If we let the CCP get into our heads and shape our language, we are letting it shape our thoughts, which shape our actions.
Alexandria, US: In true Orwellian newspeak fashion, the Chinese Communist Party has created a whole new vocabulary arsenal with which to wage war on the mental battlefield. Let’s take a look at some of the terms it uses, what they really mean, and what more accurate terms might be.
BRI (BELT AND ROAD INITIATIVE)
This one never made sense. The “belt” is supposed to be land-based routes and the “road” means maritime routes. Wouldn’t it have been better to have the road on, well, land, and have the “belt” encircling the world through the waterways?
Anyway, the bigger issue is what is actually being conveyed along these routes. Beijing says infrastructure, development and trade. What is really expanding along these networks is the CCP way of doing business. So a more accurate definition for the BRI would be the Bribery and Repression Initiative.
PRESIDENT XI JINPING
The two titles that give Xi his real power are General Secretary of the Chinese Communist Party and Chairman of the Central Military Commission. In China, the President is largely a ceremonial title with limited powers.
The world should show Xi appropriate respect and stop calling him President. It should be either General Secretary Xi or Chairman Xi from now on—if “Chairman” was good enough for Mao, surely it is good enough for Xi. Then we can better understand his true sources of power, and the true nature of the People’s Republic of China.
PEOPLE’S REPUBLIC OF CHINA
Speaking of which, as tens of millions of Chinese could tell you (if they weren’t in prisons or cemeteries for trying to tell you), there isn’t much emphasis on people—or a republic—in China. Just ask tennis star Peng Shuai. If you can find her.
Prof Kerry Gershaneck makes a strong case in his book Political Warfare: Strategies for Combating China’s Plan to ‘Win without Fighting’ that the PRC is actually “a coercive, expansionist, hyper-nationalistic, militarily powerful, brutally repressive, fascist, and totalitarian state”.
He backs it up with Merriam-Webster dictionary quotes. Fascism: “a political philosophy, movement, or regime…that exalts nation and often race above the individual and that stands for a centralized autocratic government headed by a dictatorial leader, severe economic and social regimentation, and forcible suppression of opposition; a tendency toward or actual exercise of strong autocratic or dictatorial control.”
And Totalitarianism: “centralized control by an autocratic authority; the political concept that the citizen should be totally subject to an absolute state authority.”
So maybe it would be more accurate to call it the Fascist Totalitarian Autocracy of China.
This term tends to get thrown around when, for example, China uses “fishing boats” manned by people not in actual naval uniforms (at that very moment) to push maritime claims. The idea is that it is a “gray zone” between what is legal and what is illegal.
The goal is to confuse the law to get the other side to back down because it’s too “complicated”. Gray zone activities are political warfare that increase the likelihood of kinetic warfare. They are wrong. It is doing something duplicitous to cover over something illegal. It should be called what it is, state-sponsored lying.
Regular readers know that I find this term inaccurate. As former US Director of National Intelligence John Ratcliffe put it, a key component of Beijing’s economic model is “rob, replicate and replace”. The goal is to leech everything of value out of other companies and countries (intellectual property, resources, skills, etc.) in order to grow and expand the realm of the CCP.
David Stilwell, the former US Assistant Secretary of State for the Bureau of East Asian and Pacific Affairs described the problem with the term in an interview on China Unscripted:
“Decoupling is a Chinese term that they floated and it implies two gears in your transmission—that the relationship is nice and discreet, so we can pull back but leave this intact.”
“A better analogy would be a forest with kudzu [a type of vine that can grow so quickly it smothers and kills other plants] in it—and you know those vines have totally entangled into our economy and are choking it out in a sort of a parasitic sense.”
“But nonetheless we still got to rip and disentangle all those vines out of our system so we know exactly what is our own and what is theirs. And then, when we do engage again, we can engage in discrete ways that allow us to—if the deal isn’t going quite well—we can always disengage. [We] can’t do that right now.”
So, economically moving away from China is more accurately described as de-parasiting than decoupling.
This doesn’t quite capture the organized, near-industrial scale of the killing of (often) political and religious prisoners to sell their body parts on demand for paying clients. I’m not sure any words can capture that depravity and horror. But at least “government-sponsored murder for profit” is more accurate.
There is more.
China allowing fentanyl to flow out of its borders and kill tens of thousands each year is chemical warfare.
Blocking internal flights from Wuhan but allowing international ones during a viral outbreak in the city is biological warfare.
The One China Policy is really just Beijing’s annexation wish list.
Indian commentators have been particularly good at making the language more accurate, including making it clear that what China calls the “South China Sea” could more correctly be called the ASEAN Sea. And that the location where the PLA is causing all that trouble is not the India-China border, it is the India-Tibet border.
YOUR turn. Give it a go. What CCP-terms are you blithely accepting that don’t mean anything like what Beijing wants you to think they mean? “Win-win”? “Offending the Chinese nation?” “One country two-systems?” What do you think they mean?
If we let the CCP get into our heads and shape our language, we are letting it shape our thoughts, which shape our actions. Time for us all to give our heads a good shake, dislodging some of those linguistic blockades so that we can see, and say, more accurately what the real problems are. And then do something about them.
Cleo Paskal is The Sunday Guardian Special Correspondent as well as Non-Resident Senior Fellow for the Indo-Pacific at the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies