US President Donald Trump’s national security adviser, John Bolton, says China’s attempts to use think tanks and non-profit organisations to influence opinion in the US and Australia “is far greater in magnitude than any other foreign effort we have seen in history”.
Bolton also offered blunt assessments on China’s island and military base building in the South China Sea and raised concerns “Manchurian” chips in Huawei technology could be activated for espionage.
Bolton, in a US TV interview on Sunday, said China’s efforts to influence opinion in America via Confucius Centres and other ways trumped Russia’s election hacking.
“It really is far greater in magnitude than any other foreign effort we have seen in history to influence American opinion and it’s not just confined to the United States,” Mr Bolton told Fox News’ Maria Bartiromo.
“They are doing it in Australia and other countries – close friends of ours.
“So this really goes to the core of how you maintain a free and open society in this country when other countries are trying to influence it the way that China has.
“It goes well beyond just election hacking although we certainly have been concerned about China doing that as well.”
Bolton backed concerns raised by the US, Australia and other countries about using Huawei technology for national security-related telecommunication systems.
“I think for very, very good reasons,” he said.
“People sometimes call the concern the Manchurian chip problem – that if something gets into the telecommunications system that can be activated down the road.
“This is a very serious threat.”
Trump is expected to reveal his 2020 budget proposal to congress on Monday and Bolton said handling the existential threat posed by China “has been a focus of much of the preparation of the budget requests”.
He said China, through island building in the South China Sea, was in effect attempting to create a new Chinese province.
“It is taking over these rocks and shoals and islands and building military bases on them,” Bolton said.
“It is completely unacceptable.
“That is why we have continued to do freedom of navigation exercises and look at other ways to stop this effort in effect to create a new Chinese province.”
ABC reports, two of Donald Trump’s top security advisers,director for Asian affairs on the White House National Security Council (NSC) Matt Pottinger and director for Oceania & Indo-Pacific Security Alexander Gray, have paid a rare visit to the Pacific last week in another sign that the United States is intent on thwarting China’s strategic ambitions in the region.
Bolton, known for his hawkish views, became President Trump’s national adviser after the departure of retired US Army general HR McMaster in April last year.
Bolton has served in the Republican administrations of Ronald Reagan, George H W Bush and George W Bush. He has been a strong critic of the United Nations and the European Union. He said, “There is no United Nations!”
He has a record of his strong statements on key issues that the White House is currently dealing with China.
Earlier Bolton has said Beijing needed to be called out on what he characterised as systematic cheating on global trade while enjoying the benefits of an open US market.
Bolton said China cheats by providing subsidies to exports and discriminating against foreign entities, including through the legal system, while enjoying the benefits of World Trade Organisation (WTO) membership. Chinese government subsidies allow Americans to buy goods cheaper to the detriment of the Chinese worker, he said.
“The reality is, China just doesn’t have the same concern for its citizen’s welfare that we do in this country,” Bolton said. “And even beyond that, there’s simply no excuse for the stealing of intellectual property, forced technology transfers it’s sometimes called.”
Speaking to the Washington Free Beacon newspaper in February 2017, Bolton criticised Washington’s “One-China” policy, under which it does not recognise Taiwan as an independent nation, and called for increased arms sales to the island.
“The One-China policy is inherently ambiguous,” Bolton said. “China thinks it means one thing, we think it means another.”
Bolton’s approach to North Korea appears to be everything China has warned against, including supporting the possibility of a pre-emptive military attack and dismissing direct negotiations that Beijing says are vital to jump-starting the denuclearisation process.
A year ago, Bolton had said in his tweet, “It’s important to stand behind our South Korean allies, but if we pay heed to the lessons of history, talking to North Korea would be fruitless.”