others across the world will endorse that sentiment, so thank you, Matt, thank you for honouring the memory of our friend, Colin Cramphorn and we look forward to welcoming you all back next week for the address by Kurt Campbell in part two of the Cramphorn Memorial Lecture and thank you all for coming in.  Over and out.