Atlantico: What is the purpose of Beijing’s attacks on Hong Kong's freedoms? In what geopolitical context is all this happening?
Emmanuel Lincot: This is a warning to the democratic public of Hong Kong, as well as to mainland China because there will also be protest movements against the background of a very significant worsening of the situation in the economy. The Americans and Taiwan were also on target. The status quo ("one country, two systems") that existed since the return of Hong Kong in 1997 was completely destroyed. This step by Beijing is part of its global strategy, which is based on constant provocations, non-compliance with obligations, and the desire (the same is observed on the part of Russia) to face opponents with a fait accompli. The same goes for the creation of artificial islands with military bases in the South China Sea, as well as the confrontation with India on the Doklam Plateau in 2017 and in Ladakh two weeks ago. This strategy has a name: access denied. There are fears that the next stage after Hong Kong could be forceful annexation of Taiwan, whose president is supporting the Democrats from Hong Kong with all his might.
Édouard Husson: Since the 1970s, the United States and the Western world have become close friends with China and even made it their preferred partner. In the 1980s, American intelligence agencies often exchanged information with Chinese colleagues that they did not transmit to Europeans. With the collapse of the Soviet Union and the launch of globalization, a new stage in rapprochement with China began. The West stepped over the principles that enabled him to win the Cold War and turned a blind eye to what happened on Tiananmen Square. It was the same as saying to the Chinese: ‘You can arrange internal repression, we do not care. Business is the main thing.’ The United States and Europe have pushed the Chinese population to adopt the logic of “enrich without the right to vote,” Xiaoping. This deal with the devil existed before the election of Donald Trump. The current US president was the first to want to correct the asymmetry that arose because of our blindness to China. As a result, he replaced our economy with his own. In addition, China’s joined WTO on conditions, which would not be suitable for any other country.
Have we witnessed a new cold war? Is China's offensive strategy a winner?
Emmanuel Lincot: The Cold War relied on a balance of power through fear. There is no balance, and this is the danger. A deep split has been formed in the Western world. Donald Trump no longer believes in multiculturalism, and France of Emmanuel Macron clung to it because it is convinced that Paris and the EU can only express themselves in this way. The Chinese world itself is also heterogeneous: the communist continental China and Taiwan, whose geostrategic position and democratic status remain the main challenge for Beijing. The main fears are associated with irrational behavior and increased passions in China's relations with opponents. Passion in international relations never bodes well. Such a situation does not at all cause foreign investors (China, by the way, needs them) to remain in China and Hong Kong, where a number of Western enterprises are registered. In addition, the Taiwanese public will have a more radical attitude, and it will surely follow the irreversible path to independence. This will inevitably entail a war that will not be limited to one region but will take on a global scale. It cannot be completely ruled out that Beijing could go on the offensive in the fall, shortly before the US presidential election. Unless, of course, the parties decide to take the path of stress relief.
Édouard Husson: Donald Trump first of all wanted to restore the currency and trade balance. China has kept the currency outside the market at a low rate. This gives him an even greater export advantage than the entry of the German brand into the Eurozone at a reduced rate. Trump is a skilled negotiator, and he managed to put pressure on China at the very moment when the communist regime tightens politics, as it fears an increasingly large middle class. The PRC cannot afford to lose too many foreign markets since this would mean a reorientation to the domestic market and general enrichment of people, that is, an increase in democratic demands. The coronavirus crisis was a real blow for the Communist Party because it showed what it has always been: an unworthy liar. When the mask was torn from the Communist Party, it took a very aggressive stance towards the West. And some even talked of a new cold war.
Would Xi Jinping's world domination plan turn against him?
Emmanuel Lincot: He responds to existing restrictions in the framework of his domestic policy. We do not know how strong is the opposition to Xi Jinping in the Politburo, but it still exists. The coronavirus test allowed the party apparatus to speed up cleansing. For example, in Wuhan. What does this mean? That Xi Jinping has weak support, there is no unanimous support. Beijing's offensive in all directions seems thoughtless. Even high-ranking military men like Qiao Liang, the author of the main military labor in modern China, advocate a more cautious stance, as they realize the country's fragile military and economic position. China, like the United States, cannot claim hegemony. Be that as it may, we are getting closer to what Graham Allison called the Thucydides Trap every day. This means that we can move on to the logic of war. That would be just awful. In particular, for the Chinese people, who, after 40 years of tremendous effort, would have known one of the worst disasters in history.
Édouard Husson: China has a plan for regional hegemony, but it has to deal with other nuclear powers and economic giants such as India and Japan, not to mention the United States with its active presence in Asia. The PRC launched the “New Silk Road” project and allocated accumulated trillions of dollars for its implementation in order to expand its influence and reduce its dependence on the American market. Anyway, confidence in China is failing. Like the Soviet Union at one time, China severely suppresses peoples in its sphere of dominance and tries to expand its borders with arrogance. And it answers logical questions of the rest of the world. The more time passes, the more plausible is the theory of an accident: the virus could break out of a laboratory in Wuhan. China itself destroyed the trust in which its relations with the world were based. Unlike most analysts, I believe that the coronavirus crisis is the beginning of China's decline. It shed light on the country's vulnerability. One day we will find out the real numbers, but I have no doubt that the largest number of victims was in China. The Chinese authorities began to talk about an uncontrolled epidemic only when it was no longer possible to hide it from foreign observers in Wuhan, as well as Shanghai and Beijing.
What is the reason for the inaction of Western countries? What future does this promise?
Emmanuel Lincot: There is a usual criticism, including on the issue of Uyghurs and Tibet, but no specifics from the European side. Everything is different in the USA. Both for Republicans and Democrats, China is the enemy now. The end of a pandemic could mean reprisals against the scapegoat. And the US has already found it. The EU needs to take action to calm a potentially explosive situation. It is still able to become a mediator, and France can play a key role here too.
Édouard Husson: Part of the Western elite is so closely connected with China economically that such a revision can be very painful. In addition, Western progressives have long admired totalitarianism, both fascism, and communism. Our indulgence of Beijing after the events in Tiananmen Square is connected with a new wave of Marxist and leftist movements. All former Western Maoists and Trotskyists not only switched to anarcho-capitalism and radical individualism but also began to imitate the “consultative Bolshevism” of the Chinese government. American Democrats and our Europeans are obsessed with the idea of limited democracy, which is akin to the Chinese regime. American Democrats prefer to fight with Trump, who revives the rule of law, rather than condemn attacks on freedom of religion and oppression of Muslims in China. They put the new Black Lives Matter Red Guards above the defenses of Hong Kong and Taiwan. Just like the associates of Nazism and communism in the twentieth century. Nothing is changing the West...
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