What kind of threat does China really pose to America? And is America ready to face that threat?
In the areas of agriculture, cybersecurity, and economics, China threatens our nation, Rep. Trent Kelly, R-Miss., says. China has “infiltrated our universities. They're buying our farmland. They're stealing technology,” Kelly says.
But China is not the only concern. Russia, Iran, and North Korea all pose danger to America that must be considered carefully, the congressman says.
Kelly joins “The Daily Signal Podcast” to discuss the ways in which China and other nations are seeking to undermine America, and how our country should prepare to face bad actors abroad.
Listen to the podcast below or read the lightly edited transcript:
Virginia Allen: It is my pleasure today to welcome to this show Mississippi Congressman Trent Kelly. Congressman, thank you so much for being here.
Rep. Trent Kelly: Well, it's an honor to be here and thank you for having me.
Allen: It is a pleasure to have you. Well, Congressman, I want to begin by really thanking you for your dedication to this country and specifically for your military service. For 36 years, you have served the Mississippi Army National Guard as a combat engineer. Would you just share a little bit about your experiences? I know that you were mobilized for Desert Storm. You deployed to Iraq twice, correct?
Kelly: That's correct. I think that's just important. It kind of goes to the core values of most of the men and women who serve this country. We don't do it for pay and for all those things. We love this nation and so it's just been an opportunity for me to give back to this nation that has given so much to me.
So, 36 years is a long time. I had a full head of hair when I started this thing. I don't know if soldiers made me pull it out or if some of the hard missions—but it is so important.
Now, I'm getting to the level, I'm on the strategic level as a major general, where the policies and things that we do impact soldiers' lives. So I think that's so important to give back not just to America as a whole, but to those service members who choose to serve this great nation.
Allen: And you serve currently on the House Armed Services Committee. You serve as ranking member on the intelligence and special operations subcommittee. You are constantly looking at what are those threats to our nation. So in your assessment, what are the greatest threats to our country right now?
Kelly: I think we have to keep our eye on China both economically and agriculturally and militarily and all those things. China, Russia are the biggest threats. They're opposing threats right now, but I'm also on the [Agriculture] Committee as well as the intel and Armed Services [committees]. I see food security. I think we really have to make sure our supply lines—and we have to be a nation as a whole in government be prepared to be self-sustaining should the need require.
I mean our energy policy, we went from an energy producer to now we're relying on others and taking down our strategic reserves. It is so important that we see national security as a whole of government and all those functions. In the military, we use DIME: diplomacy, information, military, and economy. But I think it's so important we see the national security threat as a whole.
Allen: And specifically in the areas of agriculture and national security, those are crossing paths a little bit right now in regards to China because we're seeing that China is coming to America and buying U.S. farmland. What do we know about that? What's happening there?
Kelly: Yeah. I mean, that's difficult because I don't think we know how much they're buying and I think we have to make sure that we shouldn't allow foreign countries to buy farmland here. So we need to put stipulations.
I tell our business owners right now, China, they're not buying it as China when they buy it. They're using straw men. … When you're selling large things, you need to make sure that you're investigating who exactly are we selling those to because we have to be self-sustaining and we have to not allow other countries to take advantage.
We need some reciprocity of how we deal with foreign nations, too. We allow China to operate so freely over here, but you go over there and I assure you don't have the same freedoms there. So I think there needs to be some reciprocity with these nations. If they're allowed to purchase here, we should be allowed to purchase there, and that's not always the case.
Allen: Well, of course, when we talk about China, we have to mention Taiwan and the conversation there and especially the president's comments over the weekend. An interview came out that he did with “60 Minutes” in which he was really pressed on the fact of, if China invades Taiwan, would America actually come to Taiwan's defense with troops? And the president said yes. What was your reaction to the president's comments and then also to the White House sort of starting to walk that comment back?
Kelly: Yeah, that's not the first time they've done this. So, he had experience and he did this prior about a couple of years ago, but I think we've always had political ambiguity in our response to China invading Taiwan. That being said, I think China needs to look at the tea leaves and most of the American politicians and most of the American people do not support Chinese using force to take Taiwan.
But as the president of the United States, you have to know your own policy and you have to be able to answer your own policy. So I think it's horrible that he's not doing that. But I also think we have to be very careful about not rattling sabers for war. But we are always prepared for war.
I think one thing China understands, seeing how Russia, when they invaded Ukraine and how the world came to our aid or to Ukraine's aid, I think it will be even more so if China chooses to invade Taiwan. There's such great partners of ours in that region: Japan, South Korea, and all those. So I think China needs to heed his words, but I think he should stick to the political ambiguity.
Allen: If you were to describe America's relationship with China right now at this present moment, how would you summarize it? Then, if we were to fast-forward five years, what do you predict about that relationship changing or morphing?
Kelly: We encouraged all our businesses many years ago to buy Chinese and to sell to China and so now we're asking them to back off and I think that's important, but I think we have to educate them. I think they have to understand the threat and the malign influence that China has used. I think they need to understand that they've infiltrated our universities. They're buying our farmland. They're stealing technology. They are not a human rights-friendly country.
I think we need to hold China accountable and so we just have to educate the Americans not only that we need to do that, but we need to tell them why. Americans demand not only that you ask them to do something, but that you tell them why you're doing that.
I think they will rise up and help us to start combating some of this because China's all over the world and they are stripping resources from everywhere in the world. So we've got to start investing not just here, but in other parts of the world to combat Chinese influence.
Allen: And what about the area of cybersecurity? Because we hear about Chinese technology. We hear about technology from the Russians. From the perspective of, as Americans, are we prepared enough to combat any sort of cybersecurity threats, whether it be from China, Russia, or any other bad actors?
Kelly: Yeah, I think we have to really re-look what the threshold of a not necessarily war, but where do we cross the line? Where is a country using cyber to attack? Where does that cross the line into something that requires sanctions or even more than sanctions?
So I don't think we're prepared because I don't think that we understand the problem set enough to address it. So we really have to work on that.
We work hard, but when they're continuously attacking and then we don't have any offensive capabilities—when they do something, we need the ability to do something back to them on the same scale, and right now I'm not convinced that we are prepared to do that.
Allen: Who are the other nations that we really need to be aware of and talking a lot about apart from China and Russia right now that we need to be very focused on as a nation and prepared to face on all fronts, whether that's cybersecurity, militarily, whatnot?
Kelly: Well, I mean, Iran is always going to be and they're trying to become nuclear. They're more regional in nature, though. They don't expand and they don't have the partners and allies. Then, North Korea is the same way.
North Korea and Iran, they have the bad will toward us to do those things. They just don't necessarily have the capabilities that China does. And Russia and China are the key threats that we need to focus on and especially China because China can bring the whole of government, the economy and all those things that Russia just can't bring right now.
Allen: As far as our military, are we prepared should there, with any of these countries, be a time when we need to be ready to really face them?
Kelly: Having served 36 years, I will tell you we have the greatest military not just in the world, but in the history of the world. As we saw, we overestimated how strong Russia was. They did not perform as well in Ukraine. But I think we can't sit on our laurels.
They're catching us both in technology gaps and weapon systems and size of the army, but we know how to employ those forces. We know how to jointly do those, but I think we can't sit on our laurels. We have to continue to strive to get better and then we have to re-look warfare.
Those are a lot of the conversations we have. How does tomorrow's army look? And I always use World War II an example. The Japanese did us a favor by sinking all of our battleships in World War II because battleships were not the future of that war, aircraft carriers were. And so we transitioned from battleships to aircraft carriers.
So what is the next aircraft carrier for this? How do we fight? We don't fight the 1980s war that I joined in. The way that we move, we have to be more mobile. We have to be able to consolidate firepower. So we have to really look at how we fight and what assets do we really need to bring to bear to have the strongest military in the world.
Allen: As far as policy solutions, what are the pieces of, whether it be legislation that you and your colleagues are talking about that, “OK. These are the strategic steps that Congress is going to take in order to make sure that America is as strong as it possibly can be and is ready for any and all threats?”
Kelly: I think we have to be on that strategic level. All too often in Congress, we ask the Army, the Navy, the Air Force, we ask them to be the experts. They do know the weapon systems and all those things, but again, had we relied on just battleships and relied on the Navy, we would've built more battleships instead of aircraft carriers. So I think we should be sometimes the strategic thinkers in the room and we need to hold them accountable for what they're doing.
So I think we have to shape where we want to send them. We need to give them the goals we want them to achieve and then they can figure out how to achieve them. But we can't just do business as usual. We have to be the strategic thinkers here in Congress.
Allen: Congressman, before we let you go, I want to ask you, we have an election in less than two months now. If Republicans do retake the House, what will be your top priorities and what do you think those top priorities of your colleagues will be?
Kelly: Wow. There's so many top priorities. No. 1 is we have to have some oversight on some of the things that have happened, whether it's the intelligence community or [the Department of Defense]. So there has to be some oversight. Department of Justice. Those things are important to get to the bottom of. We got to build back America's trust in our FBI and our Department of Justice. That's one of the things.
The other thing is, I don't know if [former President Ronald] Reagan said it exactly this way, but, “It's the economy, stupid.” I mean, we have got to do the things that make us a strong economy. Without a strong economy, we can't be a great nation.
If you look back, we had [gross domestic product] growth that was beyond what they ever said was possible under [President Donald] Trump. Now, we've got inflation hitting us at all areas. We continue to spend money. So we've just got to make sure we put a curb on their appetite to spend money on things that don't matter.
Allen: Well, Congressman Kelly, we thank you so much for your time today. It's been a pleasure.
Kelly: Thank you.
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