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Perspectives - 2. page

If We Cannot Change China, We Should Stay Away from It

The ongoing pandemic has taught us a hard-learned lesson. The fact that China is an authoritarian regime that refuses transparent governance and freedom of speech, compounded by the reality that it is deeply ingrained in the global economy, makes the current crisis a worst-case scenario.

If China were more isolated, the outbreak in Wuhan might not have escalated into a once-in-a-century catastrophe. When the SARS epidemic burst out in November 2002, the government did not acknowledge it until five months later. When the disease was finally contained in July 2003, a total of 8,000 cases were confirmed, resulting in 774 reported deaths in 17 countries. That pales in comparison to the Wuhan virus. As of today, there have been over 30,000 reported deaths among 650,000 confirmed cases in more than 170 countries, and the figures continue to climb by leaps and bounds. The high fatality rate of SARS may have been attributed to the slow transmission, but one cannot overlook the fact that China’s interaction with the world was relatively inconsequential back then. Only one year into the WTO, China’s share of the world economy was 4 percent instead of the 16 percent it is today; and its position as the world’s factory hadn’t taken shape.

If Beijing were transparent and allowed freedom of speech, the situation could also have been different. A March study by researchers at the U.K.’s University of Southampton showed that, if an intervention took place just three weeks earlier, 95 percent fewer people would have been infected. Three weeks is exactly the time period between the end of December, when the whistleblower doctor Li Wenliang and his colleagues sent out warnings on social media, and January 23, when a lockdown of Wuhan was ordered. By January 20, the official word was that the disease “doesn’t spread from person to person.” In early January, according to the Chinese media Caixin, the Health Commission of Hubei province ordered medical institutions and professionals to destroy all samples of the Wuhan pneumonia virus and not to share the information with the public. On January 3, the National Health Commission issued a notice stipulating that “biological samples and related information must not be provided to other institutions and individuals without approval.” It is less likely that a democratic government in an open society would cover up such a major epidemic and miss the best time to contain the virus.

Unfortunately, neither of these suppositions is true. The world faces high stakes when an anti-democracy regime that routinely suppresses the free flow of information is also an important component of the global economy.

Based on an unproven idea that trade and economic prosperity promote freedom and democracy, the West has, for decades, provided China money, technology, and market access. Be it an excuse for the corporations to profit from the country’s cheap labor or policymakers’ naivety and wishful thinking, the theory turned out to be wrong. China’s economy has grown, but so has the Chinese Communist Party’s (CCP’s) domestic control and its global ambitions. People in China shun and shy away from sensitive political topics on social media. “Spreading rumors” or “groundless criticism of the central authority” is a crime punishable by years in jail. Overseas, the regime has been trumpeting its “Belt and Road Initiative,” an infrastructure investment project and a vehicle to expand its ideological influence. In a word, the West’s trade and investment has built a most formidable authoritarian machine. With a larger economy, greater global influence, and a strong position as the world’s factory, Beijing has little to fear when resisting Western ideas.

China has therefore refused to change. In its handling of infectious diseases 17 years ago, it covered up SARS and arrested Dr. Jiang Yanyong, who exposed the outbreak to the outside world. 17 years later, it covered up the Wuhan virus, silenced Dr. Li Wenliang, and detained activists who leaked uncensored coverage of the disaster. Even worse, China denied the cover-up, fueled anti-American propaganda, expelled the journalists who could report to the rest of the world, and blamed the U.S. for originally spreading the virus, while not providing any evidence.

The West must come to terms with the reality that the Chinese regime has not changed and will never change. If another epidemic happens, it will still cover it up and deny all responsibility for it. Delinking China may be the only option to protect ourselves and mitigate the potential damage to the world. If history has proven that the engagement policy is wrong, why not correct it by reversing course? Why should we make friends with someone who refuses to share our values? Why should we trust someone who has repeatedly lied to the world? Why continue to allow a bad government to hold the world hostage? These are all the million-dollar questions we need to ask ourselves.

It’s time to give up the fantasy and learn the lesson that is being taught to us at such a great cost of human lives. If we cannot change China, we should stay away from it!

Defending the Rule of Law in Hong Kong

For the past eleven consecutive weeks, the Hong Kong people have been protesting the proposed extradition bill and later, how the authorities have mistreated people. Beijing has turned a deaf ear to them and even plans to use either the army or police forces from the mainland to bring “order” to Hong Kong. How should the West handle the CCP’s threats?

Before answering that question, let’s first try to understand this question: What do the Hong Kong people really want and what are they defending?

The Chinese Communist Party (CCP) has called the Hong Kong people “Hong Kong separationists” or “dogs of the British colony.” We all know that is not true; they are not asking for Hong Kong’s independence; they are not asking to go back to the U.K., either.

Are they asking for universal suffrage? Yes, they asked for it in the Occupy Central movement in 2014 and are asking for it now. However, one may wonder, “The Hong Kong people didn’t have universal suffrage under British rule. They didn’t ask for it then. Why now?”

This is because universal suffrage is not their essential appeal. Their essential appeal is for the “rule of law.”

Being a global financial center and trading hub, the rule of law is a must for Hong Kong. It needs that to assure people that they can be at ease doing business in Hong Kong: their personal safety is guaranteed, the security of their assets is protected, contracts are honored, legal processes are trustworthy, and officials’ abuse of power is systematically prevented.

Hong Kong enjoyed the rule of law under the British rule and continued with it under the “One Country, Two Systems” in accordance with Beijing’s agreement after it took over in 1997. However, as the CCP has gradually gained more control over Hong Kong, adherence to the rule of law has been deteriorating and the CCP has been replacing it with “rule by the Communist Party.” Chinascope has published an analysis explaining that in China, it is not the “rule of law” and not even the “rule by law” that has prevailed, but just “rule by the Communist Party.” {1}

Among the five demands that the Hong Kong people have made, four are related to the “rule of law.” They are: the withdrawal of the proposed extradition bill, the government’s retraction of its characterization of the violent clashes as “riots,” unconditional release of arrested protesters and dropping charges against them, and a completely independent investigation of police behavior.

So, what the Hong Kong people are doing is defending Hong Kong’s rule of law. The request for universal suffrage is a means to enable that defense. An executive that the public elects is more likely to honor the public’s interest and the rule of law while an executive that the CCP selects will likely be the CCP’s puppet. This was not an issue during the British rule because the rule of law was already honored under the British, and thus, the Hong Kong people didn’t ask for the governor to be elected.

Now let’s come back to the opening question: How should the West handle the CCP’s threats? Should the world acquiesce to the CCP’s use of force to end the protests in Hong Kong?

No, definitely not. The moment the CCP uses the gun instead of a humane approach to solve the Hong Kong issue, that is when the new era for Hong Kong starts. It will be the era of “rule by the party” in Hong Kong. The rule of law will be gone and Hong Kong will no longer be a global center.

The damage is not just that.

If the world lets Beijing expand its “rule by the party” to Hong Kong, we are telling our companies that they must kowtow to the CCP if they want to do business in China. In fact, many of them have already practiced bowing to the CCP all these years and done it very well.

If the world lets Beijing renounce its promise that “One Country, Two Systems” will not change for 50 years, we are telling Beijing that it can sign any trade deal with any country and any organization, knowing that it can break its promise at any time. Beijing has already done that in many instances. Its WTO promises are just one.

If the world lets Beijing use tear gas, bullets, or tanks to put down protests in Hong Kong, we are telling Beijing that we do not care about human rights and we can tolerate a “Thuggish Regime.” We already made that mistake in responding to the Tiananmen Massacre.

The Hong Kong people have shown the world that they are willing to use their human flesh to defend the rule of law in front of a mighty state machine. If Beijing has its way with Hong Kong who is next?

Now it is time for the U.S., the West, and the whole world to join them, to show that we are committed to defending the rule of law, the spirit of the contract, human rights, and at the moral level, what it means to make a promise and to keep your word! We are also telling the thugs and evildoers that immoral acts have consequences.

{1} Chinascope, “China: Rule of Law or Rule by the Party?” April 5, 2015.