It seems everything we buy includes those three ubiquitous words: “Made in China.” PRC strongman Xi Jinping wants his regime to make more than just our TVs and PCs, phones and fridges, toys and toiletries; he wants the 21st century to be made in China. It's quite literally his plan.
In 2015, Xi unveiled his “Made in China 2025” initiative. The plan is focused on positioning the PRC, by 2049, to dominate the rest of the world in high-tech manufacturing, information technology, robotics, aerospace systems, shipping and transportation, “new energy vehicles,” bio-medicine, agricultural machinery and other areas. In doing so, Beijing aims to consolidate its existing advantages, dislodge its rivals from their positions of primacy in other areas, and reap the lion’s share of the benefits of the Fourth Industrial Revolution.
This is more than industrial policy. Made in China 2025 embodies Beijing’s overarching vision and goal for every field, sector, domain and theater.
If the free world wants to know what a made-in-China future will look like, all we need to do is look at the policies, actions and the realities on the ground in the PRC. It’s not a pretty picture.
Inside the PRC
To be sure, the PRC has adopted limited elements of the free market, but recall that Xi is the general secretary of the Chinese Communist Party and remains a committed Marxist.
“Marx’s and Engels’ analysis of the basic contradiction of capitalist society is not outdated, nor is the historical materialist view that capitalism will inevitably perish and socialism will inevitably triumph outdated,” Xi recently declared. “This is the irreversible overall trend of social and historical development, but the road is winding. The ultimate demise of capitalism, and ultimate triumph of socialism, will inevitably be a long historical process. Just like Marx, we must struggle for communism our entire lives … To dismiss Lenin and Stalin, and to dismiss everything else is to engage in historic nihilism, and it confuses our thoughts and undermines the party’s organizations on all levels.”
All of Xi’s brutal policies at home – and aggressive polices abroad – flow from his ends-justify-the-means communist core.
Thus, Xi’s China is a place where bishops and Nobel Peace Prize laureates die in prison; where Christian churches are smashed and Christians are sent to re-education camps; where Buddhist temples are bulldozed; where Uighur Muslim men are packed into freight trains, Uighur women are forcibly sterilized and Uighur babies are forcibly aborted. Under Xi, religious persecution has increased, Freedom House reports. Amnesty International adds that hundreds of thousands of people are subjected to arbitrary arrest and detention in China, many of them for “peacefully exercising their rights to freedom of expression and freedom of belief.”
The Uighur Muslim region, according to a U.N. human-rights agency, “resembles a massive internment camp … a no-rights zone.” More accurately, all of China is a no-rights zone.
Xi has erected an Orwellian surveillance state, and his capacity to control is growing ever more insidious. Xi’s new “social credit system” is using mega-databases to monitor and catalogue every aspect of life of China’s 1.3 billion people – financial transactions, civil infractions, social-media postings, online activity – and then reward or sanction Xi’s subjects by feeding all that information to the National Development and Reform Commission, banking system and judicial system. PRC subjects with good social credit scores enjoy waived fees, lower utility bills, promotions and expedited overseas-travel approval, while those with poor social credit scores are fired from their jobs, expelled from school, blocked from universities or barred from accessing transportation.
It is because of its claimed omnipotence that the world can rightly blame the Xi regime for its mishandling of COVID-19. A local public-health problem metastasized into a global pandemic due to the Xi regime’s incompetent mishandling of a virus or intentional genetic manipulation of a virus (either cause is reason not to entrust the future to Xi). Further, his regime lied about human-to-human transmission, carried out a premeditated plan to hoard 2.5 billion pieces of protective equipment as the virus swept the globe, blocked scientists from sharing findings about genome sequencing for several precious weeks, continues to refuse to cooperate with international health agencies and turned entire cities into quarantine camps in a hopeless, heartless effort to control a virus via government coercion.
This should come as no surprise. As dissident leader Xu Zhangrun observed in the wake of Beijing’s criminal mishandling of COVID-19, “A polity that is blatantly incapable of treating its own people properly can hardly be expected to treat the rest of the world well.”
That brings us to Xi’s vision for the world. Xi’s regime has built and militarized illegal islands in the South China Sea; claims waters and territories of Vietnam, the Philippines and Japan; has territorial disputes with 16 nations; violated international treaties to absorb once-free Hong Kong; interferes in the elections, political systems and processes of the free world; has increased its menacing pressure on Taiwan; unleashes swarms of fishing vessels to plunder and despoil the waters of other nations; litters space with vast debris fields that threaten commercial satellite activity; alternately fetters and unfetters its Frankenstein monster in Pyongyang to game the free world; and uses cyberspace to wage a hack-and-harvest siege of the free world’s innovations and wealth.
The PRC’s cybersiege of U.S. industry costs Americans as much as $600 billion annually. Xi’s cyber-soldiers have targeted U.S. military programs such as the F-35 and C-17, financial data on 21.5 million Americans stored by the Office of Personnel Management, networks at NASA and the Department of Defense, and vaccine research at U.S. biopharmaceutical firms.
These acts of aggression are fueling – and being fueled by – Beijing’s massive military modernization and expansion. The PRC’s annual military expenditure has mushroomed by 517% since 2000. This has enabled Xi to expand his nuclear arsenal and nuclear-strike capabilities, build the world’s largest navy, field expansive space and counter-space capabilities, and transform the PLA into a modern, high-tech military.
Worryingly, Xi’s rhetoric matches the PRC’s bellicose behavior and buildup. “We must insist on using battle-ready standards in undertaking combat preparations, constantly enhancing officers’ and troops’ thinking about serving in battle, and leading troops into battle and training troops for battle,” he declares. “And we must insist on rigorous military training based on the needs of actual combat.” Note his focus on “battle” and “combat,” not “defense.”
Near the end of his tenure commanding U.S. Army-Pacific, Gen. Robert Brown noticed that his PRC counterparts “don’t fear us anymore.” That’s regrettable but understandable. As America’s defense budget limps away from sequestration and struggles to keep pace with inflation, the calculus is rapidly shifting in Beijing.
The U.S. defense budget is around 3.1% of GDP. (The average during Cold War I was twice that.) As a consequence, America’s Navy deploys just 297 ships – and those ships are dispersed around the world, while China’s 355 warships are concentrated in the Indo-Pacific. At the height of President Ronald Reagan’s rebuild, by comparison, America’s Navy boasted 594 ships. Today’s Navy may be more ambidextrous than yesterday’s, but deterrence is usually about presence; it simply lacks the ships to be present in all the places it’s needed. According to CNO Adm. Mike Gilday, the United States needs a naval force of over 500 ships.
Add it all up, and Xi’s China has the intent and the capability – military, technological, industrial, economic – to challenge America and its free world allies across every domain.
Yet Xi’s vision for a made-in-China future is nothing close to what the free world offers. Consider these global measures of national health:
· On political freedom Xi’s China has one of the lowest scores and is labeled “not free.”
· On economic freedom Xi’s China is ranked 116th.
· On personal liberty Xi’s China is ranked 150th.
· On per capita GDP Xi’s China is ranked 77th (just $17,192 per year per person).
· On environmental performance Xi’s China is ranked 160th.
· On the rule of law Xi’s China is ranked 84th.
· On women’s empowerment Xi’s China is ranked 89th.
Not surprisingly, America and its free world allies all rank at the opposite end of the spectrum.
What is surprising is that, despite the ugly ends and uglier means of Xi’s brand of business-suit authoritarianism, several regimes in Africa, Eastern Europe, Asia and the Americas are opening their borders to Beijing.
The glimmer of good news amidst all this worrisome news is that the PRC’s aggression abroad and brutality at home have awakened the free world to the Xi regime’s true nature – and spurred the emergence of a counterbalancing coalition.
Japan, South Korea, the Philippines, Australia, India, Thailand and Singapore are working with the United States to repurpose old alliances and build new partnerships.
Japan, for instance, is almost-doubling defense spending and is on track to become the world’s third-highest defense-spending power. Japan vows to “closely cooperate” with America in the event of a PRC attack on Taiwan and is deepening its security ties with the United States. Tokyo has stood up island-defense units; is fielding high-tech stealth fighter-bombers, attack submarines, networked missile defenses and air defenses, and Tomahawk cruise missiles; is deploying aircraft carriers laden with F-35Bs; and is providing arms and training to Indonesia, the Philippines and Vietnam.
Australia is increasing defense spending by 40% over the next decade; expanding its combat force by a third; hosting U.S. B-52s and F-22s; acquiring F-35s; and fielding new submarines, anti-ship missiles, anti-submarine systems and cyber-defenses.
India has increased defense spending by 49% the past decade, just commissioned its second aircraft carrier, has boosted its defense budget 10% for the coming year, and is expanding joint training with the United States, Japan and Australia.
South Korea is increasing defense spending by 7% annually, boosting its F-35 fleet, building an aircraft carrier and fortifying its missile defenses.
NATO is strengthening its ties to, and involvement in, the Indo-Pacific. And key NATO members are flexing their muscles in this vital region: Britain is permanently stationing warships in the region. Japan and Britain have signed military-deployment agreements. France has 7,000 troops, 20 warships and dozens of warplanes based in the Indo-Pacific.
These and other allies will be crucial to keeping Cold War II from turning hot – and ensuring that the 21st century is not made in the PRC.