By Yi-Zheng Lian
Mr. Lian, a native of Hong Kong, is a former lead writer and chief editor of the Hong Kong Economic Journal. May 21, 2018 Image CreditMatt Chase
“Amid all the hoopla about Russia’s covert attempts to manipulate the 2016 American presidential election, one state has been conspicuously quiet: China. Yet its leaders may well be sneering at the Russians’ heavy hand. Since the project masterminded from Moscow largely relied on social media in the United States, American techies were bound to find out about it soon enough. Likewise with the baldfaced poisoning of an ex-Russian spy and his daughter in Britain, which has also been pegged to Moscow. Too crude, too traceable, these operations could only generate a backlash.
China, too, can be a bully, especially with Asian governments in its immediate sphere of influence — imposing economic sanctions on South Korea for deploying defensive missiles or orchestrating the kidnapping of book publishers from Hong Kong and Thailand. But it doesn’t usually set out to openly hurt or antagonize stronger opponents like the United States; instead, it tries to quietly gain an edge for the long haul.
Rather than coercing, China manipulates, preferring to act in moral and legal gray areas. It masks its political motives behind laudable human-interest or cultural projects, blurring the battle line with its adversaries. When the job is done, the other side may not realize it was gamed, or that a strategic game was even going on.”
“What does it take to intern half a million members of one ethnic group in just a year? Enormous resources and elaborate organization, but the Chinese authorities aren’t stingy. Vast swathes of the Uighur population in China’s western region of Xinjiang — as well as Kazakhs, Kyrgyz and other ethnic minorities — are being detained to undergo what the state calls “transformation through education.” Many tens of thousands of them have been locked up in new thought-control camps with barbed wire, bombproof surfaces, reinforced doors and guard rooms.
The Chinese authorities are cagey and evasive, if not downright dismissive, about reports concerning such camps. But now they will have to explain away their own eloquent trail of evidence: an online public bidding system set up by the government inviting tenders from contractors to help build and run the camps.
Uighurs have more in common, culturally and linguistically, with Turks than Han Chinese, and many Uighurs are Muslim. Resentful of China’s heavy-handed rule in the region, some have resisted it, usually through peaceful means, but on occasion violently, by attacking government officials and, exceptionally, civilians. The state, for its part, fuels Islamophobia by labeling ordinary Muslim traditions as the manifestation of religious “extremism.””
“An autocratic politician emerges from retirement at age 92 to defeat his handpicked but appallingly corrupt successor, and to clear the way for a former deputy he had imprisoned on trumped-up charges. It’s an unlikely plot for a political thriller, but that’s what is happening in Malaysia. And if things play out according to Mahathir Mohamad’s plan, the situation could represent a rare, if curious, victory for democracy in a part of the world where the trend has been in the opposite direction.
Mr. Mahathir, the nonagenarian, dominated Malaysian politics as prime minister from 1981 to 2003, guiding the country through rapid modernization and economic expansion. He also ran the nation with an iron fist, and among his victims was his charismatic protégé, deputy and presumed heir, Anwar Ibrahim, who was imprisoned in 1998 on sham charges of sodomy and corruption. Instead, Mr. Mahathir was followed in office by two handpicked successors.
The second of these, Najib Razak, stands accused of staggering corruption. The American Justice Department, which has been investigating the theft of Malaysian public funds because they were laundered through the United States, says at least $3.5 billion was stolen under Mr. Najib, with $731 million ending up in his personal account.”
“The assumption was that as China grew, and the W.T.O. moved to a new regime, China would quickly cut its tariffs — like its 25 percent tax on car imports, compared with the 2.5 percent tariff imposed by the U.S. But the W.T.O. still has not completed a new trade round and China has refused to voluntarily lower its tariffs.
Moreover, China developed an industrial policy that often bent W.T.O. rules. The government gave away cheap land, and state-guided banks granted cheap loans for new industries, but foreign companies that wanted access to China’s market were forced to pay to play — to have a Chinese partner and be willing to transfer their advanced technology to them.
As a result, over time, Beijing was able to force multinationals to shift more and more of their supply chains to China, and grow Chinese competitors to Western companies in its protected market, and then, once they were big enough, unleash them on the world as giants.
Even when the U.S. protested to the W.T.O. — as in the case of how China unfairly kept U.S. credit card companies out, then lost the arbitration case at the W.T.O. — China still dragged its feet before following through on promises made 17 years earlier to open up. By then, Chinese companies, like UnionPay, so dominated China’s credit card market that U.S. companies, like Visa, were left with the crumbs.
Meanwhile, Chinese government-guided companies and investment funds went abroad and began to buy up strategic industries to bring their technology back to China — like Germany’s biggest and best robotics company, Kuka.”
Thank you Thomas Friedman. Yes. And here are some of the top comments at the NYT I recommended.
November 11, 2017
“There could scarcely be a more explicit offer of China as an alternative, single-party, authoritarian model to the liberal democratic system of the United States (of which Trump has been such a feeble advocate). China is now “actively pursuing almost an ideological competition with the United States,” said Yun Sun, a senior associate at the Stimson Center. Xi’s speech was “a declaration of the Chinese saying that we have won this game, we are winning this game.”
They are, for now. The Chinese gambit — in the past, China has been reticent about offering itself as a global paradigm — comes at a moment of American democratic fracture. It’s a good moment for Beijing to talk of arriving “center stage.” Trump does not really have ideas. He has impulses (like his dangerous infatuation with Saudi Arabia).
On his Asian swing, the president spoke of pursuing a “free and open Indo-Pacific region” built around democracies including India, Japan and Australia. This was the right thing to say to counter China. Hundreds of millions of Asians outside China don’t want to find themselves obliged to study Xi Jinping Thought. They prefer liberalism to Leninism.
Xi Jinping Thought calls for building the Chinese military into “world-class forces that obey the party’s command, can fight and win.” It portrays the leadership of the Communist Party as “the defining feature” of Chinese society.”
“BEIJING — Two weeks after taking China’s top office in November 2012, Xi Jinping took part in what seemed like a throwaway photo op. He took his top lieutenants to the newly renovated National Museum of China, a vast hall stuffed with relics of China’s glorious past: terra-cotta soldiers from Xi’an, glazed statues from the Tang dynasty and rare bronzes from the distant Shang dynasty.
But Mr. Xi chose as his backdrop a darker exhibition: “The Road of Rejuvenation.” It tells the story of how China was laid low by foreign countries in the 19th and 20th centuries but is now on the path back to glory. There, in front of images of China’s subjugation, Mr. Xi announced that his dream was to complete this sacred task. This soon became the “China Dream” and has shaped his rule ever since.
With Mr. Xi about to be reappointed to another five-year term in a Communist Party conference that begins on Wednesday, it’s worth remembering this visit. Many of Mr. Xi’s accomplishments and his likely plans for the future are underpinned by an idealistic view that China’s 200-year eclipse is ending now, and it is his mission to lead a rigidly controlled China back to the center of the world stage.
For foreigners, this means getting used to a China that is stronger and more assertive — but possibly more brittle — than in the past. If Mr. Xi is successful, his China could become a model for digitally driven authoritarianism around the world, while failure could force a reconsideration of the wisdom of trying to force-march a country to modernity.
China’s new role is hard to miss in foreign affairs. For decades, Washington has been urging China to get more involved in the world. Usually this meant asking China to help solve international crises — to become a “stakeholder,” in foreign policy jargon. But to many people’s surprise, after years of playing a mostly passive role in world affairs, China has taken a forceful approach.”
“It is impossible to visit China these days and not compare and contrast the drama playing out in Beijing politics with the drama playing out in Washington politics. While the differences are many, I am sorry to report that some of the parallels are getting too close for comfort.
Let’s start with the fact that the anti-corruption crackdown by President Xi Jinping has created a climate of fear in China these days — whether about interacting with foreigners or saying the wrong thing or behaving too extravagantly so as to attract the state “anti-corruption” detectives.
But because “corruption” has not been clearly defined — and can be used to get rid of anyone for any reason — people don’t know where the line is, so they’re extra cautious. That’s why during a week in Beijing the most frequent expression I heard was, “You’re not quoting me on this, right?”
But if the Chinese are afraid to talk to one another, in America we’ve forgotten how to talk to one another.”
Thank you Thomas Friedman, for another good op-ed.
I found very intersting the following. All in the first paragraph was news to me.
“On this I often pushed back on my Chinese interlocutors to be humbler and warier of what the future may hold. Their one-party, one-man decision-making system can make big decisions fast. But it can also make big wrong decisions fast. For instance, Bloomberg News reported in February: “In 2008, China’s total debt was about 141 percent of its gross domestic product. By mid-2017 that number had risen to 256 percent. Countries that take on such a large amount of debt in such a short period typically face a hard landing.”
But Xi and the Chinese Communist Party at least stimulated their economy in order to avoid a real economic crisis — for themselves and the world. Trump and his Republican Party just added $1.5 trillion to America’s debt to pay for tax cuts for businesses and individuals at a time when our economy was already on the rise. Trump did so knowing that he would be here to take credit for any boom — and be long gone when we have to do the belt-tightening necessary so that interest on the debt doesn’t devour all nondefense spending and lead to a bust.”
Here are some of the comments I particularly liked:
She was an 8-year-old girl with thick brown hair, large brown eyes, a purple dress and a fondness for running through the fields in northern India where she tended horses.
Then a man called her into the nearby forest, grabbed her by the neck and forced her to take sleeping pills, according to police accounts. The man dragged the girl, Asifa Bano, to a Hindu temple, where he and other men raped her repeatedly over three days, before murdering her — after one man insisted on raping her one last time. Asifa’s body was left in the forest.
Murder and rape happen in all societies, but this girl’s body was a battleground: Hindu extremists were trying to terrorize and drive out the Muslim community that Asifa belonged to. The killing triggered a huge controversy in India, with some Hindu lawyers and housewives protesting against prosecution of the murder suspects and Prime Minister Narendra Modi keeping shamefully silent for too long. To their credit, many middle-class Indians, including Hindus, mobilized to demand justice for Asifa.
“With the arrival in Beijing this week of America’s top trade negotiators, you might think that the U.S. and China are about to enter high-level talks to avoid a trade war and that this is a story for the business pages. Think again. This is one for the history books.
Five days of meetings in Beijing with Chinese, U.S. and European government officials and business leaders made it crystal clear to me that what’s going on right now is nothing less than a struggle to redefine the rules governing the economic and power relations of the world’s oldest and newest superpowers — America and China. This is not a trade tiff.
“This is a defining moment for U.S.-China relations,” said Ruan Zongze, executive vice president of the Chinese Foreign Ministry’s research institute. “This is about a lot more than trade and tariffs. This is about the future.”
In one corner stand President Trump and his team of China trade hard-liners, whose instinct is basically right: This is a fight worth having now, before it is too late, before China gets too big.”
Yes, Sir. I agree.
Here are two comments I recommended: