“War is nothing but a continuation of politics with the admixture of other means.”
― Carl von Clausewitz, On War
An ancient Chinese stratagem advises military leaders: “Loot a burning house.” The trick is easy and self-explanatory — attack when your opponent is most vulnerable. China has given, this and many other hideous ancient wisdom, paramount importance in the quest for ‘Pax Sinica’.
After the 2008-09 financial crisis, Chinese firms ventured out to procure discounted bargains worldwide, especially those with strategic utility: iron & nickel ore, oil, and innumerable other commodities that the Chinese economy became dependent on. Thanks to the debacle in Afghanistan, China has successfully deflected the COVID-19 blame and taken a head start in manufacturing. They also have a mouthwatering proposition to exploit the vulnerable situations in Afghanistan.
But despite the world presenting such opportunities, China is staring at stagnant population growth, tumbling business models, and failed ‘Common Prosperity’ program. Xi Jinping and the Chinese Communists Party (CCP) have nothing to show to ordinary citizens before Party Congress in 2022. Is the world heading for another China-created crisis? After all, China loves Milton Friedman’s disaster capitalism.
Dictators love disasters
“There is no loyalty in the heart of a traitor, only the false act of appearing trustworthy.”
― Jesus Apollinaris
Milton Friedman was the twentieth century’s most prominent American economist. He was a distinguished leader of the Chicago school of economics. In 1951 Friedman received the John Bates Clark Medal honoring economists under age forty for outstanding achievement and Nobel Prize in economics in 1976.
In one of his well-known essays, Friedman stated, “Only a crisis‐actual or perceived produces real change. When that crisis occurs, the actions that are taken depend on the ideas that are lying around. That, I believe, is our basic function: to develop alternatives to existing policies, to keep them alive and available until the politically impossible becomes politically inevitable”. He floated the idea of ‘Disaster Capitalism’.
China loves Milton Friedman
“China’s 600 million people have two remarkable peculiarities: they are, first of all, poor, and second, blank. That may seem like a bad thing, but it is really a good thing. Poor people want change, want to do things, want revolution. A clean sheet of paper has no blotches, and so the newest and most beautiful words can be written on it, the newest and most beautiful pictures painted on it.”
– Mao on programmable Chinese people.
Friedman in China – Courtesy: Cato Institute
Friedman’s ideas were boon for communism. He got invited to China for the first time in 1980. His subsequent trips came in 1988, 1992, and 1993. In more recent years, the senior echelons of the Chinese Communist Party have renewed their interest in Friedman’s wisdom.
China loved Milton Friedman. They realized that his theory not only could be applied to other countries but with their citizens too. They understood that countries or citizens have to be taken to a feel-good level of economic achievements before a shocking event, like a war, coup, terrorist attack, market crash, natural disaster, or pandemic can be introduced. While the country or citizens are dealing with the event, it is very easy to manipulate their disorientation, restrain democracy, force through extreme free-market policies that enrich the select few in China at the expense of the poor and the middle class. China innovated and divided Friedman’s methodology into:
At the end of completion of all phases, the previously unacceptable policies which were not to the liking of countries/citizens can be justified and made a permanent fixture, in the name of crisis. One prime example is the introduction of income tax in Canada as a temporary war measure in 1917, the war ended, but the income tax stayed.
Economic Supremacy Phase
This is a very important part of the whole strategy. Economic supremacy should give a feeling of empowerment to the countries/citizens. They should go into a kind of intoxication which gives them false excitement of being economically successful. Plenty of loans and free-floating capital should be available to countries/citizens. They should feel indebted and obliged to the provider of such prosperous times. At no given time countries/individuals should realize that they are making a select few very rich and successful, at their expense.
To accomplish this phase China has taken its citizens to a certain level of prosperity. It has also emerged as a saviour to many poor and financially unstable countries. China has been the biggest lender and investor in the recent past. Few facts about Chinese lending and investments from 2008 Financial Crisis to 2020 COVID-19 Pandemic:
This phase has another important component – deceiving stronger nations. In addition to the USA, China realized that it must harness European financial and technological might before it could get into the next phase. China’s strategy is simple – rob, replicate, replace. In case that is not possible then the last option is to invest in technologically advanced European companies. Some of the most astonishing takeovers in Europe by China in the recent past:
Shock and Awe Phase
The Shock and Awe Phase has two distinct parts. The Shock part follows a clear pattern. Once the other countries/citizens are completely entrenched in Chinese loans and investments, China waits for a crisis or helps foment one, suspends some or all governing norms, and then pushes the CCP’s wishlist through, as quickly as possible.
CCP learned it soon after the revolution that any turbulent situation if framed with sufficient hysteria by CCP, could further their agenda. It could be an event as radical as a military standoff, economic shock, budget crisis, or life-threatening situations like pandemic or bio attack. Taking advantage of a crisis, the CCP would be able to sell a panicked population/country the necessity for attacks on social protections, or enormous bailouts, forcing those entities to seek leadership from CCP (mark my words, Evergrande is heading in that direction).
The current COVID-19 pandemic has provided the right opportunity to CCP to present the Awe part of the Shock and Awe Phase. While the world cringed in isolation under a covering of intense media paranoia-peddling, China showcased itself as a big brother. It stated, “We have provided assistance to over 130 countries and international organizations to fight the coronavirus. We are working very closely with other governments, and we’ll be helping them through this patch.” It exported medical supplies including face masks, protective suits, thermometers, ventilators, test kits, and protective glasses under the full glare of media coverage. Countries and eminent personalities forgot grilling China, on the subject of the origin of the virus, rather they started singing paeans in China’s name. Chinese citizens were overawed by their leadership’s capabilities and wisdom.
The advantage of Shock and Awe was seen immediately. Fifty-eight countries and four international organizations signed contracts with Chinese manufacturers. In June 2020, Chinese President Xi Jinping announced that China would write off interest-free loans for “relevant African countries”. However, these loans constitute only 2-3% of Chinese loans. China never came out to actually help the countries in distress, it just portrayed itself as a very benevolent nation. In contrast, the US Marshall Plan after World War II had 90% of the funds as grants and aid.
Military or Political Supremacy Phase
“It is possible to turn the crisis into an opportunity, to increase the dependence of all countries around the world of Made in China” – Han Jian, director of the Ministry of Civil Affairs.
Presently the Indian Ocean Region (IOR) and the South China Sea (SCS) have become the most important aspect of Chinese strategy. China is strong enough in SCS, to undertake misadventures, however, IOR remains it’s Achilles’ heel. Eighty percent of its trade and energy needs are met through IOR. In the IOR, India is the country that challenges China and capable of choking its supply lines.
China with its $26 billion investment in India assumed itself to be in commanding position. Alibaba through its associate Ant Financial (Group) has invested $2.6 bn in Indian unicorns PayTM, Bigbasket, Snapdeal, and Zomato. Tencent and other companies have invested $2.4 bn in Ola, Swiggy, Hike, Dream11, and BYJU. China very skillfully killed the Indian manufacturing sector with its standard predatory practices. Today Indian manufacturing is 9 points below where it should be, considering the size of its GDP. India’s trade deficit with China had reached an astounding figure of $53.56 billion in 2018, demonstrating how Indian manufacturers closed their factories and became traders.
Once China was assured of completion of Economic Supremacy Phase, it waited for the Shock and Awe Phase, which came in the form of COVID19 (Chinese President Xi Jinping had cautioned its leadership in January 2019 that they must be on guard against “black swan” risks while fending off “gray rhino” events. Adding that the economy faces deep and complicated changes – Epiphany of Pandemic?).
When the world was reeling under the Chinese origin Coronavirus, China moved to the next phase, the Military or Political Supremacy Phase. It started taking unilateral military actions at the Indo-Tibet border, Taiwan, SCS, East China Sea (ECS), East Turkmenistan, and Hong Kong. Unfortunately, the external aggression backfired on China.
India was a leviathan very happy in its slumber but, Xi Jinping, due to his domestic compulsions, woke up the giant. Losses of 111 Chinese soldiers at the hands of Indian soldiers in the Ladakh region of India and loss of face at home forced Xi Jinping to take a U-turn. In the SCS the American and other allied navies did not lower their guard and China had to do face-saving by asking its forces to stand down. However, it succeeded in enacting draconian laws in Hong Kong and subjugating Uyghur population.
In the melee what most analysts missed out were two important Chinese moves – Italy and Iran. With Iran in its fold, China reaches deeper into the Strait of Hormuz, letting Pakistan’s CPEC drift into cold storage. But the biggest achievement amongst all this is the subjugation of Europe’s 4th largest economy – Italy. Its port infrastructure in the Mediterranean has tremendous trade and military implications. Italy was already in severe financial distress, and post COVID19 it has been checkmated by China. The Italian government is taking steps to tide over the pandemic but they have no real plan to save their businesses from bankruptcy or takeover by China.
Beware of Greeks Bearing Gifts
“Five years ago, I was sure that China could rise peacefully, as it says it wants to. Now, I am not so sure” – Shi Yinhong, China’s most eminent foreign-policy commentator.
Two things are happening in parallel today. European countries Italy, the UK and Germany are waking up to the threat of China. Italy has launched an investigation into the acquisition of drone company Alpi Aviation and stopped sale of truck maker Iveco SpA. The UK is stopping the acquisition of largest semiconductor manufacturer, Newport Wafer Fab and partnership in Essex nuclear power station. However, in developing countries like Pakistan and Sri Lanka, Chinese activities continue unchallenged.
China may have partially succeeded this time around in what it had intended to do, but it has not backed out in any way. The clear and present danger is very much evident. Xi Jinping is desperate, running out of time, and getting reckless in his approach. If the world doesn’t come together and rise above its greed, then that day is not far when China would strike harder. It has already succeeded in setting a new normal.
Speculation is now prevalent in the media regarding potential permanent changes in the aftermath of COVID-19. Social media analysis implies there is a general endorsement by the population that things will never be the same again. This demonstrates, that in one sweep how the climate was created by China to implement the disaster-capitalism policies. Friedman must be turning in his grave, remembering Shakespeare’s words “The evil that men do lives after them; The good is oft interred with their bones”.
The opinions expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not reflect the views of Chanakya Forum. All information provided in this article including timeliness, completeness, accuracy, suitability or validity of information referenced therein, is the sole responsibility of the author. www.chanakyaforum.com does not assume any responsibility for the same.
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