President Donald Trump’s national-security adviser says the world is realigning geopolitically between democratic and authoritarian states as more countries realize the threat posed by China.
“I think what we’re going to start having is a divide in the world between the democracies…and the authoritarian countries that are offering a different approach to the world,” national-security adviser Robert O’Brien said in an interview on October 28 with the Hudson Institute, a conservative Washington-based think tank.
O’Brien, who replaced John Bolton in September 2019, said the situation differs from the Cold War era, when the United States and Soviet Union split part of the world into two camps, because there were dozens of countries that did not align with either power.
Russia, Belarus, and countries in Central Asia have the trappings of democracy, such as elections, but they are regularly rigged in favor of the ruling elite.
“I think you are going to see a grouping of democracies led by countries like Brazil and India and the United States and others and then a group of authoritarian countries,” he said.
O’Brien made the comment as he warned about the global threat posed by China’s use of technology to control its own citizens and spy on other nations.
He said China will have access to “every bit of personal data” on people around the world if governments choose to use Chinese 5G technology in their networks and that it will enable Beijing to “control us the way they control their own people.”
O’Brien said the divide between the democratic world and the authoritarian world will largely be reflected by who chooses to use Chinese 5G.
He listed Russia, Iran, and China as among the world’s authoritarian regimes and said other states “are moving in that direction.” He described some of the authoritarian states as “pseudo” democracies run by one party or a strongman.
He said the Trump administration is making progress on its push to get allies and friendly nations to ban Chinese 5G technology from their networks.
“We’re seeing that that they’re coming our way. They’ve realized the threat, not only to the national security but to the personal private data of their citizens,” he said.
O’Brien credited Trump with being the “first major leader” to recognize that China would not slowly liberalize economically and politically as it integrated into the global order, a view that had been at the heart of U.S. policy for decades.
“We’ve all watched China become more nationalistic, more mercantilistic, more authoritarian,” he said.
Trump immediately sought to challenge China on trade abuses when he came to power in 2017, eventually slapping tariffs on hundreds of billions of dollars of Chinese goods after talks stalled with Beijing.
The Trump administration and China signed the first phase of a trade deal in January that commits Beijing to buying $200 billion more U.S. goods over the next two years.
“It was only by standing up to China that the United States could achieve a real improvement in the trade sphere,” he said.