China Peace Initiative logo

China Peace Initiative

CPI Newsletter 2023-7-23

Deeper Question

Not worst enemies, but maybe worst nightmare?

The China Peace Initiative (CPI) continually attempts to make the case that China and the West are not each other’s worst enemy.  Their worst enemies are the universal defects in humanity.  Things like irrational, illogical, and emotional groupthink; or greed, power and manipulation.     

If not worst enemy, though, the West and China are likely each other’s worst nightmare. 

Sometimes when listening to people in the West you get the impression that they believe China is imminently going to find a way to take away things that are dear to them.  Independent press, freedom of religion, and representative democracy with opposition, checks and balances, and separation of powers.   

Likewise, China has many fears of the West.  Some of these fears are large and sweeping, like efforts at political interference and regime change which is feared would disunify and destabilize China.  Others are smaller fears, like America’s woke movement and being forced to join in the pronoun wars.  The West should not belittle these smaller fears for they have a deep impact.  One of Vladimir Putin’s justifications for the war in Ukraine is the West’s adoption of same sex unions and transgenderism. 

A Chinese scholar of China-US Relations explained very clearly during a panel discussion at the World Peace Forum in Beijing earlier this year–“I think China actually sees the US as its biggest external threat, and that threat is not just about national security but politics, too.  The US has often said that it doesn’t want to change China’s [political] system but we are very concerned because of what it is doing and the fact that the US has a very negative opinion about China politically.”

Yes.  What this scholar said is true of both the US and the West more broadly.  The West is negative on China’s political system.  The reason is because of painful experience.  Nations with no free press, no opposition, and no transparency have historically done bad things.  First to their own people, and then to the people around them.   When China makes claim to Taiwan and areas of the South China Sea or states its intention to supplant the rules-based international order, it causes the West to be negative about China’s political system.     

To which the Chinese say, “if this is the case, what explains the bad things that Western nations have done?”  Which is a very fair question.  The truth is that a lot of bad things have been done in the name of “The Geo-Politics Game” and humanity has much to be ashamed about.  The only redemption and hope for the future is simply to not repeat them.    

Another defect of humanity is the reality that China and the West will likely do more damage to themselves than what they fear from the other.  In the end, our nightmares are usually our own creation.  Let’s do more to produce good dreams.

By the way…China Peace Initiative offers a free online seminar on the topic of “The Geo-politics Game.”

Stories to Read

China relationship with US neighbors—

There is an intense effort on the part of the US—perhaps representing other Western nations—to form ever closer relationships with China’s neighbors.  For some nations, like Japan and South Korea, this has been relatively easy.  For other nations, not so much.  Some of these nations are former adversaries of the US (Vietnam) while others are on and off again friends depending on the current government (the Philippines).   A total of fourteen nations share a border with China, in addition to other nations who are China’s neighbors but do not share a border.   

China also forms relationships with America’s neighbors.   It has been open knowledge for a long time that China and Cuba are special friends and that there are “spy bases” on the island.  But China also has unique relationships with Nicaragua and Argentina.  Chinese companies own a lot of assets along the Panama Canal.  And if you include China’s possible network of friends through Russia, that brings in Brazil and Columbia as well.      

Chip CEOs lobby Washington to ease export controls—

China hawks in the US have been celebrating the US action denying China the most advanced chip technology through export controls.  Chip companies obviously want to sell more chips.  It comes as no surprise, then, that sooner or later the lobbying effort to ease restrictions would get to Washington. 

Rule by Law—

Yes, China has many news laws.  And yes, the West has been mostly negative and concerned about them.  Also yes, China has “rule by law” and not “rule of law.”  The distinction being that “rule of law” means that the law is above the government (i.e. an independent judiciary) so that even the government is subject to law courts.  “Rule by law” means that behaviors of individuals and companies and decisions by government officials must be spelled out by a written law.  China does not have rule of law and few people can imagine China ever having rule of law.  What is less thought about, though, is how individual government officials in China have tremendous power to make decisions and how—in the absence of law—they can make bad decisions, they can make arbitrary decisions, the situation can breed corruption, and it all contributes to the lack of clarity and the unpredictability of trying to do anything in China.  In short, maybe more laws would ultimately be a good thing.

Economic Slowdown—

Everybody wondered what China’s economy would look like as it emerged from COVID lockdowns.  The failing property sector and very high youth unemployment (20%) have been topics much discussed.  Half year reporting is now beginning to come out and many seem nervous, including the Chinese government.  Since President Xi Jinping’s Work Report at the National People’s Congress last October, private businesses have felt left in comparison to state firms.  Big tech and private education have been clobbered by regulation.  It is true that the property sector (where many Chinese keep their primary investment) has been doing heartbreakingly bad.  Based on the half year reports now coming out–WOW—something is very amiss.  The government must have known for a long while that things were going to be bad because even before markets had a chance to absorb results, there were announcements about a specific 31-point plan to stoke the economy.  Every ministerial department that has anything to do with the economy has announced measures as well. 

Communist Party of China (CPC) reinforces control over the People’s Liberation Army (PLA)—

The People’s Liberation Army (PLA) is the catch all term for all of China’s military services.  China is unique in that the PLA reports directly to the Communist Party of China (CPC) and not the state.  Another way to phrase that is that the “government of China” has no military, only the Party.  Although it sounds unusual, this is not a surprise because in China the Party has always sat above the state.  At a gathering of senior military leaders President Xi Jinping took the opportunity to reinforce that the PLA must be loyal and always follow to CPC directives.  This would not be disconcerting at all—because it is the way things are in China–but for the that fact that it had to be reminded at all.

By the way…China Peace Initiative offers a free online seminar about the basic structure and organization of the Communist Party of China (CPC) and the Chinese government.   

Using Artificial Intelligence to self-censor in China—

As the whole world continues to grapple with the numerous and complex implications of Artificial Intelligence (AI), reports come out of China about the use of AI to stay on the right side of China’s censors.   These are presumably software programs which monitor 24/7 the words and phrases on the Internet that the government is censoring, then cross references these with the words and phrases being put into company materials about to be released publicly, and then prevents company materials from being released with the offending words and phrases.   

India rejected a large China investment on grounds of national security—

Recently India rejected a very large inbound investment from a Chinese manufacturer of electric vehicles on the basis of national security.  India is a unique player on the global scene.  It is kind of mysterious and aloof.  India is friends with Russia and buys a lot of weapons from Russia.  And while India is not unfriendly to the US, it does cautiously keep a bit of distance.  China is angry at the US for not lifting sanctions on its Minister of Defense, Mr. Li Shangfu, over buying arms from Russia.  But what is less well known is that Washington dropped the same charges against India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi in order to facilitate a four day state visit to the United States last month.  Like China, India is a huge country with a large population.  India and China share borders and India is a member of China’s Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO).  And yet, troops from China and India very recently fought a gruesome, bloody, hand-to-hand braul in the dark with weapons like knives and spears.  There were casualties on both sides.  The fight was over a disputed border area.

People to Know

Mr. He Weifang—

It takes a very brave person to be different in China, to stand out, especially officially.  And particularly if you are a professional and hold important positions in your field.  He Weifang has been a law professor at Peking University since 1995 and recently announced his retirement.  A long-time activist for legal reform in China, He Weifang has a long history of having his views censored and always walking the fine line between staying out of trouble and yet contributing to his nation.  In 2011 he was named one of Foreign Policy magazine’s Top 100 Global Thinkers.  During the COVID lockdowns, he handwrote a statement and posted it on WeChat as a picture to avoid censorship.  He thought that the management of COVID had been poorly done. 

Mr. Xie Feng—

Xie Feng is China’s new ambassador to the United States.  He is the successor to Mr. Qin Gang in the role.  Americans did not always like what Qin Gang had to say but over time many came to appreciate his qualities.  Xie Feng has jumped into the role with full energy.   He attended the Aspen Security Forum and said that China will retaliate against the technology curbs that the US is imposing on China and encouraging other nations to adopt as well.  He said that China is not afraid to compete.  Xie Feng has a sense of humor.  He described the competition over chips with an analogy involving one side having old style, baggy swimwear while the other has a new, modern Speedo.  This must have generated some chuckles from forum listeners.          

Terms to Ponder

Work Report—

To report to UK parliament the British Prime Minister stands in the middle of the room, at a table covered with books and other symbolic items and is surrounded on all sides by both political friends and enemies.  It is noisy and boisterous.  There is booing and heckling.  This is NOT what happens at one of China’s National People’s Congress (NPC) meetings. 

The US president is required by the US Constitution to report to congress on the “state of the union” one time per year.  Before 1801 the president usually went in person and delivered the speech.  Between 1801 and 1912 the report was sent in written form.  In 1913 President Woodrow Wilson again gave the speech in person to a joint session of congress and that has been the tradition ever since.  With the advent of technology, the speech was broadcast on radio and then later TV and is now live-streamed.   The State of the Union address (SOTU) is usually given in the first part of the year, sometime between January and March.  The president uses the speech to address agenda items and priorities and attempts to win support for both.    

Work reports by China’s senior leaders to the NPC are similar but different to what happens in the UK and the US.    In some ways they are more of a statement and less of a plea.  Perhaps the primary audience is not so much the nation as the more than 90 million Communist Party of China (CPC) members who may need convincing to trust the leaders and deepen their commitment to the Party.  The NPC approves the report.  The report that President Xi Jinping gave at the NPC in October 2022 was months in the making.  Drafts circulated widely within the CPC and even non-CPC parties were invited to review and discuss in advance.  In fact, President Xi’s nearly two-hour address to the congress was not the full report. He gave an abridged version made shorter to accommodate elderly attendees at the congress.  The work report is titled “Hold High the Great Banner of Socialism with Chinese Characteristics and Strive in Unity to Build a Modern Socialist Country in All Respects.”  The full text in English is widely available online.  The report ends with an appeal, ”Comrades…let us strive in unity to build a modern socialist country in all respects and advance national rejuvenation on all fronts.”

Lists

The Mystery of Qin Gang—

Mr. Qin Gang was the Chinese ambassador to the United States from 2021 until late in 2022 when he was promoted to Minister of Foreign Affairs, China’s top diplomat.  For the first few months of 2023 he seemed to be everywhere at once.  And then he disappeared.   He has not been seen since June 25, 2023. 

Qin Gang went to work at China’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs in 1992.  From 2011 to 2015 he was the Foreign Ministry’s Director of Information.  From 2015 to 2018, the Director of Protocol.  In 2018 he was promoted to Vice-minister of Foreign Affairs.  Then to the US as ambassador.  And finally, the top spot in 2023.       

There are many theories about what occurred, but no facts, no information. 

  • China has not explained anything.
  • Presumably, China’s leaders think that they do not have to explain.
  • They are right, they do not “have to.”   But perhaps they might choose to.
  • China expected the world to listen to Qin Gang when he spoke and take him seriously and felt proud when people did.  He was impressive.
  • It will be difficult for listeners to listen again in the same way. 

Unhelpful

China sees the US as “another vassal coming to the grand celestial court to acknowledge its subordination.”  Gordon Chang, Gatestone Institute, speaking on Fox about US Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen’s visit to China.

“China’s economy is spiraling: Will war be Xi’s distraction?”  An opinion piece in The Hill by Gordon G. Chang, Gatestone Institute.  Gordon Chang is an American author and lawyer who lived and worked in China for 20 years.  A long-time critic of the CPC, he continues to hope for a China not led by the CPC.  In his 2001 book “The Coming Collapse of China” he predicted that China would collapse in 2011.  It didn’t.  In 2020 he published a new book entitled “The Great US-China Tech War” in which he used the phrase “cold tech war.”  The 2020 prediction has proved to be very accurate.

Glorious

The British Museum is offering an exhibition titled “China’s Hidden Century (1796-1912).”  The exhibition is a collection of items from the Qing Dynasty and includes robes, fans, paintings, documents and other historical treasures.  The actual Treaty of Nanking signed at the end of the First Opium War in 1842 is also part of the display.  The exhibition runs through October 8.      

Related Content

CPI Newsletter 2023-8-13

One of the primary purposes of CPI is to prevent war between the West and China.  This is a really difficult task because humans love war. 

CPI Newsletter 2023-8-6

What if a senior leader in China decides their system is not better?
The argument that China’s system of government is better for China has been repeated for decades.

CPI Newsletter 2023-7-30

When Henry Kissinger met with President Xi Jinping in Beijing recently, Mr. Xi is quoted as saying “Looking ahead, China and the United States can help each other succeed and prosper together, and the key is to follow the three principles of mutual respect, peaceful coexistence and win-win cooperation.”

Newsletters

Receive balanced news and commentary about China and the West.

"*" indicates required fields

Name*
This field is for validation purposes and should be left unchanged.