A Dangerous Naïveté

There is a political naïveté on the part of the global business and entertainment elites that might be charming if it weren’t dangerous. Or maybe what passes for naïveté is actually a willful blindness on their parts or, worse, a rancid cynicism. In any event, too many titans of the business and entertainment worlds seem intent on fulfilling the prediction often mis-attributed to Lenin that “The last capitalist we hang shall be the one who sold us the rope.”

Many consumer-oriented Western companies now kowtow to the wishes of the Chinese government. With their eyes on a fast-growing market of 1.3 billion consumers, Hollywood producers, the NBA and innumerable others are unwilling to offend – so they self-censor any support for the Uyghurs or the pro-democracy protesters in Hong Kong, and generally sing a happy tune about the tyrannically-run country they hope to sell into. Their motives are transparent – and appear perfectly rational based on the near-term interests of their shareholders.    

Worse yet, American technology companies have passively allowed huge technology transfers to the Chinese (some coerced, some stolen), and the most prominent of these companies are actively helping China’s government create an Orwellian surveillance state (see: https://theintercept.com/2019/07/11/china-surveillance-google-ibm-semptian/ and https://foreignpolicy.com/2019/03/19/962492-orwell-china-socialcredit-surveillance/). Astonishingly, one such company – Google – at the same time as it’s helping the Chinese government spy on its own citizens is self-righteously backing away from working with the US Department of Defense (https://www.nytimes.com/2018/06/01/technology/google-pentagon-project-maven.html); it seems that it’s not that “Googlers” see themselves as neutral in the conflict between the Chinese and American systems – they are choosing to play for the other team.

Kidding aside, I don’t believe that the executives of these great companies see themselves as anti-American. It’s far likelier that they see themselves – at least from a business perspective – as post-American, global citizens if you will. Even in the case of Google’s double standard, I’m pretty sure that the engineers who protested against the DoD contract simply saw the weapons their work might enable as icky, whereas they see the technology that they’re making for the Chinese as inevitable. Hey, if they don’t invent it (and sell it to the Chinese), somebody else will. Who are they to judge how the Chinese want to run their country? A version of multiculturalism gone crazy.

***

If we have learned anything in the decades since the euphoric couple of years that followed the Soviet Union’s collapse, it’s that Francis Fukuyama’s End of History thesis was dead wrong. The globe is not coming together in a big, happy, liberal, democratic movement; religion, culture, economics and politics divide us as ever – indeed, the prosperous, democratic Western countries are arguably more beleaguered now than they were in the bi-polar postwar world.

Islamists look at Western culture and see ungodly decadence and decline; they are convinced that God has decreed that all societies must be organized differently than ours is. The Chinese and the Russians see us exercising freedoms that must be held at bay or, better yet, squelched if their own people are to be kept in line, and believe that their own centrally-managed systems will out-perform what they see as our politically divided, short-sighted, and personally greedy system.

In a sense, the other teams’ perspectives look all-too plausible, because in military, economic, demographic and – I daresay – cultural terms, the West is in a long-term period of decline relative to the rest of the world. To some extent, these shifts were inevitable. Immediately after World War II, the rest of the developed world (outside the US and Canada) had been devastated, and everybody else was dirt poor. With readily transferable technologies and lower labor costs, other countries were always going to come up the development curve more quickly than we could grow – so our relative place in the world was destined to gradually decrease.

What Fukuyama – and a host of other Western leaders – got wrong is that they equated economic development with the acceptance of Western cultural values and political norms. George W. Bush was naïve to declare before the UN that “The desire for freedom resides in every human heart” and leading Republicans and Democrats alike were equally wrong in assuming that opening up trade with China would cause that country’s government and people to adopt our values. Trade with the West has enriched China (and benefited the West economically, too), but in the process it has made the Chinese government a much more formidable and no less determined adversary.

The Chinese have every intention of dominating the world in economic, military and cultural terms in the near term (Emperor Chairman Xi is admirably clear about this in his China Dream 2025), and they don’t intend to allow us the exercise of our own freedoms where such exercises might give their people the ‘wrong’ ideas. For now, they try to control the behavior of our elites – and often succeed – through economic threats; if (they would say when) their military might equals or surpasses our own, they may take more direct actions against other countries, or even us, to enforce their will.

***

The adversarial nature of the Chinese regime became clear in the same fashion that companies are said to go bankrupt – gradually, then suddenly. In recent years, we have witnessed China’s military seizure of the South China Sea, its bullying of various of its neighbors, its admirals’ blustering about their alleged ability to defeat the American navy, its imprisonment of a million Uyghurs, the implementation of its Social Credit System, its backtracking on Hong Kong’s promised freedoms and the announcement of Xi’s China Dream 2025. We have heard innumerable tales of American technology transfers, some coerced, some purloined. And now the Trump Administration is trying to address all these challenges at once through a tariff war that has no end in sight.

Our government is also addressing some of the Chinese government’s thefts of militarily-useful technologies and its spying on American citizens by banning certain (government-owned) Chinese companies from doing business here and by forbidding some DoD suppliers from also selling goods to China. We can expect such limitations to become much more stringent.

The broader question that faces our business elites, most of whom would much prefer to go back to Chinese-business-as-usual, pre-Trump, is whether doing so would serve the longer-term interests of their shareholders. To the extent that they come to rely on business with the Chinese, they may find themselves dancing to an ugly tune – and in any event they’re looking at much greater political disruption risk than they had ever imagined.

Above all, America’s executives must abandon the illusion that they are post-American citizens of the world. The world, it turns out, is still a very dangerous place, and only the US, together with its few reliable allies, can protect us all from tyranny.

We have to know what side we’re on, love it, support it and never, ever undercut it – or the other teams’ assessments of our weaknesses will prove well founded.

M.H. Johnston

3 comments to A Dangerous Naïveté

  • Eric  says:
    • Eric  says:

      Spot on.

  • John Primm, MPM  says:

    Too bad so many ‘Educated and sophisticated’ people across the West are to one extent or another okiophobia. They hate the society that gave them so much. We must carry on in the fight to defend freedom, each in our own way.

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