NORTH TOWANDA TOWNSHIP – As Thursday’s regional energy meeting at the Bradford County Public Safety Center drew guests in from as far away as Texas and Utah, it also featured two speakers who had served in the White House and continue efforts in the areas of national defense and energy.
The forum was put on by Bradford County and America’s Rural Energy Coalition, which is working to provide a voice for rural development throughout the nation.
Retired U.S. Air Force Brigadier Gen. Robert Spalding spoke about how China has used technology and business to exert its influence on the U.S. and other parts of the world. Spalding, whose career had largely been focused on U.S.-China relations, first came across these signs of influence in 2014 during a presentation by one of the Pentagon’s top auditing firms showing attacks on multiple companies via the internet and by cheating the market.
“It was across the United States. It was in all industries. It was in medium-sized companies, small-sized companies, and large-sized companies. And was going on completely under the radar. Nobody knew about it,” Spalding said. Speaking with various departments in Washington, D.C. about the issue, however, Spalding said many didn’t take the threat seriously as he repeatedly heard, “But China’s our friend.”
From there, Spalding became the senior defense official in Beijing and then into the White House under former President Donald Trump as senior director of strategy, where he created the national security strategy that is still in place today.
This strategy called on the nation to “protect, rebuild and inspire,” although he said there hasn’t been a lot of solid work put in the years since to execute the plan.
He said China figured out that as societies collected globally through the Internet and supply chains, they could impact key economic pillars of countries through the web and business.
“If you look at the financial system, when you have free trade you’re supposed to have free floating currencies,” Spalding, who also has a Ph.D. in economics, explained. “So when you trade with another country and there’s a trade imbalance, that free floating currency trade allows the prices to adjust and it balances trade out. When you have free trade you have to have a free financial system. China does not. They have a non-convertible currency, which means that the People’s Bank of China determines when and how China’s currency will be transferred to dollars, which means they can sustain indefinitely a trade imbalance. They basically have a drain drilled into the bottom of our country sucking out all of our productivity.”
In the case of manufacturing, Spalding said China was able to offer cheaper production to American companies while providing jobs for its own citizens – and the American working class ended up hurt by the move.
“We destroyed the blue collar class in our country over the last 30 years because Washington, D.C. felt that if we did that, if we sacrificed our own people, that the Chinese, as they got richer, would become more like us,” Spalding said. “In fact, what we saw in the Pentagon was that we were becoming more like them. The country is almost unrecognizable two years after COVID.”
From the fear China has leveraged during the pandemic, Spalding continued, “Things that have made their way into the mainstream of the United States, things like Critical Race Theory, very much mirror what the Chinese Communist Party wants to do. What they want to do, basically, is control the narrative. There’s no debate, there’s one truth, and everyone should adhere to that truth and there should be nobody that talks about that truth. One of the things that we believe in as Americans is free speech and the ability to voice our opinions.”
To protect the U.S. corporate, academic, political and financial systems, Spalding said they need to rid it of the Chinese element, whose influence has been seen publicly in different organizations. During his time in Washington, D.C., Spalding said he saw first-hand how China used its corporate influence to spur lobbying efforts.
“It’s influencing our social, cultural, and political process,” Spalding said.
According to Spalding, the U.S. found success post World War II with a focus on building up its manufacturing and infrastructure and must do so again, all while making sure allies don’t feed into the Chinese economy if they want continued protection from the U.S.
“We have to bring back the prosperity and productivity in America. The thing that I like about what we have is that we have all of the resources that we need, which includes energy. ... If we just start building productive capacity here we can be the bread basket of the world again. It’s not hard to do, we just have to do it,” he said.
When the smartphone first came out in 2007, Spalding said AT&T, General Electric, Microsoft, ExxonMobile and Shell were the top companies in the U.S. Ten years later, the top five was made up of Netflix, Amazon, Facebook, Google, and Apple.
“What did they do? How did the world change?” Spalding asked. “Silicon Valley built a way to take information about you and turn around and influence your behavior. They wanted to make you better consumers. They figured that out.”
Using information from people’s smart phones, Spalding said he could easily find out a wealth of details about everyone in the room, even if they scrub their name and addresses from the device.
One of the initiatives he’s currently working on would immediately encrypt data on devices upon creation so that personal information can’t be tracked and China can’t circumvent borders in their warfare.
“Know your enemy, know your terrain. That was the world of the 20th Century. Know your enemy, know your data is today’s world. If you don’t know your data and, more importantly, don’t protect your data, your ability to protect the world that you live in, the way you want to live completely goes away,” said Spalding.
Thursday’s event also included Drew Horn, who had worked as a policy director for former Vice President Mike Pence dealing with minerals and mining, and filled similar roles in the Department of Energy and Department of Defense in order to support U.S. industry and development in the energy sector. He is now continuing this work in the private sector, which includes looking at companies working to turn coal waste into an energy source, whether it’s through extraction of critical minerals and rare earth elements or “diversified new usage of refuse.”
In addition to providing jobs to rural America, he said these efforts are driving technology forward.
“The real work still needs to be done, but I think the market is calling for it. Obviously, there’s a big push on the commercial side to build Teslas and commercial vehicles, and all of these new, shiny devices that are completely dependent on critical minerals to construct. You cannot construct without them or lithium,” Horn said via Zoom from Greenland. “So what we’re trying to do is find new, unique ways of sourcing them within the United States. We have a situation right now where we’re almost entirely dependent on China, which is extremely unhealthy seeing as they are a competitor at best and we need to find a way to have our own independence with materials.”
Although Horn said there’s been a “war on mining” as of late, he said responsible mining is crucial for this technological and green energy development and education is key to bringing people on board. Beyond the mining, he said processing and refinement are even more critical to perform domestically.
“This is the future and we can honestly have it all if we focus on the right things,” Horn said.