June 2020 DIRT Project: Chinese Perceptions of the World Around It


There’s a lot happening in the world right now even without including the COVID-19 pandemic. To say that the international situation is fluid at the moment is a major understatement. The pandemic is creating tension, mistrust, and even open animosity between neighboring nation-states who only a few short months ago enjoyed stable relations. It is also setting the stage for a new era in US-Chinese relations that will start to come about in the not-too-distant future. The perceptions these two nations hold with regards to each other is changing, and the blowback from the China’s involvement in the pandemic is shaping how it perceives its relationships with other sovereign nation-states, as well as the entire international community.

In June we will be examining China’s new perceptions, and misperceptions of the world, its national power, and its long-term geopolitical goals. The pandemic is transforming all of these. As mentioned briefly above, the new shape of the US-China relationship could very well be a collision course between the two of them, whether Beijing and Washington want it or not. From the South China Sea to Africa, the game is changing and becoming more real to US and Chinese policymakers.

Through the month I’ll devote one entry every weekend to China and its perceptions. Regular updates, and entries will continue to be posted as usual. As I also said above, there is a lot going on in the world right now so there’s going to be a lot to examine in the coming weeks.

I hope you all are having a good weekend. 😊 -Mike

China’s Proposed Hong Kong Law Is Setting the Stage For A Showdown


China’s latest power move with regards to Hong Kong’s autonomy has prompted the White House to warn that the US might respond by placing heavy economic sanctions on China. On Friday China introduced draft legislation at the annual session of the National People’s Congress (NPC) that will tighten Beijing’s control of Hong Kong, while simultaneously draining away a large portion of the city-state’s sovereignty. The legislation will introduce national security law in Hong Kong aimed at rooting out secession, subversion, terrorism, and foreign interference. In part this will be achieved by granting Beijing power to set up institutions in the city responsible for ‘defending national security.’ In other words, national law enforcement, and intelligence agencies will operate inside of Hong Kong along with the city’s own law enforcement apparatus.

Voting on the bill is set to take place on 28 May.

Details of the legislation are light for the moment, but many activists, and Hong Kong residents fear the end of the ‘one country, two systems’ principle, and a coming crackdown on the civil liberties of all Hong Kongers. The White House has taken the position that the draft legislation violates the Hong Kong Human Rights and Democracy Act and will trigger sanctions. US officials have already started coming out against the legislation, and its likely President Trump will address the matter following the holiday weekend.

Thousands of Hong Kong residents took to the streets on Sunday protesting the planned law. The protests became violent at times and Hong Kong police used tear gas, and water cannons against the protesters. The demonstration was unauthorized by city officials, and went ahead in violation of the city’s social distancing regulations. As the vote date draws nearer these protests will almost certainly grow in size, and determination. With the future now cast in doubt, many young Hong Kong residents will have nothing to lose by letting the world know their feelings about what Beijing is attempting to do.

The Coming Shape of US-China Relations?


Relations between the United States and China were trending downward even before the COVID-19 pandemic appeared on the horizon. The Trump administration’s China policies have been a far cry from those of preceding administrations, and these policies have played a prime role in creating the toxic atmosphere between the US and China. Now, I am not a China apologist or anti-Trump pundit by any stretch of the imagination. Quite the opposite in fact. So when I say that the current administration’s policies have helped bring about the rift in relations, I am not assessing blame. Again, quite the opposite. 😊

From the start of President Trump’s first term he has played hardball with China on practically everything from trade disparities, to geopolitical matters. The Trump administration’s approach to China is a striking contrast from previous administrations. Whereas the Obama and Bush administrations chose to handle China with kid’s gloves, the Trump administration has come out armed with brass knuckles and swinging. Washington’s primary objective has been reestablishing strategic and economic parity between the US and China.

The hardline US stance shook Beijing, and the Chinese government has been on the defensive practically since January, 2017. In many regards it has been trying to play catch up to the Trump administration in the geopolitical, and economic arenas but without much success. To complicate matters even more, China has been contending with alarming domestic issues even before COVID-19 came into existence. Economic growth was coming to a halt for the first time in decades. This has been exacerbated by the global pandemic, and now it appears the Chinese economy will almost certainly shrink for the first time in decades. Hong Kong erupted in protests last June over an extradition bill allowing the transfer of fugitives to mainland China. Months of protests and violence followed, transitioning to pure political upheaval for a period of time. The pandemic has brought an end to the protesting, but it is temporary. When the world returns to normal the protests will resume again. China has yet to figure out an effective solution to the Hong Kong matter.

The global pandemic has also contributed to the emerging new dynamic in US-China relations. Washington has challenged China’s handling of the initial outbreak, accused it of undermining the World Health Organization, and questioned the numbers of COVID-19 cases and deaths released by China. Beijing’s response has been a mishmash of propaganda, thinly veiled threats, and attempts to distract world attention from the case Washington is trying to make. When the world emerges from the global pandemic, US-China relations are going to be centerstage. For better or worse, the new form of the relationship is presently being shaped by current events. If the US-Chinese dialogue in recent weeks is a sign of what’s to come, relations could be looking at a deep freeze in the not-to-distant future.

The US is Placing China in the Crosshairs


As the tide starts to turn on the COVID-1 pandemic in the United States, so too is the tone of the Trump Administration. With the darkest days likely behind us, the focus is being centered on China, and the many unanswered questions about its discreditable efforts to contain COVID-19 in the early days of the Wuhan outbreak. More directly, President Trump continues to stand by his belief that the coronavirus outbreak originated in a Chinese lab. He has repeated the claim publicly in recent days, and at the same time it has become widely known that US intelligence is conducting a deep investigation to determine the origins of the Wuhan coronavirus, also known as COVID-19. According to the president, an investigation is also underway taking a hard look at how the Chinese government dealt with the virus in the early stages of the outbreak.

To make the relationship between the world’s two most powerful nations even more strained, Trump administration officials are beginning to look at possible punishments for China’s handling of the pandemic. The most significant proposal so far is stripping the PRC of its ‘sovereign immunity’ which would give the US government, and victims of the pandemic the ability to sue China for damages. Another proposal being floated is the US cancelling part of its debt obligation to the PRC. This step would be more trouble than its worth, however. Holding off on interest payments would create serious drag for the dollar and with the global economy in flux due to the pandemic, now is not the ideal time for such a move.

In any event, it is clear now that the United States is moving to put the crosshairs on China. It will be interesting to see what the final results of the investigation are, and how the US decides to respond at the end of the day.

The North Korean Guessing Game


It is called the North Korean Guessing Game and does not cost one red cent to play. Anyone can do it regardless of race, gender, education, or socioeconomic position. In fact, practically everyone is playing, from politicians, to journalists, talking heads on television, and of course, millions of people on social media. So, don’t get left behind. Bone up on North Korea’s leader Kim Jong Un, and current events. Write up an article explaining what you think has happened to Kim and then post it online for all the world to see. Who knows, your theory could end up being correct no matter how dumb it might seem. 😊

Okay, the above paragraph was typed tongue in cheek as I’m sure you can tell. But it does seem that everyone and their mother has a theory on Kim Jong Un’s whereabouts and what is presently going on in North Korea. At this point everyone is jumping in on the action. Even TMZ has thrown its hat into the ring, reporting that Kim is reportedly dead after a botched heart surgery. The funny thing is that TMZ has a pretty accurate record when it comes to reporting celebrity deaths so they could be spot on.

Despite the conjecture, wild theories, and amateurish interpretations of satellite imagery, the facts remain thin. Kim Jong Un has not been seen in public since 11 April. No one outside of the North Korean government can accurately confirm his current whereabouts, or his present health status. Nevertheless, speculation continues to run rampant, and I think its great to see President Trump stir the pot and hint that he might know more about the Kim situation than he lets on. Meanwhile, the South Korean government is bending over backwards to let the world know it believes Kim to be alive and well.

There’s no telling how much more time will pass before solid information about the North Korean leader becomes available. A public sighting would certainly put the speculation to rest once and for all. However, the longer this drags on, the wilder the speculation will become. The US government almost certainly has considerably better intelligence on what’s happening in North Korea than the majority of journalists and self-anointed experts do. The reason for this is simply that the US government has more capable intelligence-gathering tools than do most media outlets, and civilian think tanks. So, unless you have a high-level security clearance, you’re likely going to remain in the dark until the information becomes public.

But don’t let that stop you from playing the North Korean Guessing Game while you wait. As I said above, your theory could wind up being correct. If that’s the case, you are going to come across as a geopolitical genius to your family, friends, and everyone who follows you on Twitter.


Author’s Note: A bit of a light-hearted blog entry today. There’s no point in rehashing the same old information over and over again. Back to business tomorrow. Meanwhile, I hope all of you, and your families are healthy and safe. –Mike