All posts filed under: China

Chinese Science Fiction’s Disaster Dystopias

The Great China dream will replace all private dreams. ~Ma Jian, China Dream In Ma Jian’s new novel, the protagonist, Ma Daode, may be a corrupt, womanizing local official, but he is a corrupt, womanizing local official with a mission. His goal is to develop a drug that will allow President Xi Jinping’s vision of a glorious Chinese future to dominate not only citizens’ daily lives but their sleeping hours as well. This is his utopian quest. The China dream, Ma Daode suggests, “is not the selfish, individualist dream chased by Western countries. It is a dream of a people, a dream of the entire nation, united as one and gathered together into an invincible force.” This mindless worship of hierarchy and control permeates his thinking. China Dream was published in 2018, three years before the 100th anniversary of the founding of the Chinese Communist Party, and it provides insights into the Middle Kingdom that are becoming harder to find as control of local media tightens. It is a product of the “golden age” of Chinese science …

The Passing of the Second Imperial Age

In the half-millennium of modern European imperialism, from the Spanish and Portuguese in the 16th century to the withdrawing roar of the British and French empires in the 20th, there was one truth on which all of these powers, often at war with each other, could agree. That was, land which could be designated terra nullius (“no-one’s land”) could be taken—indeed, had to be taken—by one of the powers, or another power would get it. So empires conquered large swathes of territory in Africa, India, the Middle East, South-East Asia, North America, and Australasia, most of which was regarded as unoccupied. They did so in pursuit of precious metals and stones, for settlement and defence (of other lands already seized), for points of supply to their ships, in order to demonstrate their power, and—the most cited reason in polite society, even more polite if put into French—for the mission civilatrice or the mission religieuse. That last of these—the obligation to deliver Christianity to uncivilised heathens—is sometimes dismissed as merely the hypocrisy of pious icing layered over …

Do We Really Want a New Cold War?

Fear has been making some pretty foolish policy decisions in the last few months. In the US, the decision of several state governments to move patients infected with COVID-19 into nursing homes probably takes the prize, but a close runner-up would be Congress’s CARES act, which misguidedly paid the unemployed to stay unemployed. Trillions have been allocated to remediate the damage done by shuttering non-essential schools and businesses, but relatively little of that Niagara of dollars has made its way downstream to the small businesses and schools that have been most harmed by the lockdowns. As usual, our solons have been trying to crack a walnut with a sledgehammer. Fear has been giving no wiser advice on foreign policy. Politicians and commentators left and right have been competing to march us into a new Cold War. Hold the Chinese responsible! Sue them! Impound their US bank accounts! Uproot all our supply chains that pass through China! Show China who is boss in the South China Sea! Send Chinese students back to China before they can …

Cold War Now or Hot War Later

One might have expected the COVID-19 crisis to produce an inflection point at which agreement was finally reached about the menace presented by China’s regime. However, more than a few political figures and intellectuals remain unconvinced. Writing in Reason, Daniel Drezner, a professor of international politics at Tufts University, announces that “there is no China crisis.” Against the gathering consensus that China’s brand of authoritarian capitalism and aggressive nationalism poses a genuine threat to the American interests and security, Drezner serenely reassures his readers that it is “hysterical” to believe that the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) possesses the power or the will to challenge and subvert the international system. Is this true? Drezner readily concedes that the old Washington consensus—the notion that engagement would spur China’s transformation from ruthless dictatorship to responsible liberal stakeholder in the international order—was erroneous. Although globalization (the integration of world markets for commodities, labor, and capital) has raised living standards throughout the world, including in China, there is scant evidence of political progress in Beijing. To the contrary, General Secretary …

After the Virus: The Way We Live Next

How will we live, or be forced to live, after the pandemic? “I don’t know” is—according to Paul Collier, the famed development economist—the most honest answer to this question and others related to the cause, rise, treatment, and decline of the current pandemic. This is, after all, an unprecedented disease of rare speed and communicability, for which there is no cure and no agreed political and social response. Yet, contradicting himself within weeks, Collier wrote a similarly powerful essay in which he argued that centralisation had failed, and devolution from those who pronounce from on high to those who practice on the ground is necessary. Perhaps he was merely demonstrating that, in this maelstrom of conflicting arguments, no-one, no matter how distinguished, can wholly know his own mind from day to day. In any case, agnosticism is as unwelcome to journalism as it is to governance. And journalists, who operate under fewer constraints than governments, can at least consider some likely alternatives, while remaining alive to the possibility that unknown unknowns will continue to turn up, …

Viral Politics

Long after the pandemic has receded, its long-term impact on our society and political life will continue. Just as plagues past have reshaped the trajectory of cities and civilizations, sometimes with fearsome morbidity, COVID-19 is already having a profoundly disruptive impact on our political future. Rather than uniting humanity against a common foe, the pandemic seems to be widening the internal political chasm between nations and within them. The “battle,” “war,” or “crusade” against the novel coronavirus has not to date reprised the London Blitz, Pearl Harbor, or the World Trade Center attack in 2001, during which people closed ranks, even if they thought little of their country’s leaders. Democrats like party strategist James Carville and Speaker Nancy Pelosi insist that Trump has “blood on his hands” and one of Pelosi’s more excitable colleagues has suggested that Trump be tried in The Hague for his handling of the pandemic. On the Right, meanwhile, the pandemic has engendered, in the US and elsewhere, a predictably anti-China and nativist tone, which have sometimes drifted into overt racism, …

Will There Be a New Cold War with China? A Reply to Niall Ferguson

The end of the Cold War was a heady time in the West. Francis Fukuyama’s essay “The End of History?”—which argued that the world was witnessing the “unabashed victory of economic and political liberalism”—was published in the National Interest a few months before the fall of the Berlin Wall. US President George H.W. Bush and British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher were touting the possibility of a “peace dividend,” in which billions of dollars could be shifted from defense budgets to domestic projects. The number of nuclear weapons in the world dropped precipitously after peaking in the mid-1980s, and the threat of nuclear war seemed dimmer than it had been in decades. There are countless ways in which the post-Cold War era hasn’t lived up to expectations. The global recession in the late 2000s and rising income inequality have undermined faith in open markets and democratic institutions, authoritarian demagogues have risen to power on both sides of the Atlantic, and as the novel coronavirus pandemic ravages the global economy, we could be heading for yet another recession …

Losing the Mandate of Heaven

A pandemic would spread quickly, overwhelming China’s healthcare system, causing a breakdown in social order. Then the old chaos of the past will come again. The mighty CCP of today might suddenly look a weak and vulnerable thing. ~Kerry Brown, 2019 1 Earlier this month, Xi Jinping was exposed to the sharpest critique that any mainlander has dared to make since China’s president-for-life first took power. Xi was blamed for the coronavirus epidemic in the widely shared essay “Viral Alarm: When Fury Overcomes Fear.” True to his subtitle, the author eschewed anonymity. Xu Zhangrun is a law professor at Beijing’s prestigious Tsinghua University. After attacking China’s dictatorial system in a series of articles published in 2018, Xu was demoted and banned from teaching, writing, and publishing. Undeterred, he adopted an even sharper tone in his latest piece. The coronavirus epidemic has revealed the reality of politics under the Communist Party, he says: “the fragile and vacuous heart of the jittering edifice of state… a storied bureaucratic apparatus… [that] repeatedly hid or misrepresented the facts.” And …

How Damaging Will the Coronavirus be to Xi Jinping’s Authority?

President Xi has become, since his inauguration in 2012, China’s most powerful leader since Mao. His likely longevity in the post is strongly suggested by the presence of those around him in senior positions—all older and therefore unlikely to succeed him. He has been personally popular and has published his own thoughts on China and communism in a form also not seen since the time of Mao. Xi-ism is not quite a thing yet, but the signs are there. So why, then, is his authority under threat? Let’s start with Hong Kong. The stream of protests, which have run there over the last six months—and their enormous scale—has disturbed Beijing. The protests, whatever their immediate cause, are protests against the mainland government and hence the Communist Party headed by Xi. Diplomatic pressure from the U.S., in particular, has hurt. The ineptness of the Hong Kong SAR government, with knee-jerk and ill-thought-out responses that have frustrated both pro- and anti-establishment groups, has not helped. The mainland liaison office in Hong Kong—effectively an embassy—has a new head, who …