National Security Advisor Robert O'Brien. Photo: MANDEL NGAN / Contributor

White House national security advisor Robert O'Brien gave a searing speech in Phoenix, Arizona on Wednesday, in which he criticized the Chinese Communist Party's totalitarian vision for China and its growing influence around the world.

Why it matters: This is the first in a string of speeches on China from top Trump administration officials. It highlights the administration's emphasis on China as a campaign issue, but also stems from bipartisan concern about the growing power of the world's largest authoritarian country.

O'Brien warned about the Chinese Communist Party's far-ranging attempts to manipulate and coerce Americans, including:

  • Policing speech at U.S. universities and organizations such as the NBA;
  • Spreading propaganda on social media and through broadcast media;
  • Hacking Americans' personal data;
  • Influencing international organizations.

What he's saying:

  • "Together with our allies and partners, we will resist the Chinese Communist Party’s efforts to manipulate our people and our governments, damage our economies, and undermine our sovereignty," O'Brien said. "The days of American passivity and naivety regarding the People’s Republic of China are over."
  • "Let me be clear — we have deep respect and admiration for the Chinese people. The United States has a long history of friendship with the Chinese nation. But the Communist Party does not equal China or her people."

O'Brien also quoted John Garnaut, a former Australian government official who helped lead the international discussion about the nature of China's political influence and interference around the world.

  • “In Classical Chinese statecraft, there are two tools for gaining and maintaining control over ‘the mountains and the rivers’: the first is wu, weapons and violence, and the second is wen, language and culture. Chinese leaders have always believed that power derives from controlling both the physical battlefield and the cultural domain," O'Brien said, quoting Garnaut.

What to watch: O'Brien explained that in the coming weeks, senior administration officials including Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, Attorney General Bill Barr and FBI Director Christopher Wray will also speak publicly on challenges posed by the Chinese Communist Party.

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