China’s for­ward-de­ployed neo-Or­wellian­ism Why Bei­jing seeks to con­trol po­lit­i­cal dis­course in other coun­tries

The Washington Times Weekly - - Commentary - By Denny Roy

The re­cent con­tro­versy be­tween China and the NBA over the Hous­ton Rock­ets’ gen­eral man­ager sup­port­ing anti-gov­ern­ment demon­stra­tions in Hong Kong in a tweet sparked a wel­come con­ver­sa­tion in the United States: To what ex­tent are Amer­i­cans will­ing to sell out their po­lit­i­cal val­ues for ac­cess to the lu­cra­tive Chi­nese mar­ket? Still un­der-ap­pre­ci­ated, how­ever, is the full sig­nif­i­cance of the Chi­nese pol­icy that gave rise to this spe­cific squab­ble. China is com­mit­ted to con­trol­ling the po­lit­i­cal dis­course in other coun­tries as a means of fur­ther­ing the ob­jec­tives of the Chi­nese Com­mu­nist Party (CCP). This in­volves ex­tend­ing the Or­wellian­ism for which the CCP is in­fa­mous into for­eign so­ci­eties, in­clud­ing lib­eral democ­ra­cies.

In Or­well’s “Nine­teen Eighty-Four,” a to­tal­i­tar­ian gov­ern­ment forces its peo­ple to ac­cept a pro­pa­gan­dized world­view that glo­ri­fies the rul­ing po­lit­i­cal party, vil­i­fies its ad­ver­saries and de­nies the ex­is­tence of the party’s ob­vi­ous fail­ures. As China gains eco­nomic lever­age abroad through its mas­sive pur­chas­ing power, Bei­jing is vig­or­ously im­ple­ment­ing what could be called for­ward-de­ployed neo-Or­wellian­ism.

Bei­jing seeks to cul­ti­vate the out­side world’s sup­port by en­larg­ing China’s in­flu­ence over the mak­ing of in­ter­na­tional rules and norms; en­sur­ing max­i­mum en­ergy and food se­cu­rity for China; main­tain­ing and gain­ing Chi­nese op­por­tu­ni­ties to ac­quire for­eign tech­nol­ogy through part­ner­ships, pur­chase or theft; paving the way to Chi­nese dom­i­na­tion of tar­geted in­dus­trial sec­tors; and se­cur­ing in­ter­na­tional ac­cep­tance of Chi­nese pref­er­ences on strate­gic is­sues, in­clud­ing Chi­nese own­er­ship of dis­puted ter­ri­tory and Chi­nese veto power over cer­tain self­de­fense poli­cies of re­gional coun­tries.

The re­al­iza­tion of Bei­jing’s ob­jec­tives be­comes more likely if the in­ter­na­tional com­mu­nity em­pow­ers the CCP by ac­qui­esc­ing to China’s in­flu­ence over the po­lit­i­cal dis­course out­side of China.

The Chi­nese gov­ern­ment ex­ports its Or­wellian pol­icy through the Chi­nese me­dia, co-opted Chi­nese busi­ness­peo­ple and schol­ars, diplo­mats and front or­ga­ni­za­tions su­per­vised by the United Front Work De­part­ment. There are two prin­ci­pal modes of op­er­a­tion: 1) brib­ing peo­ple who hold po­si­tions of in­flu­ence in for­eign coun­tries; and es­tab­lish­ing prof­itable re­la­tion­ships with for­eign com­pa­nies and then us­ing the threat­ened or ac­tual cut­off of Chi­nese busi­ness to force these com­pa­nies to adopt Bei­jing’s po­si­tions on po­lit­i­cal is­sues.

Univer­sity cam­puses world­wide have strug­gled for years with the prob­lem of com­pro­mis­ing their aca­demic ideals in or­der to keep rid­ing the gravy train of Chi­ne­sesourced fund­ing. Sev­eral politi­cians in Western coun­tries have been caught or cred­i­bly sus­pected of tak­ing

Chi­nese bribes. Chi­nese money af­fects the con­tent of Hol­ly­wood movies.

The new movie “Abom­inable” in­cludes a Chi­nese map drawn to in­clude the South China Sea as Chi­nese ter­ri­tory. In the films “2012” and “Grav­ity,” Chi­nese gov­ern­ment agen­cies are por­trayed as heroic. The Marvel film “Doc­tor Strange’ changed an im­por­tant char­ac­ter from Ti­betan to Celtic due to Chi­nese sen­si­tiv­i­ties.

The 2012 re­make of “Red Dawn” changed the in­vad­ing ene­mies from Chi­nese to North Kore­ans.

For Bei­jing, all is­sues are link­able with pol­i­tics, no form of in­flu­ence is off-lim­its as a means of lever­age, and no mat­ter is too small for the Chi­nese gov­ern­ment to over­look. A re­cent ex­am­ple was the Univer­sity of Rochester’s plan to send a group of student mu­si­cians to per­form in

China. Bei­jing de­nied visas to three of the student mu­si­cians be­cause they are South Korean na­tion­als, sub­ject to a Chi­nese ban on South Korean artists since 2016 to pun­ish South Korea for in­stalling a U.S.-made mis­silede­fense sys­tem to pro­tect it­self from North Korea.

For­eign busi­nesses and gov­ern­ments might con­clude that keep­ing quiet about Xin­jiang or Hong Kong, be­ing care­ful not to im­ply that Tai­wan is a coun­try, shun­ning the Dalai Lama and avoid­ing Win­nie the Pooh jokes is a small price to pay to con­tinue mak­ing money from China. NBA su­per­star LeBron James and sev­eral large Western cor­po­ra­tions have taken this po­si­tion.

The price of such a com­pro­mise, how­ever, is higher than what is im­me­di­ately vis­i­ble in the short term.

This is at least partly an ide­o­log­i­cal con­test. Dur­ing the past two years Chi­nese pres­i­dent Xi Jin­ping has in­creas­ingly em­pha­sized the idea of China as a model po­lit­i­cal sys­tem for other gov­ern­ments to em­u­late. The key fea­tures of that model are one-party dic­ta­tor­ship, sup­pres­sion of dis­sent, a strong and in­tru­sive in­ter­nal se­cu­rity ap­pa­ra­tus, and a mer­can­tilist and na­tion­al­is­m­driven for­eign pol­icy.

In con­trast, the coun­tries that up­hold the lib­eral re­gional or­der see their pros­per­ity and se­cu­rity safe­guarded by norms that pro­mote re­spect for in­ter­na­tional law, open­ness and rec­i­proc­ity in trade, peace­ful set­tle­ment of dis­putes, and the up­hold­ing of ba­sic civil and po­lit­i­cal rights. Sur­ren­der­ing to Chi­nese at­tempts to con­trol po­lit­i­cal de­bate out­side of China in­di­rectly sup­ports the Chi­nese model over the lib­eral model.

So­ci­eties that al­low China to reg­u­late po­lit­i­cal dis­course con­di­tion them­selves to ac­cept some of the main points of Chi­nese pro­pa­ganda: That the CCP stands for only good things, that a strong China is all op­por­tu­nity and no threat, that out­siders should strive for a good re­la­tion­ship with China at all costs and that for­eign­ers should ac­com­mo­date Bei­jing’s po­si­tions on strate­gic is­sues.

Gov­ern­ments in lib­eral demo­cratic coun­tries can­not sim­ply or­der their pri­vate sec­tor to stop sell­ing their po­lit­i­cal birthright for a mess of Chi­nese pot­tage.

Al­low­ing China to en­force cen­sor­ship in coun­tries that nor­mally en­joy free po­lit­i­cal dis­cus­sion moves us closer to a world in which author­i­tar­ian gov­ern­ments would face no neg­a­tive in­ter­na­tional con­se­quences for large-scale atroc­i­ties against their own peo­ple.

Tak­ing Chi­nese money to stay silent over Chi­nese out­rages against fair­ness and jus­tice is a vic­tory for cyn­i­cism. It makes out­siders com­plicit in the de­feat of their own val­ues and dam­age to their own po­lit­i­cal sys­tems.

Fi­nally, it fails to call out the Chi­nese gov­ern­ment for its hypocrisy. Bei­jing claims to honor the prin­ci­ple of “non-in­ter­fer­ence” and is quick to al­lege that dis­con­tent within China is the re­sult of med­dling by Western gov­ern­ments.

Gov­ern­ments in lib­eral demo­cratic coun­tries can­not sim­ply or­der their pri­vate sec­tor to stop sell­ing their po­lit­i­cal birthright for a mess of Chi­nese pot­tage. So­ci­eties that en­joy civil lib­er­ties must re­al­ize the threat posed by the cor­rupt­ing in­flu­ence of a China that of­fers eco­nomic op­por­tu­nity as the bait that ob­scures the cru­elly sharp end of an iron hook.

In the Rochester Univer­sity mu­sic school case, the school’s dean ini­tially planned to cave in to China by travelling with­out the South Korean stu­dents, but later can­celled the trip un­der pres­sure from the school’s stu­dents, alumni and the pub­lic. Although dif­fi­cult, this is the proper re­sponse, one that peo­ple in free coun­tries who deal with China will need to re­peat count­less times in the fore­see­able fu­ture.

Denny Roy is a se­nior fel­low at the East-West Cen­ter.


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