Opinion | For all his faults, it takes a Trump to trump the dragon4 min read . Updated: 24 Dec 2018, 12:58 AM IST
The new US law sounds like bullying. China needs to be bullied
Last Wednesday, US president Donald Trump signed a law imposing a visa ban on Chinese officials who deny Americans access to Tibet. As expected, this enraged China. While the Chinese foreign ministry warned of consequences, the National People’s Congress (NPC) issued a statement that the US act was against the basic norms of international relations and a gross interference in China’s domestic affairs. It said that China will take “forceful measures to resolutely safeguard its own interests".
As everyone knows, most foreigners who seek to enter Tibet are routinely rejected, and those who do get in are forced to stay on strictly controlled official tours, where the true situation of the Tibetan people is hidden from them. And, China has never been open to any discussion on Tibet.
Of course, the new US law sounds like bullying. But it embarrasses China and hurts it internationally.
It needs to be hurt and it’s high time it is bullied.
For decades, China has been getting away with whatever it wants, cocking a snook at all international fair practices, while enslaving its 1.4 billion people. With its massive economic and technological strength, and its total disregard for (perhaps incomprehension of) all human values, it is a giant threat to the future of mankind.
Let’s face it. The initial stages of China’s incredible economic growth were powered a great deal by history’s greatest loot of intellectual property, much of it state-sponsored. With economic growth came imperial ambitions. China has been flouting all international laws in the South China Sea, invading other countries’ waters, building artificial islands and militarising them. Its “string of pearls" strategy of establishing a zone of influence across the Indian Ocean, from the Chinese mainland to Port Sudan, encircling India, is already in action. Its Belt and Road Initiative uses the same strategy across Central Asia into Eastern Europe.
And while it grows its global empire, its repression of its own people is reaching horrifying heights. Its “social credit system", already in place in many areas, is supposed to be completed by 2020. Every citizen will be watched every moment. Algorithms working on rules fed into it by the state will crunch data to rate the individual’s “trustworthiness". “Untrustworthy" behaviour ranges from ticketless travel, jaywalking, smoking in non-smoking areas, playing too many video games (you are an idle person and the Chinese state does not condone idleness), not walking your dog on a leash or letting it bark too much and, of course, any talk or social media posts that hint at criticism of the state.
Punishments range from travel bans, no bank loans, job loss, denying your children a good education, and being publicly shamed as a bad citizen by having your face and name plastered on billboards. According to a State Council policy document: “If trust is broken in one place, restrictions are imposed everywhere."
One does not have to read a lot of dystopian science fiction to imagine to what level such measures can be taken to create a nightmarish unfree society in the future. But that society already exists in Xinjiang in northwestern China. This is where about 10 million Uighurs live, a non-Chinese minority that practices a moderate form of Sunni Islam. The Chinese have been carrying out a “de-extremification" project in Xinjiang for years. Today, more than one million Uighurs are in “re-education camps" where inmates are subjected to brainwashing—learning Communist texts and singing songs praising the Chinese state and supreme leader Xi Jinping. Torture is common. And “enrolment" in these camps is often arbitrary—local authorities are given target numbers and people are picked up randomly and imprisoned.
There is one police station per 500 Uighurs. No one can move in or out of any village or town without having their identification cards checked. Facial recognition technology is used to track residents’ movements. All cellphones are collected periodically to download information from them. All Uighur passports have been confiscated. It is illegal not to watch state television.
The government has banned certain Muslim names for babies. For instance, if parents name a baby “Mohammad" or “Islam", the child will not get a school admission. Young men are not allowed to grow beards. No one is allowed to have “abnormally long beards". The government actively encourages drinking and smoking, since the more devout among the Muslims are abstemious.
The man in charge is a Communist Party boss called Chen Quanguo, whose last job, not surprisingly, was restoring order and control in Tibet.
The Saudi Arabians, who spend millions of petrodollars every year to promote Wahhabism across the world, are remarkably silent about the plight of their Muslim brethren in China.
US trade sanctions are hurting China, whose economy had already started slowing down. Trump is not a statesman by any stretch of imagination, but he is the first US president to have had the guts to take on the evil dragon head-on. For yes, this dragon is evil. And the more powerful it gets, the worse it will be for the world.
Sandipan Deb is a former editor of Financial Express, and founder-editor of Open and Swarajya magazines.