Biden State Dept Hire Downplayed Chinese Military Threat, Deflected Blame for COVID Pandemic

Rachel Esplin Odell's views undermine Biden admin's attempt to portray itself as tough on China

Rachel Esplin Odell / Twitter
October 21, 2021

One of the Biden administration's newest State Department hires has regularly downplayed the threat posed by China and argued against holding the Communist regime accountable for the coronavirus pandemic, comments that clash with an administration that has promised to play tough with Beijing.

Rachel Esplin Odell was hired in August to serve as a foreign policy analyst at the State Department, according to her LinkedIn profile. Odell believes "the military threat posed by China to U.S. interests is limited in nature" and that efforts to sanction the CCP for its efforts to hide the "coronavirus would harm America and the world." These comments put her out of step with the Biden administration, which has increased sanctions on China for its interference in Hong Kong, its ongoing human rights abuses, and its efforts to spy on the United States and other countries.

Odell previously served as a fellow at the Quincy Institute for Responsible Statecraft, an isolationist think tank jointly funded by George Soros and Charles Koch. As a Quincy fellow, Odell routinely argued that China poses no threat and that the United States should surrender its presence in the region to appease the Communist Party.

Odell is one of some 100 progressive foreign policy hands who were pitched to the incoming Biden administration late last year as part of a push by isolationist and far-left advocacy groups to gain influence over the administration's national security apparatus. That list, first published in full by the Washington Free Beacon, included notorious anti-Israel activists and progressive policy voices. Odell's hiring signals that team Biden is willing to accommodate the Democratic Party's far-left flank. Politico described the list in December as the "first comprehensive and coordinated effort by the left to influence the transition to appoint progressives" across the U.S. national security and diplomatic community.

Odell's rhetoric on China puts her at odds with more moderate Biden administration officials, including Secretary of State Antony Blinken and White House National Security Council adviser Jake Sullivan, both of whom have stated their support for countering an increasingly aggressive China, both economically and militarily.

Rebeccah Heinrichs, a national security expert and senior fellow at the Hudson Institute think tank, described the Biden administration's China policy as "bipolar."

"There are people who get that China is the pacing threat, and then there are people who are still downplaying the Chinese military threat in the Indo-Pacific and recommending we engage on climate and trade," Heinrichs said. "Those are mutually exclusive. The latter group will facilitate the rise of China at America's expense. Period. It is concerning when Biden hires and promotes anyone who has been trying to downplay the military dimension of the China challenge over the last few years especially. It's inexcusable."

Odell claimed in a March 2020 discussion hosted by Quincy—which has positioned itself as the go-to think tank for the Biden administration—that "China actually has not posed any threat to freedom of navigation in the South China Sea," where the CCP routinely harasses U.S. and allied forces. The South China Sea has long been a flashpoint in the growing standoff between the CCP and U.S. allies in the region.

China's foreign policy, which aggressively seeks to counter U.S. influence across the globe, is not extraordinary, Odell said during the same discussion. "My argument is that China abroad—its foreign policy behavior—is basically typical of a rising power. Of course, rising powers always want to revise some aspect of the system, but so does the United States."

"The reality," Odell argued in October 2020, "is the military threat posed by China to U.S. interests is limited in nature."

America should not seek to hold China accountable for the coronavirus pandemic, Odell said in an April 2020 op-ed explaining "why retribution against China for coronavirus would harm America and the world." In fact, "Chinese epidemiologists and public health officials have learned invaluable lessons from their experience grappling with the outbreak." Efforts to sanction China for its role in covering up the coronavirus's existence and lies to the international community actually are meant to "deflect blame from U.S. failures in responding to the pandemic," Odell said.

In a May 2020 op-ed slamming Sen. Mitt Romney (R., Utah) for warning against U.S. reliance on Chinese medical equipment, Odell argued that Beijing "is not seeking a strategy of 'domination,' particularly not at a global level." This claim is contradicted by China's massive military buildup, as well as its escalating threats to seize Taiwan and interfere with its neighbors' regional security.

U.S. military supremacy in the region "is likely a thing of the past," Odell said in the same opinion piece. "China's ability to project significant military power beyond its 'near seas' remains limited relative to the United States," she wrote, adding that China cannot accept a U.S. presence in the waters near the country.

Odell also excused China's theft of U.S. intellectual property and government secrets, saying, "The United States and other developed nations engaged in similar practices when building their own economies." America should "facilitate China's rise," instead of seeking to contain it, she said in March of this year.

"Treating China as an enemy" endangers U.S. national security, Odell argued in an October 2020 Quincy Institute publication that called for "a new U.S. strategy in East Asia."

"The current U.S. strategy in East Asia endangers U.S. national security interests by inflaming military tension with China that could provoke crises and escalate into war," Odell and her colleagues wrote. "It wastes resources by diverting them from essential non-military uses at home and abroad. Treating China as an enemy also makes Beijing less willing to compromise in disputes and endangers bilateral cooperation."

Odell also has argued against U.S. sanctions on China and for the United States to remain neutral in the CCP's "territorial disputes" with its neighbors.

Published under: China