The “downward spiral” in United States-China relations has taken a new legal twist that threatens to further decouple the world’s two largest economies.
Not only is Beijing determined to frame this confrontation as one in which the US is the aggressor and China is merely defending itself, but in doing so it is developing and deploying the same tools that Washington has deployed.
This mirror imaging threatens to lock in a reflexive “tit-for-tat” dynamic that ensures the relationship deteriorates further.
China is aggrieved by a lengthening list of US actions intended to punish the country, its companies, or its leaders.
Chinese anger is also being directed elsewhere in the Western world, with Australia and the European Union also targeted for retribution.
Beijing is especially galled by America’s increasing resort to sanctions against Chinese entities and demands that third parties respect and enforce them worldwide. There is also irritation with US laws that mandate disclosure of information that China feels is best held close, such as audits of companies that aim to list on US stock exchanges.
As the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) turns 100, the late Milton Friedman is trending in cyberspace. The reason: “the spectacular ways in which the Nobel laureate had Asia’s now biggest economy wrong.”
In particular, his strong belief that capitalism would give China no choice but to go the way of Western democracies was dead wrong. Here’s how Friedman put it in 2003, less than two years after Beijing entered the World Trade Organization (WTO): “I predict that China will move increasingly toward political freedom if it continues its successful move to economic freedom.”
The exact opposite has happened. Rather than WTO rules changing China, the nation bent global trade to its own will. Ditto for the internet, which Friedman and his ilk argued would put the CCP out of favor.
President Xi Jinping reminded the globe in dramatic terms of the party’s indisputable role in China’s success – and in continuing its trajectory toward the ranks of advanced world powers. Speaking from Tiananmen Square before thousands of party officials, Xi struck a defiant tone about China’s broader ambitions.
“Nobody should underestimate the staunch determination, firm will and powerful capacity of the Chinese people to defend national sovereignty and territorial integrity,” Xi said.
The Chinese people, he added, “will never allow foreign forces to bully, oppress or enslave us. Whoever nurses delusions of doing that will crack their heads and spill blood on the Great Wall of steel built from the flesh and blood of 1.4 billion Chinese people.”
Sucking up to China to protect its lucrative cash flow, Nike’s CEO says the American company’s brand is “just doing it for China.” The Swoosh is now figuratively intertwined with yellow stars on the red Chi-com flag.
Nike chief executive John Donahoe not only defended his woke Oregon-based company’s ties to China, but he also affirmed its competitive advantage in the Asian dictatorship, despite China’s notorious reputation for forced labor in the manufacturing of sports apparel.
“Nike is a brand that is of China and for China,” Donahoe unashamedly and unapologetically said.
Yahoo sports-writer Caroline Downey reported that Donahoe joined Nike in 2020 and has spent much time scoping out its operations in China. Greasing the skids with China, Donahoe said the company’s “biggest asset is consumer equity in the brand … it’s real, I saw it in my first week on the job.”
After last year’s headcount of China’s 1.4 billion population, Beijing’s shift last month from enforced contraception to encouraged baby-making appeared to be opportune. It took less than 20 days from releasing key findings of the census in early May to relax birth control demands and encourage each couple to have up to three babies rather than two.
While there have been tepid responses from Chinese in their prime reproductive ages, Beijing is trying new measures for more babies even with relaxed birth controls still in place. The latest turnaround was conceived when the National Statistics Bureau began to crunch census data since the first quarter. It presented a dire demographic picture that jolted the top leadership. The realization is that mere tweaks to population decision-making will not help reverse the downward demographic trend.
The world’s most populous country faces a looming “baby deficit” and accelerated workforce graying. The census showed China’s fertility rate stood at 1.3 last year, meaning the average number of children to be born to a woman over her lifetime has slipped to an all-time low since such censuses were first conducted in the1950s. The rate is now among the world’s lowest, almost on a par with fast-graying Japan.
“Raise the bright five-star red flag high.” This was the rally cry that Communist Party official Wu Yingjie gave to Chinese citizens during a visit last year to a town China has recently built high in the Himalayas called Gyalaphug. But there is a big problem with Wu’s order and the very existence of Gyalaphug: “While the Chinese claim that the town lies in China, it is actually well inside the nation of Bhutan.”
Based on satellite imagery and Chinese media reports, Robert Barnett broke the story of China’s illegal construction of Gyalaphug in Foreign Policy last month. Barnett noted that Gyalaphug is one of three villages China has built in Bhutan’s Beyul region since 2015. It has also constructed “66 miles of new roads, a small hydro-power station, two Communist Party administrative centers, a communications base, a disaster relief warehouse, five military or police outposts, and what are believed to be a major signals tower, a satellite receiving station, a military base, and up to six security sites and outposts.”
These developments mean almost all of the Beyul and the entirety of the nearby Menchuma Valley is under Chinese control. These regions together make up 1 percent of Bhutan’s total territory. Were the nation to lose this land, it would be comparable to the United States losing Indiana.
And China seems prepared to make Bhutan’s loss permanent. Official government rhetoric calls the citizens China has installed in these locations “soldiers without uniforms.” It orders them to make “every village a fortress and everyhousehold a watch post.”
Cardinal Joseph Zen, the bishop emeritus of Hong Kong, prayed for the victims of the Tiananmen Square massacre on the 32nd anniversary of their deaths. He also called for “justice” in his homily at a memorial Mass, reported by AsiaNews.
“We refuse to be pessimistic,” Cardinal Zen said. “We will not be disappointed. In the remembrance of the dead – those killed 32 years ago, our prayer is also for the Lord to lead the rulers to walk on the path of justice and peace.”
On June 4, 1989, Chinese protestors were killed by the government after nearly two months of pro-democracy protests in Beijing’s Tiananmen Square. The Chinese government killed the protestors with tanks and gunfire. Although the regime claimed that 241 people died and 7,000 were wounded, a diplomatic cable from the British ambassador to China at the time said that at least 10,000 people were killed.
Authorities in Hong Kong for the second year in a row have curtailedplanned events to commemorate the massacre, purportedly for pandemic-related reasons. In 2020, thousands defied police to take part in commemorations. Seven churches in Hong Kong had planned candlelight vigils to commemorate the massacre.
Chinese mainland authorities have seized greater power in Hong Kong, after the imposition of a national security law on the region in 2020. Cardinal Zen said that the massacre may “gradually go far from us, but it seems to reappear before our eyes.”
One day in the late 1990s, I had the good fortuneto witness an extraordinary dialogue in Beijing. A group of students from Tsinghua University, China’s Harvard, was exchanging views with some very senior American businessmen.
At one point one of the Americans asked the students about their ambitions for their country. Without hesitation, unemotionally and in perfect English, a student responded that he wanted China to be “the most powerful country in the world.”
And what, the American continued, equally unemotionally, “would you have your country do with its power?” That question left the students tongue-tied.
It was, perhaps, an unfair follow-up. These were students, after all, not statesmen. They weren’t responsible for their country’s policies. They would have had no occasion to think about the uses of power. Power is good for its own sake, isn’t it? Besides, back then China was a long way from being the world’s most powerful country.
It’s closer today. Some think it’s basically there. In a Pew Research poll of people in 14 developed countries last year, 48% said China is the world’s dominant economic power. Dominant economic power is not exactly the same as world’s most powerful country, but it’s close. Only 35% picked the United States.If not the most powerful country in the world, China is certainly a contender for that title. So the question is worth asking again: “As a great power, if not the greatest, what uses will China make of its power?”
In centuries past great powers colonized and governed other lands. After World War II the Soviet Union installed governments of its choosing in Eastern Europe and sent in troops to squash revolutions against those governments. There’s no reason to think China will follow either of these precedents.
China is, to be sure, fiercely protective of its own territorial integrity. Were Taiwan to declare itself independent, no one can doubt China would invade its “renegade province.” Some fear it might invade even if Taiwan doesn’t declare independence.
Although it’s wrong to talk of a US-China Cold War – the two countries trade with and invest in each other as well as compete – that doesn’t preclude a hot war over Taiwan. The US could find itself forced to defend Taiwan if China invades.
China does not, however, seem to have territorial ambitions beyond its historical borders. Nor is it like the post-World War II Soviet Union, which was both ideologically committed to spreading Communism to other countries and fearful of having hostile neighbors on its western frontier.
If China has an ideological commitment, that commitment is as much to spreading autocracy as a form of government as to communism. China gladly works with autocratic governments, even particularly nasty ones like Myanmar’s after that country’s recent military coup. China doesn’t seem interested in installing such governments, however.
None of this means superpower China is without ambitions. It is, for example, trying to use the United Nations to reshape cyberspace. It has teamed up with Russia in several efforts to impose new cyberspace rules. “It’s breathtaking, really,” writes David Ignatius in the Washington Post. “The nations that have subverted the Internet most aggressively now want to police it, setting their own standards.”
In a world with a dominant China, then, information and ideas would not flow as freely.
The world will certainly have to get used to a great power with a thin skin. When China’s rulers have leverage, they punish criticism. When Australia’s prime minister called for an independent investigation of the origins of the coronavirus last year, China responded by throwing up barriers to Australian exports.
And China is working to increase the leverage it has over other countries. If its 2025 industrial strategy is successful, it will increase the world’s reliance on China for key high-tech products and materials.
If its digital yuan takes hold, more of the world’s trade will be conducted in a currency China controls. Its Belt and Road Initiative also has a leverage-increasing tendency.
It’s too early to predict that China will intervene militarily abroad when it perceives its interests threatened. History suggests that’s what great powers do.
The United States did, in Iraq and Afghanistan among other places. Will China’s concern about Uighur terrorists in Xinjiang province stop at the border, for example? Or if Uighur terrorists started to cause real trouble in China, could we see China’s military chase them into Central Asia?
In a recent speech, Chinese President Xi Jinping laid out a vision of a China interested only in peace and international cooperation. He promised China will never seek hegemony. He pledged not to interfere in other countries’ affairs. He criticized unnamed countries for “bossing others around.”
He meant the United States, of course. China’s complaint is that the US tries to impose its values – human rights, for example – on the world.
Whatever Xi says, it’s hard to believe that if China were the world’s most powerful country it wouldn’t try to export its values. Great powers have been known to do that. It’s fine to preach peace and non-interference but the world will judge China on what it does, not on what Xi says.
As an American, I naturally prefer my country’s values. I am not anti-Chinese. I have tremendous respect for what China has accomplished. Having lived in Hong Kong for nine years and traveled to the mainland frequently, I know and like many Chinese people.
Still, I think the world would be a less happy place if the values of today’s Chinese regime were to win out.
Blocking China’s rise is unrealistic; too many countries have deep economic ties with it to recruit a containment brigade. War would be disastrous – for China, the US and the world.
But if China’s rise seems inevitable, America’s decline isn’t. One of the keys to keeping the peace in the future will be curing China’s rulers of the dangerous misunderstanding that it is.
The world has two great powers, China and the United States, and is likely to have two for some time. What China would do if it were the world’s dominant power is still a theoretical question.
It all began with a physically blind women. Sharing Braille material via email communication she was searching for the truth. As she studied the second lesson she came to realize that she was also spiritually blind. When asked if she ever received the Lord Jesus as her Savior, she answered yes on February 15, 2021. Her spiritual blindness was lifted. In a phone conversation with her sighted sister she shared her testimony how Jesus had forgiven her of her sins. Together they went to church and she too accepted Jesus as her savior. Two sisters, one blind and one sighted were for over 60 years spiritually blind, but now both can spiritually see.
2 Corinthians 4:3-4 “And even if our gospel is veiled, it is veiled to those who are perishing. The god of this age has blinded the minds of unbelievers, so that they cannot see the light of the gospel that displays the glory of Christ, who is the image of God.”
Our life’s goal is to teach the salvation of Jesus Christ to as many unreached people as possible. The greatest need is for Bibles and discipleship materials, to equip tens of millions of hungry house church believers. There is a famine of Bibles in China as the government restricts more and more activities. Even the official Three-Self churches are in great need, as they have seen their Bible quotas slashed by the authorities in recent years.
Hundreds of unreached groups still lack vibrant witnesses. The Gospel has spread rapidly among the Han Chinese majority, but strong ethnic, cultural, and language barriers have meant the churches have struggles to penetrate the non-Han minority groups. We appreciate your prayers and partnership, as together we “look forward to the day of God and speed its coming. That day will bring about the destruction of the heavens by fire, and the elements will melt in the heat.” (2 Peter 3:12).
Here is a current snapshot of the state of the Gospel throughout China. While there is much to thank God for in China, the figures are a sobering reminder of how much work remains to be done.
The statistics used are the latest from the “Joshua Project”, who define a people group as “unreached” if less than 2 percent of its population are evangelical Christians.
If China wants to win against the US, it needs to do a better job of winning global hearts and minds. Perhaps growing tensions around China should push Beijing to consider rethinking its philosophy of foreign affairs. For decades, China was driven by the principle of qiutong cunyi 求同存异,or “seek common ground, and put aside what is different.”
This is an important principle that paid huge dividends to Beijing for many years, yet it worked based on the premise that with time there was more in common than not in common between China and the world.
That is, it was grounded on China’s former “ideology czar” Zheng Bijian’s ideas of peaceful development helping “fazhan” 和平发展 and building common interests “gongtong liyi” 共同利益. But these ideas no longer apply; for the purpose of this essay it doesn’t matter why.
What is important is that with the passage of time, there are more clashes, more differences and less in common between China and the rest of the world. Then, by carrying on using this qiutong cunyi, differences exceed common points and things may get worse and worse by the day with the situation eventually getting out of hand.
New foreign affairs directions? China perhaps should conversely consider the three following ideas. First of all, it should study the world as it is, not as it should be or as China wishes it to be.
China should gain a realistic “worldview” shijieguan 世界观, and give up its traditional “view of all under heaven” tianxiaguan 天下观, that is to consider the present world as if it were an extension of traditional China’s concepts.
That present “worldview” took at least 500 years to build, and it won’t be replaced in a few decades. Russia, antagonistic to “US hegemony,” understands the world as it is and also has a “worldview.”
To challenge this global view is not simply to challenge the view of a single country, but it is to challenge and refute the view of most countries. Of course, here there are lots of details, but they should be analytically and objectively tackled based on the reality of the world. As Mao would say, look at the reality “shishi qiushi” 实事求是.
The second element should be to decrease the temperature and avoid worsening the situation. Conversely, China should try to find reasonable ground for neutral talk.
And the third element, which is in a way more difficult for the Chinese tradition, is trying to confront the difference constructively and positively with other countries. It requires not trying to skirt differences and avoid them, but putting a different spin on the differences and listening to other countries’ points of view.
All of this, after all, is a little bit like Chinese medicine. Chinese medicine tells us to look first at the patient, their overall situation and condition. Then we know that if they have a fever or a rash, we need to decrease the fever or heal the rash. Lastly, we cure the disease or the wound properly without creating further damage to the body.
But the first and foremost important element is to understand what the world is really about.
For instance, as a European, Chinese people often talk to Europeans as if Europe were one clearly defined political entity. In fact, with a bold brush, one could say that the EU is more but also less than the sum of the single countries that are members of the union, and the directive between the countries and the union is extremely complex.
Europe doesn’t have a unitary voice on many things and yet it manages to push forward in some ways its own policies.
The second element about Europe is that the European Union is the brainchild of the United States, which tried to bring together countries that were enemies during World War I and World War II.This was done to cure the disease of eternal conflicts in Europe, and also to build unity of countries against the new threat of the Soviet Union after 1945.
The second element that pushed the European Union to its present state came after another war, the first Cold War.
At the end of the first Cold War, in the early 1990s, the EU was on the rise again. The European Union expanded its member countries to the east, right at the borders of Russia, including some countries that were formerly part of the USSR.
The European Union tried to challenge the bond with the United States by starting the Euro, a new currency that de facto limited the strength of the dollar—but even that is not entirely true as the Euro was conceived by famous economist Robert Mundell, who was also the main economist for US president Ronald Reagan.
In fact, one can say that to a large extent the euro-dollar bilateral condominium has created a new balance of currency that has bolstered transatlantic clout on global financial markets.
This is all to say that some ideas circulating in China about bringing Europe and European countries into a play against the US are extremely far-fetched and naive.
If this is true in the assessment of the relationship between the United States and Europe, it might also be true for more complicated and delicate assessments about China and its status in the world.
The power of love. There are signs that China is recognizing some mistakes in its evaluation of the present situation. A recent article by Andrew Lo is quite acute here. Power needs to be loved and feared, argued Lo while quoting Machiavelli.
But actually, contrary to Machiavelli’s analysis, modern research has pointed out that in an army what pushes soldiers to face death is not fear of punishment. In fact, what can be worse than death? Any punishment is preferable to the risk of death a soldier faces on the battlefield.
What really drives the soldier is love for their comrades, the need to protect their fellow soldiers whose lives depend on their own life. “The true soldier fights not because he hates what is in front of him, but because he loves what is behind him,” said G.K. Chesterton.
That is, the worst fear in a relationship is the withdrawal of love. This is the terror. Then it is even more so for political power, which cannot simply inspire fear. The US, for instance, is far more fearsome than China but also can inspire great love.
The path to greatness for China should be to inspire love. In fact, the US has been loved more than feared for many decades. Its success in the Cold War was not motivated by the Soviet fear of invasion.
The USSR was fully capable of defending itself, and it was far more fearsome than America. Yet the United States was far better than the USSR at inspiring love of its friends and enemies alike.
It did that with a whole arsenal of instruments in which first of all there were its values: liberty, freedom and the possibility for a new individual to become American and be successful. These were values that inspired the whole world and many Russians.
America didn’t promise security and basic welfare for all, but promised freedom to be yourself, to express yourself, to participate in some political change through a democratic system and a chance to improve one’s career, strike it rich, or change your life and have a second life.
These values haven’t stopped existing. They still are extremely strong and extremely appealing to many, even to people who dislike American foreign policy but wish to live in America and change their lives there.
Conversely, China doesn’t offer any country the same appeal. Certainly, it promises money and its win-win strategy, but money by itself has never bought much.
In a marriage, the wife or the husband expects or hopes that their life will improve out of the marriage, and certainly there are economic factors there, but money by itself will never be enough if there is no love.
Fear of lack of love. And in a marriage, if the relationship is based on fear of one of the members, then the marriage is by itself broken. There cannot be fear but fear of withdrawing love. In this situation, if China wants to get out of the present predicament with the US, it has to think long and hard about how to win the love of the people of the world.
And part of this is to provide the same liberty, the same chances America does. China might be better than America in all fields, but if it doesn’t inspire love, then it has already failed.
The USSR was better off. It provided the dream of equality, which although in the long run didn’t work as that of liberty had its own appeal. What about China? In fact, the crux of the matter is that China needs badly to reform and after many decades it may be starting to reevaluate the Soviet experience with Gorbachev.
For almost 30 years, the official line was that the USSR had been wrong to start perestroika and glasnost. Yet Zhao Huashengof the University of Fudan argued: “But it was not the model of the Soviet system, nor the reform, that destroyed the Soviet Union. It was the mistakes in the reforms that destroyed it”.
We don’t know what Zhao meant by mistakes in the reforms, but certainly China has to invent ideas to solve its very hard problems. This is extremely difficult but not impossible, as air can be made solid.
Something extraordinary is happening in connection with the COVID-19 pandemic.
When it began, all the world knew that it had originated in Wuhan, and that Chinese delays in telling the truth had been largely responsible for its horrible death toll. How it had started was unclear, but the possibility of an unintentional mistake in one of Wuhan’s laboratories studying viruses transmitted from bats to humans was seriously considered.
After more than one year, while all our countries have suffered thousands of deaths and damages to the economy it will take decades to overcome, we have almost forgotten that the virus came from Wuhan. China has been successful in selling to the world preposterous alternative theories placing the origins of the virus in the United States, Norway, or Italy.
As for the laboratory hypothesis, although regarded as a serious possibility by authoritative research centers such as the French National Center for Scientific Research, if you try to mention it you will be excluded from polite company as “conspirationist,” and your posts may even be cancelled by Facebook or Twitter.
Of course, this happened because there is a pro-China lobby that represents prominent business interests. The same businesses that have their main markets in China own newspapers, magazines, and TV networks. However, a report published this month by the International Federation of Journalists (IFJ), tells us that there is more.
Impact as many lives as possible through the public and private teaching of God’s Word so that people are able to understand it, are led to believe it, challenged to apply it, motivated to love it, and equipped to study it on their own.
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