I focus on my home country, the US, a lot. Perhaps too much. There is a lot wrong with the world that I want to shine a light on. I focus on the US because I’m from there, I write in English, and most people reading this are probably from there. But it is important to not lose track of the other threats to global prosperity and peace.
China is often viewed as some sort of counterbalance to American hegemony, and, in many ways, that is a valid viewpoint. If China were to dethrone America as the world’s superpower, would living conditions improve on this planet? I’m going to look at Chinese policy, foreign and domestic, to try to answer this question.
China is an extremely authoritarian country: the type of place where people still ‘disappear’ every once in a while. It is not democratic in any way. Protests are strictly prohibited. Lately, it almost seems like they are reading 1984 as an instruction manual. These human rights abuses are not mentioned enough in Western media.
China is often falsely portrayed in Western media; this goes in both directions. Sometimes it’s portrayed too favorably, sometimes too harshly, so I’m going to have to start off by dispelling a few myths.
First of all, it is not a communist country. The system that it operates under is what economists call ‘State Capitalism:’ where big businesses are state-owned and managed hierarchically for profit. Workers generally receive fixed monthly salaries unrelated to productivity. There are also many entrepreneurs in China. It is possible to open small businesses, even for foreigners, and taxes are reasonable compared to Western countries and considering what the citizens get in return.
Secondly, China is an inefficient plutocracy. Some people seem to imagine it as some type of orwellian, we’re-always-watching-you dictatorship. It may want to be that, but it falls short. It suffers from systemic corruption at all levels. Police and government officials are almost all bribable, there is a lack of police, and they struggle to maintain basic law and order in some parts of the county.
And lastly, China is not rich. People hear that it has the world’s second largest economy and see pictures of modern skyscrapers and high-speed rail systems and they think that China must be first-world. This is particularly the case here is Southeast Asia where China is viewed pretty much the same as the US. This is the result of a coordinated propaganda effort. The truth is that hundreds of millions of Chinese people live in abject poverty. The average income in China is just $8,690/ a year, ranking 45th: just above Mexico and Brazil and just below Russia and Malaysia. That figure was not easy to find. I’m convinced that they pay Google to suppress it. I typed “average income in China” into Google and the first twenty or so results were for individual cities or industries with no national data. They are more proud to admit that the average income in Shanghai is $13,620. The country’s GDP per capita is ranked 70th, behind Mexico and Brazil.
China’s municipalities function on a tier system. It has 5 tier one cities, 33 tier two cities, and 60 tier three cities. Everything beyond that is sub-tier. The tiers were imposed by foreign corporations and governments to systematize which cities are safest for foreign investment, but the Chinese government has internalized it, and it is easily noticeable that they prioritize higher tiers when allocating infrastructure spending. So when you see a picture of a modern, or even futuristic, Chinese city, don’t think the whole country looks like that. China has some of the highest inequality in Asia.
Even though all of its citizens are not taken care of, China and Xi Jinping claim to be determined to pull the WORLD out of poverty. The Belt and Road Initiative is an ambitious plan aimed at investing in countries around the world. This is mostly to get countries in debt so China can take over their resources and secure their loyalty. It’s following the lead of 20th century American foreign policy. If you’re unfamiliar with that concept, you should read John Perkins’ Confessions of an Economic Hitman ASAP. We are already seeing this take place; in the summer of 2018, China seized control of a port in Sri Lanka after the Sri Lankan government failed to repay a debt. They’re turning it into a navel base.
I wrote extensively in Shifting Alliances in the Far East about how public opinion in Southeast Asia is turning against China as they establish little autonomous colonies throughout the region. This grassroots movement is now manifesting in policy. New Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad has cut off Chinese investment. Why Malaysia even needed Chinese investment in the first place is not clear; Malaysia has a much higher GDP per capita than China and it’s infrastructure in rural areas is twice as good. My best guess is that the former prime minister was personally benefiting financially: a story that is playing out country by country across the world.
Some counties like Thailand and Cambodia have a policy of deporting Taiwanese dissidents to mainland China instead of their home country. Sometimes they’re never seen again. Some bribes in the hands of the right Southeast Asian dictators can really open doors for you.
The most controversial recent Chinese policy is the social credit score. This actually has me scared. If it works out well, I could see other countries adopting it. It is supposed to roll out nation wide by next year. I heard people who know China better than I do say: “It will never work. China is too corrupt and inefficient.” If had to give a prediction, they’ll never have enough snitches to watch people’s every move, and the ones they do have will be mostly susceptible to bribery, but it will go national. Most peoples social credit scores will probably stay stagnant for the first few years. The medium where they will be most tightly policed is the internet. If the US had this system, this blog I’m writing would knock off a lot of points from my score. However, VPNs are common in China, so it may be possible to get around it. I’ll be nervously monitoring the situation; I know this is Washington and Moscow’s wet dream. Thankfully, the American people are not as compliant as the Chinese. (See The Negative Influence of Confucianism)
One of the other major criticisms of China is its treatment of ethnic minority groups, especially Tibetans and Uyghurs. China is trying its hardest to flood Tibet and Xinjiang with ethnic Han Chinese by promising them jobs and other incentives. They’ve been unsuccessful in Tibet, which is still 90% Tibetan. Maybe the climate and topography is just too harsh. Xinjiang on the other hand is now 41% Han Chinese and only 46% Uyghur, so we can expect Uyghurs to be outnumbered in the next decade or so, and any serious secessionist movement will be even more impossible than it already is.
Xinjiang is a full-on police state. There are more than a million Uyghurs in internment camps. Movement is tightly controlled. Beijing claims to be fighting terrorism. A lot of Uyghurs have definitely been recruited into ISIS, but certainly not a million, and human rights observers say most of the interments are over various forms of disloyalty to the Chinese government.
The situation in Tibet is similar. Mass protests broke out in Lhasa in 2008 over the arrests of Buddhist monks, and they were quickly squashed by the military. It’s basically been martial law ever since. India and Nepal are still seeing refugees cross their borders. Foreigners in Tibet must be accompanied by a guide at all times. It’s as if there’s something they don’t want us to see.
There is a wave of racism and xenophobia currently sweeping Han Chinese culture, much of it directed against westerners. Many westerners who have made lives for themselves in the country and lived there for a decade or more are deciding they can’t take it anymore. There have been many very questionable arrests of westerners recently. And when you are arrested in China, you are guilty, sometimes even if you are proven innocent.
Religious minorities are also persecuted. This includes Christians. Only a few pre-approved sects of Christianity are aloud to openly operate, albeit in a constant state of monitorization. The rest of them have to operate underground.
It is difficult to know what is true and what isn’t. I rely mostly on first-hand accounts and a few trusted news sources. It should be noted that the government are not the only Chinese people spreading propaganda to the rest of the world. There are also some rich Taiwanese people and Chinese exiles who spread sensationalized anti-China stories. It’s important to not reflexively believe everything bad who hear about China. But when you hear something bad, it’s probably true more often than not.