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Monday, September 28, 2020
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Home News Has the West left it too late to confront China?

Has the West left it too late to confront China?

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WE’RE finally on the right side of the dissonance about China’s threat, but is it too late?

China has been enabled by a fanciful narrative which presents it as a civilisation rather than a nation-state, as globalist rather than nationalist, as socialist rather than communist, as victim rather than perpetrator of imperialism, as a welcome balance against American hegemony and as the West’s economic salvation moving inevitably towards a free and fair society, given international trade and deference.

Criticism of China was characterised as ignorant at best, racist at worst. Criticism of the government was twisted as prejudice against the Chinese. The voices of China’s dissidents, of ethnically Chinese states such as Taiwan and Singapore, and of the wider Chinese diaspora, were suffocated by deference to Beijing.

In recent months, China’s increasingly bullish behaviour has unwittingly drowned its apologists. However, can the rest of the world adjust in time, or will China be unassailable by then?

For too long, China has manipulated useful idiots, from African despots to Western academics. On Western campuses, Confucian Centres laudably promote Chinese culture, but they also promote propaganda and stamp out independent voices.

For instance, long after the Covid emergency was well and truly upon Britain, the website for the China Centre at Jesus College, Cambridge, stated: ‘Under the leadership of the Communist Party of China since 1978, [China] has experienced an extraordinary transformation under the policy of Reform-and-Opening-Up. China’s national rejuvenation is returning the country to the position within the global political economy that it occupied before the 19th century.’ 

The China Centre then released a report recommending reform of the global governance of telecomms in order to favour China, and peddled the myth that Huawei had released its intellectual property for exploitation by European companies! 

China’s useful idiots are over-represented in Western governments. The Covid emergency has accelerated the Western trend to technocratic rather than democratic governance, towards unelected, unaccountable civil servants and quangos rather than popular representatives – the sort of people who claim to be guided by ‘the science’ but won’t expose themselves to scrutiny.

Technocrats, by self-selection, tend to be authoritarians, progressives, and fake liberals – the sort of people who think they know best, and resent checks and balances.

Ideologically, they espouse impossible contradictions, such as authoritarian liberalism and supra-national globalism. For them, China is more attractive than America. I have no doubt that some are literally corrupted by China’s kickbacks (I look forward to their exposure).

By June 2020, China’s behaviour had mobilised Western politicians against it, despite the technocrats. Before China’s useful idiots divert us again with fake issues such as ‘systemic racism’, we need to be clear about its threats and abuses.

China’s abuses of human rights are too broad and deep to summarise here, so let’s just mention its incarceration of at least one million Uighurs and Kazakhs in north-western China. The subjects emerge transformed from ‘re-education centres’, sometimes cutting themselves off from their families. Some remain as slave labour. (The useful idiots would rather make an issue of Western slavery in the 18th century).

At the end of 2019, China formally announced the successful conclusion of these centres, but by then it had developed an almost unimaginable surveillance regime: Facial recognition on the pavements, word recognition in telephone and email communications, involuntary tracking of mobile phones, and a requirement for personal identification cards to pass through public areas.

Hong Kong’s special status, as guaranteed internationally when Britain gave up its lease in 1997, has been chipped away, with increasing violence. (The useful idiots would rather make an issue of Western policing). Now the British government has a policy to accept three million of Hong Kong’s 7.5million residents if their situation gets worse.

For decades, China’s government has plundered intellectual property, from commercial bids, reverse engineering, or remote hacking. Its gains include French high-speed trains and the US F-35 stealth fighter. While China has often promised to curb such piracy, Western desperation has eschewed any real accountability in our trade deals.

The main formal mechanism for China’s imperialism is its Belt and Road Initiative, which builds ports, roads, railways, and telecomms in client states. China keeps ownership of the infrastructure, such as Sri Lankan ports, or receives knockdown commodities, such as Ecuadorean oil, or leaves the client so indebted that China can dictate how the client votes at the World Health Organisation, or uses the infrastructure to spy on the client, such as the African Union. 

China’s imperialism isn’t confined to the developing world. More than half of countries – more than 100 – have signed up to Belt and Road, including Greece, Italy, and Portugal.

Britain is informally embedded after divesting critical infrastructure, including ports, nuclear energy and telecommunications. Over two decades, five successive premiers (Tony Blair, Gordon Brown, David Cameron, Theresa May, Boris Johnson) have reaffirmed Huawei’s dominance of our telecomms. (By contrast, TCW has held a stance against Huawei since spring 2019). 

As recently as March, Boris Johnson’s government admitted that Huawei is a ‘high-risk vendor’, and that high-risk vendors should not be involved, but reaffirmed Huawei’s leadership of the 5G network. 

Fortunately, a few patriotic politicians fought back, coincident with China’s mishandling of Covid-19. Now a majority of Parliamentarians are against Huawei. Johnson announced a review, and entered talks with the US and other allies to develop an alternative supplier – something that the same government had previously said was impossible! 

Now let’s focus on China’s mishandling of Covid-19. China was undoubtedly the source of the pandemic. US intelligence has pointed the finger at the official research laboratory in Wuhan. The outbreak started as early as August, but China covered it up until December, and persecuted whistleblowers along the way. Perhaps 95 per cent of global cases could have been avoided if China had come clean just three weeks earlier.

The WHO was complicit: China itself selected the WHO’s distasteful leaders, and pressured its client states to vote for them. They spent more time praising China’s response than investigating, including China’s ridiculous claim that Covid was not spread human-to-human. 

The US government has rightly ceased funding of the WHO, pending reform. The US decision cannot be dismissed as predictable xenophobia: as late as January, Donald Trump was praising the warmness of US-China relations, mostly because of a new trade deal.

China’s cover-up of Covid-19 extended to economic and political coercion of other countries. It closed inter-city travel but not international travel. It denied medical supplies to its critics. It misrepresented exports as aid. When Australia’s government announced an inquiry into China’s mishandling of Covid, China imposed tariffs and other barriers on Australia’s exports. 

China’s expansionism in its own region goes further back. It claims sovereignty over international waters stretching between Korea, Japan and Taiwan (known prejudicially as the East China Sea), and between the Philippines, Vietnam, Malaysia, Singapore and Indonesia (known as the South China Sea).

The focus of China’s antipathy is its closest and smallest maritime neighbour: Taiwan. China has persuaded almost all states to retract their recognition of Taiwan’s independence, established by anti-communist nationalists in 1949. Just a few weeks ago, a general in the People’s Liberation Army threatened to invade if Taiwan were to declare independence. 

By some accounts, China’s objectives are not just territorial. By incorporating Taiwan, it could incorporate most of the world’s supply of semiconductors and thence electronics. 

The US is trying to modernise its presence in the Indo-Pacific, but it needs help. Japan, Singapore, and Australia are really the only allies that can be characterised as net contributors to the Western alliance in the Pacific.

Like Australia, Britain is in the Five Eyes intelligence-sharing arrangement, but its policy towards China has been characterised as ‘economic appeasement’, despite warnings that ‘China is preparing for war: total, not limited war, the kind that seeks to rebalance the world order, tipping it in her favour by replacing the US as the dominant global power.’ 

The US is adjusting its military capabilities, but even the US might be too late. Previous political administrations said that the answer was diplomacy and trade, not military preparedness. Barack Obama is emblematic, but even he U-turned. Since 2015, the US has sent aircraft and warships to assert free passage in the international waters of the South China Sea, despite China’s militarisation of the islands and atolls.

Now the US Navy and Marine Corps are optimising for a confrontation with China. The Marine Corps is to reduce its capabilities from full-spectrum operations (including amphibious assaults) to support the Navy’s basing in the Indo-Pacific. 

However, although the shift is coming, it may be too late. The US military changes have a 2030 horizon. That was ambitious, even before the Covid emergency ruined Western economies: recovery might take at least ten years. 

China, like Putin’s Russia, could snatch more power before the West is ready to deter it. The West needs to stop indulging its rioters, looters and technocrats, and start confronting China’s threats and abuses.

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Bruce Newsome
Bruce Newsome is a lecturer in international relations at the University of California Berkeley and an expert on global security risks, international conflict and counterterrorism. He is @riskyscientistson Parler.

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