Correction: This article originally stated that Robert Mercer “injected” almost one million dollars into the Epoch Times, but that is incorrect. The report cited for the claim demonstrates that a former employee of Mercer’s hedge fund donated the money to a branch of the Epoch Media Group, which runs the Epoch Times, between 2012 and 2016. Antiwar.com apologizes for the mistake.
New Yorkers looked to the sky in puzzlement the night of June 3rd as a fleet of airplanes circled New York Harbor with banners that read “Congratulations New Federal State of China.” Behind the bizarre stunt was exiled Chinese billionaire Guo Wengui and former White House Chief Strategist Steve Bannon. The duo deemed the Chinese Communist Party illegitimate and declared a new state of China from a boat floating in front of the Statue of Liberty.
In a live stream, Guo and Bannon read the Chinese and English versions of “A Declaration of the New Federal State of China,” a document that lays out their fantastical plan to take out the CCP and form a Western-style democracy in China. The live stream aired in China on June 4th, which marked the 31st anniversary of the Tiananmen Square protests and crackdown in Beijing. “The Chinese Communist Party is a terrorist organization funded by the Communist International which has subverted the legitimate Chinese government in the past,” the document declares.
The declaration lists what it calls “horrific atrocities” committed by China’s government, included in that list is the Covid-19 pandemic. “Recently, it [the CCP] unleashed a biological attack on the free countries of the world with the CCP-virus (the Covid-19 virus), which poses a serious threat to the health and survival of all human beings.”
The declaration outlines a plan to change the system of government in China. “It is suggested that the New Federal State of China should draw up a Constitution in reference to the democratic and legal systems of the West, and any relevant international laws.” Guo and Bannon also announced the formation of the Himalaya Supervisory Organization, a group created to oversee this imaginary transition of governments. “Under the supervision and advocacy of Himalaya Supervisory Organization, the New Federal State of China will be a land without CCP,” the declaration reads.
Railing against the Chinese government is nothing new for Steve Bannon, but his rhetoric has sharply escalated since the start of the pandemic. In January, Bannon changed the name of his radio show to War Room: Pandemic, where he often blames the outbreak on China, using catchy phrases like “biological Chernobyl,” and calls for a “Nuremberg-type trial” in Wuhan. For China hawks like Bannon, the pandemic has served as an instrument to increase tensions with the Asian country, and turn public opinion against Beijing.
Although Bannon did not last long in the Trump Administration, a recent story from The New York Post says Bannon might be creeping his way back into the White House. In his short stint as chief strategist, Bannon pushed hard for a trade war with China and advocated for tariffs along with his ally Peter Navarro who still serves as a trade advisor to President Trump. A recent report from The New York Times revealed Navarro played a key role in continuing US support for Saudi Arabia’s horrific war in Yemen.
Last year, Bannon helped form the Committee on Present Danger: China (CPD), an anti-China think-tank that considers Beijing an “existential and ideological threat” to the US. The content that fills the pages of the think-tank’s website looks a lot like the militant anti-China rhetoric coming out of the White House. Currently, the home page has a video of President Trump’s recent speech defining his new policy towards China, a speech that essentially ushers in a new Cold War. In the address, Trump repeats the talking points coming out of the CPD and Bannon’s radio show concerning the pandemic and other flashpoints in US-China relations.
Conservative filmmaker Michael Pack, another Bannon ally, was just confirmed by the Senate to head the US Agency for Global Media (USAGM, formerly the Broadcasting Board of Governors). The USAGM is Washington’s propaganda arm; the agency runs Voice of America, Radio Free Europe, Radio Free Asia, and other US government-funded media outlets, an operation that requires a massive budget ($660 million for the 2019 fiscal year). Neoconservative Frank Gaffney, who founded the CPD with Bannon, took to Twitter to celebrate Pack’s appointment as head of the USAGM. “I’m congratulating the new CEO of the Broadcasting Board of Governors who will help ensure that the US breaks down the CCP’s Great Firewall and counters the lies it enables the regime to force-feed the Chinese people,” Gaffney said.
Another major Trump supporter and donor has ties to the effort to bombard the American public with rabid anti-China propaganda. Robert Mercer is a hedge fund manager and one of Trump’s largest donors. A report from Responsible Statecraft shows a former employee of Mercer’s injected almost one million dollars between 2012 and 2016 into a branch of the Epoch Media Group, a media organization affiliated with the Falun Gong, a religious group persecuted in China, whose goal is the destruction of the CCP. The media group’s newspaper, The Epoch Times, recently ran an enormous ad campaign on YouTube, and print newspapers are showing up in people’s mailboxes who never ordered a subscription. The papers are full of sensationalist headlines like, “How the Chinese Communist Party Endangered the World.”
Besides the propaganda war, Washington has ratcheted up tensions with Beijing in other arenas. One major flashpoint has been Hong Kong, where China is enacting a new security law that the State Department determined violates the city’s autonomy, and the “one country, two systems” agreement worked out for the 1997 handover from British control. Washington’s blatant interference in the Hong Kong protests served as a justification for China to pass the new law.
Another flashpoint is China’s treatment of Uyghur Muslims in the Xinjiang province. A bill that calls for sanctions against Chinese officials for human rights abuses in Xinjiang recently passed through the House and Senate and is awaiting Trump’s approval. Like most anti-China legislation, the bill blasted through Congress, with only one no vote from Rep. Thomas Massie (R-KY), who has been consistent in his stance on bills that meddle in Beijing’s affairs.
Other theaters for confrontation between the US and China include Taiwan, the South China Sea, and Trump’s trade war. The Pentagon and the administration are lock-step in their pivot towards great power competition in the Pacific. While Bannon and Guo Wengui’s plan and declaration might seem absurd, there is a real risk of a hot war with China, and some of Bannon’s most hawkish rhetoric is getting through to Trump.
In the lead up to the 2003 invasion of Iraq some of the most influential neocons that orchestrated the propaganda campaign operated outside of the White House (Bill Kristol and Robert Kagan come to mind). While Steve Bannon is not outright calling for the US military to invade China, the idea of forcibly bringing Western-style democracy to a country of 1.4 billion people would make the Iraq War look like child’s play.
Dave DeCamp is assistant editor at Antiwar.com and a freelance journalist based in Brooklyn NY, focusing on US foreign policy and wars. He is on Twitter at @decampdave.