How Our Culture Wars Make Us More Vulnerable to Chinese Influence

This July marks the centenary of the Chinese Communist Party’s founding and is a sobering reminder that Francis Fukuyama’s “end of history,” where liberal democracy becomes universal, is nowhere in sight. Not only has the CCP’s grip on China remained strong, but its multifaceted influence operations continue to erode liberty around the world. The most concerning part is that America is not ready to combat a China challenge that has stealthily and firmly arrived on our soil—not with the cultural war that’s also tearing up this country.

I don’t mean that “canceling” each other over a host of social issues consumes us—it does—but that our battle for righteousness reveals a political culture that lacks the tolerance and pluralism to deal with a threat as complex as China’s influence. America’s best path to counter the CCP at home is to refocus on building a truly democratic culture.

The China challenge is unique because the CCP’s influence campaign, often operating within legal boundaries in the United States, touches upon many aspects of Americans’ lives, from politics and business and education to culture and sports. Consequently, when civil society lacks healthy fora for sharing dispersed information and diverse views, the public’s knowledge about CCP assaults on our liberties falls behind the curve.

Consider the U.S. higher education system. China’s Confucius Institutes on American campuses have triggered legitimate concerns about academic freedom in recent years. But these partnerships started as early as 2004. Last year, under the Education Department’s scrutiny, 12 top universities disclosed a whopping $6.5 billion in previously unreported funding from China, Russia, Saudi Arabia, and Qatar. And that doesn’t include the Chinese government’s funding to individual U.S. researchers, which, according to a State Department report, even compels some recipients to conceal such funding.

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