Make no mistake, the Chinese government does not do things by mistake. Trade tensions between the US and China have grown substantially during the Trump administration, but China has also been engaging in a bit of a trade war with Australia, with the latest move being a tariff imposed on Australia’s wine — for which China is the largest consumer. This is a big blow. But China is playing a much bigger, longer game than little trade squabbles. This is about China’s future role in the world. From China’s military signaling with India (newsletter #35), to their taking advantage of the US pulling out of the TPP (newsletter #54), China is unquestionably flexing — she fully intends to be a major world power going forward, and that means extending her cultural influence. To do that, she needs to express strength
For years, the developed world has been criticizing China for its human rights violations against the Uighurs. When a week ago, it was discovered that Australian special forces were suspected of being accessory or witness to the murder of 39 Afghan civilians and prisoners, and lying about it in testimony, a spokesman for China’s Foreign Ministry tweeted “shocked by murder of Afghan civilians & prisoners by Australian soldiers,” and included a doctored and provocative image. Again, this doesn’t happen by accident. Of course, Australia’s feathers are ruffled. In fact, Australia is outraged — the government has said, “[the Chinese government] ‘should be totally ashamed of this post, which … diminished Beijing on the world stage.” But of course, developed, Western countries say things like this all the time about China without “diminishing themselves on the world stage,” and this is rather China’s point. They’re part of the big-boy club now. Now, naturally, both India and the US will be keenly interested in the ongoing tension between Australia and China and both will think it their business. China knows this, too, and they can be very subtle in their communication. Not only are they not backing down from the tweet, they’ve doubled-down on it. Hua Chunying, director of the ministry’s department of information said, as part of a longer statement condemning Australia, “Afghan lives matter.” Again, China doesn’t do these things by accident. They sent someone out there to say those specific words, and it is a clear glance at the US and the black-lives matter movement. Just because the US is trading Trump for Biden doesn’t mean that China is going to back down from their accelerated program to be a major world power — and this is going to have global consequences for trade, and supra-regional implications for safety. China is going to keep projecting power — monetarily, militarily, and politically.