The Leader of the Unfree World

The Leader of the Unfree World

Ian Chung

“Don’t be afraid or scared for the future of Hong Kong…It’s always about turning things that are impossible into the possible,” a young Joshua Wong told the Guardian in 2017. Four years later, the pro-democracy activist is behind bars as Beijing ramps up its crackdown on dissent. With Chinese security forces now allowed to roam the special administrative region with zero judicial oversight, the huge protests that captured the world’s attention in past years are now largely gone. Add in the recent legislation that halves the number of elected seats in parliament and forces all prospective candidates for the body to undergo examination by a committee controlled by the Chinese Communist Party (CCP), and the tragic reality emerges. Despite the courageous efforts of those who marched in the streets, hoping that their way of life would be preserved in the face of overwhelming odds, the superpower has won yet again. Democracy in Hong Kong is dead.

As China grows in political, economic, and military might, the threat to the liberal world order intensifies. The situation is grave; a world with China as the dominant superpower must be avoided at all costs. Visions of such a world are already everywhere, and the fall of Hong Kong is just the beginning. For example, the Belt and Road Initiative continues to force nations in South Asia and Africa into massive debts they cannot repay, followed by forcible Chinese seizure of newly built infrastructure. For friendly countries, including president Yoweri Museveni’s authoritarian regime in Uganda, China gives out loans used for increased surveillance and adoption of a Chinese-style dictatorship. Huawei technology played a major role in the suppression of Bobi Wine, the opposition leader who was put under house arrest during the Ugandan presidential election while the internet was quite literally shut down in the country. Chinese money now even controls the direction of American speech, recently displayed by WWE wrestler John Cena’s pathetic apology on social media site Weibo after calling Taiwan a “country” during a promotion tour of his new movie, Fast and Furious 9, in East Asia. (For the record, Taiwan is a democratic nation with a political and economic system completely independent from the CCP, but this basic fact sparks outrage in mainland China.) Population control in Xinjiang, including forced sterilization and abortions for Uyghur women, plus concentration camps, forced labor, and organ harvesting, amounts to a horrific genocide that no one is doing much about. 

The only country that can take the lead against China is the United States. If we fail to do so, the free world is likely doomed. Unfortunately, American influence has recently shown a relative decline. War games conducted by the Navy have begun to show Chinese victories in simulated invasions of Taiwan. The irresistible appeal of China’s vast market has turned America’s elite into a mouthpiece for the CCP. China now controls critical supply lines for much of the world, and their economic liberalization has done nothing to alleviate the level of authoritarianism in the country. It is time for us to take a proactive approach to the global threat of Chinese domination, before it’s too late. First, we must deal with our domestic issues. Foreign opinion of the United States is currently low, and even comparable to the favorability of China in countries like Germany. If our allies begin to draw a moral equivalence between Washington and Beijing, we will lose our seat at the head of the table. Without reform to address crime, social mobility, and the dozens of other issues impacting our nation, there is no doubt that we will lose the global war for soft power. Second, we need to maintain our position as the global forefront for human advancement. The recent bipartisan legislation passed by the Senate that increases funding for critical scientific research is a good start, but we must fully harness the power of our private sector as well as America’s unique attraction of the best and brightest from all around the world for further research and development. 

Third, we must also shore up our hard power and military defenses. This is not the time for massive cuts to our defense budget; China’s navy has already surpassed our own in numbers, which makes multiple countries in the region ever more vulnerable. In addition to increased presence in East Asia and the South China Sea, we must coordinate with our allies in the region to counter the growing threat. If we continue to draw lines in the sand that are crossed without consequences, and fail to deter a Chinese invasion of Taiwan, then we will lose the trust of our other allies, and the Asia-Pacific will fall. Finally, we need to use the power of capitalism to force multinational corporations back into line. Producers deliver what the market wants, and we should punish those that bow to the Chinese Communist Party in order to access Chinese markets by making our own markets inhospitable for their products. Fast and Furious 9, for example, is depending on China for most of its revenue, but American consumers can express their displeasure by forgoing this one, which will significantly cut into its profit margins. (It’s not much of a loss; the necessity of a ninth Fast and Furious movie is beyond me.)

It’s time for us to take the threat from across the Pacific seriously. Competition must ensue again on technological, economic, and military fronts. China will not easily become the world’s strongest superpower, but if we remain complacent, we risk putting everyone, including ourselves, in grave danger.