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writing for godot

With the U.S. in Dire Straits, China Thinks This Is Their Moment

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Saturday, 11 April 2020 03:37

You had best believe that many in China's leadership are quietly musing that the U.S. failure to stem the pandemic that has shattered its economy has delivered to Beijing so much simpler a weapon to bring America to its knees than any military confrontation for which it has been preparing. China's businesses are opening, people are returning to their jobs, they are even exporting medical protective gear to the U.S. In contrast, with millions thrown out of work at companies that may never re-open, the U.S. may be looking at the second Great Depression.


China wants the world to look to them where it once looked to the United States. It hopes to make the case that its performance in the face of the pandemic compared to the weeks of bungled response by the United States is proof that its authoritarian model is more successful. While the U.S. struggles, China has embarked on a vast propaganda war, intent to change its reputation. It has engaged in an aggressive program of assisting other countries in trouble — replacing the United States in a role for which it was once renowned — while at the same time attempting to prove that China was not the cause of the virus's release. That China cordoned off an entire city of 11 million while America's politicians squabbled about what to do — doesn't that show that one-party rule, given unchecked power to do what is needed, is far more effective?

The financial crisis of 2008-2009 already persuaded China that its system is superior to democracy, and now, fortifying that belief, they see the failure of the Trump administration to act, allowing Covid-19 to get out of hand. They are nor probably bemused to see this country adopt China's centralized authoritarian model; Americans harangue the president to force companies to produce medical equipment on demand, and force the populace to curfew. Some commentators expect China will emerge from the crisis a stronger global power, and that the U.S. may even need China's help to recover.

China’s Foreign Ministry says it has helped 120 countries, and they are letting the world know it with a brash public relations campaign. They sent over a hundred medical personnel to Italy to help with its viral conflagration. In March, a plane from Shenzhen delivered three million medical masks to Hungary. added the touch that each package bore the words “Hajrá Magyarország!” or “Bring It On, Hungary!” which is a local football cheer as well as, to his delight, Prime Minister Viktor Orban's campaign slogan.

Over two-weeks in March, Chinese government agencies, companies, and charities donated supplies to 89 countries that included more than 26 million face masks and 2.3 million testing kits, or at least that's what a culling of state media and government and company statements found, as reported by the Journal. China’s government has sent experts and teleconferenced guidance to medical staff in countries across Europe and Asia, taking over the role the U.S. played during the 2014 Ebola epidemic when it assisted West African nations. China’s Foreign Ministry said China was “bearing the responsibility of a great power”.

China’s French embassy went to Twitter to taunt, “When the epidemic started to explode everywhere, it was China who the entire world asked for help, and not the United States, the ‘beacon of democracy,’” the embassy said. “It is China who lent a helping hand to more than 80 nations. Not the United States.”


To make the case for the China model requires hiding its faults. Xi Jinping's government is waging a campaign to shift blame for the outbreak away from China, conceal its botched initial response, and cover up what look to be much higher infection and death rates. The first case dates from November 17th, according to government data seen by The South China Post. Chinese officials knew about the new virus in December, but rather than warn its people, it suppressed all information for weeks, refused to allow in teams from America's Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), depriving the world of samples for analysis, and for his sounding the alarm that a new virus was abroad, infamously threatened whistleblower Dr. Li Wenliang, who would die from the disease and become a national hero to a newly critical public, many of whom have been jailed for speaking out over the Internet. Dr Li was reprimanded by Chinese police, accused of “making false comments” that had “severely disturbed the social order,” and was made to admit to “illegal behavior”. Clamping down on vital information lest the Communist Party leadership be embarrassed — General Secretary Xi Jinping first and foremost — has had serious consequences for the rest of the world.

China then began promoting a theory that the virus did not originate in their country, that it was hatched by the U.S. Army during a visit to Wuhan in October when the city hosted the Military World Games. This propaganda ruse, proposed in a

tweet by the spokesman for the Foreign Ministry, was then advanced by China's state television to the public as a serious possibility.


Relations with China are turning poisonous. Their "peaceful rising", always a mask to conceal its aim of dominance, has been discarded, and the virus has — from the Chinese point of view — given them reason to hate America. They are incensed that we have called covid-19 the "Chinese virus", not accepting that diseases are often named for their place of origin (viz.: Ebola, Marburg, Zika, Lyme, etc.). "Wuhan virus" would be more appropriate, but not to the Chinese.

American multinationals have long been angered over requirements that they be paired with unwanted Chinese partners with whom they were required to share their technology, that Beijing's agencies have hacked corporate databases stealing proprietary technology in torrents, that they are now harassed with arbitrary rules aimed at driving them out, that China has run roughshod over World Trade Organization rules that had made trade between nations equitable and fair until China was allowed to join.

China, still carrying the bitterness of its subjugation by the West and 19th Century "gunboat diplomacy", rationalizes its actions as dispensations owed to them by a West that has always tried to hold them back. U.S. companies, always focused on short-term profits and paying little heed to the damage they were doing to their future — the CEO of the moment would be rich and gone by then — are now paying the price of technology transfer as they see Chinese companies, nurtured by American technology, overtake them.

With the current U.S. administration, animosity has intensified. Trump first rudely withdrew from the Paris climate accord that Obama and Xi had signed, then erected tariff walls against Chinese goods and waged a campaign to block a major Chinese company, Huawei, from installing its equipment around the world out of suspicion that it is an espionage arm of the Chinese military. With the onset of coronavirus, he barred the entry of China nationals into the United States, which apparently incensed the Chinese, and most recently the two countries have engaged in a tit for tat expulsion of the other country's journalists.

The U.S. view is that it has raised China to an unheard of level of prosperity by importing enormous quantities of Chinese manufacture at the expense of millions of jobs exported to China. Chinese officials answer that American companies have made fortunes selling in the Chinese market and it is America's failing to educate its own workers that has allowed the yawning chasm of income and wealth inequality, and it is wrong to scapegoat China as the villain. Officials and scholars in Beijing no longer trouble to hide their scorn for an America they view as exhausted and mired in feuding factions.


“The Chinese Communist Party poses a substantial threat to our health and way of life, as the Wuhan virus outbreak clearly has demonstrated”. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo could not have been more blunt. China may choose this moment to declare itself as the world's new hegemon, but it will have a tough time selling its societal model to anyone other than the growing club of dictators and autocrats around the globe. China under Xi has become an increasingly closed world that censors the Internet, polices social media, arrests people who criticize the Party, and watches everyone's every move. Surveillance cameras are everywhere (but so are they in London), with facial recognition software capable of identifying anyone who dares to cross that street against a red light — that is, if the cameras can see through the fog of pollution from coal-generated electricity that is suffocating its cities. Hundreds of thousands of premature deaths each year are attributable to air and water pollution. To keep everyone in line, the country is adopting a social rating scheme by which everyone's actions are graded. Too many demerits and you will be denied the right to travel or get a job. It is East Berlin's Stasi on high-tech steroids.

Under Mr. Xi, China is also a nation retreating from the market-oriented economy that brought it such phenomenal growth. In the wake of the coronavirus shutdowns, privately-owned manufacturers are drawing the short straw when seeking loans to restore production. In contrast, some 95% of the 20,000-or-so industrial companies under the control of the central government have received the funding needed to crank up production — including millions of face masks for export. State-owned companies can more readily be told what to do. An official from the regulator that oversees state-controlled firms said, “It’s like in a battlefield, and state-owned enterprises are the ones who can act fast and decisively”. Xi is using state control to produce "national champion" companies in industries favored by the government such as semi-conductors, 5G communications, artificial intelligence in a quest to dominate these fields worldwide. State planning of industries is anathema to the West's capitalism model of freely-chosen enterprise, but the West, which abjures industrial policies that aid key industries, could find itself left in the dust.

Only the United States has stood in the way of China achieving its grand ambition, and now, suddenly, the U.S. is hobbled and brought low, its economy shattered and reeling in debt. How bold is it likely to be if China decides this is the moment to challenge U.S. warships plying the South China Sea to make the point of freedom of navigation? How likely that the U.S.will honor its pledge to defend Taiwan if China decides it's time to move against the island? Aren't the Chinese now thinking that America will shrink from a challenge and cede the Pacific? That will be the moment the global balance of power shifts forever.

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