The China Dream Collides with Reality

Journal of Political Risk, Vol. 7, No. 9, September 2019

By Douglas Black, Hong Kong University of Science and Technology

Hong Kong, September 2019. Photo: Douglas Black.

Carrie Lam has been allowed to withdraw Hong Kong’s maligned extradition bill after three months of continuing protests, but the situation continues to escalate. Protesting children are being taken from their families. There are allegations that protesters may have been killed by police and subsequently covered up. Both Beijing and the millions who live in the semi-autonomous territory are in need of real solutions, yet any solution to the current gridlock must include a serious look at the remaining demands represented by the protesters: remove Carrie Lam from her position, meaningfully investigate police misconduct, release activists and others in police custody, and safeguard Hong Kong’s nascent democracy.

Rather than the de-escalation Beijing intended by allowing the bill’s withdrawal, the situation is now made more precarious through two factors: (1) extreme pressure on Xi Jinping from both within the Party and beyond to quell the unrest before the PRC’s national day on October 1 and (2) a fundamental schism between the way the Party and many in the Chinese state see reality through their “China Dream” and the reality of the lives of millions of Hongkongers.

In essence, Beijing has backed themselves into a corner, but their worldview denies them visibility of the right solutions. Continue reading

Stay the Course on China: An Open Letter to President Trump

The US Constitution and flag. Photo: Daniel Bendjy/Getty Images

Dear President Trump,

Over America’s exceptional history, successive generations have risen to the challenge of protecting and furthering our founding principles, and defeating existential threats to our liberties and those of our allies. Today, our generation is challenged to do the same by a virulent and increasingly dangerous threat to human freedoms – the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) through the nation it misrules:  the People’s Republic of China (PRC).

The Chinese Communists’ stated ambitions are antithetical to America’s strategic interests, and the PRC is increasingly taking actions that imperil the United States and our allies. The past forty years during which America pursued an open policy of “engagement” with the PRC have contributed materially to the incremental erosion of U.S. national security.

This cannot be permitted to continue.

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Defeating China: Five Strategies

Journal of Political Risk, Vol. 7, No. 7, July 2019

By Anders Corr

Fighter jets of the U.S. Navy Blue Angels demonstration squadron fly over the Lincoln Memorial during the Fourth of July Celebration ‘Salute to America’ event in Washington, D.C., U.S., on Thursday, July 4, 2019. Al Drago/Bloomberg via Getty Images

Since 1989, when China massacred thousands of its own people in Tiananmen Square to stop a pro-democracy protest, the country has arguably grown into the world’s most powerful and centralized state. China’s GDP by purchasing power parity (PPP) is approximately $25.4 trillion, while the U.S. GDP PPP is only about $20.5 trillion.[1] One man, Chinese President Xi Jinping, has almost total control of China’s economy and a leadership position for life. U.S. President Donald Trump, however, has only partial control of the smaller (by purchasing power parity) U.S. economy, and must be reelected this year to continue his tenure for a maximum of an additional four years.

China’s accelerating economy has fueled its military spending, which increased approximately three-fold since 2008 to $177.5 billion in 2019,[2] not including substantial programs hidden from public sight. Military and political analysts estimate that in the South China Sea and environs, China’s military capabilities already match or exceed those of the United States in many respects, as does China’s diplomatic influence. This puts pressure on the U.S. military to withdraw from the region, claimed as territory by Beijing. Over the next 30 years, China’s global military capabilities could exceed those of the United States, which would make it difficult for the U.S. to pose a credible threat against China’s already ongoing territorial expansion.[3]

China’s actions are now indistinguishable from those that would serve a goal of China’s global rule in perpetuity. Hopes for engagement as a strategy to turn China into a democracy have now been dashed. Instead of us changing them, they are changing us through influence of our own political and economic leadership. There is a danger that as China ascends to the world’s most powerful nation, other nations will follow its lead through bandwagoning. The dual and increasing danger of bandwagoning and China’s influence means that a shift in strategy is needed.

Engagement should give way to a more aggressive strategy against China in order to defend freedom, democracy and human rights globally, and to incent allies and potential allies to declare themselves on the right side of the dispute before they enter the gravitational field of China’s economic influence.[4]

As argued below, this should include labeling China as not just a competitor, which would imply that all play by the same rules, but as an adversary or even an enemy. Strategies must be calibrated accordingly to defeat the country, and more specifically, its guiding organization, the Chinese Communist Party (CCP).

There are at least five interrelated and overlapping strategies required to defeat the CCP: 1) Defend, 2) Ally, 3) Contain, 4) Divide, and 5) Democratize. Many of these strategies are overlapping, and have been proposed previously by a range of authors, cited here. They are all underway to some extent in various countries, however they are not being implemented at the scale and intensity needed to win. That should change now, or we risk continued relative weakening against the enemy.

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Democratizing China Should Be The U.S. Priority

Journal of Political Risk, Vol. 7, No. 7, July 2019

By Anders Corr

Protestors hold placards and illuminated smartphones beside a large banner calling for democracy during a protest in Hong Kong, China, on June 26, 2019. Some protesters held signs calling on U.S. President Donald Trump to save Hong Kong. Paul Yeung/Bloomberg via Getty Images

U.S. goals in relation to China, our biggest national security threat, tend to array along three main axes: military, diplomatic, and economic. But in deference to the failed strategy of engagement, we don’t use the significant normative and ideological power of democratization as a multiplier on these battlefields, nor does the prospect of democratizing China factor sufficiently in our cost-benefit analyses.

Militarily, we prioritize defense from China, but other than ongoing military support to Taiwan and the Tibet campaign of 1957-72,[1] we have not used our substantial military resources to promote democracy in China, for example in the rebellious zones of Xinjiang or Hong Kong. Economically, we prioritize U.S. market share in China, IP protection, and beating China’s GDP, technology and industrial strength. But we don’t condition our China trade on our lowest priorities, human rights and democracy.

In the short term our military and economic priorities are correct, but given the Chinese Communist Party’s growing strength globally, we must increase the prioritization of democracy as a long-term end goal in China, and we need to reevaluate opportunities to use our still substantial but relatively diminishing military and economic power to bring democracy to China. Continue reading

Canada’s Conflict With China Can Be Solved With Joint Tariffs By Democratic Allies

(Front L-R) Brazil President Jair Bolsonaro, French President Emmanuel Macron, Indonesia President Joko Widodo, Chinese President Xi Jinping, US President Donald Trump, Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince Salman, Japan Prime Minister Shinxo Abe, Argentine President Mauricio Macri, Russian President Vladimir Putin, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, South Korean President Moon Jae-in, South African President Cyril Ramaphosa, Netherlands Prime Minister Mark Rutte, (Second row L-R) Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez, Egypt President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi, President of the European Commission Jean-Claude Juncker, Australia’s Prime Minister Scott Morrison, British Prime Minister Theresa May, India Prime Minister Narendra Modi, Canada Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, Italian Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte, European Union President of the European Council Donald Tusk, Senegal President Macky Sall, Chile President Sebastian Pinera and Singapore Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong and third row’s invited guests attend the family photo during the G20 Osaka Summit in Osaka on June 28, 2019. Photo by Ludovic MARIN / AFP / Getty

Journal of Political Risk, Vol. 7, No. 6, June 2019 

By Anders Corr

Canada is in an awkward dispute with China. On the one hand, it wants two Canadians, Michael Kovrig and Michael Spavor, released from detention, under conditions some would call torture. The lights are left on 24 hours a day, they cannot see loved ones, they undergo daily interrogations without legal counsel present, and they only get short visits from their consular officials once a month. On the other hand, Canada wants to comply with its extradition treaty with the U.S., which wants Meng Wanzhou for alleged lies to financial institutions in order to evade Iran sanctions. Perhaps more urgently, Canada wants to continue its lucrative trade with China. A solution is for other allied democracies, including in the U.S. and Europe, to use their substantial power to impose tariffs on China to help out their fellow democracy, Canada. Our neighbor to the north could do the same, in its own defense. Canadian tariffs against China, linked to demands for the release of Kovrig and Spavor, would likely get them freed overnight.

China is not too subtle about its demands. It wants Meng sent back safe and sound to China. Until then, apparently, the two Canadians will be detained and Canada will undergo increasing difficulty with its agricultural exports to China. All of Canada’s China problems will go away if it just signs on the line and releases her from home detention, according to China and its Canadian intermediaries.

The Kovrig-Spavor predicament is awkward for Canada because it is arguably a result of decades of democracies’ prioritization of trade over human rights issues. That includes Canada. Now that Canadian citizens have been targeted, Canada is wondering whether it is getting the same cold shoulder from its allies that it gave to human rights activists in the past.

The newly-found Canadian human rights concern for Kovrig and Spavor rings hollow after it largely ignored, for purposes of trade, the thousands killed by China at Tiananmen Square in 1989, and the 1-3 million Uyghurs and other Turkic Muslims detained in reeducation camps. By not taking a stronger stand on all of China’s human rights abuse, but instead focusing on just the two Canadians of the millions harmed by China, Canada undermines its own moral authority, and with it, any advocacy for the human rights of the two Canadians.

Canada’s rule of law argument is unconvincing to the CCP. China sees its own authoritarian rule as preferable to the “chaotic democracy” of Canada and its allies. It sees human rights, including those of the two detained Canadians, as something that should be sacrificed for the greater good of China’s Communist Party rule, which is the type of meritocracy the world needs, according to the most sophisticated of Chinese propaganda. Continue reading

Boycott the Chinese Language: Standard Mandarin is the Medium of Chinese Communist Party Expansion

Journal of Political Risk, Vol. 7, No. 11, November 2018 

By Anders Corr, Ph.D.

These urban traffic signs in English and Mandarin are located in the Chinatown district of Seattle. Consciously preferring the use of traditional characters and Taiwanese Mandarin in the U.S. would be a statement against the Chinese Communist Party and its usage of Standard Mandarin and simplified characters. Interestingly, the characters in these street signs are the same in the traditional and simplified sets.

China is one of history’s most dangerous countries. In August, the United Nations reported that China is holding approximately one million minority Muslims in Xinjiang concentration camps. China supports anti-democratic regimes and terrorist groups worldwide. Its military is seeking to expand its territory in: Japanese and South Korean areas of the East China Sea; Philippine, Malaysian, Bruneian, Indonesian, and Vietnamese parts of the South China Sea; and Indian and Bhutanese territory in the Himalayan mountains. President Xi Jinping has since 2013 increased military spending, hyped China’s nationalism, repressed minorities and human rights activists, eliminated term limits on his increasingly personal form of rule, and extended the geographic reach and individual depth of state surveillance.

Average citizens in democracies who see this trend can feel powerless in response. But there are tools at the disposal of empowered citizens and social movements to encourage, complement and accentuate actions taken by our democratic governments. Both citizen and government action is essential to encourage democracy and democratic elements in China, history’s most powerful totalitarian state.

These tools include consumer boycotts and protests at Chinese embassies, for example. But there is an additional social movement tactic that could powerfully communicate the world’s criticism: a boycott of mainland China’s national language, Standard Mandarin, a combination of the Putonghua dialect spoken in Beijing with simplified characters. Putonghua is also called Modern Standard Chinese, which was promoted since the 1940s, and which the People’s Republic of China (PRC) and Chinese Communist Party (CCP) have zealously promoted since 1956 as a form of increasing state control beyond Beijing. I here call the combination of simplified characters and Putonghua, “PRC Mandarin” or “CCP Chinese”. Taiwan uses traditional characters and speaks a slight variant of Mandarin called Taiwanese Mandarin (Guoyu).

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How China Interferes in U.S. Elections

Journal of Political Risk, Vol. 7, No. 10, October 2018 

By Anders Corr, Ph.D.

US President Donald Trump flanked by Secretary of Transportation Elaine Chao and Stephen A. Schwarzman, Chairman, CEO and Co-Founder of Blackstone. Mr. Trump speaks during a strategic and policy discussion with CEOs in the State Department Library in the Eisenhower Executive Office Building (EEOB) on April 11, 2017 in Washington, DC. Mr. Schwarzman and the Chao family are influential with Mr. Trump, and have extensive business interests in China. Credit: Olivier Douliery-Pool/Getty Images.

China is powerfully influencing U.S. elections, as President Donald Trump alleged, but one will not necessarily find a Chinese intelligence agent stuffing ballot boxes in the local City Hall, or tampering with a voting booth. Facebook and Twitter claim they found no coordinated messages from the Chinese government. Bloomberg news and three digital security firms all claimed they found no evidence of digital or web-based misinformation campaigns. They apparently don’t count China’s ongoing anti-Trump propaganda, available through state-run media like China Daily and radio stations in the U.S. Nor do they count a new China-linked propaganda film advertised on Facebook, called “Better Angels“.

Plus, China’s immense wealth gives it more sophisticated and effective means to influence the general public, districts that voted for Republicans, the candidates themselves, the businesses that fund candidate elections, the universities and think tanks that hire politicians after they leave office, and the news media that voters will rely upon to choose their representatives on November 6, 2018. That is a far more powerful set of tools than anything the Russians used in 2016.

Vice President Mike Pence had it right when he said, “There can be no doubt: China is meddling in America’s democracy.” He said that Beijing was involved in “an unprecedented effort to influence American public opinion, the 2018 elections, and the environment leading into the 2020 presidential elections.”

Perhaps the most powerful influence that China wields over the U.S. public is the leverage that its $8.59 billion in box office sales provides to its “Propaganda Department” in Hollywood. American movie producers and directors actively self-censor in order not to alienate Chinese censors who could cut millions of dollars of ticket sales by denying access to the Chinese market. This leads Russians or terrorists to be the main villains in most Hollywood films, rather than China. Perhaps in part for this reason, 53% of Americans view China favorably according to a February 2018 poll, despite China’s human rights abuse at home, and ongoing economic and military transgression against the U.S. and our allies. That latent pro-China sentiment will make elections more difficult for Mr. Trump and the Republicans on November 6. This is China’s growing soft power, and is only infrequently commented upon in the media.

China’s sharper power to interfere with elections was demonstrated by the country’s recent attempt to use targeted tariffs to cause economic pain in districts that voted for Trump in 2016. In two rounds of tariffs, including over the summer, China hurt states and congressional districts that voted for Trump and other influential Republicans with $110 billion of targeted tariffs, focusing on commodities like soybeans, sorghum and pork that are overwhelmingly produced in rural pro-Trump districts. China also hit whisky, produced in Kentucky, and cranberries, produced in Wisconsin. Senate Majority leader Mitch McConnell represents Kentucky, and House Speaker Paul Ryan represents Wisconsin. “Mapping the counties that voted for Mr. Trump in 2016 and those affected by China’s tariffs shows the extent to which Trump voters’ jobs rely on the products being targeted,” according to the New York Times. “Beijing hopes it can convince those voters — and their elected representatives — that the president’s trade war could hurt them.” China’s counter-tariffs threaten more than double the jobs in districts Trump won in 2016, compared with those that Clinton won.

But China has many other ways to influence voter opinions in the U.S., and thereby interfere with how voters vote. China also does an end-run around voters by influencing the political choices provided at the voting booth, in that most politicians of both parties are influenced to be soft on China by an environment conditioned by Chinese money and giveaways, including to U.S. students, the media, professors, congressmen, businessmen, and even U.S. military officers.

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Sanction Hong Kong, For Its Own Sake

Journal of Political Risk, Vol. 7, No. 10, October 2018 

Silhouette of man standing on top of mountain with reflection of urban cityscape. Source: Getty Images.

By Ho-fung Hung, Johns Hopkins University

The decision of the Hong Kong government to expel Financial Times Asia editor Victor Mallet from Hong Kong has already provoked widespread concern about freedom of speech and autonomy of Hong Kong in the international community. Mr. Mallet broke no law, and the Hong Kong government’s decision is obviously based on his role as moderator of an August 14 talk by pro-independence activist Andy Chan at the Foreign Correspondents Club. This unprecedented expulsion of a foreign journalist takes Hong Kong a big step closer to the status quo in mainland China.

The UK Foreign Office, US Consulate in Hong Kong, European Union, and American Chamber of Commerce in Hong Kong, all issued statements criticizing the decision of the Hong Kong government. In particular, AmCham president Tara Joseph pertinently links the case to the concern about Hong Kong’s continuous viability as a financial center, saying that, “The rejection of a renewal of work visa for FT correspondent Victor Mallet sends a worrying signal. Without a free press, capital markets cannot properly function, and business and trade cannot be reliably conducted.”

Beijing has long said that Hong Kong is no longer important to China economically, because China’s GDP has been roaring ahead over the last two decades since Hong Kong’s sovereignty handover. But in fact, Hong Kong’s special status as an autonomous economy separate from mainland China is still serving China very well.

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