The only time I saw a wild beast was in the primeval forests of Tibet in the 1980s. A leopard was prowling up a hill about 70 or 80 meters from our camp. It was at sunset. As the leopard moved, it frequently stopped and turned to look at our camp. We watched it nervously. Even after it went far, we still used a spyglass to track it. Its intimidating yet carefree strength left a deep impression on me.
As a Tibetan proverb put it, the creatures that appear the most ferocious are actually the least of one’s fears. This is gleaned from age-old hunting wisdom. The more alert and aggressive an animal shows, the less attacking power it has, since these animals are usually at the lower end of the food chain.
There is a similar saying in Vietnam: “Shelled animals have no bones.” It means that the harder they are on the outside, the softer they are on the inside.
In the past two years, as the Chinese communist regime buckles down on its official positions, it has adopted an increasingly belligerent attitude that reflects its deep inner weakness.
The Chinese Communist Party (CCP) media has more and more resorted to language such as the “bottom line,” the “red line,” or “inviolable core interests.” This refers to issues like Taiwanese or Hong Kong independence,unrest in Tibet and Xinjiang, religious freedom, North Korea, the South China Sea disputes, internet censorship, the crackdown on human rights lawyers, the one-party dictatorship, universal values, Party ideology and the like.
Whoever questions the Party is considered in league with the foreign or “anti-China” forces. If the criticism comes from abroad, those countries are considered to be interfering in China’s internal affairs. If it comes from the Chinese people, it is “subversion of state power.”
This is all an empty show of force. Speaking from the perspective of political science, when a regime sets all sorts of “bottom lines,” it means that it suffers all sorts of weaknesses that are open to be exploited by its opponents.
The CCP’s habitual aggression over its nearly 70 years of rule have consistently manifested as symptoms of its weakness. For example, during the Cultural Revolution, not only Chinese could could victimized, but foreigners as well. If someone from Hong Kong wearing a “counter-revolutionary” hairstyle was seen on the streets, they would have their hair cut off all the same. The Chinese at the time were much more fanatical than they are today, and they lived in one of the world’s poorest countries.
The world’s political situation has entered a new era this year. The experiences of the past five or six decades are wholly unable to explain how things will unfold in the future. The turning point is in Sino-U.S. relations: in the past the relationship could be considered cooperation with small conflicts; now it has come to conflict with small amounts of cooperation.
This situation is really China’s own doing, but I will not go into details here. One thing is certain that in this confrontation, every one of China’s “bottom lines” and “red lines” represents a weakness and will end up becoming an opportunity for the United States. The Taiwan issue is just starting to take effect, and will be soon followed by Tibet and Xinjiang.
I should also mention the situation in North Korea. In the past, the United States saw China as the key to solving the North Korean problem, but now the reverse is becoming true: North Korea will become the key to dealing with China. Earlier, there was a great deal of speculation about how the U.S. and South Korean militaries were holding exercises to simulate decapitation strikes against the North Korean leadership. I think this won’t happen: a valuable tool like North Korea won’t be wasted so easily!