Keith Krach, former undersecretary of state for economic growth, energy, and the environment in the Trump administration, is adamant about what questions he would have lawmakers ask TikTok’s chief executive officer, Shou Zi Chew, during Shou’s appearance before the House Energy and Commerce Committee on March 23.
“Well, maybe the first thing I’d ask him is, ‘Are there members of the [Chinese] Communist Party on your board?’ And the answer would be ‘yes,’” says Krach, who chairs the Krach Institute for Tech Diplomacy at Purdue University.
“I think the other questions I would ask him would be around China’s national security intelligence act that requires any Chinese company, state-owned or otherwise, or any Chinese individual, to turn over any data, proprietary information, anything of that sort, data upon request of the Chinese Communist Party,” Krach added, “And if you don’t do that, you’re going to go to prison. I would ask him about that.”
Krach joins today’s episode of “The Daily Signal Podcast” to discuss some of the national security concerns surrounding the Chinese-owned app TikTok and Chinese President Xi Jinping’s upcoming meeting in Moscow to meet with Russian President Vladimir Putin next week.
Listen to the podcast below:
Samantha Aschieris: Keith Krach is joining today’s show. Keith served as the undersecretary of State for the Trump administration. He’s also the chairman of the Krach Institute for Tech Diplomacy at Purdue. Keith, thanks so much for joining me.
Keith Krach: Samantha, it’s great to be back. Thanks so much for having me.
Aschieris: Of course. Now, I just want to dive in right away and talk about what’s happening less than a week from today. On March 23, the CEO of TikTok is set to testify before the House Energy and Commerce Committee. If you were in the position to ask the CEO of TikTok a question, what would you ask him?
Krach: Well, maybe the first thing I’d ask him is, are there members of the Communist Party on your board? And the answer would be yes. I think the other questions I would ask him would be around China’s national security intelligence act that requires any Chinese company, state owned or otherwise, or any Chinese individual to turn over any data, proprietary information, anything of that sort, data upon request of the Chinese Communist Party. And if you don’t do that, you’re going to go to prison. I would ask him about that.
Aschieris: And there is bipartisan support that I’m sure our audience is aware of, I know you’re aware of, to ban TikTok. Government agencies have less than a month now to ban the app from federal devices while there is legislation in Congress now. So can you walk us through some of the national security concerns surrounding TikTok that we’re hearing about?
Krach: Yeah, I think the first one is around data itself. So the way TikTok works is they can see any keystroke you make, whether you are engaged in the app or not. So in essence, they have access to all your personal information. So that’s a major security concern. The other is that TikTok uses it to spread the Chinese message and their propaganda.
The analogy that I always talked about as undersecretary of state was TikTok is the ultimate of the one-way China firewall where all the data comes in for their own use, but none goes out, and reciprocally, all their propaganda goes out, but the truth does not come in. And so this is symbolic of so many different companies that the Chinese Communist Party supports.
Aschieris: I wanted to also ask you, before we jump into China more broadly, I wanted to ask you about something that you recently launched, the Global Tech Security Commission. Could you talk about that and some of its goals?
Krach: Yeah, so, the overall goal that we’re chartered with is to develop a global tech security strategy, in essence, for the free world. What makes this commission unique is, first of all, it’s international in scope.
So we have 15 international country commissioners that represent our closest technological allies. We also have commissioners for each one of the 12 national security tech sectors, so experts in these particular areas. So, for example, for space, we have the former longest-serving Director of NASA Dan Goldin. And then we also have about 20 strategy commissioners. And these are people who are really experts in their fields in things like export controls, investment screening, venture capital, all kinds of things.
And the thing that also makes it different is most past commissions in this area were about pointing out the problems. This is really about coming up with solutions, offensive strategies, defensive strategies, as well as force multipliers. So this is about a year effort and we’ve got tremendous bipartisan support, support from the White House, support from the Commerce Department, the State Department, and we also have our honorary co-chairs that represent both sides of the aisle in terms of senators and congressman, five from each.
Aschieris: Thank you for talking more about that. I have been following it on your Twitter, the Global Tech Security Commission. If anyone is interested in looking more into that, we can provide a link so you can check that out. And just to talk more about China more broadly, they just wrapped up their annual National People’s Congress earlier this week, and I wanted to get your thoughts on some of the takeaways from the event.
Chinese leader Xi Jinping, unsurprisingly, secured a third five-year term as the country’s president and he also made a direct jab at the United States, reportedly saying, “Western countries—led by the U.S.—have implemented all around containment, encirclement, and suppression against us, bringing unprecedentedly severe challenges to our country’s development.” Keith, what do you think of Xi’s remarks?
Krach: Well, I think Xi’s remarks are propaganda to his people. If you look at what Xi’s been doing, he has been ramping up his aggression over the last few years. We really saw it accelerate when COVID first hit. And now he has unlimited power and more power than any dictator has ever had since 1945. And so you’re trying to claim U.S. is the aggressor. It’s not, it’s China is the aggressor.
And now you can see he’s really amping up things in terms of the private sector in China with these golden shares where they have 1% of the company, but they, in essence, control the board. And they’re really doing this in the financial sector and in the tech sector.
And I think the thing that I saw as I went around in 60 countries as we built up the Clean Network Alliance of Democracies to defeat China’s 5G master plan is that citizens of the world have really woken up to what I call China’s three C’s strategy of concealment, co-option, and coercion.
And I think citizens of the world now know that the pandemic was a result of the concealment of the virus. Citizens saw the co-option of Hong Kong, how it eviscerated citizens’ freedoms. And now people are realizing coercion in Xinjiang as punishable genocide and they don’t like it. So you’re seeing government leaders around the world, you’re seeing CEOs around the world standing up to China and their bullying tactics.
Aschieris: Yes. And also during the National People’s Congress, General Li Shangfu was appointed as the defense minister. And just for some context, the Trump administration sanctioned Li as well as China’s Equipment Development Department, which Li was leading at the time, in 2018 for buying Russian weapons. Now, as I mentioned at the top of the interview, you served in the Trump administration. So what are your thoughts on Li being appointed to this position? Were you surprised by it at all?
Krach: No, I don’t think I was surprised at it one bit. He’s close to Xi and Xi has to control the military because … the biggest paranoia I think of Xi is regime preservation. So you’ve got to control the military. He also spends probably more on their own security, the Chinese Communist Party security than they even do the military.
But there’s no doubt that they’re in a pact with Russia and there’s no doubt that they’re supplying all kinds of things to Russia. And that’s one of the things that the president is really clamping down on. And this is something that, this is the axis of evil when you look at China, Russia, North Korea, and Iran. And these guys want to perpetuate authoritarianism not only in their own countries, but China is exporting it around the world with their surveillance tools and their money and those kind of things.
Aschieris: You brought up the military just then, and I wanted to also get your thoughts on this announcement from China that they’re planning to increase their military budget by 7.2%. That’s about $225 billion. What do you think this tells us about the Chinese Communist Party’s future intentions?
Krach: Well, I think it speaks for itself, that these guys have been ramping this up for years and years and years. And they’ve also been ramping up their technology. The country with the best technology wins the war. And that’s the thing I think that’s really concerning. And the potential invasion of Taiwan, which is really a cornerstone of democracy, not just in the region, but all around the world. And to Xi, what this does, it dispels his myth that the Chinese culture can only live under authoritarian rule and he wants it destroyed.
So what do we do from our end is the question. Well, we got to take off those rose-colored glasses and not treat China how we hope they be, but truly how they are. And these guys are a threat to freedom.
Aschieris: I know we talked earlier about what’s happening next week in terms of the CEO of TikTok testifying here in the United States, but over in Russia, President Xi Jinping is expected to meet with Russian President Vladimir Putin. He’s also likely going to speak with Ukrainian President [Volodymyr] Zelenskyy next week as well. What do you think Xi and Putin will be discussing? I know there’s been reports that China could be supplying Russia with lethal aid. Do you think it could be related to that?
Krach: Absolutely. I mean, who knows what goes on behind those closed-door discussions, but it’s truly about, how do we build this alliance between China and Russia? They share a real big border and Putin needs so many different things from China, and not just weapons, but clearly money. Xi’s getting bottom-basement prices on oil from Russia. It’s keeping these guys afloat. So yeah, they’re collaborating and for sure it’s about supporting whatever Xi decides to do with Taiwan.
Aschieris: Yeah. Keith, just before we wrap up, I wanted to ask you if you had any final thoughts about what we talked about today or if there’s anything that you want our audience to remember coming out of this interview.
Krach: Well, I think, one thing, there’s a law in the United States that broadcast companies, and this is with regard to TikTok, that broadcast companies cannot be owned by foreign companies. And if you think of what TikTok is, it’s a broadcast company. And no matter how you look at it, this application needs to be banned in the United States. It needs to be banned in our allies’ countries as well. And there’s no way to separate their data and parse it off through the Chinese firewall. All that is a ruse.
And so I’m really glad to see the action in Congress where this is a real bipartisan effort. I mean, this whole China issue is the biggest bipartisan issue on Capitol Hill. And so I think this is really critical. And I think one of the big things that I’m seeing out here in Silicon Valley is the CEOs have really woken up and they realize that they’ve got to put together a Chinese contingency plan.
I penned an article on Fortune a few months ago that said, present your China contingency plan at the next board meeting because the most respected board members in America are demanding that from their CEOs because they know that their fiduciary duty to their shareholders is to mitigate risk. And this geopolitical risk that China is causing is right at the top of the list equivalent to a cyber breach for these companies. And they all have plans on the wall.
And so we’re seeing that, and that’s one of the things that the Krach Institute, we’ve been getting a lot of requests for what’s a China consistency plan look like? What’s a checklist look like? And that’s something we’ll be releasing pretty soon.
Aschieris: Well, great. Keith, thank you so much. I will definitely keep an eye out for that. I really appreciate you providing such great and valuable insight today on so many different topics. We’d love to have you back on in the future. Thank you so much, Keith Krach for joining us.
Krach: Always a pleasure, Samantha. Thanks so much.
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