Biden's Pick for Top Defense Post Has Troubling Ties to China


Joe Biden’s rhetoric on China has, as politicians are fond of saying, evolved.

In May 2019, he was dismissive of then-President Donald Trump’s hawkish positions on China. “China is going to eat our lunch? Come on, man,” Biden said at a campaign stop, according to NBC News.

“They can’t even figure out how to deal with the fact that they have this great division between the China Sea and the mountains in the east, I mean in the west,” the former vice president said.

He added that “they can’t figure out how they’re going to deal with the corruption that exists within the system. I mean, you know, they’re not bad folks, folks. But guess what, they’re not, they’re not competition for us.”

That didn’t test well, so Biden slowly began to talk about how, yes, China might indeed be a threat to our lunch.

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It’s gotten to the point where Biden’s nominee for secretary of state, Antony Blinken, told the Senate Foreign Relations Committee on Tuesday, “I also believe that President Trump was right in taking a tougher approach to China,” according to Nikkei Asia.

Rhetoric is one thing. Actions are another — and the incoming president’s choices for major administration positions demonstrate he still doesn’t think those “not bad folks” are a problem.

The latest is Colin Kahl, Biden’s pick for undersecretary of defense for policy. According to a Monday report in the Washington Free Beacon, Kahl has ties to a major Chinese university that has links to espionage cases in the United States and requires a loyalty oath to the Chinese Communist Party.

Kahl, an Obama-era foreign policy official, was the national security advisor for then-Vice President Biden. In a Dec. 30 report, Defense One described him as one of two Biden picks who were “civilian defense policy officials with progressive credentials” that might silence critics of his defense secretary nominee, Lloyd Austin, a retired four-star Army general.

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It added that the pick “signals a coming shift in U.S. military priorities that likely include fewer warships and nuclear weapons, and a change in how the United States engages with allies.”

Kahl’s ties to China come through his position as a senior fellow for the Freeman Spogli Institute for International Studies at Stanford University, a position he’s held since 2018. The institute, in turn, oversees the Stanford Center at Peking University, a Beijing university run by China’s former spy chief, Qiu Shuiping.

Peking University is one of the top schools in Asia — but it’s also been linked to espionage cases in America.

The Free Beacon’s Alana Goodman noted that Peking University “has also been ramping up its student and faculty surveillance system in what China watchers see as part of the government’s broader crackdown on independent scholarship.”

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For his part, Kahl has talked tough on China, too — although usually in the context of making Donald Trump look bad.

In April, Kahl tweeted an article from Politico and wrote, “The next time Trump breathes one word about Biden and China, remember this: Trump is up to his eyeballs in debt to the Bank of China … and the loan is due soon.”

He also said that Trump had ignored human rights in Hong Kong and implied (oddly) that he’d fallen “in love” with Chinese President Xi Jinping.

However, he also slammed those who thought Washington and Beijing were engaged in a “zero-sum showdown and should move to more rapidly ‘decouple’ their economies” in an article he authored last spring, arguing the United States should coordinate its coronavirus vaccine efforts with China.

“Such sentiments could frustrate responses to this virus and future public health challenges by driving the two scientific communities apart when they should be working together to develop treatments and vaccines,” the article read.

China might have tried to get the American scientific community to work with it anyway, it’s worth noting; Reuters was the first to report last July that Beijing-backed hackers “targeted COVID-19 vaccine firm Moderna.”

There are also questions in terms of whether the Freeman Spogli Institute got funding from Beijing. The Department of Education confirmed to The Free Beacon that there was an ongoing investigation into whether Stanford had reported the source of $67 million it had received from China since the institute at Peking University opened in 2012.

Furthermore, Goodman noted that Kahl didn’t make any noises about human rights issues at Peking University during his time at the institute.

“Scholars at Risk, an organization that monitors academic freedom on campuses around the world, reports that since 2018 there have been at least 10 attacks on academic freedom at Peking University, with professors facing dismissal for being critical of the government and multiple campus labor activists being detained by police,” she wrote.

“He Weifang, a law professor at Peking University, said faculty members are required to have lecture plans and conference presentations approved by the Communist Party Committee and that classrooms are monitored by cameras and facial-recognition software, according to a Scholars at Risk report.”

This isn’t the only Biden pick with close ties to Beijing, either. Blinken, the secretary of state nominee, was the co-founder of a firm called WestExec Advisors that, among other things, would help American universities get donations from China while not running afoul of the Pentagon and its research grants.

Over the summer, WestExec Advisors scrubbed the information about these services from its website, The Free Beacon reported.

Meanwhile, one of Biden’s chief councilors, Steve Ricchetti, was the Clinton administration’s liaison to Congress when it was trying to get Permanent Normal Trade Relations with China passed. A lobbying firm Ricchetti co-founded with his brother also disclosed late last year that it had lobbied for a semiconductor firm on “[i]ssues related to US-China relations and potential impact on commercial relationships.”

So, yes, Joe Biden might talk tough on China now. There’s also a reason why China says there’s a “new window of hope” with a Biden administration and celebrated Trump’s departure Wednesday.

Not all of it revolves around how the new president will be staffing his administration, but it certainly hasn’t given heart to those who hoped his tough talk on Beijing would translate into action.

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C. Douglas Golden is a writer who splits his time between the United States and Southeast Asia. Specializing in political commentary and world affairs, he's written for Conservative Tribune and The Western Journal since 2014.
C. Douglas Golden is a writer who splits his time between the United States and Southeast Asia. Specializing in political commentary and world affairs, he's written for Conservative Tribune and The Western Journal since 2014. Aside from politics, he enjoys spending time with his wife, literature (especially British comic novels and modern Japanese lit), indie rock, coffee, Formula One and football (of both American and world varieties).
Morristown, New Jersey
Catholic University of America
Languages Spoken
English, Spanish
Topics of Expertise
American Politics, World Politics, Culture