China Is Getting Smarter

This one was fairly straightforward. It’s easy to get caught up in the roiling clusterbomb that is US foreign and domestic policy failure in 2024. But we should be paying more attention to what China is up too. On a lot of levels China is weaker looking than they have been in decades. The upward economic trajectory is slowing, and their demographics are apocalyptic. But they are still the second greatest power in the world, and they are just beginning to figure out what that can mean. And they are getting smarter. Very quickly.

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Video Transcript after the jump…

So you guys know China is getting smarter, right. This is the major threat the US has to deal with over the next decade or so, not Chinese hyper growth, not Taiwan, and so far the United States is doing nothing to counter it. I have been talking about this for a year or so now, but in the past month it has gone into overdrive.

The days when everybody assumed China’s economy would just rampage past the US economy have long passed. But there is a lot more to geopolitical competition than just economic growth. There are tons of domains to compete in. And China has reached a level of development where it is beginning to be able to compete in all of them. That doesn’t necessarily mean they will be good at competing though. In fact we have two fairly recent examples where China failed pretty miserably to compete.

Donald Trump was an unmitigated disaster for China. Which surpised me, because The US’s choice to elect an incompetent and unbalanced reality TV show star was China’s biggest opportunity since Pearl Harbor.

In 1941, Japan had been attacking China for decades, and had been engaged in a full on attempt at conquest since 1937. In one of hstory’s greatest blunders, Japan then decided to attack the United States. This gave China a massive ally that freed China by smashing Japan’s empire, and set up a world order where China was given great privileges, from the UN security council seat to the WTO.

In the second Obama administration, the US had finally started doing what it had been talking about for years, and began pivoting to Asia, undermining China in every way it could, from the TPP to rearming Japan and setting up a new Client government in Burma. China’s growth miracle was sputtering out, and things looked dire. But then US voters gave China the gift of Donald Trump. The charismatic, eloquent non-white heart throb was replaced by Soviet central casting’s stereotype of a fat, incompetent, failson capitalist slob. What was even better for China, is that instead of crafting alliances that could quietly kill them, Trump seemed to want to burn down the US alliance structure and alienate everyone by dismantling globalism.

All China had to do to win in 2017 was look like sensible adults who wanted to keep the world the way it was, and stick up for business as usual. And they failed completely.

Xi started out well, going to Davos in January 2017, the month Trump became US president. He claimed he would defend globalization and world trade. I was terrified by what this meant for the world order and US primacy. Thankfully, or maybe sadly, depending on your perspective, that was the last intelligent thing China did during the Trump administration. They started reacting to Trump’s infantile threats by falling down to his level.

Maybe there was no avoiding the nationalist demands of the Chinese Public, but whatever the reason, China’s adoption of Wolf Warrior diplomacy was a disastrous mistake. The name itself is pretty horrifying. Wolf Warrior is a successful franchise of Chinese action films, how happy would you be if the US state department started talking about its John Wick diplomacy. What it meant in practice, was China trying to play Trump’s own game of petty grievance and bullying. When the US used the world legal system we control to use Canada to attack a Chinese company, China played into our hands and arrested a couple Canadians, maybe making the Chinese Public happy, but alienating the rest of the world.

Xi Jinping and his Communist party over-reacted to Trump’s rhetoric by killing the golden goose in Hong Kong, and horrifically persecuting the Uigurs of Xinjiang. These two fundamentally stupid and cowardly policies made it easy to portray China as evil on the world stage and were completely unnecessary. Neither Hong Kong nor the Uigurs presented any real threat to Communist rule.

With Covid things got even worse. Whether or not the disease came out of a Chinese lab, as more and more seem to believe, the Chinese government cover up at the beginning of the pandemic was incredibly irresponsible, and would have been a serious international problem for China if Donald Trump’s colossal mismanagement of the global pandemic wasn’t so much worse and so much louder.

Xi Jinping briefly got some credit from the Chinese people for doing such a good job stopping the spread within its own country. But this ended up being just another illustration of Chinese weakeness. Competent countries with functioning healthcare systems, from Australia to China, eventually had to give up and let the disease in because of Trump’s gleeful super spreading. Chinese competence was meaningless if the US decided something wasn’t the world’s priority.

So back in the 2000s, and as late as 2017 I found China very intimidating, and thought they were a real threat to US hegemony. After Trump, however, and the realization that China had somehow come out of that four year period looking worse than the Orange monster I stopped worrying about China bringing about US decline.

I am still not worried. When the US Empire falls, it will be because of the stupidity of US leaders, not because of anything China does. But over the past year or so, I have noticed that China has finally stopped furiously punching itself in the dick. China will never be a serious rival to the United States before it ditches Xi Jinping, and probably the Communist party as well. But over the past few months it has started to put some of the building blocks of sane government in place.

What China needs to do to capitalize on the US’s never ending series of mistakes, is look like a leader, not the whiny bully it portrayed itself as over the course of the Trump administration. And in recent months it has really started to do that.

The biggest example of this has got to be the electric car explosion. This has been going on in the background for sometime, but spring 2024 seems to be the point at which we all realized that China is kicking our ass at electric car construction.

You can certainly argue that this is all hype, and no doubt some of it is. I doubt that BYD really has a car that will go 1200 miles on one charge and just cost $14,000. But even if it only goes twice as far for half the price of the Tesla Model 3, instead of three times as far at a third of the price, it’s still a scarily massive improvement. I have a lot of friends in the US car industry, and they freely admit that we have gotten our asses kicked and the US car industry’s only hope is to hide behind Trump and Biden’s growing tariff wall.

I guess you can keep on listening to oil industry sponsored figures like Peter Zeihan who are still frantically shouting that cheap, useful electric vehicles are impossible, but the rest of the world is paying more attention to a China that’s actually building those EVs. And the world has started paying for the cars too.

In late May we got even more surprising news from the world’s workshop. Energy analysts started talking about the possibility that China’s carbon emissions may have peaked, which would be incredibly good news for the planet. Whether or not that’s true, the fact that people are talking about it is a huge victory for China, and much earlier than anybody expected it. Carbon emissions peaked in the US all the way back in 2009, but for decades now, we have used China’s dirty manufacturing growth as our main excuse for not doing more about climate change. China all of a sudden turning the tables on us, and looking like the climate leader, is very smart on their part.

Unfortunately this isn’t the only rapid reversal we have seen in the battle of ideas. The New Cold War is nowhere near as ideological as the old one between the United States and the Soviet Union was. China is nominally Communist, but is largely content to play the rules of the capitalist game, as set out by the United States. Across the past two decades there was one serious ideological difference between the two countries though. When sovereignty and Human Rights collided, China would stand up for sovereignty and the rights of governments to set their own paths, and the US would unleash one mass death event after another in the name of human rights.

Until 2022, pretty much everybody outside the range of domestic US media could see that China was winning this argument. Supposed US human rights crusades in Libya, Syria, Iraq and South Sudan had killed millions. But then Russia invaded Ukraine. All of a sudden, it was China that looked like the big hypocrite.

For once it wasn’t the US carrying out a Megadeath, forever war, it was Chinese ally, who Xi Jinping had juae declared a no limits friendship with. True, China wasn’t helping Russia as much as Putin wanted, but they weren’t condemning the invasion either. Where were all of China’s pro-sovereignty, anti-invasion principles now that Russia was doing it? Unlike the US, Russia is a country that really cares what China has to say, and Xi Jinping hasn’t used that influence in any serious way.

For the first time this century, somebody else was the violent aggressor. This was an amazing opportunity for us to change the narrative and actually be the good guys we have claimed to be. And what have we done with it? Well we murdered 10s of thousands of women and children in Gaza.

What makes it even worse, is that China is doing what we should have done. This is how they are getting smarter. With Trump they reacted to a colossal US failure by rushing down to our level. Now they are using the utter debasement of the US’s human rights record to try to launder their own reputation.

It proves absolutely nothing, of course, but on June 5th the Chinese invited Turkish Foreign Minister Hakan Fidan to tour the capital of Xinjiang province. The Turks are the traditional protectors of China’s Uighur population, with whom they share a Turkic heritage. As China has gotten richer, and Turkey has gotten more and more economically interweaved with China that protection has meant less and less. But nonetheless, while the news is filled with daily atrocities funded by the United States, the Chinese invited Turks to do an inspection tour of the Turkic province China is accused of genociding. That contrast was very intentional. And it’s very smart. China is learning effective diplomacy. Maybe the United States should try to do the same?