Sen. Cory Gardner, R-Colo., has proposed two amendments to the upcoming NASA funding legislation requiring companies that wish to compete for NASA contracts to pass, in essence, a background check to ensure they are not compromised by China. By no stretch of the imagination should these amendments be considered controversial.
China is a serial thief of U.S. technology.
China is a serial thief of U.S. technology. It has a long history of extorting U.S. companies by forcing them to turn over methods, materials, and marketing secrets as a condition of entering China’s market of 1.3 billion people. These state-sanctioned thefts require U.S. firms to name Chinese nationals to their boards and management teams, who can then take what they learn to compete against the American firms—all with lower raw material costs because of Chinese-only purchasing rules.
China also has a long history of spying within the United States. In just the past few weeks, the U.S. government has closed a Chinese consulate in Houston, forced Chinese disinvestment from the popular social media app TikTok (the sale of the app is pending), and forced U.S. universities to close their Confucius Institutes (described by members as a place to educate others about Chinese culture, but was really an organization funded by the Chinese to install spies on U.S. campuses and to collect money).
President Trump, for his part, has long recognized the threat from China. He tried to convince the Chinese to drop some of their most onerous practices, like their unfair trade practices and intellectual property theft. When they didn’t, he imposed tariffs that have crippled China’s economy, with virtually no damage to ours.
What’s more, on top of the trade disputes, we’re also fighting a space race with the Chinese right now, and NASA and our new Space Force lead the charge. While there’s the widely publicized race to the Moon and Mars, in which China has made significant gains, there’s also a more significant, ongoing battle for military superiority in space. Many experts have expressed concern that the U.S. remains behind the People’s Republic on this front. Retired Lieutenant Air Force general Steven L. Kwast even went so far as to say that, “China is on a 10-year journey to operationalize space” while the United States “is on a 50-year journey.”
So, amendments that say American firms must prove they are not involved with the Chinese, and demand that these companies do not turn over American technology to Chinese firms would seem like common sense.
Yes, there are some American firms that would like to avoid the new regulations. Blue Origin, a satellite firm owned by Jeff Bezos, could be endangered because of Amazon’s ties to China. SpaceX, which makes and launches rockets, is owned primarily by Elon Musk. He builds cars with $1.4 billion in credit from Chinese state-owned banks and in partnership with Tencent, a Chinese internet company that’s been accused of sharing data with the Chinese government. Musk says they are also “advisers,” which doesn’t exactly add comfort.
But broadly speaking, these amendments won’t hurt American industry. These particular companies are deep-pocketed and well-positioned to make the adjustments, as well as provide the security assurance Gardner’s amendments require.
So maybe the mystery as to why these amendments have drawn opposition can be solved by looking at their source of the opposition. Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., who should know better having been spied on herself for more than two decades by a man who worked as her driver and a gofer in her San Francisco office, opposes Gardner’s amendments. She says they “could disrupt and unfairly disadvantage certain U.S. companies in the space sector.”
FEINSTEIN’S RICH HISTORY OF PROTECTING CHINA’S INTERESTS
To Feinstein, China always has been more than a geopolitical competitor. After the U.S. normalized relations with China in 1972, Feinstein was one of the first mayors to set up sister-city agreements with Chinese communities. She linked San Francisco, where she was mayor at the time, to Shanghai, whose mayor then happened to be Jiang Zemin, later president of China.
Given her history, it’s not hard to see why Feinstein considers Gardner’s amendments “disruptive” and sales of military hardware to Taiwan as “an irritant.”
They became fast friends; Zemin spent a Thanksgiving at Feinstein’s house in San Francisco in the 1980s, even dancing with her during an evening visit to San Francisco. During this time, the relationship between Zemin and her investor husband, Richard Blum, also grew significantly.
Feinstein worked with Zemin to establish corporate partnerships to eliminate the link between most-favored-nation status (MFN), which the Chinese coveted so they could join the World Trade Organization and China’s serial human rights abuses. Her high-profile public advocacy for the government to make the adjustment, which included an op-ed in the Washington Post that she penned as a freshman senator, public lobbying, eventually found success. Eventually, President Clinton granted China MFN—and shortly thereafter, the FBI reportedly traced Chinese political contributions to Feinstein‘s office during that time.
Feinstein also was heavily involved in the scandal in which John Huang, a Chinese businessman, pleaded guilty to violating campaign finance laws by contributing the campaigns of Bill Clinton and other top Democrats to curry favor on other matters. As a result of the investigation, Feinstein had to return a $12,000 contribution.
Zemin also helped Feinstein’s husband, Blum, raise $150 million for an Asia-focused fund for his venture capital firm, Newbridge Capital. The firm would go on to invest more than $400 million in China, including in ventures such as Northwest Airlines, then the only airline with direct flights to all major Chinese cities, as well as the Shenzhen Development Bank (a former bank controlled by the Chinese government). This was the first time the Chinese would allow an American firm to take control of such a group.
In 2015, She blocked Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, from moving to rename a street in Washington, D.C. after Liu Xiaobo, a Nobel-winning human rights activist who had been jailed for speaking out against the regime. She blocked the bill twice, and Xiaobo eventually died in custody.
Feinstein also forced the Obama administration to abandon a $6 billion arms deal with Taiwan. In the early 1980s, she also got the organizers of the Chinese New Year Parade in San Francisco to stop displaying Taiwan’s flag. She even worked to get meetings for Chinese officials so they could explain the missile tests they performed near Taiwan to frighten the island nation.
Given her history, it’s not hard to see why Feinstein considers Gardner’s amendments “disruptive” and sales of military hardware to Taiwan as “an irritant.” For decades now, she has seemed more interested in integrating China into the American commercial sector than addressing its multitude of security threats.
Perhaps, given her connections to China’s Communist Party, she can’t afford to let these amendments go forward without a fight. Americans can’t afford not to.