No one understands why China thinks it can antagonize the US, Europe, Japan, ASEAN and India and many others all at the same time without cost.
Never before in human history have so few managed to antagonize so many—in 2021, it is the Chinese Communist Party versus the world.
In recent weeks, Australia might review the 99-year lease for Darwin Port granted in 2015 to a Chinese company, New Zealand’s Prime Minister said differences with China are “becoming harder to reconcile”, and the Philippines Foreign Affairs Secretary (whose President once professed undying love for Xi PingPong) told China to “get the f#@k out”.
Whom the gods would destroy, they first deprive of reason. Vipreet kale, vinash buddhi.
Xi PingPong wants to prove it!
The April 2021 Communist Party manifesto all but dubs him as the greatest human being ever to have existed. While one can understand why China bristles at unjustified propaganda against it, it is transgressing the limits of diplomatic conduct through its stupid “wolf warrior diplomacy”, exhibited dramatically at the March 2021 in Alaska meeting with the United States. No wonder the US President famously said after a recent two-hour phone call with Xi PingPong that the Chinese leader does not have a democratic bone in his body. Nor, may I add, a truthful vein? He is the present leader of Communist China’s unending Long March of Lies.
No one understands why China thinks it can antagonize the US, Europe, Japan, ASEAN and India and many others all at the same time without cost. China has profited the most from globalization, open seas and its relations with the West and Japan, but now wants to control the seas and everything else. Its economy is inextricably linked to the rest of the world, and this is a major motor of the doomed Belt and Road (really Bilk and Rob) Initiative. If the world needs China, China too needs the world.
A partnership of the aggrieved is emerging against China by the day, and being strengthened by the hour. Having assured its people that China was militarily and economically stronger than any other nation in human history, China has to demonstrate some of that power. And so, it imposes laughable sanctions against some American, Canadian and British officials. The poor fellows should be trembling and preparing huge apologies to the wannabe Master of the Universe.
The buffoon plays to his gallery through such comical actions. Idi Amin Dada famously dubbed himself the conqueror of the British Empire and the last Emperor of Scotland. He mistook ridicule for reverence. If the UN does not watch out, China will soon sanction it.
PingPong knows that he cannot take on India by land or the Quad by sea. His country is vulnerable to counterattacks. If it feels that its control of global supply chains and monopoly over some critical raw materials gives it an upper hand in international dealings, and that the rest of the world, including advanced economies, who also depend on exports and investments, cannot dilute their links with the Chinese market, it is engaging in self-destructive brinksmanship. China needs a tension- and conflict-free world as much as anyone else. The concept of Middle Kingdom is well past its expiry date.
The Foreign Service University in Beijing spends a lot of time teaching its students about the Thucydides Trap in which an emerging power challenges an established power, leading to conflict. They are told that a decadent America is desperately trying to postpone the inevitable and imminent overlordship of our Galaxy by China. It feels good to fantasize about being the emerging power.
Last year, the state-owned China Television network pronounced the virus the “Waterloo for America’s leadership,” as a British-accented announcer intoned: “The health emergency is signalling the end of the American century…Washington is tumbling to rock bottom over its coronavirus response.” Now that America has bounced back, and beaten the virus, China’s unfortunate citizens are not being told about it.
The foreign ministers of China and Russia (also in the West’s crosshairs) have recently warned the US to “halt unilateral bullying” and rejected US calls for “a rules-based order”. And the Chinese Foreign Minister in late April 2021 squarely blamed the US for the deterioration in bilateral relations since Communist China can do nothing wrong.
China’s current BFFs are Russia, Iran, Turkey, Venezuela, North Korea. What do they have in common? They are all in the bad books of the liberal western democracies. The moment the West begins to treat them with the respect they believe is their due, all these countries will dump China unceremoniously. China wants to fight America to the last Russian, Russia wants to fight America till the last Chinese. The marriage of convenience will crack soon. In July, when the Chinese Communist Party celebrates its centenary, Xi Jinping’s speech will focus on how China has to respond to a world begging it to rule. In his 31 December 2019 address to his people, PingPong had boasted that China had friends everywhere and swore to keep building “a community with a shared future for mankind, and making unremitting efforts for the creation of a beautiful future for mankind” (as long as it was a future with Chinese characteristics including repression, exploitation, abuse, humiliation and genocide).
But that was before he unleashed his virus. Now, he is looking for a more powerful lantern to detect his pitiful remaining friends. Is China on auto-destruct mode? There is an English expression: cutting off one’s nose to spite one’s face. It means to do something that is meant to harm someone else but that also harms the person who does it. The Hindi equivalent is “apne pair pe kulhadi maarna”.
China bans coal imports from Australia, to punish it for demanding an impartial enquiry into the origins of the Chinese virus. Australia is hurt. But in recent weeks, more than a dozen Chinese cities have imposed restrictions on electricity use as growing demand for energy owing to Chinese attempts to kickstart its economy collides head on with a shortage of thermal coal. How does China balance its blustery international diplomacy with the rising fragility of its economy? Remember what the Afghanistan (mis)adventure did to the Soviet Union? Belligerence acquires its own momentum and leads to actual conflict or collapse. The Chinese Communists are not good students of history.
China, unlike India and other civilisations and powers, expects others to behave as it would. Its relative isolation in history results in China often misjudging other countries and displaying a form of great power autism, a lack of empathy or understanding of how others think and how they might react. The best long-distance runner ultimately gets exhausted. The Chinese leaders will not be the first to persist with policies which were once successful, but which no longer work in changed circumstances.
The image of China peddled by propagandists and apologists alike is based on myths and fantasies. Many believe that the Chinese economy is invincible. However, much of its strength is based on propaganda and deceptive data collection. By just observing the (fudged) strength of its military or the living standards in major cities, one should not assume that the rest of the country is doing equally well. Following the 2008 global financial crisis, Beijing unleashed $2 trillion in new lending and made other moves that dumped still more credit into the financial system. As a result, China became one of the world’s most indebted economies in less than a decade. Economists inside and outside the country have warned that the debt—much of it hidden away on the books of local governments and state-run companies—could disrupt the financial system.
When Jack Ma Yun said in late October 2020 that there was no systemic risk to China’s financial system because it had no system, we know what happened to him!
Free markets and limited government have done more for the betterment of humanity than any other system ever devised. No civilization is immune to the laws that govern basic economics. Human beings throughout history prefer freedom and prosperity to arbitrary domination and suppression. In a recent survey, a third of rich Chinese wanted to emigrate to the West, while all sought to sift their wealth overseas!
Every single tyrannical government seeks to control the flow of information because at the end of the day if you control people’s ideas, you control their destiny. Freedom is not a concept for Chinese eyes and ears.
Governments have physical force—control over a society’s most decisive means of dispensing violence. They may try to disguise this essential attribute by cloaking it in measures ostensibly for the enhancement of the people’s “welfare” and “security”; they may paint its hardened, harlot face with cheery socialist cosmetics; but when push comes to shove, most governments fall back on their superior ability to beat, shackle, imprison, and kill those who challenge the exercise of their power.
Militaries usually protect the country from external aggression. The People’s Liberation Army protects the Communist Party from the people, and spends half its time imbibing Chairman Xi’s divine thoughts. China spends more on internal security than on defence, routinely smashing dissidents and opponents.
Of course, the Communist Party would rather present itself in a different guise—a kindlier, gentler semblance that proclaims its noble intentions. It does not want to be seen as the most powerful thug in the neighbourhood. The democratic legal system is designed to protect the innocent individual against the threat of the state, the Chinese system is designed to protect the Communist Party against the threat, potential as well as actual, of the individual.
China’s elite, determined to perpetuate itself in power, convinced of its infallibility, sees no reason to tolerate disagreement or dissent The ordinary citizen should not know the law and should beware of the state. He must obey absolutely, doing what he is told.
China has suppressed the results of its 2020 census till PingPong fabricates the figures to show that the disastrous one-child policy has not created an ageing China since Chinese mothers, thanks to its amazing scientists, now deliver healthy babies in nine weeks instead of nine months. The USA made the mobile phone a fashion statement, China has made the face mask. The present leaders of China grew up in a USA-USSR dominated world. With the demise of the USSR, they want to replace it. During the cold war, the US and USSR competed via proxy wars, avoiding direct conflict. Should a similar competition arise today, America’s Asian allies most probably would follow the US into war with their neighbour even though it has nuclear weapons and is their biggest trading partner. This shows the comprehensive anger against China.
A French fellow called Napoleon Bonaparte is supposed to have said 200 years ago that when China awoke, the world would tremble (of course the world has awoken, and China is trembling).
Another French thinker Victor Hugo wrote that no power on earth can stop an idea whose time has come. The eras of colonialism and neo-colonialism are well and truly over. This is the era of the efflorescence of the human spirit and the freedom of the mind.
International responses to China have gone through three phases in last 30 years: envy and admiration (wish we could do it too), exhilaration (cheap goods, easy loans and investment), fury (China is stubborn, expansionist, dangerous, virus-unleashing and deceitful).
All three sentiments are now coalescing into acute angst. Will the fellow deprived of reason listen?
Ambassador Dr Deepak Vohra is Special Advisor to Prime Minister, Lesotho, South Sudan and Guinea-Bissau; and Special Advisor to Ladakh Autonomous Hill Development Councils, Leh and Kargil.