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Is China calling a deer a horse?

7 July 2021 7:15 PM
Digital technology

An old Chinese proverb may reveal what the future holds for the most successful economy this century.

The Chinese Communist Party celebrated their 100 year anniversary on 1 July, as a political party they have ruled the country continuously for 72 years, longer than the USSR which broke up and every other nation with the exception of North Korea.

In that time it has endured terrible hardships of poverty and little economic opportunity, a good chunk of it by its own doing. But it has risen to become the second largest economy and if measured by how many people were lifted out of poverty the most successful government in history. It has worked to rightfully reunify with Hong Kong and continues to work towards reunification with Taiwan.

You would be forgiven for thinking it would be good for those regions to be returning to such a successful country. China would describe the story that way, but some may see it as China calling a deer a horse, a line I saw in a column by Yi-Zheng Lian about how China operates.

When a deer is a horse

It is an old idiom that speaks about stating something that is not true for the sake of manipulating someone and determining how willing they are to comply. It comes from a story of a manipulative Chinese official from over 2000 years ago who brought a deer to the emperor and said it was a horse, the emperor said he thought it was a deer so the minister suggested he ask the other members of his court for their view.

Some remained quiet, some said it was a deer and many, fearful of the minister, agreed that it was a horse, knowing full well that it wasn’t.

The story goes that those that said it was a deer did not remain in the court for much longer and those that were silent knew better than to ever contradict the minister.

Business Unusual first touched on this issue in July last year as Hong Kong protests fought against a Chinese law that broadly set out severe penalties for a multitude of activities that could be construed as seditious. It resulted a year later with an almost total shift from the form of democracy it was supposed to enjoy as part of an agreement to maintain Hong Kong’s democratic principles to having effectively become the same as mainland China.

The push to get Hong Kong to conform can be attributed to China’s long standing ruler Xi Jinping. His hold over the party is significant and has dealt with those not willing to see the beautiful horse provided to the Chinese people in a similar way as that official from all those years ago.

Despite the impressive successes, China has now moved from just an internal focus to a much more international one. The Belt and Road initiative is as much a play in international diplomacy as it is in keeping the massive Chinese construction and finance industry busy with big projects. It has ambitions of becoming the leading space faring nation with construction of a space station and moon exploration already underway.

It has consolidated its control over Chinese companies operating in China and those with ambitions of being successful outside of it without due deference to the party has felt its effect. Alibaba, ByteDance and most recently Didi, the ride hailing company that outplayed Uber in China and recently listed on the New York Stock Exchange have all seen their activities and business curtailed following interventions from Chinese authorities.

The burgeoning crypto industry and certainly the once dominant currency mining operations that recently accounted for 65% of global operations have been effectively reduced to a fraction of what they were as China moves to removed anything it can’t directly control

China’s future plans

China is expanding its territorial claims in waters that are currently parts of other Asian nations including Japan and certainly Taiwan.

Their military capabilities rival the best in the world on land, sea and air. They are as formidable, if not more so when it comes to operations in cyberspace.

The question is who or what could convince China to not pursue plans that could lead to conflict?

They have demonstrated that they are not concerned if some outside of China can see the deer is not a horse.

  • By the actions against those that dissent including whole communities of Muslims and Buddhists
  • By the less than transparent response to the origins of Covid-19
  • By the compliance demanded of foreign companies who wish to operate in China
  • By the ability to get dozens of sovereign countries to back or not challenge their positions at the UN
  • And the total control of media and internet access of its citizens.

It includes a requirement for all communist party members, most citizens and journalists to download and use an app that seeks to share news about Xi Jinping and his statements while running quizzes to test how well you know the content for an app that has permissions to effectively track everything you do on your phone. It has seen Reporters without Borders rank China 177 out of 180 for press freedom.

A recent release of classified and officially still censored US documents on Chinese efforts to invade or recapture Taiwan in the late 50s described the US as being willing to use nuclear weapons against China.

A reminder that the Doomsday clock that tracks how close we are to a civilisation ending event has held that we are just 100 seconds short of midnight, the closest we have ever been since the first time was set in 1949.

This is not to be alarmist, but when history is reviewed it always seems odd that so few seemed to realise the extent of the danger and the quite clear path the world was following that led to disaster. It is never one thing but rather a series of smaller events. None would result in a disaster on its own, but they add up until disaster is unavoidable.

In December 2020 the show looked at the threat of a global pandemic in the wake of growing vaccine hesitancy. If citizens and by extension their public representatives did not take the threat of virus that could spread through the world seriously then they would not look to ensure the long planned and detailed requirements for responding to a pandemic would be maintained. The idea seemed so remote and unlikely that we assumed would take care of it when the need arose, but that is not how pandemics work and one of the few nations that were ready and responded effectively was Taiwan as it had learned only a few decades prior what happens when you don’t

We have first hand knowledge of what an event that gets triggered in China can have on us in South Africa and that was when China recovered quickly and resumed its role of being the factory of the world and purchaser of the many commodities that keep African economies functioning.

If we are in a precarious position once again, who will be the ones to divert us from the edge or will it once more only be the historians to note when we passed the tipping point.

7 July 2021 7:15 PM
Digital technology

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