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Fooling Ourselves: A Dragon in Disguise - December 2018

posted Dec 17, 2018, 1:17 PM by RSO The Fenwick Review   [ updated Dec 17, 2018, 1:23 PM ]

by Jon Pietro ‘22

What is the greatest threat that the United States faces in the 21st century? It is not terrorism, Russia or Iran, nor climate change. The most prominent menace that the US must confront is China. With an appalling human rights record, predatory foreign policy, and a sincere penchant for theft, China is the new Soviet Union – but far worse. Of course, this statement is by no means an indictment of the Chinese people. The people of China, rather, who are incredibly industrious and kind, are held captive by the regime. Traditional Chinese culture, one of the greatest cultures in world history, is under assault by the Communists in Beijing. The problems with China lie not with its people, but with its tyrannical government.

Since the establishment of relations with China by the Nixon Administration in 1972 and the beginning of economic reforms in 1979, the US has assumed that China would liberalize. The thought process was as follows: inject capitalism into China, give the Chinese people a taste of prosperity, and the regime would be forced to become evermore liberal. That prediction could not be further from the results. China has evolved into an increasingly authoritarian surveillance state, with such Orwellian tactics as a proposed (and soon-to-be-implemented) social credit system. The system will rank the populace on its behavior and apply restrictions, such as limiting travel or obstructing access to quality schools, to citizens with lower scores (Ma, 2018). This system is only possible because of the advanced technology and economy that China has acquired since the end of its isolation. Whether it be its membership in the WTO (supported by the US), its replacement of Taiwan on the UN Security Council, or profitable economic relationships, the West has played right into the hands of the Chinese Communist Party. Henceforth, I will outline each of the areas that contribute to China’s designation as America’s most dangerous adversary.

Some say that imitation is the most sincere form of flattery, and if that is the case, then the US should certainly be honored. China is able to attain US technology through numerous methods, from hacking to government coercion. As a former CIA and NSA director, Michael Hayden stated: “I understand the Chinese espionage effort against the West; as an intelligence professional, I stand back in awe at the breadth, depth, sophistication and persistence of the Chinese espionage campaign against the West” (Talent, 2015). In October 2018, the US charged 10 individuals with connections to Chinese intelligence and government for attempting to hack US aviation firms to obtain valuable intellectual property (IP) regarding aircraft technologies (Viswanatha, 2018). Also in October 2018, the US arrested a Chinese spy charged with trying to steal IP from General Electric, a major US company with defense ties (Viswanatha, 2018). The incessant hacking of US government databases gives China valuable information that can be used to undermine national security. In 2015, the Chinese hacked into the US government’s Office of Personnel Management and stole millions of US government employees’ sensitive information (Nakashima, 2015). Despite seeming trivial, the information contained on this database is invaluable for countering espionage operations and can put US personnel at risk. This behavior is absolutely unacceptable, and must be addressed, for the Chinese show no signs of backing down.

But hacking is not the only way by which the Chinese steal US IP. For companies operating on Chinese soil, the risks are far greater. Authorities routinely enter the headquarters of companies in China and forcibly obtain computer files, passwords, and key technological information that the company holds. In December 2017, DuPont, a US-based chemical company, had its Shanghai headquarters raided by Chinese authorities after the US company accused its Chinese affiliate of stealing its chemical technology. The authorities took sensitive documents and harassed DuPont employees. The point? Stealing chemical technology worth billions of dollars (Li, 2018). A final example – one that starkly illustrates the intent of the Chinese – is the 2018 hacking and theft of sensitive information from a US Navy contractor regarding missile technology (BBC, 2018). This sort of behavior is not only illegal, but is very dangerous for the US. Intellectual property is the core value of many US companies, and the Chinese severely undermine the US economy to the tune of $225-$600 billion per year through theft (Pham, 2018). The military repercussions are also concerning. The US military is the most powerful in the world: not just because of its training, but because it has the most advanced technology available. That technological dominance is not insurmountable, particularly when the adversary steals it, and to lose that dominance is to lose the post-1945 world order.

Outside of economics, the Chinese are also hell-bent on regional and world domination. In the 2017 National Security Strategy released by the US government, China, along with Russia, Iran, and North Korea, was designated a “revisionist power” (National Security Strategy, 2017). It is high time the Chinese Communist regime has been called what it is: aggressive and expansionist. Why should they be classified as such? Simply put: since the early 2000s, the Chinese have been the bane of the Asia-Pacific region. The Chinese have moved into the South China Sea, constructing numerous artificial islands in accordance with their “9 dash line” policy, and have subsequently armed the islands (Economy, 2018). This is concerning not just for the territorial contests it creates (as many of the countries in the South China Sea claim the territory occupied by China), but because about $5.3 trillion dollars of trade pass through the region annually (Fisher, 2016). Countries like the Philippines have attempted to combat China’s expansion in the region by filing suit in an international court at The Hague, alleging that China had violated its territorial integrity and broken international law (Fisher, 2016). The court supported the Philippines, but China refused to listen. This is not a surprise, but it is important because it indicates China’s aggressive violations of international law. The Chinese have also repeatedly harassed the Japanese-held Senkaku Islands in the Sea of Japan (Gale, 2017; Talent, 2015). Since Japan is a key US ally with a mutual defense pact, a threat to Japan is a threat to the United States. But for a more direct hazard to the US, one need look no further than the harassment of US vessels in international waters or aircraft in international skies. In early October 2018, a People’s Liberation Navy ship intentionally traveled within 45 meters of the USS Decatur in the South China Sea (Lumbold, 2018). That may sound far, but to a ship that is around 150 meters in length, 45 meters is perilously close. Similarly, the Chinese have been increasingly harrying US aircraft both in Asia and Africa with lasers meant to harm the pilots’ eyes and disorient them (McKirdy, 2018). These are just a mere selection of Beijing’s threatening tactics. These actions are not just reckless; they pose a significant threat to American lives.

        In foreign policy, China is a vicious dragon in disguise. It engages in predatory economic policy by offering substantial loans to developing nations in Africa and Asia, with the knowledge that these nations will become beholden to China. It is a sort of dramatic irony on a massive scale. A particularly egregious example is that of Sri Lanka (Abi-Habib, 2018). After having taken billions in loans from China to fund a new port, the nation realized its blunder. With Sri Lanka unable to pay back the loans, China got exactly what it wanted: the very port Sri Lanka thought it was building for itself. To pay off the loans, Sri Lanka signed the port over for 99 years to the Chinese, who could very well utilize it to extend their naval reach into the Indian Ocean, challenging regional stability and India’s local hegemony. Conquest by economics is just another way China has been pursuing its expansionist goals.

Nothing, however, can come close to the disgusting human rights abuses of the Chinese government. At the forefront of their barbarism is the mass internment of the Uighur ethnic minority by the millions in what amounts to modern concentration camps. Upwards of one million Uighurs are held in camps that are known to pursue torture and mistreatment, with reports of deaths within or shortly after release from the camps (Taylor, 2018). Why is China committing such a horrific crime? Because the Uighurs are Muslim, and to the Communist Party, any faith is anathema to the atheistic state’s stability. The discrimination is not just against Islam, for recently the government has been destroying Christian churches and holy objects at an ever-increasing rate (Rubio, 2018). Nothing is beyond the pale, nothing outside the Party’s bloody grasp. This is nothing new, for the Chinese have been attacking religious and spiritual groups for decades. Falun Gong, for example, a completely peaceful meditative practice, was first persecuted in the late 1990s. A minimum of 3,000 have been killed (although it is likely much, much higher), tens of thousands imprisoned and tortured, and allegations of organ harvesting, while not conclusively proven, are certainly not without evidence (Xu, 2018). I encourage readers to do further research regarding the persecution of Falun Gong, for it is a horrendous human rights disaster. This is not to mention the mass detention of journalists, forced confessions, and strange disappearance of prominent critics that occur on a regular basis. The world has been in an uproar, rightfully so, over the killing of Jamal Khashoggi, but that same brutality occurs in China on a much larger scale. The world has to come to terms with the fact that the image of civilized society that China builds is nothing but a facade. For those concerned about human rights and the dignity of humanity, China should be near the top of the list.

Recognizing China for what it is – a brutal dictatorship that threatens the world order of freedom that we hold so dear – is essential. More than a nuclear North Korea, a rogue regime in Tehran, or a resurgent Russia, China poses the greatest danger to the free world. No other nation has the economic wherewithal, military prowess, and sheer force of will to depose the US as the preeminent superpower than China. If history is any guide, tolerating or appeasing a despotic regime leads to nothing but needless suffering. The model of Taiwan, a great democratic success story, proves the viability and benefits of democracy in the region. One can only hope that the future will bring about a free and democratic China that treats its people with dignity and respect.


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Economy, C. E., Kurlantzick, J., Blackwill, D. R. Territorial Disputes in the South China Sea. November 2, 2019, Council on Foreign Relations:!/conflict/territorial-disputes-in-the-south-china-sea

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