Writing about the Chinese “artist/subversionist/nationalist” Cai Guo Quiang who blew up a Christmas tree in front of the Smithsonian Institution in Washington DC, and seeing him honoured with a gold medal and awarded $ 2,50,000 — with American tax-payer money — by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, in 2012, Michael Pillsbury, the longtime American China-watchers, says in his book, “The Hundred-Year Marathon: China’s Secret Strategy to Replace America as the Global Superpower,” — “We Americans still don’t see China the way it sees us — a condition that has persisted for decades. Why else would the Smithsonian Institution and the State Department pay a famous Chinese artist $250,000 to blow up a Christmas tree on the National Mall? The answer lies, at least in part, in an ancient Chinese proverb that says, ‘Cross the sea in full view’ or, in more practical terms, ‘Hide in plain sight’.” With the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) still rampaging across the US, and the world still reeling under the effects of this pandemic it seems as if the American media’s and American leaders’ sights are not on the Chinese but mostly on President Trump, on pulling down statues, on police reform, on Russia, on the pandemic, and on whatever else the tweet of the hour by Trump happens to be. The Chinese are crossing the sea in full view, and the guard of the world is down. Today, China passed the draconian Hong Kong security law, and there will be some noise in the media about it, but tomorrow morning it will be back to bashing Trump, worrying about jobs, and quarrels about wearing face masks. Hong Kong is China’s weakest link, and this security law is going to ensure that the link is strengthened and whatever little space there was to challenge Beijing is now gone.
Pillsbury’s book is a must-read not only for Americans but for the rest of the world that has been seduced, coerced, or bamboozled into walking the Chinese line these past few decades and now face the most ominous change in the world: Chinese global hegemony by the year 2049, hundred years after the Chinese Communist Party came to power and vowed global dominance within a hundred years. The Flying Dragon and Leaping Tiger, for example, now owns about $ 1.08 trillion of the $ 24 trillion American debt, which they can use to play some hardball with Americans, spooking Wall Street bankers about roiling the American market. There are about 370,000 Chinese students now studying in American universities, garnering some important credentials, surely, but also with some of them working in high-security labs, stealing secrets and spying for the Chinese government. Recently some 54 researchers were dismissed by the National Institutes of Health. No rewards will be offered for figuring out who these researchers were and what their ties were to the Chinese “Thousand Talents” program. Many American universities have become reliant on Chinese students to supplement tuition income, with the Chinese students spending about $13 billion a year on tuition and living expenses, and professors at top universities have been seduced to working for the Chinese in exchange for research grants and other support. The industry is decimated in the US, thanks to a variety of actions taken by American businesses and political leaders, and Americans are happy buying everything from hand sanitizers to face masks, Christmas lights to vaccines, household appliances to clothes and toys and sports equipment from the Chinese. It seems as if half the goods on sale at Amazon has a China origin.
The COVID-19 pandemic, originating in Wuhan, China has devastated world economies and made life wretched to billions around the world even as China supplies the world the goods they need to deal with the virus that originated in their country. But before people can begin opening their mouths to complain and worry about China and the CCP’s designs for the world they are being shamed and scolded for “blaming the Chinese” or for calling COVID-19 the “China virus” despite the fact that we have many similar monikers for other diseases originating in other places. The woke, left/liberal groups in the US have, in their zeal to “cancel” people have ensured that whatever criticism is made of China is muted, vague, and self-censored.
Complicating the American engagement with China is the Chinese Diaspora. Chinese American history is old and complex, but now the five million or so Chinese Americans find themselves in new circumstances, and the temptation to play ball with the mainland can be strong, as Sandipan Deb points out. The “80-20 Asian American Empowerment PAC” (political action committee) has used its clout to highlight racist attacks on Asian Americans, rightly so, though “Asian” here could mean anyone who has East Asian features. A colleague mentioned he was subject to some nasty stares, but the interesting twist to his observation was that those who gave him the nasty looks were African Americans.
In this context, it is useful to investigate American media’s engagement with China and concerns about Chinese threats. Watching the evening news on television and browsing the websites of daily newspapers shows that the coverage of China news is sporadic and criticism of China mostly half-hearted, with blame these days is heaped mostly on Donald Trump for his engagement with our lack of engagement with China. For example, in The New York Times, over the past four months (1 March to 30 June), we see the following editorials focus on Chinese matters:
- Will President Trump stand with Hong Kong? (27 May)
- Coronavirus doesn’t care where you come from. Trump still does. (31 March)
- China’s ill-timed attack on the free press (17 March)
Yes, that is it. The editors did not even bother to publish an editorial on the China-India face-off two weeks ago! This is how much the “newspaper of record” is concerned about China. Also, note the wording in the headlines. Two of the three editorials target Trump more than they do China, and the third one, if one were to quibble, makes it seem that The New York Times would be fine with China restricting press freedom at other times but is only concerned about such press restrictions during the coronavirus pandemic.
Xi and the CCP, as well as the Chinese Army Generals, know that this is the time to move briskly toward accomplishing their hegemonic goals — when the world is busy grappling with the virus. Even if we are to dismiss the conspiracy theories claiming that the coronavirus was synthetically grown at Beijing’s behest, or even more insidiously, that it was spread deliberately, we may want to keep in mind the warnings of Pillsbury, and that the Chinese leadership will use any thrust and feint that are in its arsenal to achieve its goals.
In this context, the recent violent and thuggish push in the Galwan Valley by specially trained Chinese soldiers who beat up Indian soldiers with barbed wire strung wooden rods is a warning to India to toe the Chinese line or get ready to be burned by the dragon. It is time that Indian leaders recognize that while the US and Western Europe have indeed slept at the wheel while China has redirected the state of global affairs, it is better for India that it joins hands with the US and Europe so that it can track and slow down the Chinese march across Asia, if not thwart the Chinese putsch. Despite the complaints we have about President Trump’s dealings with the Chinese, it is he who has, in blunderbuss fashion, brought the China trade imbalance and Chinese threats to the fore. Alas, the Democratic Party candidate, Joe Biden, and his party faithful, as well as much of the media could care less as they strategize to defeat Trump in November.
Xi and his Army Generals will play while American leaders and the electorate fight over other matters and worry about their monthly paychecks. Who or what will wake them up to the Chinese threat, and will that be too late?