'We Have No Plan': United States and United Kingdom Struggle to Combat Chinese Influence, Officials Say

Rep. Mike Gallagher (R., Wis.) gives opening remarks at hearing with the House Armed Services Subcommittee on Cyber, Innovative Technologies, and Information System in the Rayburn House Office Building on May 14, 2021 in Washington, DC. / Getty Images
May 30, 2023

The United States and United Kingdom are struggling to counter China’s increasingly hostile political warfare operations, according to sources briefed on recent high-level meetings between officials from both countries.

During this month's summit between British leaders and members of the House Select Committee on China, officials acknowledged that while both countries have strategies in place to handle a military confrontation with China, "we have no plan" to combat Chinese aggression off the battlefield, according to a source briefed on the contents of the private discussions.

The CCP’s political warfare operations were raised as a concern in several meetings during the transatlantic summit, a sign that both countries are struggling to beat back China’s growing global footprint. Officials from both countries expressed concerns about a burgeoning "international order with Chinese characteristics," according to the source briefed on the meetings.

China has expanded its global influence operation in recent years in a bid to exert dominance over the international community. Beijing has poured resources into a global campaign of economic coercion and worked to shape narratives and peddle propaganda through international institutions like the United Nations. These efforts were on full display during the coronavirus pandemic, when China successfully prevented the World Health Organization from disclosing that the virus likely emerged from a Wuhan lab, as several U.S. intelligence reports have determined in recent months.

Rep. Mike Gallagher (R., Wis.), the China committee’s chairman who led the delegation to Britain, said he came away from the meetings concerned the British and American governments are not doing enough to detach their economies from China and fend off the CCP’s global spy operations. Both countries continue to rely heavily on Chinese supply chains, particularly in the technology sector, that are vulnerable to Communist Party coercion and spying.

"There is a sustained push we’re seeing right now from the Biden administration on this kind of what I call a ‘zombie engagement’ or detente, this sort of revival of economic engagement as a core pillar of our policy, of which I’m kind of skeptical," Gallagher told the Free Beacon last week.

The United Kingdom is pursuing a similar policy, Gallagher said, and has recently walked back commitments to crackdown on CCP spy outposts like Confucius Institutes. The British government additionally watered down recent policy declarations regarding China’s malign economic behavior, and continues to foster economic ties to Beijing.

"I think that lack of clarity muddles our thinking and undermines our approach," Gallagher said.

If the United States and China went to war, the communist government would likely shut down global supply chains, crippling the Western world’s economy. A congressional war simulation held in April confirmed this outcome, determining that a military conflict would leave the global economy in "absolute tatters," the Free Beacon first reported.

Taiwan and the threat of a Chinese invasion also emerged as a top agenda item during the trip, with officials discussing strategies to deter a full-blown military siege of the contested island.

The AUKUS treaty—a trilateral security pact between the United States, United Kingdom, and Australia—was raised in nearly every meeting, which included sit-downs with Britain’s deputy national security adviser, its defense minister, and eight members of Parliament.

Government leaders want to leverage the treaty to increase military and technological cooperation between the Western governments in a bid to isolate China, according to the source briefed on the meetings. By expanding the AUKUS treaty, the three countries can use it as a vehicle to beat back Chinese influence operations.

"AUKUS presents an opportunity to turbo charge military and technological cooperation with our two closest allies," Gallagher said.

The American delegation also held meetings with executives from Google’s DeepMind artificial intelligence project, which is headquartered in Cambridge. Gallagher said the project provides an opportunity to undercut China’s use of AI in its military projects.

"It puts us in a really good position to beat the Chinese Communist party in the AI race," Gallagher said. "We heard from our counterparts in the U.K. that allowing China to dominate this tech would be an incredibly, incredibly bad idea."