29 Comments
Mar 2, 2021Liked by Noah Smith

It's not just the virus it's things like this. China is acting very authoritarian not just inside China but also towards other states and it's coming back to bite them.

https://www.washingtonpost.com/world/2020/01/21/chinas-ambassador-sweden-calls-journalists-critical-beijing-lightweight-boxers-facing-heavyweight/

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I know language policing is never a full solution to anything but I wonder if it would be worthwhile to talk about the Chinese Communist Party's human rights violations, about the CCP's territorial ambitions, about Biden being tough on the CCP.

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I've always wished we'd do this for China and every other country--when you mean "the government of X", say so, don't just say "X" for short. They're completely different things. Nobody has trouble with this distinction when it's the government of *your* country!

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Also, I think you inappropriately dismiss "China's economy" as a driver of opinion. Opinion lags facts on the ground, especially when it comes to big inchoate fears like the Sword of Damocles.

The average Westerner doesn't care what China's doing in the SCS, and barely cares about the Uighurs and Hong Kong. Those plus COVID are mainly just triggers for an underlying antipathy born of China's economic rise at the expense of the Western working class.

And again, that antipathy lags facts on the ground. If you've been unemployed or underemployed for a decade-and-a-half now because your old well-paying factory job was "shipped to China", you're probably *still not happy about that*, and you probably *don't care that China's growth has slowed down*, because the damage has already been done.

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I think there are a number of factors going on in the surge of Anti-Asian violence in the United States and elsewhere.

The first point is that many Westerners cannot/do not distinguish between Chinese, Japanese, and Koreans. A classic example of recent memory is the Prime Minister of Canada, Justin Trudeau, who confused Japanese with Chinese. And he is a public figure of considerable standing! That there is especially insulting to these three nationalities is obvious: for most of the last century and a half they have been at loggerheads with each other, sometimes embroiled in active war against one another in the case of the Japan/China duo. To say Koreans are bitter about being colonized by the Japanese from the late 18th century to 1945 is an understatement, this despite the fact many older Koreans read and write Japanese. It is hard to deny that North American and Europeans harbor some racist thinking about people from Asia, particularly since Asia is the most rapidly growing region of the world in terms of per capita income.

In the United States anti-Asian legislation commenced with the Chinese Exclusion Act and intensified with Gentlemen Agreements with Japan negotiated in the early 20th century. There is no doubt that fear of Chinese and Japanese from undercutting white labor in terms of wages - a political movement particularly virulent in the West Coast of North America - was a factor, as was eugenics. In the early 1920s the United States Congress passed the National Origins Act that severely limited immigration from Asia. In many ways the notion that Japanese undercut wages of Americans was part parcel of the anti-Japanese demonstrations that took place during the 1970s in the United States. Groups of disgruntled workers smashed Japanese imported cars into pieces in protest. Now that Japanese wages are comparable to North American wages Japanese are no longer a problem for Americans per se, but Chinese are. As long as Chinese wages lag behind American wages by a big margin, fear of Chinese labor will continue. That China has been accused of manipulating its exchange rate to promote exports to the United States (depressing Chinese wages calculated in dollars) this problem will persist.

Added to the hostility of Americans to Japan first, now China, is the sense that they have cleverly learned through negotiation with American companies or through reverse engineering to quickly master Western "state of the art" technologies, even surpassing the Western countries in this area. Fear that Asia will become the powerhouse of innovation is a depressing thought for many Westerners, used to being the technological leaders of the world since the 16th century.

There is little doubt that suspicion of China's handling of the COVID virus - which is a corona virus like SARs which also emerged from China - has intensified distrust of China. Ironically some of this paranoia has been fed by the Epoch Times press which adheres to Falun Giong ideology, Epoch Times is Chinese owned and publishes a newspaper in Chinese that is widely read by Chinese living in North America. As well it has introduced an English language edition. Epoch Times invested heavily in Trump's campaigns including his court cases aimed at overturning the election won by Biden. It calls COVID-19 the "Chinese Communist virus" claiming it was unleashed on the Western world by a nefarious Chinese Communist plot in order to weaken the West. That a large number of Chinese dissidents are pro-Trump is consistent with this view.

In short I agree COVID-19 has intensified an anti-Asian backlash that draws upon a deep seeded racism akin to a fatal venom carried by a dangerous snake that is latent, breaking out periodically when economic tensions related to immigration or imports leap to the fore.

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I am NOT a tankie or communist supporter, but I take exception to the #FreeHongKong type stuff. If Houston (or Texas) wanted to effectively secede from the Union (or at least declare that federal laws don't apply and that they're allowed to effectively be a devolved state), it would be met with overwhelming, likely near-unanimous opposition. I hate the idea of criticizing an idea that wouldn't be acceptable in a personal context.

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author

So how about U.S. independence from Britain? Also bad?

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The point is to recognize the mismatch and come up with a some type of theory that is better than "well this one is good and this one is bad".

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That's true. My theory would be that basically I support measures that are expedient to prevent people's civil liberties being taken away and in the Hong Kong case that happens to be supporting pro-democracy protesters who may or may not also want independence from China.

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When the UK returned Hong Kong to China, China agreed to keep Hong Kong's freedoms in place from 1997 to 2047 ("one country, two systems"). We're not even halfway to 2047.

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author

Yup, so much for that promise!

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Britain promised to nullify the unequal treaties forced upon China and return the treaty ports (incl. Hong Kong) to China after WWII - so much for that promise!

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Two wrongs don't make a right. The UK aren't forcing oppression on anyone right now, but the CCP *are*. Keep your sense of moral perspective straight.

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Have you ever heard of the Chagos Archipelago?

In the spirit of not letting the discussion out of hand though: I fully agree that two wrongs don't make a right. What the Chinese government is doing in Hong Kong and elsewhere is despicable, I think most would agree. I think it'd be to the benefit of both Hong Kong and China, if the latter adapted to and improved the system of the former, rather than the other way around.

This is not the point though of *this* particular subdiscussion though, so let's get to that.

Noah Smith, in a replay to another commentator rhetorically asked "So how about US independence from Britain? Also bad?

I think this analogy - and that of the original commenter - are deeply flawed; so let me take you to a fictional future to apply the example of Hong Kong to the United States.

It's the year 2150, after decades of political infighting and economic decline, and isolation the United States is a shadow of its former self. The world's new superpowers - the Federation of Asian Republics (FAR) on the one and the Pan-African Union (PAN, on the other hand, are not happy with the US' continued isolation. After all, declining education and access to family planning have seen the population rise to unprecedented heights, creating a coveted market for cheap agricultural products. Fearing that easing its import restrictions will further diminish its already battered farmers, the US government refuses to heed the demands of the FAR and PAN. The two superpowers subsequently form an alliance and decide to open the US market by force. After a short war, Washington is forced to sue for peace, allowing the FAR to take over the ports of Long Beach and the city of Los Angeles, while the PAN takes of the ports of New York City and New Jersey as well as New York City. In the following decades, these ports and their attached cities fuelled by their status as the largest trading hubs of the Americas and vast capital influx and an abandonment of the isolationist principles see extraordinary growth, both in terms of wealth and population. After a long and bloody civil war, the US turns increasingly authoritarian, abolishing states' rights as well as most civil liberties and re-establishing a system of indentured servitude. Meanwhile, the cities controlled by the FAR and PAN while not fully democratic enjoy the rule of law, freedom of speech, and other civil liberties that average US citizens could only dream of. In a sign of goodwill and facing crises of their own, the FAR and PAN decide to hand back control of New York, L.A., and the respective ports back to the US, provided they respect the relatively democratic systems of these entities. Unsurprisingly, despite the agreement being enshrined in treaties, Washington quickly breaks its promise and brings New York and L.A. in its fold, Washington-backed figurehead, abolishing civil liberties and cracking down on the slightest hint of dissent.

Of course, this is a gross simplification and by no means a perfect analogy, but I think in a nutshell, this is where Hong Kong is right now.

From a moral point of view, I think there's no argument that Hong Kong and its people should retain their system until at least 2047. From another perspective though - and this is irrespective of form of government - it's understandable that China wants to fully integrate its regained territories in its system as soon as possible.

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I think the analogy breaks down because you're focusing too much on territorial integrity, and not enough on the popular sovereignty inherent in self-determination.

What real claim does an authoritarian Washington truly have on two cities whose cultural evolution have wildly diverged from its own over multiple generations? Historical, maybe. But that's precisely the point Noah was making - the English, Dutch, and natives have just as much historical claim to New York as Washington does. And morally, it's... pardon my French... *downright fucking bankrupt* to deny those cities their sovereignty. If they want independence, let them be independent. If they want to be Chinese, let them be Chinese. Too much time has passed for China to have a right to anything but "being butthurt" about Hong Kongers' human right to self-determination. "Your fist's right to liberty stops at my nose", after all.

And none of this is happening in a vacuum. If we fail to defend Hong Kong's right to self-determination, what are we going to do when China comes for Taiwan? They may have a weaker historical claim on TW in *our* eyes, but the CCP doesn't see it that way.

From this commenter's keyboard, HK is clearly China's Sudetenland. Their leaders are already committing a religious genocide. Even if they aren't riding a frightening fascist racial supremacist movement like the Nazis were, how much longer are we going to keep waving off the warning flags?

Their economy's finally slowing down. The "last mile" for them towards true global economic dominance is going to be the most difficult precisely because their system is so corrupt. Their leaders haven't developed territorial ambitions outside of historical claims, *yet*. They're distracted by their own internal struggle transitioning from a managed multifaction autocracy to a more conventional single-dominant-faction one. They're at the weakest they'll be for generations. Their neighbors uniformly hate and fear them. *This* is the time to make our stand and protect the cause of liberty. We carry the biggest stick in world history; we don't have to engage in ruinous adventurism in order to wield it wisely against a dangerous opponent. Park a carrier outside HK, and park one in Taipei Harbor, while we host the "Summit Of Democracies" at the Taipei 101 tower. Send the message that free nations will not tolerate this bullshit anymore.

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Secession talk is the resulting action but not the root cause. It's meaningless to discuss this.

Erosion of rights is the root cause.

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Maybe unpopular opinion here -- but if a state wants to secede, and there is legitimate evidence to think the broad public wants it, they should be able to do it. Being prevented to do it seems undemocratic and/or not does not respect self-determination principles.

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They are obviously not happy with their rights being eroded one after another. Your analogy does not apply.

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That's what Texas would tell you too. Rights to what? Is my question.

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Did you arrive into the world yesterday? Hong-Kong has gone from a fairly free democratic state to an authoritarian state within a very short time frame. Texas is Texas, nothing has changed. The analogy doesn't apply because the situation is not the same.

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Pfft. Hong Kong isn't Houston or Texas, it'd be more like Puerto Rico voting for independence.

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Every state should have the right to secede though. If any state wants to leave the union, that’s their business. (I understand this is probably quite controversial, but forming the United States is not an indefinite commitment. Any secession should obviously require a super majority, btw though.)

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It can be true that China's growth rate has slowed in the past 10-12 years, but (1) it remains impressively fast compared to most Western countries (2) people's intuitive fears aren't based on the growth rate, but on the absolute size, and probably on a few years' trailing average of that.

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I happen to be someone who has little patience for our Cold Warring vs China, but anyway. More than 40 years ago, my then wife clerked for Thomas Tang of the 9th, and we became quite close to him. He talked about being the army in WW II and being taken for a Japanese while stationed at Benning (it's in GA, for those of you innocent of military service: watch the "Phenix City Story"). And called up for Korea, he was taken for a Chinese in the same place. You can imagine how all that worked out. It doesn't take much to get folks acting like idiots vs Chinese, Japanese, Koreans, etc.

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China and Russia are both cynical powers. Russia is more cynical, but China's sheer population makes it more likely to challenge Western dominance.

This is why we need One Billion Americans. America may not have an outstanding track record, but at least we're not actively genociding anyone, and are still marginally "free" in terms of basic civil liberties.

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It's interesting that negative opinions were rising even before Xi Jinping came to power. But since that time, it is hard to find many actions by the Chinese government that improved their reputation. Hypersensitivity to criticism worldwide, blocking the internet, military behavior in the S. China Sea, repression in Xinjiang, ignoring the Hong Kong agreement, continual threats to Taiwan, etc. Some investments and donations in Africa have been well-received, but others are obviously neocolonial. Under the steady stream of bad behavior, it is no wonder their reputation has worsened. Their continuing lack of transparency about COVID-19 is just one more instance of disappointing behavior

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One thing:

- I appreciate you working through these issues via your blog, even if you don't have all the answers -- actually, maybe because of it.

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it seems like it's a thing but i think it's also worth noting that hate crime reporting and, IMO, even calling something a "hate crime" is "fraught" as the SJWs like to say.

https://www.propublica.org/article/why-america-fails-at-gathering-hate-crime-statistics

I've never heard a compelling argument for designating things a "hate crime." It's like the old "why are the Nazis thought to be worse than japan or Mao, Khmer Rouge, Stalin?" They committed mass hate crimes, I guess?

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