Believing in Ghosts: Unravelling the ‘China Threat’ Narrative

In a small number of countries, one has to face from time to time the ‘China threat’ narrative, although it is best to avoid such nonsense. It is a classic case of spinning a certain narrative and then fitting bits and pieces into that narrative, while ignoring most others. Compare it to a belief in ghosts: the creaking door, the misplaced keys, the movement in the corner of your eye – these and more become part of the narrative. Spooks everywhere!

So let us have a look at some of the curious items that are dredged up and twisted into the narrative, or – when all else fails – simply made up.

  1. China is instituting an ‘Orwellian’ world of complete citizen control through means such as the ‘social credit’ system and ‘facial recognition’ security cameras.

The fact is that governments have always had various means for monitoring citizens and foreigners, but it all depends on their use. Historically – as the former Danish high commissioner in China observed – Chinese governments have been wary indeed to use them on their own citizens, for the focus is on challenges and threats from outside (the foreigner social credit system is the real issue). By contrast, governments that come out of the Western European tradition have always perceived the threats as coming from within, so they deploy such systems on their own citizens. Think of Cambridge Analytica, the NSA, or indeed the simple fact that a country like Australia with a small population has more surveillance cameras than China. The framework that arises from this tradition is obviously imposed on the very different situation in China.

  1. The reason why the Chinese government is seeking to monitor its citizens is that the restless population at large is hankering after Western ‘freedoms’, bourgeois ‘democracy’, ‘human rights’ and … Facebook. Indeed, it is the duty of upright foreigners to assist the people where possible.

This one is based on events like the foreign-funded and foreign-assisted Hong Kong protests of recent memory, which have been widely condemned in the rest of China.

The reality: in the monthly Ipsos surveys, China regularly scores around 90 percent for confidence in the direction in which the country is headed, while the Edelman trust barometer indicates 84 percent trust in government and public institutions among the general population and 89 percent trust among younger educated people. Further, as the World Values surveys indicate, the vast majority of people believe that the government actively promotes human rights. Again, the more educated and younger the respondents, the higher the level of trust and support.

  1. Huawei, the world’s leading technology innovator is a ‘security threat’, so one must avoid having Huawei do anything in one’s country, from providing 5G networks to selling phones.

At least there is one small fact here: Huawei is indeed way ahead – on many fronts now – of any technology company you will find elsewhere in the world. However, in China there are more than Huawei. One that is arguably ahead even of Huawei is Xiaomi, but alongside Huawei are a host of others breaking new ground.

But is it a ‘security threat’? Will its networks be used to spy on the country where they are installed, given that the Communist Party’s spooks control and watch everything? No more or less than Apple, Google, Facebook – to use but a few well-known examples. Ah, but hang on, these have already been proven to be security threats to every country where they are used. They actively gather data and pass it on to third parties, either government agencies or commercial firms, and in the latter the material has been used to sway political directions and the nature of governance.

Has anything like this been proven for Huawei? No.

  1. The only way China has leapt ahead of the rest of the world is through ‘intellectual property theft’.

This one has a large dose of racism in it, for it assumes that the Chinese are unable to invent and develop anything for themselves (they used to say the same about the Soviet Union). Even more, it is a classic case of ‘a thief thinks everyone else is a thief’ (a Danish saying). As the material revealed by Edward Snowden has shown, United States’ technology companies have been trying to steal intellectual property from China for quite a while now in a desperate effort to keep up.

  1. The local government of Xinjiang Autonomous Region has established a series of ‘camps’ (that is, ‘concentration camps’) designed for the ‘ethnic cleansing’ of the region’s ‘peace-loving’ Uyghurs who are simply seeking ‘secession’ from China.

This one is particularly malicious, for it deliberately ignores: the serious problem with Islamic radicalism and terrorism in Xinjiang since the 1990s; the development of de-radicalisation programs – after much study of such programs elsewhere in the world – for young people from poor backgrounds who have become directly involved in Islamic cells; the significant success of such programs and their adoption elsewhere in the world; the two-pronged approach of immediate security and long-term socio-economic improvement; and – importantly – the timing of such a narrative, which is clearly a futile effort to disrupt the Belt and Road Initiative. Notably, the vast majority of countries – especially Muslim majority ones – have seen through the story and called it out.

  1. The independent country of Tibet was ‘invaded’ and ‘annexed’ by China in 1956, so the ‘government in exile’ is patiently waiting to return, led by the ‘spiritual leader’, the Dalai Lama.

This is a relatively old one, promoted by organisations such as the CIA’s ‘soft’ arm, the National Endowment for Democracy, since the 1980s, and by a small number of other organisations and countries. The reality is that the Tibet Autonomous Region has been part of China at least since the Qing dynasty, if not much earlier. Further, the ‘vegetarian between meals’, the Dalai Lama, was initially very supportive of Mao and the Chinese communists and signed a significant agreement with them. He reneged on the deal, led a violent revolt in 1959, which was funded by the CIA and failed. Forced to flee, he has been trying to curry favour with anyone who might listen, but is now regarded – believe it or not – as too soft a figure by many in the conflict-ridden anti-communist Tibetans abroad. Meanwhile, Tibet’s economy and Buddhist culture have been flourishing, obviously benefitting from its integral role within China as a whole. The reality that the one who really liberated Tibet was Mao Zedong.

  1. The Communist Party of China keeps a ‘close watch’ on all the tens of millions of Chinese citizens abroad, ‘monitoring’ everything they write, say and do.

Why do I need to spend time answering such a stupid superstition? I have heard some say – without a shred of evidence – that every group that travels abroad from China has a CPC spy amongst them, reporting back home. Or that every time a group of Chinese citizens meet, one of them will keep a recording of the discussion. Or if they use wechat, write a university assignment, talk on the phone, go for a walk, shower or go to the toilet – the CPC knows all. If so, the CPC membership must be flat-out keeping up with it all.

  1. Every Chinese citizen abroad is a spy for their government.

Contradiction with the previous point, if not also points 1 and 2? Who said one needs to be consistent in spinning a narrative like this?

  1. The Chinese government sends ‘spies’ to silence external critics. These spies break into homes, put pressure on employers, and send veiled threats to aforesaid critics.

I do believe this is known as paranoia, a mental condition. In a few countries in the world we seem to be at a time when the wacky sinophobes, who have been restlessly seeking the limelight, seem to have their moment in the sun. They have become ‘mainstream’, whereas not so long ago they were on the lunatic fringe. Of course, everyone who seeks the limelight loves to be heard at last. Sadly, they do not realise that they are being used by governments for agendas they do not understand. History will soon enough indicate how wacky they really are.

  1. The Chinese government enlists ‘Panda huggers’ or ‘Western enablers’ to carry out its aims. Since ‘everyone’ knows that the Chinese government is a secret organisation bent on world domination, then the many foreigners who work in or with China and try to understand it properly must have sold their souls to the devil.

Are those who trot this one out really serious, or are they joking?

  1. The ‘whole world’ is turning on China, so that it is now isolated, with no friends.

The reality is that the ‘whole world’ is in fact 12 to 15 countries, who have – since the Second World War – enjoyed setting the agenda. They and their media love to use the term ‘whole world’, when in fact they are referring to parts of north-western Europe, North America, Australia and New Zealand. In other words, for them the majority of the rest of the world does not count. This colonial cabal (former colonisers all) are the ones who have been peddling the ‘China threat’ hypothesis for the last couple of years. And they have a compliant media – state-run, corporate and independent – toeing the line.

No friends? Actually, for every ‘enemy’ of China, there are dozens of friends, across the Eurasian landmass, eastern and southern Europe, Africa, Latin America and the Pacific.

Earlier, I referred to a narrative that has to be supported by whatever means. But what is the narrative here? Basically, it is that the Communist Party of China is an ‘evil’, ‘secretive’ and ‘paranoid’ outfit that is afraid of a restless population, which at one and the same time willingly assists in the project for world domination.

It really is like believing in ghosts. Spooks wherever you turn.