Joe Biden Taps China Coronavirus Disinformation Expert for NSC

President-Elect Joe Biden has chosen foreign policy veteran Laura Rosenberger to serve as the senior director on China issues in his White House national security team.

Rosenberger has a long career of roles in the State Department and White House, and joins the incoming administration having warned over the past year that Beijing is running a disinformation campaign to absolve itself of responsibility for the coronavirus pandemic, which started in the Chinese city of Wuhan before spreading worldwide.

Rosenberger will report to Kurt Campbell, who will be Biden's senior coordinator for Indo-Pacific policy at the White House National Security Council.

Rosenberger wrote on Twitter Thursday: "Humbled by the enormity of the task and privileged to once again serve the American people alongside an incredible team."

Rosenberger has previously served as the NSC director for China and Korea in President Barack Obama's White House. She also worked in a number of other positions in the State Department and at the NSC.

This includes serving as chief of staff to then-Deputy Secretary of State Antony Blinken, whom Biden has nominated to be the next secretary of state. Rosenberger also served as an adviser to former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.

Rosenberger is currently a senior fellow at the German Marshall Fund of the United States think tank. Over the past year, she has been writing about China's disinformation campaign to dodge blame for the coronavirus pandemic and malign its rivals' efforts to fight the virus; particularly the U.S.

Democrats have generally shied away from President Donald Trump's effort to pin the pandemic squarely on China, though Biden has expressed concern at reports that Beijing was slow to warn the world about the threat the virus posed.

Trump allies have also spread conspiracy theories alleging that the virus was released from a research lab in Wuhan, a charge of which there is currently no publicly available evidence.

Rosenberger has been among those accusing China of bungling the initial outbreak, enabling the virus to spread worldwide. Almost 2 million people have since died from the virus, with more than 93 million reported infections according to Johns Hopkins University. Of these, nearly 390,000 deaths have been in the U.S., which has become the global epicenter of the pandemic.

In April, Rosenberger wrote in Foreign Affairs that China's leaders "focused on control—not only of the coronavirus itself but also of information about it" as soon as the virus appeared. "They suppressed initial reporting and research about the outbreak, thereby slowing efforts to understand the virus and its pandemic potential," she added.

"They called for 'increased internet control' when the Politburo Standing Committee met in early February. They even sent 'Internet police' to threaten people posting criticism of the Chinese Communist Party and its handling of the virus."

The CCP soon launched a global effort to repair any reputational damage that might arise from the spread of the virus. It also began a campaign of so-called "mask diplomacy"; sending medical supplies and even medical workers to affected nations. Some of this backfired, for example huge shipments of equipment to Europe which were sent back as faulty or otherwise unusable.

"As it began to contain the outbreak within its own borders, Beijing launched an assertive external information campaign aimed at sculpting global discussion of its handling of the virus," Rosenberger wrote. "This campaign has clear goals: to deflect blame from Beijing's own failings and to highlight other governments' missteps."

Along with German Marshall Fund colleague and Biden national security alumnus Julie Smith, Rosenberger wrote for Newsweek in May warning of Beijing's mask diplomacy. "China has sought to leverage the crisis for geopolitical advantage," Rosenberger and Smith wrote.

"To do so, China isn't relying on the traditional forms of statecraft, such as diplomacy. Instead, it is pairing highly publicized aid with public bullying, bombastic rhetoric and outright coercion."

Biden has vowed to revitalize America's traditional alliances, relationships damaged by Trump's "American First" multilateralism. European allies, in particular, will be looking forward to the start of Biden's term. Just this week, leaders in Luxembourg and Brussels reportedly snubbed Secretary of State Mike Pompeo's visit out of embarrassment following the pro-Trump unrest in Washington, D.C. last week.

"The glitzy public relations campaigns surrounding the contributions serve three purposes," Rosenberger and Smith wrote of Beijing's European outreach.

"They portray China as an altruistic partner to the world, changing the story at a time when many are criticizing its initial handling of the virus; double down on Chinese government efforts to divide Europe from within and from the United States, and repair China's image in European countries where it has recently encountered friction."

"These developments should worry the United States," they added. "For a country that talks incessantly about competing with China, we are ceding ground in real-time."

China's public relations offensive during the pandemic plays into the wider simmering contest between Washington, D.C. and Beijing, Rosenberger has argued. "We are in a competition between democratic systems and autocratic systems of government," she told NBC News in October.

"China has grown in its geopolitical and economic clout and is trying to portray itself as a system that is equally legitimate to democratic governance. That is fundamentally in opposition to U.S. interests."

The China challenge will loom over Biden's presidency, and likely that of subsequent commanders in chief for a generation or more. There is now bipartisan recognition that Beijing poses the greatest strategic threat to American global hegemony, and on the campaign trail Biden worked hard to dispel concerns that he would be soft on China or naive to the threat posed by the CCP.

Biden is part of the political establishment that incorrectly calculated Chinese economic liberalization and international engagement would foster more liberal political attitudes. Instead, the CCP has used its wealth and technology to centralize control, suffocating political dissent and expanding its influence worldwide.

Biden has said his administration will be "clear, strong, and consistent in pushing back where we have profound economic, security, and human rights concerns about the actions of China's government." The president-elect said he would not seek conflict with China, but would "deter and respond to aggression."

Democrats might disagree with the aggressive methods employed by Trump on China, but not the belief that Beijing needs to be confronted. Biden has said he will pursue a more multilateral approach and make sure all American allies are "on the same page."

On trade, Biden has vowed to take on "China's abusive practices," such as "stealing intellectual property, dumping products, illegal subsidies to corporations" and forced technology transfers. The president-elect said he will not make "immediate" moves to lift the tariffs imposed by Trump, imposed as part of his trillion-dollar trade war with Beijing.

Biden has also vowed to put democracy and human rights at the center of his foreign policy agenda. This likely means more tension with China over its suppression of Muslim minority groups in Xinjiang and pro-democracy activists in Hong Kong.

China, which waited more than a week to congratulate Biden on his electoral victory, has urged the incoming administration to pursue dialogue over confrontation. Foreign Minister Wang Yi said in December that U.S.-Chinese conflict would be a "disaster" for both nations and the rest of the world.

"China stays committed to developing a relationship based on coordination, cooperation and stability with the United States," Wang said, "under the principle of no conflict, no confrontation, mutual respect and win-win cooperation."

But Beijing has also warned it will tolerate no outside interference in what it considers domestic affairs. On Thursday, Foreign Ministry spokesperson Zhao Lijian condemned the American ban on cotton and tomatoes imported from Xinjiang, which reports suggest are harvested using forced labor of Uyghur and other ethnic minority prisoners.

"Xinjiang affairs are China's internal affairs that no other country has the right or privilege to interfere with," Zhao told reporters in Beijing. Such rhetoric will no doubt continue into Biden's term.

Chinese police outside trial of COVID journalist
Police attempt to stop journalists from recording footage outside the Shanghai Pudong New District People's Court, where Chinese citizen journalist Zhang Zhan was tried in Shanghai on December 28, 2020. LEO RAMIREZ/AFP via Getty Images/Getty