The communist regime in China uses health care and mobile apps as weapons against political dissent, according to an expert on China and the Indo-Pacific.
Cleo Paskal, an associate fellow at Chatham House, said that lessons could be learned from China’s neighbors—particularly India and the Solomon Islands—in understanding the threats posed by the Chinese Communist Party (CCP), in a recent interview on Epoch TV’s “American Thought Leaders” program.
“It is understanding how invasive and destructive and coercive the mentality of the Chinese Communist Party is—in terms of an individual’s right to think anything they want or believe anything they want, is imperative for understanding what we’re dealing with,” she said.
“In a Chinese-run world or Chinese-influenced world, health care is used as a weapon to punish political dissidents.”
Paskal pointed to the example of Daniel Suidani, the premier of Malaita Province in the Solomon Islands and a prominent China critic. Since the South Pacific country ended its 36-year diplomatic ties with Taiwan in favor of China in September 2019, Suidani has continued to voice support for the self-ruled island and rejected Chinese investment in Malaita.
Suidani’s continued support for Taiwan—a de facto independent nation that China claims as a part of its territory—has put him at odds with Solomon Islands’ Prime Minister Manasseh Sogavare, who enjoys a close relationship with the regime in Beijing.
About six months ago, Suidani was diagnosed with a brain disease that required CT scans, but the Solomon Islands doesn’t have the proper medical equipment to perform the scans. As a result, the premier began seeking foreign medical care, but was financially strapped to pay for it.
Suidani approached the Sogavare government for financial aid for his medical care, but he rejected the money after learning that there were strings attached to it—he had to shake Sogavare’s hand in public. Earlier this month, Suidani’s senior adviser Celsus Talifilu told Al Jazeera that the premier refused the offer because “it would be like shaking hands with China.”
Taiwan offered Suidani medical assistance and the premier arrived in the country on May 26. His trip to Taiwan has angered both the Sogavare government and Beijing—with the former saying that it was an “unauthorized” trip that undermined the South Pacific country’s “one China” policy.
In a statement issued on May 30, the Chinese embassy in the Solomon Islands said it had “registered concerns” with the Sogavare government over Suidani’s trip, and noted that it “opposes any official contacts” between Taiwan and other countries.
“This is a situation where [Suidani’s] personal position on China meant he was going to be declined health care. This is essentially an extraterritorial social credit system type control over the health care of an individual person,” Paskal said.
“If you don’t accept China in your heart, you’re going to be left to die. That’s fundamentally what was happening with Premier Suidani.”
The Chinese regime enforces a social credit system, which assigns each citizen a score of “social trustworthiness.” People can have points taken away from their social credit score by committing behaviors that are deemed undesirable by the CCP, such as jaywalking. Those with low social credit scores are deemed “untrustworthy,” and thus are deprived of access to services and opportunities. They could be barred from traveling by plane or attending schools, among other things. Critics have slammed the system as a violation of human rights.
Beijing could also weaponize Chinese mobile apps in order to sow divisions within other countries, according to Paskal. She applauded the Indian government for banning Chinese apps, particularly popular video-sharing app TikTok and messaging app WeChat.
India has banned more than 200 Chinese apps, citing the apps’ collection of user data as a national security risk. China’s national intelligence law requires all organizations and citizens to “support, assist, and cooperate with national intelligence efforts.”
Beijing could use the data collected by different Chinese apps for coercion and blackmail, Paskal said.
Additionally, Paskal explained that since the Chinese apps also curated information, Beijing could try to “manipulate the people who have the app into believing certain things or heading in certain directions politically.”
“If you can create social division or exacerbate social division in another country, and paralyze it socially, damage it socially, China wins. It doesn’t mean countries don’t have social problems. It just means that there is a vested interest from Beijing; making those situations worse. And you can do that through apps like TikTok,” she said.
On June 9, the Biden administration revoked former President Donald Trump’s executive orders effectively banning TikTok and WeChat, and required the Commerce Department to conduct its own review of both apps.
Paskal warned that, ultimately, the CCP wants to influence the mind of every individual.
“So, be very aware. You are targeted. The goal now of the Chinese Communist Party is political warfare—which is the front line of its attempt to achieve that number one position in terms of comprehensive national power is your mind,” she said.