July in China: Cold War 2.0, society, and HK
Notes: the sole purpose of this piece is to serve my civic duties as a Chinese citizen. I wish the best for the bilateral relations between the U.S. and China. Please love your country and love her rationally.
Distressing — the perfect word to summarize the ongoing tensions between China and the world.
With the 2020 presidential election looming and the approval rating for Trump not at its brightest given his questionable handling of the COVID-19 pandemic and Black Lives Matter movement, Trump has chosen to use his tough stance on China as a mean to boost his chances of reelection. Admittedly, this would be a brilliant move by the Trump campaign team — the creation of an external threat with tangible evidences to prove its harm on American interests and the world order promoted by the U.S., and being the first brave warrior to oppose this monstrous regime to preserve democracy and freedom of the world. Additionally, this stance could attract voters from both spectrum since China is portrayed as a human rights abuser in Xinjiang and Hong Kong, which is deeply concerning for the Left while anti-communism is enough to rally the Right. Trump, as the president, has the capacity to implement anti-China policies while Biden can only give out promises, making it more attractive for him to be tougher on China.
Anyone monitoring the bilateral relations would be shocked by the fact that the U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has separated the Communist Party of China (CPC) from the People’s Republic of China to stress the hypothesis that the unfortunate and freedom loving Chinese people are waiting for external liberation from the U.S., creating a theoretical foundation for his hawkish stance towards China. Moreover, Pompeo has singled out the top leadership and President Xi Jinping from the Chinese government to build the aforementioned foundation by stressing the Chinese people are “a dynamic, freedom-loving people who are completely distinct from the Chinese Communist Party”. More alarmingly, this can be seen as a desire to facilitate the toppling of the CPC regime, which is an extremely aggressive approach to international politics not seen after the Cold War and Iraq War. It should be noted that the American foreign policy towards North Korea has consistently been negotiation after the Korean War and such desire for regime change can only be found in Venezuela where the U.S. has an viable opposition force to topple the existing regime. Perhaps sensed the potential danger, President Xi has noted in an inspection that the Party should strengthen the efficacy of community administration at the lower level so that the Party can “keep its position regardless of the waves”.
Given the aggressive American foreign policy, it has made it more convenient for China to strengthen its argument that it is the victim of American oppression, imperialism, and hegemonic desires on a global stage to rally support and prevent a global anti-China coalition like the one China joined to guarantee the collapse of Soviet Union. The Chinese argument is not unreasonable since it is still a developing country with domestic challenges such as vast income disparity and low GDP per capita, it would be unwise for the leadership to implement an expansionist policy that actively challenge the existing global order to overtake the U.S. as the new world hegemon. Historically, China has been content to confine itself with governing its vast territories and not expanding towards its neighbors despite it has the capacity to do so; empirically, it would be unwise for China to embark on the hegemonic road portrayed by Pompeo. Moreover, the Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi has proposed a way towards reconciliation: 1) list the things the two powers can cooperate on; 2) list the things that the two powers have different opinions on but can be solved through dialogue; 3) list the things that are irreconcilable for the two powers so that they can be better controlled to prevent clashes on bilateral relations. If China were to be actively seeking for fights, it would be seen as weak to propose such an easily satisfied first step towards reconciliation — listing, not solving the problems and reminding the U.S. that there are many areas where the two can cooperate on.
A logical question followed by the previous statement would be: if China does not actively seek fights, why is it embroiled into this ever-escalating tit-for-tat conflicts with countries like the U.S., UK, India, Australia, and even Japan? Pride, deglobalization, and electoral needs. “The Chinese people have stood up”, a slogan announced by Chairman Mao Zedong in 1949 on Tiananmen Square to announce the birth of the Republic, and a foreign policy relied upon by the leadership to signal that China will not tolerate the repeat of its shameful history of been invaded and colonized. Therefore, when any outside aggression is shown towards China, it is necessary for the Chinese leadership to respond with corresponding measures to defend the national pride. Regarding the impact of deglobalization, President Nixon made this comment in 1982: “[T]he major unifying factor which will draw us closer together in the next decade could well be our economic interdependence”. China and the U.S. are not allies by treaties and they do not share the identical ideology or even the future of the mankind, however, the two diagonally opposite world powers were first united together given their parallel interest of opposing Soviet Union, and the tacit cooperation is further perpetuated by the vast Chinese market and Chinese need to import American technology and investment. However, with the Trump administration’s protectionist policy, a devastating trade war has been ongoing for years. Without trade, ie. their common interests, what could be two parties gain from each other? Certainly not learning the values of Xi Jinping Thoughts or liberal democracy. Lastly, although the Chinese leadership does not require direct elections to stay in power, the leaders are well aware of the Chinese proverb “water can carry the boat; water can also overthrow the boat”. Facing exploding criticism towards the government’s initial handle of COVID-19, it is essential for the regime to arouse nationalism and use the role of victim to maintain control. The electoral needs for Trump has been discussed in the previous paragraphs.
Pompeo has urged world leaders to align together to defend freedom and democracy as he believes “[i]f the free world doesn’t change Communist China, Communist China will change us”, which is echoed by the UK Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab that the G-7 countries should get involved in this self-defense. However, the American aggression gives world leaders another excuse to cooperate with China as they can argue that the solution should be dialogues not confrontations or seeking regime change. Given the impact of COVID-19, the EU would be reluctant to risk potential sanctions from China for an ideological war that would serve it no direct benefits, as demonstrated by the recent high-level talks between EU and Chinese leaders on potential trade and economic relations as the EU wishes for more cooperation with China through asking for more opening of the Chinese market. A more obvious turndown of the self-defense alliance if from the Philippines as President Duterte announced in the State of the Nation Address that he “made a plea to President Xi Jinping that if they have the vaccine, can they allow us to be one of the first or if it is needed, if we have to buy it, that we will be granted credit so that we can normalize as fast as possible”. More shockingly, he had U-turned the Philippines’s stance on the South China Sea by suggesting he will not confront China on this matter despite receiving help from the U.S.
Domestically, China has made an incredible economic recovery by making a 3.2% growth of GDP whilst the rest of the world recorded record falls in GDP, notably Germany and the U.S. with 10.1% and 33% decrease accordingly. However, the economic recovery is unbalanced as certain industries, such as hospitality, are still badly impacted by the virus in some provinces. Data also suggests the record-breaking flood in China has directly contributed to RMB 61.79 ($8.86) billion loss in 27 provinces, impacting 30.2 million people. There has also been a rebound of virus cases in Xinjiang and Hong Kong.
In Hong Kong, the officials has barred 12 candidates from entering into the upcoming September election on the ground that they are not loyal to the government by violating the recently implemented controversial Security Law. Later, the government postponed the election altogether for 1 year citing virus concerns given its recent rebound.
A list of tit-for-tat foreign policy: the U.S. closed the Chinese consulate in Houston and China closed the U.S. consulate in Chengdu as a response; the UK government has given 3 million HK citizens the right to live in the UK with a special passport and China has refused to recognize the validity of such passports; the U.S. has passed Hong Kong Autonomy Act to punish actors, including in the financial sector, directly or indirectly supporting the diminish of autonomy in HK, while China had sanctioned officials it deem responsible for passing the act.