Those who do not study history are doomed to have Santayana’s aphorism quoted at them constantly. So maybe they’ll crack a book just to make it stop. For instance “100 Ways to Recognize an Aggressive Totalitarian State: Chinese edition”.
In case you haven’t read it, because I just made it up, let me cite a few key ones. The weird yelling guy with a moustache thing has rather gone out of favour since 1953. But the weird yelling has not. What effect they expect it to have on us is not clear, though a mixture of amusement and alarm would be appropriate. Whether the perpetrators think they have to rave theatrically to persuade their colleagues that they have not gone soft or seen through the tissue of lies, or whether they have gone so hard they think they’re winning friends and influencing people, is unclear. But you could ask the Chinese Politburo.
See, last week U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo made a public statement in favour of due process for two Canadians arrested in China, and rejecting any link between their cases and Huawei executive Meng Wanzhou, arrested in Canada and awaiting extradition to the United States. “These are fundamentally different matters than the Canadian decision to use their due process and the rule of law to behave in a way that’s deeply consistent with the way decent nations work,” he said. “They [the Chinese government] want to talk about these two as if they are equivalent, as if they were morally similar, which they fundamentally are not.”
You might agree or, I suppose, disagree. But his comments were clearly delivered in English, literally and figuratively: They obeyed not just the rules of grammar and vocabulary, but of rational persuasive discourse.
Now here is the response the Chinese tyrants “fired back”, as the National Post put it. According to an English-language transcript posted on line, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Geng Shuang said “The U. S. and Canada are singing a duet aimed at confusing right and wrong in a political farce.”
Misfired back might be more exact. This outburst recalls Radio Moscow in what passed for its heyday, prose so purple you can’t tell if it’s parody by secret dissidents or sincere ideological dementia. And you certainly can’t parody it. The “duet” business was bad enough. But the master touch, or final descent into absurdity, was stuffing in the “political farce”, mixing the metaphor and overloading the camel.
No matter how angry they get, say when Charles de Gaulle kicked NATO out of France in 1966, democratic politicians don’t speak in this hallucinatory style. Not even Donald Trump unsupervised on Twitter. But the Nazis and Soviets churned it out as though it was a key Five Year Plan production target. (OK, the Nazis didn’t have a Five Year Plan. They had a Four Year Plan. But then a key slogan of the first Soviet Five-Year Plan was 2+2=5, another obvious warning sign. Like the German plan not ending after four years.) And the Chinese government talks this way by choice also.
Another related warning sign is the telling of blatant lies with a blank look. Here, clearly, the intent is not to deceive. On the contrary, it is to force you to lick their boots and praise the flavour. Which again involves forcing language to do the opposite of the purpose for which it was created, with a demented indifference to the process or effect.
Take Huawei… please. It is frankly incredible that we are even considering allowing it to worm its way into the backbone of Canada’s next-generation 5G communications infrastructure, and ominous that the PM has apparently delayed the decision past the next election. But we are debating it, as open societies do, including a recent written exchange between Brian Lee Crowley of the Macdonald Laurier Institute and former Canadian Alliance leader and Alberta Treasurer Stockwell Day in the Toronto Star, followed by an online poll. Which Brian’s argument was winning quite handily until Huawei mobilized its online support internationally and votes came flooding in for the “No” side. It’s petty. But revealingly petty. And cynical, manipulative, shallow, bullying and obnoxious.
Then there’s a surreal episode involving the Confucius Institute, a tentacle of the Chinese state masquerading as this nicey-nicey organization that promotes Chinese language, culture and cultural understanding abroad. It’s increasingly being removed from educational systems because of what it really is. And thus New Brunswick’s education minister recently had a visit from the Chinese consul-general in Montreal, China’s top diplomat in eastern Canada, telling him insistently and incoherently that as the Institute was unrelated to the Chinese government, an agent of that government was barging in to threaten that if it were booted from the provincial school system, that government would make bad things happen to the province’s trade with China.
To its credit, the New Brunswick government gave the Institute the shoe leather escort anyway. And Huawei should get the same. It’s not just that it’s an alarming tool of Chinese geopolitical ambition with an opaque ownership structure that leads back to the Politburo as everything does in China. It’s that it’s an alarming symptom of Chinese geopolitical ambition, because we’re all meant to pretend we don’t know what it really is. And when they say “Open wide, you running dogs” and try to stuff down some lies then extract a smile, or sing farcical duets of Orwellian prose, you know what you’re facing.
Or at least you should. So open your eyes not your mouths, people. Don’t make me quote Santayana again.
Photo Credit: Jeff Burney, Loonie Politics
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