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What if China Wins?

China's Xi Jinping at BRICS Summit
China's Xi Jinping at BRICS Summit. Image Credit: Creative Commons.

To understand why Americans and our allies must rally together in defense of democracy, we have to be humble enough to admit we might not be winning and creative enough to imagine a scenario in which Beijing’s global strategy succeeds.

What are the implications of a Chinese Communist Party victory for the future of American-style democracy? What would that mean for humankind?

Today it seems unthinkable, but it may be coming: totalitarianism expressed through a state-run, artificial intelligence system that knows billions of people better than they know themselves. What would that even look like? To avoid the numbness that comes with abstract, hypothetical thinking, open up your mind and make it a personal vision. Imagine you are part of the next generation. It’s you that’s being born into a future where China’s government has AI supremacy and global domination.

Meet CARL

In such a world, an automated system has been collecting your DNA and all your family’s personal and “private” medical data since before you first opened your eyes. Let’s call that notional system the Central Automated Records Litigator (CARL). As you grow, CARL absorbs and analyzes everything from doctor notes about you to blood analysis measuring your individual responses to vaccines and advanced pharmaceuticals. CARL is always there, eating a digital ocean of your test results and medical documents.

It digests every word you write and speak. In school, online, at camp, on vacation, inside the confines of your car and bedroom, your kitchen and VR headset.

CARL thrives on your gossip and drama. It sees how you act around others, and how they act around you − both to your face and behind your back. It knows what everyone around you writes and says about you in private. It’s watching you though thousands of tiny cameras. It can sense the dilation of your eyes in response to certain images. It understands what the quickening or slowing of your pulse and blood pressure in various situation probably means.

CARL knows if you are straight or gay (or somewhere in between) long before you do. It knows all your tastes: in food, music, movies, sports, books, clothes, games, humor, politics. More than that, it actively shapes them, matching your tastes to what the collective wants you to think is cool, while steering you away from things it wants you to believe are uncool. It understands your desires, your fantasies, your fears, your strengths, your limits, your blind spots. It knows your IQ, EQ, SAT scores, and your blood pressure, average resting pulse, cholesterol count, and all your performance measurements.

CARL experiments on you endlessly. It sends you images and places you in all kinds of situations to see your reactions. It can collect and make sense of mind-crushing volumes of data. Before long, it knows what unique buttons to push to give you intense emotional pleasure or unbearable pain. It can make you laugh, cry, and tremble with rage. It can give you nightmares when you sleep. It can also deny you deep sleep for as long as it takes to achieve the necessary results.

CARL is extremely effective at providing the types of rewards and punishments that condition human behavior. It trains you to do what the collective wants. Who to befriend, who to outcast, who to hate, and, of course, when to feel nothing and be numb to those around you. With every passing day as you age, it can predict with ever increasing levels of statistical precision how to influence what you will think and do in a given situation. In the end, this government-run AI super system owns your mind, your body and soul.

Now imagine all of this and think about the youngest human being you know. If the CCP is successful at racing past the United States and achieving world domination, that little person is going to see CARL and its terrors in their lifetime. If you live for another decade or two, so will you. But there’s a big difference between you and them: they won’t even be conscious that it is there. Just like millennials don’t know what the world was like before the personal computer and Internet, they won’t know that anything existed before CARL. Unlike you, they will have never read the words on this page (and so many other words you have read). All “incorrect” words will disappear. They will take CARL for granted, just as you take a world without AI-enabled thought control systems as a given today.

Implications

If you think such a scenario is pure science fiction and could never happen, you are far from alone. But you could be wrong. The CCP has already developed early prototypes of CARL (under different names, of course). And even without the help of AI supremacy, Beijing has already created a world in which the wisdom of crowds has been corrupted so that increasing numbers of people are divorced from facts and objective reality. Even the U.S. government has been rendered unable to think logically about China (more on that later).

We already live in a world in which the CCP can systematically commit ethnic genocide against Muslim people in China and still win the praise and cooperation of Muslim leaders across the Middle East, North Africa, and Southeast Asia. We already live in a world in which churches in China are bulldozed, bibles destroyed, and Catholics imprisoned and tortured, and the Pope in Rome stays silent on the crimes. Pope Francis has encouraged Catholics in China submit to the laws of an atheist regime, and (so far) has refused to meet the Dalai Lama or President of Taiwan out of deference to Beijing.

We already live in a world in which major American corporations know that their PRC competitors are stealing from them and aim to destroy and replace them in the global marketplace, but refuse to pull out of China and save themselves. These same corporations often lobby on behalf of Beijing in Washington. Near-term gains in China’s colossal consumer market seem too good to pass up. Many CEOs apparently believe it would be impossible to forecast future profits without China. American businesses are addicted and dependent to the China market. The majority appear convinced that they have to stay on Xi Jinping’s good side just to survive. Just ask the NBA.

We already live in a world in which the United Nations goes against its founding principles by supporting Chinese dictators over Western democrats. Today, U.N. agencies are helping the CCP export its tools of mass surveillance and oppression to the developing world. They are using the trust bestowed upon them by the international community to grant Chinese tech giants access to places, people, and data they would not otherwise have. They are giving Beijing leverage to use against its ideological enemies. They are repeating Chinese talking points and censoring voices of opposition.

We already live in a world in which the United States violates its own founding principles by actively opposing the Taiwanese people’s attempts to exercise their fundamental right of self-determination. Since 1979, Washington has gone so far as to deny the very existence of the Republic of China (Taiwan) as a legitimate country, even though the ROC government in Taipei has always been independent from the PRC, and Taiwan has become a liberal democracy that enjoys popular sovereignty. Taiwan now ranks as one of the top ten democracies in the world. Nonetheless, diplomats in Washington and other capital cities across the West take great pains to pretend Taiwan doesn’t exist as a nation-state out of deference to the CCP.

If this is the world today, what will the world of tomorrow look like if China’s comprehensive national power continues to grow? Nothing America and other countries are doing is stopping a still relatively weak PRC from growing. Who will stop a much stronger China in the future?

Wasting Away

It has been estimated that China loses billions of dollars each year to outflows of cash. Every official in China wants to buy property abroad and send their son or daughter to school overseas as an insurance policy against regime collapse. Often overlooked is how much money the CCP has gained by selling counterfeit goods and pirated software while at the same time stealing the developed world’s intellectual property and trade secrets. No one knows just how much that might be, but the FBI estimates the United States loses up to $600 billion per year from PRC theft.

In recent years, the FBI has arrested hundreds of Chinese agents for stealing everything from Dupont’s secret formula for the creamy white filling of Oreo Cookies to GE Aviation’s jet engine technology, and from the Navy’s drone designs to American Superconductor’s source code for software controlling wind turbines.

If we assume that other advanced economies are suffering to the same degree, the total scale of the theft should amount to well over a trillion dollars per year from just the leading economies. Yet, in reality, the losses incurred are not evenly distributed. Other countries are far more vulnerable than the United States. The next most powerful economies are Japan, Germany, India, England, and France. Cases of Chinese espionage (economic or otherwise) are almost never reported or prosecuted in any of these great nations.

Compared to its allies, the U.S. government has been extremely aggressive in its efforts to protect against CCP economic warfare. In January 2022, FBI director Christopher Wray said the federal government had over two thousand counter-intelligence investigations underway, and the FBI opened a new China case on average once every twelve hours. “The scale of their hacking program, and the amount of personal and corporate data that their hackers have stolen, is greater than every other country combined…. It’s like the surveillance nightmare of East Germany combined with the tech of Silicon Valley,” Wray said.

If the U.S. government admits to losing half a trillion or more each year, we can only imagine how much worse the situation must be for other democratic countries with weak protections and far less confrontational policies toward China. It seems probable that the PRC economy would be fundamentally unsound if left to its own devices. The Chinese government’s violation of basic economic laws, market-distorting behavior, legal malpractices, and real estate bubbles are all well known.

But China’s economy does not appear to be fundamentally unsound. Even if it stagnates for a time during the pandemic, economists believe China could rally and grow again. The CCP is orchestrating a global trading system that makes China stronger even as its foreign “partners” waste away. Beijing does this by targeting elite political and business decision makers the world over, finding ways to enrich, influence, seduce, and control them. Once captured, elites then allow Chinese monopolies to outcompete foreign rivals and impoverish their societies.

It’s too early to say whether China’s global strategy will ultimately work. But it could work and, so far, it does seem to be working more or less in the way Xi Jinping and other CCP strategists say they designed it. Despite America’s more realistic approach to China, labeling it a strategic competitor and treating it as a hostile trading partner, the United States government has made only tentative moves to address the existential national security crisis. China’s power is growing, and it could surpass the United States. The Soviet Union may have lost the first Cold War, but that is no guarantee that the PRC won’t win Cold War II.

For Washington and its allies, there is an incredible amount of national security work to be done. Perhaps the first step is to accept difficult truths and acknowledge what might happen if they remain inert while the CCP continues to race ahead.

Ian Easton is a senior director at the Project 2049 Institute and author of The Final Struggle: Inside China’s Global Strategy. The above is an excerpt from the author’s new book. You can follow him on Twitter: @Ian_M_Easton

Written By

Ian Easton is a senior director at the Project 2049 Institute and author of The Final Struggle: Inside China’s Global Strategy. He also wrote The Chinese Invasion Threat: Taiwan's Defense and American Strategy in Asia. He previously served as a visiting fellow at the Japan Institute for International Affairs (JIIA) in Tokyo, a China analyst at the Center for Naval Analyses in Virginia, and a researcher with the Asia Bureau of Defense News. Ian holds an M.A. in China Studies from National Chengchi University in Taiwan and a B.A. in International Studies from the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign. He studied Chinese at Fudan University in Shanghai and National Taiwan Normal University in Taipei.

21 Comments

21 Comments

  1. cobo

    October 7, 2022 at 4:36 pm

    Oh, dear Ian, I just love the fear and the artificial anticipation. My name is CARLO, the Italian version. And I already own you. There is nothing new under the sun, no angel no demon I don’t already control. I’ll see you in your dreams, where we destroy China.

  2. Dr. Scooter Van Neuter

    October 7, 2022 at 5:34 pm

    From what I’ve been told, China usually does win in wargaming centered around its invasion of Taiwan or defense of its manufactured islands.

  3. Jacksonian Libertarian

    October 7, 2022 at 5:40 pm

    There’s a reason why China is experiencing capital flight by foreign investors, the Chinese, and even the Communist officials. The people most knowledgeable about the CCP recognize that the buffalo level economy from before the foreign investors uplifted China, is the measure of Communist competence, and that remains unchanged. When the foreign investors leave (the smart money left long ago) then Communist China will revert (already in motion).

    No one from a 1st world culture can understand just how corrupt the Communists are.

  4. Neo

    October 7, 2022 at 6:03 pm

    This is real, and tho’s in the know call it The Matrix. You’re welcome.

  5. Steven

    October 7, 2022 at 6:07 pm

    cobo, you better wake up…

  6. Scottfs

    October 7, 2022 at 6:25 pm

    This man underestimates the perverse influence China has on the West. It is disgusting how person after person after person in the West sells out their democracies for a large amount of cash. The NBA and Hollywood are the tip of the iceberg.

    The CCP is strong enough that if they want American technology, they just buy the company. And Americans are more than eager to sell out. Imagine you have technology that makes your company worth $100 million. China, through layers of hidden corporate cover, offers you $1 billion. You are rich beyond your wildest dreams. Of course you sell.

    If you doubt China’s power, think of ‘tough guy’ John Cena’s boot-licking apology to Xi Junping after he criticized China. Or consider that in the original ‘Top Gun’ Tom Cruise’s uniform had a Taiwanese flag. In the sequel, the flag was nowhere to be seen.

    Joe Biden took bribes from China, yet remains president. Our military jets contain Chinese components. Chinese spies are everywhere. When I complained on Twitter about that, I was permanently banned! Can you imagine? It will only get worse.

    We’ve already lost to China. Universities inly exist because of Chinese money. China controls the Chinese diaspora in America, Australia, England, rlsewhere. The have most of Africa licked up in punishing trade deals. The government of the Solomon Islands has to the USA to get out, in behalf of their Chinese masters.

    Yet the still maintain ‘Most Favored Nation’ status bestowed by Bill Clinton.

    The reality is worse than this author projects. Our children will live as slaves to China. Read ‘2034’ for a look at what’s to come.

  7. TheDon

    October 7, 2022 at 7:03 pm

    The US helped China WWII.
    The US treaty and trading agreement with Nixon has raised china to a great nation.
    Its unfortunate they support the Russians and North Koreans.
    It doesnt appear business as usual is going to in our near future.
    I’m sure the population is going to figure it out soon as the US an EU stop imports.
    As far as war now, a bad idea. China is still immature. The US doesnt want to control a 1.3 billion population. That would be impossible.
    So we are at an impasse and Russia and NK wont pay the bills.
    I would make any trade relief on requirment of dissasembling the NK leadership and nuclear program, also no invasion of tiawan but a trade partner status.
    Im a idealist.
    Putin and Xi have other thoughts that dont make sense

  8. D

    October 7, 2022 at 7:15 pm

    Feels like it’s rather American version of oppression, Chinese, russian , iranian or korean dictators rely on an old fashion dumb brutal force, like police, military, brainwashing propaganda rather than on sophisticated AIs they can’t understand nor can they trust.
    All this technology that modern dictators have only exits because more advanced democracies created them. The dictators just repurpose them for their needs. Be there no more democracy there will be no technological progress as the dictators don’t really need them.

  9. GhostTomahawk

    October 7, 2022 at 7:30 pm

    If we started killing these Chinese spies for their crimes maybe they’d stop doing it. If we stopped trading with these degenerates they’d have to stop doing it. We never needed China before. If the political oligarchy was gone and corporations were forced to be domestic… this problem wouldn’t exist.

    It’s a matter of will. Be willing.

  10. 403Forbidden

    October 7, 2022 at 7:56 pm

    Both china and US are globalist powers with unrestrained globalist dreams.

    China especially under xi jinping with his hitlerian belt and road strategy wants unchallenged stranglehold on economic power over the world.

    US with its even worse genghisian strategy of enslaving entire world through its military and political might and forcing nations to become minions and vassals.

    US today is a fort or wellspring of neoconized democracy or fascismo democracy, not the original kind drawn by its founding fathers.

    US democracy can be observed by its state and federal prison systems being among the worst in the world.

    If any country wants to pride itself on democracy, just examine its prisons and jails.

    The loudest boasts often come from nations with dank dark and most frightening or nightmarish prisons and jails.

    In US, we have some of the worst prisons of the first world, among them Folsom, San Quentin, rikers, Attica, sing sing, Florence max prison and many many others.

    Both globalist powers are a drag on mankind and Biden and xi must go to hell asap.

  11. cobo

    October 7, 2022 at 9:15 pm

    Steven – October 7, 2022 at 6:07 pm

    I’m sorry, about you. Did I once know you, no that was another. Do you remember Texas Instruments DSP processor, no that wasn’t you. You are, it seems, within my memory, and that is all that counts… no one. Please. clutch your gun… Or are you in fact, no one

  12. Commentar

    October 7, 2022 at 10:01 pm

    China’s hour of reckoning is close at hand or just around the corner.

    Once russia uses nukes to stop the ukro forces advancing into russian territory, biden will have to decide whether he needs to neutralize beijing first.

    US needs to hit china with nuclear warheads to kneecap permanently china’s massive economy and send it back to the flintstone age.

    Thus, china is now awaiting its megiddo moment or moment of destiny.

    Biden has a real devil’s heart to truly hurt mankind, first provoking and starting a proxy war against a nuclear-armed rival, then pouring tens of billions of dollars into the inferno, raising interest rates repeatedly, unleashing galloping inflation and now leading the entire world to the edge of the great abyss.

    Also included is the regulatory/obligatory requisite to wipe out currently 2nd largest gdp and thereby also create almost unimaginable shortages of goods and all other things for the rest of the world.

    US and china are definitely on a great collision course and thanks to biden and his great calling to protect the ‘soul of america’. Amen.

  13. Snaggle Puss

    October 7, 2022 at 10:36 pm

    Poor babies! The author and most of the commenters are so afraid of the obvious future, where a country with 1.4B will be more dominant than a country of 330M. “Ooooh they are so bad, and we are so good”. This article belongs in the kindie garden of IR analysis.

  14. Joe Comment

    October 8, 2022 at 1:34 am

    GhostTomahawk: Simplistic statements.

    Spies already get killed all the time. You propose to ramp up the violence level? You understand the blowback and the collateral damage? You think you know better than our professional counter-espionage people with decades of experience on this problem?

    “Stop trading with them, we never needed them before.” If we stop trading with them but our competitors continue trading with them, our businesses lose. It is not political oligarchy driving corporations to be international, it is competition.

    We can’t just snap our fingers and make global market conditions disappear. We need much more than will. We need a realistic plan.

  15. Eric-ji

    October 8, 2022 at 8:01 am

    China Inc will go the way of Japan Inc. Lack of creativity, lack of innovation, command & control economy.

  16. D

    October 8, 2022 at 12:34 pm

    Oh no, Japan inc compare to China inc is a prosperous super innovative and extremely creative enterprise . !!:)

  17. GK Chesterton

    October 8, 2022 at 5:32 pm

    Test

  18. will

    October 9, 2022 at 3:51 pm

    The author, and most of the commenters, do not know and understand China. The article says that China is committing genocide against Muslims and razing churches… This seems very ridiculous, if the author visited China himself you would see that Muslims live well, churches all exist and the Chinese government guarantees freedom of worship for its people. The purpose of China’s development is not to compete with the US for hegemony, but to improve the living standards of its people.

  19. Paul Blase

    October 10, 2022 at 6:43 pm

    The assumption here is that the U.S. Government wants to stop the Chinese! Biden certainly does not!

  20. Jake Dee

    November 26, 2022 at 3:06 am

    “We never needed China before”
    Hmm, an interesting thought. Maybe America never NEEDED China but it’s certainly been keen on trade and various military and cultural adventures within China for a long time.
    The first American missionaries were in China in 1830, The US Navy and Marine Corps first fought Chinese government forces in 1856, the American concession in Shanghai began in 1863, American forces were party to the battle of Peking in 1900.
    Soong Mei-ling (AKA Madam Chiang Kai-Shek) the daughter of a Methodist minister enrolled in Wesleyan college Georgia in 1914 and later went on to be one of the first women to address a joint session of congress (in perfect English) in 1943.
    All of that happened before Mao’s revolution and a lot of it before the CCP was even born. That’s just a little bit of the history of US-China relations that America has forgotten or more likely never bothered to learn at all.

  21. Jake Dee

    November 26, 2022 at 3:21 am

    The CARL bit is a creepy little sci-fi story which begs a rather obvious question, What level of government surveillance is correct ? The answer to that surely can’t be “Zero”. Governing with less information would just be worse governing.
    America will beat China, if and only if it shows the world a better way of living. One that’s not just some abstract political “vision thing” but a demonstrated physical reality.
    In the words of the old Audio Slave number “Show me how to live”

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