BEFORE I viewed an old car recently, the salesman played a typical trick. On the phone he mentioned a fault in need of repair, thereby establishing himself as an honest actor. What he didn’t mention, of course, were the myriad other failings the rust bucket had. Only after I had driven an hour to see it did I find out that iron oxide had taken a firm hold.
Something similar is going on in the world today. Everyone is talking about how we need to reduce our reliance on Russian energy, and how anything remotely Russian is suspect. Even our universities – which one would assume were bastions of mantras such as ‘don’t judge people by their nationality/ethnicity/sexual orientation’ – have started to reject Russian applicants. As we have all learnt, Russia is very bad and Ukraine very good. Society has fallen lockstep into line, adopting the correct pronunciations, flying the right flags and parroting the correct opinions.
While reliance on a country with an authoritarian system of government is rarely a good idea, the current drive to vanquish Vlad from our supply chains surely raises an even greater issue.
For there is a country called China, unto which we are practically fully beholden. Accounting for approximately one third of the globe’s manufacturing output, products from the country are critical for almost everything we use on a day-to-day basis.
The start of the Covid hysteria and our inability to source PPE was a timely warning of relying on the precarious globalism centred on China’s cheap labour. Suddenly, we realised, were there to be a global hiccup, our call centres and coffee shops wouldn’t be able to produce the things we need.
Employment in manufacturing has decreased from about 28 per cent in the 1950s to about 10 per cent today. Much of this is the product of becoming an advanced economy. These jobs weren’t lost to automation, however, and to greater efficiency as the result of continued reinvestment into our industrial base: they were just sent overseas. A good many to the one-party dictatorship in Beijing as they embraced capitalism with abandon and we descended into a socialist mush.
It is not just our jobs we have given China. The country’s grip on rare earth metals grows by the day, cornering the market in materials needed for advanced technologies. They expand quietly but steadily through the Asia Pacific, militarising internationally contested waters and allegedly lining dodgy politicians’ pockets by buying their favour. Some of the world’s busiest shipping lanes remain vulnerable to the increasingly assertive People’s Liberation Army Navy.
Locking poor countries into unrepayable debt, the Chinese government takes over strategically significant ports, further projecting the communist dictatorship’s power. This is only another tentacle of influence, with Chinese industrial espionage and intellectual property theft already having fed off the naivety of the West for decades. Millions of pounds of Chinese money pours into our universities, ensuring compliance and the proliferation of Confucius Institutes. Beijing’s spies operate in the Houses of Parliament.
But nary a peep from our governing class about the dangers posed by the red dragon which has been made strong by our compliant greed. Instead, all eyes are kept firmly on Russia on a war of what should have been little geostrategic importance to us.
Now China has its eyes fixed on Ukraine. Having made it into a totemic war between Good and Evil, or in the new styling, Democracy v Autocracy, it is now a conflict that the United States, already chastened by its abject humiliation in Afghanistan, cannot be seen to lose. To do so would mean the final collapse of its rapidly crumbling hegemony.
Squaring up to Russia in Ukraine has opened a can of worms. The biggest critter lurking within that can is China, whose influence over our economy and society has gone unchecked for decades. We’ve shown plenty of stomach for a confrontation with Moscow – what are the odds we’ll show the same if Beijing’s landing craft head towards Taipei?
Let’s hope we don’t have to find out. Confronting them after giving them our manufacturing base would show us to be dangerously vulnerable. Even our camouflage uniforms are, like almost everything else, made in China.
This appeared on Frederick’s Newsletter on May 27, 2022, and is republished by kind permission.