The UAE was the first Arab country to send troops to Afghanistan alongside the U.S. and to provide significant assistance when the U.S. withdrew from there in 2021. China is the threat, not our allies. Photo: His Highness Mohammed bin Zayed Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi. (Photo by Hannah McKay - WPA Pool/Getty Images)
Legislation recently introduced in Congress purportedly seeks to confront China's growing global aggression on a broad range of fronts. While that goal is certainly urgent and important goal, regrettably, in reality,this document appears largely a pretext for attacking one of America's most impressive allies, the United Arab Emirates (UAE).
The legislation, titled the "Monitoring China-UAE Cooperation Act, " claims that the executive branch should "assess the relationship between China and the United Arab Emirates (UAE) in order to safeguard U.S. technology and national security." That might sound reasonable enough, butoddly it is levelled at a friend and in public.
The UAE is a staunch ally of the U.S. as well as home to a major joint U.S./UAE military installation. The UAE, demonstrating extraordinary leadership by His Highness Mohammed bin Zayed Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi and his outstanding advisors, was also the first Muslim country to sign on to the Abraham Accords, and initiated a truly warm peace between Muslim states and Israel after years of disputes that had destabilized the region. The UAE, in addition, was the first Arab country to send troops to Afghanistan alongside the U.S. and to provide significant assistance when the U.S. withdrew from there in 2021.
As with all bilateral relations, they are complex. The rationale of the legislation, to review and monitor this specific relationship because of the "potential threats from the Chinese Communist Party, " is, and should be, a serious concern – for the US, for the UAE and for the Free World. The proposed legislation attacks the UAE for having selected Huawei (a Chinese company) to provide the country's telecommunications infrastructure.
In many ways, the problem begins with 5G, a transformative telecommunications technology. It is one of the many economic battles being waged around the world today between the China and the West. The Chinese Communist Party (CCP) is using vast government resources to create unfair competitive advantages for Huawei and ZTE, Chinese companies, with an eye to disrupting normal market dynamics. The CCP's objective is to dominate the 5G global market, eliminate or marginalize competitors, and position itself to control the development of future technology platforms. It is yet another manifestation of aggressive tactics by the CCP that its members apparently hope will have major long term consequences. It has made no secret of its ambition to become a dominant world power this century, preferably by in 2049, Communist China's 100thanniversary.
The installation of Chinese 5G networks, however, distressingly provides China with access to steal the data that flows through the network. This situation creates a significant national security vulnerability for any country that elects to use it. Anyone with knowledge of the UAE would be able to see that at the moment it is focused on economic growth and harmony rather than global entanglements.
Communications technology was a major issue during my time serving as Ambassador to the Kingdom of the Netherlands. In an all-of-government effort – including the Commerce, Defense, State, the Intelligence community, and the White House –a full court press was initiated to educate the Dutch government on the stakes involved as they debated what technology providers they would select.
The U.S. does not have direct competitors to the Chinese companies, but Europe does. Fortunately, according to the European Commission.
if Huawei needs to be sidelined for security reasons, the European companies Nokia and Ericsson can provide clients with everything they need to develop 5G infrastructure.
The U.S. position was that it was important that the Dutch select a system that would protect our shared national security interests. The desired outcome would also result in a situation that the West, Europe, the U.S., and our allies in Asia would continue a strong and dominant position in this technology sector. He who owns this sector owns much of the future.
Other U.S. ambassadors had the same assignment. As we collaborated, it was obvious that our European allies shared our objectives. With each country, the goal was to install secure networks, recognizing that solutions might vary from country to country.
The U.S. also clearly articulated that if non-secure networks were put in place, our relationship as allies would not change. But the way the information and data were shared might.
Sensitive, secret, or top-secret communications could not be shared through channels that were compromised. U.S. government experts were confident that Huawei, ZTE, and other Chinese technology had trap doors that would allow access to ALL of the information flowing through them by the Chinese government. It was a serious security breach.
The U.S. would designate the way information, data, would be shared based on the technology that a country installed. The more Chinese content in sensitive areas, the more work-arounds would have to be installed. Those work-arounds would increase costs, complexity, and result in delays and inefficiencies. The U.S. did not tell countries what to do, just what the consequences would be depending on the decisions they made.
While 5G is the most visible sign of Chinese aggression in Europe, it employs different strategies in other parts of the world to disrupt U.S. relationship with countries. The Belt and Road Initiative and pandemic relief efforts are just two examples where China is attempting to gain influence and cooperation with countries the U.S. would describe as friends.
China's Belt and Road Initiative "is a global infrastructure project," the "centerpiece" of China's foreign policy – and a way of gaining extensive assets and influence throughout much of Africa and presumably wherever the CCP can locate geopolitical "soft spots."
China's efforts to gain influence are all designed to disrupt existing diplomatic relationships, to nudge the U.S. to the background. China will eventually use its new access to push its foreign policy agenda and compromise U.S. government interests. These are real and viable threats that need to be recognized.
National security cannot be compromised and diplomatic relations must be defended.
The "Monitoring China-UAE Cooperation Act," is, alas, a woefully misguided way to go about it. Congress may try to claim that it is trying to protect our national security against China's espionage and influence operations, but triggering friction against strong allies can end up delivering them into the hands of our adversaries – as our adversaries doubtless wish.
More congressional action is needed to counter the aggression of the CCP, but there are constructive and destructive ways to go about that. Sadly, this Act is profoundly counterproductive.
Here are some suggestions based on my experience as an Ambassador and Chairman of the House Intelligence Community to strengthen future legislation in general.
Most importantly, any new requirements would respect our friends and allies. Legislation highlighting a single specific country can only be perceived by that country as an insult, an affront. Whether it is in the economic or national security arena, the business of diplomacy is improving relationships, not damaging them.
The first recommendation is, especially among allies, above all to be discreet. Publicly airing disagreements has be among the most sure-fire ways to alienate allies you might need the most.
Second, this is a global problem, not unique to one country. China is trying to install its companies' products all over the globe. Some might even call China's aggressive push on 5G a pandemic. The Belt and Road initiative is a global effort. Its initiative to control ports at strategic points -- the cukoo's strategy of laying its eggs in another bird's nest. While this legislation accuses China of secretly building a military base inside of the UAE's commercial port in an attempt to establish a military presence in the region – that is a practice China is continuing to advance worldwide. It is the cukoo's strategy of laying its eggs in other birds' nests. Currently, the CCP is "borrowing" or controlling ports at both ends of the Panama Canal; at Djibouti which controls the critical Bab al-Mandeb Strait at the mouth of the Red Sea; at Bata, Equatorial Guinea on the Atlantic; the Mediterranean port of Haifa in Israel, Freeport in the Bahamas, not to mention that the CCP just spent $140 billion on ports, roads and power plants in Latin America, the Caribbean and Cuba, in "America's back yard." China has also tried to use pandemic relief efforts in more than 100 countries. U.S. interests are at risk around the world.
Rather than assaulting allies, and instead of clinging to a one-size-fits-all solution, the U.S. might craft legislation that would require the Director of National Intelligence to adjust requirements based on the relationship that the U.S. has with various countries. Five Eyes (Canada, U.K., Australia, and New Zealand), our closest intelligence partners, should have different requirements than NATO. The DNI would design a global system that is flexible enough to reflect the complex network of relationships that the U.S. has around the world. No two are exactly the same.
The legislation should be a whole of government approach coordinated by the DNI. The assessment should include all policies that China might use to further its global reach; economic, military, loans, foreign aid, etc. A comprehensive approach is vital if the U.S. is going to be able to understand the risk and respond appropriately.
The U.S. is late in launching its own "Manhattan Project" initiative to provide both its citizens and allies with a state-of the-art communications system; developing strong cyber offense and defense programs; vastly increasing America's military deterrence, and bolstering all electric gridsagainst potential electro-magnetic-pulse attacks. The "Green" initiative of windmills and solar panels now cratering the economy of the United Kingdom should be sufficient warning that these expensive and inefficient programs -- although well-intended -- are turning out to be nothing more than examples of wasted time, money and sorely misplaced priorities.
Finally, it would be most helpful if any legislation intended to further good relations would be practical. Instead of telling allies what they may not do, it is good to be able to offer credible alternatives.
China is the threat, not our allies.
Peter Hoekstra was US Ambassador to the Netherlands during the Trump administration. He served 18 years in the U.S. House of Representatives representing the second district of Michigan and served as Chairman and Ranking member of the House Intelligence Committee. He is currently Chairman of the Center for Security Policy Board of Advisors, and a Distinguished Senior Fellow at the Gatestone Institute.