A recent speech by China’s foremost diplomat Wang Yi caused me to stop and think about what’s really happening in China and why China is struggling to come to terms with how they are viewed by the “Western world”.
I also genuinely feel misunderstood. Chinese media know me as a tourist who cycled through Xinjiang several times. They like to get a foreigner’s perspective on what I saw and what I believe is going on. They see me, I think, as a rather harmless, innocuous but believable (to them) English gent who enjoys spending his free time on cycling trips in Xinjiang. They fail to notice (or mention) that I’ve lived and worked in China 16 years, have post graduate qualifications in cross cultural management and have acted as a trainer and consultant to many businesses and individuals.
Western media, only know me through Chinese media. They’ve given me all kinds of names — I’ve been described as “a Beijing Influencer with a rose-tinted view of life in Xinjiang”. And variously described, in Murdoch press as: a “retired security officer”, an “echo of Chinese government talking points” and a “paid mouthpiece for the regime in China”.
For the record, I was indeed in the security industry, after 10 years as a British police officer it seemed a good industry to get into, but, except for a very boring 3 months when I first arrived in Australia, I wasn’t a security officer, I was involved in electronic security and surveillance, access control and CCTV design and installation (including many prisons and government installations), I was at various times a Sales Manager, State Manager, Mergers and Acquisitions Manager and finally, a General Manager of an Australian division in an American owned multi-national corporation.
Also, for the record, I never receive payment for interviews in China or anywhere else. Sometimes though, I will write an op-ed, for which I spend many hours researching facts, drawing conclusions based on my extensive time and experience in China and writing them down to be published — I would be equally as happy to be published in a Western media outlet as I am in a Chinese media outlet, but interestingly, despite having many different opinions as to my veracity, and making mention of me in a wide range of publications, not one western media outlet has ever replied to an email from me, responded politely to a tweet (I have been blocked by several just for the sheer audacity of asking a question to verify a claim they were making). Nor have any asked me to write an article despite my having a much more intimate knowledge of China, Chinese culture, psychology and certainly geography than any of their desk bound reporters living in their home countries. The one journalist from a recognised outlet who did interview me described me in rather naïve terms as an “Aussie retiree who trashes claims of genocide as baloney”.
So, after reading the Annual Speech given by Minister Wang, I thought there were a few points worthy of more detailed consideration and needed a little more insight from an different perspective.
Some Western media are asking if Wang Yi is unprepared to compromise. I would say, absolutely not, although part of his speech was directed at foreign governments, against foreign interference, and foreign media against misrepresentations. China doesn’t impose its will on any other country, so it clearly doesn’t see why others should impose their will on her.
And, in a positive side to his speech Minister Wang clearly stated that representation of China without any bias is important — he doesn’t want to see a gloomy lens, nor does he want people to put too sunny a disposition onto the narrative. In other words, it’s ok to tell the truth, it’s ok to be China’s friend, but equally, where there are shortcomings, it’s ok to point them out in a constructive and critical way. Only by doing so can media be seen to be unbiased.
What Minister Wang’s speech does clearly affirm is that with cooperation, even in competition, opposing sides in any argument can progress positively without conflict.
Media asks the question if Minister Wang’s speech signals a change to China’s position on international relations but this is not, in my opinion, true. Although I do think that China’s stance on non-interference in the affairs of other nations has put them in a difficult position.
Historically, world leaders have always influenced other countries, either through trading terms, colonial administration or even military force and war. In recent history China has never done this and now, as it now ascends to a position of world leadership we’re seeing, for the first time, a country with the power to influence and make changes, but more interest in mutual benefit rather than government influence. The message I see from Mr Wang is more defensive and assertive than it is aggressive. I also see it as more cooperative than conflicting — He uses a Confucian principle which is well known as a biblical quotation too — do unto others as you would have them do unto you — or, better said by Confucius Do not do to others what you would not wish them to do to you.
What we can see is a change in the rhetoric that China has been willing to push. However, China isn’t very good at it yet. American influencers spend billions of dollars through think tanks and funneling government budgets into what I would call “disruptive departments” such as the National Endowment for Democracy (NED) and the like — China relies on mostly Chinese, journalists being led by Chinese thinkers and supported by Chinese academics. The cultural differences that China struggles to overcome, make the arguments put forward in an international arena look naïve and, potentially even fraudulent.
Let’s be realistic, this isn’t a news campaign against the things China are doing wrong — this is a very carefully, professionally, massively well-funded and directed PR campaign against China. Inviting Uyghurs onto TV shows, showing them selling oranges or dates whilst enjoying traditional ceremonies and dancing are great for TV documentaries, but do not combat a well-organised well-funded solid wall of disinformation.
Mr Wang did mention culture and different social systems as part of the problem, he went on to suggest cooperation rather than competition between the different cultures.
I see this as one of the biggest stumbling blocks to mutual cooperation. People in China don’t understand the individualism of westerners, especially Americans and Australians. Those two countries are modern countries built on recent histories of “taming the unknown”, (the Wild West and the Great Outback). Those conquests required great individual courage and struggle which is clearly defined in the national psyche of these nations. China, on the other hand, has a much longer history, a communal culture with respect for authority, either the parent, the teacher or even the government, which isn’t understood in the West. Until one or two generations ago, China was an agrarian society and government influence on individual’s lives was considered an important part of communal life. This same influence would be considered an imposition at least, or worse, a breach of human rights in the USA. Neither of these cultures are wrong they are just formed from very different historical backgrounds. What would be wrong would be to attempt to impose one of the systems on the other.
Recognition of the differences and the right of each to remain different are vitally important.
So, why then are the US, and other governments making genocide allegations when it’s clear there isn’t a genocide taking place? The answer isn’t as simple as we would like.
There are a variety of influences, mostly media backed, but certainly supported by the Military Industrial complex. Bad news sells papers, this is a well-known maxim in the media industry and no one is better at capitalising on that than the Murdoch press stable.
Much of the money floating around the international “Think Tank” and Human Right’s industries (make no mistake, these are industries) comes from weapons manufacturers and “defence” contractors. Many of the political donations going into Senate and Congress reelection campaigns come from the same industries and it’s certainly not in the interest of these companies, their CEOs or the share market to have a peaceful world in which no weapons are needed. Turning their swords into ploughshares, as the bible suggests is not a viable (profitable) option. So, in order to sway the politician, they donate large sums and present “facts”, from reports they paid for, to present an ominous tale of insidious and frightening behaviour.
Any lie, to be believable, must have a basis in truth. It must be understood that whilst, in my opinion and in the light of all the available evidence, the allegations are not true, there’s a huge element of truth in the collection of data — it’s the interpretation of this data which is wrong.
People growing up in EU or USA have never seen a factory or a school in China, they don’t know that these buildings have secure walls and fences, they don’t know that every school and factory has a manned security gate at the front and kids or workers are allowed in and out only after passing this security — it keeps them safe. They may know of China’s mass exodus every Chinese New Year, this is widely reported in international media, but what they don’t realise is where these millions of people live.
Hundreds of millions of Chinese workers leave their hometowns to work in the industrial regions and reside in dormitories, usually inside the factory grounds. To an untrained and culturally unaware observer, these might easily be mistaken for a prison. Factories often have thousands of staff members who wear uniforms, they move in large groups between the dormitories, the canteen and the factory.
These same untrained observers don’t realise either that more than half the kids going to high-school in China stay in dormitories because of the sheer bulk of work they need to do, they don’t waste time travelling to and from school. So, when a data analyst looks at the construction equipment, security equipment, beds and uniforms that are shipped to the region or huge construction sites with surrounding walls and fences but fails to consider the massive investments in poverty alleviation schemes, factories and schools, it’s easy to understand how they imagine these are prisons.
If we were to consider other motivations beyond the Xinjiang issue and an obvious assumption that destabilisation of China in Xinjiang, and also, to the same extent, Hong Kong and Taiwan there are two other reasons for the continuation of a narrative that would benefit the US.
One is the massive oil and gas reserves in the region. Gaining access to that isn’t America’s ultimate goal, as they can still obtain supplies within their own country and elsewhere but when China has easy access it helps boost economic growth, something the US would love to avoid. And more significantly, it reduces the effectiveness of sanctions or blockades against importing oil and gas to China. If we look closely at other countries where the US is active with either sanctions or efforts towards regime change, we can see a pattern, The Middle East, North Africa, Iran, Venezuela, Russia, even Europe with the Nord Stream pipeline, all are related to an abundance of oil or gas.
The other, perhaps more important reason for the US, is that keeping China on the front pages deflects from their own internal problems. The recent coup attempt has highlighted disruptions in the smooth transition of power and showed weaknesses in their own democracy. Civil disobedience by BLM and Antifa on the Left and organisations like the Oath Keepers and Proud Boys on the Right. Mismanagement of the Covid19 pandemic resulting in over 500,000 deaths. Police have shot and killed more than 1000 people a year, homelessness is rising and is already out of control more than half a million people live on the streets but more than 4 million are registered as homeless, they live in their cars or government shelters. 38 million people (11.8%), and rising, are registered officially as being in poverty and this doesn’t count the 2.2 million who are incarcerated in the world’s largest prison population.
There’s a migrant crisis with overflowing camps on the southern borders containing thousands of migrants who are kept in “concentration camp like conditions”, not my words but the words of Senators and Human Rights advocates who’ve visited. There’s also an employment crisis with minimum wages remaining at 2009 levels creating massive wealth inequality and finally, the US has a national debt of 28 Trillion dollars (China own 6% the largest of any foreign country).
It’s no surprise to anyone that the US government loves to show China in a bad light just as long as no one can hold up a mirror to show their own citizens