Tensions between the US and China remain high.
On Monday last week, the US Department of Commerce announced that it would blacklist 28 Chinese companies, including major video surveillance firm Hangzhou Hikvision Digital Technology, because of their connections to “human rights violations and abuses in China’s campaign targeting Uighurs and other predominantly Muslim ethnic minorities in the Xinjiang Uighur Autonomous Region.”
On the same day, National Basketball Association commissioner Adam Silver said that the league would not apologize for Houston Rockets general manager Daryl Morey exercising his freedom of expression.
He was referring to Morey’s tweet on Oct. 4 that read: “Fight For Freedom. Stand With Hong Kong” — which sparked a huge outcry in China.
Meanwhile, the creators of the popular US cartoon South Park issued a mock “official apology” on Twitter, ridiculing China after Beijing scrapped all its episodes, clips and related content from Chinese streaming and social media platforms in response to an episode that was critical of the Chinese government.
All these incidents show that the US and China have created a new battlefield over human rights and freedom of expression.
The US-China trade dispute arose from an economic conflict between the two countries. However, the dispute, which has been raging for more than a year, has expanded into many sectors — technology, currency and even the realms of systems and values.
Once the conflict grew, it would inevitably lead to a clash between the two nations’ dfferent systems and values, as China is essentially using protectionism, nationalism and its authoritarian system of government to fight a free society.
The tumult brought about by the NBA and South Park issues reflects the inevitable conflict arising from Chinese nationalism, with Beijing pushing “the great rejuvenation of the Chinese people,” and the rise of communist China versus the civilized world.
The controversies surrounding the NBA and South Park are just the beginning, as the clash between China, closely resembling Germany under the Nazis, and the free world will only intensify.
Under such circumstances, the free world might be affected, but it is unlikely that China’s digital totalitarian regime will be able stand firm against the spread of free democracy and universal values.
Human nature longs for freedom and democracy. One-man or one-party rule, or a narrow-minded nationalism focusing on hatred, might be able to manipulate and deceive the public for a short period, but autocracy will inevitably be despised. This, history has taught us.
In recent years, notably since Chinese President Xi Jinping (習近平) came to power, Beijing has increasingly used its sharp power to force and tempt countries in the free world to surrender to its authoritarian system and its values — and the methods with which it pursues this end have become all the more aggressive and violent.
It is possible that other countries are not fully aware of what China is doing to suppress people within its own borders in Xinjiang and Tibet, which it insists are purely internal affairs, or the manifestations of its territorial ambitions, as evidenced by its attempts to marginalize and infiltrate Taiwan.
Or perhaps these countries feel it is beyond their power to do anything about it, and are thus unable to offer substantial support.
Nevertheless, when Chinese ways and values, which are increasing in influence due to China’s rise, spread with little resistance from the free world, and when this entails enforced restrictions on the freedom of thought and expression of people in the free world, then this approaches the bottom line in civilized societies and is sure to give rise to tensions and conflict.
Beijing seems to think that it can use its economy as a weapon and a bargaining chip with which to bribe and force companies in the free world to compromise, while ignoring the fact that the single most important value in democratic societies is that freedoms and human rights are guaranteed and cannot be bought.
Even if a minority of companies are willing for the time being to be complicit in China’s attempts to attack democracy because of the huge business opportunities that China offers, there will come a time when the majority of the public will push back and say enough is enough.
As a New York Times editorial on Monday last week said, the silence of US companies in the face of China’s human rights violations essentially makes them complicit.
No US citizen, and certainly not any US politician, can afford to pay this moral price simply because they have an eye on the potential riches to be made in China.
That being the case, China cannot be allowed at this moment, when it is challenging the US, the world’s most powerful democracy, to get away with the same kind of wanton intimidation and bullying that have worked for it when dealing with vulnerable ethnic minority groups and weaker countries.
What China is railing against here are the very foundations of Western democracies and civilization.
The NBA and South Park incidents are of little consequence in democratic countries, the kind of thing that one sees on a daily basis: There is no reason that they ought to be seen as either controversial or offensive.
People are mystified as to why these incidents have China so riled up and why it is evoking such nationalistic outrage.
Morey’s tweet in support of Hong Kong was his personal opinion, and would have been perfectly acceptable even if he had criticized a national leader in the West.
There was certainly no group or government manipulating the situation in the background, and there was no hint of enmity nor espionage between the two countries involved.
Why is China being so thin-skinned about the whole affair, fueling nationalistic and ethnic tensions, and using it as grounds to stop broadcasting NBA games in China and interfering with the smooth operation of the sports industry there?
Beijing’s bullying tactics have left many Americans scratching their heads and reflecting on the barbarous nature of the Chinese government, and any hopes that increased wealth would lead to China’s democratization and, with it, world peace, are evaporating fast.
Many are now thinking that China’s rise is actually the greatest threat to the free world, forcing many to readjust their thinking on how to approach China.
Whether or not the US and China can come to an agreement in the current trade talks, it is going to be extremely difficult to change communist China’s approach to the rest of the world, as it continues to expand its engagement with the international community.
Just as it is naive to think that Beijing will change its ambitions to annex Taiwan, other countries must be wary of the existential threat that China presents to the free world and universal values.
Until the free world finds a way to defend itself against this anti-democratic drive, global peace and freedom will remain at risk of collapsing.
Translated by Chang Ho-ming and Paul Cooper
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