Commentary on Political Economy

Wednesday 31 January 2024


Trump Is a Danger to U.S. Security


Mr. Trump’s most dangerous legacy is the spread of the isolationist virus in the Republican Party. The Democrats long ago adopted an incoherent melding of isolationism with indiscriminate multilateralism. If isolationism becomes the dominant view among Republicans, America is in deep trouble.

The most immediate crisis involves Ukraine. Barack Obama’s limp-wristed response to Moscow’s 2014 aggression contributed substantially to Mr. Putin’s 2022 attack. But Mr. Trump’s conduct was also a factor. He accused Ukraine of colluding with Democrats against him in 2016 and demanded answers. No answers were forthcoming, since none existed. President Biden’s aid to Ukraine has been piecemeal and nonstrategic, but it is almost inevitable that a second-term Trump policy on Ukraine would favor Moscow.

Mr. Trump’s assertions that he was “tougher” on Russia than earlier presidents are inaccurate. His administration imposed major sanctions, but they were urged by advisers and carried out only after he protested vigorously. His assertions that Mr. Putin would never have invaded Ukraine had he been re-elected are wishful thinking. Mr. Putin’s flattery pleases Mr. Trump. When Mr. Putin welcomed Mr. Trump’s talk last year of ending the Ukraine war, Mr. Trump gushed: “I like that he said that. Because that means what I’m saying is right.” Mr. Putin knows his mark and would relish a second Trump term.

An even greater danger is that Mr. Trump will act on his desire to withdraw from the North Atlantic Treaty Organization. He came precariously close in 2018. The Supreme Court has never ruled authoritatively whether the president can abrogate Senate-ratified treaties, but presidents have regularly done so. Recently enacted legislation to stop Mr. Trump from withdrawing without congressional consent likely wouldn’t survive a court challenge. It could precipitate a constitutional crisis and years of litigation.

Mr. Trump is unlikely to thwart the Beijing-Moscow axis. While he did draw attention to China’s growing threat, his limited conceptual reach led to simple-minded formulas (trade surpluses good, deficits bad). His tough talk allowed others to emphasize greater Chinese misdeeds, including massive theft of Western intellectual property, mercantilist trade policies, manipulation of the World Trade Organization, and “debt diplomacy,” which puts unwary countries in hock to Beijing. These are all real threats, but whether Mr. Trump is capable of countering them is highly doubtful.

Ultimately, Beijing’s obduracy and Mr. Trump’s impulse for personal publicity precluded whatever slim chances existed to eliminate China’s economic abuses. In a second term, Mr. Trump would likely continue seeking “the deal of the century” with China, while his protectionism, in addition to being bad economic policy, would make it harder to stand up to Beijing. The trade fights he picked with Japan, Europe and others impaired our ability to increase pressure against China’s broader transgressions.

The near-term risks of China manufacturing a crisis over Taiwan would rise dramatically. Mr. Xi is watching Ukraine and may be emboldened by Western failure there. A physical invasion is unlikely, but China’s navy could blockade the island and perhaps seize Taiwanese islands near the mainland. The loss of Taiwan’s independence, which would soon follow a U.S. failure to resist Beijing’s blockade, could persuade countries near China to appease Beijing by declaring neutrality.

Taiwan’s fall would encourage Beijing to finalize its asserted annexation of almost all the South China Sea. Littoral states like Vietnam and the Philippines would cease resistance. Commerce with Japan and South Korea, especially of Middle Eastern oil, would be subjected to Chinese control, and Beijing would have nearly unfettered access to the Indian Ocean, endangering India.

And imagine Mr. Trump’s euphoria at resuming contact with North Korea’s Kim Jung Un, about whom he famously boasted that “we fell in love.” Mr. Trump almost gave away the store to Pyongyang, and he could try again. A reckless nuclear deal would alienate Japan and South Korea, extend China’s influence, and strengthen the Beijing-Moscow axis.

Israel’s security might seem an issue on which Mr. Trump’s first-term decisions and rhetoric should comfort even his opponents. But he has harshly criticized Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu since the Oct. 7 attacks, and there is no foreign-policy area in which the absence of electoral constraints could liberate Mr. Trump as much as in the Middle East. There is even a danger of a new deal with Tehran. Mr. Trump almost succumbed to French President Emmanuel Macron’s pleading to meet Iran’s foreign minister in August 2019.

Mr. Trump negotiated the catastrophic withdrawal deal with the Taliban, which Mr. Biden further bungled. The overlap between Messrs. Trump’s and Biden’s views on Afghanistan demonstrate the absence of any Trump national-security philosophy. Even in the Western Hemisphere, Mr. Trump didn’t carry through on reversing Obama administration policies on Cuba and Venezuela. His affinity for strongmen may lead to deals with Nicolás Maduro and whatever apparatchik rules in Havana.

Given Mr. Trump’s isolationism and disconnected thinking, there is every reason to doubt his support for the defense buildup we urgently need. He initially believed he could cut defense spending simply because his skills as a negotiator could reduce procurement costs. Even as he increased defense budgets, he showed acute discomfort, largely under the influence of isolationist lawmakers. He once tweeted that his own military budget was “crazy” and that he, Mr. Putin and Mr. Xi should confer to prevent a new arms race. Mr. Trump is no friend of the military. In private, he was confounded that anyone would put himself in danger by joining.

A second Trump term would bring erratic policy and uncertain leadership, which the China-Russia axis would be only too eager to exploit.

Mr. Bolton served as the president’s national security adviser, 2018-19, and ambassador to the United Nations, 2005-06. This article is adapted from the forward to the new edition of his book “The Room Where It Happened: A White House Memoir.”

Wonder Land: Despite weeks working with Democrats to shape a compromise on illegal migration that also bolsters national security threats, the Trump-dominated GOP intends to do nothing until Election Day. Images: AP/Zuma Press/Bloomberg News Composite: Mark Kelly

Copyright ©2024 Dow Jones & Company, Inc. All Rights Reserved. 87990cbe856818d5eddac44c7b1cdeb8

Appeared in the February 1, 2024, print edition as 'Trump Is a Danger to U.S. Security'.


From West to East, dangerous Chinese interference networks spread around the world | Taiwan News | 2024-02-01 10:08:00

The Chinese Communist Party (CCP) is running a global network of "consular volunteers" through its embassies and consulates who form part of its “United Front” influence and enforcement operations on foreign soil.

In recent years, Canada has found itself entangled in a web of alleged interference orchestrated by China, raising concerns about the sanctity of its democratic processes. Disturbing reports have emerged, painting a picture of a systematic attempt by China to infiltrate Canadian politics, with potential implications for the nation's sovereignty and security.

The saga began with accusations of interference in the 2019 and 2021 Canadian federal elections, as highlighted by Canadian media. China's attempts to sway these crucial democratic processes were reportedly coupled with threats directed at Canadian politicians, creating an atmosphere of vulnerability within the political landscape.

A particularly concerning revelation surfaced in late 2022 when Canada's Global News reported on a suspected attempt by China to infiltrate the Canadian Parliament. The alleged scheme involved funding a network of candidates for the 2019 federal election, exposing the intricate methods employed by Chinese
entities to influence Canadian politics.

Classified documents from the Canadian Security Intelligence Service (CSIS) in early 2023 added fuel to the fire, unveiling disinformation campaigns and undisclosed donations orchestrated by China's Ministry of State Security and United Front Work Department. The objective was to support candidates sympathetic
to Beijing's interests during the 2021 Canadian federal election.

One of the most damning revelations came in a November 2022 investigative report by Global News, exposing a CCP proxy group that mobilized substantial funds to infiltrate the election network. The involvement of a Legislative Assembly member and an election candidate's staffer as intermediaries underscored the intricate nature of the alleged interference.

More recently, audio tapes surfaced, revealing a Canadian senator's promise of support to members of the CCP's United Front. The private briefing in May 2020 exposed the senator's commitment to shielding these individuals from critical scrutiny, raising questions about the extent of influence within Canadian political circles.

The United Front, a political strategy employed by the CCP, involves networks of groups and individuals influenced or controlled by the party to advance its interests globally. The alleged involvement of high-profile Canadian politicians, including cabinet minister Mary Ng, suggests a worrying infiltration of influential figures by the Chinese Consulate and United Front influence networks.

Experts warn that China's global strategies aim to leverage overseas Chinese diaspora communities against the democratic institutions of host nations. Intelligence reports indicate that Chinese Consulate officers and proxy agents interfere in elections at all levels of the Canadian government, offering funding, logistical support, and media backing to preferred candidates.

Canadian intelligence investigations have uncovered a foreign interference network in the Greater Toronto Area, implicating Chinese consulates, community leaders, and politicians. It is believed that targeted politicians' staff provide advice on China-related issues, while community leaders facilitate the clandestine transfer of funds and recruit potential targets.

Even more alarming is the reported involvement of the transnational Chinese mafia, particularly the Fujian mafia, in monitoring and interfering with diaspora communities. The nexus between an elite Chinese Mafia suspect in British Columbia and CCP police stations raises questions about the extent of criminal networks operating in Canada.

A damning report by the International Coalition Against Illicit Economies highlighted Canada's vulnerability as a safe zone for transnational criminal networks, undermining both national security and democracy. The report emphasized Canada's role as a hub for illicit trade and money laundering, enabling criminal and terrorist organizations to operate with impunity.

Deep infiltration of Vancouver's seaport by Iranian gangsters and the Big Circle Boys, a transnational mafia directed from China, adds another layer of complexity to the situation. Reports indicate that Canada has become a global source state for fentanyl production, further highlighting the multifaceted threats posed by these criminal networks.

Chinese interference in Canada extends beyond elections, with revelations about the covert "takeover" of Chinese-language media. Sophisticated and well-funded schemes, coupled with threats against journalists, aim to control "key media entities" and influence Canadian media to favor Beijing's interests.

The implications are clear – Canada is facing an extensive network of Chinese interference, mirroring similar threats in Australia, New Zealand, the U.K., the U.S., and other Western nations. China is also alleged to attempting to control global bodies like the U.N. and WHO and weaponize them for its advantage.

The U.K.'s House of Commons Intelligence and Security Committee said in a report released last year that the intelligence threat posed by China is compounded by a "whole-of-state" approach with the use of state and non-state players for spying.

In 2022, a British man who worked as a researcher at Britain's Parliament and worked with prominent lawmakers on China policy was arrested on suspicion of working for the Chinese government.

In Australia, it is believed that China announced a security pact with the Solomon Islands during an election campaign in 2022 to undermine the incumbent government. In April, a senior Australian minister, Karen Andrews, suggested that China had deliberately announced its security pact with the Solomon Islands during an election campaign to undermine her government's chances of reelection.

The accusation by Andrews, then home minister in the Scott Morrison government, was consistent with her conservative Liberal Party's argument that Beijing wanted the center-left Labor Party to win the May 2022 election because Labor lawmakers were less likely to stand up to Chinese economic coercion. In February 2023, former Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull told an inquiry that Australian security agencies know China is carrying out “blatant” influence operations despite the lack of listings on the country’s transparency register.

Experts also warn that the CCP threat networks involving Chinese transnational crime and Triad groups with direct UFWD ties and Chinese intelligence ties to MSS, MPS, and PLA, are of acute risk to ASEAN states as well.

Beijing leverages business agents, diaspora communities, illicit fund flows, casinos, narcotics and weapon and animal trafficking, and prostitution networks, as purportedly legitimate investments through Belt and Road and related Chinese investment/loan programs, to leverage populations of external states to achieve objectives of extreme political influence and control over the policy of these external states.

As we see in Taiwan, Beijing is overtly attempting or threatening state capture with military means after attempting for decades to capture Taiwan. In November, tech giant Meta warned that Russian and Chinese interference networks were "building audiences" ahead of 2024.

Foreign interference groups are attempting to build and reach online audiences ahead of several significant elections next year, “and we need to remain alert," Meta said.

National elections are set to be held in the United States, United Kingdom, and India—three of the world’s largest economies—as well as in several countries that have previously been targeted by foreign interference, including Taiwan (which had its election on Jan. 13) and Moldova.

Meta released findings on three separate influence operations — two from China and one from Russia. The Chinese campaigns primarily targeted India and the Tibet region, as well as the United States. The Russian campaign — linked to employees of state-controlled media entity RT — focused on criticizing U.S. President Joe Biden for his support of Ukraine, and French President Emmanuel Macron for France’s activity in West Africa.

Sam Cooper is an award-winning investigative journalist and best-selling author, who has presented his anti-corruption findings to Canadian law enforcement agencies, officials in the Pentagon, financial and legal professionals, and academics. Cooper graduated with a degree in history, philosophy and English from the University of Toronto and a certificate in Journalism from Langara College, before reporting for The Province and Vancouver Sun in British Columbia, and Global News in Ottawa. Cooper founded The Bureau, an independent investigative reporting platform, in June 2023.


‘You Have Blood on Your Hands’: Senators Say Tech Platforms Hurt Children

Chief executives from tech companies, including Meta CEO Mark Zuckerberg, faced lawmakers Wednesday, in a hearing highlighting risks that social-media platforms pose to children. Photo: Andrew Caballero-Reynolds/AFP/Getty Images

Mark Zuckerberg, TikTok’s Shou Zi Chew and other tech CEOs faced withering bipartisan criticism on Wednesday from senators who said social-media platforms must bear more legal liability when children are harmed online.

“You have blood on your hands,” Sen. Lindsey Graham (R., S.C.) told the executives during a hearing of the Senate Judiciary Committee, eliciting applause from a packed audience that included many holding pictures of children. 

The presence of grieving families lent the roughly four-hour session an emotional charge, as lawmakers repeated stories of sexual exploitation, suicide and other suffering blamed on social media.

At the same time, it wasn’t clear it would lead to a different result than previous congressional tongue-lashings of the tech industry. Several senators acknowledged the futility of their legislative response to date, despite a bipartisan consensus that the current laws don’t adequately address harms to children on the platforms.

“We have an annual flogging every year,” said Sen. Thom Tillis (R., N.C.). “And what materially has occurred?”

The Wall Street Journal has highlighted persistent dangers to children on social-media platforms, including how Instagram’s algorithms connect a vast network of pedophiles. Several lawmakers cited the Journal’s reporting in their criticism, and they pointed to a wave of lawsuits filed by parents and state attorneys general seeking to hold platforms accountable. Senators noted that many had been dismissed under laws designed to protect online speech.

Senate Judiciary Chairman Dick Durbin (D., Ill.) blasted the executives for a “crisis” in child sexual exploitation online.

Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Sen. Dick Durbin (D., Ill.), right, listens as ranking member Sen. Lindsey Graham (R., S.C.) speaks during the hearing with the heads of social-media platforms on Wednesday.   Photo: Susan Walsh/Associated Press

“Their design choices, their failures to adequately invest in trust and safety, and their constant pursuit of engagement and profit over basic safety have all put our kids and grandkids at risk,” he said.

Zuckerberg, who got many of the most pointed questions, told lawmakers there are positive aspects of children’s interactions on Meta platforms. He also praised Facebook’s investment in child-safety work, saying the company has gone beyond legal requirements in seeking to remove abusive material.

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“I’m proud of the work that our teams do to improve online child safety on our services and across the entire internet,” Zuckerberg said, pointing to technology that detects inappropriate or abusive content and tools that he said help parents get more involved in children’s decisions.

Meta reported about 27.2 million instances of suspected child sexual-abuse material on its main platforms to the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children in 2022, far more than any other company, according to the nonprofit group’s data. The U.S. total for all platforms was about 32 million in 2022.

But Meta has announced plans to encrypt messaging on its platforms, a step that will block the automated detection systems responsible for the majority of its reports.

Zuckerberg under scrutiny

At one point, Sen. Josh Hawley (R., Mo.) asked Zuckerberg to apologize to parents in the audience. The Facebook founder stood, turned, and said: “I’m sorry for everything that you have all gone through. It’s terrible. No one should have to go through the things that your families have.”

“This is why we invest so much and are going to continue doing industry leading efforts…to make sure that no one has to go through the types of things that your families have had to suffer,” he said.

Zuckerberg was asked about internal documents, released Wednesday by two lawmakers, that show top company officials asking him to invest in additional protections for children on their platforms.

Those requests for resources weren’t granted, according to state attorneys general who previously referenced some of the same material.

Meta CEO Mark Zuckerberg at Senate Judiciary Committee hearing on Wednesday. Photo: evelyn hockstein/Reuters

A Meta spokesman said the documents “do not provide the full context of how the company operates or what decisions were made” and noted Zuckerberg’s written testimony for the hearing said the company has spent $5 billion on safety and security in the past year.

Sen. Ted Cruz (R., Texas) cited a Journal report last year that Instagram in many cases has permitted users to search for terms that its algorithms know may be associated with illegal material. In such cases, a pop-up screen warned users the results “may contain images of child sexual abuse” and offered two options for users: “Get resources” and “See results anyway,” the Journal reported. 

“Mr. Zuckerberg, what the hell were you thinking?” Cruz asked. “In what sane universe is there a link to ‘See results anyway?’”

“Well, we might be wrong” about the material being inappropriate, Zuckerberg responded. He also noted that the company reports more suspected child-exploitation material to authorities than any other social-media company.

​​In response to questions from the Journal, Instagram removed the option for users to view search results for terms likely to produce illegal images.

TikTok data

Chew’s prepared remarks touted TikTok’s growing U.S. user base—now at 170 million, up from 150 million in 2023—and its average age of 30. He said the platform takes steps to minimize the exploitation of children, such as prohibitions on direct messaging for users under 16 and on recommending their videos to strangers.

But Chew ran into critical questions from Sen. John Cornyn (R., Texas) over how well TikTok protects its U.S. users’ data from Chinese authorities. TikTok is owned by Beijing-based ByteDance, and U.S. officials worry that it could be forced to provide sensitive U.S. user data to Chinese authorities. 

Cornyn pointed to a Wall Street Journal report this week that TikTok is struggling to wall off U.S. users’ data from ByteDance as it has promised to do. Chew disputed the article’s accuracy but said that “no system that any one of us can build is perfect.”

TikTok CEO Shou Zi Chew ahead of the Senate hearing. Photo: Mark Schiefelbein/Associated Press

Legal liability

Groups representing young victims of online harms including social-media addiction and sexual exploitation held media events this week to help drum up support for lawmakers’ efforts to rein in social-media platforms. 

John DeMay, the father of a Michigan teenager who died by suicide after falling victim to an online extortion scheme, said he hopes the Senate hearing will bring awareness “that social media is not a safe place, especially for children.” He and his family are considering legal options.

But suing the companies for harm to children can be legally difficult.

Currently, the platforms often can avoid liability when someone is harmed as a result of social-media use because of special legal protections that Congress created for the platforms in the 1990s when the internet was in its infancy. Those protections generally immunize the platforms from liability for harm from content generated by other users. 

Snap CEO Evan Spiegel at Wednesday’s hearing where many in the packed audience held pictures of children.  Photo: evelyn hockstein/Reuters

Durbin and other lawmakers have proposed removing those special legal protections in cases where children are sexually exploited.  

Industry representatives say that those bills could harm users’ privacy, mainly by discouraging the platforms’ use of encryption. Tech industry allies argue that could affect a range of groups from LGBTQ youth to people seeking reproductive health services.


How should tech companies work to mitigate the growing online risks to children? Join the conversation below.





The Morning

San Francisco’s “Pro-Drug Culture”

The city’s addiction crisis has worsened quickly — and culture is a big factor.

A person wearing latex gloves holding used syringes.
Needle exchange in San Francisco.Credit...Aaron Wojack for The New York Times
A person wearing latex gloves holding used syringes.
You’re reading The Morning newsletter.  Make sense of the day’s news and ideas. David Leonhardt and Times journalists guide you through what’s happening — and why it matters. 

For some San Franciscans, a drug crisis is just part of city living. They see people shooting up in front of their homes and businesses. They often find someone dozing on a sidewalk, high. Sometimes, they check for a pulse. “That’s how I found my first dead body,” said Adam Mesnick, owner of a local deli.

But the city’s drug crisis is relatively new. In 2018, San Francisco’s overdose death rate roughly matched the national average. Last year, its death rate was more than double the national level.

Drug overdose deaths per 100,000 residents

12-month rolling averages. Drug death numbers for 2023 are provisional.


By The New York Times

I recently spent time in San Francisco to understand what is going on. In today’s newsletter, I want to explain one of the factors that has contributed to the city’s crisis: culture.

Culture can sound like an abstract concept, but it matters for drug policy. Consider smoking. In 1965, more than 42 percent of American adults smoked cigarettes. In 2021, less than 12 percent did. The country did not criminalize tobacco. And while policy changes like higher taxes played a role, much of the drop happened through a sustained public health campaign that led most Americans to reject smoking.

In San Francisco and other liberal cities, the opposite shift has happened with hard drug use. The culture has become more tolerant of people using drugs. When I asked people living on the streets why they are in San Francisco, the most common response was that they knew they could avoid the legal and social penalties that often follow addiction. Some came from as close as Oakland, believing that San Francisco was more permissive. As Keith Humphreys, a drug policy expert at Stanford University, told me, San Francisco “is on the extreme of a pro-drug culture.”

San Francisco’s change is rooted in a broader effort to destigmatize addiction. Some experts and activists have argued that a less punitive and judgmental approach to drug use would help users get treatment — a “love the sinner, hate the sin” attitude.

Over time, though, these efforts in liberal cities have expanded from users to drug use itself. Activists in San Francisco now refer to “body autonomy” — arguing that people have the right to put whatever they choose into their veins and lungs. They no longer want to hate the sin. They say it’s no one’s business but the drug user’s.

One example of this shift: In early 2020, an advocacy group put up a billboard downtown to promote the use of naloxone, an overdose antidote. It showed happy young people seeming to enjoy a high together. “Know overdose,” the billboard said. “Use with people and take turns.” Here, drug use wasn’t dangerous as long as users had someone to check on them while high.

The shift is also present in drug-related service providers in San Francisco. Michael Discepola, director of health access at the program GLIDE, said that his organization wants people to use drugs more safely. Abstinence is not always the correct goal, he argued. When one client declared that he wanted to quit drugs, Discepola explained, GLIDE suggested “more realistic goals.”

Other countries’ experiences show it is possible to relax drug laws, as many liberals want to do, without relaxing attitudes. In 2000, Portugal removed the threat of prison time for drug use. But it’s still a predominantly Catholic, socially conservative country that largely looks down on the practice.

Portugal’s system reflects those attitudes by pushing people to stop using drugs. Even its harm-reduction programs, which aim to keep people alive over getting them to quit drugs, work with the country’s treatment system to help people stop using.

In San Francisco, harm-reduction programs such as GLIDE do not require staff to guide people toward treatment. They argue that such pushiness could scare away clients who are not interested in quitting drugs. They often cite the drug policies of British Columbia, a global leader in harm reduction. But British Columbia set a record for overdose death rates last year.

I go into more detail about the differences between San Francisco and Portugal in this new story for The Times’s Upshot section, including a chart that compares overdose death rates across Europe.

Related: Oregon officials declared a 90-day state of emergency over fentanyl in Portland, part of an effort to reduce public drug use.