A Strategic Deep Dive on TikTok, The Boiling Moat of Taiwan, and China’s Next-Gen Statecraft (4K)

A Strategic Deep Dive on TikTok, The Boiling Moat of Taiwan, and China’s Next-Gen Statecraft (4K)

Preview (00:00:00)

  • The speaker, a former Marine Deputy National Security adviser, believes TikTok poses a serious national security threat to the United States.
  • TikTok is a primary source of news for people under 30.
  • The speaker compares the current situation to allowing the Nazis to control all newspapers and radio stations in the 1930s.
  • The Chinese Communist Party (CCP) is the primary arbiter of what content trends and what content gets suppressed on TikTok.

Bao Tong’s calligraphy. (00:01:38)

  • Bao Tong was a high-ranking Chinese official who was arrested and imprisoned for supporting the pro-democracy student protests in 1989.
  • He later developed a friendship with the speaker, who was a reporter for the Wall Street Journal based in China at the time.
  • Bao Tong wrote two pieces of calligraphy for the speaker, one of which says "you need to be the first one to worry about all under Heaven and the last one to enjoy the pleasures of all under heaven."
  • This motto emphasizes the responsibility of a good official.

Matt’s decision to study East Asian languages. (00:04:15)

  • Matt studied Spanish in high school but struggled due to creative differences with his teacher.
  • He saw a Chinese language teacher, Mr. Murray, and asked to switch to Chinese, beginning his love affair with China and its language.
  • Matt went on to study East Asian languages and literature at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst, including classical Chinese.

Studying with Perry Link and the challenges of learning Chinese. (00:06:09)

  • Matt studied with Perry Link at Princeton University during a summer program in Beijing.
  • Link was a strict teacher, enforcing the correct tones in Chinese pronunciation.
  • The Chinese 101 class had a high attrition rate, with only 14 students remaining after a few weeks.
  • Link's teaching methods were effective, but demanding, with multiple classes and one-on-one sessions to correct students' tones.

Tips for learning Chinese and other languages. (00:08:31)

  • Perry Link and Wang Gungwu taught the author to focus on tapes and repeat words perfectly, even if they didn't understand the meaning or grammar.
  • Recording oneself repeating full sentences, rather than studying vocabulary lists or romanized versions of the language, is an effective way to learn a language.
  • Using widely translated comics, like One Piece, can help study dialogue and conversation by comparing two volumes in different languages without using a dictionary.
  • The Chinese language is a superpower that allows the author to understand Chinese language speeches, memos, and internal documents.
  • TikTok is a powerful tool for China's next-generation statecraft, allowing the country to shape global narratives and influence public opinion.
  • TikTok's algorithm is designed to be addictive and keep users engaged, making it a valuable tool for spreading propaganda and controlling the flow of information.
  • China's use of TikTok and other social media platforms is part of a broader strategy to reshape the global order and challenge the United States' dominance.
  • The United States and other countries need to develop strategies to counter China's influence operations and protect their national security.

How TikTok has been weaponized by the Chinese Communist Party. (00:13:52)

  • TikTok's data security risks are well-known, but the bigger problem is its use as a tool for ideological persuasion and destruction by the Chinese Communist Party (CCP).
  • The CCP explicitly aims to "win the global majority" using short-form video apps like TikTok as a "smokeless battlefield" for ideological purposes.
  • TikTok's algorithm is manipulated to amplify pro-CCP content and minimize content that is embarrassing to the CCP.
  • The CCP's control over TikTok's algorithm was emphasized in a study session held by Xi Jinping in 2021, where he stressed the importance of controlling platforms to win the global majority.
  • The People's Daily, the CCP's mouthpiece newspaper, later clarified that Xi Jinping was referring to short-form video apps like TikTok.

The origins of TikTok and its obfuscatory ownership structure. (00:17:39)

  • TikTok's parent company, ByteDance, is a Chinese company subject to the control of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP).
  • TikTok has a different version in China called Douyin, which promotes wholesome and pro-CCP content.
  • The House Select Committee on the Chinese Communist Party has found that TikTok suppresses content that could be embarrassing to the Chinese government.
  • TikTok is used by the Chinese government as a tool for strategic communication and influence operations, particularly in Taiwan.
  • TikTok's algorithm promotes pro-Chinese military propaganda and anti-Israeli content, shaping public opinion in line with China's interests.

How sowing chaos in the West serves the CCP’s aims. (00:23:31)

  • China's support for Russia in the Ukraine conflict aligns with its goal of seeing Europe in chaos, Russia becoming more aggressive, and the US weakened.
  • China's propaganda often takes the side of aggressors and blames the US to discredit it.
  • China's recent demonization of Israel is seen as a way to further discredit the US.
  • China's long-term strategic planning and ability to play a "4D chess" game is impressive.
  • China's partnerships with countries in Africa and South America demonstrate its skill in playing a long game.
  • Some countries prefer China's stability and predictability compared to the uncertainty of US policies.
  • Sensitive topics such as Tibet, Uyghurs, and ethnic minorities in China are heavily censored or suppressed on TikTok.
  • An example is given of a woman who tried to raise awareness about the genocide in Xinjiang by disguising her message in an eyelash tutorial video, but TikTok eventually removed the content.
  • China's 4D chess strategy should not be underestimated, and democracies need to be more candid about the harmful effects of China's actions on their interests and those of other democracies.
  • Some autocracies appreciate China's lack of interference in their human rights issues, creating a consistency in their approach.

“Politics stops at the water’s edge.” (00:29:02)

  • Senator Vandenberg, an isolationist Republican before World War II, became an internationalist bipartisan partner of President Harry Truman.
  • Vandenberg's famous line, "politics stops at The Waters Edge," emphasizes the need for a general consensus on national interest, predictability, and continuity in policies.
  • Despite internal debates, strong alliances such as NATO and relationships with Japan, South Korea, Australia, and the Philippines serve as shields that protect the US.
  • TikTok is a Chinese-owned social media platform that has gained immense popularity globally, especially among younger users.
  • It allows users to create and share short videos, often featuring music, dance, comedy, and other creative content.
  • TikTok's algorithm personalizes the user experience, leading to high engagement and addictive behavior.
  • The platform's success has raised concerns about data privacy, censorship, and the potential for foreign influence operations.
  • Taiwan is a self-governing island that China considers a breakaway province.
  • The US has a long-standing policy of "strategic ambiguity" regarding Taiwan's defense, which aims to deter both Taiwan and China from taking provocative actions.
  • China has been increasing military pressure on Taiwan, including frequent incursions into Taiwan's air defense identification zone (ADIZ).
  • The US has responded by sending warships and aircraft to the region and conducting joint military exercises with Taiwan's allies.
  • The situation in Taiwan is a potential flashpoint for conflict between the US and China.
  • China is employing a new approach to statecraft that combines traditional diplomacy with economic coercion, military power, and technological advancements.
  • This approach aims to reshape the global order in China's favor and challenge US dominance.
  • China's Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) is a key component of this strategy, aiming to expand China's economic influence and build infrastructure projects across the world.
  • China is also investing heavily in advanced technologies such as artificial intelligence (AI), quantum computing, and biotechnology to gain a competitive edge.
  • The US and its allies need to develop strategies to counter China's next-gen statecraft and maintain a balance of power in the region.

How should the US rein in TikTok’s influence over its population? (00:30:46)

  • TikTok, owned by a Chinese company, poses a threat to US national interests due to potential censorship and manipulation of content.
  • The US Senate, led by Senator Maria Cantwell, is considering a bill to prevent TikTok from being owned by a Chinese entity.
  • Despite concerns, the ACLU and some Republican donors are lobbying to keep TikTok under Chinese control.
  • The issue has become highly politicized, with significant financial interests on both sides attempting to influence the outcome.
  • Lobbying firms are spending millions of dollars to block the Senate from allowing the House bill to pass.
  • The lobbying campaign is spreading disinformation, claiming that the bill aims to suppress free speech and ban TikTok.
  • The proposed bill seeks to prevent TikTok from being edited and controlled by the Chinese government, which lacks the rule of law and free speech protections.

The significance of Taiwan geographically, ideologically, and economically. (00:37:03)

  • Taiwan's strategic location acts as a barrier against China's military expansion in the region.
  • Taiwan's democratic values stand in contrast to China's authoritarian regime, making it a symbol of freedom and democracy in Asia.
  • Taiwan plays a vital role in the global semiconductor industry, producing a large portion of the world's advanced chips.
  • China views Taiwan as a stepping stone for regional dominance, similar to Japan's ambitions during World War II.
  • Taiwan's position within the first island chain restricts China's military projection and forces them through democratic nations allied with the US.
  • China considers Taiwan crucial for dominating Japan and establishing airbase capabilities near Japan.
  • Taiwan's geographical location gives China leverage over Japan and the Philippines.
  • Taiwan's true liberal democracy, with high rankings in freedom of speech, rule of law, equality, and access to government, serves as an alternative future for Chinese people on the mainland.
  • Taiwan's fall to China would cause a state of emergency in other democracies due to the increased military threat from China.

The semiconductor industry in Taiwan and its global importance. (00:47:27)

  • Taiwan produces 92% of the world's advanced semiconductors.
  • Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Corp (TSMC) is the world's best contract chip fabricator.
  • TSMC is crucial for the production of CPUs, GPUs, and other advanced chips used in various industries.
  • TSMC relies on a constant supply of resources and expertise from various countries, including the US, Korea, Japan, the Netherlands, and Israel.
  • A blockade of Taiwan by China would disrupt TSMC's operations and cause a global economic crisis, potentially leading to a Great Depression.

Deterring China from attacking or coercing Taiwan. (00:49:45)

  • Deterrence is crucial in preventing China from attacking Taiwan.
  • Taiwan should possess robust defensive capabilities, including anti-ship missiles, drones, and munitions, to make an invasion costly for China.
  • The US and its allies must convey to China that an attack on Taiwan will have severe consequences.
  • Taiwan's natural advantages, such as the narrow Taiwan Strait and limited suitable beaches, can aid in its defense.
  • Taiwan's will to fight, as demonstrated by Ukraine's resistance against Russia, is a critical factor in deterring China.

Cultivating social depth in Taiwan. (00:57:09)

  • Taiwan needs to reinvent its culture and military culture to add social depth.
  • Taiwan can learn from Israel's success in winning wars with a reserve military and a culture of service.
  • Social depth means having a broad social fluency with skills and playbooks that the military can depend on in the event of war.
  • Examples of social depth in Israel include civilians who are ready to fight and a core of civilian cadre who know how to respond to emergencies and provide logistics.
  • Xi Jinping's lifespan is a key factor in considering the timeline for China's actions towards Taiwan.
  • Xi Jinping is in his early 70s and has broken the precedent of decade-long leadership terms.
  • Xi Jinping is likely to remain in power for life and may not step down voluntarily.
  • Xi Jinping has made clear his goal of unifying Taiwan with China and considers it the essence of his broader agenda.
  • Xi Jinping has told President Biden that he expects the United States to actively support China's goal of annexing Taiwan.
  • 2027 is a year that Xi Jinping has told his military it needs to be capable of taking Taiwan.
  • Admiral Aquilino, the outgoing US Indo-Pacific commander, believes China will meet the 2027 deadline for military readiness to take Taiwan.
  • Xi Jinping has expressed impatience and stated that he will not let the Taiwan issue be passed down to future generations.

Demonstrating the will to match the capacity of following through. (01:04:11)

  • Capability without will is insufficient for deterrence.
  • Showing a little leg of capabilities creates headaches for Chinese military planners.
  • The Replicator Initiative involves fielding large numbers of cheap, expendable drones that can threaten expensive Chinese hardware.
  • Cultivating a culture of service and strategic culture, like Israel's, can be done quickly in Taiwan.
  • Enoch Wu's Forward Alliance is a civilian cadre of emergency response workers that is gaining popularity in Taiwan.

Matt’s top priorities for stemming Chinese ambitions. (01:06:40)

  • Impose significant costs on China's economy for supporting Iran's terrorist proxy wars and Russia's invasion of Ukraine.
  • China is spending more on pro-Russian propaganda worldwide than Russia itself.
  • China is backing the dictator in Venezuela, Maduro, who is threatening Guyana's territorial integrity.

Architects of chaos. (01:09:10)

  • China views the US as the primary obstacle to its global ambitions.
  • Xi Jinping believes chaos benefits China and has called for spreading chaos.
  • Xi Jinping and Vladimir Putin have a close relationship and share similar views on global chaos.
  • Xi Jinping sees himself and Putin as architects of global chaos.
  • Xi Jinping sees the current global chaos as an opportunity for China to become the dominant global power.
  • Xi Jinping is committed to seizing this opportunity and is constantly working towards it.
  • The US needs to impose massive costs on China's economy to deter it from fueling global chaos.

Staying alert against informational warfare and united front activity. (01:13:38)

  • China is using deep fakes to create realistic-looking personas that spread deceptive messages on social media.
  • LinkedIn has been used as an espionage tool by Chinese intelligence agencies.
  • The Chinese Communist Party uses united front activity to spot, assess, and recruit allies to the party's goals without revealing their true intentions.
  • Friendship organizations and student associations funded by the Chinese government may be used to influence public opinion and target potential recruits.
  • TikTok has a special team on 220 US campuses that organizes protests against professors or students who discuss sensitive topics like Tibet, the Uyghur genocide, democracy in China, or Taiwan.

Countering China’s influence on its Western-based citizens. (01:20:43)

  • Provide smartphones to Chinese students in the US preloaded with free society apps and warn them about surveillance apps like TikTok and WeChat.
  • Chinese citizens who move to Western countries still face pressure from the Chinese government, including threats to their families in China.
  • Many wealthy Chinese are moving to countries like Singapore and Japan, but even in these free countries, they may face intimidation and violence for speaking out against the Chinese government.
  • Western countries should take steps to neutralize China's extra-legal interference in their countries, such as identifying and targeting thugs and coerced individuals who carry out this interference.

Checkers vs. Go. (01:25:09)

  • China's statecraft and espionage are part of geopolitics.
  • The speaker has spent time in China, Taiwan, and Japan.
  • The speaker compares the current situation to a game of Go, where China is playing strategically while the US is playing checkers.
  • In Go, players can see the board but not the strategy, similar to the current situation.
  • Computers have recently defeated human Go masters, leading to new strategies.
  • China is playing Go, while the US is playing checkers.

How can the US reassert its position as a beacon of democracy? (01:26:58)

  • The US should acknowledge its strengths, such as democracy and the Bill of Rights, which have influenced many countries globally.
  • China's totalitarian system poses challenges to small countries and forms alliances with countries like Venezuela, Iran, North Korea, and Russia to undermine American credibility and power.
  • The US should openly address its issues while emphasizing positive aspects like the legacy of Ronald Reagan and the pursuit of higher human ideals.
  • The US should highlight the differences between its system and China's, which has committed genocide and funds anti-democratic propaganda.
  • The US needs to impose greater costs on China and be realistic about resolving problems with its current leadership.
  • President Biden emphasizes the distinction between democratic allies and other democracies in terms of informational campaigns in the US.
  • President Biden's strategic guidance document highlights the critical moment in shaping the world's future as either predominantly democratic and peaceful or authoritarian and violent.
  • President Biden needs to follow up his speeches with concrete policies to address the challenges posed by authoritarian regimes.

What prompted Matt to join the Marine Corps at age 32? (01:33:45)

  • The speaker, a former reporter in China, had a life-changing experience on September 11, 2001, when they narrowly avoided being at the World Trade Center due to sleeping in.
  • Witnessing the aftermath of 9/11 and subsequent wars inspired a sense of duty and respect for military service in the speaker.
  • An encounter with Marines involved in humanitarian efforts during the Indian Ocean tsunami in 2004 further motivated the speaker.
  • The speaker visited a Marine Corps officer selection office and decided to join the Marines.
  • Despite the risks and challenges, the speaker felt compelled to serve their country during wartime.
  • They believed that not serving would lead to regret later in life.

Getting in shape for the occasion. (01:40:02)

  • The author decided to join the Marine Corps and met a Marine Captain, Cedric Lee, at a Marine Corps Birthday ball.
  • Cedric Lee became the author's personal trainer and helped him prepare for Officer Candidate School.
  • The author underwent 10 weeks of Officer Candidate School training, 6 months of basic school training, and Intel training.

Leadership lessons learned. (01:42:07)

  • The Marine Corps emphasizes responsibility at all levels, ensuring competence even among the least experienced individuals.
  • Unlike society, which often focuses on opportunities for those at the top, the Marine Corps prioritizes improving the performance of the weakest individuals to elevate the overall baseline.
  • Moral courage, involving doing the right thing even when no one is watching and sacrificing personal position for the greater good, is highly valued in the Marine Corps.
  • During a military exercise, the narrator inhaled pure CS gas through a hole in his mask, causing severe asphyxiation and unconsciousness.
  • Despite his condition, the narrator's platoon commander ordered him to return to the exercise instead of seeking medical attention.
  • The narrator completed the exercise after getting his mask fixed, but the experience resulted in a permanent loss of IQ points.

The Boiling Moat, the importance of public service, and parting thoughts. (01:48:38)

  • The guest, Matt Pottinger, expresses his gratitude for the opportunity to discuss important topics and his book, "The Boiling Moat: Urgent Steps to Defend Taiwan."
  • Pottinger emphasizes the value of public service and encourages young people to consider it as a fulfilling career path.
  • He highlights his own experience in the Marine Corps and expresses his appreciation for the time spent discussing these topics.
  • The host, Tim, mentions that all relevant links will be included in the show notes for easy access.
  • The episode concludes with a reminder to be kind to others and to oneself.

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