In the 1970s, China showed signs of the possibility of engagement with the Western World as it introduced economic reforms. It aimed as becoming a pillar for the global economy. Later, when China joined the World Trade Organisation, it became evident that the Dragon wanted to become relevant in terms of the world economy. It started participating actively in international organizations, and the economic changes in the country made it possible for it to come out of poverty. It took only a couple of decades for China to become a hub for manufacturing and a large global market.
What Western Countries believed was far from the truth
When China began to engage with the western world, it was believed that the U.S. policies aimed at integrating China with the global economy were working. The U.S. tried to tie China to the western world through bonds of trade and finance, hoping that when connected to the U.S., the Chinese society will have a chance to become more open. It was believed that the communist government of China would become a partner in global affairs.
China projected itself open to change and communication. The Chinese citizens started moving more freely, and hundreds of thousands of Chinese students started taking admission in western universities that was seen as a positive sign. As per reports, 372,000 Chinese students were in the U.S. during the 2019-20 session.
However, according to Michael Schuman, a journalist who had lived in China for over two decades, the average citizens in China are completely at the mercy of the government of CCP. It was evident that the Dragon was far from changing. During former President Barack Obama’s late years, there was minimal response from China to the engagement attempt initiated by the U.S. President Xi Jinping showed no interest in addressing the U.S.’s concerns about their unfair treatment of the American companies.
China’s oppression of Uyghurs
Reports suggest that back in 2014, re-education efforts in Xinjiang started to take shape as an experiment, and by 2017 the efforts were drastically expanded. Between August 2017 and August 2018, it was found that 39 concentration camps holding Uyghurs almost tripled in size. The world does not know what exactly happens in these camps. A few videos and reports have surfaced in the last few years that give a glimpse of the atrocities that Uyghurs have to face in these camps. Experts can only join the dots and assert what exactly is going on as China has categorically denied all allegations of any human rights violations when it comes to Uyghur Muslims or any other community in China per se.
Reports have suggested that the camps have prison-like conditions. The Chinese government has installed cameras and microphones to monitor its movement. They are being ‘re-educated’ to allegedly disconnect them from their religious faith and to teach them how to be ‘loyal’ to China and its communist government. Some reports have suggested that the female detainees had to face sexual abuse and rape. Some detainees committed suicide, while others have witnessed detainees committing suicide.
China is also using members of the Uyghur community as forced labour. Reports have suggested that between 2017 and 2019, over 80,000 Uyghurs were transferred to different parts of the country as cheap labour. Interestingly, several western companies have knowingly or unknowingly been using these forced labourers at their factories in China. In February 2021, 12 Japanese companies, including Toshiba and Sony, announced they plan to snub China for forcible employment of Uyghur Muslims.
China’s way of using technology is a major concern
In the last few years, several reports have clearly shown that the Chinese government is using technology to oppress its citizens. Alarmingly, it is not limited to Chinese citizens as China is allegedly using technology to increase its control across the globe. From throwing Uyghur Muslims and other ethnic Muslim minorities in concentration camps to increase surveillance on its own citizens while developing technology to identify Uyghurs among the crowd, the dark aspects of China’s growing ambitions have become a threat to the world.
China has been blamed for illegally collecting the data of millions of people around the world for years. In September 2020, a report by Christopher Balding and Robert Petter et al suggested that China has collected information on over 2.4 million people worldwide that included 10,000 people from India. What was more concerning that around 20% of the information collected by China was not in the public domain, and it could have only been collected using hacking.
China’s mass surveillance state
China has been investing extensively in developing an AI-based surveillance system. Several patent applications filed by Chinese companies in association with the Chinese government have shown how precise its system is. There were reports that China was also developing an AI-based system to identify good behaviour among its citizens so that it can incentivize it.
While the Chinese have tried to justify surveillance in the country on the pretext of national security, it has become a threat to civil liberty, privacy and freedom of speech, which anyway is non-existing in the country. Recently, China has blocked the Clubhouse app as it gave space to people from China, Hong Kong etc., to speak up about the atrocities of the Chinese government freely. China has blocked every possible social media application and developed its own apps to ensure its citizens cannot speak ill of the government.
Chinese oppression of Hong Kong’s democratic rights
Hong Kong is protesting against China for months, and it has no plans to stop anytime soon. On the other hand, China is far from giving Hong Kong a free hand to run the country independently. Recently, China passed a wide-range of security law for Hong Kong, making it easier to punish the protestors. The key provisions in the law included life imprisonment for crimes of secession, subversion, terrorism and collusion with foreign forces, punishment for companies convicted under the law, damaging of public property to be considered an act of terrorism, cases to be tried in mainland China and more.
The most alarming aspect of the new law is that China will have the power to decide how the law would be interpreted. It also made it easier for the Chinese government to wire-tapped people of interest. The law is applicable not only to the people of Hong Kong but to the citizens of other countries living in Hong Kong.
Is it time to decouple from China?
China is not in the mood to listen to any western concerns. It is not paying heed to any concerns raised by the United Nations against the treatment of Uyghurs. Several countries, including the U.S., UK, Canada, Netherlands, and India, have shown concerns over possible espionage attempts by the Chinese government in recent times.
India has not only blocked Chinese apps but is also attempting to reduce Chinese investments in government projects. India has tightened its rules related to Foreign Direct Investment from neighbouring countries as an attempt to reduce Chinese penetration in the Indian market. Countries like the U.S. and U.K. have decided not to use Chinese companies for 5G roll-outs in the country, and other nations follow in the footsteps.
As China has become a visible threat to the global economy, the best idea would be to disengage with China in all possible aspects. In the last few years, China has rooted itself as a global hub for technology. To decouple, it is essential to identify and develop other markets as future technology hubs so that China’s thumping progression is at least slowed down if not stopped.