Close ties between the United States and China have outlasted their purpose and, as the developments at Google show, have proved counterproductive to liberty and human rights.
These days, the front pages of newspapers and the leading mainstream stories are crowded with repetitive outrage and noise. To access the real news and get a sense of the currents of ideology that are truly reshaping the globe, you often have to turn to page C16 or scroll to the bottom of the page.
One such buried story, constantly simmering in the corners of news feeds, should be shouted through bullhorns all over Silicon Valley. I refer to Google’s alleged effort to design a search engine that will help the Chinese government repress dissent. The claims are highly credible, coming from data scientists who quit in protest.
Under pressure, Google has admitted the existence of “Project Dragonfly,” but is refusing to be transparent about the nature of the search engine the company is developing for the Chinese government. If an American corporation is indeed blithely engaging in such an irresponsible and morally reprehensible course of action, we ought to see protesters crowding outside the Google campus every day, blocking its data scientists as they attempt to buzz through the gates on their Segways.
The demands for transparency should be widespread, forceful, and persistent. But that does not seem to be happening.
We Already Know What China Will Do With This
As mentioned above, there have been multiple resignations at Google over the Maoist search engine it is said to be designing. A senior scientist, Jack Paulson, initially responded that if the claims were true, he could not continue working for Google. He has since also resigned and authored a letter to the Senate, stating that he has confirmed that the search engine is “tailored to the censorship and surveillance demands of the Chinese government.”
His letter further alleges that the engine ties users’ searches to their phone numbers. Thus, if a Chinese citizen searches for “human rights” or “the Dalai Lama,” the Chinese surveillance state—already of remarkable proportions—will know that individual’s identity.
This is especially disturbing given what we have recently learned about China’s “social credit” system. As detailed at length in a report from the Australian Broadcasting Corporation, this system aims to track every transaction and virtually every activity Chinese citizens engage in, such as purchases made at the local supermarket.
Astonishingly, it is already in effect in certain areas of the country and has already been used to destroy the careers of those who have dared to criticize the state. The report states that 10 million people have already been punished through reductions in their social credit scores. That is 3.5 million more people than the entire population of Ireland.
Obedient citizens receive points for their social credit scores when they perform actions the government deems beneficial, ranging from receiving a master’s degree in engineering to purchasing diapers for a newborn. These points aid those who receive them, allowing them to qualify for social and economic perks such as obtaining loans more easily.
However, a journalist who dares to criticize the state or expose corruption will find that his or her social credit score has taken a nosedive, destroying his life opportunities in one fell swoop. As detailed in the Australian Broadcasting Corporation’s reportage, this has already occurred in the case of journalist Liu Hu, who had revealed government corruption.
Why Should Americans Enable a Totalitarian Regime?
The reports on this unabashedly dystopian “social credit” scheme and Google’s snitch search engine are wedged in the subsections of the mainstream news. Often a story related to China’s totalitarian tendencies will appear prominently, only to evaporate from public attention within a day or two in the general squall of outrage over our domestic affairs.
Such has been the fate of the story regarding the 1 million members of the Uighur ethnic minority group, whom the Chinese government has forced into re-education camps, and the story about Xi Jinping’s president-for-life status, and the story about how “disrespecting” the Chinese national anthem now carries up to a three-year prison sentence. These days, the word “Tibet” is barely ever mentioned, although religious, political, and cultural repression continues unabated in what should rightfully be a sovereign nation. The examples of this abound.
We acknowledge that Iran and North Korea are totalitarian states, but we refuse to acknowledge the authoritarian states with which we freely do business. Saudi Arabia is one example, but at least there is some minimal effort towards reform in that kingdom, despite the brutal flogging and jailing of secularist writers like Raif Badawi. China, however, is plunging further into totalitarianism while aggressively expanding into areas of the South China Sea, encroaching on the territory of Vietnam and the Philippines by constructing artificial islands.
Thus, the United States is right to define China as a “strategic competitor” rather than an ally, a recent and welcome adjustment. So much is evident. This is a good example of what Confucius himself called “the rectification of names,” the delineation of reality with precise definitions. But, given China’s indulgence of its leaders’ totalitarian instincts, it seems wise to begin cultivating alternatives. We need to find methods for checking China’s power by creating a new liberal democratic bulwark in the Indian and Pacific Oceans.
The United States Should Pivot to a Better Ally
In other words, we need to make India our primary global ally. The logic of this is unimpeachable. India is the world’s largest democracy, and it has its own serious issues with China.
Like the United States, it is ethnically and religiously diverse. We share key elements of a common heritage and a common language inherited from the British Empire. We have both historically attempted, against considerable resistance, to safeguard the fruits of liberal democracy against the forces of both radicalism and reaction. Perhaps our partnership could help us whether our internal storms, reinforcing our mutual commitments to democratic ideals?
The United States and India are in a curious geographical relation, located on opposite sides of the globe, yet possessing an odd correspondence with each other. Yet, thanks to the Cold War, we once found ourselves perplexingly estranged. India was officially non-aligned, yet tilted slightly towards the Soviet Union. The distance this created between our two nations was unfortunate, unnecessary, and did not reflect our populations’ attitudes towards each other. Now is the time for an unabashed embrace.
Of course, for this to be a feasible plan, the United States needs to respect India and avoid transforming it into a materialistic clone of the United States. India has wisely rejected many tech corporations’ overtures, sensibly suspecting Mark Zuckerberg and others of attempting to penetrate its markets only to culturally devour it. We need to find a respectful way of shifting towards India, ensuring our shared economic prosperity without ruining anyone’s culture.
The United States tied ourselves to China to end the Cold War. That strategy was successful, but it has outlasted its purpose and, as the developments at Google show, have proved counterproductive to the sacred causes of liberty and human rights. Let’s throw in our lot with a country that shares our values and make India our primary global ally and a central counterforce against China’s totalitarian ambitions. Our reasons for doing so would be practical, moral, and mutually beneficial.