I'll admit it: when 2020 began, I was asleep at the wheel. I'd had a thoroughly uneventful New Year's Eve (ok, I passed out on my couch some time around 10pm) and while I obviously knew it was an election year, I had no idea what we were in for. Little did I know that as I slouched into the new decade, almost 7000 miles away a global health catastrophe was emerging, and the Chinese Communist Party (the CCP, the ruling government of the People's Republic of China) was trying to cover it up.
I wasn't a total know-nothing on China: I've been to Mainland China and Hong Kong each twice, most recently at the end of 2018. I'd been paying some attention to the pro-democracy movement in HK, and I'd read a little about the Chinese regime, but I was not yet closely following the SARS-CoV-2 story. I wasn't connecting the dots yet. After the holidays I went back to my full-time software engineering job and didn't scrutinize the news. For a couple of months things seemed pretty normal.
Fast forward to March. SARS-CoV-2 is spreading in the United States and people are starting to take notice and take action. I'll admit, at first I downplayed the issue. I'm a risk-taker by nature and I wasn't going to be scared of any damn virus. I was an early critic of the lockdowns, and I resented having my routines and activities curtailed. I still feel this way, but I came to realize that this isn't just an ordinary pandemic; more sinister things are afoot.
In case you're not sure what's been going on, let's recap.
The Coronavirus Coverup
It is currently believed that the first case of COVID-19 emerged in China in mid-to-late November, but it wasn't until mid-December that the world began to learn of a mysterious new respiratory illness claiming victims in Wuhan, a modern city of over 10 million residents in the east of the country. Chinese authorities announced that they were investigating a wet market in the city as the possible source. (Now we know it almost certainly escaped from a lab and the wet market angle was a ruse.)
By late December, researchers and the CCP had clearly observed that this novel disease was spreading from human to human. Several scientists and doctors attempted to sound the alarm, but they were met with retribution and countered with disinformation. Some vanished altogether. The CCP, it seemed, did not want the world to know what it was in for.
In January, the Chinese Communist Party continued to deny person-to-person spread despite clear evidence of the contrary and even got the World Health Organization to parrot its lies. The WHO repeated the CCP's claim that preliminary investigations showed "no clear signs of human-to-human transmission". The WHO did not revise their stance until Jan 23, three days after Chinese authorities finally admitted they knew of aggressive human-to-human spread.
While China and the WHO were denying human-to-human spread to the world, the CCP was hoarding medical equipment and restricting travel within the country. For a time in January, travel from Wuhan to other parts of China was not permitted, but tens of thousands of potentially-exposed travelers were allowed to depart Wuhan by air for destinations all across the world.
The outbreak itself may or may not have been intentional, but the decisions to withhold information, spread disinformation, and permit international departures from Wuhan were certainly calculated, with grave consequences for the rest of the world.
The Richest, Most Powerful Totalitarian State in History
Since the pandemic was unleashed on the world, we've seen the Chinese Communist Party show its true colors through such things as its enactment of the so-called National Security Law, putting an end to Hong Kong's promised and celebrated autonomy from the mainland. Astute observers have been noting that since Xi Jinping's ascent to power in 2012, China has once again fallen into totalitarianism (after all, in 2018 the People's Congress "voted" to abolish presidential term limits, making Xi essentially dictator for life); after the events of 2020 there can be no doubt.
Furthermore, it has become clear that peaceful, cooperative co-existence between the United States and the Chinese Communist Party is simply not going to happen. In fact, China has been waging a whole-of-society war against the US and the rest of the West for many years now, and we're just starting to understand that. In this light, the CCP's malfeasance surrounding the outbreak makes perfect sense and is just the latest example of such "unrestricted warfare".
The immediate result of these realizations and revelations has been a flurry of activity to redefine our relationship to communist China: sanctions are being imposed, supply chains are being relocated back to the US and reliably friendly countries, campus institutes (particularly the Confucius Institutes, which support Communist Party ideology and intelligence gathering at American universities) are being closed, etc. This is all good news. In my view, the Trump Administration has taken all the right steps (after all, China is one of Trump's signature issues, and he was right about it far earlier than most wanted to admit) and Mike Pompeo has taken a hard line against Communist aggression while attracting a mixture of fear, respect, and unexpected support from ordinary Chinese citizens.
Prelude to War?
Conflict with China is heating up quickly. On August 10th, 2020 Health Secretary Azar visited Taiwan, the highest-ranking US official to do so in around 40 years. The visit, during which he praised Taiwan's handling of the coronavirus, was very well-received by the Taiwanese and appears to mark a new era of Taiwan-US alliance.
During the visit, China scrambled fighter jets in an aggressive flyby, crossing over the midline of the Taiwan Strait, within range of Taiwanese anti-aircraft guns. Many commentators have dismissed the possibility of a "real" or "hot" war with China but moves like this make it clear that it remains very much on the table.
Personally, I think Hong Kong is like the Sudetenland: we allowed China to clamp down, hoping to appease them. As we know, Hitler was not satisfied with the Sudetenland, and the following year his troops marched into Poland, kicking off World War II. Now in 2020, Taiwan is Poland...and I suspect the CCP is going to go for it.
There's way more to say on this topic. Maybe I'll revisit it in the future. My point now is simply this: pay attention to China. This is the defining conflict of our time.