In May 2019, the FBI's Foreign Influence Task Force quietly added a unit aimed at countering China's political influence in the United States. In an exclusive interview, an FBI official reveals for the first time the bureau's approach to countering China's interference in local and state politics.
Why it matters: "This is ultimately a potential systemic challenge to the world order that we've had for the past several decades," the FBI official tells Axios of China's efforts.
China's influence playbook centers around economic leverage stemming from its growing wealth. That includes:
- The big picture: There is a growing body of evidence that China devotes massive resources to influencing the political environments of foreign countries, including the United States.
- Unlike Russia, the Chinese Communist Party focuses on cultivating long-term relationships and using economic levers to coerce people into compliance, rather than targeting a specific election event.
- “For a long time we focused on the federal level, but we really have come to understand that the Chinese are playing a long game with the political influence in this country," the FBI official said. "So we have spent a lot more time and energy trying to understand the state and local people-to-people influences going on."
- Over the weekend, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo warned that China is targeting U.S. local and state officials.
- The use of economic “carrots and sticks” at the local and state levels.
- “Conduit contributions” to illegally funnel Chinese funds into U.S. politics.
- The use of Chinese government-linked proxies to cultivate relationships of dependency with a variety of American individuals and organizations.
- And it happens at every level of government and society. “The toolkit works just as well on a mayor as it would work on somebody in higher elected office," the official said.