‘Hide your capacities, bide your time’, China’s former leader, Deng Xiaoping, famously once said. Few in the West understood what he meant then. But they understand it today.
The coronavirus outbreak has brought home the reality that China does not play by global rules. It’s time for countries committed to open, liberal democracy, free trade and free markets to accept the reality that China is not a partner but a strategic competitor.
The coronavirus cover-up of the emergence of the disease might even have included lax standards in laboratories as the US Embassy had complained of. These are the actions you would expect from the Chinese Communist Party, a crony political monopoly that brooks no dissent, seeks to assert complete control and whose officials are too terrorised to confess to error.
China has also long ignored global norms on trade, distorting its market to favour state owned companies and privileged firms allowing them to undercut foreign rivals, harming producers in developing countries and in the developed West. The textile industry in Central America for example was largely wiped out by huge state-owned Chinese companies.
Many US and European tech and telecommunications companies, which could have given us solutions to today’s tech challenges, simply do not exist because they were driven to bankruptcy by China’s state owned enterprises (SOEs). It was Huawei’s government support of below cost pricing that arguably contributed to the destruction of Lucent Technologies and Alcatel in the 2000s.
China’s investments in Africa involve onerous default terms which include taking over parts of the countries themselves if they are unable to comply with the terms. It then uses its own workers on these large infrastructure projects rather than indigenous ones, attacking the one advantage developing countries actually have.
Geopolitically it has ringed the Indian Ocean, the most crucial theatre of operations in the 21st century, running its ports they will own if the host countries default on their agreements.