International Difficulties forget civil society, we’ll take civility
This is the ninth post on civil society in China now
One view is that without civil society fundamentals like generalized trust and freedom to express one’s opinion, China is doomed to … well, I don’t know what. Decline? Fail? Disappear? Go into economic decline?
The idea is that without civil society there is no reasonable constraint to lying when advantageous, and that will have wide-ranging deleterious effects.
Of course that would be true if lying were a constant in China and if threats and lying were simply an all-or-nothing proposition. And "lying" is such a loaded word when working across cultures.
I have to put this idea in the pile with those who deny there can be morality if not Christian morality. How Did most of the people in the world avoid killing, lying, and theft without Christianity?
There is a reasonable question here, though.
What effect will the lying and incivility that do exist have on China internationally in the next decade? Right now, there are plenty of examples of poor behavior and poor ethics which will be remembered far beyond the third term of Mr. Xi. But China is the world’s greatest manufacturer, is acknowledged to be at least a peer competitor in many high tech fields and medicine and the One Belt One Road programs are providing some benefits. Jobs and substantial compensation can make some people look the other way for a long time at lying and incivility.
Whither China has been the story of the last decade. It will be the story for at least the next decade as well. Maybe we can learn from recounting some recent experiences.
Hard, soft, and sharp power
We think of military power and economic development and innovation as hard power - leading to dominance in markets and setting the stage for foreign adoption of technology and standards. There is soft power, the power of culture and values, which has been the US ace in the hole for decades – American television, movies, culture of free speech and free behavior.
Joseph Nye, who invented the term soft power, has also noted Chinese sharp power, which is to use intimidation, threats, and violence against individuals to advance national interests. One can think of sharp power as “un-civil society” – it lacks civility, respect for boundaries and common decency.
Sharp power is what I want to look at in this article. We will look at where sharp power comes from, its development with and without Mr. Xi, the ubiquity of lying, and some uses of sharp power with respect to products, governments, Chinese people, foreigners, and foreign businesses. We are long past the question of whether civil society exists or can emerge in China. Now we want to see lack of civil society in action.
Sections to follow –
Where are we now? A brief overview
Lying in international relations
That was then, this is now
Some background - United Front
Beyond United Front
Something in the way Xi moves
But it is not only Xi
Contradictions and crises everywhere you turn
Lying as a way of life
No civility from wolf warriors
Lack of trust in consumer products
Consumer testing outside China
Control speech outside China – threats and posturing
Control foreigners and Chinese outside China
The trifecta of cyber laws
Trade – you’re not in Kansas anymore
Marx was right, though
No civil society … and simultaneous superiority and inferiority
Where are we now? A brief overview
For a long time a common American view on China was that economic rise must perforce be accompanied by emergence of civil society and eventually political freedoms. John Mearsheimer in Foreign Affairs –
The columnist Thomas Friedman spoke for many when he wrote, “Over time, China’s leaders simply can’t control and monitor their bursting free markets, or prevent little people from getting cheated and then rioting against the government, without the other institutions that must go with free markets—from an effective [securities and exchange commission] to a free and responsible press backed by the rule of law.”
Mearsheimer is a realist who sees Friedman’s view (as exemplified in American policy toward China) as a badly failed experiment. No one thinks China will soon become a democracy, civil society is not on the horizon, and great power competition is as fundamental a law as there is. Mearsheimer -
Most Americans do not recognize that Beijing and Washington are following the same playbook, because they believe the United States is a noble democracy that acts differently from authoritarian and ruthless countries such as China. But that is not how international politics works. All great powers, be they democracies or not, have little choice but to compete for power in what is at root a zero-sum game.
Mearsheimer seems right that a multi-polar world is unstable in the long term, and a zero-sum competition will result. That is quite clearly the lesson learned by Chinese 2200 years ago. In the shorter term, all countries can benefit from the trade and even the peaceful contests that result. But can is not a must. Those of us who remember the cold war don’t remember it as a time of peace but as a time of constant anxiety.
At least a cold war is in the offing. There is no reason to think such a conflict will advance notions of civility, both within China and in Chinese relations with the world.
Within China, lack of civil society has been just a nonissue for economic development. It hasn’t hurt Chinese development that companies did not have to deal with the American version of civil society that requires voting and public participation and rule of law and separation of business and government and all the intentional checks and balances of democracy. It hasn’t hurt that economic development is the primary goal of CCP. From the CCP Constitution – In leading the cause of socialism, the Communist Party of China must continue its commitment to economic development as the central task, and all other work must take an ancillary role and serve this center. It will not hurt Chinese companies going forward that they are not beleaguered by excessive attention to racial, cultural, and gender politics.
In foreign affairs, lying is sufficiently common to be expected. People and companies and nations accommodate to being lied to, up to a point. There are lies and there are lies.
Lying in international relations
John Mearsheimer reminds us that lying is a normal tactic in international relations. He defines five kinds of lies -
- Interstate lies, in which the leader of one country lies to leader or a foreign audience of another. Mearsheimer uses the mutually assured destruction of the cold war as an example. The threat to use nuclear weapons was sufficient.
- Fear mongering or threat inflation is another kind of international lie, in which a leader lies to his own people.
- A third kind he calls strategic cover-ups, as when President Kennedy lied to the American public and the world about the deal he cut to end the Cuban missile crisis.
- A fourth is the national myth, important in the US and even more so now in China.
- Liberal lies are the final category. These encompass British lies about civilian bombing in World War II, a violation of norms; and during the war, American portrayal of Stalin as not such a bad guy, after all.
I think Mearsheimer misses a category, that of lies told by a national leader to people of other countries. That is sharp power - fear mongering or threat inflation but directed at populations outside. This is a standard CCP tactic. It may be partly for home consumption but it has important international consequences, as we will see below.
That was then, this is now
Chinese have viewed their own culture as superior for more than two thousand years. They have always been willing to instruct the barbarians in proper behavior, but the barbarians remain barbarians in any case. We see that meme now in CCP demands to other governments to correct their behavior, think correctly, and control the behavior of their people who act in … well, a way not sufficiently deferential toward China.
Deng Xiaoping was a bit more circumspect. He told Chinese to bide their time. Peaceful rise was the theme of the two decades leading up to 2012. That time is over. The “Chimerica” partnership is dissolved, regardless of ongoing trade.
So how might lack of trust, lack of honesty inhibit Chinese development going forward? I am going to remind you of current stories of lying and arrogance. All display lack of civility toward foreigners. What the world does with that treatment is the open question.
I want to start with the CCP organizational background for sharp power.
Some background – United Front
United Front is the coordinated mass publicity, image making and recruitment effort of CCP. It is not one organization although there is a United Front department in every province and city. It is also a mindset, a promotion of all things Chinese and a determination that every interaction of Chinese with the world should accrue to the benefit of China … and CCP. The US State Department has described United Front as “an organ tasked with co-opting and neutralizing threats to the party’s rule and spreading its influence and propaganda overseas.”
Anne-Marie Brady wrote the book on Chinese relations with foreigners - Making the Foreign Serve China: Managing Foreigners in the People's Republic. She reminds us that in Chinese culture outside things – waishi, all matters dealing with foreigners and foreign things - should serve China, whether government, business, or personal. One can consider any contact with foreigners as a United Front activity. United Front is the political mindset to forge any and all dealings with foreigners to China’s advantage.
Chinese society makes a distinction between insiders and outsiders – nei wai you bie – Treat Insiders and Outsiders Differently. The initial meaning was to be strict internally, but keep an open friendly face to outsiders. At the same time, some information, particularly negative information, was always to be kept secret from foreigners. This was in keeping with the role of secrecy in Chinese society – what we used to call “Oriental inscrutability.”
Mao considered United Front activities one of the three magic weapons against the Guomindang. Now Xi considers United Front one of the important weapons in spreading influence outside China. Quite a few of our Chinese government students in Chicago were from United Front departments.
Anne-Marie Brady provided a thorough review in Magic Weapons: China's Political Influence Activities Under Xi Jinping. Attempts to influence politicians in New Zealand, Australia, the US and England have met with some success, as have attempts to influence the Chinese diaspora by managing their media and community groups – and occasionally threatening someone if a family member on the mainland has misbehaved.
If a politician in New Zealand or the US wants to get the pulse of the Chinese community, there is a fair chance they will consult a local Chinese community organization. There is also a fair chance that community organization has been supported in some way through United Front work, probably without knowledge of local participants.
United Front plays a long game to find points of influence. Brady uses the analogy of water dripping on limestone – over time, the water will find cracks to penetrate, as United Front organizations seek to find cracks in societies. She found that in some places, Chinese diaspora communities feel unsafe and unsure of their freedom to associate, given that someone might be watching them directly or indirectly. Chinese come here accustomed to being watched by government. This is, of course, an excellent way to damage civil society in democracies – spread mistrust. Newsweek has identified about 600 groups in the US linked to CCP United Front work.
Item - In US media, the China Watch newspaper insert has shown up in the Wall Street Journal, the New York Times, and the Washington Post, among other papers. The China Daily newspaper reported paying $19 million since November 2016 to US media for the China Watch inserts, paid for by contributions from the Propaganda Ministry. The goal is to “tell the China story well” which means to correct the misleading news provided by mainstream media.
From China Brief at the Jamestown Foundation -
Image: (Left) The front page of a four-page “advertorial” insert in the Des Moines Register in September 2018 (Des Moines Register, Sep. 24, 2018). (Right) A full-page “advertorial” advertisement in the March 21, 2020 print edition of The Economist, titled “A Shot of Confidence—President Xi Leads the Battle Against COVID-19 Outbreak,” which praised the Chinese government for “the most ambitious, agile, and aggressive disease containment effort in history,” and held China’s response up as a model to the world. (Source: Author’s photo)
Item – United Front work tries to influence American politicians at the state and local level. From the excellent Newsweek article on United Front in America -
In February (2020) Mike Pompeo warned the National Governors Association at a meeting in Washington D.C. that the CCP was identifying and grooming state and local politicians who would support its interests. A Chinese think tank had already graded governors on their "friendliness," Pompeo said. Newsweek obtained and translated a copy of the 2019 report, which labeled 17 governors as "friendly;" called 14 "ambiguous," deemed six as "hardline" and the rest "unclear." Pompeo told the governors, "Whether you are viewed by the CCP as friendly or hardline, know that it's working you, know that it's working the team around you."
Bethany Allen Ibrahimian expanded on the influence story in the Daily Beast - Rising Tide: China Built an Army of Influence Agents in the US.
Beyond United Front
United Front is still considered a major part of outreach to foreigners. CCP has followed Mao’s advice to make the foreigners serve China. This was Deng’s advice as well – to lay low, bide one’s time, gracefully advance. So, the strategy of the last thirty years was foreign investment, foreign products, foreign markets, foreign experts.
That strategy worked. Now its time is clearly over. Xi’s China is bold, confident, arrogant, dismissive of declining America and wants all elements of the highest tech to be Made in China 2025.
But the globalized world of the twenty-first century means that domestic and international policies are intertwined. What Xi Jinping does at home is noted internationally. Both American and Chinese businesses are caught in the crossfire.
Xi’s hammer has come down on domestic businesses and on foreign businesses and governments. Xi’s mission to purify the Chinese people apparently extends to instruction of the foreign barbarians in how to show proper deference to CCP, which speaks for all Chinese people.
At home, Xi has accomplished the following –
- destroyed industries like the after-school education industry;
- apparently threatened Jack Ma so he has not been heard from for a year;
- implemented laws making private news media illegal;
- taken down Wang Jianlin the founder of Dalian Wanda, one of China’s biggest and best real estate developers;
- put Chinese Youth Organization students to report on language of teachers if they express opinions not sufficiently woke to Xi’s Chinese Dream;
- enforced Marxist orthodoxy;
- made Xi Jinping thought mandatory cell phone reading for all CCP members (with mandatory quizzes);
- oppressed minorities;
- fractured other political factions with the anti-corruption campaign;
- so paralyzed local government officials that they see a new Cultural Revolution emerging;
- and rejected decades of tentative movement toward a rational administrative state by changing the Chinese constitution (not the CCP constitution) to allow himself to remain president for life.
Quite an impressive record.
In the world, Xi’s government has –
- provoked a new Taiwan Strait crisis;
- lied to the world about research efforts within the “nine-dashed line” of the East China Sea and the South China Sea;
- fostered “Wolf Warrior” diplomacy that has angered leaders throughout the world;
- promoted kidnapping of Chinese and foreigners inside and outside China;
- united an otherwise divided western world against Chinese sharp power;
- and perhaps most alarming among all the unconscionable misinformation campaigns, linked Covid-19 origins to Maine lobsters.
Xi is seeking hegemony at speed and scale not seen before. All is being done plainly, loudly, in full sight of the world. United Front has never been necessarily cordial, but it did not seek to antagonize. Xi’s time, our time, is different.
Something in the way Xi moves
One might ask why Xi finds it necessary to remove the velvet glove and expose the naked fist.
An argument for Xi’s aggression internationally is that it is simply great power competition. Hal Brands summarizes Xi’s world hegemony program in Foreign Affairs – The New Cold War - America, China, and the Echoes of History
Echoing John Mearsheimer, Brands argues that international rivals may not give Xi enough time to achieve his aims before they form sufficiently strong coalitions to resist. In The End of China's Rise Brands and Michael Beckley say Xi needs to move now to get the US out of the first island chain, out of Asia, and before the US can do a real “pivot to Asia,” solidify the G7 and the Five Eyes and the Quad and AUKUS, and marshal international support for Taiwan. Xi wants to make way for Chinese hegemony. Maybe, Xi thinks, it is time and it should be on my watch. Certainly Xi thinks reunification with Taiwan is part of restoring the greatness of the Chinese people.
Perhaps Xi is just not that smart and ignores advice from advisors with serious western experience. This doesn’t seem right, given all we know about Chinese politics and intense Chinese study of foreign politics. Maybe Xi just doesn’t realize the negative effects of bellicosity. Within China it is possible even now to isolate both protest and the government reaction to it. Harder to do in a connected global world.
Xi does face serious opposition within CCP. Two groups of rivals, generally described as the princeling faction and the Jiang Zemin faction, have been the primary targets of the anti-corruption campaign. Corruption is ubiquitous above a certain level in CCP, but no close Xi associates have been targeted in the campaign. Rumors of attempts on Xi’s life are too common to have no basis whatsoever. He has changed his Zhongnanhai bodyguard detail three times since assuming power, an unusual amount of turnover.
If Xi is at all uncertain of his own future, he would certainly want to remain in power rather than be out of power and project forcefully in every interaction. And per the 2012 Bloomberg story the Xi family wealth is in the hundreds of millions. Might be hard to avoid some pointed anti-corruption questions at some point. Stoking international disgust for China fosters domestic support within China. Nationalism helps Xi personally and CCP generally in keeping stability.
The succession question does rear its head again. There has only been one peaceful transfer of power since Mao, to Hu Jintao in 2002. As CCP transitioned from a revolutionary party to an administrative party, it was thought perhaps the fierce internal political battles over succession would be meliorated. Two terms of office for the CCP general secretary would be sufficient, and was written into law. Now, Xi has had the law changed and appears to want to stay in power for a third and perhaps a fourth five-year term. This will undoubtedly create a serious crisis when Xi is no longer able to lead. He has created many enemies who will want revenge on Xi cronies and perhaps domestic and international issues will demand a less belligerent narcissist as leader. Whomever follows Xi will not have direct family ties back to the early Maoist period, so that stability-inducing reminder will no longer be available to a new leader. Xi may be setting China up for a difficult transition – but that is still years away.
In any case, Xi is unconcerned about the incivility and lying he fosters internationally. Geremie Barme at the Australian Center on China in the World has the most sophisticated analysis. He reminds us that in word and deed Xi remains an enthusiastic Stalinist. His Marxist-Leninist rhetoric is not just for publicity purposes, and his narcissism tells him that only he can be the real man in China to save both CCP and the people. Xi has spoken highly of the antics of Qin Shi Huang, the first emperor who burned books, banned scholars, and instituted a severe Legalist rule. Xi, like all CCP rulers, uses history and precedent to justify current policy. Confucian ideas pepper the speeches, but that is window dressing, as Barme says. Xi believes his own Marxist rhetoric, uses history to justify it, uses rule by law as an instrument of oppressive government, and is willing to use state power at home and abroad to force his will.
Xi sees himself, along with Mao, as the singular revolutionary personality of his time, saving the revolution now as Mao did in the Cultural Revolution. The purge of academics, journalists, writers, lawyers, and others who offend Xi is just a reminder of the purges of landlords in 1953, in the anti-Rightist movement, in the Famine period, in the Cultural Revolution, after Tian’anmen. The goal is to create an unparalleled powerful international exemplar that is morally, politically, economically, culturally, educationally superior to any other country. This, Barme says, is similar to the dreams of Stalin and Mao. Do not dismiss this grandiosity, Barme says. It should be taken very seriously. 4100 When Xi says the party must lead in every industry, he means it.
But putting the Party at the head of every industry and every element of society has its own problems. The Party is now more of a risk to be taken into account. That dampens enthusiasm among foreigners and Chinese for investing and inventing. Xi may not care about that too much. Recalling ancient dynastic predilections, Xi has called Wall Street business people maiguozei, a term that means people who will sell out their own country for profit. He is probably right about that.
George Magnus in China's Journey Into the Unknown -
… Xi wants to re-establish state firms at the commanding heights of the economy and subordinate private firms and entrepreneurs to CPC objectives. The only question is which goals will be pursued through regulation, which through guidance, and which through fear. The irony is that Xi has created a new contradiction for China. The CPC’s craving for control in all domains sits quite uncomfortably with the types of reforms that are needed to support growth and innovation. Whether the Party can resolve this contradiction is a moot point.
But it is not only Xi
Xi is not the sole incivility and lying problem. There are systemic problems. China has failed to live up to the promises made when it joined the WTO in 2001. Large segments of the economy are still closed to foreigners, the judicial system is still run by CCP, and IP theft since 2001 has only increased.
George Magnus says the entire Chinese governance model violates the spirit of WTO. There are the trade advantages and soft budget constraints given to SOE. Environmental laws in China are generally equivalent to those in the west, but enforced feebly, partly because the environmental bureaus derive fees from fines, and its not nice to kill off the golden goose. There is the lax enforcement of laws regarding IP theft or forced technology transfer. Then there is the lack of distinction between public and private companies. This is of particular concern with regard to Chinese companies listed on US stock exchanges. American law for more than a decade has required that audit papers be reviewed by the PCAOB. CCP calls those papers national secrets, refuses to comply, and American stock market investors are treated to different regulatory schemes for Chinese companies and all others.
Contradictions and crises everywhere you turn
Mr. Xi came into the job in 2012 facing enormous problems. His principle agenda was to get control of the corruption that was tearing CCP and the country apart. At this he has had some success. But purification of CCP and the Chinese people might be too big a task even for Xi. Other problems will become salient long before purification can occur. Perhaps Xi is simply “lashing out” in a bit of frustration.
The internal contradictions should be quite clear for Xi and perhaps he sees the need to act quickly to keep faith in CCP. By the end of the century the Chinese population will be cut in half; this is pretty much “baked in” as a result of nearly four decades of the one-child policy. In the next decades the working age population will decline by millions every year; the rickety health insurance and pension systems will be under great pressure; and population decline will certainly create consumption problems. In the –stans, Muslim tolerance of oppression in Xinjiang cannot last forever; the environmental crisis will hit extremely hard if it influences flows to the Yangtze and the Yellow rivers; much farmland is now polluted with heavy metals and hard to clean; the social crisis of providing health care for all and caring for elderly will soon need as much of GDP as does defense; there are still 600 or 800 million Chinese we can call low-income; and it is now clear that China will get old before it gets rich – some CCP members and business owners excepted. Development has been the constitutional prime goal and that has been achieved for a good portion of the east coast population. What will keep them loyal now?
Xi wants his image among Chinese immortals to be just a little higher than that of Deng, and maybe even that of Mao. He certainly has expressed admiration for the first emperor Qin Shi Huang in his role as unifier and feared leader. Qin burned books, executed many, and perfected the role of Legalist-inspired leader. Of course, he only lasted fifteen years before being tossed.
Jana Rosker reminds us the fundamental tenets of CCP rule are no longer in accord with social reality. “Serving the people” and “collectivism” do not fit with the experience of Chinese on the ground. No one sees revolution around the corner, but even Mao said that regimes are time-limited. Perhaps Xi is just trying to beat the clock.
Chinese government policy from dynastic times has always swung between periods of leniency and periods of restriction. Victoria Tin-bor Hui described this swing at the American Interest in How China was Ruled. Now the heavy hand of regulation and market xenophobia has come again. CCP has followed this pattern, from cruelty and madness under Mao to some openness under Deng, some excesses under Jiang and Hu, and now, the pendulum has shifted back toward totalitarianism.
Item - A funny example of CCP insecurity at work, if it weren’t so paranoid – up to the last couple of years there were thousands of foreigners working and teaching in China, and some of them developed romantic relationships with Chinese women. To be expected. But, warned the Ministry of State Security in 2016, Chinese women must be careful. That charming American who is teaching English to primary school students in a small town might just be a foreign spy. “Dangerous Love” is the term for such a dalliance. Again, outsiders are the enemy, the world is dangerous, fear should be everywhere, and one should trust the government. In a world without multiple sources of information, that only makes sense. Orwell’s Big Brother would be pleased.
Lying as a way of life
Negative views of China are not all Xi’s doing or even that of CCP. Business practices have always been a source of friction with the west, particularly the US.
Sam Crane writing in his Useless Tree blog about the unapologetic amoral character of Chinese at home and with foreigners –
But there’s another side to Mainland Chinese society, where ethics are simply a non-factor in decision making. Mainland Chinese lie and deceive reflexively in many aspects of their daily lives and relationships; it’s routine, accepted, expected and generally considered unavoidable. If you’re straight, honest and genuine, people will think you’re simple, naive and stupid. Corruption is endemic in every layer of society, and it is common for it to taint thesis papers, resumes and job applications, personal ads, and communication between spouses, parents and children, employees and employers, clients and suppliers ….
A particularly nasty system of deceit involves American buyers of products made in China. From time to time a Chinese supplier fails to provide product, provides less than ordered, or provides unusable product. The buyer withholds part of the payment while the issue is negotiated. The supplier contacts Sinosure, a Chinese export and credit insurance company. It is the way both sides can theoretically ensure product and payment. As a practical matter, Sinosure mostly serves to harass and threaten American businesses in payment disputes. Sinosure does not care why the Chinese side has not been paid. It only seeks payment, sues in American courts, and blacklists American companies in China. There is dishonesty throughout the Sinosure “dispute resolution” process. China LawBlog has details in China Sinosure as Existential Threat. American companies may not know what hit them.
Notably, Chinese often comment on the simplicity of Americans, and how easy they are to figure out. Americans don’t have xin-yan (a mind’s eye, or a calculating view). Americans trust what they are told. For that, it is said, they are childish. … to speak your mind straightforwardly, to defend your position forcefully, and to uphold what you believe without compromise, are all signs of childishness.
From the celebrated book Factory Girls - … In a place where people lied reflexively for work, deception naturally seeped into personal relationships. Lying was often the pragmatic choice because it got you what you wanted. Eventually your lies might catch up with you, but few people thought that far ahead.
Peter Hessler in River Town makes similar points.
A foreigner whose son was in a Chinese kindergarten tells of remarkable artwork posted by his son. There was no way his son did that work – the teacher did the artwork, put the kid’s name on it, and showed it to the amazed parents. Does China's Culture of Cheating Start in Kindergarden? I have seen examples of this myself in several cities. In Hangzhou I asked our son’s teachers to not do that.
We can take into account Lucian Pye on cultural differences and Thomas Metzger on epistemological differences and the moral hybrids of mixing government and business and the extreme care for those inside one’s guanxi circle and inattention to those outside. For westerners the issue at base in all of these analyses is one of lying. It is failing to deal honestly with the truth as presented. Chinese may see these same issues differently, but lying is a turning away from the truth as much as western sin is a turning away from God.
We can see every excess of diplomatic rhetoric, every threat to Chinese and foreigners alike as fostered by this lack of honesty and lack of trust. Lack of trust at home is the model for lack of trust outside.
No civility from wolf warriors
Item – you’ve all heard of wolf warrior diplomacy now practiced around the world by Chinese diplomats. Chinese in the foreign service have always cultivated an image as the soul of thoughtfulness and other-regarding. That was then, this is now. Diplomatic speech has been replaced with street-level boorishness.
Lest anyone think that the street level boorishness is anything but policy, this is from Politburo meeting on December 6, 2021, quoting Xi Jinping Thought on Diplomacy:
Have the courage to struggle, break new ground and pursue all-round major-country diplomacy with Chinese characteristics. We will focus on serving the central tasks of the Party and the country, take the diplomacy of the head of state as the core and under its leadership, deepen our diplomatic work in all directions and fields under the new circumstances, and create a favorable external environment for comprehensively building a modern socialist country. Cast aside illusions, have the courage to struggle, never budge on the principle, never give up an inch of land, carry forward the spirit of not believing in evil spirits and ghosts, fight to the end with all strength those that attempt to subvert the leadership of the Communist Party of China (CPC) and China's socialist system, delay or even block the great rejuvenation process of the Chinese nation, and safeguard national sovereignty, security and development interests. We should be good at struggling and winning, actively develop global partnerships, lead the reform of the global governance system, steadily advance high-quality Belt and Road cooperation, and build a community with a shared future for mankind. We should overcome all risks and challenges on our way forward.
Xi’s quote is from the Xinhua article http://www.news.cn/english/2021-12/06/c_1310355171.htm Quoted in Sinocism December 7, 2021.
To us Xi’s language may sound like high-school pep rally talk, but it is deadly serious.
In March of 2021, the Chinese embassy in France chose to insult French and EU elected officials and diplomats for comments on human right abuses in Xinjiang.
A Chinese diplomat referred to Justin Trudeau as “boy” also in March.
The Chinese embassy in Sweden threatened a journalist for coverage critical of Beijing. In 2019, China threatened Sweden with “facing the consequences of their actions” when Sweden awarded a freedom of speech prize to a detained Chinese-born Swedish publisher Gui Minhai.
In 2010 (before Xi came to power) China threatened Norway if the Nobel Peace Prize were awarded to imprisoned human rights campaigner Liu Xiaobo.
On Lithuania pushing back on Chinese threats if it normalized relations with Taiwan - this from the Chen Weihua, current EU bureau chief of China Daily - Lithuania is a typical US poodle and vicious attack dog these days. Who care? There are only 2.8 million of them out there, like a small Chinese city. Beijing has been clear in its intention to cripple Lithuania if it fails to offer tribute in a sufficiently abject mode.
An October 2020 survey by the Pew Research Center found that 78% of people in Western nations have "not too much or no confidence" in China's leadership to do the right thing regarding world affairs. One can interpret this result as public recognition of a failure to distinguish truth from falsehood in Chinese relations.
Item - It is ancient practice for China to issue warnings to foreign leaders who fail to adequately show tribute to the Son of Heaven. The practice continues now to any and all running afoul of CCP. The US comes in for special derision time and again, with patient instructions offered to the barbarians on how to behave with respect to China. This 2021 speech by Foreign Minister Wang Yi is a good example of combined Chinese superiority and inferiority at the same time - China elaborates bottom lines, suggests remedial measures. From Global Times, the nationalistic English language daily -
By making clear bottom lines and urging the US to correct its wrong mindset and wrong actions - the main cause for a stalemate to the already struggling China-US relations - China raised sharp questions to the US on Monday that how the US could seek any good results of the bilateral ties with its policy of suppressing China…. China also raised a List of US Wrongdoings that Must Stop so that the Biden administration could repair the fraught ties ….
China warns other countries to respect China; but if China were so confident in its future, why the need to issue warnings? This particular news story reminds one of the Qianlong Emperor's warnings to King George. “We have no need of your manufactures” is what the Qianlong emperor told Lord McCartney in 1793, when Britain was perceived as just another tributary state, coming to offer honor to the Son of Heaven. (See my previous article Ancient Trust in Business for the Qianlong letter to King George III). This was more than just imperial conceit expressed to a foreign mission. It was an expression of jingshi, the classical Chinese term to order the world in favor of Chinese suzerainty.
It was in 2019 that Chinese diplomats suddenly all at one time began to use Twitter, which is of course blocked in China. The embassy in Brazil accused the Brazilian president of having a mental virus; in Canada, the Prime Minister was addressed as "boy"; the embassy in France referred to French people as thugs, fatso, and running dogs. Soft power, indeed.
Unfavorable views of China are at historic peaks in the US, Canada, England, Germany, Netherlands, South Korea, Spain and no doubt several other countries.
This cartoonish behavior plays well with the Chinese public, who see negative reaction from foreign countries as reason to support CCP in its nationalist endeavors. For CCP, it is, as they say, a self-licking ice cream cone.
I suppose one can be accused of using western standards to criticize China. Maybe this is right in one respect. One really shouldn’t expect a different standard for foreign affairs than applies within China for Chinese. If Chinese people can be lied to, bullied and served dangerous consumer products, one really shouldn’t expect better treatment of foreigners. Anne-Marie Brady’s "Treat Insiders and Outsiders Differently": The Use and Control of Foreigners in the PRC is an excellent description of the CCP prescription for relations with foreigners, as I can attest. But it was written in 2000, developmentally eons ago. Times change.
Lack of trust in consumer products
When the family or clan or business associates are all that matters, one can do anything if it furthers those interests. The result is a China that is constantly at war with itself. Modernity demand generalized trust. Chinese society is comfortable only with particularized trust. Here are a few examples. The lack of trust easily spills over to foreign relations.
Item – Even in 2021 there is a lack of trust in Chinese-made products. You know the stories about re-use of old cooking oil, bottled and sold as new; and the addition of melamine to (falsely) raise the measured protein level in milk powder, killing several and sickening hundreds of thousands of babies; and furniture and flooring and cabinets that give off poisonous fumes – formaldehyde – for weeks or months after installation; drywall sold in the US with offgassing of sulfides; toys with lead based paint; vermin sold as meat; electronics that cause fires or shocks. Name a product, consumer or commercial, and you will easily find horror stories about products that are fake, don’t meet standards, and could sicken, hurt, or kill.
Consumer rights are mostly a non-issue. This has implications for Chinese consumer purchases of foreign products and at the same time, implications for entanglement of foreign businesses in Chinese affairs.
Chinese use social media and consumer ratings to help choose products, and that is a good civil-society-like source of information, except when the consumer reports or social media postings are themselves fake or one cannot distinguish the original product from the fake. The hugely popular web sites run by Alibaba and Tencent should serve as good product indicators; both companies have a special rating for providers who meet some minimal standards about quality and returns and repairs. Both have had problems with fake product reviews.
The guys on bicycles selling Prada bags for $50 are most likely not selling the real product, IMHO. But how do you buy online a baby’s crib, or milk, or toys or clothes when the advertised label is high quality, the product reviews are good, the special policies about returns seem fair, and the product is then itself fake? Or never gets delivered? That is the nature of the civil society problem. In the absence of rule of law, free media, ability to investigate companies, ability to sue (easily, with some expectation of fairness in the courts) and inability to trust the watchdogs, where can the trust be found? The truth is, it cannot. And there is a nihilism that results – nothing should be trusted, nothing has meaning. Conditional trust comes from a recommendation from someone you know.
Sometimes it is just safer and cheaper to order foreign products directly from outside. That was the rationale for baby formula shortages in Hong Kong and for the daigou business in the US – buying products in the US (at a lower price than in China) and shipping them to China. For years I returned to China with a suitcase full of cosmetics or jewelry or handbags, all things that could be purchased in China but were cheaper and considered safer when purchased in the US. My biggest purchases were an LV bag and a very expensive Tiffany necklace. Prices were less in the US and quality was assured.
Consumer Testing Outside China
Chinese brand consumer and business products may be well made and hygenic and function well; and the opposite may be true. For many products, there is just no way to know beforehand.
There are engineers and tinkerers in the US and Britain and Australia who take apart electronics and equipment just for fun and run tests. They obviously don’t report on good products. But here are some scary videos -
There is the USB four-port connector -
and the electric plug power converter -
and the electrical plug -
The above videos are from tinkerers with knowledge and experience and time and equipment. These are products that could cause real damage to people and property. All are a result of failure of honesty in business dealings.
Item - Chinese universities are widely known to change transcripts for Chinese students who wish to go abroad for college or graduate study. My own university in Hangzhou will remove failing grades from a transcript for Chinese students, if the student later passed – not a retake of the course, but a second final exam. With a passing grade of 60, plus or minus. In good utilitarian fashion, the end really does justify the means – or, we should say, by any means necessary. And caveat emptor, again.
The standard distinction made between US and Chinese higher education is that in the US, it is easy to get into college and easy to flunk out; in China it is hard to get into college, but once in, everybody graduates. That is true to a remarkable extent.
Any university admissions administrator in the US knows about Chinese companies that write glowing, really too-glowing, letters of recommendation and personal statements for students. I’ve read some of these myself, and in good fraud fashion, they are too good to be true. I’ve been asked to sign some of those letters. I declined.
Item - American university teachers are well aware of problems with plagiarism and cheating from Chinese students – not that American students are immune from such behavior, but the problem appears far worse among students from the mainland. These are all forms of lying, with lack of trust as a result. I wrote about experiences with cheating and plagiarism in the section (forthcoming).
Quite by intention, the crackdown on information leads foreign teachers to leave China. That was true for me in 2016 – it became clear that China was becoming too dangerous for an American teaching economics. I wrote a long email to students in the weeks before I left –
I want you to understand that the blocking, like that of Gmail, does not need to be perfect to do its job. What is desired, more than the censorship itself, is to create a climate of uncertainty that encourages people to not bother looking, or to waste just enough time that they fail to accomplish what was intended. Students give up trying to communicate. Teachers give up trying to teach. Researchers give up trying to understand. Then, the Party is the only voice.
A couple of my Chinese faculty colleagues were incredulous at my characterizing the environment as dangerous. Within a year or so, they all understood.
Item – Plagiarism by Chinese researchers is a well-known problem in academic journals. Occasionally data is just made up. A US National Institute of Health article provides a good summary - A Primer on Plagiarism: Resources for Educators in China. China is a leader now in most every high tech and medicine field. The question is always how much to trust the research.
Item – there are close ties between Chinese universities and those in Germany, extending back to the Chinese intellectuals’ fascination with German philosophers, education and engineering. Now German academic freedom can be under as much attack as that in the US or Canada or Australia or New Zealand. In another Confucius Institute story, two German journalists were disinvited from giving public talks at German Confucius Institutes about their new biography of China’s president, Xi Jinping: The Most Powerful Man in the World.
From the Foreign Policy article – German Academic Freedom is Now Decided in Beijing -
The disinvitation came at the behest of the Chinese consul general in Düsseldorf. (One of the journalists) told the German newspaper Die Welt that an institute staffer informed the journalists that “[y]ou cannot talk about Xi Jinping as a normal person, he is supposed to be untouchable and unmentionable now.”
Item - The One Belt, One Road program has produced useful roads, ports, hospitals and schools. It also has a good share of failures. It has also created debt dependents of countries in Africa and the middle east; or if not debt dependents, policy dependents. Note how quiet the Muslim majority nations have been with regard to persecution of Muslims in Xinjiang. Per a report by AidData, a research unit at William and Mary University, there are now 42 countries with China debt in excess of 10% of GDP. That alone is not necessarily disturbing, but the China debt is on much more expensive and tighter terms than loans from the IMF or other international aid and lending organizations. Many of the loans do not have transparent terms or goals – except to tie foreign governments closer to Chinese suzerainty. Here is a good description of one OBOR project, the Laos-China Railway.
What OBOR has done is create alliances with individual foreign leaders and many angered or at least miffed foreign citizens. My African students in China were not fans of any OBOR projects. They saw colonialism come again. Chinese tend not to hire Africans for the projects, or hire them for only lower level jobs. Corruption and environmental problems come with the projects just as the debt.
About a million Chinese now reside in Africa, engaged in businesses in every sector.
A good analysis of Chinese investment and intentions in Africa is from the Indian Observer Research Foundation in China in Africa: The Role of Trade, Investments, and Loans Amidst Shifting Geopolitical Ambitions. From the report -
A 2021 research paper by Anna Gelpern, professor of Law at Georgetown University, has analyzed the structure of Chinese loans to Africa and other developing nations…. According to Gelpern, Chinese contracts contain confidentiality clauses that bar borrowers from revealing the terms or even the existence of the debt. Second, Chinese lenders seek advantage over other creditors by using collateral arrangements such as lender-controlled revenue accounts, and committing to keep the debt out of collective restructuring (“no Paris Club” clauses). Third, cancellation, acceleration, and stabilization clauses in Chinese contracts potentially allow the lenders to influence debtors’ domestic and foreign policies.
These default provisions – holding local assets in escrow, demanding priority treatment outside of normal restructuring, direct access to revenue accounts – are evidence for many of the neo-colonialist intentions of Chinese investments. China has been willing to make loans without demanding much in terms of governance reforms or anti-corruption measures. The result for potential revenue producing projects, according to the Gelpern work cited, has been projects bound by draconian lending terms that are expensive to operate and unlikely to ever see decent returns. One might add, precisely like many infrastructure projects in China over the last twenty years.
The projects are a series of nation to nation contracts, often signed to great fanfare between Mr. Xi and the foreign leader, rather than a systematic development program. The result is a sort of tributary relationship, with China as the focus of tribute. This is repeating the ancient pattern of relations with the foreign barbarians. (Pye, International Relations in Asia).
OBOR projects have multiple benefits for China other than providing jobs for Chinese and uses for steel and copper and cement. China does not want to use GPS as a global navigation system – too unreliable if not controlled by CCP. China wants to establish its own system, but it does not have base stations throughout the world as does the US. Countries that join the OBOR family are supposed to join the China Digital Silkroad (DSR) network named Beidou, permit Beidou ground stations in their country and use Huawei technology. The DSR will bring telecommunications networks, payment systems, and anything needed for a digital society to OBOR partners. At the same time, the Chinese military and CCP will know where anything and everyone is in those countries at any time. Elizabeth Economy has a good outline of how OBOR will help remake international systems in Xi Jinping's New World Order. She writes -
Unlike traditional infrastructure investment supported by multilateral institutions, such as the World Bank and the Asian Development Bank, China is a one-stop shop. It provides the financing and the labor and materials for its projects; in many instances, it also skips time-consuming evaluations of financial risk, processes of transparent and open bidding, and assessments of environmental and social impacts. It is China’s own development model gone global.
Xi wants to remake world institutions to China's advantage, and in this OBOR has provided some success. A minor example - Xi threatened to block agricultural exports from Brazil and Uruguay if the two countries did not support China's nominee to the leadership of the UN Food and Agricultural Organization.
The Central Propaganda Department has issued instructions that no map of all the OBOR infrastructure project and Beidou connections is to be published – just like the old days, when there were no maps of China for fear of attack from the west. Maps were classified documents.
Per an April 2021 article in the Diplomat, Beidou provides for GPS locations and e-commerce, taxi-hailing, financial technology, and education technology platforms and apps, as well as hardware such as routers, smartphones, and PCs. It will link local systems to the main Chinese system, with all the risks that implies, permit China to set global standards for digital infrastructure, and permit China to influence local politics directly or indirectly. These efforts seem like quite a success for CCP. But civil society will not benefit.
Chinese often say Americans are simple and naïve. This seems particularly true with regard to thinking about OBOR. Aside from the infrastructure and market development, there are international financial and governance goals. A good summary was provided by Renmin University professor of international relations Di Dongsheng in November 2020. Excerpts are at Neocolonialism and Belt and Road Agenda at Lei's Real Talk, a good source for current analysis.
A “community of common destiny for mankind” is how Xi describes his vision of the new world coming from the benevolent foreign policy of New China. The phrase was Hu Jintao’s originally. Xi has continued to use it, and the phrase is now near the end of the long preamble to the Chinese Constitution.
The Neocolonialism and Belt and Road Agenda video is worth watching for its description of global ambitions, expressed superiority of Chinese over other cultures, and intention to dominate via communications, money and finance first in OBOR states. This is Professor Di’s personal vision and it goes a bit over the top on creation of a billion new “Chinese” around the world subservient to CCP, but it rings true with general Chinese ambitions. The government should control any and all entities within every country – he didn’t say which country, and I don’t think China wants direct control. That would be too obvious. But background political control, as he says China has now in the US, would suffice.
Control speech outside China – threats and posturing
Item - In good power projection style, China is seeking to harm or cancel civil society ventures in other countries. Rana Siu Inboden has an excellent summary in Foreign Policy China is Choking Civil Society at the United Nations. Seven NGO seeking permission to participate in United Nations proceedings were denied on May 21, 2021 because their NGO website failed to use the “correct” terminology for Taiwan. The background reason for much of the Chinese blocking has to do with the mission of the NGO as a human rights organization whether it attempts to work in China or not. China is coordinating NGO blocking with pliant other countries, which block applicants for China. For blocked NGO another application is not available for two years.
In a related development, China regularly asks the UN Human Rights Commission for – and receives - names of Uyghur dissidents outside China who are scheduled to speak at international events. This despicable UN practice has been going on since 2013. The names can then be used to threaten Uyghurs outside China with retribution against their parents or relatives in Xinjiang if they speak out against Uyghur terrorism. I suppose this says as much about the immorality of UN senior staff as it does about China, but it indicates the manner in which China intends to exert control over international organizations, formally and informally. In 2020, a Chinese official was appointed to the Human Rights Council in Geneva. He will assist representatives from only four other countries in appointing UN monitors on health, freedom of speech, arbitrary detention, and forced disappearances. I suppose from the UN perspective, this is a good move, to appoint someone with direct experience.
Item - In a new legal development, CCP is blocking foreign businesses anywhere in the world from initiating trade secret (IP) lawsuits against Chinese companies anywhere in the world. See the September 29, 2021 Harris Bricken post Chinese courts' anti-suit injunctions reveal a stark new reality. And from the Wall Street Journal and Granthshala -
In four major cases since 2020, Chinese courts granted so-called anti-suit injunctions, preventing foreign companies from taking legal action anywhere in the world to protect their trade secrets…. Three decisions were in favor of Chinese telecom companies-Huawei Technologies Co., Xiaomi Inc., and BBK Electronics. Fourth Supported South Korea Samsung’s Samsung Electronics Corp. is in dispute with Swedish telecom giant Ericsson AB.
In appears that China might decide to no longer keep its promises to enforce IP and copyright and patent laws. I don’t know how this works – must be a treaty involved – but it is clearer now than ever before (if such clarity was needed) that Chinese courts will go out of their way to not take cases or make awards to foreign companies.
Item – It says in the Chinese Constitution that China respects the sovereignty of other countries. They must have forgotten that passage in the constitution when they wrote the law above. But forgetting about sovereignty of other countries is not a new memory malfunction. The PCAOB mess has been brewing for almost two decades. The Public Company Accounting Oversight Board (PCAOB) was created in 2002 in the wake of the Enron et.al. scandals. It is charged with ensuring that the accounting companies for American stock exchange listed companies are not cooking the books in favor of their clients. Accounting companies are to make their audit papers available to staff of the PCAOB for review. Companies that do not comply are subject to being delisted from the stock exchanges.
Now, almost twenty years after creation of the PCAOB it is still unable to inspect the audit papers of Chinese companies. CCP says all these private companies have data that would endanger national or company security if revealed.
A 2013 (!) Reuters article noted that investors have lost billions of dollars on US stock exchanges from Chinese accounting scandals. The American “Big Four” accounting companies are implicated as well, since they have fiercely resisted having to comply with the US law.
One can only marvel at the stupidity and irresponsibility of the Congress that has allowed this fraud to fester for almost twenty years. But in late 2021, it appears that China will get away with never having its companies’ audit papers inspected. Other countries comply. China gets special rules. Frauds like Lukin and China Medical Technologies will continue to take in American investor money. Evergrande, the major real estate developer that is in danger of bankruptcy in late 2021 got a clean audit bill of health from Price Waterhouse Coopers. How did that happen? Arthur Anderson was forced out of business.
American companies find themselves in rough waters, trying to appease two riled up populations and governments at odds. This is the classic dilemma – the law firm Mayer Brown representing Hong Kong University sent a letter to the Hong Kong Alliance in Support of Patriotic Democratic Movements of China ordering that a two-decade old statue be removed. The uproar in Hong Kong and the US, and probably within Mayer Brown, led the firm to withdraw its representation of HKU on this matter – which of course led to derisive calls from the mainland. Story at WaPo here.
Wechat is pretty ubiquitous now, certainly in China, among Chinese outside China, and even non-Chinese outside China. Now we know that no wechat conversation is safe anytime anywhere. Some of my Chinese government friends warned me on Wechat when I spoke disparagingly of our former dear leader. They were concerned not about someone listening in the US, but about someone listening in China and assuming my comments were about Xi not Trump.
Item - A problem in the form of another contradiction – aggressive nationalism works well at home but does not translate well into the kind of soft power China needs to project with the western world. Aggressive foreign policy may work fine with less developed countries with less powerful leaders, but for stable democracies – threats just make people angry.
The Chinese film industry suffers as a result. Movies don’t translate well when required to show formulaic Chinese heroes defeating all comers, including westerners. Such films do well in China, though. Steven Zhou in Quartz in 2016 - China Against the World - such conspicuously reappearing themes represent a clear reflection of how public opinion on the country’s historical and contemporary place in the world interacts with national identity.
But American movies do so well in China that the government is forced to severely restrict the market so Chinese movies can prosper. Soft power, indeed.
Item - Be Careful You Don't Die in an Accident is typical of dozens of daily phone or email threats received by a Hong Kong protester now living in Canada. This type of story has been common online for at least five years now.
Item – Part of the international propaganda effort is silencing foreign voices. Typical –Twitter suspended the account of New Zealand China scholar Anne-Marie Brady for her mocking comment of Xi on the 100th anniversary of founding of CCP.
Item – In history China has always wanted to deal one-to-one with foreign countries. Entangling alliances, as Washington reminded the nascent US, were to be avoided. In this more interconnected world, China has found it to its advantage to join international organizations and seek to influence or lead them by way of securing policies to its favor. In 2021, China has leadership of four of the twelve specialized agencies at the United Nations – the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), the International Telecommunication Union (ITU), the United Nations Industrial Development Organization (UNIDP), and the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO).
One small example of China control at the UN is from Foreign Policy regarding sanctions on North Korea - It Was Like Having the Chinese Government in the Room with Us. The Chinese government wants to assert itself as a champion of multilateralism while air-brushing evidence of its own violations of sanctions. From the article – Beijing’s strategy has largely focused on sanitizing investigations that have shed light on Chinese sanctions violations and blocking the reappointment of panel experts that have uncovered evidence of Chinese weaponry in territory subject to U.N. sanctions.
Former National Security Advisor Robert O’Brien has an excellent summary in Foreign Affairs - How China Threatens American Democracy -
Beijing uses the leaders of these agencies to co-opt international institutions, parrot its talking points, and install Chinese telecommunications equipment in their facilities. Secretary-General Zhao Houlin of the International Telecommunications Union has aggressively promoted Huawei sales; International Civil Aviation Organization Secretary-General Fang Liu blocked Taiwan’s participation in General Assembly meetings and covered up a Chinese cyber-hack of the organization. China’s membership on the UN Human Rights Council has enabled the CCP to prevent criticism of its abuses in Hong Kong, Tibet, and Xinjiang. In many cases, the CCP’s reach extends to the heads of international organizations who are not themselves Chinese officials. Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus of the World Health Organization dutifully repeated false Chinese talking points on the novel coronavirus outbreak—even opposing international travel restrictions on China while praising China’s own domestic travel restrictions.
I was angered in January of 2020 when Ghebreyesus kept praising China for its openness and downplaying the seriousness of the virus as my wife was torn apart by news in Wuhan. Anyone watching could see the virus was going international quickly, and Ghebreyesus said nothing. He was clearly under somebody’s thumb.
Item – one of the more despicable practices is persecution in China of family members of Chinese in the US. They may have lived in the US for years, obtained a green card. The Chinese in the US may be accused of bribery or theft in China. They may be completely innocent of any wrongdoing whatsoever, but are related to someone in China that the government can get access to. The concept is to harass, threaten, cajole expat Chinese into cooperation by threatening their family in China.
In some countries with an extradition treaty with China, people can simply be spirited out of the country back to China. A detailed story is at ProPublica - Operation Fox Hunt: How China Exports Repression Using a Network of Spies Hidden in Plain Sight
The ProPublica story involves a police officer from Wuhan who obtained a tourist visa to the US and then began a four-year long hunt for his victims. He recruited a young Chinese boy to act as a driver and investigator, along with 18 other Chinese and American operatives – hired thugs and private detectives. When they found the target, they flew the target’s ailing father from China to New Jersey to act as an “emotional bomb.”
Operation Fox Hunt was launched in 2014 by the Chinese government to induce or forcibly return expats to the mainland to stand for accusations of crimes. It is part of the Xi Jinping anti-corruption campaign. From the ProPublica expose -
…. Operation Fox Hunt and a program called Operation Sky Net claim to have caught more than 8,000 international fugitives. The targets are not murderers or drug lords, but Chinese public officials and businesspeople accused — justifiably and not — of financial crimes. Some of them have set up high-rolling lives overseas with lush mansions and millions in offshore accounts. But others are dissidents, whistleblowers or relatively minor figures swept up in provincial conflicts.
This practice represents the willingness of the Chinese government to violate international rules to enforce conformity and repress dissent within China. US national security officials say hundreds of Chinese in the US have been targeted since 2014, including US citizens and legal immigrants. Relatives in China have been harassed, jailed, and tortured. Sometimes, recordings of hostage-like videos are sent to the United States.
The message is that no one in the world is beyond the reach of CCP. Tibetans, Hong Kongers, Uyghurs, and Falun Gong practitioners are targets. In the previous section I mentioned Desmond Shum and his wife Whitney Duan. Shum is the author of Red Roulette, the book exposing inner workings of CCP at a high level. The phone calls he received from his wife suggest Fox Hunt type treatment.
Item – Hong Kong is now part of the mainland; Taiwan is not. CCP has employed thugs and triad gangs in both places to harass those who criticize CCP and disrupt politics. A Foreign Policy article from 2018 describes the tactics - Nice Democracy You've Got There. Be a Shame if Something Happened to It.
In Hong Kong, journalists and legislators who spoke too freely about democracy were stabbed, beaten, threatened with pipes and pipe bombs. Now the tactics have moved to Taiwan, where a triad-cum-political party called the China Unification Promotion Party seeks not to win elections, but to sow misinformation, mistrust, and violent protest. Again, not very civil.
Control foreigners and Chinese outside China
Chinese students are monitored all the time they are in the US or Australia, and presumably other countries as well. Organizations with names like “Office for Coordination of Chinese Abroad” are part of United Front activities. Quite a few of our government students in Chicago were from organizations such as that. I was naïve back in the early days. I asked, what are you doing for students abroad? Sending them baseball scores? The answer was to provide information on what was happening in China, in their home town. It sounded fishy, but seventeen or eighteen years ago, I didn’t know better.
There are many stories of threats to students coming from other Chinese student classmates, an anonymous phone call from the police department back home, or a hysterical call from parents.
The local branch of the Chinese Students and Scholars Association is often the monitor of speech and behavior.
A ProPublica piece describes some recent incidents –
Even on US Campuses, China Cracks Down on Students Who Speak Out. Students face similar threats in Australia. University administrators nearly always fail to protect the free speech rights of Chinese students. So much for honoring the mission of the university.
Item - Canadian police investigated hundreds of threats including threats of murder aimed at Chemi Lhamo after she was elected student union president at the University of Toronto in 2019. Her offense was purely ethnic – she is a Canadian citizen but of Tibetan heritage. She was forced to develop a safety plan with the university police, informing them hour by hour of her whereabouts as a protection against harm from students at the campus. She had no particular school position on Tibet or China, but to those threatening her … well, obviously she was a threat to China by virtue of her existence. More at Canadian Broadcasting Corporation.
Another incident in 2019
Another incident occurred at McMaster University in Hamilton, where five Chinese student groups protested the university’s decision to allow a talk by Rukiye Turdush, a Canadian citizen of Uyghur background. Turdush discussed human-rights abuses against the Uyghurs, a Muslim minority group in China whose persecution has been well documented by Western media and human-rights organizations.
A statement posted by the Chinese students said the talk incited anti-China hatred, and mentioned they had notified their home country’s consulate in Toronto. Chinese students filmed the talk, presumably with the intent to inform on fellow Chinese students who might have attended.
Let’s remember that in both these cases, it is a Canadian citizen who was being targeted. Involvement of the Chinese consulate in these matters in a dangerous precedent, but it is now expected.
Item - In 2017, students at the University of California at San Diego protested a commencement speech by the Dalai Lama. What was considered a coup in obtaining such a distinguished speaker turned into quite a brouhaha as Chinese students, directed by the Chinese consulate, protested an address by the Tibetan spiritual leader - who fled Tibet when CCP invaded in the 1950s and retains his spiritual following worldwide.
In all these student issues there is coordination and possibly funding from the Chinese Students and Scholars Association (CSSA) an organization funded by the Propaganda Ministry in Beijing. The students in all these cases, including the protests against Australian student support for Hong Kong students in 2019, seemed not to notice the irony in protesting speech that they themselves would never be permitted to undertake at home in China.
Item – Threats to individual university faculty are among the more despicable acts emerging from the Propaganda Ministry. A prime example is that of Anne Marie Brady, professor at the University of Canterbury in New Zealand, who wrote Magic Weapons, an in-depth analysis of CCP’s active intrusion into government and university in the west. These activities of the United Front organizations in CCP are designed to weaken resistance to Chinese foreign policy and influence local politics. After publishing the article in 2017, Brady’s home and office were broken into. Chinese spy services or local hired thugs were suspected of the intimidation.
Item - The Confucius Institutes (CI) were a great success for a decade, until they became associated with warping of academic values and involvement – rightly or not – with campus disruptions and monitoring of Chinese students in American universities.
Perhaps the seminal incident was the Xu Lin incident, in which the CI leader censored – physically tore out pages – from the agenda booklet for a minor academic conference in Portugal, because the agenda mentioned funding from Taiwan. This created a significant academic incident internationally.
CI are now no longer emblematic of a Chinese soft power. Dozens of American universities including the University of Chicago have severed ties with their local Confucius Institute. If academic institutions are to honestly seek the truth, then the Confucius Institutes by association with practices of lying, suppression of civil rights, and personal threats to students and faculty, could no longer be good partners.
Hanban is the name of the Chinese sponsor of the CI. For years it claimed to be only part of the Ministry of Education, but its funding came partly from the Propaganda Ministry xuanchuanbu. Internally, CI were praised as significant to the CCP foreign propaganda message. In 2020 Hanban announced a renaming of Confucius Institutes to the Center for Language Education and Cooperation. In what can only be seen as more lying, Hanban said the Confucius Institutes were handed over to something called the Chinese International Education Foundation, which is described as a "non-governmental private organization." There is no such thing as a non-governmental private organization created by the government and not entirely beholden to CCP. Marshall Sahlins at the University of Chicago has an excellent summary of the CI academic integrity problem in a Nation article in 2013.
In a minor way, this fraud on popular understanding illustrates the Chinese version of a 2016 Rand Corporation perspective piece on the Russian Firehose of Falsehood propaganda model. This intentional means of communication involves repeated, multi-channel, continuous and repetitive statements unconnected to objective reality and without concern for consistency of message. It is the Chinese attempt at the Big Lie – that if you repeat something often enough and loud enough, people will start to believe it.
The trifecta of cyber laws
In the last three years CCP has implemented laws to protect Chinese consumers while giving CCP absolute authority to demand from foreign businesses any and all customer data, IP, financial information, and anything stored on computer servers in China.
The Personal Information Protection Law (PIPL) came into effect November 1, 2021. The impact of the law is to make it very difficult for foreign businesses to process customer data. Yahoo announced it was leaving China the day the law came into effect.
Arlo Kipfer at China LawBlog -
The PIPL joins China’s Cybersecurity Law, implemented in June, 2017, and its Data Security Law, implemented in September 2021. China now has a trifecta of laws to make things difficult for foreign businesses. As my law firm’s lead China lawyer, Steve Dickinson, wrote in 2019:
Under the Cybersecurity Law, the Chinese government has the right to obtain from any person or entity in China any information the Chinese government deems has any impact on Chinese security. The Chinese government understands that foreign companies and individuals will be reluctant to simply turn over their information to the Chinese government when asked. For that reason, the Chinese Cybersecurity Bureau does not plan to politely make a formal request for the information. The fundamental premise of the new cybersecurity systems is that the government will use its control of communications to simply take the information without discussing the matter with the user. All data will be open to the Chinese government.
Per the 2016 cybersecurity law, all businesses in China, foreign or domestic, must provide any and all business data (!) to CCP upon demand. If the data has crossed the border into China, CCP owns it. From Steve Dickinson at China LawBlog –
This system will apply to foreign owned companies in China on the same basis as to all Chinese persons, entities or individuals. No information contained on any server located within China will be exempted from this full coverage program. No communication from or to China will be exempted. There will be no secrets. No VPNs. No private or encrypted messages. No anonymous online accounts. No trade secrets. No confidential data. Any and all data will be available and open to the Chinese government.
Talk about transparency. Hacking is no longer required, and theft no longer exists. Taking what one wants is completely legal for CCP. Make the foreigner serve China, indeed.
A new national security law was implemented June 30, 2020 as part of the CCP devolution of Hong Kong democracy. The law applies to Hong Kong and the mainland and – apparently – all people in the world, even when speaking in their home countries.
Law professor Don Clarke has an analysis at The China Collection that finds the law chilling in its extraterritoriality.
Suppose a US newspaper columnist advocates Tibetan independence in their column. They are not liable under mainland criminal law. But they are liable under the Nat Sec Law. If you’ve ever said anything that might offend the PRC or Hong Kong authorities, stay out of Hong Kong.
It gets much worse than simply not going to Hong Kong. Any nation that has an extradition treaty with the PRC could detain a local citizen for transfer to China for prosecution under the new law.
The Sydney Morning Herald has the story about the British Foreign Office -
British Foreign Office warns Lord Alton, Luke de Pulford, me and two others that we may be extradited by China under their new national security law for advocating for Magnitsky sanctions against Hong Kong officials involved in their democracy crackdown…. They then warned each individual including the MPs that they were potentially at risk if they were to travel to any of those if those countries had also a history of acquiescing to Chinese extradition requests.
Browder said the meaning of the conversation was clear: “They said afterwards they wanted to make me aware that the national security law doesn’t just apply to people in Hong Kong but that it could apply to foreigners like myself and [for me] to draw my own conclusions and judgements.”
Note: China has signed treaties with at least 59 countries, but not all of them are ratified.
Sources: Hong Kong Department of Justice, Ministry of Foreign Affairs of China, Xinhua, People's Procurement of Guangdong Province, Central Commission for Discipline Inspection, Ministry of Home Affairs and Cultural Heritage of Zimbabwe Twitter Page (via Bloomberg).
We know much of the buffoonishness is meant for local Chinese consumption. Nevertheless, individuals who write or read things of which CCP disapproves could find themselves detained when they get to China.
Hong Kong pro-democracy activists who fled when the national security law came into effect are being careful to not travel to countries that might send them back to China at CCP request. Axios China - With new security law, China outlaws global activism. Article 38 of the law - "This Law shall apply to offences under this Law committed against the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region from outside the Region by a person who is not a permanent resident of the Region." There is no reason to presume that an offense against the mainland is not also an offense against Hong Kong.
From the Axios article –
Earlier this year a Chinese student at the University of Minnesota was sentenced to six months in prison after returning home to China for the summer, for a tweet criticizing Xi Jinping that he posted while in the U.S.
Chinese officials have also threatened people of Chinese heritage abroad who are no longer Chinese citizens, in some cases kidnapping them, taking them back to China, and forcing them to renounce their foreign citizenship so that Chinese authorities can prosecute them as Chinese nationals without foreign involvement.
Readers of this piece, be forewarned. No one is safe from CCP, even outside China.
I don’t think we need fear world moral freedom will be destroyed by implementation of one CCP law. But the willingness to write such laws is the frightening thing. International law means nothing, and apparently sovereignty of nations – an oft-used Chinese meme – applies to China and nowhere else.
Item - The Interparliamentary Alliance on China is an international cross-party group of legislators working to reform the approach of democratic countries to China. The group recently began issuing “Do not extradite” cards to individuals in countries with an extradition treaty with China who are in fear of being kidnapped or otherwise returned to China against their will. Members of legislatures around the world have joined in a pledge to advocate on behalf of persecuted groups or individuals at risk of extradition. A sample card is below –
Item – to subdue the enemy without fighting is the acme of skill (Sunzi). Part of the United Front work in the US is to develop relationships at the state and local levels of government. Among the techniques is the “sister cities” bonding, originally developed by President Eisenhower in the 1950s. On the face of it, this program is designed to further understanding and exchanges. There are sister city programs with cities all over the world, and there is certainly nothing wrong with understanding and exchanges.
The deception comes into play when sister city programs and others sponsored by United Front seek to co-opt governors and mayors on national policy, such as US government policy on human rights, trade, and moral freedoms.
Sister Cities is perhaps the best known of the United Front activities, but there are many other state and local level forums and programs sponsored by United Front designed to put the China view of the world in the heads of state legislators, mayors and governors. Again, there should be nothing wrong with such meetings and exchanges. The difficulty arises when CCP agents compromise local politicians, as described by Bethany Allen-Ibrahimian in Suspected Chinese Spy Targeted California Politicians.
The Foundation for Defense of Democracies produced a report on such co-option All Over the Map - The Chinese Communist Party's Subnational Interests in the United States. The report describes tactics as outlined in a 2019 Tsinghua evaluation of US governors’ attitudes to China. The Tsinghua evaluation produced the map below -
Part of the United Front concept is that mayors and governors can influence state and national policy toward China in the short term. In the long term some local and state leaders will become national leaders. Nothing ventured, nothing gained.
Item – commercial hostage taking in business disputes Dan Harris has a paper in the Thunderbird International Business Review - Commercial Hostages in International Business Disputes. Counting roughly, one can figure on ten to a dozen foreign businessperson hostage situations per year in China, although there are likely many more cases that do not get reported in media or government sources. From the article –
Thus, on the one hand, the taking of a commercial hostage is unambiguously prohibited by current Chinese law; the drafters foresaw this category of behavior and explicitly made it a criminal offense. On the other hand, it appears that commercial hostage situations, both local-to-local and local-to-foreigner, continue to be socially accepted and continue to take place. The authors have also heard of (and witnessed) reports of the police doing nothing about it, or worse, actively assisting it, and we are not aware of any instance where a commercial hostage-taker has been criminally prosecuted for detaining a foreigner.
Item- the old IP theft story Theft of intellectual property has been in the news for decades now. Many of the early stories were simply cases of taking advantage when the foreign supplier just failed to protect their IP. In recent years the theft has become a matter of some pride in China – “look what we were able to get!” Of course there are the cases of business theft in which the Chinese company purposely makes more of the contracted item than specified, then sells the item on its own in China and elsewhere in the world. Of course there are the cases of the Chinese company stealing molds or refusing to return them, and making the product on its own. Of course there are the cases of registering a trade name or design in China in advance of the foreign supplier, making it impossible for the foreign supplier to get its own product delivered. Of course there are the cases of the Chinese company, even under a non-disclosure agreement, simply giving foreign IP to the brother-in-law of the owner and claiming innocence. And of course there are the Chinese courts that bend over backwards not to hold Chinese companies liable in cases with foreign businesses.
China LawBlog writes often on such cases. They point out that enforcement of law in China has gotten better in the last decade, and foreign companies are no longer routinely denied relief. But it is good to remember that there is no rule of law, courts work for CCP, and national law can suffer under local interpretation.
Theft conducted within the US or European countries is a bit more unseemly. In a typical case a researcher, usually within a university, has spent years outside China and conducted useful work. The research contracts always require confidentiality, and explicitly require disclosure of any potentially competing sources of income that could compromise that confidentiality. At some point it become known that the researcher has had long standing employment or contractual arrangements with a unit in China, violating contract terms in the US.
As of 2019, the FBI has well over 1000 cases of economic or IP theft, nearly all leading back to China. In 2020, FBI director Christopher Wray delivered his remarks about the Thousand Talents Program, a Chinese government program to lure scientific and engineering “sea turtles” back to the homeland with lavish offers of salary and custom fitted laboratories. I have seen buildings built specifically for “sea turtle” purposes, and they are impressive. It is not always Chinese who have these arrangements. From the Wray remarks –
In a similar vein, Charles Lieber, chair of Harvard’s Department of Chemistry and Chemical Biology, was indicted just last month for making false statements to federal authorities about his Thousand Talents participation. The United States has alleged that Lieber concealed from both Harvard and the NIH his position as a strategic scientist at a Chinese university—and the fact that the Chinese government was paying him, through the Wuhan Institute of Technology, a $50,000 monthly stipend, more than $150,000 in living expenses, and more than $1.5 million to establish a laboratory back in China.
Aside from political and economic considerations, these are all cases of lying, and lying so brazen and widespread that it is not surprising to be suspicious of Chinese actions everywhere. That is extremely unfortunate for honest Chinese everywhere, who can be damaged simply by their name or country of birth.
For the lying researchers, it is nice work if you can get it. And you can get it, if you try.
Trade – you’re not in Kansas anymore
There is no reason for Americans to assume that business practices in China should be as they are in the US, but too many American business owners have gone into China without preparation at all. I remember a remarkable interview circa 2005 with a young American MBA in finance who raised several hundred thousand dollars and went to China with the purpose of teaching the locals how it is done in America. In the interview he talked about how quickly he lost all the money.
Times are different now, but dangers lurk for foreigners doing business in China and importing products from China. Both foreign and Chinese companies are under severe pressure.
Chinese companies are emboldened by government wolf warrior attitudes but at the same time, they are under pressure from increased government scrutiny at home and uncertain markets abroad.
Within China foreign companies face worse environments as well. Failures of civility and social capital in dealing with foreigners is an old story – not to mention any sort of due process or fair treatment in law. It is worse now, and likely to worsen still. China LawBlog has written often about dealing with Chinese businesses that fail in their contract obligations. Good luck getting money returned or molds returned. The IP was stolen long ago.
Item – Dan Harris writes about three kinds of hostage taking in China, legal and illegal. This post is in response to the apparent ending of the taking of the two Michaels who were held for almost three years. In hostage situations in China, foreigners should expect no help from the police even if the taking is illegal. David Dawson in Foreign Policy - Hostage Taking is China's Small-Claims Court.
You know something of the Two Michaels story. The point is that hostage diplomacy is now a common tool. Dan Harris has written about Chinese hostage taking several times over the years. Two Americans were also held for ransom as part of the Meng Wanzhou Huawei deal. More than a hundred Canadians remain imprisoned in China, some held incommunicado and without being charged with any crime.
The takeaway from China LawBlog (and from the work of any experienced business writer) is this – is there another major American trading partner for which the best business and travel advice screams “Danger, danger, danger!”?
Dan Harris. Meng Wenzhou, the Two Michaels and China Hostage Taking: What YOU Need to Know. China LawBlog, September 26, 2021. Available at https://harrisbricken.com/chinalawblog/meng-wenzhou-the-two-michaels-and-china-hostage-taking-what-you-need-to-know/
Harris suggested in October 2021 that trade relations with the US would only get worse, and perhaps worse in a bad way. There are plenty of stories from the last couple of decades about American businessmen being kidnapped in China over fake debts owed, and the Chinese police will do nothing to assist. Now, with the threats from CCP and the kidnapping of the Two Michaels it is clear kidnapping is now a matter of national policy.
Item – a different kind of hostage taking has been going on in Xinjiang since 2017. There are many first hand reports from those who were imprisoned there, and many stories about Uyghurs outside China whose relatives in Xinjiang are threatened by CCP if the outsiders do not return or fail to remain silent. This is despicable behavior. Civil society this is not.
The Uyghur Human Rights Project developed a three level model of transnational repression. More than 5000 Uyghurs living outside China have been subjected to Level 1 warnings and threats. Their detailed report is at "Your Family Will Suffer": How China is Hacking, Surveilling, and Intimidating Uyghurs in Liberal Democracies. The levels of repression are below -
Of Uyghurs surveyed outside China, 95.8% of respondents felt that they faced digital threats. Digital threats were of three kinds –
- Watering hole attack: When attackers make a fake website that looks like a website their target audience might visit but contains malware
- Phishing attack: Counterfeit communications (email, message, etc.) that appear to come from a reliable source but can compromise an individual or organization’s accounts or personal data (e.g., by coaxing targets into giving an attacker their username and password), give an outsider access to compromise networks or systems, or hold computer networks ransom (i.e., ransomware). Phishing attacks can also be used to download malware onto a target’s devices.
- Spear phishing attack: A subset of phishing that targets specific individuals rather than a group. Attackers often tailor these emails and messages to their specific targets, using content and linguistic cues to encourage their target to compromise their account, or to click on a link or download a file containing malware.
Marx was right, though
One of the insidious results of the wolf warrior diplomacy is the abject kowtow by American business. Businesses right and left are changing maps and schedules and web sites to erase Taiwan from … if not memory, at least from current plans.
Item - If American businesses needed any help in that regard, the Chinese embassy in Washington has been using letters and meetings with US business executives to warn them of US government actions that might threaten their business interests and revenues in China. From Reuters - China Embassy Lobbies US Business to Oppose China Bills. This sort of diplomacy threatens blowback from US government agencies, but it undoubtedly has some positive effects from the CCP perspective. For American businesses, a bit like being invited for tea – the informal threat from the police.
Hollywood movie studios alter content and locations to ensure Chinese censors are appeased. In 2018 Marriott Hotels fired an employee who used a company social media account to like – like - a post about Tibet.
The western world has been very slow to appreciate the extent and ferocity of CCP intrusion into telecom, political and social networks outside China. Politicians don’t want to upset local businesses that trade with China, and many businesses seem quite willing to sell the rope. A few examples -
Item - Within the US, one might remember the bad welds on portions of the new Oakland Bay bridge, bridge deck supports manufactured in China, with welding done in China in exposed conditions in the rain (a big no-no) and no valid Chinese inspection. The American project leaders (none of them engineers) did charge the project for trips and expensive stays in China, but apparently not to inspect the work being done there.
The Chinese contractor did not seem to care. It had never done a project of that scale before and it was able to earn millions more dollars to fix some of the poor quality work. If the American bridge builder was angry, what should that mean to the Chinese contractor? Caveat emptor.
Item - Big businesses kowtow pretty easily. From Robert O’Brien’s Foreign Affairs article cited above - How China Threatens American Democracy -
American, Delta, and United airlines all removed references to Taiwan from their schedules, websites and inflight magazines to appease CCP. Mercedes Benz apologized for posting an inspirational quote from the Dalai Lama. MGM digitally changed the nationality of an invading military from Chinese to North Korean in a remake of the movie Red Dawn. In the credits for its 2020 remake of Mulan, Disney thanked public security and propaganda bureaus in Xinjiang, where the CCP has locked up millions of minorities in concentration camps.
Pressure has increased on American companies to not buy products made in Xinjiang under concentration camp conditions. This will help reorient some supply chains. In any case, American companies will face dilemmas – appease CCP in China or follow American law. Trying to appease CCP exposes companies to labor, environmental and financial liabilities, not to mention market pressures as US consumers steer away from association with scummy businesses. There is, of course, a similar tendency in China, for consumers to avoid American products if the US company fails to follow CCP in all respects.
It does get a bit complicated. Businesses can follow the lead of their home nation. But western governments have been extremely negligent in calling China out for human rights violations, for the last forty years, particularly the last twenty. So what is a business to do? As Anne Applebaum explains in The Bad Guys Are Winning the list of major American corporations caught in tangled webs of personal, financial, and business links to autocratic regimes is very long. Why should they stick their necks out if the US government won’t?
You know some of the dilemma stories. One of the more recent is the conundrum about sponsoring or promoting the 2022 Winter Olympics in Beijing. Corporate sponsors have been accused of ignoring China’s human rights record, particularly with regard to Uyghrs. According to Human Rights Watch only one of the top thirteen sponsors has seen fit to reply to questions about sponsorship. The corporate response seems to be that they support the Olympics and the athletes, regardless of local politics. For Coca-Cola, Proctor and Gamble, Intel and Visa there will be fallout, however they choose to respond.
Apple has both sales and supply problems in China. A substantial part of Apple’s profits are in China, and the iPhone is assembled there. The problems are described in Inside Tim Cook's Secret $275 Billion Deal with Chinese Authorities. Perhaps the least of the concessions was to enhance the size of the Diaoyu Dao, the islands contested with Japan in the East China Sea. Apple promised to do its part to develop China’s economy and technological prowess. On the one hand, nothing that is too surprising. On the other, apple’s agreement is clearly under pressure from CCP. One can ask what kind of response Apple would have to a request from the US government to do the same in the US.
Intel initially told its suppliers to not buy from companies in Xinjiang. The reaction in China was swift. The Chinese boy band TFBoys withdrew its support of Intel, and that seemed the final straw. TFBoys instructed Intel correctly - "National interests trump everything." Now Intel has apologized to China, as befits groveling before the ruler of all under heaven.
Ethical difficulties abound for foreign businesses, particularly American. In late 2021, CCP announced that it will punish foreign businesses that support Taiwan’s (democratically elected) pro-independence political party. China Targets Corporate Backers of Taiwan's Ruling Party. Not clear at this point what “support” means, but it is a way to further isolate Taiwan in the world. Foreign businesses may have to make choices that they shun making – money or ethics.
Item - In 2019, the NBA was banned in China and criticized strongly in the US for first, failing to punish executive Daryl Morley over a personal comment on Taiwan and then second, for failing to protect Morley and his free speech rights. There is no good way out for many American businesses.
Some will stay in China and weather the storm. A 2019 survey of 5,200 German companies in China indicated that only 3% had intentions of leaving. In general, companies that stay will tend to be the bigger companies with deeper financial and legal resources. Nike and Coca Cola, for example, lobbied against a bill banning goods made with forced labor in Xinjiang. For other companies, leaving will be the only smart choice.
Item - For some other American companies, China will remain a big payday. J.P. Morgan will be partnering with Alipay, the online payment arm of Alibaba, to offer a payment system that charges lower fees than the American credit card companies. Both consumers and merchants will like the lower fees. The Chinese government will like the access to millions of Americans’ spending patterns, down to which coffee shop they like. In September, CCP announced plans to break up Alipay’s parent company into two companies (an authoritarian government can do that to an otherwise private business) and force consumer data to be turned over to a new company owned partly by the government. Convenient? I should say. Alipay, like Wechat, collects information about, among other things, your health and fitness, location, contacts, user content, and search and browsing history. And we worry about our personal information being stolen. Courtesy of J.P. Morgan, we will soon be giving it away to CCP. The US government probably won’t have access, though, so we can feel secure about that. The American business press seems all agog. Who says China can’t innovate?
Quite a few large American companies or brands are now owned by Chinese companies or have a substantial share of ownership. AMC, the movie theater company, was owned by Wanda, until a sale was forced by CCP. Smithfield Foods whose brands include Armor, Eckrich, Krakus and Kretschmar is another. HSBC bank is 49% owned by a Chinese company and regularly freezes customer accounts at the request of CCP. GE Appliances and the Waldorf Astoria Hotel are owned by Chinese investors. Wilson Sporting Goods, makers of basketballs and baseball bats and gloves, is now owned by a Chinese company.
Item – Chinese companies CCP pressure to control Chinese internet data firms like Huawei and Ant and ByteDance will make it more difficult for them to sell in the west, since it is clear that under the 2016 cybersecurity law CCP can obtain any data they want from Chinese companies any time. At one time, hacking was the only way to obtain personal data. We forget about the 2017 Equifax hack by the Chinese military that obtained personal credit information on nearly 150 million Americans.
There are always new wrinkles in international business. The Chinese government is now sponsoring vocational colleges – called Luban Workshops – in central Asia and likely expanding elsewhere. The schools are training in technical areas such as industrial sensors, control and robotics technologies, machinery equipment manufacturing, and high-speed rail technologies. The students will work on Chinese technology with Chinese standards as a means of internationalizing Chinese tech. Chinese companies will of course be significant beneficiaries. These are likely to meet with more success than the Confucius Institutes now fallen from favor in much of the west.
It is time again to put in the caveat. There are many Chinese businesses run honestly and that honor their contract obligations. We should remember the American adage about a few bad apples spoiling the party for everyone. And perhaps it is unfair to expect civil behavior internationally from a society incapable of fostering it at home. Lucian Pye –
… interstate behavior in Asia has not operated according to the rules of international relations theories as advanced by either the Realist or the Neorealist schools….
While Asians can have a strong sense of culture and local identity, those feelings do not translate to the institutions of the modern state. As a result, Pye says,
they still have problems as to what are the ideals, values, and principles that they want to hold up as the essence of their national identities…. The Chinese are left without an uplifting sense of their collective identity, but rather must operate with only a shallow, essentially racist form of xenophobia which encourages a prickly distrust of outsiders.
Lucian Pye. International Relations in Asia: Culture, Nation, and State. Sigur Center for Asian Studies, July, 1998. Available at https://www2.gwu.edu/~sigur/assets/docs/scap/SCAP1-Pye.pdf
There is often little sense of relationship with foreign buyers or sellers. In business negotiations, a perceived victory for an American company is celebrated by Americans as a win for the company. In China, a perceived victory is celebrated by Chinese as a win for China.
No civil society … and simultaneous superiority and inferiority
Item - Lucian Pye told us that China has simultaneous superiority and inferiority tendencies. As to superiority, we know about the emperor as the Son of Heaven and zhongguo as the center of the universe (the North Star, they say, is directly over China). We know about countries expected to pay tribute to the emperor if they wished to trade with China. We know about China as insular and now, afraid of the import of western ideas about rights and freedoms. It is not just CCP that is afraid. Many Chinese people see America not as meiguo, the beautiful country, but as the barbarian that can destroy ancient and civilized Chinese culture.
China scholar John King Fairbank wrote about the Qing, and then communism in China in 1966 -
China as seen in the middle of the nineteenth century was most remarkable for its great cultural self-consciousness, a sense of its own history and superiority…. In the last analysis the Qing leadership lacked the desire to remake China’s traditional society on a foreign model. This was an innate disability, due to China’s long history of superiority in her East Asian world. Sitting at the feet of the barbarians was more than Chinese pride could take.
John K. Fairbank. The People's Middle Kingdom. Foreign Affairs, July 1966. Available at https://www.foreignaffairs.com/articles/asia/1966-07-01/peoples-middle-kingdom
It is important to understand Marxism as a welcome response to the chaos and shame of the hundred years of domination and the resulting Chinese search for Chineseness. Marxism in some sense was the right politics at the right time for China. It allowed for Chinese superiority. It provided for faith in a single leader. It provided hope that there could come an end to more than a hundred years of conflict.
Marxism initially took China away from the west, away from rights and morality and science. For a time, China became autarkic. The fear then, and now is that the notions of freedom and rights are too closely tied to science and technology. How can China preserve its essence? Those western ideas are powerful. Western ideas will contaminate the core of culture. Can culture stand up to the barbarians? This is, in fact, a bit similar to southerners pining for the culture of the Old South.
The victim posture has obvious benefits for CCP. It focuses attention on evil coming from outside China, rather than on any internal problems. It encourages Chinese nationalism, which is the preferred national meme now that reasonable economic development has been achieved. A contradiction, though – nationalism wants to recall the glorious Chinese history of invention and art and civilized behavior and schooling the barbarians. History is fine – up to a point. Too much of that history in the last seventy years is history about which discussion is forbidden. Unofficial history is the history Xi Jinping warned about in the infamous Document No. 9 from 2013 –
- Promoting civil society in an attempt to dismantle the ruling party’s social foundation.
- Promoting historical nihilism, trying to undermine the history of the CCP and of New China.
Item – Lucian Pye noted in the 1998 article cited above that China wants bilateral foreign relationships, not membership in international organizations. China does partake in international organizations now, but it is much more comfortable in commitments that are one to one. This runs counter to the western international relations notion of balancing of interests and coalition building. But there is no necessary reason to see China in the same terms as western nations.
Pye reminds us that the nation-state is a western creation, and Asian countries do not fit the definition well. The nation-state is not such a useful concept in a place where single leaders – a king, an emperor, a tribal chief – had sole authority. Because of this, there was no international balancing, as we assume in western international relations. There was only war and conflict and relations were conducted leader to leader rather than state to state. ASEAN never became as strong an organization as NATO.
Chinese patriotism has always been cultural at base, rather than a western civic commitment to liberty. Chinese spiritual culture has been considered superior to any other, particularly the rationalist and materialist west. This superiority has been confounded by the success of western rationalism and materialism, leading to a simultaneous sense of inferiority. The contradiction continues today.
According to CCP China has always been persecuted by the west, starting with the introduction of opium in the late 17th century by the Dutch. We know the hundred years of shame following the Opium Wars starting in 1839. Western democratic governments still refuse to reign in their citizens or organizations that say things that offend the Chinese people. CCP can always feign surprise at the coarse behavior of the barbarians.
We see this daily in the central government expressing surprise and offense at being crossed in international verbal or written exchanges. The inferiority complex that Lucian Pye described shows itself when the government’s self-image is diminished. One is reminded of the old television advertisement for Chiffon Margarine - It's Not Nice to Fool Mother Nature with CCP as the modern offended party. The velvet glove comes off to expose the iron fist.
The central government is generally quite content to let foreign attitudes about China be whatever they are, and go without response from Beijing. But when the central government perceives itself to be derided, or crossed with regard to “core” items, it can respond – as one writer put it – with mad fury. Here is a domestic and an international example.
Witness the destruction of Bo Xilai, former mayor of Dalian, governor of Liaoning, and then Party chief in Chongqing, who was seen as a popular and somewhat charismatic and unusual competitor to Xi Jinping in 2011. Bo is a princeling, son of one of Mao’s chief political and military leaders. Bo was expected to be elected to the Politburo Standing Committee. His future derailed suddenly when his wife was implicated in the murder of an English businessman, his police chief in Chongqing tried to defect to the US, and I think most important, he was competing directly with Xi Jinping rise. His internal political offenses included recording phone conversations with top leaders and that level of potential clarity was too much to bear. The time from accusation to imprisonment for life was seven months.
Or witness the fury with which the censors removed dozens of words from all internet correspondence after Xi Jinping removed the constitutional prohibition on serving more than ten years as supreme leader, carving the way for his rule until death.
Internationally, witness the fury around an otherwise innocuous academic conference, the European Association for China Studies meeting in Portugal in 2014, when Xu Lin, director of Hanban, a government foreign outreach funding arm, got wind that part of the conference program was being funded by a Taiwanese organization, and the program said so. Of course, even then Taiwan could not be acknowledged as separate. Xu demanded that every one of the hundreds of program booklets be confiscated and the offending pages mentioning Taiwan be torn out. Hell hath no fury like party leadership wounded. More on the inferiority complex manifesting in aggression is here.
CCP has cultured a strong sense of nationalism among young Chinese, who leap to the computer to harass foreigners expressing any negativity toward China, even if the negativity must be invented. China House is a Chinese NGO established to promote China-Africa exchanges and help Africans in China better adjust to Chinese society. A Chinese blogger argued that this (Chinese) NGO is supported by western forces to undermine Chinese society. A university professor at Fudan asked for an investigation into China House, saying it is apparent that foreigners are using the NGO to infiltrate China and it is a hidden national security problem.
Item - The superiority complex is in full bloom with Mr. Xi’s international Community of Shared Destiny. Geremie Barme wrote about this as Under One Heaven in the 2014 China Yearbook, part of the China Story at Australian National University. Barme quoting historian Wang Gungwu –
From China’s point of view, talk of a ‘peaceful rise’ suggests that a future rich and powerful China might seek to offer something like a modern vision of tianxia. This would not be linked to the ancient Chinese empire. Instead, China could be viewed as a large multinational state that accepts the framework of a modern tianxia based on rules of equality and sovereignty in the international system today.
… this overarching Confucian faith in universal values was useful to give the Chinese their distinctiveness. As an ideal, it somehow survived the rise and fall of dozens of empires and provided generations of literati down to many modern intellectuals with a sense of cultural unity till this day.
Never mind that CCP Legalist rule is Confucian only according to CCP. We are quite a bit past Deng’s notion of “peaceful rise.” The vision of tianxia all the world under heaven under Chinese domination remains. In such case the rules of equality and sovereignty would be China’s rules and China’s sovereignty.
Geremie Barme notes the tone deafness of the international “shared common destiny” concept in Asia. We do remember the Greater East Asia Co-Prosperity Sphere. And if a country denies its own people ability to speak as they wish, meet as they wish, write as they wish, there is no reason to expect the country to treat foreigners differently. Caveat emptor.