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A Taste of Our Own Medicine: China Turns Our Rhetoric Against Us by David Boos

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A Taste of Our Own Medicine: China Turns Our Rhetoric Against Us

"The Last G7," a cartoon in the style of "The Last Supper" was published by its artist “Bantonglaoatang” on Chinese social media outlet Sina Weibo during the 2021 G7 meeting. The illustration mocks the G7 meeting as an attempt by the U.S. to rally allies against China in the name of 'Western values.' It depicts nine animals (representing the U.S., the UK, Italy, Canada, Japan, Germany, and France, along with Australia and India) sitting around a table with a Chinese-map-shaped cake on it.

Given the recent juvenile display of the leaders of the Free World™, who managed within 30 seconds to let dresscode banter slide to Boris Johnson’s inviting the media to view his private parts, it may be fair to compare the current West to the Sorcerer’s apprentice and his helplessness in controlling the spirits he has summoned. 

For decades, if not longer, Western foreign policy had opted to put the export of ideological values, rather than openly admitting to strategic interests, at the forefront of its diplomatic efforts. Values like democracy, human rights, women’s rights, the protection of the climate, and others are but some of the ways the West exerted hegemony over large parts of a supposedly post-colonial world. Not always did this lead to war, but the West was always willing to pull one of those cards to exert pressure when needed and pursue its own interests.

“But David,” I hear you say, “the West is the best! It is better for us to export our values, than being ideologically subjugated by others.” It could be argued that this is correct. After all, the heyday of the West saw thousands of Christian missionaries crossing the oceans to the furthest reaches of the earth to spread Christian culture. But our modern morality has since deviated from its Christian roots. While Christianity teaches—among many other things, of course—that humans are inherently imperfect and fallibile, contemporary hypermorality adopts a stance of superiority and dominance. Despite the same old lies about oppressive Christianity, modern identity politics are far more rigid than any ideological course of the past: unsurprising, given their fondness for socialism.

For many years, at least since the fall of the Soviet Union, the oft-referred to ‘Western values’ and their accompanying hypermorality have been a convenient way of keeping international competition in check and maintaining the last say on the world stage. It would be foolish, however, to assume that these made the West particularly popular with the rest of the world. 

The West’s sense of itself as morally superior has generated negative and critical reactions for generations. However, now we observe something new. Other powers in the world have become immune to our brand of moralizing, and are increasingly giving us a taste of our own medicine. 

The most blatant example of this arises in Vladimir Putin’s rhetoric about the “de-nazification” of Ukraine. Now frankly, the Great Patriotic War has never lost its mythological appeal in Russia; that part is consistent and rings familiar to Russians. But, while the myth was always centered around the idea of Nazis sneakily attacking Russia, and Russians heroically repelling them, the notion that Russia should go forth and remove Nazis elsewhere is a new element in Russian rhetoric that seems blatantly adapted from Western obsession with spotting and combatting Nazis everywhere, to this day.

China, for its part, preferred to approach things a bit more subtly for a long time. Partially motivated by a culture that enabled their politicians to talk in analogies about flowers and the beating wings of butterflies, while simultaneously ordering millions of citizens to their death, these days China seems to also rely on its role as the kingpin in their envisioned multipolar world order. The motto ‘speak softly and carry a big stick’ reigned supreme in Chinese foreign policy for many years, emphasizing ‘mutually beneficial trade’ instead of more or less legitimate Chinese interests. But over the past years this has been changing, and it increasingly seems as if the mirror is becoming their preferred rhetorical weapon of choice.

Most recently, the Chinese ambassador to the United Nations, Zhang Jun, held a speech at a meeting of the UN General Assembly on the International Day to Combat Hate Speech on June 20th. In his speech, he stressed China’s support of the United Nations in combating hate speech, but raised three specific concerns that deserve more attention, according to China. His first concern was what he called an “information pandemic” caused by stigmatizing rhetoric and inaccurate information on COVID-19, as a result of which international solidarity and cooperation in fighting the pandemic were disrupted and undermined.

His second concern was the degree of discrimination against African Americans and Asian Americans, which he ascribed to the rise of “extremist ideologies.” The third and last concern was “Islamophobia,” which the envoy said had risen to “epidemic levels.” As a result, the Chinese ambassador called upon countries to “abandon arrogance and prejudice” and instead “respect the concerns of other countries.” He emphasized that the international community cannot tolerate the erosion of the “common values of all mankind” through hate speech. Lastly, he pulled all the stops reminding us that “human beings live in the same global village.”

Suddenly, we are confronted with a Chinese foreign policy that picks up Western talking points and turns them against us, for there can be little doubt who these remarks were aimed at, lest we ignore that only one day later Dai Bing, the deputy permanent representative of China to the UN, also held a speech blaming “hate speech between countries” for the “confrontational feelings around the Ukrainian conflict.” When understood in context of recent statements by China, the implication becomes obvious: the West is guilty of hate speech against Russia, which in turn prolongs the war. The same day, Zhang Jun held another speech as well, in which he called out NATO expansionism as being responsible for the conflict in Ukraine. All at once, the West is staring down the barrel of its own guns, a feeling that might turn from the figurative to the very real if arms deliveries to Ukraine aren’t sufficiently traced.

It is a home-made problem. 

However, the concept of “hate speech” isn’t an intrinsically Western concept. On the contrary, until 2015, hate speech was a topic of relatively local interest in a few African and Asian countries. Google trends show that except for a short spike in early 2013, in which an Indian politician was arrested for spreading hate speech to sow division and ignite a coup, hate speech was a term in which only a few African countries showed constant and fervent interest, with Kenya being an annual front runner in that department.

It was only in the second half of 2015, the year of the great migration crisis in Europe, that hate speech suddenly became a popular search term in the West as well. Some of the remarkable outliers that sparked the increased use of the term were the terrorist attack on Charlie Hebdo in France and the candidacy of Donald Trump. Since then it has seen a steady rise to prominence in the West due to ongoing discussions about introducing hate speech laws, colleges enforcing hate speech guidelines, and Facebook hate speech policies (all three of which are some of the main trending Google searches of the last few years). With that said, the West’s adoption of hate speech was first and foremost applied to increase control of internal dissent. Seeing it now applied on a global scale, and turned against ourselves, must come as a rude awakening for some. Then again, who would have thought that adopting a concept as alien to the Western spirit of free speech as hate speech from countries like Kenya, India, and China, would come back to haunt us?

Hate speech, though, isn’t the only place where we’re being outgunned. With China leading the market for electric cars in production, as well as in usage, it is only a matter of time until some representatives of the CCP will prove that they haven’t forgotten our repeated mocking of the dirty Chinese industry, and might take the chance to fire a few salvos back at us for not living up to our own environmental goals. Germany, whose Green government just reopened a few coal plants to save gas for the coming winter, may see such arrows fired as early as this year, which would add insult to injury.

And it’s not like rhetoric doesn’t matter. These subtle jabs are only one part of an international discourse that is increasingly confrontational to the West. Just as the West used forms of ideological pressure to further its own cause, so others are doing it now to us. It is a brutal reminder that we’re in the process of losing our cultural hegemony in the world (if we haven’t already) and that pestering other countries with ideals we rarely live up to ourselves isn’t working anymore. 

It is high time to rethink the values we want to live by and with which we want to be represented in the world, for only then will we be able to play a relevant role that will both allow us to survive and be a force for good.

Whether the frat boys of the G7 manage to maintain the unipolar world order, unlikely as that may seem, or whether China and its BRICS affiliates establish and stabilize the new multipolar world order, one thing is for sure: hierarchies will continue to exist. The reprimands of other countries about our own shortcomings are a primer of things to come when the West stops being the top dog. 

By looking for inspiration in the grimoires of other civilizations, the West has not only lost what once made it great, it has also resorted to the dark spells of social control used by other masters. With every concept adapted from the rulebook of socialist countries, the West is becoming more vulnerable on the world stage. By relinquishing what made us unique, we have become an apprentice to another master.

David Boos is an organist, documentary filmmaker, and writer for The European Conservative and other publications.