Friday, April 22, 2022

China Unbound

 Joanna Chiu, a Canadian journalist born in Hong Kong is in a unique position to explore our relation with China.   A big issue for Canadians was labeled "the two Michaels," (Michael Spavor, Michael Kovrig) with one of them being an acquaintance of hers.  The American White House wanted to extradite a Chinese national, Meng Wanzhou who they suspected was defying their Iranian sanctions.  With an agreement to honor, Canada started the legal procedure to extradite her from her Canadian home.  China was very upset with this and shortly after took two Canadians into their jurisdiction, meaning prison after what were charged with spurious spying claims.  That situation was not resolved when the book was published, but Joanna commented on their release in a tv program with Steve Paikin that inspired this post.  

China has the longest history of any modern country.  At one time they felt haughty and resistant to the outside world.  Then they went through a period of humiliation.  The Opium Wars signaled their weakness.  The British managed to hold onto Hong Kong which offered a sort of beacon to the rest of China, but was seen as further humiliation.  Through hard work and careful planning they have become and economic and political force for the whole world to acknowledge and deal with.

She traveled to a multitude of countries following a Chinese connection, including of course China itself.  Perhaps like many other nations China had spies, but it seemed many espionage efforts were aimed at Chinese people.

One of her destinations was Australia.  China buys a great deal of iron ore from there.  Without dealing with the federal government the Chinese were able to  get a management agreement for 99 years with Port Darwin.  This was criticized because it gives China a strategic tool they could use in the South China Seas disputes.

An illuminating story from Australia.  Badiucao, a pseudonym was a law student in Shanghai who quit to study art in Australia.  He became a satirical cartoonist specializing in criticism of China.  The Chinese government found his true identify and was able to curtail some of his activities and that of his family in the mainland.  One day in Melbourne he was followed by four Asians, (Chinese agents ?) eventually he confronted them.  He revealed his identity in a film and felt he no longer had to hide. 

Turkey has become  favorite destination for many Uyghurs who are able to escape.  It is a Muslim country and with a related language.  But Turkey is trying to develop a more positive trade relationship with China.  So far they have mostly resisted demands to repatriate Uyghurs.  The Uyghurs have been imprisoned (supposedly for re-education) and are surveilled with high technology.

A major Chinese project intended to replace American hegemony is labeled the Silk Road.  Reaching out to Europe which was very resistant they encountered success in Greece who was in an economic dilemma.  China agreed to invest a huge amount of money with much going to Piraeus, a major Mediterranean port.  Greece has been voting Chinese preferred way at the United Nations.

China is Russia's biggest oil customer.  As autocrats with a history of Communism they seem to recognize unity at least in public is in their mutual interest.  The situation in Ukraine  (post publication) creates a difficult decision for China.  They have good relations with Ukraine, sending students there and having vital trade interests (food).  Russia made their first military moves before China's Paralympics had started. They have tried to stay neutral.  The resistance and with American support must give China pause regarding their plans for Taiwan. China could make a crucial difference in the Ukraine crisis with widespread ramifications.

The United States finds that China is catching up and stirs a lot of emotion.   Disinformation flows from both directions.  Donald Trump used racist language to detract from his poor management of the pandemic and cast aspersions on the government.  They have imposed sanctions on China, but at the same time American corporations are seeking more trade and investment ties.  Obama had attempted a "Pivot to East Asia," but Trump undid much of that effort.  Trump was unconcerned about human rights and according to John Bolton at least twice had told Xi that he was okay with the Uyghur concentration camps.

More post publication news:  China has made a secret deal with the Solomon Islands.  Neither side is supposed to release details without written permission from the other side.  Awhile back Solomon Islands declared Taiwan to be part of China.  It is easy to speculate that China has identified a weak country that can be of strategic interest to it.  

Biden has attempted to co-ordinate efforts against China.  He made a blunder when he suggested that of course the U.S. would repel a Chinese attack on Taiwan. The State department  amended the remarks to maintain the status of ambiguity preferred by the government.

What can we do?   

Joanna points out that anti-Asian incidents and words give China a distraction from their human rights abuses.  Too many westerners treat Chinese citizens and Chinese looking people as part of the Chinese government.  

The Chinese were quick to criticize the January 6th insurrection.  They pointed out that Americans say one thing, but do something else. Unfortunately every nation has elements that are undemocratic, but voters need to support democracy and not be distracted by racism, homophobia or other social maladies.

Although it is easy to make efforts to placate the unreasonable demands of China we need to bear in mind that there are opposing views among the Chinese people.  They need to see a better model of western democracy.

There are problems that need to be dealt with through global co-operation.  Climate change and dealing with pandemics are two that are very dangerous for everyone.  Trump spent much of his administration breaking up relations and insulting allies.  Biden has been fairly successful in fixing, but still has much to do.   

There is much to ponder in the book and we all need to keep our eyes open.

A recent blog on China:

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