CLAY: We are bringing in now our friend Gordon G. Chang, who does an incredible job analyzing the situation of geopolitical struggle between the United States and China. His latest book is The Coming Collapse of China. Sorry. His latest book is The Great U.S.-China Tech War. He’s @GordonGChang on Twitter. So, Gordon, when you saw this story about the Chinese spy balloon, your thoughts in terms of analyzing why it happened, that is the motive on China’s side, was what? And where do we go from here?
CHANG: Yeah, there were two things which I thought were possible explanations. One of them was that Xi Jinping was so bold, so aggressive that he was going to try to humiliate the United States, tell the world that the U.S. was done as a power and that therefore they should ditch us and obey China. The second thing is that the Chinese military, which we know is politically powerful, basically decided it was going to do whatever it wanted to do, and they were then going to fly this right across our Air Force bases, which had bombers, which had ICBMs and the rest of it. I don’t know which of those two is correct, but neither of them is a good story because they say that China is preparing to go to war. And unless something changes, that’s probably where we’re going to end up. I mean, we can deter China, but we’re not deterring China now.
BUCK: Gordon, do you see parallels between what China is doing here and the Cold War with the U.S. and the Soviets, U-2 flights and other spying and surveillance missions?
CHANG: Yeah, we had the U-2 incident in, what, 1960 where Francis Gary Powers, the U-2 pilot, was shot down. This is a little bit different because it could very well mean that in China this is a regime in turmoil. Right now, I think Xi Jinping sees a closing window of opportunity to achieve what he considers to be historic goals. So, he’s going to roll the dice and do it while he can. And if the second explanation is right about the military freelancing, then we’ve got a different set of problems, but one which are equally difficult for us to deal with. So, in that sense, the Cold War had a stability to it. Right now, I don’t think we have that stability.
CLAY: Do you think the timing with Secretary Blinken…I’m really intrigued by your analysis here, because if you are correct, and this was potentially a Chinese-driven military move without necessarily Xi Jinping being involved in ordering this, then it could have been timed to try to embarrass him associated with the Antony Blinken visit coming, right? In other words, they don’t want there to be, sort of, a lessening of tensions potentially in China. Do you think… how would you analyze the timing of the Blinken meeting, given your potential scenarios there?
CHANG: That’s a great question. Some people have thought that the balloon incident was timed to actually derail Secretary Blinken’s anticipated trip to China February 5 and 6. Other people said no. They wanted Blinken to come, but they wanted to give Blinken a bargaining chip, in a sense, basically saying we’ll stop the balloon flights if you stop the reconnaissance along our coasts, which is an even more arrogant way of looking at the Chinese. Right now, I don’t know what the correct intentions were and the motivating reasons.
But we do know that there is trouble inside the regime and that it portends, I think, increasing tension, especially because we have President Biden yesterday saying that this balloon incident is not going to weaken U.S.-China relations. And really what Biden is saying is that the Chinese can do anything they want and we’re still not going to impose costs. So, that is extremely troubling when you think about the psychology of this and that attitude that the Chinese can do whatever they want, that goes back to President George W. Bush, who imposed no costs on China for the EP-3 incident. So, this is a clear pattern. You get Republicans, Democrats, liberals, conservatives, they have all had attitudes which have emboldened the worst elements in the Chinese political system by not imposing costs for bad behavior.
CLAY: Gordon, so, do you think…this is the big question, right? Buck and I were debating it earlier. Do you think we had the military general come out and say 2025 is when he thinks this is going to happen in terms of China invading Taiwan? Do you think this just continues to portend China invading Taiwan? And if so, what is the Joe Biden, what is the United States response going to be?
CHANG: You’re referring to General Mike Minahan, who is the chief of commander of the Air Mobility Command of the Air Force. And that leaked memo said that his gut, as he put it, meant said that we’d be fighting, quote, in 2025 after this. You know, and everyone said, “Oh, that’s really close.” Well, after this balloon incident, I think 2025 is a long way off. It could very well be before that. And it could be Taiwan, could be India, could be Japan or the Philippines. Remember in December, when China was going through those protests, China was very provocative with a large incursion into India’s Arunachal Pradesh in the Himalayas. We had stepped up provocations in the South China Sea against Philippines, in the East China Sea, against Japan, and of course, the continuing air incursions against Taiwan, especially the one on Christmas Day. So, as China gets weaker, it gets more belligerent. And as I think Xi Jinping sees, Biden is not going to stop him. So, this is, I think, the most dangerous moment in history.
BUCK: Gordon. Well, we’re speaking to Gordon Chang. Follow him on Twitter at @GordonGChang and also get a copy of The Great U.S.-China Tech War, which is his latest book. What would be…you brought up no cost in response to this. And clearly flying a big balloon in U.S. airspace for days on end, everybody knows that it’s a surveillance or spying balloon. So, they’re trying to get information about U.S. defense and military capabilities that we don’t want them to have. What would be appropriate costs to make the Chinese incur in response to this? What is the path you think that would actually show the Chinese? You can’t get away with this kind of stuff anymore.
CHANG: Yeah, I think that first of all, the costs have to be disproportionate. In other words, so much greater than what the Chinese did. And so, what I would do is I’d break off all communication with China. I would close their four consulates in the U.S., strip their embassy staff just down to the ambassador. I’d start closing the Chinese banks, which are laundering fentanyl profits for those gangs, that fentanyl is killing Americans. This is a menu of things that we can do. But essentially, we have to show China that the costs are severe and that those would be severe costs for a balloon incident. Just imagine what it would be for something else. There are a lot of things that China needs the U.S. for. I don’t think we should be providing them to the Chinese, so I’d like to see them all cut off. I know that sounds drastic, but I think it is strategically wrong, but even more important, it’s morally wrong to build up the armed forces of an adversary that is planning to kill Americans. And that’s exactly what’s happening right now.
BUCK: And Gordon, I have to ask, I mean, they’ve said that there were a number — and it’s tough to see what’s true and what maybe the exaggeration is here from our own government — they said that there were balloons during the Trump administration, but maybe they didn’t tell Trump about them. We had Trump’s acting secretary of defense on. He said he had never heard anything about this. And the guy’s secretary of defense. I feel like he could probably get a good read on what the military knows. But is it your belief, then, that if we don’t have any kind of cost associated with this, is China just going to keep flying these balloons? I mean, it doesn’t feel like… why wouldn’t they?
CHANG: Yeah, why wouldn’t they? And, you know, you go back to George W. Bush not imposing any costs for stripping our EP-3. First of all, clipping the wing, forcing it down, imprisoning the crew, trying to hold it for ransom, stripping the plane of its electronic gear. No costs on China. So, really what happened is George W. Bush told the worst elements in the Chinese political system, “Go right ahead and do this.” And what it did was it said to the other elements of the Chinese political system, those that would want a cooperative relationship with us, we told the cooperative people “You’re wrong”, because we don’t impose costs on being belligerent.”
So, this has opened the door. And if we don’t change our attitudes towards this and our policies, this is only going to get worse. Now, people today say “You start cutting ties, it’s going to be worse.” But the point is, our policies which sound good to the ear, have created a disastrous situation. Every option now going forward carries great risk, and that’s the result of misguided policies over the course of, especially, the last three decades. So, what choice do we have? We’ve got to try something new because if we don’t try something new, we probably are going to end up in the worst moment of history.
BUCK: Who do you think, Gordon, in this administration, has China policy the most in in their hands, or is their responsibility? Is it really…because it feels like Biden, these days they all know, you know, they’re just trying to push him along. Is it Blinken? Is it somebody on the DOD side? Who is Biden’s top China person right now?
CHANG: Well, on the National Security Council, it is Kurt Campbell. But, you know, you have Blinken, you have Jake Sullivan, the national security adviser. I’m sure there’s some people in the basement that we never hear about, you know, the proverbial Obama people. And, of course, it’s Biden himself. I mean, forget about Hunter Biden, forget about the money issues, even if those aren’t true. Biden has views about China that are seriously out-of-date and his views are those that have created this situation in the first place. Add in Hunter, add in the money, it just gets even worse. So, you know, I don’t know who is making policy, but I can tell you it’s a disaster.
BUCK: Gordon Chang, everybody. Follow him on Twitter @GordonGChang and pick up a copy of The Great US-China Tech War. Gordon, thanks for being with us.
CHANG: Oh, well, thank you so much. And guys, stay safe.