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With the authoritarian President Trump in the White House, it may be difficult to argue that the three “superpowers” have turned out other than feudal polities plundered by politically connected and wealthy elites. Nonetheless, and in the most simplified fashion, the following now comes to mind in relation to the quick assessment of China’s political character and culture.


China’s overseas lending, which was virtually zero before the turn of the century — well, about $500 billion in 2000 — stands today, ostensibly, at around $5 trillion. Indeed, they are now the world’s largest creditor, being twice as large as both the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund, combined.

Colagrossi, Mike. “New study uncovers China’s massive hidden lending to poor countries.” Big Think, July 18, 2019.

The low-hanging fruit may be plucked with the search string, “China, predatory lending” and, I’m sure, “China, debt trap” will do as well.

Difficult to beat for audacity, Chinese business, engineering acumen, and ethics have caused the more advanced and liberal world some concerns. The projects I have in mind are these: Three Gorges Dam; Coca Codo Sinclair Dam (Ecuador); oil extraction, South Sudan — while Sudan appears to be coming on to track with the west, the Sudanese of what is now South Sudan will have memories of a callous Chinese presence through the Darfur Genocide. The worst business and related ethical decisions and policies — or absence thereof — become always diminished the shoulder shrug accompanied by the dull observation, “it’s only business”.

One might note two other dimensions of Chinese irresponsibility as a global citizen: despite its bureaucracy and high-technology tendencies toward totalitarianism, the state appears represented by an unregulated fishing fleet in the western hemisphere, especially off the edge of Ecuador’s Galapagos Islands (in August) and possibly now in the vicinity of Peru. The other dimension: transnational crime, for which the state may make claim to insufficient resources for investigation and suppression. Historically, China — by way of the products of earliest international trade and later British greed and sea power — has had a long cultural and practical struggle with narcotics, and from that standpoint may lack enthusiasm for saving some of its trade partners from the folly of the self-destructive behavior of their own citizens.


Global espionage is no one-way street!


However, for black-and-white thinking evaluators, America’s issues with Chinese business, industrial, political, and scientific espionage loom large. Going over a few of the keys may be helpful.

All student exchanges and participation in interstate research activities may be regarded as at least moderately sensitive for political purposes, but China’s government has taken things up a few notches with a well-endowed Thousand Talents recruitment program targeting notable academic investigators and their departments. It’s no small look-see and takeaway (big time): click for the 109-page report (PDF), “Threats to the U.S. Research Enterprise: China’s Talent Recruitment Plans”, Staff Report, Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations, United States Senate, released online November 18, 2019.

Here is but one example of what has come out in the news in relation to the Thousand Talents espionage program:

Dr. Qing Wang, a professor of molecular genetics at the Cleveland Clinic and Case Western University, was arrested Wednesday on charges of lying to investigators and wire fraud related to more than $3.6 million in funding that he and his research group at the Cleveland Clinic received from the National Institutes of Health under false pretenses. At the same time that he was receiving millions of dollars in U.S. government grants, court documents reveal he concealed how he was also the Dean of the College of Life Sciences and Technology at the Huazhong University of Science and Technology in Wuhan, China. He was also receiving grants from the National Natural Science Foundation of China and hid his participation in China’s Thousand Talents Program, a Chinese Communist Party effort to recruit academics to gain access to foreign technology and intellectual property.

Washington Examiner – “DOJ escalates Chinese ‘Thousand Talents’ crackdown with arrest of Cleveland Clinic researcher” – 5/14/2020.

It should go without saying that the recipients of large research grants may not care to think too much about their financial good luck when it comes to keeping their laboratories, themselves, other faculty, and students flush in research missions and means.

A modern question comes to mind: Are the world’s leaders obligated to reproducing the worst of the world’s potential for feudal, medieval, and tribal warfare — or may the same be obliged to accept a deeply interconnected modern (and democratic) variegated world capable of cooperative strong integration without supposed “exclusive” genetic, racial, or religious “winners”?

The world’s refusal of Islamic supremacist tenets has produced some medieval resurgence through parochial versions of “New Nationalism”, and the Chinese have been no less susceptible to that than White Europeans and North Americans expecting to wake up and see a world that looks (and thinks) just as they do.

Whatever the answers, add a classic “house of mirrors” complication:

January 1, 1979

The United States normalizes diplomatic relations with China. Three years later there are 10,000 Chinese students in the US, and the FBI begins directing field offices to recruit students for counterintelligence operations.

MIT Technology Review – “A brief history of US-China espionage entanglements” – 9/3/2020.

As long as machines, materials, and processes produce exchange, people (and states) will steal proprietary information to either remain at parity with competitors and threats or get an edge up on them.

What has changed throughout the world: online proximity x time.

Today’s bad decisions travel at the speed of light.

Narcotics and Transnational Crime

China appears to be working the issues.

Here, for example, is a 2020 U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) unclassified statement involving China’s commitment to suppressing illicit trade related to fentanyl:

Effective May 1, 2019, China officially controlled all forms of fentanyl as a class of drugs. This fulfilled the commitment that President Xi made during the G-20 Summit. The implementation of the new measure includes investigations of known fentanyl manufacturing areas, stricter control of internet sites advertising fentanyl, stricter enforcement of shipping regulations, and the creation of special teams to investigate leads on fentanyl trafficking. These new restrictions have the potential to severely limit fentanyl production and trafficking from China. This could alter China’s position as a supplier to both the United States and Mexico.

DEA Intelligence Report. “Fentanyl Flow to the United States.” PDF. DEA-DCT-DIR-008-20, January 2020.

Wikipedia’s page, “Illegal drug trade in China”, which appears up to date with edits this past September (2020), provides the greater overview.

Truth to tell: as regards the transnational narcotics business, China may not stand out as more or less problematic or troublesome than other states saddled with similar issues. Aided by corruption, suppressed by shifting tides in law, politics, mercenary and military relationships, and the value of facets of reputations, the operations known to TCOs (Transnational Crime Organizations) shift always to the paths of least resistance and highest profit. As example: https://www.occrp.org/en/daily/10259-unodc-warns-of-rising-role-of-organized-crime-in-southeast-asia (July 19, 2019).

Giant China, however, appears able to field labor sufficient for cultural incursions and producing huge financial obligations via huge critical infrastructure projects in client states. It’s when it comes to cooperation involving funding or manning investigations into smuggling the trail goes — and perhaps appropriately — dim. The chemicals get through and course through the illicit manufacturing economies of Central and South America, and while the products move north — and the money moves south — political instability driven by practical insecurity help create the chaos that also drives migration north.

As a dimension for thought, none can help but notice the North American pull that draws the business from the south. One may excoriate suppliers only so much.

Addendum: Totalitarianism

Mass Surveillance State

The above header needs little support here, which bothers me, lol, but China has produced an extraordinary reputation for mass surveillance and the development of related methods of social control. Here’s a lead from a Human Rights Watch report on the matter —

Classical totalitarianism, in which the state controls all institutions and most aspects of public life, largely died with the Soviet Union, apart from a few holdouts such as North Korea. The Chinese Communist Party retained a state monopoly in the political realm but allowed a significant private economy to flourish. Yet today, in Xinjiang, a region in China’s northwest, a new totalitarianism is emerging—one built not on state ownership of enterprises or property but on the state’s intrusive collection and analysis of information about the people there. Xinjiang shows us what a surveillance state looks like under a government that brooks no dissent and seeks to preclude the ability to fight back. And it demonstrates the power of personal information as a tool of social control.

https://www.hrw.org/news/2019/08/16/data-leviathan-chinas-burgeoning-surveillance-state – 8/16/2019.

This society may seem dystopian, but it isn’t farfetched: It may be China in a few years. The country is racing to become the first to implement a pervasive system of algorithmic surveillance. Harnessing advances in artificial intelligence and data mining and storage to construct detailed profiles on all citizens, China’s communist party-state is developing a “citizen score” to incentivize “good” behavior. A vast accompanying network of surveillance cameras will constantly monitor citizens’ movements, purportedly to reduce crime and terrorism. While the expanding Orwellian eye may improve “public safety,” it poses a chilling new threat to civil liberties in a country that already has one of the most oppressive and controlling governments in the world.

https://www.theatlantic.com/international/archive/2018/02/china-surveillance/552203/ – 2/2/2018.

So it goes with Wikipedia (e.g., “Mass surveillance in China”; “Social Credit System”).

In Fortune Magazine more recently

In Xiqiao, a city of roughly 300,000 in southern China, for example, officials have installed more than 1,400 video cameras and over 300 facial recognition cameras since 2006, ChinaFile found. The report said officials have blanketed most of the city’s public spaces with the cameras to address “the difficult problem of how to control people,” according to a government document obtained by ChinaFile.

Mass surveillance in lower-profile cities and territories reflects the 2018 launch of China’s Project Sharp Eyes, an ambitious attempt to equip 100% of Chinese public spaces—street corners, parks, train stations—with video-monitoring capabilities and amass the data into one central platform. China’s government says the project is aimed at improving public safety and security, but it’s seen outside China as a means for more state control.

https://fortune.com/2020/11/03/china-surveillance-system-backlash-worlds-largest/ – 11/3/2020.


Related Online

Eftimiades, Nicholas. “Uncovering Chinese Espionage in the US: A detailed look into how, why, and where Chinese spies are active in the United States.” The Diplomat, November 28, 2018.

Giglio, Mike. “China’s Spies Are on the Offensive.” The Atlantic, August 26, 2019.

Wray, Christopher. “The Threat Posed by the Chinese Government and the Chinese Communist Party to the Economic and National Security of the United States.” Remarks delivered to a Hudson Institute Video Event, “China’s Attempt to Influence U.S. Institutions,” July 7, 2020.

Posted by CNA to YouTube, October 1, 2020.