“There’s been a 30-year war going on against us being waged by the Chinese. They call it that. We just choose not to,” Grant Newsham told American Family Radio Tuesday.
Newsham, a retired Marine Corps colonel, researcher and consultant on Asian defense issues, explained China's goals and the danger it poses during an appearance on the "Washington Watch" radio program.
According to recent numbers released by the U.S. Customs and Border Protection, agents along the southern border encountered 2,999 Chinese nationals between the end of fiscal year 2022 last September and the end of January 2023. That’s an increase of more than 700 percent over encounters for fiscal year 2022.
It’s also a reason Americans should not be quick to laugh off a seemingly harmless balloon floating across the continental U.S. – or to believe White House assertions that all is well with efforts to keep the CCP from obtaining sensitive U.S. military information.
Some Chinese nationals may choose to enter the U.S. because they want a new home here but Newsham is convinced many are providing their home country's Ministry of State Security a "potential platform" for spying, espionage and other harmful activities inside the U.S.
Lara Logan, the former CBS News foreign correspondent, is making a similar warning. In a troubling Twitter thread citing Border Patrol sources, she described the unprecedented number of Chinese nationals who are averaging 50 to 70 per day at just one Border Patrol station. Their numbers suggest a military operation to stage them in the country, she said, and they can easily do that because they are handed a Notice to Appear for a court hearing and then released into the country.
Newsham said Americans, unlike the Chinese, tend to not think of war until the shooting starts, and that has created a problem with U.S.-China policy. Army Gen. Mark Mark Milley, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff appointed by Donald Trump in 2019, has underestimated the Chinese threat for several years, Newsham said.
“We pretend it isn't a war but to the Chinese it is," he warned. "It’s a psychological war, an economic war, biological war, chemical war, a so-called drug war. It’s cyber warfare to the Chinese. This is part of a spectrum and it's all warfare intended to weaken us."
In another comparison, Newsham said American war planners view a military conflict like a quick hundred-yard dash, but the Chinese view the steps to get there quite differently.
Spy balloon soaked up intel across U.S.
An NBC News report on Monday said the Chinese gathered real-time intelligence from sensitive U.S. Military sites in spite of U.S. efforts to block real-time transmissions as the balloon made multiple passes over some military sites, at times flying figure-eight patterns.
The administration continues to downplay the value of any information the Chinese might have gained, but Sen. Roger Wicker (R-Miss.) disagrees and so does Newsham.
“The spy balloon was really just one part of a much larger, broader Chinese espionage effort against the United States,” Newsham said.” "What did stand out, however, and I don't take any pleasure in saying it, was the administration’s practically incoherent response to it.”
Newsham said a spy balloon near U.S. interests really isn’t new. They’d been spotted in Guam and off the coast of Hawaii not far from a missile range in Kauai. Commercial airline pilots began reporting balloon sightings between Hawaii and the West Coast at least six months ago, Newsham said.
U.S. officials claimed safety concerns for where debris might land as the reason for allowing the balloon to linger, but it’s not unreasonable to think they were also protecting a diplomatic plan.
U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken’s previously planned trip to China was cancelled after as a result of the surveillance balloon.
The balloon's owner seemed to pay particular attention to our nuclear missile bases in northern U.S. states, such as Montana.
"And if you get a clearer picture of the electronic activity, the electronic signatures, you learn how to evade them, get around them potentially to decrypt them, understand them," Newsham explained. "Then you're getting a better sense of your target. So when the time comes, you can avoid what it's going to do to you or you can do something to it."
Newly acquired information could also help the Chinese military acquire targets. A missile doesn’t necessarily have to hit a target to make it useless.
“If you can come close enough to a missile silo to put it out of action that has obviously given you a really big advantage,” Newsham said. “I’ve heard that was actually one use or activity of the spy balloon. Missile targeting is an art, and the more information you have the better.”
U.S. dollars funding our defeat
Another part of China’s non-shooting war is financial, Newsham said.
China announced its Belt and Road Initiative in 2013, an infrastructure development strategy that aims to invest in more than 150 countries and international organizations. The original intent was to more easily link East Asia and Europe through physical infrastructure, a move that would also make the People’s Liberation Army more mobile.
Not all has been smooth in this ambitious project. Cost overruns and the potential for mounting debt in response to low-cost loans offered by China to fund projects has increased opposition.
However, critics see growing influence for China without an adequate U.S. response.
“The US dollar is the one big lever club we still have to use against China. The Chinese currency is not freely convertible, and what that means is it's not really usable outside of China,” Newsham said.
China’s new deal with Russia made news last week, but there have been other moves as well. Even if China’s currency is not easy to use across the globe, it will always be easy to use in direct transactions with the Chinese.
“It’s a tough thing to achieve, but they're trying as you can see with the Russians, the Saudis, the Brazilians, and maybe bit by bit people will become more willing to use it,” Newsham said.
Even if China doesn’t experience great success, these moves serve to weaken the dollar, Newsham said.
“What you're doing is undermining confidence in the dollar, and we're doing our best of course in that regard too with this spending we've been doing that makes, you know, drunken sailors look responsible,” Newsham said.
The irony is how many U.S. dollars are contributing to China’s effort.
“Guess where they get a good chunk? Well, they get it from Wall Street," he told the radio program. "They get it from our business class pouring investment into China. And so we're funding, really, our main enemy as they set themselves up around the world to surround us. That’s insane.”