Friday, September 25, 2020

Some Perspective on China Bashing

I do not need to tell you that China bashing has become all the vogue. Especially on the political right. On the left, not so much, given that Joe Biden’s son Hunter was bought and paid for by China.

This does not mean that China is the new evil empire. It does not mean that trashing China is going to lead to any good outcome for America. Niall Ferguson has warned against starting another Cold War, and he is certainly correct.

Most observers believe that Republicans are engaging in China bashing because they need to defend our data from Communist Party officials, the ones who are using Tik Tok and other apps to spy on us and to collect personal information. On the other hand, God only knows what is happening with the Tik Tok sale.

Other officials seem to believe that the Trump administration is launching attack after attack on China for political advantage. This may be the case. We will see on November 4.

Anyway, with the exception of someone like David Goldman, who quit an administration task force on China, most Republicans believe that they are going to punish China and to make China pay. As noted on this blog, they have not calculated the cost they will incur when China fights back—as they most assuredly will. Ask the residents of Hong Kong. It is a genuinely bad idea to threaten China's face-- by talking to them as though they are children. For that they will always retaliate.

Besides, at a time when American cities are suffering repeated violent insurrectionary riots, it is strange to denounce other countries for failing to tolerate the same.

For your further edification I report on an intriguing article from an academic in Singapore. Kishore Mahbubani wrote about American misperceptions about China in the Financial Times on 9-21-2020.

 It is interesting to see what this all looks like from an Asian perspective—one that is not run by the Chinese government. According to Mahbubani Americans are misreading the situation in China. 

First, he addresses the bogyman, the Chinese Communist Party. I have often suggested that this is not Mao’s Communist Party, but the message seems to have gotten lost.

 In his words:

Yet there is plenty of evidence to suggest most Chinese people do not perceive the CCP to be oppressive. In fact the latest Edelman Trust Barometer report suggests that support for the Chinese government is among the highest in the world. A Chinese-American psychology researcher from Stanford University, Jean Fan, observed after visiting the country in 2019 that “China is changing . . . fast, in a way that is almost incomprehensible without seeing it in person. In contrast to America’s stagnation, China’s culture, self-concept and morale are being transformed at a rapid pace — mostly for the better.”

Anyway, we do not think it matters. We think that China would do much better to switch to liberal democracy, because, look at how well it is working in America.

Mahbubani writes:

Despite all this, few western minds can escape from the second flawed assumption: even if most Chinese people are happy with the Communist party, they and the rest of the world would be better off were they to switch immediately to a democratic system.

Strangely, the Chinese people do not want to go the way of America, and certainly they do not want to follow the failed role model of Russia:

Until the collapse of the Soviet Union and the subsequent implosion of the living standards of the Russian people, some Chinese may have believed in an instant transformation to democracy. Now, many have no doubt that a weak central government will result in massive chaos and suffering for the Chinese people. For evidence, they look to 4,000 years of Chinese history and, particularly, the so-called “century of humiliation” China suffered from 1842 to 1949.

We take it as an article of faith that a weak central government, beholden to the will of the people, would be more peace loving. But, is this really the case. Mahbubani demurs:

Moreover, a democratically elected government is not necessarily a liberal one. The democratically elected Indian prime minister Jawaharlal Nehru seized back the Portuguese colony of Goa in 1961, against the protests of then US president John F Kennedy and British prime minister Harold Macmillan. A democratic China would probably be even less patient in dealing with Hong Kong and Taiwan.

A democratically elected Chinese government would also be loath to be seen as weak in dealing with separatist movements in Xinjiang — look at the Indian government’s crackdown in Kashmir. Indeed none of China’s neighbours, not even the biggest democracies in Asia, are pushing for regime change in Beijing. A stable, predictable China, even as it becomes more assertive, is preferable to the alternative.

Note this, while we are strongly opposed to what is happening to the Uighurs in Xinjiang province, the Chinese consider them to be a separatist movement. While we see concentration camps run by Nazis, not one international Muslim leader has denounced them. Of course, we consider China to be evil so we consider that whatever is happening in those camps is evil. We do not consider that the information we receive might be tainted.

But, isn’t democracy sweeping the world? Isn’t liberal democracy the wave of the future. Francis Fukuyama said so and you do not want to puncture his Hegelian reveries, do you?

As for the possibility of there being a Westernized China, whose politics can be as appalling as ours, Mahbubani demurs:

The third flawed assumption may be the most dangerous: that a democratic China would inevitably accept western norms and practices, and happily become a member of the western-plus club, as Japan has done.

That is not the cultural dynamic that is sweeping through Asia. Both Turkey and India are friends of the west. Yet Turkey has shifted from the secular ideology of Mustafa Kemal Ataturk to the Islamic one of Recep Tayyip Erdogan — and India has moved from the Anglophilic Nehru to the Hindu devotee Narendra Modi.

As Asian countries look to Western Europe and America they are increasingly deciding that they do not want liberal democracy. How many of them would want to be ruled by the Squad or by some of the clowns we put into political office?

The movement around the world is running counter to Western liberal democracy:

We must acknowledge that a tsunami of de-westernisation is under way. Even more significantly, when Mr Erdogan announces the conversion of the Hagia Sophia to a mosque and Mr Modi resurrects a long-lost Hindu temple on a contested religious site, they are signalling a desire to return to pre-western cultural roots.

Napoleon was right when he warned western nations to “let China sleep, for when she wakes, she will shake the world”. Even more than in Turkey and India, there is a potential volcano of anti-western sentiment waiting to explode in China. Currently, the only political force strong enough to hold down these forces of Chinese nationalism is the Chinese Communist party.

The successor to the party could well be far less rational. Keep that in mind, instead of proceeding on autopilot with current policies towards China. The time has come for the west to do a complete reboot and reconsider all its fundamental premises on China. Western governments should learn to live and work with the Chinese leadership, instead of wishing for its transformation or early demise.

Considering how little of the conventional wisdom about China has been disputed or challenged in our country, it seems well worth the trouble to consider a different perspective. 

Now you can rant about how bad China is, but, dare I say, ranting is precisely what your foes on the left are doing. How about a little rational thought, from a different perspective?


Rob Weatherill said...

There is just the little problem of the world-wide pandemic with China and the WHO warning us 3 weeks too late, causing more death and destruction than any other event in recent times. There is just the little problem of the 5G network and China's ability to spy so to be coming to a town near you with their popular social credit app. There is just the little problem that China is becoming the new imperial power lending money to small nations that they can never hope to pay back, creating client states. There is the little problem of the 50c army of between 500,000 and 2m spies for the CCP, volunteer student internet trolls, that get 50c to undermine Western democracies interfere with elections, and so on. There is just the little problem of Hong Kong and the fate of the brave student protestors. Who will be next? As mentioned, there is the little problem of the Camps, forced sterilisations and so on. Not to mention the little problem of religious persecution. There is the little problem of Biden's son who has been in the pay of the CCP, and sleep Joe himself who up until recently was a friend of China. There is the little problem of free speech and book censorship which is spreading in the West, part of a cancel-culture narrowing the gap between us and China. Wow! There is nothing to worry about. Tell that to the Taiwanese and all the brave people who have been "disappeared".

Giordano Bruno said...

I have no particular attachment to liberal democracy. It is an unnatural form of government in its current incarnation, and I will not fight for it. Perhaps a significant reversion to a much narrower franchise, similar to our original 19th Century iteration and we might reverse this deterioration. Skin in the game Republic only. China is right to see our broad franchise system as a catastrophe. Bums, students, and wine moms should not have a say in the affairs of state.

That said, I agree with much of what Rob said above.

And that case doesn't change things. We still have to be realistic. We spent 30 years in decline while China spent 30 years ascending. You do not reverse that momentum overnight. And talk is pointless. The only way to beat China is to compete with China. We win by showing that the US is the strong horse, the one that will prevail in the end. We win by sowing discord in all of China's weak links. We win by attracting a circle of allies who are hostile to China--for whatever reason.

Trouble is, I firmly believe our idiot ruling elite is venal and completely compromised by CCP money. They cannot compete and have no motivation to defend our national interests. They cannot even define our national interests. We cannot compete with China in a way they would respect until we clean house here on our own turf. The CCP is not my immediate threat, the Left in America is the immediate threat--and a big one.

Every source I can find strongly suggests that the Chinese people, or the Han at least, strongly support the existing government. We waste our time trying to use social media to convince the Chinese people otherwise. Accept that they are solidly behind the existing government.

What we call China is irrelevant; they are hostile to the US regaining our position of power. So what? They have no obligation to recognize our interests. They will continue to actively work to sow discord throughout our internal structures. And we are highly susceptible to that effort. We have glaring weaknesses and China will exploit them.

The issue is not China, the issue is ourselves.

Stuart Schneiderman said...

I agree completely. It's about competing-- by building industries, not by engaging in a game of mutual self-destruction, and certainly not by seeing who can file the most lawsuits. Of course, we focus on China to ignore our own problems!!!

trigger warning said...

Obviously, I can't speak to what "Americans" think. I left my mind reading turban with the hatcheck girl. Moreover, it seems to me the ongoing paroxysms in the US renders the notion that an "American viewpoint" exists as simply buffoonish.

But, as far as this American is concerned, Kishore Mahbubani has some "misperceptions" about what I think.

Frankly, my dear, I don't really give a damn whether the Chinese like their government or not, nor do I care in the slightest degree whether China is a democracy.

My problems with the Chinese are:
* I'm sick and tired of CCP's cyberwar hackers stealing American technology
* I'm very concerned about Chinese efforts to militarize commercial sea lanes in the South China Sea
* I'm very concerned about the suborning of American academics

I have concerns about the US as well:
* I'm very concerned that the US educational system, from bottom to top, is being - no, has been - dismantled
* I'm very concerned that the US leadership, until recently, has been too stupid and greedy to realize that domestic production of strategic and medical necessities must be a priority
* And, again until recently, I'm extremely concerned that myopic "Free Trade" ideologues and a bunch of "international trade lawyers" have been in charge of US/China trade policy.

Frankly, I believe the Chinese Communist Party, whether Mao's, Xi's, or Fuc Yew Tu's, are a bunch of lying, amoral pigs (like communists and proglodytes everywhere), and this fact should be accorded some meaningful account in US/China foreign policy. But, other than that, I spend precisely zero time worrying about the liberality of Chinese government and the satisfaction of the Chinese people with it (in fact, not all that differently than the way I feel about, say, Bill De Blasio or Ted Wheeler and their suffering polities). Sorry, Dr Mahbubani.

PS: I also think Turkey's ejection from NATO is long, long, long overdue.

Rob Weatherill said...

There is no level playing field. CHINA HAS TO BE PROPERLY CALLED OUT ON THIS VIRUS, plus all the other issues or else the whole world is in danger of being (maybe already has been) corrupted by this regime that controls the chinese people in every area of their lives. Have we forgotten Mao? The Khmer Rouge? Anything else is denial. This is not conspiracy theory. Even the BBC has been reporting these abuses.

Sam L. said...

China does not have a "Democrat Party" trying to take it down. The U.S. DOES.

Who was it who said, "Be careful what you wish for; you just might get it"?


Giordano Bruno said...

Our internal weakness, and the Democrats are the party of internal weakness, weakness all the way down, will have global ramifications should Biden win. It will be a giant green light to make a move, any move, by anyone, anywhere, because the US will have officially checked out. They are all watching this election to make their plan A and plan B. If you China was off the leash before, wait until the Democrats take back power. The Chinese know that Trump could conceivably rally their adversaries to organize collectively.

Trump has had wind in his face the whole time. It would be nice to see what he can do with wind at his back for once.

Trump will not let China off the hook for Covid either. How to make them suffer for it is another story.

David Foster said...

"Niall Ferguson has warned against starting another Cold War, and he is certainly correct"...actually, the US has been very helpful to China's rise: admitting them to the most-favored category of trade terms and allowing them access to deeply-discounted international postage rates (which were intended for truly undeveloped countries), to mention only two examples.

The Chinese regime has organized the theft of American intellectual property, engaged in political intimidation of American companies, and (via a government-approved publication) threatened to "plunge America into a mighty sea of coronavirus" by cutting off our supplies of pharmaceuticals and ingredients thereof. Not a smart way to talk to your largest customer!

It is true that 'blaming China' is not a viable substitute for taking effective action in improving our own capabilities. But prior to Trump's emergence on the scene, there was no serious concern among politicians of either party (though especially among the Democrats) for the offshoring of so much of our industrial capacity.

In the late 1950s, Russian space triumphs such as Sputnik incentivized the US to improve science and math education and to increase aerospace and related R&D activities. We should use Chinese competition the same way.

See my related post So, Really Want to Talk About Foreign Intervention?

Vespasian said...

Stuart, most of the time you are on target but you have a blind spot when it comes to China.

China is determined to displace the U.S. as the global hegemon and the only question is how the U.S. should respond.

This article is pretty good:

"Today's Chinese see themselves as the heirs of a millennium-old civilization that was the world leader in culture, science, technology and administration right up to the 16th century. In this ideal conception, China — the "Middle Kingdom," as it is still called in Chinese today — was at the center of the world, surrounded by barbarians, who were willing to pay tribute to the luminosity of Chinese civilization."

Ignatius Acton Chesterton OCD said...

The issue seems to be our loss of confidence in ourselves, in the Western tradition. Our supposed betters act as though there's something better to replace it with, but I feel like a patchwork of ideas akin to the French Revolution. I'm increasingly coming to believe that Democrats no longer believe in the American Constitution. And yes, I believe this is a new phenomenon.

And it is dangerous. It is destabilizing.

We are a constitutionally-limited federal republic. American republicanism is a structure that has served us well for over two-and-a-half centuries. Democracy is rule of the mob. I don't want to live in a democracy. Every time I hear someone talk about making the world safe for democracy, I want to vomit. There is nothing safe in a democracy. You're always 50.1% away from losing everything you have.

The Chinese see our weakness, and are rushing to fill the void. Meanwhile, our ruling class bows to the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, the chief globalist power broker in D.C., advocating offshoring our industrial assets and bringing in low-skill, low-wage, no-English labor from $#!%hole countries. In the long-term, you cannot compete or build anything with that game plan.

And all we hear all day is OrangeManBad. And what's up with this RBG sainthood?

Stuart Schneiderman said...

Of course, China is trying to replace America-- and they see a weak America, a divided America as an opportunity. As DF says, we should ramp up education in science and math. Instead we are teaching social justice and anti-racism. As for making China pay, it is treating them like children, and they will go to great lengths to insist that they are not. I fear a cycle of mutual self-destruction, which will not benefit us.

Vespasian said...

"Of course, China is trying to replace America"

OK, we are on the same page. I agree that there is plenty of room for debate about the tactics the U.S. should use to resist China's rise to global hegemony.

I do think Trump should get some credit for at least initiating a push-back against China. Our response needs to be far more substantial, however, than some harsh rhetoric.

One area that I'm personally familiar with involves training Ph.D.s in cutting edge scientific research. A large percentage of these students are from other countries, and we train them at U.S. taxpayer expense. Offhand, I would say that we invest about $300K in the education of each foreign student. And then, in most cases, we send them back. This makes no sense. If we are going to invest big $$ in a student's education, we should try to keep that person here in the U.S.

Giordano Bruno said...

Also, the things we criticize China for, they don't care. They shrug.

We are so immersed in our internal human rights virtue-signaling optics that we don't even notice when China just shrugs. We think lawsuits and NGO conferences and articles in NYT matter. The Chinese are only at those conferences to identify weak links to buy off and compromise westerners. They will create their own news sites and pick from thousands of unemployed white monkeys to write up their propaganda for them. We think talk is like action. They don't. They could not care less about what we say about them (and they say plenty about us in their internal media). They just lie and then drop 100 million in US media creations to encourage Americans to call each other racists. They send students to learn US technology and we send students to burn down our own library.

So I agree that China-bashing is either pointless or counter-productive. Stop talking and begin undermining their economy and destabilizing their outer regions and forming alliance structures that go against Chinese goals. Hate China, too? We're here to help. Make a real list of where China is strong, and get strong ourselves, or help allies to do so. Where they are weak, exploit it. Work to get them kicked out of WTO. Form new alliances around China, excluding them. But you don't talk about it to get their respect, you do it.

So, yeah, of course, we are in a Cold War, Chinese style, where we smile at one another and continue to trade while we work to undermine each other's sources of power.