The outbreak of COVID-19 has not left the emperor naked. He has always been on display. What has happened is that we are no longer self-deluded.
My first ambition was to be a foreign affairs analyst. I had three graduate schools on the radar in 1978 when I got sidetracked and became an economist. During that journey I had studied the emergence of Communism in Russia and in China. Marxism in its various forms was my specialty. I had no sympathy for the ideology and deplored its outcome. But I needed to understand it. What motivated people like Mao Tse-Tung? Who was this man who led a hundred thousand soldiers through the Long March, fought the Japanese army, overwhelmed the forces of Chiang Kai-Shek, launched the Great Leap Forward and the Cultural Revolution, and hosted Nixon? And more importantly – what was China?
Understanding the history of modern China is essential to understanding what is happening today. By modern, I begin with the Opium Wars of the 1840s. It is critical to understanding what is happening to Hong Kong today. For it was at that time that a once great civilization was humiliated into colonial subjugation. It would be this experience that would etch deeply into the ideology known as Maoism. It’s ripple effects remain to this day as China has asserted itself in Hong Kong, the South China Sea, the Amur River valley, and Tibet. It is their centuries-old history with the frontiers of western China that outlines the subjugation of the Uighurs.
I was deeply impressed with the changes China had to undergo to embrace capitalism. It was a tectonic shift in their leadership. Another major shift was their transition to rule-by-committee, a stark contrast to the long-running totalitarian regimes of Communist history. Unlike Russia or any other Communist regime, China modernized and exploded onto the world trade community. Its standard of living rose remarkably. It had regular, orderly changes in leadership. It seemed that the nation of China would transform the Chinese people as the rest of us know them: bright, hard-working and entrepreneurial.
Then came the pandemic.
The outbreak of COVID-19 has not left the emperor naked. He has always been on display. What has happened is that we are no longer self-deluded. The pandemic has exposed China to the rest of the world of being no different than what it has been all along, ever since Tienanmen Square in 1989. As students were being killed in Beijing I could only look in horror and sorrow, but the realist in me had to recognize that an authoritarian regime was not going to go quietly in the night. This was a growing pain. Time would tell if things could change in China.
But then came the persecution of the Falon Gong. The replies people give today are telling. “Who?” “Aren’t they a cult?” There has always been the thing about the Dalai Lama – well, those are Buddhists. Then when Christians were persecuted, their churches torn down right after they were built, their leaders arrested – no response. Then the Muslims get thrown into concentration camps in western China – we can hardly pronounce their names, but we subconsciously shrug it off. “They are Muslims.” In other words, we consign ourselves into moving forward with China with no regard for the welfare of religious groups in China because they are, well, “religious.”
And we wonder why it took seven years to recognize the reality of the Holocaust.
The pandemic has demonstrated that the Communist Chinese have as much regard for you and me as they do for the Dalai Lama, Uighurs, Christians and the Falon Gong. I am often mystified why tyrants do stupid things, but the Chinese have really excelled at possibly unraveling everything they have gained in the past 30 years. They do so because they embrace an ideology that has as its core the advancement of power. They have deluded themselves into thinking that the world will believe them, that facts matter little. It is now the turn of the Communist Chinese to understand the western world. I believe they have fatally erred.
In raising three kids, there are principles you hope to teach. “There is one thing that once lost, is very difficult to get back: trust.” When you lie to someone, they will no longer believe you. When you tell someone you will do a job, but don’t, they will no longer trust you. As a Christian, we advance the teaching of forgiveness. I can forgive you, but it does not mean I trust you. Jesus said to be “wise as serpents,” and he was referring to a situation where the disciples were being sent out into an unkind world. Trust is earned.
The world no longer trusts the Chinese. Trust is the core of world trade. A contract has to be binding, based on law. A partnership has to be mutually beneficial, with an assurance backed by a foundation of law they can agree on, laws that people trust will be enforced. What the past 30 years has demonstrated is that the CCP (Chinese Communist Party) is invasive, penetrating every commercial contract. It has shown that the objective of modernization is not just to improve the life of their citizens, but to advance the power of the State and control of their citizens. While the Chinese have demonstrated a willingness to abide by commercial law, they can act capriciously. Commerce is subservient to the State. One only has to look at the sudden arrest of Canadian and Australian citizens to see that the CCP can be ruthless, with no regard for so-called “law” as it is understood in China.
With no basis in law, a businessperson would be a fool to want to continue operations in China.
The pandemic exploded out of China for one basic reason – the long-standing practice of Communist propaganda. The CCP finds it imperative that they control the narrative. It boggles my mind that they think they can control information in this day and age. This is not 1954! Despite all their efforts to control information video clips manage to reach the West. It is pathetic that the manner in which the world discovered the danger of COVID-19 was through a frantic video of a doctor in Wuhan.* He was silenced and isolated by the CCP and eventually died (how convenient).
The Chinese have not only discredited themselves, but the World Health Organization (WHO) and the United Nations (if they can’t be discredited more than it is). To use a word a friend once shared, “the relationship is toxic.” I personally not only agree with our withdrawal from the WHO, but wonder whether affiliation with the United Nations is even worth it. The CCP is doing what it has done throughout their history. They have maneuvered, manipulated and lied.
One thing I observed in my studies of the CCP was that there has always been a battle within the CCP between ideological purity and pragmatism. It is no surprise that China could not move forward until Mao had died. He was a purist. His initiatives were colossal failures. Millions perished from famine and persecution. Yet many in the CCP knew that to stay in power they would have to modernize China. I believe there were many who genuinely desired the best for the average Chinese citizen – as long as Communism could stay in power. And that was the catch.
It appears that the regime of Xi Jinping is the Marxist dialectic at work, a rebound of ideological purity. In his pursuit of absolute power, it has blinded him to the consequences. In subjugating Hong Kong, he has put China at risk of losing its corridor to the Western financial system. Its arbitrary arrest of businessmen has made it too risky to do business in China. Its history of espionage and theft of intellectual properties has affirmed that our perception of them is reality: ruthless thieves. In his pursuit of power, he has subjugated an entire ethnic group numbering millions into “re-education camps”. Horrible rumors abound that include the harvesting of organs. Why are we not to believe this? The Allies refused to believe the rumors about the Holocaust, are we likewise dismissing the possibility that the CCP is no different? Is our historical knowledge so shallow that we forget that millions have died opposing the CCP or being victims of persecution and forced labor?
In his pursuit of power, Xi has alienated their second largest market – India. The Chinese sent a brigade of thugs to batter and kill 20 Indian soldiers. And why? The Indian affair, more than anything else, indicates that something is really off-the-mark in the CCP leader. In a similar fashion, the CCP has wrecked its relationship with Australia. Combined with their idiotic handling of trade with the U.S., what is the sense of cutting yourself off from access to two large grain suppliers? And the Chinese love to eat pork. Where do they get their pork these days? So after blocking imports from Australia and the U.S., how do you feed 1.4 billion people?
The post-pandemic world will be much different because China will be greatly diminished. It will have lost the one vital element of any relationship – trust. To regain that trust, they will need to change the CCP or, better yet, do away with Communism. History has proven that Communists do not change, so the latter will need to happen.
The Chinese are banking on the belief that the West is now over-committed to China. They don’t understand capitalism. If China wants to steal trade secrets from GM and BMW, then let them do it. Once the relationship collapses, it will be GM and BMW that pays – and life will go on. If Tesla is over-committed to China – then it goes bankrupt. Sad to say it may happen – but life will go on. Capitalism adapts and it can change quite rapidly. Believe it or not, the world kept turning before China emerged. It will keep turning after China falls flat on its face. It will be a rough ride, no doubt. The roughest ride may be in China itself as its economic growth drops to a standstill, the by-product of an increasingly isolated regime.
The final effect will be the recognition of Taiwan as a country again. China has made the UN irrelevant and, ironically, works against their best interest. The U.S. and other E-9 countries will find the participation of China less attractive. Threatening to sever trade relationships with countries that would otherwise be glad to leave is not a threat. The alternative is the island of Taiwan, once the business center of that part of the world and will be again. The farce of withholding recognition of Taiwan will be exposed.
*Ai Fen — See Wikipedia
© Copyright 2020 to Eric Niewoehner