The Chinese century: China is not only at our borders but is building a ring of relationships around us

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October 25, 2021 3:00 AM

Depending on the US to enable us to manage this strategic threat is a non-starter

In the past, I have often felt the US should outsource the pursuit and punishment of white-collar crime to the Chinese; it seems to have gone part of the way, bringing two smart, articulate and fair-minded South Asian-origin Americans.In the past, I have often felt the US should outsource the pursuit and punishment of white-collar crime to the Chinese; it seems to have gone part of the way, bringing two smart, articulate and fair-minded South Asian-origin Americans. (Representative image)

Confirming what all of us know by now, Frances Haugen, the most recent whistleblower from Facebook testified to the US Congress that the company’s longstanding behavior patterns were “hurting children and harming democracy by promoting social divisions”. And while Facebook may be the most egregious, it is certainly not alone amongst the other Western technology plutocrats for whom profits are a much higher—the only?—priority than societal norms and citizens’ rights.

The US’s government ineffectiveness in protecting citizens from the continuous and unhealthy stream of electronic attack stands in stark contrast to the clear action taken by the Chinese government in cutting Alibaba, Didi and Tencent (amongst others) down to size. In addition to increasing the oversight of the algorithms tech companies use to ensure that companies abide by business ethics and principles of fairness, there have been a wide array of other pro-citizen moves like re-designating private tutorials as non-profit and limiting the time young people spend on online games, an economy-wide push to de-carbonise, requiring food delivery companies to provide better protection for workers, etc.

At face value, the professed intent of these moves makes the Chinese government, contrary to its reputation, seem like one of the most progressive in the world. Only the EU—trying to prevent technology companies from rapacious use of personal data, increasing tax compliance by multinationals, and other citizen-focused initiatives—can compete. The US remains stuck in its “laissez-faire’ “I-did-it-my-way” approach that has made it the richest country on Earth with a profusion of poor people.

But the good news is, even in the US, the trauma created by “free” markets is finally coming under pressure. Lina Khan, who president Joe Biden appointed as the chair of the Federal Trade Commission, created a thrust for more vigorous antitrust enforcement as far back as 2017 with a Yale Law Journal article entitled “Amazon’s Antitrust Paradox”, and the all-new Lina Khan FTC is already breathing fair-minded fire into corporate behaviour. Rohit Chopra, a fervent consumer advocate who favors stiff penalties for corporate bad actors, has been appointed to head the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB). As an FTC commissioner, Chopra had dissented on the vote to fine Facebook $5 billion, calling it insufficient and objecting to immunity for its officers and directors as “a giveaway”. He has also pointed out the potentially discriminatory impact of using AI to make decisions in, say, home lending; he says, “It is rare to uncover direct evidence of racist intent… That’s why disparate impact analysis is a critical tool to uncover hidden forms of discrimination.” Clearly, the Biden administration is more focused (than previous administrations) on demanding that corporates behave responsibly.

In the past, I have often felt the US should outsource the pursuit and punishment of white-collar crime to the Chinese; it seems to have gone part of the way, bringing two smart, articulate and fair-minded South Asian-origin Americans.

China continues to build capabilities in technology, renewable energy, space travel, etc—significantly, the complaints about the Chinese stealing IP have dwindled as their knowledge base appears to now be self-sustaining. Today, China is much more than just the factory of the world—its economy is already the largest in the world on a PPP basis and is expected to be nearly 50% larger than the US (in absolute terms) in 5-6 years. Clearly, the 21st century belongs to China.

Yet, as pointed out in The Guardian by Yangyang Cheng, a Chinese postdoctoral fellow at Yale Law School, the West sees China as a ‘threat’, not as a real place, with real people. “The rise of China and its role in global capitalism have challenged the economic dominance of the West, and shattered the convenient notion that the market necessarily brings freedom.”

This comment reflects the real the issue today: that China is such a bogeyman that few people believe anything good about it, or certainly, about the Chinese government. This is a major problem strategically. If you are blind to any positive value on the other side, you are doomed to an adversarial relationship. And entering an adversarial relationship with the Biggest Daddy in the world is, at best, a foolishness.

India is particularly vulnerable to this, given China is not only on our border but is steadily building a ring of relationships around us, not just with our immediate neighbours, but in Central Asia, Iran and Turkey as well. Depending on the US to enable us to manage this strategic threat is a non-starter—the US will, quite reasonably, look after their own interests, and, sooner or later, their relationship with us will become expendable.

We need cleanse our minds of the Hindi-Chini bhai-bhai embarrassment and start thinking about how to start seeing China as an opportunity rather than as a threat.

The author is CEO, Mecklai Financial
www.mecklaifinancial.com

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