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Kobe and Coronavirus: Meaning for World War IV

The United States was on the winning side of World War I against Germany. The United States was on the winning side of World War II against Germany and Japan. The United States was on the winning side of World War III, the Cold War, against the Soviet Union. Now the United States is engaged in World War Iv against mainland China. Who will prevail and be the cosmic center of our universe, the City on a Hill or the Middle Kingdom?

For a long time, mainland China has been on a roll. Nothing seemed to stand it is way of global domination. It was to be achieved not in an instance and not through a military conquest. Instead it was to be through a relentless economic expansion that fostered a global connection with mainland China at the node. While politically in America all roads lead to Putin, economically in the world all roads lead to Beijing.  As time marched on, the mainland Chinese developed a swagger and pride in its confidence that it would one day replace the United States as the world leader. It was only a matter of time.

Consider this article from two years ago: “Why China Loves Trump: The People Love a Winner, the Leadership Loves a Dupe” by Benjamin Carlson, The Atlantic, March 2018). According to the article, the Chinese Communist Party initially regarded the American President’s threats as “show.” As Shen Dingli, a professor of international relations at Fudan University said: “[Trump] is an especially easy president for China to handle…We are lucky.” His withdrawals from the Trans-Pacific Partnership and the Paris climate agreement were great victories for mainland China and it didn’t have to do anything to secure them. When America simply abandoned its role as world leader under the “America alone” policy of transactional relationships over allies, mainland China was ready to fill the vacuum.  Shen Dingli exulted that the American withdrawal had provided mainland China “a huge opportunity.” Xu Guoqi, professor at the University of Hong Kong characterized the Trump presidency as “a gift for the current regime in China. Because of Trump, Xi Jinpng’s Chinese dream [the resurgence of China’s dominance in world affairs] could be achievable now.”

According to the article, even as mainland China enjoys outwitting the American President there is some admiration for him too. This reaction is more pronounced among Chinese students to American colleges who have returned home after having been exposed to the anti-American left ideology which they reject. The Chinese students, too, have contempt for political correctness. As one such student said, the Democratic Party “reminds us a lot of the Cultural Revolution.” Yan Gu, doctoral candidate at the University of Washington said, Chinese “dislike political correctness and neo-liberal rhetoric.” They support the slogan of “Make America Great Again” with the change of one word!

Even though Trump is the leader of the enemy, the mainland Chinese see traits in him they admire. They see him as having a successful, talented, and happy family in contrast while mocking Hillary Clinton for her husband’s affairs. [Keep in mind this article is reporting what the mainland Chinese see of Amrica.] They see him as someone they can do business with since he is unconcerned with morality, human rights, and democracy. “Instead, Trump is transactional.”

An earlier view of China in the very same magazine painted a significantly different picture. “China’s Twilight Years: As immigrants replenish America, China’s population is aging and shrinking” (Howard W. French, The Atlantic, June 2016). This article was written prior to the last presidential election. Since it publication, America has abandoned one of the strengths posited by French in the conflict with mainland China.

Already by 2016, French describes China as “a global juggernaut.” It is moving forward on all continents including in America’s backyard and threatening America’s chances of maintaining its standing in the world. Since the article was written, those trends have only accelerated.

However, French points to mainland China’s Achilles’ heel: demographics. The population is transitioning from a relatively youthful one with an abundant workforce to one with fewer people in that age group. By 2040, even before Hong Kong is scheduled to be absorbed into the Borg collective, the median age in China will increase from 30 to 46 thereby making China an old society. China’s social safety network will be hard pressed to deal with the pension and health needs of an increasingly aging society where the number of people over 65 expands significantly. French predicted that in 2020, the Chinese political leaders will begin to face the issue of allowing growing levels of poverty within an exploding elderly population or acting to avoid that scenario. The Chinese army may be the first to face this dilemma as it begins to shrink in size, already by 300,000 in 2015, because of insufficient manpower. The consequences of the one-child policy are becoming manifest. Thanks to abortions of females, in 2020, French predicts a disparity of excess males to females of 30 million people.

French concludes his article with the thought that America will not face this challenge because of immigrants. He asserts that no other powerful country assimilates outsiders on a scale matched by America. Obviously, he had no idea that America would abandon one of its strengths because many Americans think immigration is one of the country’s weaknesses and that immigrants never assimilate. With mainland China, there is no line to get in and no one overstays a visa. The reverse is true with the United States where the global image of the Statue of Liberty remains strong. It is the City on Hill itself that undermines the call of Lady Liberty and closes off access to an increasing number of countries.

Turning to the present, we find the law of unexpected events has upset the Chinese applecart. There mainland China was moving steadily forward asserting itself in the world when unanticipated events occurred.

First, the immature child President of the United States with no understanding of economics, decided he was going to do something about the trade imbalance. Eventually he learned that he could not push mainland China around. He was able to hurt China and produce the first part of what will become THE GREATEST TRADE TREATY IN WORLD HISTORY. But in the meantime, he may learn that he cannot prevent the world from adopting the mainland Chinese 5G as the basis for the next generation of internet communication. He also does not have the mental necessities to wonder how mainland China leapt to forefront of communication technology and what the United States should do to regain the leadership position.

Second, mainland China has begun to receive some criticism for its authoritarian efforts to assimilate Moslem Uighurs. Obviously the United States cannot take a leadership role in condemning this violation of human rights. First our current President has no interest in human rights, and second the violation is against Moslems, one of his favorite whipping people. Even Moslem countries have been reluctant to condemn mainland China thanks to China’s growing economic dominance in the world. Still, the forced assimilation is a beacon of Chinese ideology to the world that has stirred some resentment.

Third, Hong Kong is asserting the right to be free…at least until 2047. The Chinese Hannitys are busy blaming America for the unrest. The American President is busy standing by idly. It turns out some British traditions have lingered in the Hong Kong consciousness such as the civics the students learn in school. In the meantime, in November, the pro-democracy candidates won sweeping victories. It turns out, the Chinese political leadership is clueless. It really doesn’t know what to do. Between the elections and protests there is no end in sight. There also is no mechanism for dealing with such a situation.

Consider the article “China Needs to Change Strategy after Hong Kong Elections” (Kevin M. Stanley, History News Network, December 22, 2019) that has proved unexpectedly relevant. In his analysis of the current paralysis, Stanley points to a precedent in 2011 in Wuhan, a now familiar name. Stanley notes that in 2011 in this small fishing village, the residents revolted over the seizure of their land. They ousted the communist party officials and police and took over the local government. The conflict was resolved with the freezing of some land seizures, the releasing of prisoners, and the firing of some officials.  Obviously this scenario has not been repeated in Hong Kong. Then again the authoritarian Xi Jinping is now calling the shots. Under his leadership Big Brother is everywhere watching everything. Time Magazine quotes one Chinese shopkeeper (December 2-9, 2019):

Chinese people don’t care about privacy. We want security. It’s still not enough cameras. We need more.          

Stanley concluded his article with the observation that mainland China is at the crossroads. “Will it double down on repression or listen to the people and chose a new course that will require some compromise?” Stanley has his preferences and he touts Chinese adaptability and survival skills, but then there was another unexpected development. Once again Wuhan is back in the news.

Fourth, there is coronavirus. This unexpected development continues to wreak havoc on mainland China and the world. It would be an understatement to claim that the Government was prepared or even willing to listen to the whistleblowers who attempted to sound the alarm. At this point, no one knows how this crisis will end. Whatever happens, it clearly has undermined the “we are in complete control” model for perpetual good times. The coronavirus exposes the shortcomings of the Chinese Way for all the world to see.

What does all this have to do with the unexpected death of Kobe Bryant? Part of America’s leadership derives from soft power.  This term refers to non-military and non-economic power. It refers to Americans movies, music, and entertainment which includes sports. The American culture has been an international leader and powerhouse for decades. Everyone wants to go to Disneyland. The worldwide reaction to the death of Kobe Bryant is an expression of that global leadership.

Will it last? Hollywood already defers to China on subject matter. The NBA also has learned to bow before the Chinese market. When Germany and England accept the 5G network of Huawei they simply are responding to the market power of mainland China. Even in the face of the cornonavirus, some governments worried about offending the economic superpower which dominates downplay the threat. Although China has not yet become an entertainment and cultural powerhouse, America’s position in the cultural world is at risk too, the more the mainland Chinese market dominates it.

One last consideration. In the battle between the Middle Kingdom and the City on a Hill for world leadership, mainland China holds one key advantage. Its citizens want their country to win ad believe it is Middle Kingdom. By contrast, increasingly Americans do not believe in American exceptionalism or that we are a City on a Hill that eyes of the world are upon because we are the last best hope of humanity seeking to make the world safe for democracy while providing a beacon of light to huddled masses seeking to be free. Instead we have the frontal assault of the New York Times 1619 Project that denies the validity of those perceptions of America. In addition Trumpicans are oblivious to any leadership role for America preferring transactional relations instead. In other words, We the People are not even trying to win World War IV while the Chinese are focused on triumphing. The difference is while the Chinese problems are systemic and likely to worsen, the American problems could be fixed if we had a President capable of providing the leadership the world needs.

When Will the Borg Assimilate Hong Kong?: Is Resistance Futile?

Is Resistance Futile for the Hong Kong Spring? (https://www.startrek.com/database_article/borg-cube)

The Borg were a fearsome enemy in the Star Trek universe. They were in numerous episodes of Star Trek the Next Generation and Voyager. They always appeared as the dominant power on the verge of assimilating the starship crews into their collective. Their tag line was “Resistance is futile.” Yet somehow the starships not only did resist but did so successfully. Resistance was not futile.

Everything about the Borg was the antithesis to the Federation of Planets and therefore to the United States of America. We prefer the stylistically sleek and sexy lines in our cars, our ships, and our planes. By contrast the Borg vessel is a clunky metallic cube of no aesthetic appeal whatsoever. They are a society devoid of art in any shape or form except dull metallic grey.

But it is in the organization of the societies where the two ways of life demonstrate the most marked contrast. In the Borg, everything is the collective. There is no individuality. Once a being has been assimilated into the collective, individuality is lost. The Borg have no individual possessions or thoughts. They have a perfection in the order of the collective. They have banished individuality from their cubes and lives.

The dialog between the societies based on the starship and cube models express this difference. In the early episodes, the Borg spoke in a single voice that was a composite of all the voices of the assimilated beings in the hive. They had designations not names. In one episode, a Borg liberated from the collective became known as “Hugh” from “you.” In a longer running thread, the Borg who joined the Voyager crew by accident went from having a designation Seven of Nine for her place in the hive to being named Seven. The ongoing thread of this series focused on the travails and pitfalls of her becoming an individual, of being in touch with her humanity, of connecting to her childhood before she was assimilated.

I thought about the Borg when reading about recent developments in Hong Kong. I did so triggered by the title of an article “Can Hong Kong’s Resistance Win? (NYT July 14, 2019, the day the American President formally launched the culture wars against disloyal traitor Americans of color). Part of the article made me wonder if the author had the Borg in mind when contrasting China and Hong Kong.

If human beings have other wants or needs ⸺ like independent thinking, free expression or person happiness ⸺ well, those are things for our rivals, the Western democracies to pursue. The West’s production model is less efficient than ours. Ours has “Chinese characteristics.”

In these words, one may witness the Borg/Federation conflict in earthly human form.  In the TV series resistance was not futile. Will the same be true for Hong Kong?

In this confrontation one should recognize that China has its own Hannitys and Huckabees. It has its own propaganda machine that even surpasses Fox. The Chinese and the Trumpicans both get their news from a single source – the government-approved propaganda machine. However Americans have alternatives with the Fake News outlets. In fact they are earning record profits. Fox and the President mention the other news sources if only to belittle them. By contrast, China has no homegrown alternative to the official propaganda outlet.

However that does not mean the Chinese are not graduates of the Laura Ingraham School of Spin. As one Chinese professor said in support of the Chinese government against the Hong Kong Spring:

They are obviously actors, not Hong Kong citizens.  

Ingraham could not have said it better herself. In fact, she has said it. Something about children separated from their families at the border having a camp-like experience. And all those supposed “high school” students after the shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida.

One danger for the Chinese government is that the longer the Hong Kong Spring continues, the greater the demands are likely to be. For the moment they are contained to specific grievances relating to specific proposed laws and the actions of the police against those participating in the Hong Kong Spring. But over time, the stakes rise.  A protester climbed a flagpole, removed the Chinese national flag, and flung it into the water. Another protester than unfurled a flag in support of Hong Kong independence. Shades of Evacuation Day on November 25, 1783, at Bowling Green when a Dutch American climbed the British-greased flagpole, tore down the British flag, and raised an American flag. As the Chinese protester said:

We’re losing our freedom little by little. Those who don’t support Hong Kong independence will have no choice but to become Chinese.

The call for independence ratchets up the division and makes cooperation more difficult. It also suggests a distinction between the Chinese people and the Hong Kong people, as if two different races or ethnicities are involved.

Back in 2018, before all the current commotion began, a new bridge was opened that linked Hong Kong and Macau.  A prescient article “New Bridge Brings ‘That Kind of Tourist’ to Hong Suburb” (NYT, November 24, 2018, print edition) highlighted that difference. In the first month, nearly one million mainland Chinese crossed over into Hong Kong with the corresponding reaction by the locals to what our president would call an “invasion,’ even if they do return home after a day of shopping. The authors noted:

It’s an early sign that it will take more than a 34-mile megastructure to overcome the resentment that is festering between Hong Kong residents and mainland Chinese.

The article reports that activists who claim Hong Kong has a unique identity that needs to be protected are called “localists.”  They advocate for independence, an increasingly taboo subject. The localists differentiate themselves from mainland Chinese. They do so by employing derogatory language. They call the mainlanders “locusts” [not “animals’] and “invaders.” By American standards, these localists in support of Hong Kong independence are using racist language. They compound the derision by referring to the people of China as being from “Chee-na” instead of “China.”

Pro-Chinese people understand the insults and have responded in opposition to such castigation of mainland Chinese. As one individual said:

We’re all Chinese people with yellow skin. Why are you discriminating against your own people? 

So the pro-freedom and independence people use demeaning language to belittle and mock the locusts who invade their land and overwhelm their communities. The pro-government people refers to the Asian people of color as “yellow.”

Nonetheless, the position of our government on the Hong Kong Spring is clear. Our transactional President who alienates allies prefers authoritarian leaders to freedom seekers. The message the Chinese government should deliver is “Love it or Leave it!”  And if the residents of Hong Kong do decide to leave it, they cannot come here.  They are not Norwegian. They are people of color. And we are full up. So where should they go? What country would welcome them in the face of China’s wrath if they did? Taiwan?

At this point, no one knows how the story of the Hong Kong Spring will end. The Chinese government has the option to accede to the demands of the protesters and simply wait. After all, in 2047 by treaty the two-system approach will cease. China will then be legally allowed to absorb Hong Kong into the mainland collective. Of course, people living in Hong Kong today know about 2047. Many of them will be alive then. So even though 2047 is 28 years away, for the localists the protests now may be the last opportunity to preserve their freedom. The stakes are high and they have nowhere to turn for help. Perhaps in this real-world drama, resistance is futile and the Borg collective trumps the desire of those who want to be free.