The mainstream media in Australia seem to unite on one issue and it is propagandising the public in a way that is unprecedented. This subject is China. Articles whether in the ABC, Nine or News Corp papers all have the same implicit assumption – that China is a bad, expansionist country.
So many who rightly see through the bogus narratives in the mainstream media around climate change and economic reform fail to see through this. The evidence seems too much for people to bare – repression of Uyghurs in Xinjiang, the Hong Kong protests, rising tensions with Taiwan and expansionism in the South China Sea. But with each of these examples, a deeper dive into the background and context reveals a different story. This isn’t a story that will be told in the mainstream media. Let’s start with the history of China and use that as context for explaining the current issues.
China has a rich ancient history, but for the purposes of this piece, we will focus on the past two centuries. After millennia of China being a great power, in the period between 1850 and 1950 they experienced what they call their “century of humiliation”. It started out with the opium wars with the British Empire that decimated the Chinese ruling class and resulted in the surrendering of coastal city Hong Kong. Next was a war with their close neighbours Japan at which they saw another loss. Towards the end of this century of humiliation came the Second World War and yet another battle with Japan. With help from the United States (which soon was turned to hindrance), they kept the Japanese at bay.
The situation in China after the Second World War is important. The ruling party was the Kuomintang, headed by their leader Generalissimo Chiang Kai-Shek. He was unpopular and his leadership hinged on his support from the United States. After a brutal civil war involving the United States Military training members of the Dalai Lama’s guard in the Colorado mountains before their deployment against the Communists (fun fact), Mao’s revolution was complete. With a renewed sense of nationalism and some grand visions for the country, the Chinese Communist Party got to work.
These past 70-odd years are crucial. It is important to note just how underdeveloped China was in 1949. This was an agricultural society, mostly consisting of peasants working the land. There was little or no industrialisation, especially when compared to the raging machine that was now the West. Mao Zedong had a vision for China to industrialise and meet their potential as an economic superpower. Mao brought the vision of China with incompetent policies. There are valid criticisms that he tried to move too quickly and held too much control, resulting in mass famine and the deaths of millions.
His eventual successor Deng Xiaoping, however, took the cohesion that Mao created and implemented competent policies to match. Opening up China to the world economy while still maintaining control over the corporations and his people, Deng Xiaoping is rightly credited with the economic miracle that is modern China. In a period of 50 years, almost a billion people have been lifted out of poverty. This miracle is the result of a visionary leader. The period since then has followed a similar trajectory, and China’s GDP is expected to surpass that of the falling empire of the United States in the coming decade.
To address the issues raised in the mainstream media, we first also need to note the recent history of our greatest ally the United States of America. Through the second half of the 20th century, while China was desperately carrying out its great visions, the U.S. was carrying out typical imperial activities. The CIA, as detailed by William Blum in Killing Hope, has spent the period since WW2 interfering in the affairs of any country in which its donors can make a dollar. A coup in Iran to access their oil in 1953. The coup of Australia’s Gough Whitlam in 1975 for a range of reasons, one being the potential nationalisation of our mines. There are too many to name, but a quick look at the contents page of Killing Hope reveals the sheer scale of the operation. The United States’ history has resulted in a smattering of strategically placed military bases across the world. One such place where those military bases reside? In a convenient ring, right around the Chinese border. If China had military bases scattered across the Mexican and Canadian borders with ships circling Hawaii, I’m not sure the U.S. response would be so kind.
The criticisms of China need to first be seen through this lens. China, a rising power, has the existing superpower surrounding it. There is very little global support for the rising nation, credited to the economic and military influence of the U.S. empire. In the case of Australia, and likely countries throughout the world, any Prime Minister willing to engage with China and the U.S. on a balanced plane sees themselves discarded. For this reason, China has no choice but to cosy up to whomever it can. Its strengthening relationship with Iran and Russia in recent months is a prime example.
With some background covered, it is time to address the issues themselves.
Hong Kong – Culture War, Pure Economics or Both?
That of Hong Kong is relatively simple in background but complex in its future outcomes. Hong Kong, as alluded to previously, was given up to the United Kingdom in the 19th century. With a 99-year lease signed in 1898, Hong Kong was subject to the British Empire’s rule until 1997. Under the British, Hong Kong turned into a business hub and a brutally free market economy. This did wonders for their GDP which multiplied by 180 in the 36 years between 1961 and 1997 but has resulted in some of the worst economic inequality on Earth.
Of Hong Kong’s 150-odd years under British rule, China was going through its century of humiliation and its early recovery period. It was not yet the powerhouse that we see today. As a result, in 1997 Hong Kong represented some 18% of China’s GDP. Much of China’s economic miracle was yet to transpire, so this wasn’t a huge surprise. With this fact in mind, China decided to let Hong Kong do its own thing and govern it as a Special Administrative Region (SAR) for 50 years. In this period, Hong Kong would be run under the rules of “one country, two systems”. This was working well for a time, but as China began to rise as an economic power, Hong Kong’s free market economy simply couldn’t keep up.
Nowadays, Hong Kong is lucky to represent 3% of China’s GDP. From China’s perspective, a key city is falling behind. The “one country, two systems” policy is becoming infeasible not because China is an evil, expansionist empire, but for purely economic reasons. The people of Hong Kong are concerned about the growing influence of Beijing in their city and this is what makes the future of Hong Kong so complicated. There seems an inevitability that Beijing will take control of Hong Kong in the years to come, especially as its economic situation worsens.
After 150 years of semi-separation, the culture of Hong Kong is different from that of China, and there is a democratic desire to maintain that culture. As a result of British rule, Hong Kong’s culture seems more aligned with that of Britain or the U.S. than China. It is ironic then, that the influence of the U.S. is yet another reason why this culture is being suppressed by China. Again, looking at a map of military bases around China, seeing the location of the city of Hong Kong and seeing the absurdity and recklessness of the administration of the U.S. reveals something. In the event of a war, Hong Kong becomes crucial. Hong Kong’s cultural ties with the West become a threat.
There is a debate to be had over whether Hong Kong would be taken over by China if the United States were to be a more peaceful nation. China has historically seen Hong Kong as part of their territory, as it has Xinjiang, Taiwan and Tibet. Given this fact, perhaps a U.S. withdrawal would only accelerate the process. But it is also perfectly valid to speculate that while China might still control Hong Kong in the event of a U.S. withdrawal, they would also be more inclined to let Hong Kong maintain their culture and freedoms. Without the threat of war either economic or military, there is a question of whether they would care that a cultural anomaly sat on their border.
To summarise the issue of Hong Kong, we should restate three main points. The first is the history of Hong Kong as first a Chinese city, then a British-controlled colony and now a SAR operating under Beijing’s “one country, two systems” policy. The second is that, in comparison to China, Hong Kong’s economic system is operating poorly in recent times. This has resulted in China wanted to go back on its “one country, two systems” deal and operate Hong Kong themselves. The third and final is the debate over whether the withdrawal of United States’ military around China would help or hinder Hong Kong’s desire to remain a free market economy.
Xinjiang – Cultural Genocide or a Pragmatic Solution to Terrorism?
Moving now to the issue of Xinjiang and the population of Uyghur Muslims that are, if you listen to the Western press, undergoing massive repression. It should be immediately curious that a Western press which looks past the Western sponsoring of the genocide of Muslims in Yemen are so intently focused on the persecution of Muslims in China. This is yet another case of the media seeing what it wants you to see and thinking what it wants you to think – some of Jordan Peterson’s Rule 6 is in order: set your own house in order before you criticize the world.
In order to understand the situation in Xinjiang, one must first understand the history of Afghanistan. Before 1973, Afghanistan was run as a monarchy until Daoud overthrew them, together with the PDP, to become a republic. Soon enough, the CIA were involved. Daoud was convinced by the Iranian Shah and other US allies to abandon the parties that allowed him to overthrow the monarchy, namely the PDP. After repression of his citizens and especially PDP party members, 1978 saw a new change of government. The PDP, led by Taraki, overthrew Daoud and presented a truly reforming policy platform. Their goals were to eradicate illiteracy which was then at 90%, to implement land reform while maintaining private property, to build up the almost non-existent public sector and union movement and to create a separation between church and state. If you’ve read anything about post-war U.S. history, you’ll know that this surely wouldn’t fly.
In the years between 1978 and 1992 came many leadership changes. U.S. allies funded rebel groups whose public motive was to fight religious repression, but also just happened to be the landowners whose wealth would be impacted by the government. Hafizullah Amin, whose motives were suspiciously aligned with the CIA’s, overthrew Taraki. The Soviets, who refused to put troops on the ground at Taraki’s request, now were forced to do so to avoid an anti-communist US puppet state on their doorstep. The West, wanting to turn Afghanistan into the Soviets version of Vietnam, pumped money into radical groups. Video of Margaret Thatcher telling a group that would eventually spawn Al Qaeda that “the hearts of the free world are with you” proves chilling.
All of this preamble is to state the simple point that terrorism in Afghanistan was very much influenced by the CIA. That the 9/11 attacks occurred on American soil was a great irony given that the CIA had heavily funded the mujahideen, the precursor to Al Qaeda, only a decade earlier. This isn’t the only terrorist group in the Middle East that the Americans had a part in creating, but the story of ISIS’ formation in Iraq is for another time.
The story of Al Qaeda is important to the story of Xinjiang because the terrorism problem that is concentrated in Xinjiang but had soon spread across China was perpetuated by a group with whom Al Qaeda is connected. The East Turkistan Islamic Movement (ETIM) is an organisation designated as a terrorist group by the UN and has evidential links along with great similarities to Al Qaeda. ETIM practices the same radical version of Islam as Al Qaeda which Islamic scholars in Xinjiang strongly denounce. It uses the same training techniques and has a history of indoctrinating children and the incredibly poor into their ideology. There is video evidence of children as young as 6 being taught how to shoot a gun, their innocence shining through as they cry at the violent noise.
The number of terrorist attacks in China by this group numbers in the thousands over the decades since 1990. China, being pragmatic as they are, see it is an economic problem. They see poverty as the biggest cause of these problems, as well as an inability to communicate throughout the community. There are hundreds of separate cultures within Xinjiang, and Beijing sees it as vital for all of these communities to be able to communicate in order to stem the fear and the violence – the lingua franca being Mandarin.
From China’s perspective, they had a massive problem with terrorism in their country, especially concentrated to their Westernmost province. They saw the problem not with a dangerous religion as some in the West seem to believe, but as an economic problem. From their point of view, if their citizens have economic prosperity and the ability to communicate with one another, these dangerous ideologies will have far less ability to spread. This is just one reason for China’s drive to eradicate poverty throughout their country. The goal was to have this complete in 2020, and it seems they are on track to do so. Meanwhile, in the richest country on Earth, poverty rates are around 10% and rising quickly given current circumstances in the United States.
This brings us to the allegations of concentration camps and Uyghur genocide. While I have heard many emotional attacks on these re-education camps, I have not seen any concrete evidence for any wrongdoing. When I look at the background and the context, nor do I see any reason for China to be persecuting such a large part of Xinjiang’s population. Instead, I find an incredibly reasonable explanation of what is occurring and a pragmatic approach to policy that I find staggeringly rare in the West. The images shown by Chinese media of these “concentration camps” are little more than technical colleges providing the citizens with skills to lift them from poverty. The “brainwashing” that is emotionally derided is little more than teaching the people of a linguistically diverse province a lingua franca so that they can better relate to each other.
Once more, I will reiterate: if there is concrete evidence for the persecution of these people, I will change my mind. At this point, the only evidence has been propped up by anti-China sentiments for which a falling U.S. empire has the greatest incentive.
Taiwan: As if China was Arming Cuba.
Next, we can explore the relationship between China and Taiwan. This, once again, requires a story of 20th century history. The Chinese civil war occurred from 1927 until the eventual Communist victory in 1949. Both sides of the conflict united during the Second World War, fighting the Japanese invasion from 1937 until 1945. Immediately after the Japanese surrender, the civil war continued.
The Kuomintang were the ruling party in China. Known as the Nationalists, they had U.S. support, especially in a country with an imminent Communist revolution. During WW2, the United States was on the side of the Chinese fighting the Japanese who had forced them into the conflict in the first place. Once the war ended, however, many military families were disappointed to realise that their troops weren’t returning as quickly as they had hoped. Instead, there was to be a period in which the U.S. troops would repatriate the Japanese. This seemed to be a suitable explanation in an uneducated America, but the generals were having a hard time communicating this to their troops on the ground. This was because in reality, oftentimes they were protecting Chinese Nationalist strongholds with the Japanese troops. The United States could have removed themselves from China, allowing the Chinese to sort out their own issues. Instead, with boots on the ground, they went in to battle for their puppet Chiang Kai-Shek and the Kuomintang.
After the Japanese surrender, the civil war was won relatively quickly by Mao’s Communist movement, even with the US support of the Kuomintang. Chiang Kai-Shek was exiled to the island of Taiwan, where great atrocities were then committed. Before this time, Taiwan was under Japanese rule, but now the Kuomintang was in charge. The terror began with what is known as the February 28 Incident, in which somewhere between 5000 and 28000 people were massacred in the streets of Taiwan. Then came the White Terror, a period of 38 years in which Taiwan was under constant martial law. 140,000 Taiwanese people were imprisoned, between 3000 and 4000 were executed and countless others went missing – all for supposed criticism of the KMT.
The next key point in time for Taiwan was the 1992 Consensus. This was a meeting of representatives from China and Taiwan in which they discussed the status of the two countries. To call it a “consensus” is misleading because the modern interpretations of that meeting couldn’t be more divided. China held that there was a consensus of “One China”, meaning that Taiwan was a part of China. Modern Taiwanese parties hold that there was no such consensus, but the relationship remains complicated.
In the present day, the KMT are ironically the more pro-China party. The Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) led by President Tsai Ing-wen is in power, and the general consensus among the Taiwanese population is the maintenance of the status quo of this strange Schrodinger relationship in which Taiwan is both not part of China but is also not independent. No one has proposed any substantial changes to this status quo, but China is getting increasingly concerned about the status of the island. They have solid reasons for concern.
Much like the situation with Hong Kong, China is concerned about U.S. interference in Taiwan. The United States supplies Taiwan with abundant military arms. A deal valued at $2.2 billion was approved by the State Department in July 2019. As with previous examples, imagine if China was militarily funding an island off the coast of the United States like Cuba, Puerto Rico or Hawaii. If there was even a chance of this happening, it would likely end in military conflict. The current situation in Taiwan, however, is simply seen as the necessary ‘containment’ of China. An Orwellian phrase if I ever heard one.
South China Sea: Who is in Violation of International Law?
The final situation I want to cover briefly in this article is that of the South China Sea. As is described in the case of Taiwan, there is first a question that needs to be posed of why the United States cares about the South China Sea. Does China care about U.S. operations in the Gulf of Mexico? The United States couldn’t possibly see it as a military threat, especially since their closest state is over 9000km away. This ‘containment’ of China, much like the ‘containment’ of the USSR, is in almost all cases, a complete farce. With that note made, we can now look at what is actually happening in the region.
The South China Sea is contested between the nations of China, Taiwan, the Philippines, Vietnam and Malaysia. The tensions are based on islands in the South China Sea to which China lays claim. China uses their so-called “nine-dash line” to outline the area and the islands which is claims is its territory. Vietnam and the Philippines reject these claims and instead see these islands as rocks, meaning that China would have to claim to them under international law.
China’s perspective is this. Under international law, in order to lay claim to a territory, they need to discover them, name them and continuously occupy them. Chinese scholars have done this, showing that through the centuries different leaders have had different names for these same islands, but have recognised them and occupied them, nonetheless. China also notes that the United States once recognised China’s sovereignty in the South China Sea, lending them destroyers in WW2 to defend it against the Japanese. In the case of Vietnam and the Philippines, China notes the concept of estoppel. This is a legal principle in international law in which a country who gives up their claim to some territory is not supposed to reverse their position. The Philippines and Vietnam have done exactly this since the 1970s, when their positions suddenly changed on the South China Sea dispute.
As it often the case with these debates, I understand China’s point of view. Conversely, the Western point of view is difficult to articulate with any substance. The commentators I have heard only offer the explanation that China is being expansionist and aggressive, which are just more Orwellian phrases of projection. It seems that in Western media, the Chinese perspective is never presented. In Chinese media, however, the Western perspective is presented and routinely dismantled, oftentimes making the Western representative seem plainly incompetent.
To conclude this piece, I want to make a note on Australian media and why it fails to address the nuance of each and every situation in China. The motive is simple. Much like all of the content you see on the television, the news is not there to inform you. It is there to distract you and keep you from asking too many questions. There is a dishonesty to the media in the West that is truly its most insidious aspect.
In Chinese media, as I have become familiar with it in recent weeks, the narratives are clear. The openness with which the presenters will support the CCP creates an honesty of dialogue. Yes, they will present the Chinese narrative, but everyone knows it.
In the West, only the Western narrative of all of these issues will be presented – but in the West, we preserve this sense that we have a free and balanced press. This is complete nonsense. In fact, in the past few weeks I have seen far more of the Western perspective articulated, and far better, than I have ever seen the Chinese perspective articulated in Western media.
If we had a truly free press, a meritocracy in our media, there would be far more substantial content on our screens. Rather than sensationalist stories with baked in narratives wrapped around dishonest marketing, we would learn something from watching the news each night.
In a technological world, there is both the opportunity to create real democracy in our media and the opportunity for the media to become more concentrated and our population more homogenous in opinion than ever. While we have opted for the latter, as new technologies grow, we will continue to be offered opportunities to create the former. There was once an opportunity with radio that was then squandered. Then, an opportunity with television, again squandered. Now, the internet is the new disrupter. We are in the golden age in which it seems any perspective can be heard. But the doors are closing, with big companies gradually censoring content into the same baked in narratives we see on legacy media.
My hope is that we take advantage of this technology rather than squandering it. This could legitimately mean the difference between a world war with a rising China and a reasonable discussion and learning from their pragmatic policies.