On 2 December 2020, Dr Robert Redfield, chief of the Centres for Disease Control in Atlanta warned that the next two months would be the most difficult in US health history. You think that America will love China again?
In the legendary Hollywood film, Patton, my favourite scene is when US General George S. Patton, after spending weeks studying the copious writings of his vain German adversary Field Marshall Erwin Rommel, pulverizes Rommel’s feared Panzers in an epic tank battle in Tunisia and gloats: “Rommel, you magnificent bast****, I read your book.”
In an attempt to redeem China’s image, a Chinese travel agency is offering an 8-day trip to Shanghai and Beijing from the US (including flights, hotels and tours) for USD 299, fully refundable, for travel in 2021-2022! There have been few takers so far! China suffers from severe TDS, Trust Deficiency Syndrome.
Two days ago, during a brief morning stop for a Starbucks coffee, I heard two veterans arguing about the alleged decline of US military power vis-à-vis China. Acknowledging my greeting, one of them said: “Remember how India clobbered the Chinese?”
Joe Biden’s first interview to the New York Times published on 2 December should be a rude shock for Beijing. That was soon after CNN broke a story, based on leaks from behind China’s Great Wall of Disinformation, on how China, through misleading public data, obfuscated the origin and progress of its virus that has devastated the world.
“I want to make sure we’re going to fight like hell by investing in America first”, the President-elect was quoted as saying. “America first?”—isn’t that Donald Trump’s invention? And Biden’s America First is huge government investments in research in energy, biotech, advanced materials, and artificial intelligence. Joe Biden stressed that his “goal would be to pursue trade policies that actually produce progress on China’s abusive practices—that’s stealing intellectual property, dumping products, illegal subsidies to corporations” and forcing “tech transfers” from US companies to their Chinese counterparts. He has promised that100 million Americans would be vaccinated within 100 days of his inauguration. For good measure, Joe Biden says that he would immediately try to bring America’s allies on “the same page” in dealing with China—in other words a united front against China.
The top US intelligence official, John Ratcliffe wrote in an op-ed on 3 December 2020 in the Wall Street Journal that “the intelligence is clear: Beijing intends to dominate the US and the rest of the planet economically, militarily and technologically”, labelling China the biggest threat to democracy and freedom worldwide since the Second World War and saying it was bent on global domination.
The American intelligence community has been under attack for failing to understand China. In September 2020, a House of Representative committee had warned that the US intelligence community was not equipped to handle evolving threats from China in the fields of technology and politics.
Following the arrest of two Chinese military agents at its Houston Consulate for attempted theft of coronavirus vaccine research and the FBI reporting more than 1,000 open cases of Chinese technology theft, Representative Scott Perry introduced legislation in October 2020 to designate the Chines Communist Party as a transnational organised crime group and a member of the Top International Criminal Organization Target (TICOT) list. In an opinion piece, the Congressman said that the CCP and its leader, General Secretary Xi Jinping, have demonstrated that the Communist Party’s slogan of “win-win” is win-at-all-cost, with the full resources of the country employed—with indifference to basic standards of morality and decency—in service to an Orwellian national strategy. He pointed out that in 2019, Secretary of Defense Mark Esper had warned that China was perpetrating “the greatest intellectual property theft in human history”. Chinese hackers were behind the theft of F-22 and F-35 fighter jet designs.
This critical labelling is an intragovernmental effort to identify and eliminate the international criminal organisations that pose the gravest threat to US national interests. Five years ago, then US intelligence chief, James Clapper had said that China was the top suspect in the massive hacking of a US government agency that compromised the personnel records of millions of Americans.
Responding to Ratcliffe, China’s foreign affairs spokeswoman said the article was “just a sensational headline (and) another concoction of lies” and hoped that the US would “stop fabricating and spreading political viruses and lies”.
Viruses, did she say?
Across the US younger people are contracting the virus in increasing numbers. Biden’s nominee for Secretary of the Treasury, Janet Yellen, has called the damage done to livelihoods, businesses, households and local governments “an American tragedy” that could lead to long-term devastation. One American dies every 20 seconds from the Chinese virus. But since the term “public opinion” does not exist in Xi’s dictionary (public opinion is the worst of all opinions, famously said 18th century French writer Nicolas Chamfort), China continues to misunderstand American angst.
The plans for the “great rejuvenation of the Chinese nation” extend to 2049, the year marking the 100th anniversary of the founding of the People’s Republic of China. By then, Xi promises, China should once again emerge as a global superpower. When it comes to the “rejuvenation of the Chinese nation”, nothing like civil liberties or cumbersome constitutional processes should come in the way, according to Beijing’s view. Dissenters, human rights activists, even their lawyers, end up in jail. It reminds me of a story about a senior Indian journalist who, on a guided tour of China, was very impressed by the spectacular railway system, and then asked: “Do you have a free press in China?” His nonplussed Chinese chaperone replied: “What’s that?”
To add insult to injury (even apart from the panegyrics to China composed by its faithful crony in the WHO), in June, China’s State Council had released a White Paper saying the Chinese government had always published information related to the epidemic in a “timely, open and transparent fashion…with a keen sense of responsibility to humanity…providing information in a thoroughly professional and efficient way…thus effectively responding to public concern and building public consensus”.
The world wants to understand the origin of the virus. China seethes when this is raised and suggests instead global cooperation to tackle the virus. Its Man Friday, the WHO, nods so vigorously that its head might fall off!
In his New Year speech 2019-2020, Pingpong said: “We have friends in every corner of the world…China will unswervingly follow the path of peaceful development, safeguard world peace and promote common development.” And this while he was knowingly unleashing the worst ever bioterrorist weapon on humanity.
Wait for his 31 December 2020 speech, when he will ask his people for ever more sacrifices.
On 2 December, the US House of Representatives approved a bill (earlier passed unanimously by the Senate) that would prevent foreign companies that refuse to open their books to US accounting regulators from trading on US stock exchanges. Senator John Kennedy said in a statement after the vote that the US system had allowed China to “flout rules that American companies play by and it is dangerous”. The bipartisan co-sponsors of the resolution said their aim was to “kick deceitful Chinese companies off US exchanges”.
Earlier this year, Nasdaq-listed Chinese coffee firm, Luckin Coffee was booted out of Nasdaq for massive accounting irregularities including overstating. In swift retribution, China jailed the whistle-blower!
With the new US law, instead of the usual bravado about how this resolution would further damage the already crumbling US economy (remember China’s abuse against Australia?), a frightened Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson pleaded with the US government to “provide a fair, just and non-discriminatory environment for foreign companies to invest and operate in the US, instead of trying to set up various barriers”.
On 4 December 2020, the US government banned cotton imports from a powerful Chinese quasi-military organisation, Xinjiang Production and Construction Corps (XPCC), one of China’s largest producers, that it says uses the forced labour of detained Uyghur Muslims. On 2 December 2020, Dr Robert Redfield, chief of the Centres for Disease Control in Atlanta warned that the next two months would be the most difficult in US health history.
You think that America will love China again?
At the virtual UN General Assembly in September, Donald Trump rattled his sabre, and called the pandemic what many people believe it is: a plague and invisible enemy unleashed by China to frighten and divide the world, and then rule over it.
Trump is not emasculated yet. In the American system, he can still take actions that would be difficult to reverse. Until Biden is inaugurated, Donald Trump exercises the full powers of the presidency. The American duck is never lame. He has already banned US investment in several dozen Chinese companies, reduced the maximum validity of visas for Chinese Communist Party officials from ten years to one month and sent several high-level officials including an admiral to Taiwan.
Technology is never static. What China stole yesterday will be obsolete tomorrow. And now that the world’s biggest technology heist has been called, its mastermind is up the creek without a paddle (as the Americans say).
The Australian Parliament has just passed the Foreign Relations (State and Territory Arrangements) Bill 2020 that gives the federal government power to veto any agreement made by state governments with foreign countries (Victoria signed on to BRI two years ago). Prime Minister Scott Morrison said it was vital that Australia “speak with one voice”, adding that “where any of these agreements undermine how the federal government is protecting and promoting our national interests they can [be] cancelled”.
When the new law was passed, China’s Foreign Ministry spokesperson, known for bluster and abusive “wolf warrior” diplomacy, pleaded that Australia should “have an objective view of such cooperation…and not set up impediments”. Of course, China will continue to block imports from Australia!
Is Xi PingPong choking on his Indo-Pacific chop suey?
If you thought China was a superpower (as it deludes itself), watch it crumble without access to Western technology and finance.
Aliens do exist, and they have been in touch with the United States and Israel for years, claimed an octogenarian retired Israeli general, who led the country’s space program for three decades, in a recent media interview, but their existence has not yet been disclosed because “humanity is not ready” for the truth. We await PingPong’s apoplectic response.
As my brilliant colleague, Ambassador Saurabh Kumar points out, the larger question is how to deal with China, a state captured by a ruthless Communist Party that uses narrow nationalism (chauvinism) to legitimize its stranglehold on power. Regrettably, the intelligentsia of the “free world” rationalized China’s ruthlessness as unavoidable in any interaction between liberal, open and pluralistic polities and totalitarian ones.
George Orwell wrote a novel called 1984 that deals with the consequences of totalitarianism, mass surveillance, and repressive regimentation of persons and behaviours within society. And how truth and facts within politics are manipulated. In 1984 (mark the year), President Ronald Reagan went to China. For many years he had sharply attacked “Red China” as an implacable foe of the United States, but in 1984, dramatically shifted his language by asserting that the United States could get along “with this so-called Communist China” since it was not an expansionist power and since it wanted American investment. China laughed all the way to the bank!
The Chinese objected to US legislation that prevented sales of some sophisticated equipment to China, terming such legislation “discriminatory”. Reagan, to appease a spoilt child, pledged that efforts to loosen export controls would continue.
The evidence has been staring us in the face. China cannot be treated as a normal state given its gaming, and milking, of the framework of international relations and multilateral organisations to its own immense advantage. In 2020, Chinese gaslighting of international opinion (manipulating someone into thinking they are wrong even when they are right) has failed.
Frost and Sullivan that for over fifty years has become world-renowned for its role in helping governments identify disruptive technologies, has named US company Sarcos as Company of the Year. Sarcos recently unveiled the alpha version of its very flexible Guardian® XO® industrial exoskeleton robot, which addresses issues of insufficient tools alongside virus-induced workforce shortages and fatigue. One worker using it can do the work of 4-10 workers, enabling a significant increase in productivity while maintaining social distancing requirements. I am told that Sarcos refused to invest in China, fearing forced technology transfers.
“9/11 did not break our spirit” says my nephew Aman Vohra, made in New York, “we were shocked but not shattered. We fought back and we won.” “We will overcome the Chinese threat too.”
So, what about China’s view of India?
According to one of my distinguished colleagues, in recent weeks, HQSB (Huanqiu Shibao), a Chinese language foreign affairs tabloid, aimed at a domestic audience, seemed to spare India the vituperation, reserved for the US (and, to a lesser extent, Japan and Australia). It has not threatened retaliation, so as not to provoke more “anti-Chinese” steps by India on the economic front (after the app ban has encouraged other nations to do likewise), while India remains unrelenting on the military side. While India is hurting China economically, a recent Global Times article is the first to betray similar discomfiture in the military domain about possible “pre-emptive action” on the seas by the Indian Navy (recall Xi Pingpong’s exhortation to his troops to be ready for battle). Those fools in Beijing seem to realise, while not admitting it, that they have bitten off more than they can chew.
In a signed article in the “India Write Network” (on recent political developments in China), the Chinese Ambassador in India proffered the familiar line of the “common interests between our two countries far outweigh the differences”.
Remember that fellow Sun Tzu who recommended that a war should be won without fighting?
This business about Chinese “superiority” is a psychological concept, totally hollow. Twenty brave sons of India gave their lives to bust this myth.
Whether in Ladakh, or in the South China Sea, China is like a cornered dog, barking and whimpering at the same time! Like George Patton, the world has read and understood China’s book.
Ambassador Dr Deepak Vohra is Special Advisor to Prime Minister, Lesotho, South Sudan and Guinea-Bissau; and Special Advisor to Ladakh Autonomous Hill Development Councils, Leh and Kargil.