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.

Even the World Bank is starting to take notice: China’s ‘unprecedented poverty reduction’ and the role of the CPC

A detailed report from the World Bank, called Towards a More Inclusive and Sustainable Development has been raising interest in some quarters. Among many features of the report, it notes that China’s policies have enabled the “extreme poverty rate, based on the international purchasing power parity (PPP) US$1.90 per day poverty line, to fall from 88.3 percent in 1981 to 1.9 percent in 2013. This implies that China’s success enabled more than 850 million people to escape poverty.” Over the last four decades, 7 out of 10 people who moved out of poverty were Chinese. The report does not hesitate to point out that this is “unprecedented in scope and scale.” This figure is up from the 600-700 million mentioned earlier, which has already been called one of the greatest human rights achievements in world history. The aim in China – in line with the target of a “moderately prosperous society” by 2020 – is to enable the remaining 25 million to escape poverty.

Add to this the systematic growth of welfare and social protection, with the result that the Gini coefficient has been falling since 2008:

China has made remarkable progress in putting in place the core elements of a social protection system. Since the 1990s, China has introduced an array of social protection programs at a speed that is unprecedented internationally. Among other reforms, these include pension and health insurance programs for urban and rural populations; unemployment, sickness, workplace injury, and maternity insurance for urban formal sector workers; and the dibao program, a means-tested national social assistance scheme that now covers around 60 million people. This is a feat that took decades to achieve in OECD countries, and one that many middle-income countries have not realized.

A key component here is the CPC, or in World Bank speak, “China’s unique governance system”:

China has built well-functioning institutions, in unique and context-tailored forms, through a long process of institutional evolution. China’s cadre management system is a good example. Drawing on a long legacy of high state capacity, China has refined its cadre management system to shape the core of a high-performing bureaucracy by integrating features of party loyalty with professionalization of the civil service in a unique way. This has been critical to unlocking growth, promoting results through competition among local governments and anticorruption policies designed to prevent abuse of office. The cadre management system has built strong upward accountability and has provided incentives through promotion and rewards to bureaucrats and local officials in return for their attainment of growth and job creation targets. This system differs significantly from the typical Western governance model and has allowed China to find a unique way of “discovering” growth-enhancing policies through local experiments.

Much more in the report, but it errs in calling this a “market-based system,” assuming that it is a capitalist market economy. Of course, it is not, for China has developed a socialist market economy, which the report actually outlines in some detail. The report also outlines the challenges ahead, of which the government is acutely aware.

Incidentally, it is worth noting that the EU now recognises that China is a socialist market economy, although the EU errs in understanding this system in terms of government “intervention” in the market.

Back to the roots: rural Red Army schools and training centres

Two other aspects of the rural revitalisation under way in China: Red Army primary schools and rural revolutionary centres. Over the last ten years, more than 200 primary schools have been established in rural areas to specialise in teaching children about China’s revolutionary spirit and history – alongside regular education. In the enmeshed socialist market economy of China, much of the funding for the schools comes from donors, especially families with a history in the Red Army.

Further, the revolutionary training centres have been revived in order to engage with farmers about new developments in rural policy and its implications. In an age of easy access to internet information, it is felt that good old face-to-face engagement is still far better. So local party members and officials, often from villages themselves, organise discussion groups in order to discuss and plan new developments – and, crucially, to gain feedback from farmers themselves so as to shape local implementation. These ventures are the modern form of Jiangxisuo (‘teach and study centres’), the Peasant Movement Training Institutes run by the early Chinese Communists, including Mao himself.

These developments are part of Xi Jinping’s and the CPC’s focus on the rural areas, since farmers are, after all, the heart of the CPC.

Get used to it: Chinese influence is the CPC’s influence

Another good article in the Global Times concerning the CPC on the international arena, called ‘CPC’s role cannot be detached from Chinese influence‘. As China becomes a global power once again, some countries have begun expressing a close-minded concern about the ‘evil’ effects of the CPC, trying to distinguish between Chinese influence and the role of the CPC.

The catch is that you can’t detach them so. As the article points out:

With its 89 million-strong members, consisting mainly of the elite of different sectors, the CPC is a team representing the backbone of Chinese society. The CPC’s organizing ability, inclusive policies and acceptance of differing ideas, has proven essential to helping the country weather various storms since the CPC’s founding in 1921.

As the CPC continues to lead China’s ascent, the influence of China and the CPC is deeply integrated and one cannot be separated from the other.

The many who work to further Chinese influence at all manner of levels consciously also promote the CPC – they have not been strong-armed into doing so. After all, who does not want the ‘community of shared future’, which is the core of Chinese international engagement.

The more international influence of the CPC, the better, if you ask me.