One of the many ironies of the COVID-19 global pandemic is the world’s rediscovery that most everything that comes out of China is — somehow or someway — based on lies, a sad reality based on the long cultural tradition of Chinese deception.
Without exception, this fundamental risk is the most critical element in every aspect of any dealing with China, whether it’s a complex national security matter or a simple commercial transaction.
China lies about, cheats and steals absolutely everything — there are no exceptions. This is China at its most basic and historical level. It’s what China does — for example, what part of four huge plants reproducing stolen CD’s and DVD’s don’t we understand? Back in the days of books and vinyl records, Chinese pirated copies were for sale the day after they were released. Today, it’s all forms of technology and at the highest levels.
Perhaps the most ironic part of this historical reality is that it’s completely known and understood throughout Asia. And China fully understands it about itself — China deals with it every day and at every level of its society and expects it from all parts of its society.
It’s also the realty that transcends all Chinese politics. For a comparable example, one must look at organized crime, the Mafia and drug cartels. And perhaps doubly ironic, the pervasive corruption of communism remains the “perfect fit” for modern China. It’s the only political model that could “work” in China.
Where does the lie come from?
Sun Tzu, the 6th century Chinese general and author of “The Art of War” probably said it best: “All war is based on deception” and China has effectively been at war with us since the end of World War II. China has also been at war with everyone else in the world to the extent it competes for business or the political control China wants. Just look at Chinese expansion in South America and Africa — their goal is to own and control these regions to the exclusion of all other influences.
Origins of the China approach go back to its philosophically based history — the Confucian approach to life was/is based on the end result rather than the way it was obtained, and the general rejection of legal structures. Many say that President Xi Jinping is an energetic advocate of Confucian approaches to his governance and obsession with control. The latest example is Hong Kong — soon to be under total PRC control. Taiwan is next.
How does the lie “get to us?”
China has weaponized its people in more ways than we seem to realize, especially by stealing information and bribing insiders. China has hundreds of thousand students overseas who are obliged to report.
China carelessly — maybe even intentionally — sent infected COVID-19 travelers to the rest of the world. And what China fears most now are internationally-coordinated efforts for trillions in enforced/leveraged compensation. Accordingly, we should be aggressively coordinating these efforts worldwide.
They have weaponized their high-tech exports by building back doors into their systems to collect information — the concern about 5G and Huawei is only the most recent. They steal everyone’s technology and observe no copyright or patent legal regimes anywhere in the world.
They pervert food and medicine in any way they can to make money — this is a technique used by street vendors in China and applied at the highest level to deceptively adulterate the product.
The entire “political system” in China is corrupt, from the very lowest level to the very highest. There has never been any accountability for public corruption except as punishment — Mafia style — for not paying off the vertical chain of corrupt officials. Bribery is a way of life in China, always has been and always will be — and the fact China occasionally executes a token corrupt public official is meant for show and a lesson to pay bribes up the chain of political command.
How do we deal with it?
The guiding principle for anything that comes out of China — anything — is to not believe it. Nevertheless, dealing with China is impossible if we simply decide not to deal with the lie — they are the lie and we must learn to better deal with it.
Here are some basic rules for dealing with China:
• In any negotiation, China must know/understand/realize that we don’t believe them — and unlike in other parts of the world, this will not offend because it’s not offensive in China. In fact, it’s routine and expected as a part of everyday life.
• We can never believe anything from China that we cannot actually see and verify the reality thereof. For example, how many nuclear weapons does it have? We will never know this and the actual number will always be many times our best estimates: China will always hide its nukes.
• We should assume that all foods, medicines, chemicals, metals, etc., from China will be adulterated and require continuous inspection. Will China continue to lie and cheat even if we catch them at it? For sure. A very clever system of cheating — when and if it’s exposed — is a matter of humor in China.
If this brief review seems harsh and politically incorrect, keep in mind that it will not be taken that way in China, rather as a reason to be even more clever and deceptive in dealings with us. The battle between East and West has been going on for centuries and is not about to abate, especially as China sees its current prosperity and power directly related to its deception — and it does.
Kipling was right: “Oh, East is East, and West is West, and never the twain shall meet.”
• Daniel Gallington served in senior national security positions.
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