Miles Yu began life in rural China amid the madness of Mao Zedong’s Cultural Revolution, when Red Guard zealots roamed the country trashing and killing all vestiges of tradition and capitalism in the country.
Today, he is the principal China policy and planning adviser to Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, a key part of the storied Policy Planning Staff on the seventh floor of the State Department, the apex of American foreign policy located just a few steps from Mr. Pompeo’s office.
It’s an unlikely journey that has affected him deeply.
“Having grown up in communist China and now living my American dream, I think the world should be incalculably grateful to America because, as [President] Reagan said, America represents ‘the last best hope of man on Earth,’” Mr. Yu said in an exclusive interview with The Washington Times. “And I truly believe that.”
Mr. Pompeo praises Mr. Yu as “a central part of my team advising me with respect on how to ensure that we protect Americans and secure our freedoms in the face of challenges from the [Chinese Communist Party].”
The planning office was once headed by George Kennan, author of the “Mr. X” article in 1947 that set the stage for U.S. Cold War containment policies that ultimately dispatched the Soviet Union to the ash heap of history.
Mr. Yu, who for several years wrote the “Inside China” column for The Washington Times, made the journey from China to the United States in 1985. As a student, he became an active advocate of freedom and democracy after the Tiananmen Square protests and crackdown four years later.
After earning a doctorate at the University of California, Berkeley, he took a position as a professor of modern China and military history at the Naval Academy in Annapolis, Maryland.
In the past three years, Mr. Yu has been a powerful behind-the-scenes force within the Trump administration reshaping U.S. policies toward China, which has been redefined as America’s most significant strategic adversary. Mr. Yu calls the new China approach “principled realism.”
“Miles Yu is a national treasure,” said retired Air Force Brig. Gen. David Stilwell, assistant secretary of state for East Asia and Pacific affairs. “He understands the difference between democratic and authoritarian governance and can explain it better than anyone I know.”
At the White House, Deputy National Security Adviser Matt Pottinger, also a low-key but influential power player on China policy, calls Mr. Yu “an invaluable resource” for the Trump administration’s foreign policy team.
“His experience growing up under totalitarianism made him one of its most potent foes,” Mr. Pottinger said.
Mr. Stilwell said he is most impressed by Mr. Yu’s encyclopedic knowledge of U.S. and Chinese doctrine, not only from an academic perspective but also as a policy practitioner.
“He is a clear-eyed student of the Cold War and the U.S.-China-USSR dynamic. He understands the importance of culture and ideology in strategy-making,” Mr. Stilwell said.
Others on the team include Science and Technology Adviser Mung Chiang, a Hong Kong-born engineering professor, and Ambassador Kelley E. Currie, until recently deputy of the U.S. mission to the United Nations.
Mr. Yu, 57, as the key official for China on the policy planning staff, has been the driving intellectual force in helping Mr. Pompeo and Mr. Stilwell develop and implement President Trump’s “America First” policies toward China.
As a native Chinese language speaker and a trained analyst, Mr. Yu is one of the few high-ranking officials capable of decoding Chinese Communist Party-speak. Better than most other China experts in the U.S. government and on the outside, Mr. Yu has been able to identify hidden vulnerabilities and weaknesses in the Chinese leadership.
For instance, Beijing uses terms such as “win-win,” “mutual respect” and other Chinese proverbs that Mr. Yu says are “really hackneyed Chinese expressions with no substance if you really know the Chinese language and culture.”
By exploiting democracy’s open and often messy political exchanges, the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) leadership “has been able to capture a significant portion of our China policy elite class and let them do China’s bidding in the corridors of Western capitals and think tanks, where the U.S. is under constant criticism for our alleged ‘China bashing’ and other American sins by ‘fringe lunatics’ who have impure and incorrect thoughts about the CCP regime,” Mr. Yu said.
He said the Trump administration is the first in decades to recognize that Beijing played the “U.S. card” far better than the United States played the “China card.” He also argues that the Chinese system is in fact run by a communist party unwilling to be influenced by the outside world and is determined to create a world order of its own.
That system has become a worthy and serious strategic competitor bolstered by a Marxist-Leninist ideology and China-centered nationalism. The combination, Mr. Yu said, has allowed China to try to place itself as the moral and political center of the world — at the expense of the Western liberal order and democracy.
The new State Department approach has been outlined in several recent speeches by Mr. Pompeo that notably identified the CCP and not the Chinese people as the problem for bilateral relations.
The secretary of state has bluntly criticized what he sees as Beijing’s misbehavior, including cyberattacks, intellectual property theft, territorial aggression in the South China Sea and the repression of more than 1 million ethnic Uighurs in western China.
Mr. Stilwell said Mr. Yu is a key player in regular strategy sessions that help paint a complete picture of situations and how those situations have been created.
A Chinese boyhood
Mr. Yu was born in eastern Anhui province and grew up in Chongqing, now one of China’s megacities. Starting in 1966, China under Mao suffered the latest decadelong calamity known as the Cultural Revolution.
History was expunged to conform to communist revolutionary dogma, while thousands of Red Guards took to the streets to identify millions of people as “enemies of the state.”
“Although I was too young to fully experience the political madness,” Mr. Yu recalled in the interview, “my childhood innocence was brutally upended by the radical revolution’s violence, absurdity, ideological shriek, destruction of life, social trust and public mores, and utter hatred for anything Western or ‘bourgeois.’”
Millions of lives were destroyed during the Cultural Revolution, scholars say.
The Cultural Revolution ended with Mao’s demise in 1976, and reform-style communism was instituted under Deng Xiaoping and other Mao successors. Under Chinese President Xi Jinping, who is also secretary-general of the CCP, many of the Cultural Revolution’s hallmark excesses — including intensifying ideological indoctrination and personality cult around Mr. Xi — are returning to China, critics say.
Inspired by Reagan
After graduating from high school, Mr. Yu enrolled in Nankai University in Tianjian in 1979. Among his professors were several Americans teaching as part of the Fulbright Scholar exchange program.
“I soon realized I was wasting my time studying the mandatory dialectical materialism and dogmatic historical narratives,” he said.
It was Reagan who inspired him to seek out America. Mr. Yu secretly listened to some of Reagan’s 1980 speeches via the Chinese service of Voice of America. The presidential candidate seemed to the young Chinese scholar to be the most eloquent Western leader who understood the ideologically driven totalitarian system and why it had been such a massive failure wherever it was tried.
In 1985, he arrived at John F. Kennedy International Airport in New York to attend Swarthmore College in Pennsylvania. During postgraduate study at the University of California, Berkeley, Mr. Yu supported the massive pro-democracy protests that broke out in China in 1989 and resulted in the massacre at Tiananmen Square.
At Berkeley, Mr. Yu became actively involved in organizing like-minded graduate students and helped settle Chinese refugees from Tiananmen in the San Francisco Bay Area.
He also hosted the China Forum, a lecture series that gave voice to key Chinese dissidents, including Harry Wu and Fang Lizhi. Other speakers included former Ambassador to China James Lilley, scholar Orville Schell and author Bette Bao Lord.
After earning his doctorate from Berkeley in 1994, Mr. Yu became a professor at the Naval Academy, where he has taught hundreds of future naval officers on China and military history. Some of his former students are in China-related positions of responsibility at the Departments of Defense and State and still call him “Professor Yu.”
“It’s been both an honor and a privilege to teach the defenders of American liberty and democracy,” he said. “It completely fulfills my intellectual aspiration inspired byRonald Reagan back in the early 1980s.”
Ever since the U.S. government opened relations with Beijing in the 1970s, he said, Washington was overconfident about its ability to influence the direction of the relationship.
Cold War policymakers praised the gambit of playing “the China card” — moving closer to Beijing in a bid to undermine the Soviet Union. In reality, Mr. Yu said, it was China playing the U.S. card for its benefits and against American interests.
Next was the U.S. government’s frequent failure to distinguish or sufficiently articulate the differences between the Chinese people and the ruling CCP elites, Mr. Yu said.
“The enthusiastic pursuit of the capitalist, bourgeois lifestyle by the Chinese people in today’s China who are increasingly politically apathetic to communist ideology is routinely confused by our policy and cultural elites with the rigid and dogmatic Marxist-Leninist CCP inner core, whose people exercise total monopoly of political power and who are among the most ideologically intoxicated communists in recent memory,” Mr. Yu said.
Senior U.S. statements often refer to “the Chinese,” failing to make the distinction between the Chinese people and the party-dominated regime.
Another major shortfall, Mr. Yu said, has been the failure of political and policy elites to properly measure Beijing’s weaknesses and vulnerabilities and adopt sound policies accordingly.
“We have unwillingly succumbed to the CCP’s often blistering bluffs,” Mr. Yu said. “For decades, our China policy was carried out based upon an ‘anger management’ mode — that is, we formulated our China policy by calculating how mad the CCP might be at us, not what suits the best to American national interest.”
That approach, he said, resulted from a fundamental misunderstanding of China’s tactics: First raise the anger and rage level to a maximum level to see how the U.S. reacts.
“Unfortunately, too often we fell for this CCP sophistry and made our China policies to appease CCP sensitivities and fake outrage to avoid an often imagined and exaggerated direct confrontation with the seemingly enraged CCP. By doing so, we also failed to realize the enormous reputational and realistic advantages and leverage the U.S. has over a dictatorship,” Mr. Yu said.
In reality, the Chinese regime at its core is fragile and weak, fearful of its own people and utterly paranoid about confrontation from the West, especially the United States, he said.
“Miles Yu was a voice in the wilderness who for years warned about Chinese imperial agendas, Chinese systematic mercantile theft and cheating, and Chinese communist thuggery,” said the Hoover Institution’s Victor Davis Hanson.
“The nation is finally listening to him and a few others
who share his prescience — and his rise in stature is one of the most important
developments in U.S. policy toward China in
the last 20 years,” he said.
Q&A: Inspired by Reagan to come to America, Miles Yu now helps form China policy
By Bill Gertz - The
Monday, June 15, 2020
Miles Yu, who witnessed the devastation of Mao’s Cultural Revolution as a boy growing up in China, has now emerged as one of Secretary of State Mike Pompeo’s most influential advisers on U.S.-Sino relations. Below are excerpts of an interview Washington Times correspondent Bill Gertz recently conducted with Mr. Yu, now a senior member of the policy planning staff in Mr. Pompeo’s office.:
TWT: Tell me about your background. Where were you born and what was it like growing up during the Cultural Revolution?
Miles Yu: I was born in an obscure small place in eastern China’s Anhui province but grew up in the Chongqing area in southwestern China. My primary and middle school years were during the Cultural Revolution. Although I was too young to actively take part in the political madness, my childhood innocence was brutally upended by the communist revolution’s violence, absurdity, ideological shriek, destruction of social trust and public mores, and utter hatred for anything Western or “bourgeois”. These childhood experiences and memories have forged my elemental distaste for revolutionary radicalism and my deep disdain for Western apologists for the Chinese communist government and its many crimes.
TWT: What role did the Tiananmen pro-democracy protests and subsequent massacre play in your life?
Yu: If Ronald Reagan inspired me to come to America, Tiananmen rekindled my hope for freedom and democracy for China. Tiananmen turned me from a nerdy graduate student into a vocal supporter for Tiananmen protesters.
The biggest thing I did after Tiananmen was for nearly four years, I hosted a lecture series at Berkeley called the China Forum where I gave voices to Chinese dissidents such as Harry Wu, Wuer Kaixi, Liu Binyan and Fang Lizhi, and provided a public forum for marginalized American scholars to show their vindication on the CCP regime’s nature, and for many mainstream scholars and officials to deliver their mea culpa, offer analysis and re-evaluation of the China situation. Other speakers included Ambassador James Lilley, Orville Schell, Thomas Metzger, Tu Weiming, Frederic Wakeman, Jr., Bette Bao Lord, and Martin Malia. We printed the English transcript of these talks and the subscribers came from all over the country.
TWT: Tell me about your work as a Naval Academy professor. What are some of the highlights of teaching Naval Academy students?
Yu: I have been a professor of modern China and military history at the Naval Academy since 1994, straight from Berkeley. It’s both an honor and a privilege to be able to teach the defenders of American liberty and democracy. It completely fulfills my intellectual aspiration inspired by Ronald Reagan back in the early 1980s. All these years, when I walk into a classroom, I see not only college students eager to get a good education, but also the faces of midshipmen who voluntarily pledge their lives to make sure American democracy will not die. That means a tremendous amount to me, especially in this cynical age of ours when the fundamental goodness of the American system has even to be questioned by many among ourselves. Having grown up in communist China and now living my American dream, I think the world should be incalculably grateful to America, because, as Reagan said, America represents “the last best hope of man on Earth.” I truly believe that.
TWT: As a China expert, what are some of the shortcomings of past U.S. policies toward the PRC?
Yu: There have been some successes for the U.S. in dealing with China and a great number of Americans have dedicated to improving the bilateral relations. Yet until very recently, U.S.-China policy had been dominated by what I’d call the “missionary sentiment” toward China and the Chinese people. Under such a conceptual frame, China needs America’s altruistic help to step into the modern world, make it a responsible stakeholder, teach it how to behave in a civilized world.
And we believed that. America’s founding creed is “all men are created equal,” and if we provide China the chances — get them into the [World Trade Organization], open up our markets, science labs and weapons depots, etc. — China will surely begin behaving just like us, following the rules and respecting intellectual property rights. Implicit in this approach is that the Chinese communists are not really communists. They are pre-industrial and incapable of carrying out a grand communist experiment guided by modern Western radical ideology, with its roots in Germany and Russia.
So this kind of missionary sentiment effectively ruined our China policy during World War II, when a group of China-born young men of American missionary parents dominated our China policy ethos, which was carried on for many decades at the State Department and other U.S. government agencies, even long after the Nixon’s trip to China in 1972.
With such mentality, the U.S. made monumental blunders — related to the outbreak of the Korean War, the ideological roots of the Soviet-Chinese split over the purity of Marxism-Leninism (not Soviet communism vs. Chinese nationalism). There are more reasons, but I won’t get into detail for sake of time and space.
Yu: Recently I attended an event and heard a former senior official from a previous administration who ran our China policy state that the Trump administration has no China policy, only a China attitude. He was completely oblivious to the fact that China policy under his shop didn’t have [a policy] either. We not only have the right policy but also the right attitude toward China based on principled realism.
Under the Trump administration and with Secretary Pompeo at the helm in the State Department, we don’t just “manage” the bilateral relations with China, we innovate and seek results and modify some basic precepts of the relationship that are dinosaurs not reflective of reality. President Trump and Secretary Pompeo ended the long-practiced “anger management-based” China policy model — formulating our policy by calculating how not to make China sufficiently angry at us to save the constantly strained relationship — that had become a vicious cycle whereby the [Chinese Communist Party] essentially dictated much of our China policy and initiatives. President Trump came along and cut out the mumbo-jumbo.
The result is that the U.S. has extracted far more concessions from China and regained our China policy initiative in such a way that we now dictate the terms of bilateral discourse based upon results, transparency, reciprocity and most importantly, our national interest and founding principles.
The Trump administration started big and decisively, because we not only want to do things right, but also make sure we are doing the right things. We changed some of the conceptual foundations. At the outset of this administration, the White House revamped our strategic outlook and the president issued a landmark and far-reaching National Security Strategy in December 2017. Subsequently, the Pentagon issued the companion document known as the National Defense Strategy. Both documents ushered in an age of Great Power Competition in which China no longer will be treated by the U.S. as merely a “card” to be played in order to reach other strategic goals. Instead, China is at the top of our national security agenda, as there is no bigger threat than China and no other more important strategic goal than stemming China’s threat to the world.
All in all, I would say the Trump administration is the only American administration in nearly seven decades that effectively holds the [Chinese] government accountable for its malign actions in a meaningful way, whether they are related to Xinjiang, Hong Kong, predatory trade and currency manipulations, industrial, military and cyber espionage against the U.S.
We also began to robustly, without apology, uphold rules and laws governing the international commons, standing up against China’s bluffs and gaining more peace and security as a result.
The Navy, for example, has sailed American warships through the Taiwan Strait, an international waterway, more than 15 times in under two years despite China’s warnings, a feat unimaginable under any previous administration since Nixon. This act alone essentially internationalizes the waterway vital to Taiwan’s defense. American leadership in the Taiwan Strait [has been] followed by navies of many allies.
On a strategic level, President Trump singlehandedly changed the global dialogue on China, placing China at the top of America’s national security priority, re-orienting America’s strategic assets toward Asia-Pacific, not just with empty talk but with real commitment.
Secretary Pompeo has repeatedly stated that the challenge to the world posed by the Chinese regime is “the central threat of our times.” He made an important speech last October at the Hudson Institute in which he announced that the U.S. government could no longer ignore the political and ideological differences between China and the United States. We are not seeking confrontation — we are interacting with China based upon what China is but not what we wish it to be. In that historic speech, Secretary Pompeo also clearly stated that the Chinese Communist Party today is not the same as the Chinese people.
We have fought back against China in its attempts to dominate the world’s critical communications networks through Huawei and its 5G equipment, gaining more and more support from friends and allies.
We are the only major nation that actively exposes the CCP’s wholesale cover-up of the Wuhan virus that has ravaged the world, and demanded transparency from the Chinese government. Secretary Pompeo has spoken out forcibly in support of Hong Kong’s pro-democracy protesters, condemned in the strongest possible terms against the [China‘s] racist atrocities against the Uighurs in Xinjiang and other places in China.
Upon Secretary Pompeo’s certification of Hong Kong’s lack of sufficient autonomy, the president ordered the termination of Hong Kong’s special treatment. Unlike previous presidents, President Trump respects the will of the American people and without much hesitation signed overwhelmingly passed congressional bills into law, including the Taiwan Travel Act, the [Asia Reassurance Initiative Act], the Hong Kong Human Rights and Democracy Act and the TAIPEI ACT.
Under Secretary Pompeo’s leadership, the State Department has also placed religious freedom and global women’s right as part of the core actions of the American diplomacy. The list goes on and on.
All in all, this administration under President Trump and Secretary Pompeo’s strong leadership has been conducting a most realistic, most active, most productive, most efficient China policy in recent memory, with strong bipartisan support, without apology, without illusion about ourselves and the CCP government. Yes there have been fewer banquets and fruitless “strategic dialogues” with the Chinese leaders, but today’s bilateral interactions are of substance and results-oriented, either on trade, reciprocal exchanges or demand on coronavirus transparency.
The new American national security agenda treats the Chinese communist government as a worthy and serious strategic competitor armed with a Marxist-Leninist ideology and a hijacked, China-centric Chinese nationalism that places China as the moral and governance leader of the world at the expense of freedom and democracy.
TWT: Recently a new Strategic Approach on China was issued by the White House and it faulted past policies for not producing the desired results. How should the United States approach China strategically?
Yu: What’s so interesting about this document is that it says we have been wrong about China for the past several decades.
Richard Nixon in 1972 said similar things about how we had been wrong about our then-China policy. Before that, in 1949, when the [Communist Party] took over China, the State Department issued a China White Paper that also said we had been wrong about China for the previous decades. This is a sad history of constantly getting China wrong. The reasons for this peculiar phenomenon are the ones I mentioned earlier.
TWT: What role does Marxism-Leninism play in China today? What do people need to know about the role of ideology by Beijing?
Yu: [Chinese President] Xi Jinping is a diehard Communist who believes in the ideology.
In 1954, Mao Zedong laid out what has been considered the foundational creed and motto for the communist nation: “The essential force that leads our cause is the Chinese Communist Party; the theoretical foundation that guides out thinking is Marxism-Leninism.”
That fundamental CCP governance philosophy has not changed a bit in today’s China. Anyone in today’s China who openly challenges this precept will end up in jail or worse. For many Americans, especially, and sadly, for many key U.S. policy makers who have spent a career on China affairs, this is completely unknown to them.
In Ralph Ellison’s “the Invisible Man,” the black protagonist in the book lamented his problem, “It’s not that I am invisible, it is that you refuse to see me.”
This remains also true in the China field — It is not that the CCP is not ideologically driven, it is that we refuse to see it that way.
Without understanding the deeply ideological impulses of PRC domestic and international policies, we cannot grip how the communist theories such as epic struggle between the socialist and capitalist systems, the Leninist “weakest link,” Mao Zedong’s “Continuous Revolution” and other Marxist-Leninist dogmas dominate the CCP’s strategic calculations. Look at today’s CCP’s initiatives: the Belt and Road Initiative gambit, its ruthless war against organized religions of all kinds, its crusade against the American “Black Hand” forces in Hong Kong’s protests, and its Leninist approach that can be seen in the latest Hong Kong national security law abomination — all have their Marxist-Leninist theoretical justifications.
Even fighting the coronavirus is viewed as a manifestation of the CCP’s glory and communist invincibility — the day after Xi Jinping convened a Politburo emergency meeting on the Wuhan outbreak, the CCP general secretary called for the party members’ sacrifice in fighting the outbreak, and instructed, ” The advanced nature and purity of a Marxist party will not persist naturally with the passage of time. … Every party member must constantly purify his thoughts, rid of spiritual virus and pollution through ceaseless self-inspection, self-analysis, and self-reflection.” That was on January 8, 2020, at the peak of the Wuhan outbreak.