China – a friend or a fowl?

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Liberal MP Andrew Hastie, an ex-soldier who currently happens to be the chair of the parliamentary intelligence committee, has created a bit of a stir when he compared the rise of China today to the rise of the Nazi Germany. The Chinese embassy, for one, was not happy:

“We strongly deplore the Australian federal MP Andrew Hastie’s rhetoric on ‘China threat’ which lays bare his Cold War mentality and ideological bias,” the statement said.

“It goes against the world trend of peace, co-operation and development. It is detrimental to China-Australian relations.

“History has proven and will continue to prove that China’s peaceful development is an opportunity, not a threat to the world.

“We urge Australian politicians to take off their ‘coloured lens’ and view China’s development path in an objective and rational war*. They should make efforts to promote mutual trust between China and Australia, instead of doing the opposite.”

* Sic. The typo is a Freudian slip by News.com.au.

As someone even more steeped in Cold War mentality than Hastie (who, having been born in 1982, I doubt has any memories of the period), let me put in my few  Yuan:

1. China is not necessarily an enemy (one does not trade with an enemy for one) but it’s not  a friend either, much less an ally.

2. This is for two reasons. Firstly, because China is a one party state, which while much milder than at its Maoist stage, which cost the lives of up to 70 million of its people, is still a dictatorship built around illiberal values very different – and deeply hostile – to our own. While the Communist Party now allows a fair degree of economic freedom (though still under the tight Party control that is less than Marxist but arguably stronger than in the fascist Italy, if not even the Nazi Germany) and some social freedom (such as travel overseas), political and personal rights are virtually non-existent. Independent sources of authority, such as religion, are barely tolerated and perpetually on the verge of persecution; ten per cent of the Muslim population of 10 million is currently locked away in re-education camps and Tibet is, well, not free. The Chinese Communist Party has ditched Marxism-Leninism in favour of what I call Marketism-Leninism: socialism might be passe but “the leading role of the party” remains very much alive and unchallengeable.

3. Secondly, China’s international interests and behaviour are often in conflict with our interests as developed liberal democracies. This includes the long-standing desire to suppress democracy in Hong Kong and Taiwan and independence in the latter, the unilateral and militarised claim over adjoining seas to the exclusion of its neighbours, its support for most of the world’s rogue regimes, and its neo-colonialist policy where sovereignty of resource-rich countries throughout the world (particularly in Africa and Asia, but also elsewhere) is compromised through loan shark methods where China assumes control of strategic assets such as ports upon inevitable host nation default (the respective governments are of course complicit in their greed and stupidity for taking on loans, often for ill-thought out purposes, which are beyond their capacity to service).

4. China’s military build-up presents a security challenge to virtually all of its neighbours from India to Japan, not to mention other developed countries, whose prosperity in part relies on open sea lines, now well within China’s capacity to choke. China is also currently unrivaled in industrial and other espionage against the West, and it is increasingly expanding its soft power and reach for a variety of purposes, from spreading its ideological message to controlling and manipulating Chinese diasporas overseas.

5. There are significant indications that the Chinese regime entertains the ideas of exporting its model, such as it is – one could call it Commfucianism – to the likeminded around the world much attracted to the idea of a dictatorship successfully married to economic prosperity. Likewise, there is a lot of chatter about replacing the current reasonably open and liberal international system, which is the product of the Western institution-building, with one reflecting the Chicomms’ values and interests (““This world will be China’s,” says the brother of Ye Cheng, the Communist Party billionaire who now controls Australia’s Port Darwin. It is time for China to “change the world where rules are set by foreigners,” according to Wang Jianlin, chairman of the Dalian Wanda Group and China’s second richest man. China will “lead the entire world on political, economic, military, and environmental issues,” in the words of president-for-life Xi Jinping.”). Needless to say, a future where a post-communist dictatorship sets the rules of the game is not one that anyone in the West should want to see and live in.

6. Thanks to its economic heft in terms of trade and investment, China is increasingly able and willing to suppress international criticism of any aspect of its activities, from forcing Hollywood into self-censorship to stifling academic debate in Western universities, where Chinese foreign students as well as direct investment like the chain of Confucius Institutes make the Chinese money talk. We have seen this conflict playing out over the past two weeks at the University of Queensland, with the clash of pro- and anti-Hong Kong democracy activists, the latter no doubt spurred on by the long reach of the communist authorities – “be patriotic or else” . And so the families of dissenters back home are being threatened and masked men tear down pro-Hong Kong displays at my alma mater. Repression becomes just the latest Chinese export.

7. The lure of business with China is proving too strong for many Western corporations, which stray well beyond passive acquiescence into active collaboration with the Chinese authorities on creating the tools of mass surveillance and control, which ultimately lead to the grotesque “social credit score” all-seeing and all-knowing system that rewards the obedient and punishes the “anti-social”. We should not underestimate how much the Chinese model appeals to the (mostly) left-wing technocrats in the West, who envy China’s rulers their near absolute power unbound by any democratic accountability. Not all “useful idiots” in the West need to be bought with Chinese money; many sing their paeans for Beijing for free as they fantasise how much they could achieve if they did not have to concern themselves with the pesky people.

8. Through all this we need to remember to distinguish between the Chinese Communist Party and the Chinese people, who are not given any opportunity to have a say on the domestic and international actions of their government. There is nothing intrinsically Chinese about the communist party dictatorship; Chinese people in Hong Kong and Taiwan thrive in democracy and freedom as they also do in their Western diasporas. There is, therefore, nothing racist or Sinophobic about being opposed to the Chinese Communist Party, its ideas and its behaviour.

China might be an all-round fascinating country but it’s not a “normal” country and we should resist treating it as if it was a more populous Great Britain or a more dynamic India. It is an aspiring superpower, whose guiding values are not merely different but deeply hostile to our own. You can by all means sup with the devil, but apart from having a long spoon you have to at all times remember who you supping with. China might or might not be like Nazi Germany, but on the account of its population, size, geography, economic dynamism and the mastery of cutting edge technology it is potentially more dangerous to the world than Nazi Germany ever was. Some argue that on the account of its ageing population China will get old before it gets rich; let us hope and pray it also gets free before it goes boom.

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