The China we don't talk about
Why the internment of millions of Uighur Muslims goes largely unmentioned
Did you know that the Chinese are beating us when it comes to — let me check my notes — coal? And that they are so far ahead of us when it comes to using cellphones to pay for things (vegetables from street vendors, for example) and analyzing all the commercial data "to identify trends and spur new artificial intelligence applications"? Wowee zowee.
Another area in which the world’s second largest economic power puts the United States to shame is doing away with supposed enemies of the regime. In this country every time poor Sarah Sanders says that one of the president's tweets is not, in fact, the worst thing ever, journalists moan about executive obfuscation and the denial of our ancient liberties.
As I write this, somewhere between one and two million Uighur Muslims are being held in Chinese internment camps. Millions more have been made subject to surveillance. On the basis of such behavior as using an amount of electricity deemed unusual or failing to answer the front door or giving money to a mosque, a Chinese Muslim can be placed in an involuntary re-education program. The government’s reasoning is simply that, according to their calculations, Uighurs are more likely than other Chinese citizens to engage in terrorism or other criminal activities.
This has evidently been going on for more than half a decade, alongside the harvesting of organs and other sinister crimes that decent persons would condemn anywhere. But until recently, it was possible to ignore the imprisonment of the Uighurs because the Chinese authorities simply denied that it was taking place. Unlike in the United States, there is no independent media that could report the truth, much less harass the country's lying president in a public forum about his administration's misdeeds.
This is one reason that I have no patience for what I have come to think of as China Respecter Man, an ubiquitous figure in American media. This is the sort of person who has traveled to Beijing or Shanghai on at least one occasion and believes on the basis of what he has seen or been told there that China is in one or more specified ways a more advanced or flourishing society than our own. We are told over and over again that the Chinese are confronting our supposed problems — climate change, economic slowdown, infrastructure, education — with more intelligence than we could ever hope to muster.
China Respecter Man's favorite activity of late is tut-tutting President Trump's attempts to remake America's trade relations with Beijing. Does this orange-faced Queens rube even realize, he moans, how much money is at stake here? Does he even care about the fact that it could have serious consequences for the stock market and America's access to the shoddy Chinese imports that make our planet-destroying culture of convenience possible? Trump really needs to back off here and let Xi and the big boys talk.
What China Respecter Man never talks about is how China's prosperity, real or imagined, is made possible. Lurking behind every would-be achievement is the reality of dissenters imprisoned or executed, workers treated like slaves, and minorities brutalized. Everything we hoped for when we opened our embassies and our markets to China has come to pass — dizzying levels of GDP growth, millions of additional consumers for American agricultural exports — except, of course, for the even gradual emergence of those freedoms we have always considered logical concomitants of economic prosperity.
What nonsense. It turns out that despotic government is perfectly compatible with technological development and an increasingly wide array of consumer goods and options for mindless entertainment. It might even be the case that China's authoritarian capitalism works better than our version.
About this at least Trump and China Respecter Man are in complete agreement. This has been the president's argument all along: The Chinese are smarter than us. They are more ruthless. They do not care what the world thinks of them. They are not cowed by accusations of racism or sexism or anti-Muslim bigotry. Money talks, old-fashioned liberal BS about human rights abuses or ecology walks.
But it is hard to escape the feeling that China Respecter Man secretly envies the position of the Chinese Communist Party. Trump obviously does. If only we could get everyone on the same page and have no more interference from partisans and dream up "solutions" with the help of credentialed experts and quick-thinking entrepreneurs, all of our problems would disappear.
There is every reason to think that our own constitutional order is moving in this direction. No matter how much power the American executive branch comes to acquire in the coming decades, it is unlikely that it will be used to address the horrifying reality of Chinese misrule. We like having an unlimited supply of cheap plastic junk and finding an uncritical audience for our moronic blockbusters, more often than not recut or supplied with alternate "patriotic" footage voluntarily by the studios at the behest of Chinese censors.
Our acceptance of China's brutality is craven. It is also profitable.