Rep. Chris Stewart on Tuesday hosted a security summit where he said the idea of American goodness is at risk, a top Trump official declared China an “existential challenge” and a Fox News contributor argued a biased media undermines national safety.
Robert O’Brien, the president’s national security adviser, delivered the keynote speech on China during the three-hour morning summit, which also explored the dangers of unsustainable government spending and political dysfunction. This is the sixth year that Stewart, a Utah Republican who sits on the House Intelligence Committee and was suggested by O’Brien as a potential candidate for national intelligence director, has organized the event.
O’Brien excoriated China for its efforts to amass global power, steal intellectual property and harvest data about Americans. In response, the Trump administration has taken what O’Brien called a “competitive” approach — imposing tariffs, revoking visas for students with alleged ties to China’s military and sanctioning Hong Kong and China for cracking down on pro-democracy protesters.
“Weakness in the face of Chinese assertiveness and aggression is provocative and will only invite further encroachments on our national interest, potentially leading to conflict,” he told the group gathered at a hotel ballroom in Salt Lake City. “Peace through strength has been proven throughout history.”
Later, during a question-and-answer session with KUTV’s Heidi Hatch, the adviser to President Donald Trump named China as the nation that poses the biggest threat to the United States because of its large population, vast resources and ideological steadfastness.
The Trump administration has already taken the first step to containing this security risk, O’Brien argued, by imposing tariffs on Chinese imports. The 2018 decision triggered a trade war, and the World Trade Organization recently found that the tariffs violated international trade rules.
O’Brien said the United States could continue its tough approach by building up its military and investing in missile technology and ballistics.
“We’ve got to remain strong so that we deter the Chinese from ever believing that if they did engage in a conflict with us, they could prevail,” he said. “As long as they know they won’t prevail in a conflict with us, that will keep them in some sort of check.”
In response to a question from Hatch about TikTok, O’Brien recommended deleting the social media platform that he claimed is harvesting user data and funneling it back to the Chinese government, which he said is trying to develop “a profile on every American."
“Now with artificial intelligence and machine learning and big data, the Chinese can take all of this and develop a social credit score for everybody around the world,” O’Brien said. “And then the Chinese Communist Party can use all that information to attempt to influence, to blackmail, to cajole, to flatter, to buy you if they can.”
The Trump administration has threatened to block the popular video-sharing service in the United States, although it hasn’t produced evidence that TikTok is helping China spy on Americans, and the social media company has denied those accusations. Federal officials recently approved a deal that could give American companies control over the app and alleviate some of the concerns over data-mining by the Chinese government.
Tuesday’s summit also featured Andrew McCarthy, a former assistant U.S. attorney in New York who is now a Fox News contributor and prolific writer against the special counsel investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 elections. Stewart was a staunch defender of the president during the Russia probe.
McCarthy, who also writes for the National Review, claimed that the Obama administration colluded with Hillary Clinton to defeat Trump in 2016 and complained that his reporting to this effect hasn’t emerged as a significant issue in the current presidential race. He also lambasted the mainstream media for straying from reporting facts without bias, saying the Founding Fathers would’ve been astonished to see the press “become an arm of one of the two major political bodies in the country.”
McCarthy warned that “there’s a straight line between the corruption of the role of the free media and our national security,” since U.S. citizens rely on trustworthy information to elect the best representatives and make critical foreign policy decisions.
To close the summit, Stewart, the representative of Utah’s 2nd Congressional District, warned attendees that many people are trying to tear down the idea of America’s fundamental goodness.
“Our country has been the greatest force for good in the history of the world,” he said. “But a growing number of people think that the foundation of our nation is actually evil and we need to in some way rip it down to the core and start over. And that is absolute nonsense.”
Stewart acknowledged the nation’s history of slavery and racial oppression but said that through the Civil War and civil rights movement, Americans demonstrated a commitment to the nation’s founding ideals. The move to challenge the nation’s bedrock principles has more power to destroy the U.S. than a foreign government, argued Stewart.
He ended with an exhortation to pray for America and defend the nation.