A panel at COSM 2021 aired a disagreement between philosopher of technology George Gilder and political analyst Newt Gingrich. Gingrich argued that China is the greatest threat to global freedom while Gilder felt that claims about forced labor, for example, are overstated and that we must co-operate with China for technological advances.
China today is in the grip of the most concerted government campaign to assert greater control over society in decades, perhaps since the tumultuous days of Mao Zedong.Michael Shuman, “Xi Jinping’s Terrifying New China” at MSN (November 15, 2021)
Today, advanced technology is critical to the dream of a total surveillance state where, in Schuman’s words,
[This] deluge of dictates can be viewed as one element of Xi’s broader agenda to mold a new Chinese society that will be instilled with proper socialist values—as he defines them—purged of corrupting individualism and other bad habits that have seeped in from foreign (read: Western) cultures, and thus girded for the next phase of national struggle: the quest for global greatness.Michael Shuman, “Xi Jinping’s Terrifying New China” at MSN (November 15, 2021)
Recently, a writer who is fluent in Chinese directed Mind Matters News to an English-language discussion at a Chinese news site which implies that both Gingrich and Gilder are right — but about different things. We have provided a summary and some quotations in translation below:
As a man with a great regard for the Chinese people and China as his birthplace, he attempts to set the sudden new Marxist militancy in historical perspective, including the use of the emerging terms, “global governance” with “Chinese characteristics”:
Jenny Fei Fang: What’s your definition of these “Chinese characteristics”?
Miles Maochun Yu: The Chinese always say what they’re trying to do is “socialism with Chinese characteristics.” The misunderstanding is that we normally believe that means that China wants to carry out what they call socialism with the Chinese nationalistic characteristics. So they say well, this may not be real Communism this may be just a transnationalistic, you know, outburst or their ideology.
That’s a complete misunderstanding of the nature of the Chinese Communist Party because the Chinese Communist Party is a very ideologically vigilant party. The Chinese Communist Party believes that it alone represents the purest and most authentic version of Communism, of Marxism-Leninism. So when they say “socialism with Chinese characteristics,” this simply means … a Chinese version of Marxism-Leninism — the best one, as different from, say, the Communist revisionism represented by the Soviet Communist Party, the Vietnamese Communist Party, the Cuban Communist Party… So they use the phrase “Chinese characteristics” in the context of international Communist movement, not in the context of Chinese nationalism…
Maochun Yu goes on to say that the CCP’s position is complicated by the fact that Communism. in general, lost its appeal since the 1980s. So the strategy of entrenching and exporting it, to create Chinese dominance, required changes in tactics.
Miles Maochun Yu: They know nobody wants to buy expired goods. So what they’re trying to do is say, well, Communism in Eastern Europe and in the Soviet Union collapsed because the Soviet version of Communism was not good, was not genuine. So Chinese Communist ideology represents the true Marxism-Leninism and they’re going to carry it to the rest of the world, not by outright export of this ideology per se but by creating Chinese dominance first — economically, militarily, and technologically — and then implement the Chinese version of its ideology.
You can see this very clearly because China, to this day, is the only Marxist–Leninist government that claims its heritage to Karl Marx. So, for example you know when Karl Marx’s anniversary occurs, the Chinese government makes sure that it’s going to send statues to the birthplace of Marx. Xi Jinping always says, “Return to the original commitment.” Now, what does the original commitment mean? The original commitment is not rejuvenation of Chinese nationalism; it’s … committed to orthodox Marxism Leninism, to Communist ideology.
Maochun Yu thinks that Xi Jinping, who has a doctorate in scientific socialism from Chiang Mai university, is not a man of new ideas but an enforcer of ideologically correct ones. Artificial intelligence is a powerful new weapon for enforcement.
Miles Maochun Yu: I cannot say that Chinese people have not benefited at all from that kind of technological and economic progress but that’s not the main issue. The Chinese people are never the major beneficiary of the Chinese economic development and Chinese technological advancement. It’s the Party. The Party is more powerful, much more enabled… and that’s the nature of the Chinese threat.
Following on that background interpretation, Maochun Yu offered some thoughts on how it’s playing out today:
➤ China is extremely isolated internationally. “It doesn’t really have a real friend that China can trust a 100 percent in the world.” A Chinese leader who visits any other country faces questions about Xinjiang, technological and military espionage, Hong Kong, Taiwan, trade imbalance. He added, “I have never seen Chinese diplomacy in such a dire strait of condition as it is now.” While the CCP casts the United States as the archenemy, “the Chinese Communist Party is facing opposition, resistance from virtually every other free country in the world — particularly the nicest countries, the least likely to provoke any kind of confrontation, like Canada, Sweden, right, and Switzerland.”
In response to Fei Fang’s question as to the best strategy for countering the CCP’s threats, Maochun Yu called for moral clarity about the stakes and the goal:
➤ “What’s at stake is very, very high. It’s basically everybody’s individual freedom. It’s the foundation of the democratic systems that have existed for over 200 years, represented by the United States. So it’s really a replacement of the modern governance of freedom and democracy by a CCP style of authoritarian rule… You also have to study their version of history, you have to study their understanding of individual rights — which is nothing, right?
➤ Suppression of freedom of religion, for example, is in service of the goal of making dissent not just costly but impossible. “That’s why they have to lock up the millions of Uyghurs into concentration camps — not just to physically torture them but most importantly to brainwash them so that they will get rid of their religious belief. Their persecution of Falun Gong, for example, is not just a physical torture of unspeakable cruelty but also to remove their thinking so that they would not believe what they believe. If the Soviet Communism focused more on physical elimination of dissent, the Chinese Communism focuses far more on the conformity of everybody to Communism by eliminating individual thoughts, individual freedom to worship, and that is the very, very big moral challenge to modern world.
He sees China has having one key strength and the United States as having another:
➤ “Dictatorship has one very ironic virtue. It can really master enormous material [and] human resources to the big projects, right, because they own everything. So what they can do is they can concentrate their resources on certain military technologies. That happened in the Soviet Union. They basically sacrificed people’s well-being by spending enormous amounts of money on weapons and arms.
But that isn’t necessarily the winning ticket:
➤ In 1957, Sputnik — essentially a carrier for intercontinental ballistic missiles — convinced many that Moscow was winning the Cold War. “But in the end, it didn’t work that way. … Ultimately what freedom, democracy does to the country really is to generate enormous power, energy of innovation, and technological creation.” Within a couple of decades the Cold War was over, and so was the Soviet Union.
Maochun Yu seems to agree with Gingrich about the seriousness of the threat but with Gilder about freedom and creativity as a defense against it. He is mainly concerned that Americans understand the challenge clearly and respond to it effectively.
Schuman sums the matter up:
To him [Xi JinPing], a bracing infusion of stricter discipline, greater party direction, and deeper ideological conformity will strengthen and prepare the nation for the onrushing stage in its resurgence: competition with the United States. What’s about to unfold, therefore, is a contest between liberal and illiberal beliefs about how best to achieve national success.Michael Shuman, “Xi Jinping’s Terrifying New China” at MSN (November 15, 2021)
It turns out that advanced technology can either liberate or enslave more profoundly than any lesser kind.
You may also wish to read: Gingrich at COSM: China is the greatest threat to global freedom. Newt Gingrich fears America will lose to China. George Gilder argues that thinking that way is self-defeating and stupid. Is cooperation with China a bad idea or our best — perhaps our only — option? The debate at COSM 2021 sets out the issues.