Time to Wake Up

An attendant walks past flags of EU and China ahead of the EU-China High-level Economic Dialogue at Diaoyutai State Guesthouse in Beijing, China June 25, 2018. REUTERS/Jason Lee
An attendant walks past flags of EU and China ahead of the EU-China High-level Economic Dialogue at Diaoyutai State Guesthouse in Beijing, China June 25, 2018. REUTERS/Jason Lee

China’s trade campaign to split Europe from the U.S.

The recent agreement of a Comprehensive Agreement on Investment (CAI) between the European Union (EU) and the People’s Republic of China (PRC), and the prospect of a subsequent UK trade deal, have the potential to cleave Europe from the United States, thus simultaneously and substantially lessening the external deterrence to supreme leader Xi Jinping.

Worse, the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) is led by a man recently liberated from internal constraints. Xi has successfully neutralized his main rivals within the CCP’s elite and now has little reason to hold back on his instincts, whatever they may be. Xi could now engage in further human rights abuses, or wage war, possibly against Taiwan.

Supreme leaders are most dangerous when they have no rivals to impose restraint. Deng Xiaoping had the “eight old men,” party elders who often put checks on Deng. Mao Zedong eliminated his rivals, made possible by his unique charisma, a feat now replicated by his charisma-free successor. But while Mao harmed only his own people, Xi has the wherewithal to damage the world. Such thoughts should inform the actions of the United States and its European allies.

Ostensibly, the EU wants to ratify CAI for two reasons:

  • Germany seeks further profits in China, especially for its car industry. The PRC offers preferential treatment to German car manufacturers not because they are much better or cheaper than American manufacturers, but for strategic reasons — to divide and conquer.
  • Germany and France want strategic autonomy, a grandiloquent phrase that basically means America can confront China if it wishes, and may get some tentative European assistance, but the EU’s biggest powers plan to continue raking in the money.

And yet. Tension is rising over Taiwan. There are numerous reasons for the communist leadership to lust after the island — its strategic position, its role as a U.S. ally and forward listening post, and its symbolic importance as a beacon of free government, giving the lie to the communist party’s assertion that Chinese people cannot run a stable democracy. Also critical are its extraordinary high-tech industries, including Taiwan Semiconductor Company (TSMC), responsible for perhaps half the global output of this key strategic item. The U.S., by contrast, produces only about 12% and China far less.

Taiwan is now feeling China’s hot breath on its neck. Chinese air force incursions into Taiwanese airspace last year were higher than at any time this century, and at 380 such incidents, averaged to more than one a day. This has continued in 2021 — soon after President Biden took office in January, the communist state organized a foray of 15 military aircraft on a single day.

Is this just saber-rattling, or is something more sinister afoot? Some Sinologists report that PRC contacts believe that open war is likely in the next year or two.

The CAI is due to be ratified in January next year. Britain too is moving toward a deal with China, though it is harder to fathom the rationale of the UK leadership since Britain has sacrificed lives, blood, and sweat, within living memory, to preserve freedom. Indeed, Britain’s Pacific Fleet attacked multiple Japanese targets on (what was then) Formosa and island chains to the northeast in 1945. Why then would the British, to paraphrase Churchill, insist on “feeding the crocodiles”?

Perhaps policymakers genuinely don’t recognize the dangers. Neither the United States nor the EU has the capacity to face the PRC alone.  If one were to fall, the other would become extremely vulnerable. A few, not widely recognized reasons, explain why.

The sheer size and scale of China:

Conceptually, it is difficult to grasp the size of China. China isn’t just another country — its landmass is larger than Western Europe, and it remains the world’s most populous nation. Many view Russia as a bigger threat, but Russia’s gross domestic product (GDP) is smaller than that of Guangdong, which is only one of the 33 provinces and administrative regions in China. With 92 million members, the ruling Chinese Communist Party has more people than the total population of most nation-states, including major countries such as Germany, France, Britain, and Italy.

The CCP party state has superior control and efficiency:

China’s economy is second to the U.S., but the PRC government directly controls the vast majority of China’s GDP.  Moreover, due to its totalitarian structure, the PRC government can appropriate control of up to 90% of China’s economy simply by issuing orders. To gain comparable control, the U.S. and other democracies would have to go through democratic procedures, sometimes without any certainty of outcome. Hence, the PRC has far more resources at its command, which gives it a competitive edge.  In short, the CCP party-state, while brittle, is in fact “10 feet tall;” because, as many PRC officials have put it, they have “system superiority in both control and efficiency.”

We haven’t even begun to fight the “total war” systematically:

In the CCP’s ongoing “war of influence and interference,” sometimes known as the “total war,” the party state has distinct advantages.  On information: in China, CCP controls 100% of all media, including social media.  Since gaining entry into the WTO in 2001, and ready access to hard currency, the CCP has embarked on a worldwide media buying spree. Aside from the Falun Gong owned media, the CCP now has 100% control of Chinese language media in diaspora communities around the world, 98% in Hong Kong, and more than 80% in Taiwan.  The CCP is also gaining control of many non-Chinese language media around the world. The CCP has access to all democracies’ media, including social media; but access to all forms of China’s media is either banned or easily shut down by the PRC.  Most mainstream media in democracies are owned by major corporations, which are sometimes intimidated and manipulated by the CCP, due to their business connections in China.

Information is but one of its many fronts, as “total war” is multifaceted, global, well-funded, and very sophisticated. Since the concept and scope of the “total war” are not yet well understood by the Western public, the Chinese communist government has this advantage as well.  In order to protect their societies and people from the insidious “total war” in media, ideology, academia, technology, and multilateral institutions, democracies will need not only allies, but they will need also to gain knowledge quickly on how it is conducted by the PRC.  As it is, many multilateral institutions — like the World Health Organization, the World Bank, and the UN Human Rights Council — have been compromised by Chinese influence and interference.

Plainly, the United States cannot afford to lose Europe, and vice versa. It is time for both to awake and focus on the threat, and the most immediate threat is division through trade.


Photo: An attendant walks past flags of EU and China ahead of the EU-China High-level Economic Dialogue at Diaoyutai State Guesthouse in Beijing, China June 25, 2018. Credit: REUTERS/Jason Lee

March 10, 2021