During the Cold War, the Soviet Union was the enemy of the West, and President Ronald Reagan had the moral courage to identify it as the “evil empire,” which arguably sped up the fall of Soviet-led communism by a decade or more. However, communist China did not fall. Slowly and anonymously in the shadow of Russia and Iran, the Chinese have been building their might. Could China be emerging as the new evil empire today?
In 1972, President Richard Nixon softened relations with China. A few years later, after the death of Chairman Mao Zedong, the new Chairman Deng Xiaoping introduced economic reforms, creating economic free zones modeled on Hong Kong. The liberalization was so dramatic that hardliners accused Deng of being a traitor and embracing capitalism. Deng famously answered his critics that his policies were “socialism with Chinese characteristics.”
Then followed decades of a surprisingly free economy. After Mao, few bothered talking about Marxism and communism. Everyone was talking about freedom and making money.
However, something started to change from around 1989. The student rebellion in Tiananmen Square reminded the authorities that freedom was dangerous to their authoritarian one-party rule. They were further alarmed by the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991, and the subsequent implosion of the Russian economy. By the time Hong Kong was returned to China in 1997, the initial infatuation with freedom was replaced with a renewed belief in communism, Chinese greatness, and imperial ambition.
A few years later, the Chinese people started noticing new posters of Chairman Mao. A new generation of Chinese students was taught that he was a flawless great leader. The mass death of the Great Leap Forward and the destruction of Chinese culture during the Cultural Revolution had been airbrushed out of the curriculum. This “reeducation” includes the persecution of Christians and a rewriting of the Bible to reflect the values of communism.
In 2018, the Chinese communist party celebrated the 200th anniversary of the birth of Karl Marx, and the new “paramount leader” of China, General Secretary Xi Jinping, said that “Writing Marxism onto the flag of the Chinese Communist Party was totally correct … Unceasingly promoting the sinification and modernization of Marxism is totally correct.”
The Xi Era
When Xi came to power in 2012, he centralized control in a single person in a way not seen since the days of Mao. In a speech in 2013, Xi made clear that China had moved its goalposts and that its imperial ambitions had been revived. He announced the policy of the “Chinese Dream” and reaffirmed Deng’s “Socialism with Chinese characteristics.”
Xi’s plan involved the creation of a $900 billion Belt and Road Initiative dubbed the New Silk Road by some. The project consists of constructing roads and infrastructure to connect China with Europe, Central-Asia, and South-Asia to foster trade and make the communist nation the center of a vast new economic empire.
Shortly after Xi came to power, China started building artificial islands in the South China Sea and, in violation of international treaties, extended the Chinese maritime territory claim to the shores of Thailand and the Philippines.
The recent social unrest in Hong Kong reflects serious concern over the aggressive infiltration of the Communist Party and the gradual devouring of the remnants of freedoms established under British rule. Chinese communists have bought newspapers in Taiwan and other countries in the region to influence the news.
Australia recently announced the formation of a task force to crack down on meddling in its universities by “foreign governments.” Education Minister Dan Tehan said that “our government is taking action to provide clarity at the intersection of national security, research, collaboration, and a university’s autonomy.”
China was not mentioned by name, but the preamble to this drastic measure was Chinese pro-communist rallies at Australian universities.
Spying, Theft, and Trade Barriers
China has been a kleptocracy for a long time. Much of China’s technology is based on rampant industrial espionage in the West. According to Stephen Bannon in an interview with celebrity investor Kyle Bass, China’s version of the CIA has been sponsoring top Chinese students to get into the best American universities and research institutions that are working on military technology.
While the West has opened its markets to China, the communist regime has demanded industry and technology transfer in return for market access. Many companies are only allowed to sell goods to China if the products are partially built there. Google had to help China build a secret surveillance and thought control system to be able to operate in the country.
While the theft, espionage, infiltration, protectionism, and increased authoritarianism has been well-known by the American government for several decades, it has been excused and ignored. No American president since Nixon has done anything to curb the rise of the new totalitarian empire in the East – until President Donald Trump.
For twenty years, Trump has been warning about the danger of China. Even now, critics only see the tariffs as a form of outdated protectionism by an economically illiterate buffoon. However, while America and the West only saw the rise of China as something unequivocally positive and a path into the civilized world, Trump was among the earliest to see the signs of something sinister brewing. The tariffs are part of a retaliatory economic warfare.
Rather than learn the principles of liberty from the West, China has used the extended hand and goodwill of America to steal, cheat, and infiltrate. Its increased wealth has reawakened the “Chinese Dream” of “socialism with Chinese characteristics.” We now know what they mean by that: a return to Chinese imperialism.
Reagan called out the Soviet Union as the evil empire. Is it time for Trump to do the same with China?