Asia, Security, World Affairs

China is Gearing up for a Long Fight

On February 18, Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison announced that a “sophisticated state-actor” had launched a cyber attack on Australia’s major political parties and parliamentary computer system. The Australian government has not yet identified which state-actor is responsible but suspicions almost instantly fell on China. The Chinese military maintains a dedicated unit (the People’s Liberation Army Unit 61398) for cyber attacks. While several other nations maintain the capabilities for this kind of attack, they do not have China’s record of interference in Australian politics. The Chinese Communist Party puts significant resources into neutralizing opposition to its interests within Australian politics and society. Its increasingly flagrant acts of interference prompted the nation to pass sweeping foreign interference laws in 2018.

If China is responsible for the cyber-attack on Australian parliament, it fits a very clear pattern of increasing antagonism by China against the West. This points towards a worrying and unstable future for Western middle-powers with high economic exposure to China. Moreover, China’s increasingly threatening posture suggests that it no longer believes that it can radically reshape the international order without waging a long-term strategic conflict with the West. Until recently, China was careful to maintain the West’s support for the nation’s rise by refraining from activities that would trigger too much anxiety. Not only is China now engaging in these activities with little pretense of restraint (including militarizing the South China Sea) but it has gone one giant leap further by directly threatening the autonomy and stability of Western societies with extensive interference operations.

Central to the Chinese government’s efforts to meddle in Western societies is the United Front Work Department, a Chinese Communist Party agency tasked with promoting Beijing’s interests abroad by co-opting key elites and organizations. A 2018 report published by the Canadian Security Intelligence Service (based on an academic outreach workshop held by the agency) emphasized the magnitude of China’s efforts to interfere in democracies, with New Zealand and other small states being the most vulnerable. The report states:

New Zealand provides a vivid case study of China’s willingness to use economic ties to interfere with the political life of a partner country. An aggressive strategy has sought to influence political decision-making, pursue unfair advantages in trade and business, suppress criticism of China, facilitate espionage opportunities, and influence overseas Chinese communities. Smaller states are particularly vulnerable to Chinese influence strategies.

While China’s use of foreign influence operations is not new, President Xi has taken them into wholly new territory. Dr. Ann-Marie Brady, a political scientist at the University of Canterbury in New Zealand, said she was the victim of a year-long intimidation campaign within New Zealand after publishing her research outlining the Chinese Communist Party’s strategy of interference in Western democracies. Brady believes the intimidation campaign was directed by the Chinese government and says that her home was raided, her car sabotaged, and her office broken into.

If the Chinese Communist Party believed that it could use this kind of coercion to suppress certain kinds of speech on New Zealand soil without significantly impacting bilateral political and economic relations, it likely means two things. First, it suggests that China’s United Front Work in New Zealand is highly successful. Second, it implies that New Zealand is so reliant on economic activity with China that it wouldn’t protest the Chinese Communist Party’s aggressive incursions into the country.

China’s attempts to manipulate Western societies are increasingly felt across the media landscape, as well. On February 19th, The New York Times reported that producers of the film “Berlin, I Love You” scrapped a segment directed by Chinese artist and political dissident Ai Weiwei. The film’s distributors, producers, and investors raised concerns about Ai Weiwei’s political sensitivity to the Chinese government. In response, Ai Weiwei said, “It shows the extent to which China has used its power to influence the West in every aspect.” China’s “censorship” capabilities in the West stem from the extent of Chinese investments in Western media as well as the pressure on companies to maintain access to the enormous Chinese market.

Lastly, China’s growing assertiveness towards the West can also be seen during diplomatic spats. China is increasingly using strong-arm tactics against middle-power security allies of the United States. Following the arrest of Huawei CFO Meng Wanzhou in Canada on December 1, 2018, China detained 13 Canadian citizens, in an attempt to pressure Canada to forsake its independent judicial process and release Meng Wanzhou.

Ultimately, Beijing’s chilling influence in the West is a consequence of extensive economic integration with China. Western countries opened the door to unwanted influence from Beijing by so widely exposing their economies to China and effectively tying their prosperity to a political relationship with the Chinese Communist Party. This may not have seemed unwise when China was growing increasingly liberal (albeit from a very illiberal starting point) and friendly towards the West.

Today, a very different China understands that it can now force these countries to choose between their own prosperity and other national interests, including (as we’ve seen from recent episodes) the security of national telecoms networks, freedom of speech, and respecting an independent judiciary. Given that politicians’ reelection prospects depend on the state of the economy, the choice will often be in the Chinese Communist Party’s favor and Beijing’s vision of “global win-win economic cooperation” will prevail. In this way, China understands how it can use nations’ democratic institutions against them. When linking their economies with China, the West understandably, but naively, failed to process the possibility that one day, given a different political landscape, the Chinese Communist Party might seek to use its economic gravity to reshape the world, just as it is now doing.

God of War statue at Guan Yu Park in Jingzhou, China.

In some sense, China’s growing assertiveness towards the West at this juncture is puzzling. Despite what Chinese education and state-run media has been telling its citizenry for decades, the West has been remarkably open to China’s rise, relatively forgiving of its long history of human rights abuses, and open-minded about the country’s unique governance needs (i.e. absence of democratic institutions and weak rule of law). China’s behavior in recent years has rather forcefully confirmed the suspicions of the West’s China hawks and increased their sway. Some American officials that unsuccessfully advocated against economic integration with China in the 1990s have risen to positions of influence with a mandate to undo the economic relationship, and have already had a surprising amount of success (hence the Sino-American trade war). Why would President Xi Jinping seemingly squander the goodwill that helped nurture China’s meteoric rise? 

China’s increasingly threatening posture towards the West would not be so costly for China if it were turning inward at this time. But China is charging ahead in its ambitions to reshape the global economic order and build national champions to conquer the commanding heights of the global economy. Unless one believes that China’s rise is inexorable, surely these goals, already challenging, become astronomically more so when other national powers are routing against the country, let alone seeking to contain it.

China’s decision to take a more threatening posture towards the West likely comes from a deep understanding in Beijing that it will end up in a protracted struggle with the West, one that will dominate the global security environment for decades to come. Through gathering intelligence within democracies, co-opting elites, and making disengagement from China as painful as possible by flooding nations with investment while it still can, it can begin the fight with a better hand. China has also successfully sought to delay the West’s realization of hostilities through its rhetoric of “win-win ties” and President Xi’s portrayal of himself as globalization’s knight in shining armor.

If China is responsible for the attack on the Australian parliament, the intelligence that it has gathered could be very useful in eroding the appeal of democracy worldwide. It could use such attacks to create chaos within the country and incite public doubt in Australian institutions. After all, a long-term struggle between China and the West will be, in part, a contest over which form of government works better. This will be an ongoing concern for Western democracies, even if it turns out that another state-actor was behind the cyber attack on Australian parliament.

There is, of course, an argument to be made that China has taken this new, more threatening posture not because it is preparing for a protracted strategic conflict with the West, but because it no longer needs the West’s acquiescence to reshape the global order. According to this idea, China power has already grown so great that it does not need to be concerned about the Western backlash against its ambitions. However, if this were the case, China wouldn’t find it nearly as important to conduct such extensive influence operations in the West, which require considerable financial resources.

This argument also breaks down when looking at China’s current ability to shape outcomes in global affairs. China might be pulling ahead in a number of tech races, but its comprehensive power capabilities are not yet great enough to reshape the global order using brute force alone.

Consider that China has only one treaty ally: North Korea. The U.S. has more than 60 (granted, many are dubious at this point). Of course, China’s lack of treaty alliances is partly due to national policy, and is not solely due to ineptitude at making friends. Additionally, economic clout may be a far more important indicator of global influence in the 21st century. Nevertheless, the disparity in security relations indicates a disparity in the ties and trust that the world has with China. All else being equal, China’s recent actions in the West will only increase that disparity.

Putting international relations aside, what is occurring within China today may provide an even better indication of China’s ability to reshape the global order, given a West that is increasingly hostile to China’s global ambitions. Since 2012, the world saw China comprehensively shift towards neo-totalitarianism and commit cultural genocide against its Muslim citizenry. It is difficult to imagine that China’s leaders believe that the West would find the global dominance of this China even remotely palatable. What happens within China’s borders reflects the mindset and values of the government.

If China is now acting this way within its borders and is already acting this aggressively towards the West, the world might not wish to see how China would act if its national power dwarfed all others.


Nick Taber is a writer and consultant on policy and business in China. Follow him on Twitter @TaberTooth.

72 Comments

  1. mitchellporter says

    The author is described as a “consultant on… business in China”. He also says that China is “neo-totalitarian” and engages in “cultural genocide”. That rhetoric does not sound like someone who earns a living helping people to do business in China.

  2. Peter Schaeffer says

    China already has the largest economy in the world. China’s lead will only increase over the next 50 years. China (parts of China) are already turning in the best PISA scores in the world. Yes, the rise of China as a global power is inexorable.

    China certainly is not democratic. However, the differences between China and the West are not quite what some people claim. It is not hard to find (anonymous) examples of technical professionals taking jobs in China because they have no employment prospects in the West (because they have the “wrong” skin color, sex, sexual preferences, etc.).

    It is now possible to find examples of scientific research that is (de facto) banned in the West, that is allowed/encouraged in China.

    When China was Maoist and the West was relatively free, many folks had reason to oppose China and defend the West. Now the West is “woke” and China is thriving. The societal consensus that opposed China in the past, is gone.

    • We're finished says

      The US and the West in general actively disenfranchises its most intelligent and productive citizens – men – for ideological reasons. China doesn’t. A weak, dumb, feminine society can not compete with a dynamic, strong, smart, and masculine society.

      I’m not educated. I’m not super smart. This is just this simple man’s observations.

      • S Snell says

        WF:

        If not unadulterated truth, then trending strongly in that direction.

        We’ll wake up one day, of course. After the excrement has struck the whirling ventilator blades, unfortunately.

        • Ray Andrews says

          @S Snell

          We may wake up, but will we wake up in time? The universities are already lost, that means the next generation of our ‘best and brightest’ have SJ and feminocracy as their main goals. Once our institutions are entirely lost to wokeness, merely waking up will not be sufficient, these will need to be rebuilt almost from scratch. And, once The Patriarchy is gone, who is even going to be there to attempt it?

          • S Snell says

            @Ray Andrews

            Not terribly optimistic here. In our weakened condition it seems unlikely that we would survive any crisis sufficiently grave to restore rationality.

            It was a pretty good run there for a while, though.Thank god I’ll be dead (relatively) soon.

          • Terminal Man says

            An excerpt from Tennyson comes to mind…

            Tho’ much is taken, much abides; and though
            We are not now that strength which in old days
            Moved earth and heaven; that which we are, we are;
            One equal temper of heroic hearts,
            Made weak by time and fate, but strong in will
            To strive, to seek, to find, and not to yield.

      • david of Kirkland says

        WF: Don’t worry. Women in power are as mean, nasty, tyrannical and authoritarian as men.
        PROOF: China was ruled by men when it was weak and now. America was ruled by men when it was strong and now weaker.

        • Ray Andrews says

          @S Snell

          Yes, it was a good run. Got some things accomplished. I might live long enough to see the start of the next dark age tho. But, humanity has been on the brink and pulled it off a few times before, we may get lucky somehow.

      • Num num says

        We’re finished, yes, the unsaid but biggest consequence of “social justice” may be to impede the West’s ability to keep pace with a ruthless unimpeded foreign giant that is ready to seize the future. The war on meritocracy in the west is perfectly timed for China. This is a huge issue!

        Lost in mindless hate of the west, social justice idiots have no concept of how real foreign threats can be, and historically have been. Trying to tear down their own society could doom the west and thereby the world.

        Breaking the back of traditional family structure is an experiment for which none of its proponents have any idea the results — dangerous idiots — but which I suspect will almost certainly damage western society, possibility irrevocably.

    • The US economy is 50% larger than that of China.

      “It is now possible to find examples of scientific research that is (de facto) banned in the West, that is allowed/encouraged in China.”
      No doubt! But what’s good about that? Some things are banned for very good reasons.

      • You’ve taken a snapshot in time; is it representative of future trends?

        Some banned scientific research, could produce remarkably useful innovation; being left behind in that arena could put laggers at serious disadvantage.

        I’m thinking of the seeming taboo of studying intelligence, more specifically its biological/genetic components. China has already made first steps in gentically modifications in that arena, however “illicitly “. There is no “good reason” to leave this most important aspect of humanity unresearched. Whatever the findings may be they can only better serve than our current woo of motivational speeches & rants upon the indomitable obstacles of socioeconomic disparity. We’re all obviosuly different, the brain is part of “us” & the differences in cognitive capacities are not only staggering but at times frighteningly debilitating.

        Whatever the timeline involved in fully realizing the potential in genetic “redesign & customization” I would rather not be on the losing side of that game.

      • Peter Schaeffer says

        JS, China’s economy is considerably larger than the U.S. Check the IMF WEO database (or the CIA World Factbook) for the actual numbers. If you don’t accept the aggregate (GDP) numbers, check out the actual numbers for steel, coal, concrete, aluminum, copper, etc. China lead over the U.S. is astounding (sometimes 10x+).

        “Some things are banned for very good reasons.”

        Witchcraft must be banned. Witches must be burned. Humanity can only progress if witches are burned.

    • Actually the US economy is still significantly larger than the Chinese economy although China has the second largest economy

      • Peter Schaeffer says

        ericgribble, The CIA World Factbook puts China’s 2017 GDP at $23.21 trillion. U.S. GDP for the same year is estimated at $19.49 trillion. According to the IMF, China’s economy was 18.718% of the world economy in 2018. The U.S. was 15.168% of the world in 2018.

        China has passed the USA (in 2013/14) and has a considerably higher growth rate.

  3. An interesting article, much of which rings true. The U.S. is disadvantaged in a myriad of ways. More than 60 treaty allies is both a blessing and a curse. We must consider their interests and also help to secure them. Because many of them are not as well resourced and technologically advanced as we or China they are vulnerable. This increases our vulnerability. Perhaps more importantly China’s policies are centralized and singly focused/directed. Furthermore, they endure for decades. Ours are decentralized among political parties, allies, NGO’s, corporations and political parties. They are also short lived. Where would one go to get a copy of the U.S. long range plan?

    I’m by no means suggesting we adopt a China-like model. However, if we do not take more control of the overall process and/or determine some way to generate and advance more enduring, common strategies among all relevant (friendly) players, we have a long term issue. To use a sports analogy, does the team with several superstars competing among themselves win or the one with several really good players acting as a team? Consider UVA basketball.

    • Peter Schaeffer says

      ra, “Where would one go to get a copy of the U.S. long range plan?” That’s probably true. However, historically it was not. The U.S. gained control of Pearl Harbor as early as 1875. Note that the entrance to Pearl Harbor was not dredged until after 1900. That famous Japanese attack in from 1941. In other words, the US was planning on becoming a Pacific power well before 1900. Note that the US expedition to Japan was before the U.S Civil War.

      • Cluebat says

        After the Civil War trade expanded all across the Pacific.
        Yankee clippers used “trade dollars” to purchase merchandise and form business relationships.

        • Cluebat says

          Let me correct that. It seems that the trade preceded the Trade Dollars, but after the Civil War silver became a more valuable commodity due to relative demand. Anyway- there was always trade with China, for as long as we have had infrastructure to support such trade (western ports).

    • y81 says

      You need to re-read Hayek and Engels. Centralized planning cannot create prosperity. And precisely nothing is more important than economic prosperity in determining the power of the army and navy.

      • Not exactly what I’m saying. My point is that all actors should strive toward some common goals, only some of which are self interest based.

      • Peter Schaeffer says

        Actually, we don’t need to re-read Hayek and Engels. China abandoned Maoism decades ago. China is a stunning demonstration of what motivated people can accomplish given the freedom to do so. Hayek would probably agree.

        • david of Kirkland says

          @Peter Schaeffer – Xi has installed himself as dictator for life. Their capitalism added liberalism, but their totalitarian roots are showing. They’ll have short-term gains because central planning can work for a while on a limited set of future projections, but the actual future will be too varied to have been planned for like China will suffer.

          • Peter Schaeffer says

            DOK, your ideas about China were roughly correct when Nixon was president. Modern China is quite different. Check out the (trashy) “Building a PC CHEAPER in CHINA?! feat. Strange Parts” YouTube video for some notion of that China is like these days.

            A generation ago it was common to describe Japan’s economy as “centrally planned” with MITI supposedly in charge. Wasn’t all that true of Japan back then, or China now.

            China does not have perfect political freedom. For example, a recent book (written in China) was ferociously hostile towards Mao’s Cultural Revolution but managed to mention Mao only four times (and in quite neutral ways).

            However, freedom of speech is in short supply in the West these days. Try uttering a non-PC thought and see what the consequences are.

          • Peter Schaeffer says

            The relative state of freedom in the U.S. versus China is not a simple one.

            The U.S. ranks considerably higher in religious freedom. It is hard to imagine Falun Gong being aggressively persecuted in the USA.
            The overall state of political freedom in the USA is better than China. Of course, exceptions exist. However, no one particularly fears the consequences of criticizing Trump (or Obama or Hillary). The FBI is not likely to arrest you for exposing a significant scandal in the USA.
            The overall state of economic freedom does not clearly favor either China or the USA.
            The overall state of intellectual freedom is better in China than in the USA. In the USA if you say the wrong think (or conduct the wrong research) you are doomed. Controversial research is more accepted in China than the USA. In China, PC is mocked (they have a word for it, Baizuo). In the US, PC is enforced with religious fanaticism.

            Of course, the state of freedom is only one way to compare countries. China’s government is much more “effective” than ours. The U.S. has a massive opiate problem (i have already been to several OD funerals). China does not (although much of the poison is actually made in China). In China, things get “done”… Not so much in the USA.

            Some time ago, I read some comments by Henry Kissinger about what coming to America was like, when he was a child. He said he loved America’s “ordered liberty”. We still have the liberty. Order is in short supply.

            The America that Kissinger liked as a child was a country where things got “done”. Now the baton has been passed to China.

    • david of Kirkland says

      This will be a key test of political dogma. Will a centrally planned capitalism do better or worse than a liberal free market one. Most here believe the free market will outperform central planning; time will tell. But Xi has moved to become tyrant for life, so my bet is that China will not dominate over the long haul. You can control progress for only so long before progress outruns central planning.

      • y81 says

        Exactly. If authoritarian government and central planning are actually more effective than liberal democracy, then we deserve to lose. (Won’t all my Chinese American friends feel stupid, knowing that their families bet on the wrong horse!) My loyalty is to a set of philosophical ideals, not a geographic territory, much less an ethnic group.

  4. @PS Great comment. I would suggest things have changed significantly since then. Mega-corporations with significant exposure, influence, independence and goals. Increased focus of political actors on defeating the other party rather than those who would do us harm. Orders of magnitude more complex geopolitical, economic and technological environments. Much better ability to travel, communicate and influence other societies.

    I’ve been considering the probability of a possible geopolitical pivot (similar to British Naval dominance or the railroad in Europe. IMO, the current one may be based on artificial intelligence. In 2017 Putin was quoted as saying whomever dominates AI will dominate the world. The Chinese are investing heavily — officially and via entities such as Baidu, TenCent and Alibaba. DARPA has allocated approximately $2B to the issue. Google, Amazon and others are pursuing the concept. Of concern to me is that the Chinese and Russian strategies will be centrally coordinated. Note I am not saying micro-managed. Ours will be focused on many independent goals. From a long term, mutually beneficial perspective, profit margin should not necessarily reign supreme.

    If one analyzes the impact AI could have on cyber offense and defense, logistics, medicine, investment/finances and SCADA (to name a few) it is tremendous. This is one reason for my earlier comments.

    • S Snell says

      I suspect that AI will play a role far larger than any of us can imagine right now. The future is remaking itself with every passing instant, at frightening, unmanageable speed.

  5. GoTheLanders says

    Would encourage readers interested in the New Zealand/China situation to refer to the commentary of Michael Reddell at Croaking Cassandra. It is virtually the only sensible comment on the issues that is regularly out there.

    • GoTheLanders says

      And just further on the New Zealand situation, the silence isn’t so much to do with economic dependence (though many run that line), but because both of our main political parties, in particular the National Party, appear to be beholden to Chinese money.

      Extraordinarily, the leader of the Opposition, Hon Simon Bridges, was literally recorded discussing how many parliamentary liat seat nominations a donation from a United Front member would be worth, and not a finger lifted.

    • Thank you for the resource. I was unaware of it. My issue is that it is very narrowly focused. Is there someone who analyses the subject from a broader strategic prospective?

  6. ga gamba says

    I would not be surprised that find that Beijing is behind much of the recent loopiness of the social justice berserkers. Not that China created them, but rather Beijing, with its historic fear of splitism, recognised the many fissures that already exist and endeavours to exacerbate these to foment civil strife within each country, especially the Five Eyes, as well as weaken larger alliances. Keep the activist class fixated on nonsense issues like trannies in the locker rooms, reparations, bikini adverts, and manspreading whilst convincing a large portion of the population that suppression of their own freedoms is desirable as well as spinning the fantasy of the Green New Deal goes a long way to keep China out of the hot seat.

    When was the last time you saw the pro-Tibet Independence Movement mobilised or even mentioned? It was once a massive movement in the nineties and noughties. Hell, China even evades being held accountable for its massive contribution of polluting emissions by the activist class. The polished turd that is the Paris Agreement was shat on the West’s and Japan’s doorsteps, countries that are far beyond China in environmental protections, enforcement, and reduction of emissions. Why did the activists ignore China? The Chinese wouldn’t agree to mandates. When has the excuse “they won’t agree to it” been acceptable to environmental activists? Never ever elsewhere. What’s an easy way for western businesses in the west to comply with locally mandated reductions? Offshore more and more production to China. More wealth and power acquired by Beijing.

    And why is it always Saudi Arabia the activists are fixated on? The Iranian regime murders more journalists, still has a multi-million dollar bounty on Salman Rushdie’s head, is active in supporting terrorist movements, and suppresses its own citizens freedoms as harshly as Riyadh, yet rarely a peep from the civil rights establishment and certainly nothing commensurate to the bollocking Saudi Arabia routinely takes. You ever wonder why the US dollar is so powerful? It’s because since the ’70s the Saudis invoice petroleum contracts in that currency, thus Riyadh ensures demand for dollars worldwide and these are recycled back into the US as investment and bond purchases – Americans have no idea how blessed they are to have a currency that can’t lose 50% of its value in a few days like that which happen in Asia in ’97 and ’98. Beijing would love to break the KSA-USA relationship, make the yuan supreme, and also seize all the arms contracts that are presently being won by US, UK, and other western arms makers. You think Beijing will give Riyadh any grief about Yemen or any other issue? Hell no.

    I reckon some of the West’s chattering class see merits in China’s socio-economic model of single-party rule, 185,000 government-owned companies dominating the important business sectors and that keep everyone else in line, and a populace that largely shuts up and obeys.

    • The main point is not about single party rule and government owned entities. It is about common goals that eclipse individual ones. After all, if the country as a whole loses influence, what happens to the components?

    • E. Olson says

      GG – I suspect you might be correct. I have often wondered how all these crazy Leftists seem to have unlimited budgets for paying: 1) thousands of professional protesters to show up around the country, 2) hundreds of lawyers to sue governments and deep pocketed corporations and citizens who don’t toe the line on Leftist policies (or to prevent them from implementing Rightist policies), and 3) make huge campaign contributions to Leftist candidates, etc. Are there really that many crazy deep pocketed Lefties to write that many checks to support this nonsense? Does Soros really have the deep pockets to fund all these expensive Leftist efforts? Or is foreign government money from Russia and China funding much of these Leftist activities? We already know that Russia is a major sponsor of Western environmental organizations who protest pipelines, fracking, and nuclear energy, which Russia hopes will reduce supply and consequently boost oil and gas prices to Russian advantage.

    • Hamilton Sunshine says

      China is behind it. You only need to consider Tim Cooke’s Orwellian speech in support of the Chinese surveillance model. Coincidentally after Apple announces a major campus and investment in China.
      Likewise, Chinese investment in youtube and now most of it’s adverts are for tick tock or Wish which are Chinese Apps and coincidentally a crack down on the right, which would be critical of it’s influence rather than the left who aren’t even noticing.

      Twitter’s second biggest investor is Saudi Arabia and suddenly we have a big push against Islamaphobia and the far right (traditionally represented as Christian) and yet an allowed upsurge in anti-Semitic, anti-Christian and anti Israeli activism. mmm….

      And we’re only allowed to talk about Russian interference?
      Why?
      Follow the money and you’ll understand the bias who we’re allowed to criticise.

    • Seong of Baekje says

      And why is it always Saudi Arabia the activists are fixated on? The Iranian regime murders more journalists, still has a multi-million dollar bounty on Salman Rushdie’s head, is active in supporting terrorist movements, and suppresses its own citizens freedoms as harshly as Riyadh, yet rarely a peep from the civil rights establishment and certainly nothing commensurate to the bollocking Saudi Arabia routinely takes.

      As the US has little to no diplomatic or economic relations with Iran, its leverage over Iran is pretty limited, unless it wants to move into the realm of acts of war. Moreover, I think it’s pretty clear that Saudi Arabia is actually more repressive than Iran towards its own citizens. As a reference point, women in Iran have been driving for decades and sartorial restrictions on women are not too strictly enforced (the headscarves of stylish young Iranian women do not cover much).

      So it actually makes good sense for activists to concentrate on Saudi Arabia, where there’s more room for improvement and the leverage to potentially accomplish something.

  7. E. Olson says

    Perhaps the reason for China’s aggressive behavior is not born out of perceived strength, but perceived weakness? China is a huge market, has lots of bright people, but the working age population is shrinking, fertility rates are very low, the elderly population is growing, and there is a huge gender imbalance with many more males than females. Perhaps the fear among the leadership is that they are at “peak” China, and that it will be increasingly difficult to hold on to power when the economy starts to shrink in conjunction with the population, when rising labor costs (and possible trade restrictions) make it less attractive for foreign capital to invest in China, when the relative lack of young people, many of whom are badly spoiled only children, make it difficult to maintain a strong military. It is also unclear whether China will be successful in transitioning from a cheap source of manufacturing to an advanced leader in technology development, since much of their technological prowess continues to come from copying/stealing Western innovations. The difficult Chinese language, and strong xenophobia of the citizenry/culture/government, also make China an unattractive magnet for immigrants, which means the unfavorable demographic trends are unlikely to change, and costs for the increasingly aging population will become a heavy burden on state spending.

    Perhaps the more accurate and scary analogy for China is Nazi Germany. Many historians believe that Hitler became aggressive in his territorial ambitions due to the realization that the German economy was in danger of collapsing due to the heavy military buildup spending (and other heavy state spending and regulations), and he realized he either had to use his military threat/capabilities or risk losing them.

    • ga gamba says

      Certainly Hitler lacked oil and other critical resources. That said, so did and do many others and they are able to thrive. Beijing’s String of Pearls (SOP) strategy, its building of artificial islands in the South China Sea (SCS) which also puts Chinese forces within range of the chokepoint that is the Malacca Strait, and construction of pipelines from Central Asia and Russia are to ensure its oil supply with built-in redundantly. Further, SOP and SCS facilities have the potential to disrupt the maritime commerce (including Middle East oil supplies) of S. Korea, Japan, Australia, and New Zealand.

      But there is a key difference between China and Germany. Germany was not the world’s manufacturer and export juggernaut that China is today. China could take a much less antagonistic tack and still prosper – China’s neighbours Japan, Taiwan, and South Korea all demonstrate this fact. China can sit back and keep counting the money. China has access to consumer, resource, and financial markets worldwide. About the only place China can find lebensraum, which I don’t think is a goal, is in Siberia, which would put it into conflict with Russia.

      The demand for international respect was what brought Germany into conflict in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, and it was the compulsion for vengeance that drove Hitler and Germany after WWI. It’s as if China thinks we’re still in the 19th century and not the 21st. I hesitate to say so, but the only unfilled ambition I see of Beijing’s is vengeance, which, if I’m accurate, doesn’t bode well for many.

      • Mechan B says

        Sino-Russian diplomacy has always been a difficult path for both nations but lately more so for Russia. The Siberian Russia is becoming more and more dominated by the larger Chinese presence as Russian influence wanes due to a small population relative to China. I wouldn’t be surprised to see some conflict along the border in the future if Russian influence continues to fade due to a poor economy and putting pretty much all their assets and military in Ukraine and Syria.

    • ga gamba says

      (If this is a dup, apologies. Intermittently, I’m finding submitting comments don’t appear.)

      Certainly Hitler lacked oil and other critical resources. That said, so did and do many others and they are able to thrive. Beijing’s String of Pearls (SOP) strategy, its building of artificial islands in the South China Sea (SCS) which also puts Chinese forces within range of the chokepoints that are the Malacca and Lombok Straits, and construction of pipelines from Central Asia and Russia are to ensure its oil supply with built-in redundantly. Further, SOP and SCS facilities have the potential to disrupt the maritime commerce (including Middle East oil supplies) of S. Korea, Japan, Australia, and New Zealand.

      But there is a key difference between China and Germany. Germany was not the world’s manufacturer and export juggernaut that China is today. China could take a much less antagonistic tack and still prosper – China’s neighbours Japan, Taiwan, and South Korea all demonstrate this fact. China can sit back and keep counting the money. China has access to consumer, resource, and financial markets worldwide. About the only place China can find lebensraum, which I don’t think is a goal, is in Siberia, which would put it into conflict with Russia.

      The demand for international respect was what brought Germany into conflict in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, and it was the compulsion for vengeance that drove Hitler and Germany after WWI. It’s as if China thinks we’re still in the 19th century and not the 21st. I hesitate to say so, but the only unfilled ambition I see of Beijing’s is vengeance, which, if I’m accurate, doesn’t bode well for many.

      • y81 says

        I find that you have to exit Quillette, then re-enter, to find your comment posted.

          • y81 says

            I’m surprised Huawei lets you even read this post, much less comment on it.

  8. Jackson Howard says

    With the West divided and the US undermining trust with its allies, China has a golden opportunity window. To be blunt they are following the US playbook of influencing foreign nations with trade opportunities (no question asked) and political “support”. In short, it’s seeking to displace the US as the major player in Asia. As for agression, the big flashpoint is going to be Taiwan.

    Nationalism and Jingoism is very much a thing in China, and it’s propped up by the State. This might prove dangerous would the chinese economy dip down at some point (which will happen,
    as growth as been slowing down quite a bit, and the last few years of growth have been fueled by massive levels of borrowing).

    In my opinion the chinese economy is much more fragile to external shocks than it wants to admit. However the US has not been very smart about it so far. A nice way to screw the chinese would have been to leverage the willingness of the EU to go green and try to create a common carbon import tax and labeling the chinese manufacturing based on coal heavy energy mix as “unfair competition” at the WTO.

    • @ Jackson Howard

      But at least from what I hear Trump is willing to protect the pacific. Which I care about.

      Europe RIP,

      Who opened the gates for the Goths when Rome fell ?

      • Jackson Howard says

        The EU will either disintegrate back to something akin the EEE, or move toward a confederal state with greater integration. The status quo cannot hold.

        Europe problem is that it has elite trying to emulate the US zeitgeist with a 20yr time lag while having a population that does not share the US mentality. That makes for hilarious situation where the EU plays the neo-liberal refugee welcome to crush our wages while the US is moving away from it. Fundamentally the EU lacks both vision and nerve. If it can’t find them, it’ll fail. IMO kicking the US crutches is the best thing that can happen. It’ll either flop on the ground, or it’ll learn to walk and stand by itself.

        One thing to keep in mind is that federating small entities usually requires an external existential threat, and even then it can be a long process. At the moment the EU only faces self inflicted wounds and internal threats.

    • This is when nationalism counts? Britain is afraid of leaving the EU, Australia is afraid of abandoning
      Asian trade deals. What about ourselves the citizens? Who will suffer when these houses of cards fall down?

      We will. And don’t forget communists always kill the university educated first.

      Seriously when I was a little girl in the school playground, we spent all our play time, not playing but planning how we would survive when China or Russia nuked us. Our boomer parents said it didn’t matter, we’d just be dead.

      Being childish we didn’t like the thought of being dead. We found alternatives to the narrative. I found my parents had a cubic meter of stored canned ham. My friend, whose mother survived the Berlin bombing as a child always had half a ton of sugar buried in the back yard.

      We’ve become soft as a civilisation, just like the Roman’s driven to to canabilism, whilst under siege by the barbarians.

    • ga gamba says

      (What is going on with the buggy comments section?)

      Your analysis is wide of the mark in a couple of places. If the US were not living up to it defence commitments by underfunding the DoD below what was agreed to with its defence partners, you’d have a point. This isn’t the case. You have uber grifters like Germany that have cut their defence budgets and significantly slashed their forces – all you need to do is contrast their orders of battle of 20 years ago to present and the shortfalls reveal themselves. Trump wasn’t the first to complain about it, but he was the first to declare enough and put them on blast.

      The second miss is a misunderstanding of how international trade is conducted. China is the world’s manufacturer for German, British, American, and an array of other nations’ companies including those the public think are still manufacturers. Those green taxes would be levied on Bosch-branded goods made in Chinese-owed factories and exported to the EU. That’s the ingeniousness (or deviousness, if you prefer) of the OEM/OED model.

      By having western companies shift production to developing nations, many of what would formerly be your head-to-head competitors become your most influential advocates. You think Angela Merkel will answer the phone call from Mr Ma of cordless drill maker #194 of Xian, China as readily as she will from Dr. Volkmar Denner, CEO of Bosch, who is supplied by Mr Ma? Meanwhile, you gain technical, design, and marketing know-how that’s transferred to national champions who move up the value-added chain to later introduce well-made products sold under their own brands. You hear of Samsung or Lucky Goldstar 30 or 40 years ago? They were making mobiles, air conditioners, microwaves, TVs, VTRs, refrigerators, and many other things for well-known western companies – Japanese ones too – sold under their own names.

      Moreover, Chinese companies are the makers of countless components exported to the EU and North America for assembly in domestically manufactured goods. How many are aware the southeast coast of Thailand is known as the Detroit of Asia? Quick, name a Thai auto manufacturer. The moniker came to be because Thailand manufacturers automotive components. Given many companies rely on the just-in-time inventory model, a disruption in your supply channel brings the assembly line to a halt because few have reserves on hand. Alternate suppliers may be found, but fulfilment isn’t immediate.

      China has everyone over a barrel until an effort is made to diversify production elsewhere, political leaders are willing to take the risk of damaging their popularity to wage trade wars, or consumers make a concerted effort to eschew Chinese-made goods. It’s tough to do so for components, but made-in-China is easy to spot on products’ packaging.

  9. We are sitting ducks, we are totally dependent on the US, for military protection.

    But our media presents Trump negatively!

    I personally blame the EEC, later, the EU, but what about the politicians who used that opportunity to promote multiculturalism and Asian trade.

    Not from my own political observation, because I was only a little child among hippies in the 70s, but from the constant comments from parents and grandparents, on what this would mean for us in the long run. Even in the 1990s Australians could buy everything we needed, locally produced and manufactured.

    On any given day, there are 500 000, Chinese students in the Marxist universities. That is twenty percent of the population, and does not include, settled immigrants.

    This scenario has been in literature since before I was born.

    It has also been the theme of movies in fairly recent times, eg”The day after tomorrow “.

    But as usual the MSM, is more interested in fluff.

    Thank you Quillette. I am warned and I will spread the message .

  10. Michael Lardelli says

    Now that world oil production appears to have peaked (and possibly even coal production too) it will be interesting to see how what many regard as China’s inevitable rise to world domination works out in reality. Ultimately, it is Russia that still has greatest resources per capita and the means to defend them while China has over a billion people to feed and its resources are largely depleted. The future world is not going to be what most people (deluded by the notion of unending growth and human progress) expect. The decades of energy (and economic) contraction have begun:
    https://ourfiniteworld.com/2019/02/22/have-we-already-passed-world-peak-oil-and-world-peak-coal/

  11. Michael Lardelli says

    Now that world oil production appears to have peaked (and possibly even coal production too) it will be interesting to see how what many regard as China’s inevitable rise to world domination works out in reality. Ultimately, it is Russia that still has greatest resources per capita and the means to defend them while China has over a billion people to feed and its resources are largely depleted. The future world is not going to be what most people (deluded by the notion of unending growth and human progress) expect. The decades of energy (and economic) contraction have begun.

  12. Cosmin S says

    hmm, no word about the christian genocide or about the churches they blow up.

  13. Harland says

    US: 11 nuclear giant aircraft carriers that have frequently been used to bomb the shit out of countries that disobey the ‘international order’. No worries there.

    China: 2 wimpy ski-jump aircraft carriers. THEY WANT WAR!

  14. Pingback: Truthfulness, reality, politics, the Red Pill – The Red Quest

  15. China has been building the largest military in the world not because they fear invasion, but because they sèek expansion. They are clever, ruthless and arrogant, just itching for a showdown. Before long they will take Taiwan (though not with Trump in office). And who will stand against them when most countries can’t even produce screw, let alone a semiconductor?

    Biggest mistake Nixon ever made was to lie down with those dogs. And with their very imbalanced sex ratio, those dogs are hungry.

    • S Snell says

      @benita

      You put your finger on a major problem, symptomatic, perhaps, of larger structural weaknesses in Chinese society. The history of China is basically moments of brilliance separated by long periods of chaos and stagnation. We’re witnessing a “brilliance” phase right now, but who knows how long that may last.

      If the Chinese wish to play a larger role in the world, they face an uphill struggle. To wield real influence requires some level of mutual engagement, and the Chinese can’t even fake it. China remains an inward-looking, arrogant, ferociously xenophobic culture with little interest in the outside world. And it shows. The Middle Kingdom: Heaven above, barbarians below.

      Add to that a propensity to believe their own mythology, epic levels of corruption, a culture that rewards cheating, a nasty totalitarian streak that flares up every now and again, and an addiction to corner-cutting. Just wait until those shiny cities that sprung up overnight start collapsing from shoddy workmanship.

      Furthermore, the Chinese cultural brand is a pretty tough sell. “Hard work, long hours, low pay, do what we tell you or else.” That’s not a winner for most folks. Does anyone ever actually say “I wish I were Chinese?” They are the opposite of sexy. They’re sort-of admired but mostly resented. .

      Chinese culture is gifted but with blind spots. Thousands of years of history, a population many times that of Europe throughout, and the best they could come up with was the pentatonic scale. They never figured out perspective. They never figured out musical harmony. These are fundamental things they somehow missed, for all their brilliance.

      I interviewed a young man for a job in my business a few years ago. He had just come back from working in China, so I asked him about his experience. He said that he felt like the whole thing was a house of cards about ready to implode. “Five years I was there, and in that whole time I don’t think anyone ever once told me the truth.”

  16. The fatalism of some commenters reminds me of the many Western Cold War pessimists back when the Soviet Union loomed with nearly twice the USA’s population and a more powerful military.

    Foreign authoritarianism has always impressed some Westerners who find our democracies too messy and rough-edged. Fascism and Marxism in turn entranced Western intellectuals who categorically insisted Democracy was dated and doomed and produced reams of statistics to prove it.

    China’s robotic Neo-Confucianism sounds intimidating in a Science-Fiction way, but so did Fascism and Communism. We should not be overly impressed but should also beware of any attempt to insinuate such authoritarianism into our societies. Our reaction should be MORE individualism, not less.

    • Alexander Allan says

      The difference between the USA during the Cold War and now is that today the American left believe socialism is the solution; with central planning and suppression of individualism as the way to an earthly utopia with equality of outcome for all.

  17. Alexander Allan says

    Though China poses a threat to the West, the West is doing a greater job in destroying itself through the incoherence of progressive ideology. Furthermore the black swan is Saudi Arabia. The House of Saud with its recent liberal initiates, such as allowing women to drive so as to distract from the negative PR of its involvement in Yemen, is surely a displeasing development to the orthodox Islamists. If such actions continue I can envisage some clerics mounting a revolution similar to the Iranian Revolution of 1979. Once in power their allegiance will not be westward to the USA and EU, but East to Russia and China.

  18. mitchellporter says

    I dislike this new trend of western agitation against China. I feel like it emanates from some strategic decision made somewhere deep in our own national security organs, which was then propagated to the level of media punditry via longstanding channels of influence that are not publicized, because it would give away the extent to which western political opinion is managed by specific powerful cliques and factions. In the end, it was probably Trump’s victory which unleashed the “China hawks”.

    Personally I find the rise of China to be deeply unthreatening. I sympathize with Taiwanese who are used to their de facto sovereignty and don’t want to lose it, but otherwise, really no problem. Yes, it’s a different political system and a different culture, but it’s not one that I feel any need to change. The author has to describe it as “neo” totalitarian and engaged in “cultural” genocide, because it’s not actually totalitarian or genocidal. It’s more a consumerist technocracy that has credibility with recently decolonized societies, as an alternative source of modernization.

    One or two commenters speculate that China might be supporting the western left who are so often the bane of Quillette. Not only is there no evidence for this, it is contrary to Chinese interest. It would be like German intelligence sending Lenin to Russia, or Baathist Iraq hosting Ayatollah Khomeini (which they did for a few years, back when the shah was still the enemy), with enormous potential for blowback. China is like Russia, a society whose elite look with immense suspicion on the west’s new left of identity politics. China may buy the support of western politicians and political parties, but I don’t see them supporting our social movements, and in any case such support would be redundant, their wellspring is western ideologies taught in western institutions.

  19. augustine says

    Whatever the global aspirations of China are, they will have to surmount one huge obstacle that is one of the elephants in the herd in the room: model attractiveness. They will have to replace resurgent fears, and the highs of overseas profits, with something that attracts people to their way of doing things. There must be an evident goodness projecting from China that shines through the sordid parts. Those kinds of things cannot be easily faked or hidden. Already with a track record of corruption and abuse (cf. natural resources in Africa), and espionage, their “foreignness” is a major disadvantage for which they are perfectly unapologetic.

  20. Eugene Gwynn says

    China is Gearing up for a Long Fight

    Because China is in a population death spiral. The one child catastrophe is catching up with China and the overall birth rate will chew up the remaining population double quick. The Long Fight therefore is a misnomer. It cannot last that long.

  21. Caroline Bronstring says

    This is how I like articles. Plainly stating facts with only a little of interpretation on the side of the journalist. I’ve míssed this kind of journalism so thank you.

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