China is engaging in “rapid expansionism”; this is different from the slower-moving modes of Russia and, until Trump, the United States. During Obama, Russia took back Crimea—after that fling Nikita Khrushchev had in giving Crimea to Ukraine when it wasn’t his to give. Russia has also been crawling its influence in Syria, softly with Iran, and shrewdly using China as an effective puppet.
America, though not an empire seeking to claim more within its political borders, propelled power through military bases around the world. Once the Chinese got over their phobia of technology—a disease it long had, which even led up to the Opium Wars—they looked beyond their bubble and saw America’s non-border expansion. But, they still haven’t seen Russia’s soft-handed expansion for what it is. 180 military bases in China’s backyard didn’t bode well with China’s neediness for receiving endless heinie kisses.
Thankfully, Trump is slowly recalling propelled American power—consider Syria, Afghanistan, Turkey, and now Iraq. He is not the archetypal “neocon” expansionist. But, other than Trump, America did have its own soft form of expansionism.
China, different from either of the two soft expansions of America and Russia, is engaging in a more rapid, rude, speedy expansion. The Chinese don’t care how they come across to others because they have been knocked off their emotional rockers, having seen that the world doesn’t regard them to be a fraction of what they think themselves to be. This speed has alarmed the nations of the world like a body’s immune system responding to a spreading virus or cancer. Even India is on alert.
Russia played its card well—or maybe we should say Russia played its China well: expansion backed by Russia, which upsets the global balance, and Russia doesn’t get blamed for it. China doesn’t know what its speedy expansion, mainly against Taiwan and India, will do because China hasn’t been paying attention to the rest of the world for most of human history.
The overwhelming, earth-shattering, landslide re-election victory of Taiwan’s President Tsai Ing-Wen sends a shocking message to Beijing: If you plan to take Taiwan, prepare for greater opposition than you got from Hong Kong. But, like the house cat who doesn’t know it’s not God, let alone that it’s not any tiger, they won’t ever decrypt the message. Beijing will be emotionally hurt, insulted, and will thus froth with rage.
Choosing former Premier William Lai as her Vice running mate was wise. Not only is he loved for—perhaps only for—his intractable stance against corruption, he also views Taiwan as having an already de facto independent status. While President Tsai prefers status quo—a peacefully unresolved dispute with China—Vice President Elect Lai views any Taiwanese declaration of independence from China as no more than a formality for how things already are anyway.
This choice of William Lai strengthens her position. If she were to step down, a president would take her place with an even stronger stance against Chinese expansionism. So, even her political opponents would want her to remain in office.
Taiwan’s position is stronger, not only in US relations, but also within Taiwan. Expect actions from China that result in Taiwan responding with moves toward even greater independence than status quo already boasts.
We are headed toward a massive inquisition of police. It could be known as the “Hong Kong Trials”, where each police officer who served since June is combed over and evaluated for every step taken at every single protest, then tried under international law. It’s not immediately around the corner, but the current powers governing Hong Kong are doing everything they can to make that day inevitable.
Over the holidays, neither protestors nor police took a break, except for a brief moment on Christmas at midnight, when protestors were the adults in the room to pause for a moment in honor of something greater. Many had Christmas dinner away from their families, largely due to East Asian culture’s dogma toward older family members. Authoritarianism generally drives away people who are self-motivated and take initiative, family being a least exception. Older generations in Hong Kong don’t understand that. Neither does Beijing. This Christmas, many middle aged and elderly parents faced the question posed by empty seats at many a dinner table: Do you love your children more than your desire for compliance? To some extent, families will be reconciled in due course; parents who refuse will lose even more.
Taiwan had its own drama over the holidays. An accused Chinese mole, formerly in Taiwan’s military, is being hung out to dry for purportedly recruiting more moles. Former president Ma is accusing the Control Yuan of interfering by questioning the judge who let him off scot-free. That stands to reason since the Control Yuan was effectively shut down during his tenure, which, unbeknownst to most, gave even greater rise the Sunflower Movement of 2014. As if Taiwan hadn’t its fill of holiday joy, US Congress is now working on a bill that will formalize the US envoy to Taiwan as a full ambassador—requiring presidential appointment and Senate approval. That is about as close to recognizing Taiwan as a country without recognizing Taiwan as a country as a country can get. China won’t be happy, but the Taiwanese sure thought it was a very Merry Christmas!
China’s in over its head. They got somewhat of a trade deal, though they never had much to bargain with because their economy is much more dependent on imports than the US economy. So, their trade deal can’t have gone as well as they would have liked, so they were always going to be unhappy, no matter what they got. They won’t be happy, even though they plan a signing photo op come January.
Beijing-rooted leaders in Hong Kong are genuinely confused about the public outcry. In all likelihood, the Chinese truly don’t know how much they afflict and oppress their own people. Because they are out of touch with normal life—because they rely on inhumane means to silence any opposition—they probably believe dissidents are genuine misfits. Beijing remains oblivious to how cruel and rightly despised its rule is. Had Beijing even tried to know what real, ordinary people really, truly think, they might not have been surprised by Hong Kong’s harsh rejection. But, Beijing never cared enough to try to ask in the first place. So, Beijing despises Hong Kong, all the while doing so under the delusion that its spite is well-deserved.
The British have politely demanded that Beijing honor the 1984 Sino-British Joint Declaration and hold talks with Hong Kong protestors. From Beijing’s perspective, this is as unimaginable as a Chinese demigod being willing to hold a dialog with a cockroach. Make no mistake, Beijing does not feel that Britain is making any kind of request; it is purely interpreted as an insult, like demanding one to kiss one’s own rear end. However incapable Beijing is of understanding the polite demand, let alone obeying it, the demand remains legally binding. Britain is building a case for nullification and Beijing believes that every way out is an illusion meant to insult.
Then, there’s Huawei. The trade agreement China holds no cards to oppose with won’t matter. Huawei needs customers and Europe is skittish, to say the least. Huawei needs money because the Chinese government needs money. Central planning squandered loans on enormous, countless, empty buildings. The concept of “scalability” is foreign to the government that always gets what it wants, until it can’t afford to anymore. Even then, the Chinese won’t know why they can’t afford to anymore because they can’t understand “scalability”. Huawei’s losses will weaken China’s position further when it comes time for round 2 of the US-China trade negotiations.
China is desperately grasping for straws. While German parliament is planning to ban Huawei against the will of their head of state, Chancellor Merkel, a Chinese ambassador sends a message that “there will be consequences”—when diplomatic channels go to the head of state, not parliament. The Chinese ambassador is like a dog barking up a tree; German parliament doesn’t care what the Chinese ambassador says. But, in China different branches of government don’t matter because that’s just a “silly Western thing”. So, the Chinese don’t know how German government works because the Chinese presume that Germans lie as much as the Chinese do.
Moreover, the Chinese Communists have overlooked one blaring flaw—if Huawei isn’t controlled by China’s government, that would make it the only entity in China not subject to passive-aggressive threats under pain of organ harvesting. Moreover, if Huawei were the independent company China’s government claims it is, China’s government wouldn’t be so defensive of Huawei being banned from Germany.
China has many weaknesses, self-contradicting diplomacy being the least. Its labor force is shrinking. Its economy is much more dependent on exports than America’s. Its tech sector is even more dependent on importing American-made components. Tit-for-tat tariffs don’t favor China in that regard. The Chinese don’t spend as much on their military as America does, regardless of the hype from State-run Chinese news outlets. And, it doesn’t own a very big piece of the pie when it comes to US Treasury bonds—the greatest liquidation threat China could make there is to offer a temporary discount price to willing investors. The cost would be China forfeiting any leverage it had by owning such a small part of America’s debt, while America’s economy might skip two beats at most, then nevermore.
Then, we have the anti-Trump camp. Many economists who haven’t a clue where wealth comes from despise America’s president. Everything needs to pay for itself, otherwise it will die in a suicide cult of bankruptcy. Maybe NATO shouldn’t be in Germany, maybe it should, but the answer—one way or the other—will only surface if NATO requires Germany to pay for its own national defense. Bowing down to China may have made a few American companies rich—regardless of making a few million Americans poor—but it was never going to last long. Even though China took American money and started bullying their neighbors, those who profited from those greedy companies in particular are angry. But, most Americans aren’t fooled anymore.
Trump played his cards well, and he’s still got plenty of chips left to ante up for many rounds to come. That isn’t good news if you’re a member of the Chinese Communist Party, hoping to help the party dominate America.
Money doesn’t lie; it’s in the airline figures. Cathay is reducing its capacity, largely from loss of demand for flights in and out of China. Hong Kong Airlines is dropping long hauls to and from Australia, the US, and Canada. Clearly, both Chinese nationals and Pacific English speakers have lost confidence in Hong Kong. Hong Kong was special—for tourism, culture, lifestyle, trade, finance, and a slough of other things—all because both Chinese and the English-speaking West had easy and overlapping access. They could meet, they could do business, they could speak their own language, and they could enjoy Chinese culture without the oppression of a Confucian-Communist government. But, neither wants to play ball anymore.
In response to the US ending exports of riot-control weapons and defining autonomy as “being autonomous”, China banned the US Navy from making port stops in Hong Kong. The port stops had been an encouragement to international business, reassuring investors that everything was alright between the US and China. But, apparently China doesn’t want that illusion of reassurance to continue. And, more importantly, China obviously is less fearful of the US Navy making its R&R port calls in Taiwan instead.
Watch for many things to shift to Taiwan. While the first finance leaders in Hong Kong are exiting to Singapore, watch for a swath to relocate in Taipei once Singapore’s galore wears off and finance centers discover the difference in real estate prices and cost of living.
China will still be angry enough to blow a few gaskets when the US Navy does make more port calls in Taiwan, it’s just that they are less fearful of it for the time being. China’s leaders have been had, largely due to their thirst for respect, which blinds their judgement. But, they are incapable of learning, so they are only going to be had more and more.