Time to Make a Choice

Breakfast with Bwana

By Anil Madan

In November 1977, former Vice President Hubert Humphrey said in the course of a speech: “The moral test of government is how that government treats those who are in the dawn of life, the children; those who are in the twilight of life, the elderly; those who are in the shadows of life, the sick, the needy and the handicapped.” Over the course of time, the saying that the measure of a nation is how it treats its least fortunate or weakest, has been attributed to Gandhi although there is no evidence that he said it.

US vs China: Biden bets on alliances to push back against Beijing. Photo – Financial Times

I offer the proposition that it is folly for the nations of the world to expect that a nation that abuses, tortures, and mistreats its own people, will treat them well if allowed to be in a position of dominion or power over them. One need only look to the well-documented abuses of the British Empire in Kenya and India that extended into the first half of the twentieth century to understand that dominion and power are precursors to abuse.

As the world views the simmering competition between China and the U.S., I suggest it is time for the world to choose sides.

On his last full day in office as U.S. Secretary of State, Mike Pompeo stated in a tweet: “I have determined that the People’s Republic of China is committing genocide and crimes against humanity in Xinjiang, China, targeting Uyghur Muslims and members of other ethnic and religious minority groups.” Whereas the Biden administration has sought to reverse many of the policies of the Trump administration, this determination has stuck. The Biden administration agrees with this assessment.

As might be expected, China went into full-fledged denial mode. China’s foreign minister Wang Yi decried the assessment: “The so-called ‘genocide’ in Xinjiang is ridiculously absurd. It is a rumour with ulterior motives and a complete lie.” Curiously, China does admit that it has placed Uighurs in what it calls “re-education camps” that are designed to provide vocational training and eradicate extremism. Meanwhile reports of forced labour and sterilization and systematic rape and torture at the facilities that are described as “concentration camps” abound. “Extremism” in the Chinese Communist Party’s lexicon simply refers to anyone who disagrees with the party line. Nor did Wang explain why Chinese citizens should suddenly need to be re-educated.

On March 9, in the face of Chinese denials, a State Department spokesman said that the U.S. has seen no developments to change its determination that China committed genocide in its treatment of Uighur Muslims in the western region of Xinjiang

In the course of his denials, Wang doubled down and also reaffirmed the CCP’s intention to “reform” Hong Kong’s electoral system. China has made mass arrests of pro-democracy activists and essentially turned Hong Kong’s government into a puppet of the CCP which gets to appoint more of Hong Kong’s lawmakers and to decide who is eligible to run.

China’s abuses of the Tibetan people and its ongoing effort to eradicate their religion, culture, and very identity have been well documented. Its threats to invade and annex Taiwan are oft repeated and recently have become more frequent.

A wary world might point to America’s military interventions in many nations over the years. It is probably fair to view World War II and the Korean War as wars of necessity. The Vietnam War was clearly a mistake. The First Gulf War in which President George H.W. Bush undertook to liberate Kuwait from Saddam Hussein’s invasion is generally viewed as a justifiable action.

The second war, the invasion of Iraq under the pretext of eliminating the phantom weapons of mass destruction, not so much. The war in Afghanistan, if initially justified when the Taliban gave refuge to Al Qaeda and Omar Mullah, is clearly an American folly. But it is worth mentioning these for two reasons: first, the U.S. never engaged in these actions to annex lands; and second the U.S. has expended trillions of dollars of national wealth in losing causes and thus rendered itself vulnerable to the current Chinese challenge.

We will defer to another day discussion of the compounding of that folly by allowing a massive transfer of technology and manufacturing from the U.S. to China.

The nations of the world may not want to choose America, the nation whose leaders have made foolish and losing choices. But certainly, they cannot find even remotely acceptable a world dominated by the Chinese Communist Party.

These matters are now coming to a head. On March 18, U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken and National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan will meet in Anchorage, Alaska with their approximate counterparts in the Chinese government. Importantly, these meetings will be preceded by Blinken’s meetings with allies in Tokyo and Seoul. Blinken will be joined by Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin at the US-Japan Security Consultative Committee meeting hosted by the Japanese Foreign Minister and Defense Minister. The two will then meet with South Korea’s Foreign Minister and Defense Minister.

The meeting with the Chinese follows upon the maiden virtual Quad summit among Australia, India, Japan, and the U.S. Defense Secretary is also scheduled to travel to India. The Quad members are said to be resolved to uphold a rules-based international order in the Indo-Pacific. Read that to mean that there is recognition that the time has come to check and hopefully end China’s military muscle-flexing in the South China Sea and in the Pacific in general.

Just two weeks ago, the National Security Commission on Artificial Intelligence (NCSAI) released a report with a stunning warning that China likely will soon replace the U.S. as the world’s leader in artificial intelligence. Such a shift in power and control will have significant ramifications for the U.S. military at home and around the world. 

I leave readers with this sobering thought: On February 23, 2021 Eric Schmidt, former CEO of Google who is Chair of the National Security Commission on Artificial Intelligence testified before the Senate Committee on Armed Services. We will leave to another day an exploration of his detailed comments, but his conclusion is worth noting: “Right now, the United States is not playing to win. It is the Chinese who are competing to become the world’s leading innovators. Never before in my lifetime have I been more worried that we will soon be displaced by a rival or more aware of what second place means for our economy, our security, and the future of our nation.”

Do the countries of the world want to choose a nation that will treat them as it has treated Tibetans, the Uighurs, the people of Hong Kong and as it threatens to treat Taiwan, or will they choose the U.S. with all its faults and limitations?



* Published in print edition on 19 March 2021

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