Column: A weak and unstable China is also more dangerous
You see it in the maps. In 2015, 1.4 million Hong Kongers voted in elections in which pro-Beijing candidates swept the city’s 18 district councils. Last week, 2.9 million Hong Kongers voted and pro-democracy candidates won every district but one. That is an increase in turnout of more than 100 percent and a stunning rebuke both of Beijing and of chief executive Carrie Lam, who has failed to respond adequately to the demands of the pro-democracy movement that has disrupted Hong Kong for the past six months. Maps of the city once shaded pro-mainland blue are now pro-liberty yellow.
Yes, the vote was symbolic. The councils have little say in the operations of government. But symbols matter. For Hong Kongers to express discontent with their rulers through one of the last vehicles for accountability is no trifle. Beijing was surprised. It had counted on a supposed “silent majority” of voters tired of the upheaval and violence to legitimize the mainland’s authority. That was a mistake. The prefabricated copy that Communist propagandists had been ready to spread was abandoned. “The problem is that under the increasingly paranoid regime of Xi Jinping, even these internal reports have become much more geared toward what the leadership wants to hear,” writes James Palmer, who a decade ago worked for the pro-China Global Times.
Hong Kong is the most visible reminder of the tenuous nature of Communist rule. The city has become a postmodern battleground where masked protesters wield social media and lasers to avoid armor-clad police and facial recognition technology powered by artificial intelligence. When one looks at Hong Kong one sees a possible future where champions of freedom the world over employ desperate measures against the overwhelming resources of a mechanized Leviathan. One also sees the brittleness, confusion, and embarrassment of despotism when challenged by subjects assumed to be grateful for growth and security and immune to the will to freedom.
What is happening in Hong Kong is not isolated. The China model of authoritarian development is damaged and scarred. What seemed as sturdy and invulnerable as a Borg Cube looks more like a fragile and wobbly mobile by Alexander Calder. The regime of Xi Jinping is under economic and political and diplomatic pressure that it is not handling well. This beleaguered combatant in an era of great power competition is more dangerous to the United States than before.
What legitimacy the Communist Party possessed was based on the decades of economic growth inaugurated by Deng Xiaoping in 1978. But growth has slowed to its lowest level in decades as the Chinese workforce ages, low-hanging investment opportunities disappear, and the trade war with the United States reduces manufacturing output and sends supply lines to Vietnam and Mexico. Capital is fleeing China at a record pace as the bourgeoisie hedge against stagnation and turmoil.
For all of the Chinese government’s much publicized investments in research and development and defense, and despite the size of its economy, per capita gross domestic product is $10,000, slightly less than that of the Russia Federation ($11,000) and a fraction of that of the United States ($65,000). Recent weeks have brought an uptick in bank runs. The government’s response to slowdown has been to tighten state control. “Between 2012 and 2018, assets of state companies grew at more than 15 percent annually, well over twice the pace of expansion of China’s GDP and double the pace of growth of gross domestic capital formation,” writesNicholas R. Lardy of the Peterson Institute for International Economics. This is not state capitalism. It’s statism.
The Chinese authorities use mechanisms of repression to maintain control over what can only be described as an internal empire. The New York Times recently published a horrifying and damning trove of documents relating the extent of Beijing’s efforts to detain, imprison, intimidate, and reeducate Uighurs, Kazakhs, and other minorities in western Xinjiang Province. China wants to override the Dalai Lama’s choice of successor in its continuing efforts to police Tibetan Buddhism and aspirations to sovereignty. China leads the world in the number of political prisoners, its Great Firewall has become more difficult to penetrate, and its influence operations in Taiwan, Australia, and other democracies more sophisticated. Defector Wang Liqiang has told Australian officials of his personal involvement in the disappearance of five Hong Kong booksellers who had the temerity to advocate democracy.
These are not the moves of a regime confident in its ability to win the allegiance of a multi-ethnic population of 1.4 billion people. They are the policies of an insular and jittery faction whose uncertainty toward a changing economic and demographic landscape has made it suspicious of and opposed to even the slightest hints of liberal democracy. The ambitions of Chairman Xi for a Eurasia integrated under the Belt and Road Initiative, where the preponderance of the latest equipment in key sectors is manufactured, are both grand and mismatched for a nation whose leaders are concerned most with the operation of the surveillance state that keeps them in power.
The resistance to Beijing is both domestic and foreign. Lost in all the predictions of Chinese dominance were the voices of China’s neighbors in the Pacific. Neither Japan, nor Vietnam, Taiwan, the Philippines, nor Australia want to live in a Chinese lake. Most extraordinary has been the response of the United States. Within four years, the American elite has swapped its belief in China’s “peaceful rise” for the recognition that it may be in the opening phase of a Second Cold War whose outcome will determine the ideological character of the 21st century. While Tariff Man wages his trade war, opposing Chinese theft of intellectual property and arguing for structural changes to China’s state owned enterprises, Vice President Mike Pence, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, and Secretary of Defense Mark Esper speak of the political and security challenges presented by Chinese authoritarians who become more willing to lash out as they lose their grip.
Senator Josh Hawley spoke for the emerging consensus when he wrote in the November 24 Wall Street Journal: “And everywhere, in every region, we must ask whether our actions are contributing to the great task of this era, resisting hegemony in the Asia-Pacific.” A few days before Hawley’s op-ed, Congress passed the Hong Kong Human Rights and Democracy Act of 2019. Though the president already may possess the authorities to sanction Chinese officials granted him by Congress, the bill remains both a powerful statement of American support for the principles of liberty and democracy and a sign of American resolution before the specter of autocracy.
Good for President Trump to have signed the Democracy Act—and better still if he would link human rights to trade and refrain from speaking of his “friend,” the “incredible guy” who seeks nothing less than the defeat and displacement of the United States.
By Richard M. Ebeling • Foundation for Economic Education
In August of 1993, I was invited to participate in a conference in Vilnius, Lithuania on “Liberty and Private Business.” This was less than two years after the formal disappearance of the Soviet Union as a political entity on the map of the world.
During our time there, my wife and I were offered the opportunity to be given a tour of the building that had served as the headquarters of the local KGB, the infamous Soviet secret police. Our guide was a man who had been a prisoner in its walls in the late 1950s. The most nightmarish part of the tour was the basement containing the prison cells and the interrogation rooms.
Going Through Hell at the Hands of the KGB
As we reached the bottom Continue reading
by Dr. Miklos K. Radvanyi
Contrary to the erroneous opinions of most politicians and Sinologists, the People’s Republic of China, well into the seventh decade of its existence, is facing severe political and economic crises. Maoism, the gibberish amalgam of twisted socialist ideas and hard-core Han racism, had never been about Marxism-Leninism with “Chinese characteristics.” Rather, Maoism was designed to be a double edged political sword. On the one hand, Maoism meant autocratic contempt for the “politically incompetent” and “economically immature” subjects who could not be trusted with affairs of any importance. On the other hand, Mao wanted to establish, maintain and protect his “thorough revolution” by excluding intellectuals with “bourgeois mentality”, whether inside or outside the party, and base his autocracy on inexperienced and uneducated workers, peasants and soldiers, self-evidently comprising of incompetent and immature individuals. Continue reading
Beijing Plots to Surpass U.S. in Coming Decades
by Bill Gertz • The Washington Free Beacon
China launched a secret 100-year modernization program that deceived successive U.S. administrations into unknowingly promoting Beijing’s strategy of replacing the U.S.-led world order with a Chinese communist-dominated economic and political system, according to a new book by a longtime Pentagon China specialist.
For more than four decades, Chinese leaders lulled presidents, cabinet secretaries, and other government analysts and policymakers into falsely assessing China as a benign power deserving of U.S. support, says Michael Pillsbury, the Mandarin-speaking analyst who has worked on China policy and intelligence issues for every U.S. administration since Richard Nixon.
The secret strategy, based on ancient Chinese statecraft, produced a large-scale transfer of cash, technology, and expertise that bolstered military and Communist Party “superhawks” in China who are now taking steps to catch up to and ultimately surpass the United States, Pillsbury concludes in a book published this week. Continue reading
In his Allegory of the Cave Plato asserts that the universe revealed by our senses is not the actual world but the shadow of reality. Thus, this virtual reality is merely an illusion designed to obscure the true differences between the causes and the consequences of events and phenomena. Today too, politicians and peoples alike stare at the walls of their own caves where shadows fight shadows with deadly intensity, while realities are ignored, or even ridiculed. Indeed, in our hyper-ideologized and hyper-mediatized domestic and international politics the fallacious appearances of the shadows are perceived to be more authentic than the blunt facts. In this manner, the silhouettes present enticingly idolatrous images that partially or completely conceal the truth. Continue reading
When it comes to Thomas Piketty’s Income Inequality Good-Time Jamboree, helping people is not really the point. Feeling better about yourself—and maybe even mentally positioning yourself as a victim now and then—is.
If you’ve ever met a Texan, you know that Texans love bragging about their state. You’ve probably heard the endless list—the bigness, the freedom, the trucks, the barbeque, the pride, the football—and, like many others, you’ve probably rolled your eyes. So please forgive me, for as a new-ish resident of the Lone Star State, I’d like to add one more item to that long, rambling list: No one in Texas seems to be talking all that much about Thomas Piketty.
If that name rings a bell, it’s because you’ve been reading the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, the Washington Post, or basically anything on the Internet for the past few weeks. Piketty, described by the Times as “the latest overnight intellectual sensation,” is a French economist whose new book, “Capital in the Twenty-First Century”—you know, as opposed to the Kapital that Marx wrote about—bemoans income inequality, exposes various flaws in our global economy, and calls for confiscatory global wealth taxes in order to stop Richard Branson from having all that fun. Continue reading
by Peter Roff
Is there some kind of unwritten law that says the IQ of a sportscaster can be no higher than the average combined score of the ten previous Super Bowls? After listening to NBC’s Bob Costas speak fawningly about the history of the former Soviet Union during the opening of the 2014 Winter Olympic Games in Sochi, you really have to wonder.
As part of his color commentary, Costas called the 1917 Russian Revolution that eventually brought Lenin to power a “pivotal moment” in history. He did so, however, in a manner that glossed over just why that was the case. It should never be forgotten that more than 100 million people around the world – and that’s a conservative estimate – died as a result of what that one event put into play.
Reporters have been telling lies about what the Soviets and their allies did for years. From the New York Times’ Walter Duranty and Herbert Matthews – who wrote admiringly about Stalin and Fidel Castro – to television’s contemporary “superstar” journalists, far too many of those in whom rests the responsibility for telling the truth about world events have slanted their coverage in ways that benefited communist aims. Even today, the New York Times refuses to return the Pulitzer Prize Duranty won in 1932 for his dishonest account of the mass starvation in Ukraine. Continue reading
“Nothing was more typical of Ronald Reagan than that large-hearted magnanimity, and nothing was more American.”
by Margaret Thatcher
We have lost a great president, a great American, and a great man, and I have lost a dear friend.
CHEERFUL, FRESHNESS, OPTIMISM
In his lifetime, Ronald Reagan was such a cheerful and invigorating presence that it was easy to forget what daunting historic tasks he set himself. He sought to mend America’s wounded spirit, to restore the strength of the free world, and to free the slaves of communism. These were causes hard to accomplish and heavy with risk, yet they were pursued with almost a lightness of spirit, Continue reading
“Out of one man’s speech was born a new Western resolve. Not warlike, not bellicose, not expansionist — but firm and principled in resisting those who would devour territory and put the soul itself into bondage.”
by Scott L. Vanatter
A rarified world exists where most can only peer inside.
In sports, world champions have earned a unique perspective of achievement. No matter how otherwise accomplished, regular participants can only imagine what champions experience. No matter the obstacles, champions impress their will onto their fellows in their chosen field of competition.
In world affairs, there exists a brotherhood — now including a few sisters – of rare leaders. These leaders have impressed their will on the times and circumstances they inherited. Through their bold decisions and their clarion words they lead where others equivocate or obfuscate.
Of particular interest is when one great leader comments on another. In November 1990 former president Ronald Reagan came to Fulton, Missouri, the place where Winston Churchill warned a modern world of an Iron Curtain falling across Europe. Churchill spoke on March 5, 1946. Not quite fifty years later the Iron Curtain, the Berlin Wall fell. It seemed like much longer. It would have been much longer; but for two leaders, and others. Continue reading
Our differences are not about weapons but about liberty.
by Scott L. Vanatter
The world has changed a couple times over since President Reagan spoke at the Brandenburg Gate in West Berlin on June 12, 1987. At the time the President’s staff debated whether to include the searing challenge to Mr. Gorbachev and to the Soviet Union. The President decided to issued the challenge. It provided the cultural impetus needed to cause the fall of the Wall. This impetus combined with economic and military factors combined to effect the change Reagan saw when he was asked what is strategy was to defeat Communism. He replied, “My strategy is: We win, they lose.”