Excitement over China’s digital advancements was rampant when Keith Krach last visited China as managing director of successful software company DocuSign, with its more than 400 million users in 188 countries.
“I have seen a lot of new technologies. I saw the drone swarm technology. Everyone told me to download Tencent every 30 minutes, ”Krach said. Tencent is the multinational conglomerate behind the popular WeChat app in China.
That was in December 2017. Today, Crash is at the top of the list of Americans who are prohibited, as well as their relatives, from traveling to China again or doing business with Chinese entities.
Former Secretary of State Mike Pompeo “was number one, [former trade policy adviser Peter] Navarro number two, I’m number three “on the top list of former Trump administration officials,” Krach said in a recent interview.
Twenty-eight people have been hit by the sanctions, which were announced on January 20, minutes after US President Joe Biden was sworn in.
“Shot through their arch”
As the sanctions focused on those leaving office, Krach said he believed they were meant to be a warning to members of the new Biden administration, including Secretary of State Antony Blinken and the coordinator of the White House for Asia Kurt Campbell.
“It’s a hit on their bow – you know, just enough to make them hesitate – and it makes a difference. For me, it doesn’t affect me. I’m at a different stage in life, ”Crash told VOA on a recent visit to Washington.
Krach became US Under Secretary of State for Economic Affairs in March 2019 and remained in office until the end of President Donald Trump’s term.
“My mission was to develop an operationalized global economic security strategy to stimulate global economic growth, maximize national security and combat China’s economic aggression,” he said.
After a year of work, “the issue of 5G has become really urgent,” he said. “Huawei had announced that it had 91 contracts worldwide, 47 in Europe. It looked like they were unstoppable, [that] they were going to run the table.
Krach’s job was to turn the tide.
The United States began warning its allies and partners in 2019 that asking Chinese telecommunications company Huawei to build their 5G telecommunications infrastructure risked exposing their citizens and official data to state scrutiny. Chinese. The Trump administration has argued that countries should sideline Huawei, both for their own good and for the sake of collective security among democratic allies.
Huawei has repeatedly asserted its independence from the Chinese government, even though it is considered in China as a “champion of the state” and has a Communist Party administrative department built into its corporate structure. business.
One by one, Krach and his team enlisted dozens of allied countries and telecommunications companies into what has become a clean network. “By the time we’re done, [Huawei] There were probably around a dozen and a half contracts left, compared to almost 100, Krach said.
Building what US officials have called an “alliance of democracies” to secure the technological independence of Chinese state-backed companies has not always been easy. If, as Krach said, the Chinese authorities attempted to intimidate new American officials, the same scare tactics were being used against government officials and businessmen in other countries.
Fear of retaliation
“It was pretty clear in those bilateral meetings that everyone was afraid to talk about China or Huawei. The elephant in the room was China’s retribution, retaliation, ”Krach recalled. “So much of the Clean Network is [providing] a ‘doudou’ because there is strength in numbers and there is power in unity and solidarity.
NATO Deputy Secretary General Mircea Geoană and European Commissioner for Internal Markets Thierry Breton were natural allies who did not need to convince that the political, economic and security alliance between democracies was “as strong as our weakest link, ”Krach said.
But to effectively counter Huawei, the Alliance of Democracies also needed to control the technology and hardware needed to build 5G systems. Krach said the Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Company was persuaded to build a state-of-the-art plant in the United States while the Trump administration implemented export controls depriving Huawei of critical semiconductors and related technologies.
“First you see Huawei start to lose momentum, then you see the tide start to turn, then the tide turns, then the tide is reversed,” he said.
Krach believes that facing the “challenge to China” will require a continued bipartisan effort on the part of both US political parties, and he hopes his efforts as Under Secretary for Economic Affairs have given him a “head start.” to the Biden administration.
He also hopes that the “Alliance of Democracies” can continue to thrive and that Biden’s “buy American” initiative can be combined with the purchase of goods from allies and partners. “Why not do free trade between the Clean Network? ” he said.
Krach was born in April 1957 in what he described as “Little Ohio”.
“My dad ran a machine shop and my mom was a teacher,” he said. “My father’s customers were suppliers to the Big Three automakers in Detroit, and his fortune was tied to theirs. … In boom times, we struggled to fill large orders; in bad times, I was his only employee.
Krach told members of the US Senate during his confirmation hearing that his father “dreamed that I would get ‘college knowledge’ and come back as an engineer to help him turn the machine shop into a large company with 10 employees “.
The son never returned to work with his father in Ohio, but became General Motors’ youngest vice president and later a billionaire inventor and corporate CEO before joining the State Department.
Crash is now back in California but is enjoying his time in government service.
“We say in Silicon Valley, ‘Corporate responsibility is social responsibility.’ Well, corporate responsibility is national security too, because corporations wouldn’t be here without the United States, without democracy, without capitalism, ”he said.