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Photo: Artur Widak/NurPhoto via Getty Images

A group of leading China specialists and students of one-party systems under the auspices of the Hoover Institution and the Center on U.S.-China Relations of the Asia Society have issued a long report titled Chinese Influence & American Interests: Promoting Constructive Vigilance.

Between the lines: The report is interesting, balanced, timely and has some good ideas about how to deal with the threats — but it is a mistake to talk about “Chinese influence” when the issue is Chinese Communist Party (CCP) influence and interference operations. Just saying "Chinese" is a dangerous conflation that can spark anti-Chinese sentiment. To paraphrase Confucius, names matter.

The big picture: The report comes at a time when many Western governments, led by Australia, are waking up to the activities of the CCP inside their countries.

John Garnaut, a participant in today's report and one of the leading forces behind Australia's awakening, told me:

  • The great significance of this report is that it shows how the China-watching community has turned.
  • The experts across the United States and further afield who came together to write this report are by no means China hawks. This group has been leading the engagement effort over many decades. These are people who share a great commitment to China and its people, without exception.
  • But gradually, and reluctantly, they have accepted — we have had to accept — that China under General Secretary Xi Jinping is materially different to the China we knew under Jiang Zemin and Hu Jintao.
  • The liberalizing forces of civil society and market economics are not prevailing. The possibilities for reform have narrowed, and they have been pushed further over the horizon, and the risks to our own open societies have grown.
  • So the policy of engagement has to be coupled with a commitment to managing risk. 

Why it matters: The threats from CCP influence and interference are real, but it is important the U.S. take a measured, targeted approach against "covert, coercive or corrupting" methods while avoiding channeling Base Commander Jack Ripper's classic quote in Dr. Strangelove:

"I can no longer sit back and allow Communist infiltration, Communist indoctrination, Communist subversion, and the international Communist conspiracy to sap and impurify all of our precious bodily fluids."

Go deeper:

  • Read the full report here.
  • Fearing espionage, U.S. weighs tighter rules on Chinese students, via Reuters
  • How WeChat helped a Chinese American immigrant win a seat in the Maryland statehouse, via The Washington Post

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