Wilful Ignorance Towards a Growing Threat
If you went up to an average person and told them there existed a one-party state that was actively committing genocide on the scale of seven figures, being territorially aggressive to most of its neighbours, and had no free press or free speech to speak of, that person might gawk at you and remind you that Nazi Germany is long gone. What has, for far too long, not been in the public mindset is that there is once again a powerful state that exhibits all these traits, and more. Further shock may come when one acknowledges that the belligerent in question – the PRC (People’s Republic of China) – is the second largest economy in the world and continues to grow through Western trade with very little criticism in comparison to that of the similar German regime last century.
We’ve been hearing for several years from almost every institution imaginable that Western countries are fundamentally racist, that people of color are actively oppressed by every white person and thus that the West needs to be fundamentally overhauled to fix and atone for its sins. One vocal critic, the UN Ambassador for the People’s Republic of China, Dai Bing, recently said that the United States has “deep-seated problems of racial discrimination, social injustice and police brutality” in an attempt to deflect criticism over active genocide in his own country.
The Return of the Middle Kingdom
Many people know the story of how the PRC came to be formed. The Communist Party was aided in the Chinese Civil War by the Soviet Union in the aftermath of World War II and took over mainland China, while anti-communist groups were forced to retreat to what is now Taiwan. For several decades, mainland China remained very similar to how we see North Korea today, having a very closed economy both domestically and internationally, but being heavily aligned with the Soviet Union. After the Sino-Soviet split, which kept the CCP in power, the West saw a huge economic opportunity in mainland China and by the end of the 1970s had established trade ties. At the time, many Western politicians predicted that by encouraging mainland China to liberalise its economy, that social liberalism would follow, perhaps becoming a Western-style democracy similar to Japan. What we are seeing in the 2020s couldn’t be further from the truth.
So, why would the West continue to do business with the PRC – let alone allow it Most-Favoured Nation status with its habitual practice of “dumping” – when it was becoming clear that mainland China would not be liberalising? You probably already know the answer; greed. Greed is widely considered a vice partly because it is a manifestation of high time-preference. Politicians and businesspeople around the world since the 1970s and still to this day seem to have been hellbent on making money in the short term, whether that is by outsourcing to the regime’s effective slave labour to lower costs, or by countries making dodgy investment agreements that lead to death traps followed by effective annexation of important ports and infrastructure. This is often a tough subject for libertarians to address, as we often champion the common quote “the freer the markets, the freer the people.” I will address the issue later.
Even by overlooking the terrifying scale of human rights abuses, which for any other nation would likely lead to far heavier sanctions than the pathetically symbolic ones, can we say that the West’s naive approach to the People’s Republic of China was worth it? Let’s address a few key issues of the West’s relationship with mainland China.
The Wuhan Virus
To start with one of the most obvious current topics that comes to mind, let’s talk about Covid-19 again. In my previous article, I unreservedly condemned Western countries for locking down, and I highlighted many of the devastating effects of long-term draconian restrictions on people’s lives. Much of the justification given by Western politicians for lockdowns initially was that not much was known about the severity of Covid-19 in early 2020, and a year later there still appear to be unknowns. The lack of information can at least partly be blamed on state censorship in the PRC, particularly around the origin of the virus. It’s also worth noting that had there not been such large scale trade and entanglement with the PRC, the virus would have been far less likely to spread to other countries.
This topic opens up an entire rabbit hole of what the intentions behind the lockdowns were, and it also seems possible that the virus was intentionally spread internationally to weaken rival economies, but looking at the double-digit economic depressions and huge deficits alone is enough to drive an economist to drink. Of course, it hasn’t been bad for everyone as it is commonly known that very rich people have generally gotten richer, largely through reduced competition from smaller businesses. Thus, it’s quite clear that the response to Covid-19 has not been in most people’s best interests, but of course without a deadly secretive virus from China there would have been no excuse for shutting down businesses.
Taiwan & Hong Kong
In a sense, the Chinese Civil War was more of a stalemate than a victory. The nationalists fled to Taiwan, forming their own Chinese state. Most Western nations initially recognized Taiwan – the Republic of China – rather than the PRC. In time Taiwan became freer, achieving fair elections and civil rights, in stark contrast to its larger neighbour. To this day, it remains a prosperous economy and a shining symbol of what Greater China could be like. Taiwan also avoided the brunt of Covid-19 restrictions on freedom. However, due to the one-China policy, during the 70s Western nations switched their recognition to the PRC for larger economic and political interests in the midst of the Cold War, though kept good informal relations with Taiwan. Now, as mainland China grows its military, threats of invasion of Taiwan are increasingly common and credible. A prosperous, peaceful democracy lies under threat of invasion thanks to the Western empowerment of communist China, which would not only deprive millions of people of their rights, but increase the power of the CCP.
A similar story plagues Hong Kong, being previously a bastion of freedom but now increasingly feeling the iron boot of the CCP. Given to the PRC in 1997 with the condition that its freedoms under British administration would be respected. Something that is rarely mentioned is that the 99-year loan of the New Territories that prompted Hong Kong’s “decolonization” was signed by the Qing Dynasty, not the PRC, so the 1997 “handover” was technically more of an annexation on the part of the PRC. During this time, Western countries were keen to have access to economic opportunities in mainland China so the PRC was recognized as the legitimate successor state of the Qing Dynasty so little fuss was made at the time about the sovereignty of Hong Kong. Now in the early 2020s, it’s clear that the CCP does not respect Hong Kong’s autonomy from communist rule, and as a result millions of Hong Kongers are being deprived of their freedom, meaning that the UK government has effectively sold them into slavery.
Genocide & Double Standards
The gruelling topic of genocide is never pleasant to talk about, however it is important for people to address. Despite the hugely censorious nature of the CCP, there is overwhelming evidence that a genocide against the Turkic-speaking Muslim Uyghur people is taking place in Xinjiang. When asked by Western media, CCP spokespeople will brush them off as “education centres” and try to divert the topic to talking about allegations of racism in the West. Over the summer of 2020, worldwide media was alleging racism in Western countries due to the death of a violent career criminal in police custody, telling white people how terrible and racist they were while millions of Muslims were being killed at the hands of communist China. Western leftists have also accused Europe and the United States of islamophobia for many years, but seem to have little problem with buying products from mainland China that may have been made in those death camps.
Why are Uyghurs so targeted by the CCP, yet another Muslim ethnic group, the Hui, are largely spared persecution if the reason for the camps is to address radical Islam? One harrowing reason may be that the Hui are considered ethnically and linguistically Chinese, whereas the Uyghurs are a Turkic group, more related to Kazakhs and other central Asian peoples. Whatever the CCP’s motive for this genocide is, the scale of the atrocity should not be played down. It would be inconceivable for a country like France to contemporaneously commit genocide against its Muslim minority population, yet many media outlets paint it as an islamophobic country for allowing drawings of the Prophet Muhammad on grounds of free expression, often more than they mention the genocide in Xinjiang.
Is It Worth It?
It has become increasingly difficult people to morally defend the PRC in recent years, but many still argue in favour of pursuing favorable relationships with the regime for the sake of economic opportunity or sometimes with the hope that the PRC will eventually become a democratic state with civil rights. Returning to the phrase “the freer the markets, the freer the people,” I still hold that to be a tautology. The problem is that the PRC does not have a free market; it has a centrally controlled economy that allows elements of the free market to foster more economic growth than occured in the Soviet Union. The regime allows for enterprise when it suits them, but is quick to rein in dissidents, such as with the disappearance of Jack Ma when he criticised the financial system of the regime in late 2020. The West knew where it stood with the USSR – irrational communist policies like price controls would permanently cripple its economy – but the PRC’s hybrid system of controlled enterprise makes it far more competitive.
For decades, Westerners seem to have ignored the long-term problems associated with a rising unchecked dictatorship in exchange for cheap labour and thus products. Perhaps being stuck under house arrest for most of 2020 and at least some of 2021 thanks to a mysterious virus of classified origin near a biolab in Wuhan will have given people time to reflect on whether their cheap plastic products were worth the hassle. Will people regret buying their cheap Chinese television after using it to watch footage of millions of Taiwanese people being bombed to death in a very possible future invasion? What about when the true scale of the atrocities in Xinjiang are revealed, but social justice activists were too focused on complaining about microaggressions to care about systematic ethnic cleansing? People need to have a long think about how they would react if any other country was doing these things. The Communist Party openly describes its regime as “socialism with Chinese characteristics,” which seems lexically similar to the term “national socialism.” Perhaps that is a coincidence, but one thing is for sure, what’s happening in mainland China is not pretty.
What The Future Holds
At the time of writing, many Western nations recently put sanctions on some PRC officials for their involvement in Xinjiang. While it is encouraging to see the world finally starting to stand together against the PRC, it is likely too little too late. The regime continues its economic and military growth and it’s highly unlikely that those symbolic sanctions will stop the ongoing genocide. Freedom in the West is increasingly under danger thanks to growing CCP influence and, of course, its respective virus. A world with the PRC as its global hegemon with its authoritarianism and ethnonationalist tendencies would bring untold terror for billions, perhaps comparable to an Axis victory in World War II.
The good news is that most of the world seems to be starting to wake up to the threat the CCP poses, albeit rather slowly. The United States – the main rival of the PRC – is increasingly sinoskeptic on a bipartisan basis as seen with the ongoing “trade war”, and the UK is starting to raise its voice about Hong Kong and Xinjiang, as is Europe. Furthermore, many powerful nations in the Indo-Pacific such as Japan and Australia, as well as the rising behemoth that is India, and even unlikely Western allies such as Vietnam are shunning the CCP. The world seems to be re-aligning into a new Cold War. A hot war would be unbelievably costly in terms of human life on both sides, but for relatively free countries to continue in a direction away from mainland China will inevitably weaken the regime. There is no easy solution to the China problem, and these problems would have been much smaller as little as a decade ago, when the power of the regime was far less, and for example Western countries could have demanded free elections as part of favorable trade deals. It was very easy to see these problems on the horizon, as I myself did many years ago, but the flaws of Western naivete and the insatiable greed for short-term profit fogged this prospect for many.
In a time where so many are so passionate about social justice and civil rights, there is an alarming paucity of attention set on a large, very powerful country that is clearly violating human rights in a way that most people would imagine to be hyperbolic in the 21st century. Greater China’s experience of the Century of Humiliation is often considered one of the motives for the CCP’s rhetoric of ultranationalism. With the West already being forced to live with some of the consequences of cooperating with a despotism, people and politicians must face up to the fact that their continued naivete towards this communist regime will lead to the West’s own century of humiliation.