Learning from China ... and Hong Kongers

 “Don't trust China” is what the recent Hong Kong protesters told the G20 representatives in Osaka.

 I think that is right. It has been a sea change for me.  Fool me once.  Maybe even a few times. Still, over the last 15 years, I have come to realize that we should listen to the Hong Kongers (who don’t wish to be called Chinese).

Why believe twenty-somethings marching in the streets? Let’s remind ourselves that lying and no respect for human dignity are part and parcel of the government face to the world.  FBI director Christopher Wray’s declaration of China as a “whole of state” threat should be taken at face value.  There is no company or researcher or even student studying abroad who cannot be tapped to assist CCP.  (This of course casts false suspicion on honest Chinese everywhere.  Resistance is of course possible, and the norm, but it can be dangerous).

We have preponderance of the evidence and beyond a reasonable doubt.  On our most public piece of recent evidence - Huawei cannot be an innocent bystander, regardless of its own wishes.  It has been implicated or charged in theft and cyberspying for years China hacked Norway's Visma to steal client secrets: investigators | Reuters:; Huawei Sting Offers Rare Glimpse of U.S. Targeting Chinese Giant - Bloomberg:; Cisco, T-Mobile, Motorola, Nortel, et.al.  The rap sheet over a decade or two is pretty impressive.

Don Clarke, cited at Huawei - taking a fall, hoping for a call- There’s a whole variety of pressures that the government can bring to bear on a company or individual, and they are not at all limited to criminal prosecution …. China is a Leninist state that does not recognize any limits to government power.

Mark Rosenblatt  in Real Clear Policy  citing two recent Chinese laws, the National Intelligence Law and the Anti-Spyware Law -  Specifically, “any organization or citizen shall support, assist, and cooperate with the state intelligence work in accordance with the law, and keep the secrets of the national intelligence work known to the public. The State protects individuals and organizations that support, assist and cooperate with national intelligence work.”

Other evidence - politics in Australia and New Zealand are under direct attack, as are American tech companies; also, here - china cyber-cloudhopper.  A mayoral election in Taiwan appears to have been determined by fake news on social media coming from inside the mainland. Academic researcher Anne Marie Brady is under personal attack in New Zealand, presumably for research not to Mr. Xi’s liking. See Intimidation knows no boundaries and the update.  Wechat news for Chinese in the US is unabashedly Republican oriented, not only because of Democratic support for immigration and Chinese fears of university quotas.  The news stories, coming from Wechat in China, support the buffoon who is easy to exploit.

 Chinese espionage even rates its own wiki site now.

 My own path from trust to mis- began in 2004.  I taught CCP members going to school in Chicago for a year. They were sent by the government to learn about markets and government management. The students were midlevel bureaucrats, in about every discipline from police and propaganda bureau officials to stock market administrators. Over the years, many became my friends and colleagues.  I stayed in their homes, they in mine, we vacationed and worked together.

In 2009, I went to China to teach.  The world was still enamored of China, the shiny once-in-world-history transform learning to be a responsible leader in the community of nations. 

Living closely in China, one sees more sides of the world-facing sculpture constructed to be the New China -  like seeing the man behind the curtain in the Wizard of Oz.  What’s behind the curtain is not so shiny and imposing.  Nowadays, it can still be threatening.

The 2008 riots in Tibet and the 2009 unrest in Xinjiang were part of my seeing more clearly.  Suppression of the Sanlu milk scandal in 2008, for fear of soiling the glory of the Olympic Games, was another eye-opener.  Years later, my wife, who is Chinese, would never buy Chinese milk for our son.

There are, of course, innumerable other incidents of moral decay and lying, some reported in the Chinese media. For comparison, the US has no shortage of corruption, murder, mayhem, and cheating in business and government.  But more of that malfeasance is available in the news, and sometimes lawsuits and media and whistleblowers can help restore human dignity.  But see this, and this, and this, and this, and this, and – well, you get the idea.

By 2012, my view had changed. I had first hand exposure to police and hospitals and doctors and universities and media, urban and rural, wealthy and poor, citizen and peasant - and a lot of guanxi exercised on my behalf. I saw a university dean jailed not for a crime but for political retribution. I see now a university party leader heavily suspected of corruption, cheating faculty and no one will dare to complain. I see how judges and police and teachers deal with the moral quandaries.  I learned a great deal about Chinese as moral individuals in an immoral system.  I developed an idea – honor and respect individual Chinese; mistrust Chinese people; fear the Chinese government.  That still seems right to me.

None of this is new; China Law Blog, China Accounting Blog, and major media have been documenting for years how malfeasance – basically, all forms of lying – has cost American business and threatens models of business and law in which good will and good faith are basic to ideas of civility, fair dealing, and due process. 

The world is no longer so naïve about Chinese government intentions.  In 2009 American intellectuals thought a modern Chinese economy would bring democratic change.  Mr. Xi has disabused them of that notion.   Don Clarke has written about the Uyghur concentration camps, entirely outside the purview of the Chinese legal system.  This is what Hong Kongers see. 

The notion of Chimerica, the international economic partnership, is clearly no more.  Now, how does one deal with an ex when the breakup is a matter of lying?  Trust is off the table – even Reagan told us that, in the 1987 SALT treaty - “trust but verify.”  Now, the US negotiators want to insert such provisions into any trade agreement about IP theft.  While an admirable goal, Chinese will never agree to such a limitation, could not enforce it, and in any case, sanctions are after the fact. 

Now comes an open letter in the Washington Post to Trump from more than a hundred “scholarly, foreign policy, military and business” individuals advising return to the days of wishin’ an’ a hopin’ on China policy.  Bill Bishop’s sound reply at Sinocism is here, at item number three.  “Can’t we all just get along?” is so twentieth century. 

Turn the other cheek in international economic and political matters is no prescription for achieving a final reward.  The partnership breakup is a done deal. The only way forward for America is some limited decoupling, along with doubling down on the ideals of honesty and fairness and respect for human dignity that made Hong Kongers appeal to Americans at the G20.  Going forward, we should all learn from Hong Kongers.  We can’t go back to those innocent days of a decade ago.  You also remember – denial is not just a river in Egypt.