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The Importance of Being Candid – by Matt Pottinger, Deputy National Security Advisor

A remarkable speech given in fluent Mandarin that most will not have the patience to hear, but those who are under the bootheels of Communist China will hear all too clearly. As a note to this video I have appended the transcript. Pottinger himself is a remarkable man whose career path is stunning.

Pottinger’s career switch was motivated by his experience in China and the Iraq War. By 2004, Pottinger had “sort of a sense of unease that China was not really going to converge with the more liberal order.” He believed that when it was powerful enough, China would “influence the world on its own terms, on the terms of the ruling party.” As he watched all the first phase of Iraq War unfold from a distant location in China, he was a bit troubled that “as a nation, the administration, the Congress and to a great extent the press as well had misjudged the nature of conflict.” China’s rise and the Iraq War had made him realize that democracy is “not inevitable and it shouldn’t be taken for granted but it is a form of government very much worth fighting for.”

In September 2005, Pottinger joined the Marine Corps and served as a military intelligence officer.  He was over-aged and out of shape when he joined. To meet the physical qualifications, he worked out with a Marine officer who was living in Beijing.  He served three deployments: one in Iraq from April to November 2007, and two in Afghanistan from November 2008 to May 2009 and July 2009 to May 2010.  On his second tour in Afghanistan, he met U.S. Army General Michael T. Flynn, with whom he co-wrote a report.  The report, published in January 2010 through the Center for a New American Security, was titled Fixing Intel: A Blueprint for Making Intelligence Relevant in Afghanistan.  After he left active service, Pottinger worked in New York City, including for the hedge fund Davidson Kempner Capital Management. Matthew Pottinger – Wikipedia

The following is the English-language version of “The Importance of Being Candid,” a speech delivered by Deputy National Security Advisor Matt Pottinger in Mandarin Chinese from the White House during a video conference hosted by Policy Exchange in London.

I’d like to thank Dean Godson and Policy Exchange for inviting me to deliver the ninth annual Colin Cramphorn lecture. We all look forward to a time when we can gather again in person for events like this. With new vaccines and therapeutics on the near horizon, I’m optimistic that day will soon arrive. In the meantime, let’s pretend we’re at the Red Lion pub and enjoy this convivial, trans-Atlantic video conference between Westminster and the White House. I’m betting on a lively discussion following my set remarks.

As most of you know, England and America are two countries separated by a common language. In order to bridge that divide, I’ve decided to give my remarks in Mandarin.

Truth be told, Dean Godson asked me to bust out my Chinese for the sake of higher ratings. Dean knew that a video of an earlier speech I delivered in Mandarin, about China’s May Fourth movement, was viewed more than one million times. Dean may have also known that a subsequent video I recorded in English for the Ronald Reagan Institute was, by contrast, barely noticed by even my own staff.

Naturally, Dean calculated that a white guy speaking in stilted Mandarin would be a bigger box-office draw than whatever message the white guy might be trying to convey.

So be it. As a character on The Simpsons once put it: “Come for the freak, stay for the food.”

Delivering these remarks in Mandarin has another benefit: It allows friends in China to join a conversation that is taking place with increasing regularity around the globe: A conversation about China’s relationship with the rest of the world.


But first, a smidgen of history to underscore what’s at stake.

Near the end of the 18th century, across the water and many miles from England, a group of visionary men drew up a constitution. The document they framed was designed to limit the powers of government, assert the rights of the people, and chart a path toward what they hoped would be a lasting democracy.

I’m talking, of course, about… Poland.

“Poland?” you ask. Don’t be embarrassed if 1790s Poland didn’t turn up in your high-school textbooks. Unlike the more famous U.S. Constitution, which was adopted just a few years earlier and still serves as the supreme law of the American republic, the Polish experiment with constitutional government was strangled in its infancy.

The problem was foreign interference. A faction of the Polish nobility felt threatened by the influence they would lose under the new constitution. So they sought Russian help in reestablishing the old order. Catherine the Great seized the opportunity to invade and then partition Poland—she took the east and Prussia took the west.

Then, after defeating a revolt led by Tadeusz Kosciuszko, a Polish military hero of the American Revolution, Russia—along with Prussia and Austria—carried out a final partition of Poland-Lithuania in 1795. The young Commonwealth was erased from the map altogether.

I mention Poland’s failed experiment for two reasons: First, it’s a reminder that democracy, while unrivaled in terms of legitimacy and results, is neither invincible nor inevitable. Second, interference in the affairs of free societies by autocratic regimes is a phenomenon that is waxing, not waning.

To stave off meddling, it never hurts to have favorable geography—a luxury Poland didn’t enjoy. Poland’s 18th Century neighbors were powerful European monarchies. America’s neighbors, by contrast, were the two best friends a fledgling democracy could ever ask for—the Atlantic and the Pacific.


But in the cyber age, autocratic governments can concoct disinformation, inject it into the public discourse of nations, and amplify it through self-improving algorithms from the other side of the earth. Are the blessings of oceans and channels sufficient barriers against this sort of meddling?

Not if the citizens of free and sovereign nations yield to complacency. Nations, including democracies, are undergoing the first stage of a real-life “stress test” of their ability to withstand covert, coercive, and corrupt influence by high-tech autocracies.

This may seem odd, because the autocracies are so vastly outnumbered. But they compensate by marshalling the full resources of their states, by learning from one another’s successes and failures, and sometimes by coordinating with one another.

Economic strength isn’t a prerequisite for waging cyber warfare. Thus, we see hackers tasked by Moscow and Tehran attempting to undermine confidence in the upcoming U.S. presidential election. But no regime has more riding on its ability to influence the perceptions, policies and priorities of foreign populations than the Chinese Communist Party.


In truth, we should’ve expected this. The Communist Party’s victory in the Chinese civil war owed less to its combat prowess against superior Nationalist forces than to its ability to infiltrate and manipulate the language, thinking, and actions of its adversaries. This is why the current Party leadership is redoubling its emphasis on “United Front” work.

The defining feature of United Front work is that it’s not transparent. The clue is in the name.

China’s United Front Work system is a gigantic government function with no analogue in democracies. China’s leaders call it a “magic weapon,” and the Party’s 90 million members are required to support its activities. While the system has many branches, the United Front Work Department alone has four times as many cadres as the U.S. State Department has foreign-service officers. But instead of practicing diplomacy with foreign governments—the Chinese foreign ministry handles that—the United Front gathers intelligence about, and works to influence, private citizens overseas. The focus is on foreign elites and the organizations they run. Think of a United Front worker as a cross between an intelligence collector, a propagandist, and a psychologist.

I know that sounds like the opening line to a joke. But United Front work is serious business, and it affects you and me. After all, the raw material for psychologists is data about their patients. The Party is compiling digital dossiers on millions of foreign citizens around the world. The exposure last month of a Chinese database on at least 2.4 million people around the world—including many of us on this call—speaks to the Party’s sheer ambition to wed traditional Leninist techniques with powerful new tools of digital surveillance.

The company building these dossiers, Shenzhen Zhenhua Data Information Technology Co, supports what its CEO reportedly calls “psychological warfare.” Zhenhua harvests and organizes public and private data about us for exploitation by its clients, which are organs of the Chinese security apparatus, according to its website.

The dossiers Zhenhua is compiling include people in virtually every country on earth, no matter how small. They include members of royal families and members of parliament, judges and clerks, tech mavens and budding entrepreneurs, four-star admirals and the crewmembers of warships, professors and think-tankers, and national and local officials. They also include children, who are fair game under Beijing’s rules of political warfare. No one is too prominent or too obscure.

Zhenhua isn’t a particularly large or sophisticated actor in the United Front world. It may even be acting opportunistically, because it thinks the Party will reward it. Far more powerful tech firms, including famous Chinese app developers, play a much bigger role in this kind of work.

Assembling dossiers has always been a feature of Leninist regimes. The material is used now, as before, to influence and intimidate, reward and blackmail, flatter and humiliate, divide and conquer. What’s new is how easy we’ve made it for autocrats to accumulate so much intimate data about ourselves—even people who’ve never set foot in China. We leave our intellectual property, our official documents, and our private lives on the table like open books. The smart phones we use all day to chat, search, buy, view, bank, navigate, network, worship and confide make our thoughts and actions as plain to cyber spooks as the plumes of exhaust from a vintage double-decker bus.

The Chinese Communist Party has reorganized its national strategy around harnessing that digital exhaust to expand the Party’s power and reach.


But what’s the ultimate point of all the data collection and exploitation? What is Beijing trying to influence us to do? The Party’s goal, in short, is to co-opt or bully people—and even nations—into a particular frame of mind that’s conducive to Beijing’s grand ambitions. It’s a paradoxical mindset—a state of cognitive dissonance that is at once credulous and fearful, complacent and defeatist. It’s a mindset that on Monday says “It’s too early to say whether Beijing poses a threat,” and by Friday says “They’re a threat, all right, but it’s too late to do anything about it now.” To be coaxed into such a mindset is to be seduced into submission—like taking the “blue pill” in The Matrix.

How does Beijing do it? This is where United Front propaganda and psychology come into play. The Party’s overseas propaganda has two consistent themes: “We own the future, so make your adjustments now.” And: “We’re just like you, so try not to worry.” Together, these assertions form the elaborate con at the heart of all Leninist movements.

The Kiwi scholar Anne-Marie Brady, a pioneer in sussing out United Front ploys, points to the Party’s global campaigns—“One Belt, One Road” and the “Community of Common Destiny for Mankind”—as classic specimens of the genre.

Brady calls United Front work a “tool to corrode and corrupt our political system, to weaken and divide us against each other, to erode the critical voice of our media, and turn our elites into clients of the Chinese Communist Party, their mouths stuffed with cash.”

The con doesn’t always work, of course. Facts sometimes get in the way. The profound waste and corruption of many One Belt, One Road projects is an example. When the con doesn’t induce acquiescence, the Party often resorts to intimidation and repression.

Take Hong Kong, where demonstrators took to the streets by the millions last year to protest Beijing’s efforts to undermine Hong Kong’s rule of law. If “socialism with Chinese characteristics” was the future, the demonstrators seemed to prefer staying firmly in the present.

So Beijing resorted to Plan B. It demolished Deng Xiaoping’s “One Country, Two Systems” framework and deprived Hong Kong of the autonomy that made it the most spectacular city in Asia.


None of this is reason for panic, mind you. It’s true the West is going through one of its periodic spells of self-doubt, when extreme political creeds surface on the left and the right, and some ideas are so foolish that, to paraphrase George Orwell, only an intellectual could believe them. So let’s pull up our socks and get back to common sense.

On the foreign policy front, President Trump has ingrained two principles worth sharing here, because they’re designed to preserve our sovereignty, promote stability, and reduce miscalculation. They are reciprocity and candor.

Reciprocity is the straightforward idea that when a country injures your interests, you return the favor. It is eminently reasonable and readily understood, including by would-be aggressors. It’s an inherently defensive approach, rooted in notions of fair play and deterrence.

Candor is the idea that democracies are safest when we speak honestly and publicly about and to our friends, our adversaries, and ourselves. This can take some getting used to. When President Reagan was preparing to give a speech in Berlin, several of his staff tried desperately to get him to remove a phrase they found embarrassing and needlessly provocative. Luckily, President Reagan went with his gut, and delivered the most famous line of his presidency: “Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall.”

Some will argue that confrontational rhetoric turns countries into enemies. This old chestnut of the U.S. diplomatic corps masquerades as humble policy, but is in fact quite arrogant because it presumes nations act primarily in reaction to whatever the United States says or does.

Clever adversaries use such thinking against us. By portraying truth-telling as an act of belligerence, autocrats try to badger democracies into silence—and often succeed. “This is the first and most important defeat free nations can ever suffer,” President Reagan said at Guildhall. “When free peoples cease telling the truth about and to their adversaries, they cease telling the truth to themselves.” Public candor actually promotes peace by reducing the space for strategic blunders.

Public candor applies to our internal affairs, too. There can be no double standard.

When Louis Armstrong performed in the Soviet Union as a cultural ambassador of the State Department, he spoke frankly about racial bigotry in the United States. When Reagan famously referred to the Soviet Union as an “Evil Empire,” he explored America’s own “legacy of evil”—including anti-Semitism and slavery—in the very same speech.


So it is in a spirit of friendship, reflection, and, yes, candor, that I ask friends in China to research the truth about your government’s policies toward the Uyghur people and other religious minorities. Ask yourselves why the editors of The Economist, in a cover article this week, called those policies “a crime against humanity” and “the most extensive violation in the world today of the principle that individuals have a right to liberty and dignity simply because they are people.”

As a Marine who spent three combat deployments fighting terrorists, I can tell you that what is taking place in Xinjiang bears no resemblance whatsoever to an ethical counter-terrorism strategy. Such abuses are what the Chinese diplomat P.C. Chang was trying to prevent when he helped draft the 1948 United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights. There is no credible justification I can find in Chinese philosophy, religion, or moral law for the concentration camps inside your borders.


Colin Cramphorn, for whom this lecture is named, was Chief Constable of West Yorkshire before his death from cancer in 2006. Colin worked the most notorious terrorism cases in British history, from the Omagh car-bombing to the London suicide attacks of 2005. When your day job is to confront evil, it’s hard to avoid dwelling at night on big questions about the human heart. Colin, a voracious and varied reader, sometimes consulted the writings of C.S. Lewis.

I’m told he found particular solace in The Screwtape Letters—Lewis’s brilliantly imagined monologue of a demon toiling in Satan’s bureaucracy. (John Cleese recorded a pitch-perfect rendition of the book a few decades ago, by the way. It’s on YouTube. I’m told Andy Serkis has recorded a version that gives Cleese a run for his money.)

“The safest road to Hell,” old Screwtape advises his nephew, “is the gradual one—the gentle slope, soft underfoot, without sudden turnings, without milestones, without signposts.”

I suspect Colin drew hope and courage from the knowledge that evil, properly identified and exposed, is frail—even farcical. And that calling it out in public—giving it “signposts”—inoculates us against temptation and liberates us from fear. As my friend Tony Dolan told me: “The great paradox of institutionalized evil is that it can be enormously powerful but also enormously fragile. Thus, it is compulsively aggressive and ultimately self-destructive. It senses its own moral absurdity. It knows it is a raft on a sea of ontological good.”

“What evil fears most is the publicly spoken truth.”

So speak up, everyone. And raise a glass tonight to the good constable Colin Cramphorn and to like-minded public servants the world over. They have our love and our thanks.

Comments on this entry are closed.

  • Kein IN PA October 26, 2020, 11:53 AM

    Thanks for posting this, Gerard.
    I will be sharing it with all of my Chinese contacts by sunrise tomorrow.

  • Tom Hyland October 26, 2020, 12:41 PM

    I’m not amused. Here’s proof of Chinese troops stationed in British Columbia. https://tinyurl.com/yxaefnse

    If you didn’t read the leaked transcript of a Canadian lawmaker describing the planned conquest of the Canadian people then here it is… the Chinese soldiers are the probable enforcers of this evil.

    “I want to provide you some very important information. I’m a committee member within the Liberal Party of Canada. I sit within several committee groups but the information I am providing is originating from the Strategic Planning committee (which is steered by the PMO).
    I need to start off by saying that I’m not happy doing this but I have to. As a Canadian and more importantly as a parent who wants a better future not only for my children but for other children as well. The other reason I am doing this is because roughly 30% of the committee members are not pleased with the direction this will take Canada, but our opinions have been ignored and they plan on moving forward toward their goals. They have also made it very clear that nothing will stop the planned outcomes. 
    The road map and aim was set out by the PMO and is as follows:
    – Phase in secondary lock down restrictions on a rolling basis, starting with major metropolitan areas first and expanding outward. Expected by November 2020.
    – Rush the acquisition of (or construction of) isolation facilities across every province and territory. Expected by December 2020.
    – Daily new cases of COVID-19 will surge beyond capacity of testing, including increases in COVID related deaths following the same growth curves. Expected by end of November 2020.
    – Complete and total secondary lock down (much stricter than the first and second rolling phase restrictions). Expected by end of December 2020 – early January 2021
    – Reform and expansion of the unemployment program to be transitioned into the universal basic income program. Expected by Q1 2021.
    – Projected COVID-19 mutation and/or co-infection with secondary virus (referred to as COVID-21) leading to a third wave with much higher mortality rate and higher rate of infection. Expected by February 2021.
    – Daily new cases of COVID-21 hospitalizations and COVID-19 and COVID-21 related deaths will exceed medical care facilities capacity. Expected Q1 – Q2 2021.
    – Enhanced lock down restrictions (referred to as Third Lock Down) will be implemented. Full travel restrictions will be imposed (including inter-province and inter-city). Expected Q2 2021.
    – Transitioning of individuals into the universal basic income program. Expected mid Q2 2021.
    – Projected supply chain break downs, inventory shortages, large economic instability. Expected late Q2 2021.
    – Deployment of military personnel into major metropolitan areas as well as all major roadways to establish travel checkpoints. Restrict travel and movement. Provide logistical support to the area. Expected by Q3 2021.
    Along with that provided road map the Strategic Planning committee was asked to design an effective way of transitioning Canadians to meet a unprecedented economic endeavor. One that would change the face of Canada and forever alter the lives of Canadians. What we were told was that in order to offset what was essentially an economic collapse on a international scale, that the federal government was going to offer Canadians a total debt relief. This is how it works: the federal government will offer to eliminate all personal debts (mortgages, loans, credit cards, etc) which all funding will be provided
    to Canada by the IMF under what will become known as the World Debt Reset program. In exchange for acceptance of this total debt forgiveness the individual would forfeit ownership of any and all property and assets forever. The individual would also have to agree to partake in the COVID-19 and COVID-21 vaccination schedule, which would provide the individual with unrestricted travel and unrestricted living even under a full lock down (through the use of photo identification referred to as Canada’s HealthPass) .
    Committee members asked who would become the owner of the forfeited property and assets in that scenario and what would happen to lenders or financial institutions, we were simply told “the World Debt Reset program will handle all of the details”. Several committee members also questioned what would happen to individuals if they refused to participate in the World Debt Reset program, or the HealthPass, or the vaccination schedule, and the answer we got was very troubling. Essentially we were told it was our duty to make sure we came up with a plan to ensure that would never happen. We were told it was in the individuals best interest to participate. When several committee members pushed relentlessly to get an answer we were told that those who refused would first live under the lock down restrictions indefinitely. And that over a short period of time as more Canadians transitioned into the debt forgiveness program, the ones who refused to participate would be deemed a public safety risk and would be relocated into isolation facilities. Once in those facilities they would be given two options, participate in the debt forgiveness program and be released, or stay indefinitely in the isolation facility under the classification of a serious public health risk and have all their assets seized.
    So as you can imagine after hearing all of this it turned into quite the heated discussion and escalated beyond anything I’ve ever witnessed before. In the end it was implied by the PMO that the whole agenda will move forward no matter who agrees with it or not. That it wont just be Canada but in fact all nations will have similar roadmaps and agendas. That we need to take advantage of the situations before us to promote change on a grander scale for the betterment of everyone. The members who were opposed and ones who brought up key issues that would arise from such a thing were completely ignored. Our opinions and concerns were ignored. We were simply told to just do it.
      All I know is that I don’t like it and I think its going to place Canadians into a dark future.”

  • Stargazer October 26, 2020, 1:05 PM

    Sunshine is the best disinfectant. Like the vampire, evil flees from the light of truth.

  • Kevin in PA October 26, 2020, 1:38 PM

    Tom Hyland,
    Take a look at this.
    I’m not in The Great White North, but the author is and seems to dispel the internment camps theory in Canada.
    I am also concerned about the play the globalists are making called the “Great Reset”. It is a power grab and the first step to dealing with it in the U.S. is reelection of Trump. He is one man and won’t be able to fix all problems, but he has the temperament to wreck the plans of the globalists. He is also a lightening rod and has attracted the ire of all enemies of the republic. He is bringing them all out into the open and thereby identifying clearly who our enemies are.

  • BroKen October 26, 2020, 5:40 PM

    Matt Pottinger 2024 (or soon thereafter)