“None are more hopelessly enslaved than those who falsely believe they are free.” This declaration by Goethe concerns the fabricated semblance of freedom, which humbles humankind. Elites after Tiananmen Square in 1989 misjudged the course charted by the People’s Republic of China (PRC). Our leaders thought that after the fall of the Soviet Empire, the PRC’s adaptation of capitalism would inevitably lead to a pluralistic form of government.
China, infused with American and other foreign capital and technology, was creating great wealth and with it, millionaires. Surely, this was capitalism, which would lead to democracy and to freedom for the Chinese people. What was not understood was that an alternative national model existed, which fused party control and the eradication of internal opposition with an ostensibly capitalistic structure. The PRC, in its economic measures and in its ruthless suppression of dissent and targeted minorities, in fact, resembles the prewar form of the National Socialist German Workers' Party.
Wilhelm Messerschmitt, the Krupp family, Hermann Schmitz of IG Farben, and Claude Dornier, among others, were inventors and industrialists who became extraordinarily wealthy in the 1930s due to Germany’s rearmament and industrialization efforts. For China, the rigid communist example had been poison. The socialist model of prewar Germany was different: what Germany accomplished, economically, scientifically, and militarily, if scaled up from a European country of moderate size and population to one the size and scope of China, could dominate the world. Despite the myriad of names that China has coined for its economic reforms and plans, this is the essence of the model that the PRC adopted after the fall of the USSR, but masked to the outside world.
For the PRC to continue its march and still be a semblance of its original creation, pitiless political and ideological suppression, theft of intellectual property, harassment, and deceit would need to remain married to access to foreign capital, undergirded by the regime’s insincere homages to freedom and to democratic principles. These flourishes concerning liberty were enough to seduce or to co-opt the elites in the countries of the world that had given China the sustenance required to build its repressive empire. Indicative of our lassitude is the case of Liu Xiaobo, sentenced in 2009 to eleven years of imprisonment for writing parts of the Charter 08 manifesto, which demanded political freedoms within China. Liu’s incarceration was not met by any meaningful action on the West’s part to curtail China’s access to foreign capital or technology. Liu would receive the 2010 Nobel Peace Prize, but he would remain in prison until his release in 2017, granted after he was diagnosed with terminal liver cancer.
The observation that fake magic is real and that, conversely, real magic is fake, describes the difference between imagined expectation and truth. In the former case, we harbor the thought that the display, which we only observe partially, may be real, though we know it to be false. China’s narrative concerning its adherence to democratic principles has supported the world’s desire to accept the Communist Party of China’s account of the genesis and the evolution of the Wuhan virus. This caustic mental haze has become rooted among our governmental, academic, and business leaders. We, as a society, appear willing to be led on a course that presages catastrophe.
This blindness must end.
If China’s actions in the coronavirus catastrophe offer any window into this communist regime’s deceit and its debasement of human life, it is that the threat the PRC represents is unique in American history.
Communism is responsible for the deaths of tens of millions of Chinese. To contend that aspects of China’s government emulate the characteristics of a cursed regime is to rupture the world order, but the people of Tibet cry out, the Muslims, Christians, and other men and women of faith in China cry out, and, today, the citizens of Hong Kong wail, as do all those touched by the coronavirus.
Do we not hear?
In its pursuit of unchecked power, China resembles the ouroboros, a dragon that strives to devour itself, for the sustenance that this nation derives from the West and from capitalism feeds the Communist Party of China’s quest to destroy that which it consumes. In all, the ouroboros represents both the beginning and the ending of time, which equates, most particularly, to the termination of the legacy of China’s Century of Humiliation, which began with the Opium Wars and with China’s submittal to an assembly of Western powers, and later to Russia and to Japan, from 1839 to the beginning of the communist epoch in 1949.
The PRC’s emergence and its recent actions thus bear relation to the concept of creative destruction as formulated by the Austrian-American economist Joseph Schumpeter (Capitalism, Socialism and Democracy ). Creative destruction, though now applied to various capitalistic practices, was derived from Marxist thought. As the name implies, it argues that the destruction of what was is necessary to create the clean slate on which new creation may rest. This is China’s path as charted by its communist party. By our nation’s inaction, we have seemingly accepted this progression because the economic cost to us of disclaiming it is deemed too great.
The coronavirus crisis is horrific, but we must imagine a world ten or twenty years from now, in which the People’s Republic of China’s nominal Gross Domestic Product (GDP) is fifty percent larger than that of the United States. What power would an unconstrained China wield? What force of arms would they muster to intimidate and to control?
At the inception of America’s entry into World War II, many strategists conjectured presciently that both Germany and Japan were destined to lose the war; their populations and their economies were too small, and their access to raw materials too tenuous, to be able to wage a protracted war against the Allies. Later, the Soviet Union posed a great challenge to our establishment of a post-war order conducive to international peace, development, and individual freedom.
Throughout the 1950’s and early 1960’s, CIA analysts predicted the Soviet economy would surpass America’s, a prediction that Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev often repeated. This calculus drove many American decisions. Arguably, the mistakes made by America in Southeast Asia were, in part, impelled by those errant estimates. The USSR never came close to matching the United States in economic output; today, America’s GDP is at least twelve times Russia’s.
China, however, is seemingly destined to outpace the United States in GDP during the next decade; indeed, China has plausibly already overtaken the United States, if GDP is measured by Purchasing Power Parity (PPP). Though China is far poorer than America in income per capita, its population is approximately 4.25 times that of the United States. Thus, as China’s per capita income grows to approximate that of developed nations, its total economic power will outstrip any rival state.
Adopting elements of the construct used by our country to rebuild Western Europe and Japan after World War II, four American actions, undertaken through an uninterrupted course of eight administrations, resulted in these significant steps that aided the ascent of the communist People’s Republic of China: first, scientific aid to end famine in China (Norman Borlaug, Nobel Laureate, and the father of the Green Revolution, spent time working in China; as a consequence of Borlaug’s work, the land in Asia devoted to semi-dwarf rice and wheat types grew from 200 acres to 40 million, helping to feed hundreds of millions of people on the continent); second, President Carter’s diplomatic recognition of the People’s Republic of China as China and his commitment that the United States Government engage with reciprocal elements of the PRC; third, President Clinton’s facilitation of the PRC’s ultimate ascension to membership in the World Trade Organization (WTO) and his expansion of Chinese access to dual-use (civilian/military) technology; and fourth, President Obama’s embrace of the PRC as a non-adversarial peer state completed the PRC’s envelopment of America’s institutions and our modalities of power.
The esteemed British economist Angus Maddison wrote that, “China had been the world’s biggest economy for nearly two millennia, but in the 1890s this position was taken by the United States. . . . Chinese GDP per capita was lower in 1952 than in 1820, in stark contrast with experience elsewhere in the world economy. China’s share of world GDP fell from a third to one twentieth. Its real per capita income fell from parity to a quarter of the world average.”
A substantial part of this precipitous economic decline can be attributed to the Opium Wars instigated by the British government. These campaigns forced the narcotics trade upon China and compromised, in various ways, the country’s sovereignty. China’s far more recent commerce in fentanyl may be considered its payback for what the West did to it. The Treaty of Tientsin ended part of the Second Opium War: Great Britain, the United States, France, and Russia were parties to the asymmetrical documents that comprised the treaty, which as ratified by the Chinese Emperor in 1860, further debased the country. China, today, views itself as more than a country: it is a civilization. From the Communist Party of China’s perspective, the present turnabout in its power relationships is fair play, but to acknowledge this perspective must not engender our discounting the PRC’s present threat to the world.