"What can we do about it?" The question, John Demers said, was about China. It was 2018, and he, along with then-Attorney General Jeff Sessions, were sitting around the table with members of the FBI. The intelligence community was tracking a widescale campaign of intellectual theft and other economic espionage from the communist regime. China had been attacking the United States from within, and the Justice Department was ready to do something about it.
The result, Sessions told me on "Washington Watch," was a project called the China Initiative. Despite being excused as attorney general six days after it launched, the Alabama senator's taskforce is alive and thriving -- and one of the few nationwide efforts already in place to take on the country responsible for the global pandemic.
Since its inception, Politico points out, "the project has targeted a host of Chinese government officials." Most recently, in February, it charged four members of China's military with hacking and stealing more than 145 million Americans' information. "This was an organized and remarkably brazen criminal heist of sensitive information," Sessions's successor, William Barr, pointed out at the time. It was a powerful sign that China was taking advantage of America and violating the law long before the coronavirus. And yet, Sessions lamented, "very little action had been taken against the Chinese" up until his initiative.
Now, in just two years, the bureau says that more than a thousand cases are being investigated against China all over America. "And my view, fundamentally," Sessions insisted, "is that we need to say [our current relationship with the regime] is over. The pandemic and the way they've handled the [truth] about the virus is a Sputnik moment. It's a moment when everybody in America, [as] we saw [when] the Russians [were] moving forward with the satellites for the first time, [has] to wake up. It's time to understand the nature of this regime and start slamming the door on what they're doing, stand up to them, and not allow them to take advantage of the United States."
If America and the rest of the world had had just three more weeks of warning -- instead of this stream of Chinese lies, cover-up, and propaganda -- thousands of people would be alive.
"[W]e cannot let them wriggle off the hook," Senator Sessions insisted. "My experience is that when you talk to China, catch them red-handed on something, they deny it. You mentioned it again, they deny it. You mention it again, they deny it and then attack you... And then, finally, the world gets tired and goes away. But this one is too big. It cannot go away. We've got to bring the truth out. We need to take off the rose-colored glasses and to reestablish and reset our relationship with China... Many of us [had] hoped that they would moderate as they got wealthier and more educated. But they haven't. [They're] more brutal than ever."
Drawing on his vast years of experience in Congress and at the helm of the Justice Department, Sessions created his own roadmap for confronting China called "Betting on America." And it's not just a legal or diplomatic approach, but a practical, everyday American response. It calls for things like a select committee for investigation, a "Buy American" policy on medicine, supplies, and equipment, an end to funding for China and its accomplices, and other measures.
But ordinary citizens have a part to play too, he points out. When consumers see "Made in China" on the label, "they absolutely do need to look for alternatives... There are a lot of things that we can do," he assured listeners. "I really believe it's a historic moment for us to look with clarity at the nature of this regime that's become the second greatest economy in the world."