Asia, Politics, recent, World Affairs

Hong Kong: First Line of Defence against a Rising Fascist Power

On July 7, a young man from China crossed the border into Hong Kong, found the nearest KFC, and locked himself in the bathroom. He took out a pen and a paper sign, trembling at the thought of how his life was about to change. “I come from the mainland,” he wrote. “Thank you, Hongkongers! Don’t give up, fight for freedom!” Then he joined the protesters marching from Tsim Sha Tsui to West Kowloon, and held up his sign. When he returned to China the police arrested him, stripped him naked, forced him to sing “There is no new China without the Communist Party,” and held him in a room with forty other prisoners. They threatened to beat him to death for betraying the Chinese “race.”

The man, whose name is Lu, was released ten days later. It is quite common in China for people to be arrested and rearrested multiple times in quick succession, and it is also common for the police to use torture. With this in mind, Lu fled to Thailand. Now he may never be able to return. “Actually a lot of young people on the mainland support Hong Kong,” he told Lily Kuo at The Guardian. “But because of the suppression, the constant monitoring, they dare not speak out loudly.” They know that it is not possible to defy the Communist Party and get away with it. One mainlander who called Xi Jinping a “coward” in a private message on WeChat was sent to prison for two years, while another activist was jailed in July for suggesting Xi step down as president, and was dead within weeks. The dissident Dong Yaoqiong went further than these two: she dared to film herself splashing ink on a poster of Xi. Police took her from her home and forcibly admitted her to a psychiatric hospital, where the website Boxun reports that staff were given instructions to slowly poison her to death. The Party has laboured for decades to project an image of unassailable authoritarian power (an image represented most vividly by the pitiless tanks of Tiananmen Square) and Xi has only strengthened the image since assuming the presidency.

In 2019, however, the first cracks are appearing in the picture. All summer long, the Chinese people have watched Hongkongers defy the central government, and after nearly four months the expected massacre has still not come. Of course, state media makes sure that the population is fed a steady diet of lies. A significant number of young Chinese may privately support Hong Kong, as Lu suggests, but most mainlanders have obediently swallowed the propaganda. They believe the protesters to be rioters or even terrorists. And yet the success of this brainwashing may prove to be one of Xi Jinping’s biggest mistakes. By exaggerating the chaos and painting a picture of lawless insurrection, he has unknowingly introduced a new idea to Chinese citizens: the weakness of the central government. More than a billion people now imagine that so-called “terrorists” can stand up to the Communist Party and survive. No doubt the seeds of sedition are sprouting already—in Shenzhen, in Shenyang, in Shanghai.

Why has no crackdown come? The answer is economic: the Chinese Communist Party exercises tight control over the movement of funds in its territory, but at the same time it desires greater integration into the world economy. The only way to achieve the latter while maintaining the former is by preserving the special status of Hong Kong. The region enjoys a free market economy, allowing foreign companies to access China while mainland companies can extend their influence beyond the country—indeed, as Kerry Brown points out in CEO, China: The Rise of Xi Jinping, more than 60 percent of China’s outward investment actually goes through Hong Kong. “We are a window for China to look to the outside world,” says Hong Kong politician Emily Lau.

A repeat of the Tiananmen Square nightmare would almost certainly lead to a massive economic crash, and China cannot risk this, especially now that its economy is slowing down. Xi Jinping is much too arrogant to give in to all of the protesters’ demands (universal suffrage, etc.) but it would seem that he is not quite arrogant enough to send in the troops, transforming Hong Kong from a lucrative financial hub into a ghostly dystopian police state like Tibet and Xinjiang. And so, the total authoritarian control that Xi craves has been denied to him for the first time since he took office. He is trapped, and the trap was sprung (knowingly or not) by the Hong Kong protesters.

It would be hard to overstate the importance of this development. The Chinese government under Xi Jinping is unashamedly imperialist, and until now it seemed that nothing could halt its rise. The Party already considers much of the South China Sea to be Chinese property, showing scant respect for the complex legal issues involved (or indeed the opinion of the international community). It has carried out extensive land reclamation and militarisation in the region, openly defying the International Court of Arbitration. Now Xi is using the celebrated “Belt and Road Initiative” to create potential vassal states all over the world. His dictatorial ambitions have even extended to abolishing China’s two-term presidential limits. These limits had been introduced after the death of Mao Zedong in order to prevent another disastrous cult of personality springing up around a single leader, but Xi clearly does not consider this to be an issue. He already views himself as an emperor in the dynastic mould.

We should not imagine that his planned empire would be communist: China’s government has only retained the name “Communist Party” because to do otherwise would be a first step towards admitting the atrocities of the past. The severing of the link between Xi and Mao would make it possible to acknowledge that Mao was one of history’s worst villains. This would set a precedent for criticising authority that would inevitably lead to Xi’s own downfall. So the name stays, but in truth there is nothing “communist” about this Communist Party (save its authoritarianism). In fact, Marxist students, activists, and social workers have been arrested and tortured since Xi took power, and universities have shut down Marxist societies.

As Simon Leitch has noted in an essay for Quillette, the Chinese government is actually fascist. This term is widely used in a hyperbolic sense today, but Leitch explains that the word originally meant a political system with three distinct features: authoritarianism, ethnonationalism, and “an economic model in which capitalism co-existed with large state-directed industries and partnerships between the government and corporations.” Here we have a perfect description of the current regime in Beijing (and if we need more evidence, we should remind ourselves that this regime also imprisons people in concentration camps for having the ‘wrong’ ethnicity). The Communist Party is fascist—in the literal, technical sense.

When we remember that this fascist state is threatening to become the new global hegemon, then we will appreciate how important it is that the protests succeed. If Xi manages to break the will of Hong Kong, there can be little doubt that he will cast his gaze across the Taiwan Strait for his next target. Two Chinese acquaintances of mine have even suggested that Xi’s real reason for abolishing two-term limits was that he “needs” an extra decade in which to conquer Taiwan. They told me this independently of one another, and they both claimed to have the information from senior Party officials known to them back home. Xi’s own statements provide supporting evidence: he has said in public that the absorption of Taiwan must not be delayed for another generation.

Previous Chinese leaders all bleated the Party mantra that Taiwan “belongs” to China, but none of them went so far as to provide a specific timeframe in which the island was to be forcibly conquered. It is possible, then, that Xi views the Hong Kong situation as a dry run for Taiwan. The Party has used a variety of tactics in Hong Kong—training local police to use brutal force, creating scores of fake social media accounts to spread misinformation, and so on. Perhaps we will see the same tactics redeployed over the Strait in a few years’ time. Of course, there is a chance that Xi will just run into the same economic trap again. Taiwan is crucial to the CCP’s long-term imperial plans, partly because assimilation would bring some of the world’s most cutting-edge technologies under mainland control. If Taiwanese citizens react to the Party’s insidious influence in the same way as 2019’s Hongkongers, then Beijing will be stuck. Taiwan is the world’s 22nd-largest economy, and Xi will want to keep things that way.

He may have already thought of this eventuality, and he may be planning a different approach. If the worst scenario comes to pass—if Taiwan falls—then other South East Asian states will wonder which of them is next. Resistance has always faltered in the region. Think of Benigno Aquino, the former president of the Philippines. Aquino famously challenged the CCP’s territorial claims in the South China Sea, objecting to the “many red lines” in the Party’s behaviour. In 2016 a UN tribunal even ruled in favour of the Philippines—a ruling that opened up a vital opportunity for South East Asian countries to form a united front against Chinese expansionism. But then Aquino was replaced by Rodrigo Duterte, who had little quarrel with a fellow tyrant like Xi, and the opportunity was lost. Fate, it seemed, favoured the Communist Party.

No doubt Xi has always believed as much. He made no room in his plans for the courage and defiance of Hong Kong, simply assuming that the city would lie back and tolerate increasing Party intrusion and the dismantling of basic freedoms until it was fully reabsorbed in 2047 (or earlier, considering the CCP’s disregard for legal agreements). He miscalculated badly. And now Hongkongers have come to understand just how important their role is. They see themselves “on the front line to fight against Communist China for the rest of the liberal world,” in the words of the political group Hong Kong Autonomous Action. Pro-democracy lawmaker Ray Chan uses the same image, but he puts two participants into the combat zone: “Hong Kong and Taiwan are both at the front line of the global fight to stop Beijing’s creeping authoritarianism and control,” he says. “Our cooperation and mutual support will be key to defending our freedom.” Lu’s generation are watching the battle back in China, and they will feel bolder with each day the protests continue. Liberals of all nations must hope that the front line holds.


Aaron Sarin is a freelance writer living in Sheffield and currently working on a book about the nation-state system, cultural universals, and global governance. He regularly contributes to and you can follow him on Twitter @aaron_sarin


  1. To expect a fascist, socialist or communist to ever take a laissez fairer attitude towards its citizenry or economics, is to deny history. I do not see things ending well for the brave Hong Kongers.

  2. I do not have time to read this essay, and give a considered response, right away; but I would like to point out immediately that this author has said elsewhere, that “the demise of the nation is something that we should actively encourage”, and he means all nations. Let the reader beware of what extra agendas may lurk here.

  3. The courage of Hong Kong and Chinese dissidents is humbling and inspiring. The rise of Xi Jinping and the renewed expansionism and authoritarian crack-down he has brought about is the greatest threat to global security right now. We in the West owe it to the brave people of Hong Kong to keep a close watch on the situation and support Hong Kong by any means necessary. Even if it means summoning our own courage and putting our own lives on the line. We know from fascist regimes of the past that appeasement is not a viable strategy.

    I certainly don’t want war, but perhaps there is a way to empower the Chinese people to overthrow their government. As the author says, I think many hold no illusions about the CCP. One friend in his 40s said his parents secretly taught him the horror of the CCP. They told him they couldn’t do anything about it, but maybe his generation could. Now, he says maybe the next one can. Another friend made the striking statement “of course we know we’re being controlled, we’re not stupid.” I think the Chinese are simply too intelligent to be fully propagandized. What they need now is guns.

  4. I wrote much of the below and posted here before, so presented once more with some additions.

    I think you’ve fallen for 19th century Evangelist propaganda that was later appropriated by the CCP.

    The Anglo-Sino trade created several the world’s wealthiest men of their time, men who were Han, most notably Wu Bing Jian, aka Howqua, who was the world’s richest man. The Hong merchant system was a creation of Qing who wanted to restrict the number of traders to better control it. Of course, many other Hans and some Manchus saw how wealthy the Hong were becoming and wanted in on the action.

    Long before the Anglo-Sino disputes, China was receiving opium as tribute from Siam – it was worth its weight in gold then. For thousands of years, opium was the main remedy against pain; its analgesic properties have been known since antiquity.

    The East India Company entered India in 1608 and was exporting opium to Qing China a hundred years later. For a period of seven decades the Qing allowed the import of opium transported by British traders, and then after criminalising it, did almost nothing for another 40 years. Unenforced law isn’t worth the paper it’s written on.

    Why did it criminalise opium? Money. Qing used both copper and silver currency, and latter was used to pay tax. The government decreed neither gold nor silver could leave the realm, but its coastal border was porous and enforcement of trade was difficult. Typically the transaction was opium for silver and then traders’ spent that silver for tea, silk, and other goods, so though being transferred into British traders’ hands, it then transferred back into Chinese hands. However, when opium earnings exceeded the transfer of silver back into China for its goods this reduced the supply of silver and created inflationary pressure. With more tax payers complaining about the high cost of silver, which was in effect a tax increase, Qing then got serious rhetorically about its own “war on drugs”, but still the ability to enforce it was lacking. In the late 1830s the emperor’s most senior advisers debated whether it would be better to enforce the opium prohibitions or to legalise, regulate, and tax the trade.

    After a street brawl between some British sailors and locals in which one Chinese was killed, the Governor-General then decided to use this incident as a pretext to act against opium when the British refused to hand over the sailors involved for execution. (More about Qing law below). It is evident the drugs trade thrived because of complicity by Han and Manchu at every level of society, from officials to smugglers and secret societies to users. Remember, the British and other foreign traders were restricted to small areas on the coast. The purchase, distribution, sale, and use was almost exclusively Chinese.

    On 21 August 1840, the emperor chastised Governor General Lin Zexu, who had been lying about Qing military victories, harshly: “Externally you wanted to stop the [opium] trade, but it has not been stopped; internally you wanted to wipe out the outlaws [opium smugglers and smokers], but they are not cleared away. You are just making excuses with empty words. Nothing has been accomplished but many troubles have been created. Thinking of these things, I cannot contain my rage.”

    Lin was sent into exile for activities that were well beyond his control because it flew in the face of supply and demand. The US and other nations have experienced the same phenomenon. It was only under Mao’s despotism that opium use was eradicated.

    Within sixteen years of the Treaty of Nanjing, China had abolished the opium import restrictions, not least because they had become irrelevant. By 1860, and much more so by 1900, the Chinese were growing at home many times as much opium as the British, or anyone else, could supply. Further, opium became a Chinese export commodity. In 1880, US and Qing representatives met to discuss the export of opium from China to the States.

    Now, was opium a “weakening” drug? If so, why were opium dens also brothels? Those would be the least busy prostitutes around, yeah? Further, opium dens were also mahjong parlours, a board game requiring a fair bit of strategic thinking and attentiveness to determine probabilities, especially because its players also wagered. Unlike bridge, which is one of the most complex cards game, mahjong never allows the player the chance to sit out with the dummy hand, and bridge requires a player to think of only 52 cards vice mahjong’s 136 to 144 tiles. Lastly, when a Chinese family became wealthy, it often built a lavish opium parlour in the home. A servant dedicated to the maintenance of pipes and other smoking accoutrements as well as the preparation of opium was often hired as a member of the household staff. Opium smoking was part of an evening’s at-home entertainment. I’ve leave it to you figure these riddles out.

    The stigma opium has is due to other more potent and highly addictive drugs derived from it and from the way opium is smoked.

    It was images like these, plus overblown narratives from missionaries, that created in the public mind the opium user so weakened that s/he couldn’t sit or stand, consumed by vice rather than attending to work and church.

    FWIW, I’ve smoked opium several times and it’s a sensationalised drug because of its association with heroin and Hollywood drug fiends. Sure, it may be addictive, but so too may be alcohol. Frank Dikötter, Lars Laamann, and Zhou Xun, authors of Narcotic Culture: A History of Drugs in China state the smoked opium of 19th-century China, “did not have significant harmful effects on either health or longevity.” Most of the opium consumed in China in the 19th-century, initially imported from Bengal but later produced domestically, contained relatively low quantities of morphine. Moreover, between 80% and 90% of this active ingredient was eliminated by smoking, which was the favoured mode of consumption by Chinese. And let’s not neglect drugs are often cut with adulterating agents as they make their way through the distribution channels. During the same time opium was widely used in India, Persia, Turkey, Europe, and America, none of which had the reports of cadaverous addicts ruining the country – this suggests the use of opium didn’t poison the users so much as it poisoned history. Britain didn’t outlaw opium until in 1920, France in 1916, and the US in 1914.

    Keep in mind, opium has to be altered to create the addictive products of morphine, heroin, and other opioids. In the 19th century laudanum (invented in the 17th century) was a medicinal tonic of opium, morphine, codeine (all the opium alkaloids) and alcohol that was abused, most worrisome by upper-class Western women, who are society’s most cherished. Opium was found in an enormous quantity of things, from soap and vinegar to candy. In laudanum often mercury and ether were added to the liquid - anyone could obtain opium and create remedies from it, which resulted in haphazard creation and sale. The symptoms of mercury poisoning? Slurred speech, muscle weakness, and lack of coordination. Because laudanum was not taxed unlike liquor, it became an alternative for it, which appealed to both the poor and to alcoholics, who in their (over) consumption also were becoming addicted to the opium alkaloids and poisoned by whatever nonsense was added. What morphine, codeine, heroin, and laudanum were not was opium.

    The 19th-century’s war on drugs was led by many of the same Evangelical Christian busybodies who led and won, temporarily, the war on liquor that established Prohibition in the US. For its part, the CCP uses the Opium War for propaganda. The history of opium as scapegoat not only includes the Qing imperial elite, but also the Chinese nationalists, the Chinese communists, as well as the anti-capitalist and anti-colonialist street protestors and academics.

    Many historians of modern China are victims of an “opium myth”, one that escaped to the wider public. This myth feeds on unfounded beliefs, such as opium was an exclusively Chinese affair, that the user was physically, socially, or financially ruined by it, that it inevitably led to ever-increasing compulsive consumption, and that white people were poisoning Chinese and other Asians.

    You’ll hear progressives with one hand denounce Britain’s past export of opium as immoral, then with the other hand they’ll denounce America’s import of cocaine and its “war on drugs” as also immoral. This has nothing to do with drugs, or even the morality of it, but rather the double standards they hold which has them despise a particular group. The only thing consistent is this incongruence of simulated thinking is not the facts but who’s doing it.

    As for Qing law mentioned above, it treated Manchu Bannermen and the Han very differently – they were judicially segregated and these boundaries were created and largely sustained to distinguish conqueror from conquered. The British in Canton knew this segregated system and decided that extraterritoriality, where they too would fall under preferential law of their own making, suited their purposes. Was this unusual? Qing China had a long tradition of according foreigners on China’s borderlands extraterritoriality rights, such as to resolve disputes and violence amongst their subjects. Russians and Central Asian traders had been granted such privileges in the northern and western borderland regions. This philosophy of legal pluralism, based on cultural, ethnic, and, with the Qing’s conquest of Xinjiang, religious distinctions, was a core principle in the main legal code of Qing. It was certainly not one law for all. Such was the era. (And it seems today’s progressives draw inspiration from such legal pluralism, advocating uneven laws and their application on behalf of their pet oppressed.)

  5. … she is only allowed to return there, to visit her sister and mother on condition she visits no other friends and avoids all travel and political activities.

    I wonder what other countries a person granted a tourist visa also has similar restrictions imposed like those on Chang.

    Lucky for Chang she’s not a ghost, the letter ‘N’, or time travel, all of which are banned.

    Perhaps her prominence and British citizenship protects her. Certainly she’s better off than Liu Xiaobo. As well as Ma Jian, also a British citizen, who was banned from travelling to China in 2011. Let’s hope that if she does visit in the future, she doesn’t experience a similar fate as Yuan Xiaoliang, a permanent resident of Australia, who was awarded an exit ban from the bullies in Beijing.

  6. " As Simon Leitch has noted in an essay for Quillette, the Chinese government is actually fascist. This term is widely used in a hyperbolic sense today, but Leitch explains that the word originally meant a political system with three distinct features: authoritarianism, ethnonationalism, and “an economic model in which capitalism co-existed with large state-directed industries and partnerships between the government and corporations.” Here we have a perfect description of the current regime in Beijing (and if we need more evidence, we should remind ourselves that this regime also imprisons people in concentration camps for having the ‘wrong’ ethnicity. The Communist Party is fascist—in the literal, technical sense."

    If you want to claim that China isn’t fascistic, you must either dispute the definition given or explain why China doesn’t adequately fit the definition. Do you think it’s not sufficiently authoritarian, purely on the basis that a British citizen and a sci-fi author haven’t been unpersoned yet? It seems illogical to ignore all the people who have been, the censorship, the one-party (and now one-man) rule, the organ harvesting, the political suppression, the concentration camps, the lack of an independent judicial system or media, the surveillance state, the social credit system… Frankly, last century’s fascist states could only dream of achieving the autocratic control the CCP has accomplished.

  7. You’re still not supporting your claim. What evidence is there that the Nazis or Saddam Hussein imprisoned everyone who complained about things like air pollution? What about other unambiguously fascist states, like Mussolini’s? Where does barring 17 million people from rail or air travel because of their low social credit scores fall on this axis of authoritarianism you’re visualising?

    Your example about criminal faces is very strange. It is in the interests of a fascistic police state to identify criminals before they’ve committed crimes, even if it means people who were not going to commit crimes in the first place get rounded up too. This is exactly the kind of technology only useful to authoritarians, of course the Chinese will be more keen on it than the rest. If it were a matter of plain research that would be one thing, but knowing it was going to lead to the persecution of millions of people can certainly be expected to sour the view of Westerners for it.

  8. I have just run across a long essay that is by far the most informative thing about the Hong Kong situation that I have read: “Listen Without Prejudice”.

    Also, in my own attempt to figure out the rights and wrongs of everything, it seems simplest to make a statement of my own political preferences. Within the west, I support our new populist nationalism, and I am very angry at those in the US and the UK who are trying to undo the democratic process (by reversing Trump’s election and the Brexit vote). I am appalled by the US media’s indifference to Joe Biden’s actual corruption, and by the British Labour Party proposing to give the vote to millions of resident non-citizens.

    Outside the west, I seem to like nationalist strongmen (or strongwomen, in the case of Bangladesh). So I look favorably upon the China-Russia axis of cooperation, and China’s Belt and Road; but also India’s Modi, and even Pakistan’s Imran Khan, which obviously creates all kinds of contradictions… This outlook of support for “multipolarity” and “national sovereignty”, a preference for law and order, and valuing good and stable government more than democracy, is something that I acquired during the Obama years.

    I had thought that maybe my attitudes to the west and to the east were in contradiction, in that I “support” the Chinese regime, but “oppose” our own deep state, aspects of big tech censorship, and so on. But I suppose it’s all consistent if one regards Trump and Johnson as representatives within the west, of strong nationalist rule, this being the unifying value. The conflicts between different nationalisms, as manifest in the US-China trade war and the India-Pakistan tension, are then problems which are internal to a paradigm that regards nationalism and sovereignty as good, and as fundamental organizing values of a good international order.

    So now I have therapeutically figured out my own preferences, I can now begin to make something like a principled assessment of Quillette’s anti-China crew. For example, Aaron Sarin (author of this article) is clearly an advocate of values that I would oppose, not just in the case of China, but everywhere, since (as I complained) he calls for the “demise” of all nations, albeit without having yet informed us what is supposed to replace them.

  9. @mitchellporter: So you support democracy in the West, but totalitarianism elsewhere because you fear or at least strongly dislike the chaos and lack of tightly controlled economic development you think democracy would bring to non-Western countries?

    Regarding countries, I think they sometimes need to be split or amalgamated, but that they should exist as good strong ships, with good guidance. Despite its difficulties (corruption, clueless and easily spooked and manipulated voters etc. - and in some countries widespread support for religions I think are oppressive) I think no-one has a better plan for running a country than democracy. There are no wise, benevolent, uncorruptable dictators or parties who are stable for a few decades.

    Regarding suggestions that we should aim to destroy countries in general, along with nationalism etc., argument by analogy is not very rigorous, but consider a planet composed entirely of ocean. I wouldn’t be arguing that all the ships should be sunk. I would want them to be strong, well managed, and to have reasonably cohesive groups of people within them - not all the disparate people of the world spread evenly among them. We have no better way of surviving in the ocean than ships, and I think that the successes of civilisation all involve countries which are reasonably cohesive and well run.

  10. The Hong Kong demonstrators are the real Anti-fascist protestors.

  11. Isn’t that the same as saying, “Mussolini made the trains run on time?”

  12. Indeed. If the fascist could make the trains run on time, perhaps they wouldn’t have lost the war. Instead they are generally incompetent drug addicted thugs who mismanaged everything they touched, which was part of why their countries were so weak in the war (all of Germany’s plaudits basically amount to drawing a royal flush in France, and they still blew it).

    By contrast, many of these Asian technocracies are run by very competent people who make the trains run on time. Nobody would compare Singapores top 100 technocrats to Goering falling asleep in Luftwaffe staff meeting when his morphine wore off.

    Fascism in the 1930s had a very anti-elitist tone. I know it seems that way because of the emphasis on hierarchy, but each was basically run be very unexceptional people and based it’s legitimacy on being the Will of the People. The German version in particular had very anti-technocratic elements and was sort of pagan-mystical. These are very different movement and governments than what you see in Asia today.

    I’m less high on the CCP than the rest of Asia because anyone whose gone through what China did in the 20th century is damaged. You don’t experience the cultural revolution without long term scars.

    The best line I ever heard on this was from Peter Theil. Asked whether China or America would win in the next century he said that the funny thing is that the people living in both countries act and talk like they will lose.

  13. Public works projects are a lot less expensive and accomplished a lot more quickly when the builder doesn’t have to be concerned with environmental regulations.

    The Chinese currently maintain concentration camps politely euphemised as re-education camps. I guess when declaring China not fascist, it is simply a matter of what one is willing to overlook. Perhaps China is not Nazi Germany, but it is not 1941 either. What would 21st century fascism look like? I submit the author is correct when he points the finger at China.

  14. I was watching Peter Thiel the other day, and he was critiquing the assumption that wealth bends towards democracy. His observation was that whilst the West took the fall of the Berlin Wall, as a lesson in democracy, China took it as a scenario to avoid, and laid plans accordingly. The other quite salient point that was discussed, was the understanding that both Americans and the Chinese are incredibly pessimistic about who will win the looming race for economic supremacy. The crisis for the Chinese lies in the fact they will shortly have 190 million citizens retiring, with only 60 million young people entering the workforce to replace them.

    It is unlikely that they will be able to maintain their spending as a portion of national wealth at 24% for long, in these circumstances, or maintain their current levels of infrastructural spending- so maybe the current belt and road initiative is an attempt to accomplish what they can, whilst they can.

  15. Indeed, the fall of the Berlin Wall was a wake up to the CCP. The other event that shook the leadership was the 1991 Gulf War, which was a walkover by the alliance - at the time Iraq had one of the world’s largest and best equipped militaries, and its equipment was superior to China’s. Chinese military leaders still adhered to the doctrine of mass mobilisation and human wave (Mao’s People’s War, of “using the weak to defeat the strong”), of overwhelming a more powerful enemy that it had used in the Korean War against the Nato forces. Iran too had used human wave attacks to turn the tide against Iraq, and though the Iranians didn’t cause an Iraqi surrender, it was able to undo Iraqi gains and drive them out out Iran.

    Prior to the the start of hostilities even senior US military leaders such as Colin Powell and Norman Schwartzkopf anticipated tens of thousand of American casualties. The coalition assembled a force of nearly 1 million to battle about 650,000 Iraqis dug in Kuwait and southern Iraq, which flew in the face of Clausewitz where an attacker needs to outnumber the defender by 3:1 to 5:1. After the 100-hour ground campaign, coalition losses of men and tanks were less than one per cent of Iraq’s.

    During the aerial campaign PLA leaders waved off US dominance as inconsequential, that Iraq’s battle hardened ground forces would certainly teach the US and its allies a painful and bloody lesson by holding out against the coalition, and Iraq would secure a favourable ceasefire agreement once the American public turned against its leaders for getting bogged down.

    Then the coalition’s ground forces proved themselves to be as technologically sophisticated and formidable as its air power, defeating Iraq’s army very badly and very quickly. At once the Chinese military realised it too was entirely outmatched and this ushered in a definitive and irreversible trend. Defence Minister Qin Jiwei told the National People’s Congress that China’s military equipment was 20 years behind the coalition force. Moreover, China utterly lacked electronic warfare technology, night vision capability, and advanced technologies such as lasers, aerospace, battlespace communications and integrated branch coordination, and specialist materials.

    Desert Storm renewed emphasis of highly sophisticated conventional weapons, de-emphasised reliance on nuclear forces to counter a potent ground force, and called in question China’s big power status (by virtue of its crude nuclear arsenal). Gulf War I was a watershed moment for the Chinese military and the CCP.

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