JOHN DERBYSHIRE: China Has Problems In New Bipolar World—But U.S. Has Worse
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[Excerpted from the latest Radio Derb, now available exclusively through]

See also: GOP Plans To Scapegoat China. But That Must Include ENDING CHINESE IMMIGRATION!

One thing that, it seems to me, is much more apparent than it was three months ago: We are living in a bipolar world, or soon shall be.

I know a bipolar world when I see one. I spent my first 45 years in one: the world of the Cold War, dominated by the USA and the USSR.

That bipolar world ended twenty-nine years ago. For a while thereafter the USA stood supreme, economically and militarily.

We still do, actually, on indices like per capita GDP and forces deployed overseas. Communist China's been coming up fast, though. It's plain they are aiming for parity with us, regional—I mean, in Asia—if not global. Perhaps they are aiming for global dominance.

Whether they are or not, we are heading into a bipolar world once again. People are waking up fast to this. The coronavirus pandemic has us thinking and talking about China in a way that we weren't before, not in the public realm at any rate. Some sour-faced skeptics and grouches on the commentarial fringes, like your acerbically genial Radio Derb host, were talking that way; now it's well-nigh universal.

As I write this, China's national legislature, the National People's Congress, has just completed the first day of its 2020 annual session. Here are a couple of headliners from this first day:

  1. For the first time in thirty years, there will be no announced target for GDP growth this year—that's Gross Domestic Product, a key economic indicator.
  2. There will be revisions to the Basic Law that defines the status of Hong Kong. The point of the revisions will be to "safeguard national security in Hong Kong." [NPC: China's congress will be about Hong Kong, the virus and the economy, BBC, May 24, 2020]

What does any of this mean? And why should Americans care?

To take the first part of that question first: What it means is that these are some of the decisions worked out by the ChiCom Party bosses in secret meetings these past weeks.

I italicized the words "some of" in that last sentence to emphasize that these are decisions the Party bosses want to make public. For sure there are many more they don't want made public.

The NPC is not really a legislature in any dictionary sense. It's Totalitarian Theater. There is very occasionally—two or three times per decade—some muffled resistance to edicts from the Politburo; but even those have had a staged quality about them, and were probably just a theatrical way of settling some minor power struggle at the top.

Still, the NPC is not without value for outside observers. The things that are announced, like the two items I have noted, give clues as to what the Party bosses are thinking. Carefully scrutinized and sensibly interpreted, they can give us the lie of the land.

  • China's economic pincer.

From my first point about the NPC announcements—about there being no GDP growth target this year—we can deduce that the ChiComs are seriously worried about China's economy.

Like our economy and everyone else's, China's economy has taken a big hit from the pandemic and the measures taken to slow or contain it. There have been huge employment losses in both manufacturing and services, in a nation with much less of a social safety net than ours [A slump exposes holes in China’s welfare state, Economist, May 7, 2020].

The thought of a couple hundred million hungry, angry, unemployed workers gives ChiCom bosses the heebie-jeebies.

And this couldn't be happening at a worse time for China's economy, which is looking at a pincer trap.  I'll describe the two arms of the pincer in turn as 1) the Past Arm and 2) the Future Arm.

The past thirty years have been a sensational boom time for China, with living standards rising faster, I think, than anywhere else, ever, in modern history. By the end of the 2010s, though, the low-hanging fruit had all been picked, and the rate of improvement was slowing.

That is one arm of the economic pincer—call it the Past Arm.

And now there is widespread anger and suspicion towards China among its former trading partners—the countries that, by opening their markets and exporting their factories, made the Chinese economic miracle possible. The developed countries of North America, Western Europe, and Australasia are waking to the fact that we have sold the Chinese Communist Party a whole lot of rope with a gift card attached saying "Please Hang Us." They are backing off from China.

There is even talk of boycotts. In a poll done mid-May, forty percent of Americans said they won't buy products made in China [Americans Are Giving Made-in-China the Cold Shoulder, by Brendan Murray, Bloomberg, May 17, 2020].

It's the same all over. Some headline-writer at the London Daily Mail has taken up Radio Derb's Godfather theme:

PM "Moves To End UK's Reliance On China For Essential Supplies And Manufacturing" Amid Fury At Its Coronavirus "Cover-Up" As Beijing Hawk MP Accuses Regime Of Acting Like The "Mafia," by David Wilcock,  May 17, 2020

So, looking forward, the era of Western countries blithely helping the ChiComs to consolidate their power, domestic popularity, and international influence by jacking up their economy, are over.

That's the other arm of the pincer—call it the Future Arm.

The Past Arm: no more low-hanging fruit.

The Future Arm: no more illusions about the regime we've been enabling this past thirty years.

  • What the status of Hong Kong means

What the ChiComs are proposing for Hong Kong reinforces the Future Arm of the economic pincer.

Under the agreement with Britain that handed the city back to China 23 years ago, the ChiComs promised that Hong Kongers would enjoy British levels of social and political freedom, or at least something closer to them than the mainland dictatorship, until 2047.

Well, that promise will no longer be operative. It was just a convenient lie assented to by the ChiComs while they pumped up their economy.

I spoke of the NPC giving us clues about the lie of the land behind the closed doors of ChiCom deliberating. Lie of the land? Politically, China is the Land of the Lie. Strategic lying is not just an occasional aberration in their diplomacy, it is all of it.

The Hong Kong demonstrators this past year have shown  feisty spirit [Rally against HK national security law on Sunday, by Jeff Pao, Asia Times, May 22, 2020]. It's not likely that bringing the city back into the warm embrace of the Motherland can be accomplished without highly visible repression, possibly on the scale of Tiananmen Square in 1989, but much more amply recorded in this age of the cellphone camera [Hong Kong Protest Movement Left Reeling by China’s Power Grab, by Vivian Wang and Austin Ramzy, NYT, May 24, 2020].

That will just further reinforce the ChiComs' image as a thuggish gangster clique, fortifying the Future Arm of the pincer, shredding any illusions Western populations still have about the nature of the ChiCom regime.

Did I mention Tiananmen Square? Eh: just a few antisocial troublemakers in need of stern law enforcement. Tibet, Taiwan, and Eastern Turkestan? Integral parts of China since ancient times. Fifty years of autonomy for Hong Kong? Absolutely!—where do we sign? If we are admitted to the World Trade Organization, shall we observe the rules? Of course we shall! COVID-19 originated in China? Certainly not; it was brought in by visiting U.S. soldiers [China Spins Tale That the U.S. Army Started the Coronavirus Epidemic, by Steven Lee Myers, NYT, March 13, 2020].

The world is awakening from its dream of China as a trustworthy commercial nation whose public declarations mean what they say. Communist China is the Land of the Lie.

So … this coming new bipolar world is nothing to worry about, right? The ChiComs are going to get crushed in that economic pincer I've been describing, right? And Uncle Sam will sail on forward into the middle 21st century as the dominant world power, right?

Well, there are many possible futures, and that is one of them. It's by no means the most probable one, though. China has advantages, and we have dis-advantages, that could shape the future in a Chinese direction.

I'd list China's main advantages as three:

  1. Despotism, which makes it easier to get some things done.
  2. A big Smart Fraction. Smart Fraction Theory argues that "national wealth is determined by the fraction of workers with IQ equal to or greater than some minimum value" [The Smart Fraction Theory of IQ and the Wealth of Nations, La Griffe Du Lion, March 2002].
  3. Demographic homogeneity; low levels of ethnic diversity and ethnomasochism.

To the first point there, the one about despotism: Look, I really don't want to live under the ChiComs; and I speak as a person who did live under them for a year. There is no denying, though, that despotism has its advantages, especially in technological development. Exhibit A: China's high-speed rail system. Where is ours?

The second point, about a big Smart Fraction, has a link with the first. The name of the link is "eugenics," both positive and negative.

Positive eugenics means encouraging people with positive heritable traits to breed; negative eugenics means dis-couraging—or actually forbidding—people with negative traits to do so. The despotic power of course gets to decide the definitions of "positive" and "negative" and the degree of coercion.

Are the ChiComs interested in eugenics? Oh yeah. I had things to say about this in my November Diary last year, to which I refer you.

It's the third point that most powerfully addresses American weakness. China has some ethnic diversity, but it's mostly out at the territorial fringes, in occupied Tibet, Mongolia, and Eastern Turkestan. The great majority of China's population—and an overwhelming supermajority in metropolitan China, away from those fringes—is of a single ethny. If the Chinese withdrew from those occupied fringes, China would be the world's most homogenous big nation.

This spares China from all the rancors and disorders that sap so much of our social and political energy.

Not only are China's minority ethnies proportionally much smaller than ours, the Han Chinese supermajority is not split down the middle as our own white just-barely-majority is.

It is not the case that one half of the Han Chinese loathes and despises the other half. No Chinese politician ever sought advantage by describing half of his fellow Chinese as "deplorables." No public intellectual in China ever wrote that "The yellow race is the cancer of human history" as Susan Sontag wrote of the white race to which she herself belonged. Ethnomasochism is a white pathology.

And as social dogma, quite a recent one. Susan Sontag wrote her words in 1967. You can take them as the beginning of the rise of white ethomasochism to its present position as a major social dogma.

There is a line of American commentary on China, argued most clearly and persistently by David Goldman at Asia Times (now apparently with Gordon Chang also on board) telling us that we Americans should consider ourselves to be in a Sputnik Moment: a moment in history where, if we don't stop the fruitless squabbling and begin engaging in some serious, co-ordinated national effort, the ChiComs will eat our lunch, breezing past us in key technologies like artificial intelligence, big data, microchip fabrication, and quantum computing.

The problem with that prescription is that the original Sputnik Moment, to which America reacted with such spectacular success, occurred in 1957, a whole decade B.S.—"Before Sontag."

White ethnomasochism was not entirely unknown in 1957, but it was restricted to tiny cliques of urban intellectuals.

We could make a united national response to Sputnik sixty years ago because we were a sufficiently united nation. You need that qualifying word "sufficiently" there because there was what people of the time called "the Negro Problem."

White Americans didn't think about black Americans any more than they absolutely had to, though, and the race issue didn't split whites down the middle as clearly and angrily as in what I call today's Cold Civil War.

Sputnik-wise, we were a sufficiently united nation—sufficiently to co-operate in a colossal national effort with a minimum of bickering.

If we had been at today's level of social rancor back in 1957, would we have been able to get to a Moon landing in just twelve years?

Of course not. It would have taken us twelve years just to figure out and litigate, appeal, re-litigate, and re-appeal the Affirmative Action protocols for staffing Mission Control.

Above, the almost entirely white male staff of NASA's Mission Control, the day men landed on the moon.

John Derbyshire [email him] writes an incredible amount on all sorts of subjects for all kinds of outlets. (This no longer includes National Review, whose editors had some kind of tantrum and fired him.) He is the author of We Are Doomed: Reclaiming Conservative Pessimism and several other books. He has had two books published by com: FROM THE DISSIDENT RIGHT (also available in Kindle) and FROM THE DISSIDENT RIGHT II: ESSAYS 2013.

For years he’s been podcasting at Radio Derb, now available at for no charge. His writings are archived at

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