China’s Sheen of Civility Masks a Dreadful Reality

China’s Sheen of Civility Masks a Dreadful Reality

Despite all the signs, the U.S. still does not understand that China does not take “de-escalation” seriously.

Although many universities and organizations are finally finding a conscience and a backbone about where collaborative research with China might lead, many others are a long way from taking the threat seriously. A recent article, for example, reports that European researchers have, in recent years, collaborated with Chinese counterparts in areas such as “cross-ethnicity face anti-spoofing recognition,” “negative mental state monitoring,” and “integrated missile guidance.” Numerous U.S. universities have been exposed for receiving hundreds of millions of dollars from China, which they never reported.

If all of this, along with the China-Russia-Iran axis and China’s alignment with anti-American dictators and forces across the globe, and relentless attempts to turn countries and regional and international organizations against the United States are not enough for an urgent reckoning with hard truths, what about China’s dystopian and subversive tactics? These signals should send a chill down everyone’s spine about the prospect of a world in which China, rather than the United States, is the most influential power.

To wit, China’s severe human rights violations against Uyghurs and Tibetans and persecution of Christians, Falun Gong adherents, dissidents, and democracy advocates call for the Free World’s attention. The “National Security Law” stamping out freedom in Hong Kong is the real face of the globalization of the Chinese Communist Party. China’s attempt to erase Uyghur identity is genocidal; sinister methods include total surveillance, detention, torture, rape, forced labor, and even forced abortions in camps and prisons. Perhaps cruelest of all, China is forcibly taking Uyghur and Tibetan children from their families and homes to place them in “boarding schools,” where they are indoctrinated into Han-Chinese, Chinese-Communist thinking and drilled in militaristic preparation for war.

China’s national strategy of military-civil fusion has made biology a priority, with China exploring the Brave New World frontiers of “brain control” weapons, military uses of biomaterials, “gene editing,” and the “intersection of biotechnology and artificial intelligence.” Representative Gallagher has proposed an amendment to the annual defense bill that would ban federal agencies from giving taxpayer dollars to China’s largest genomics company, the Beijing Genomics Institute (BGI), which has been pursuing the application of biotechnology to warfare, including “ethnic genetic attacks.” And, it turns out that BGI is providing genetic testing equipment in the U.S. as part of what the Washington Post called China’s “drive to sweep up DNA from across the planet.”

China is engaged in “cognitive domain warfare” and aggressive propaganda as part of its global “political warfare strategy.” The House Select Committee on China has released an important document highlighting the CCP’s United Front work, which targets groups outside China, including Chinese nationals, with influence operations, pressure tactics and threats, and intelligence activities. Relatedly, China is implicated in major cyber attacks and sabotaging infrastructure in democracies. Taiwan said it was likely Chinese ships that cut two of Taiwan’s submarine internet cables in February. Microsoft warned in May that Chinese hackers had compromised “critical” cyber infrastructure in a variety of industries and government organizations. And Finland reports that “everything indicates” that a Chinese ship intentionally damaged a Baltic pipeline in October.

There are no viable substitutes for forging formidable defenses and alliances, re-building America’s lagging defense industrial base, and responding without equivocation to cyber attacks and disinformation, military provocations and threats, atrocities, and transnational repression. We saw Russia’s World War II-style buildup along the Ukraine border for months and still placed faith in “diplomatic off-ramps.” Will we do the same as China amasses forces along others’ maritime and territorial borders? It is never a good idea to underestimate an adversary. Nor is it wise to overestimate the fruits of engagement. Neither China’s current economic woes nor its vast market for profit, nor the occasional diplomatic niceties, should become excuses for responding inadequately and belatedly to China’s threat to the free world’s security, ideals, and way of life.

About the Author 

Anne R. Pierce is an author of books and articles on American presidents, American foreign policy, and American society. She has a Ph.D. from the University of Chicago, is an appointed member of Princeton University’s James Madison Society, and was a Political Science Series Editor for Transaction Publishers. Follow her @AnneRPierce.