China is an interesting state, and becoming a bigger player on the world stage as time passes. Having lost wars to major powers in the more recent century, China is deliberately moving on the world stage and is determined to exercise its power in the twenty-first century. In terms of assets, China is creating man-made islands in the South China Sea, in order to enlarge its global footprint, claiming man-made islands as part of their sovereign nation and attempting to curtail traffic in the open seas.
China has a bit of a chip on its shoulder, for several reasons. Never mind the Rape of Nanking, where the Japanese presided over a bitter conquest and committed enough atrocities to keep several generations begging for revenge. China is a large nation, but not large enough, to hear them tell it, considering their expansive attempts in the South China Sea. China is the world’s most populous nation, slightly in front of India, another nation China considers a rival, if not a direct threat.
If countries learn from mistakes, China has a lot of wisdom. When you have one quarter of the world’s population on less than fifteen percent of the world’s arable land, you have a challenge worthy of some substantial leadership. China’s recent explosive economic growth emerges from a litany of failures. Just for context, a short review of some of the larger Chinese campaigns: Chairman Mao’s economic incentives were, in a word, disastrous. Shortly after his revolution, Mao though everyone would agree he was brilliant, and expected great unmitigated praise when he began the One-Hundred Flowers Campaign. The praise was rather shallow, and the campaign turned into a sounding board for those unhappy with Mao. Mao expected better, and things went downhill. Next was the Great Leap Forward, another disaster. Finally, an exasperated Mao undertook the Proletariat Cultural Revolution where millions were relocated. Let’s be clear here, during all of these upheavals, millions of Chinese citizens starved to death. The Chinese government kept a close eye on all of the citizens, disallowing, then as now, criticism of the government.
A Change in the Chinese Menu
Deng Xiaoping eventually emerged as the leader and asked the question: “why do we care what color the cat is as long as it catches mice?” meaning that, as a country, China needed economic development, and he really didn’t care what ideology it was as long as it boosted the economy. Allowing Western businesses to open factories in China boosted the economy, and soon (using and keeping the Western technology) China’s economy took off like a rocket. The newly opened markets offered great opportunities for companies willing to ship their factories to China, and, again, China allowed them to build factories as long as the Chinese learned the technology. Of course, firms like GM, Apple, and others saw the Chinese market as being exponentially larger than the U.S. market where they had sharpened their skills and made their fortunes. Chinese labor was cheap and plentiful, with a work ethic that carried over from toiling in the fields for long days. (With the threat of government punishment looming overhead.) Think of what all General Motors gets in China: Third-World wages, strikes by workers and unions in general forbidden by law, pollution regulations mild at best, and one-quarter of the world’s population as potential customers. No firm can pass up an opportunity such as that.
There was some reluctance, however, for the giant U.S. firms to bring the profits back to American shores, (and banks) because to the Internal Revenue Service, revenue is revenue; the best the talented lawyers and accountants of the big firms could come up with was to not transfer the profits to U.S. banks.
China has embraced technology as fast as any country could and has built (using U.S. technology) some very large tech firms, mostly due to the fact that they have one billion potential customers. Embracing technology has had a great benefit to the Chinese government. Google’s reluctance to comply with Chinese regulations has opened up many opportunities to Chinese-based firms. The benefits of technology reach far into the population of China. China is one of the most censored, watched and dystopian societies on earth. Aldous Huxley would feel vindicated. There isn’t much technology that is available to spy on the population that China isn’t using. Had such technology been available in previous times, the Soviet Union might have lasted a bit longer.
Along with disturbing censorship, privacy violations and technical monitoring, China is a very diverse society with different languages and even more dialects. I would describe the diversity of the population of China as a major reason that the country has not united many times over issues. How many actually loved Chairman Mao versus how many feared his reprisal if they disagreed with him is deeper than my present research goes, but if what happened to those who Mao even suspected had misgivings is any indicator, I’m sure people would be inclined to agree, even if they didn’t. Aside from Korea, where the numbers were overwhelming, the Chinese military doesn’t have much of a track record, for better or worse. Most all of the conflicts have been with border states, China has not engaged in any fights in far off lands. Of course, governments with strict laws, limited rights and harsh penalties for what we would consider minor infractions have successfully waged war before, if Germany is any example.
China, of late, seems to be flexing its muscles and mapping out how it will take its rightful position of leader of the world. Notice I didn’t say free world, because by many indicators, China’s power, both economic and political, has been obtained via oppression and tight, state- controlled markets. The gap that once separated Chinese society by party member or non-party member has transformed to billionaire or working class, and the billionaires who understand the government of China are leaving, with their money, as discretely as they can. The Chinese billionaires understand that the government that made them rich can instantly make them poor, and legal redress would be slim to none. In fact, surveillance technology is China’s forte, as they have a need to be filled because of a distrust in their citizens. Find a need, have the government fill it.
According to NPR, “Technology theft and other unfair business practices originating from China are costing the American economy more than $57 billion a year, White House officials believe, and they expect that figure to grow.” I recommend the article from NPR: https://www.npr.org/2019/04/12/711779130/as-china-hacked-u-s-businesses-turned-a-blind-eye?utm_source=pocket-newtab
China, after losing millions of citizens to starvation, and being mostly a Third World country, is now set out to conquer the world by any means necessary, to take whatever it considers to be it necessary to gain its true place. While I would not wish ill upon the citizens, those citizens might want to consider whether sword rattling and suppression of free thinking is a good idea. While sabre rattling might work with smaller nations like Vietnam and Tibet, the U.S. and Europe are completely another matter. The very technology that has got them where they are might turn around and take a vicious bite out of them. Like nations before them, they might think their influence and power is greater than it really is, and citizens forced into a war might not approach the matter with the zeal that their leaders possess. We shall see.