There is an excellent article in The Tyee, by Andrew Nikiforuk, in which he says that “The world is now paying a frightful price for a historical accident. It is this: a highly disruptive and novel virus happened to emerge first in China, a high-tech surveillance state that, despite the experience of SARS, remains allergic to the truth and fearful of transparency … [and] … Compounding the cost to humanity is China’s influence over the World Health Organization, which has whitewashed its public health analysis and prescriptions at this crucial moment.“
When first faced with the coronavirus, he says, “Chinese authorities, according to comprehensive reports by the Wall Street Journal and the New York Times, suppressed whistleblowers, ignored critical evidence and responded so tardily to the outbreak that they moved to compensate for their failures with a draconian lockdown.” [The hyperlinks are in his original article.]
“And now,” he says “China is doing anything it can to deflect blame and highlight the many weaknesses of western democracies. This overwhelming tragedy explains why one city after another from Bergamo to Madrid to New York is now reliving the Wuhan experience with a higher proportion of infections and death rates in their citizens and health-care workers than ever reported by China’s totalitarian state.“
But there is growing doubt about how China dealt with the outbreak and how it reports, today, on its progress. We must have no doubt that China is waging an all-out, global campaign to attain equality with and, likely, superiority over the United States on the global, strategic, stage. Xi Jinping, unlike Donald J Trump, has a long-term grand strategy. He knows where he wants China to be in 2050 … on top of the world, in most respects: secure, rich, respected and feared.
China embarked on its current course in the late 1970s, when Deng Xiaoping overthrew Mao’s chosen successors and instituted wide-ranging social, economic and political reforms, essentially tossing Marx and Lenin into the trash heap, where they belong, and reigniting the Chinese people’s entrepreneurial instincts. His goal was to make China a great, global power. His successors, until now, toed his line and adhered to his overall approach. The difference, now, is that Xi Jinping has tossed aside many of Deng’s tactics and instituted a very aggressive even bullying foreign policy and he is not shy about using propaganda and other tools of information warfare and various sorts of operations in the “grey zone” to achieve his ends.
There’s nothing fundamentally wrong, in the business of grand strategy, about abruptly changing course; there’s nothing really wrong with being a bully, with lying and cheating and with taking hostages … at least that’s what 5,000± years of recorded history show us. Ancient Egypt, Greece and Rome all did that. So did China and the Mongols. Ditto all of the European powers and the USA, too. What Xi Jinping did, however, was unexpected. Deng and Jiang Zemin and Hu Jintao lulled the US-led West into a false sense of security for almost 40 years. Many Western leaders and analysts assumed that China would ‘join the world,’ which it certainly did, and by so doing become more open, liberal and law-abiding, which it did not.
China’s (Xi Jinping’s) reaction to the COVID-19 outbreak is a case in point. Rather than acting in a reasonable open, responsible manner, Beijing tried, first, to cover-up the outbreak. Then it reacted quickly and forcefully, but, many believe, fudged the data and lied to the WHO. Then, more recently, it has tried to blame others, especially the USA, for the spread of the virus and now it is trying to say that it is helping everyone else.
The Chinese are lying about the virus, that seems abundantly clear. They’ve been lying about a lot of things for the last 70 years or so and, until the late 1970s we all understood that. Deng Xiaoping and his successors then pulled the wool over our eyes. Xi Jinping has lifted the veil … is that one too many analogies? We can now see, clearly, again, that China aims to dominate the world.
My point is not that China has changed and, suddenly, we should no longer trust it. My point is that China lulled us, me included, into a false sense of (hopeful) security when, in fact, it was doing what great powers do: pursuing its own self-interest. For 35 years China wore a mask of reasonableness, now Xi Jinping has pulled the mask aside.
Canada is reacting slowly and hesitantly to China because, in some large part, we are already victims of China’s bullying. Beijing is holding two Canadians hostage and I’m guessing that officials are advising the Trudeau regime to go somewhat softly … they may be right. It seems quite clear to me that Canada cannot put much, if any, pressure on China; we have almost zero leverage. They, on the other hand, can put pressure on us. My guess is that one of China’s short term, tactical aims is to persuade Canada to break with Australia and America and join with New Zealand the United Kingdom in allowing some role for Huawei in their 5G networks. That would be a mistake. China will not reward us for giving in; they will want something more … and more.
The goal of the US-led West should be to contain China. Its rise is inevitable and should be welcome in purely human terms ~ lifting a billion people out of abject poverty is a good thing ~ but we must not reward China for bending or even breaking the rules and norms of diplomacy and trade. Canada should act with India and other Asia-Pacific countries to hold China to account for its actions, in Hong Kong and elsewhere. We should not kowtow.
But, all that being said, if there’s going to be a shooting war in the next few years I remain convinced that China will NOT start it. The likely causes of conflict remain:
- Russian opportunistic adventurism;
- Arab (or Iranian) misjudgement; or
- North Korean madness …
… and each is exacerbated by incomprehensible American strategic policy.