Monday, March 23, 2020

Should We All Hate China Now?

If you can’t find common ground, you will eventually seek out a common enemy. Societies want to cohere. Social cohesion is essential for social, political and economic functioning. When a nation loses its social cohesion, it will fall into turmoil. This will make it impossible for anything to get done.

Of late, America has been cursed with social disharmony. Our politics are being played for the drama, not to get things done. As I write this, on Monday morning, Congressional Democrats have scuppered an economic stimulus plan that they had previously agreed to. Unwilling to let a crisis go to waste, they are calculating that an economic depression will work to their political advantage. Thus, hiding behind what they pretend are principles, they are using the coronavirus pandemic to help defeat President Trump at the ballot box.

Whether anyone will see the ploy for what it is remains to be seen. At the least, as we Americans crow about the virtues of our sacrosanct democracy, we cannot seem to make the system work. If you expect other people to adopt your political system, you do best not to make them think that it is all psychodrama all the time. 

As noted on this blog, those who despair of ever again being able to compete with China in the world of international commerce have glommed on to the Wuhan virus. They see it as a sign that the era of Chinese dominance has ended and that American liberal democracy is ascending. 

We are, as noted in a previous post, depending on an act of God to save us from an ignominious defeat in the battle of industrial commerce. 

So, we as a nation have fallen into the trap of trying to bring the nation together to fight a common enemy, China. We must hate China and everything Chinese. Of course, we have ignored the simple fact that most of the best people in our own universities, and especially in our STEM graduate programs are Asian, even Chinese. It is never quite as simple as it seems.

Issuing a call for reason Spengler, aka David Goldman criticizes those who are jumping on the hate-China bandwagon:

For one brief hopeful moment the entirety of the Western punditeska was confident that China’s ascendancy had come to a sorry and sudden end. Now that China has reported no new domestic cases for three consecutive days, it appears that Western Schadenfreude at China’s misery was a form of denial….

At the least China seems to have gotten the situation under control, as have many other nations in the Confucian Far East. Surely, this does not mean that they bear no responsibility for what is happening. And yet, President Trump has never treated China as an enemy. He has treated it as a competitor. A very good and strong competitor. Surely, a major competitor with liberal democracy in the clash of civilizations. As for enemies, radical Islam, the enemy that Barack Obama would never name, stands out for its ferocious will to destroy Western Civilization. China wants to outcompete us; Islamists want to destroy us.

It is good to make the distinction. 

For his part Trump sees clearly that China bears considerable responsibility for the virus:

“I believe [China] could have given us a lot earlier notice,” US President Donald Trump told a March 19 news briefing, adding: “It could have been contained to that one area in China where it started. And certainly, the world is paying a big price for what they did and the world is paying a very big price for not — for not letting them come out. Everybody knows that.”

But, historian Victor Davis Hanson is all-in on hating China:

And here is conservative historian Victor Davis Hanson: “Trump standoff tore off the China scab. The exposed putrid wound beneath has terrified the world: lying, deceit, and subterfuge surrounded the mysterious Covid-19 contagion that emerged from Wuhan late last year and now has spread worldwide and panicked the globe. The coronavirus helped remind the world that the Hong Kong democracy protests, the creepy 1-million-person reeducation camps for Uyghur Muslims, and internal Chinese Orwellian surveillance were characteristic not aberrant.”

Of course, we are opposed to reeducation Muslims, but we will note that America sends its children to education camps where they all learn to hate their country. And besides, I will curb my own outrage until I see the world’s leading Muslim leaders speak out against the Chinese reeducation camps. As of today not a one of them has objected publicly. For the record, the camps were set up to control terrorism and to produce a forced cultural assimilation. In Western Europe nations are falling over themselves to adapt to Islam. Take your pick.

As for the Chinese way of controlling the spread of the virus, Goldman explains that it has to do with the use of high tech surveillance and artificial intelligence. In these areas China leads the world. As Niall Ferguson noted in a recent television series on Networks and as even your humble blogger noted in a book over twenty years ago, Asian cultures are producing more engineers, while we are producing more lawyers and social justice warriors. On the battlefield of international competition, who do you think is going to prevail? It will take more than a virus to right that imbalance:

The opposite outcome, though, is possible, and under present circumstances more likely: the Covid-19 epidemic may denote the ascendancy of Asia and the decline of the West. Mainland China had not a single new domestic coronavirus case on Thursday and Friday (although some Chinese returning from other countries tested positive). That is a remarkable achievement in a country of 1.4 billion people, so remarkable, in fact, that many American commentators insist that Beijing must be lying about the numbers.

How is China doing it?

China has correlated smartphone location with online purchases and social media posts for at least five years, and invested massively in public health applications of Artificial Intelligence. Combining capability with massive amounts of coronavirus test data gave China a decisive advantage in epidemic control. This may be the largest and most sophisticated Artificial Intelligence experiment ever, and it may well establish China as the world dominant AI power.

Naturally, the Chinese government has done everything in its power to save face. It has denied that the virus is Chinese. It has lauded Western politicians who have denounced as racist anyone who thinks that the virus has Chinese characteristics. 

And yet, the Chinese government has replaced the local officials who covered up the virus and has apologized to the family of the local official who first warned of the disease:

China’s hierarchical structure is unkind to the bearer of ill tidings, and Chinese rulers have been shooting the messenger for thousands of years. That is a weakness in Chinese culture. Local party officials in Hebei Province tried to cover up the epidemic for several weeks, threatening Dr. Li Wenliang when he warned of the disease. Dr. Li subsequently died of Covid-19. On Feb. 11 the local party leadership was replaced and on March 20 the Beijing government issued a “solemn apology” to the late Dr. Li, a remarkable admission of misdoing. I cannot recall a comparable instance of a Chinese government apology to a private citizen.

I understand that many Western commentators have explained that if only China allowed whistleblowers the freedom to express themselves, the virus would have been contained. Said commentators fail to notice that our own whistleblower, one Eric Ciaramella, recently produced a grotesque level of government dysfunction by inciting an impeachment inquiry and a trial. How better to distract the government and to undermine the Trump presidency-- in the name of democracy? 

Now, if you want other countries to adopt our own practice of worshipping whistleblowers, one place to start would be by not lauding those who abuse the privilege.

As noted on this blog, Asian countries have succeeded in controlling the virus because people in those countries tend to follow instructions. They do not need to have governors like Andrew Cuomo chastising the population of New York State for ignoring his instructions to shelter in place:

The fact remains that despite the initial bureaucratic seize-up, China mobilized effectively to bring the rate of infection down to zero. Not only Japan but Taiwan, South Korean and Japan got the epidemic under control quickly, through extensive testing and early quarantines. Japan’s island of Hokkaido has just lifted its state of emergency and Japanese schools are starting to reopen. Asians obey government instructions, and this may be the decisive factor in their success. Italians are experts at evading them, and have more Covid-19 deaths than China.

We all love our democracy, but we also need to make it work. Without assigning blame, Goldman compares the two:

The American government is operating in the dark. State governments are panicking because they groping in the dark. The US to date has tested just 85,000 people, compared to 274,000 in South Korea since late February. Per capita, South Korea has tested 20 times more people than the US.

Massive preemptive testing and analysis of infection patterns allowed South Korea along with China, Taiwan and Japan to get the epidemic under control. China administered 300,000 tests in the Guangdon Province alone and found 540 cases of infection. This is not only an Asian phenomenon. Germany, with a robust public health system and eight hospital beds per 1,000 of population, has only 24 dead for 10,000 infected, a fatality rate of 0.25%, compared to a nearly 8% fatality rate in Italy.

Goldman continues to explain the importance of Chinese technology, especially the company called Huawei. If you would like a more visceral sense of Huawei I recommend that you check out Niall Ferguson’s PBS documentary on Networks, especially the third episode. It will cure you of your inclination to see China as a third world backwater, full of cheating scoundrels, unworthy of respect.

Goldman writes:

Over the next 10 years Huawei hopes to have half a billion people upload digitized health records and DNA sequencing to its cloud servers. It provides smartphone attachments that can take vital signs as well as perform EKG’s, and upload the results in real time for analysis by Huawei’s Artificial Intelligence servers. In December 2018 Huawei released its Ascend line of dedicated AI processors with the claim that they surpass competing American products.

Before the pandemic, the United States had failed to disrupt Huawei’s rollout of 5G products, and also failed to convince any but a few of its allies not to embrace Huawei’s 5G technology. China now has a stronger case to make for its flagship technology products, offering health care applications to a world that urgently needs them.

In short, before we get carried away with hating China and before we fall into the trap of praising our own culture, no matter what, we need to sit back and make a more rational assessment of the situation.


trigger warning said...

I don't despise the Chinese Communists any more, or less, than I did before the Woohoo Virus. If I were giving them an annual performance review, I'd tick the "meets expectations" box.

370H55V said...

"At the least China seems to have gotten the situation under control, as have many other nations in the Confucian Far East."

If you can believe that.

Sam L. said...

I'm sure Mr. Trump can nail the Dems' recalcitrance high up on the mast and let it twist slowly, slooooooooooooowly, in the wind. For ALL to see.

Sam L. said...

We shouldn't HATE the Chinese, but we ought not TRUST them.

ga6 said...

The Black Death also came out of China...just saying

UbuMaccabee said...

The existing regime in China is the direct heir of the regime that murdered 70 million people. That's a BIG number on their debit ledger.

Try to imagine 70 million people murdered. Do that when you meditate in the morning.

In my world, that accounting must be considered in all dealings with the Chinese.

Unless, of course, it is more expedient to forget. You know, business and all.

Sam has the right take. I cannot hate Chinese people alive today any more than I can hate Russians or Germans for their recent history. But I view them with deep skepticism and prefer to keep a distance from them. Trust? Not a chance.

UbuMaccabee said...

Lee Kuan Yew is the model for Asia, not China. That's how it's done. Singapore has weathered this quite well. I would live in Singapore, not China.

Stuart Schneiderman said...

Today's China has been modeled on Singapore. Deng Xiaoping said so explicitly. China did not produce as much wealth and prosperity as it has over the past four decades by using Communist policies. If you think that it did, then you are saying that Communism is a great engine for economic growth. China's leaders post-Mao were often victims of Maoism. It is not the direct heir. And it is not the indirect heir.

UbuMaccabee said...

I am aware that China did not produce their wealth through Communist policies. They adopted a modified market economy. Prior to Deng, they were dirt poor. China's leaders post-Mao have the same sensibilities as Mao regarding power and authority, they were just on the losing side of the internecine power struggles during the Mao era. Deng was a Communist killer for decades before he saw that the economic system didn't work. Power still comes from the barrel of a gun, but you have to have the money to buy the raw materials to make the guns.

China was a poor gangster state with Communist ideology and now it is a rich gangster state with an authoritarian/nationalist ideology. It's still a gangster state, and the Chinese Communist Party (with a new ethos) is the same one that murdered 70 million people with no meaningful accountability for it.

Chinese Communism just morphed into a pugnacious form of Chinese nationalism--and Mao's portrait is enshrined everywhere in China.

I would not compare Deng Xiaoping with Lee Kuan Kew favorably. Both nations may have gotten rich from market economics, but they have very different foundations, and as I suspect, trajectories.

Dex Quire said...

Freedom is the greatest achievement ...

Anonymous said...

Why are we not calling this the "CHI-COM Virus"? The fault in this case should lie with the political system, not the people.

n.n said...

China had one-child. We have selective-child.

China has ethnic minorities. We have diversity.

China has a hybrid economy.

He has treated it as a competitor. A very good and strong competitor.

A little more than that. A market-based cold war, perhaps. A trade war through environmental and labor arbitrage, which progressed with our cosmopolitan elitists' empathetic suppoort.

I believe [China] could have given us a lot earlier notice,