Show NotesGordon Chang and I sit down to talk about the important geopolitical and strategic issues at stake with China, the United States and Russia...
Eposode TranscriptMatt Whitaker [00:00:06] Welcome to Liberty and Justice with your host Matt Whitaker, thanks for joining me. I look forward to seeing many of you at CPAC coming up next week. But first, a very interesting discussion as we conclude the Winter Olympics in Beijing, China. Gordon Chang and I sit down and talk about the important geopolitical and strategic issues at stake with China, the United States and Russia. I'm joined by Gordon Chang today on Liberty and Justice, thanks for having being with us today, Gordon.
Gordon Chang [00:00:40] Thank you so much, Matt.
Gordon Chang [00:00:41] Yeah, this is I've been looking forward to this as I conceived the show this year, one of my very first guests because I think so much of what you talk about and what you know is relevant to what's happening in our world today. So, you know, you are a preeminent expert on the subject of China. You spent over two decades living in China, and now you are obviously many people watching this know that you are an outspoken critic of the especially the Communist Party in China and how they run it. And this is relevant because obviously the Olympics happened and happening and so many other things related to China. So let's let's let's talk quickly about what was China hoping to get out of the Olympics and what did they get out of the Olympics in hosting both the summer and the Winter Olympics so close together?
Gordon Chang [00:01:39] Yeah, the Summer Olympics in 2008 were China's coming out party and they were entirely successful. And Xi Jinping, who is now China's leader, was on the Politburo Standing Committee. He was waiting to be named China's top guy. And that actually happened at the end of 2012 because he did have a good Olympics. Now, fast forward, we're in Beijing again, its Winter Olympics 2022 and China is not trying to say we've come out and actually are now on the world stage. China is trying to intimidate everybody else, saying, Look how powerful we are. And that message is not resonating around the world. It's a message that people abhor. This has been an unmitigated disaster for China, at least outside of China. And I think Xi Jinping is going to take a lot of heat for this. They, of course, will portray this as a successful games inside the People's Republic. But I don't think the senior leaders in the Communist Party think that way, especially those who are out to get see Jinping. So he's going to have a little bit of trouble going into the 20th National Congress at the end of this year, where he wants a precedent breaking third term as general secretary and for this and a lot of other reasons. He just might not get it, despite everyone thinking that he's going to be named dictator for life.
Matt Whitaker [00:03:05] Yeah, and we're going to get into that and I'm looking forward to that discussion later in this interview. What specifically can you point to? That has been the the disaster of this Olympics? What is it, the medal count? Is it just the sort of the look and feel with no fans and masks in the reminder that this the corona virus came from China? Why don't you talk about that?
Gordon Chang [00:03:30] Two things. First of all, because the Olympics are in China and is given a platform to critics and especially genocide. China is committing genocide and crimes against humanity against the Uighurs, the Kazakhs and other Turkic minorities. So this is a detention of perhaps 3.3 million people. We know people are being killed inside of those camps. And we know that because China actually put a crematorium, built a crematorium between two of these internment facilities. But it's also been as a government policy torture, rape, slavery, forced organ harvesting, the imprisonment of children in other facilities. These are atrocities that are comparable to those of the Third Reich prior to the mass extermination that began in 1941. You know, a lot of people might say that, oh, this is like the 1936 Berlin Olympics where you have Hitler presiding. This is actually worse because first of all, what China is doing now is worse than what the Third Reich did in 1936, but also because the world didn't really have a. It was a different world. There wasn't social media, the media networks, the mainstream media networks were not global. But we do today, so we know what's going on inside China. And to hold the Olympics there with our knowledge is shame on us. Now, the second reason why this is a debacle for China is because of the treatment of athletes. China insisted on extremely strict COVID 19 protocols, far stricter than what the IOC wanted, and by applying those strict protocols, a number of foreign athletes, not Chinese ones, but foreign athletes have been essentially put in cages. The rooms are so small they can't exercise. They're getting obviously inadequate food. The food is inadequate in quantity, and the food is also inadequate in quality. And this has led to a number of athletes posting what they've been eating. And it's been they've been posting on the treatment that they have had, and this has moved the IOC International Olympic Committee to act. So this is something the world does not like to see. And by the way, just recently, a few hours ago, you had a Finnish athlete post a flood inside the Olympic Village, showing that the construction was completely not up to standards because water is pouring out of the ceiling out of the light fixtures, all the rest of it. This really shows the horrible conditions that all the athletes have been subjected to.
Matt Whitaker [00:06:11] Well, what talk about how that plays out over the long term? Because, as you said, China is going to play this inside game where they control the media, they control the message and the people of China are going to believe that this was a great event. But like you said, it's the elites. The people that control the Communist Party and the leadership are seeing this because they have obviously access to better information than the populous. But certainly the rest of the world is seeing this. Is this going to, you know, China's standing in the world clearly they are trying to become a superpower. They would like to, you know, match us or beat us at the preeminence as a superpower. How is this, you know, really pulling back the curtain unsuccessfully and showing what their country is like? How is that going to affect their alliances, their negotiations with with partners and just kind of generally their relationship with the world?
Gordon Chang [00:07:12] You know, my sense is that people are starting to look at China more closely because a lot of people don't, you know, China is not an important issue for most people, nor should it be in a sense. But people are starting to see China and they're starting to ask questions and they're starting. I think to ask the question is China able to be a responsible stakeholder in the international system? As Robert Zoellick said in 2005, and people are starting to see the danger in China because it is a horrible regime and people are starting to ask the question, Well, if they're that bad with the Olympics, then how are they going to be on other things? So I think that's just the general global conversation. But as you point out, there are other, more specific groups. Communist Party leaders have been waiting to pounce on June 10 for various reasons. Xi Jinping took a consensual political system where nobody got too much credit or too much blame because every decision of consequence was shared across the political spectrum. That's not true anymore. Because Xi Jinping grabbed power when he grabbed power, he ended up with accountability. Also, Xi Jinping increased the cost of losing political struggles by jailing his opponents. So Xi Jinping is in a fragile situation. You know, he's got a lot of power, but he's created enemies who are just waiting for a chance to get back at him. And these Olympics starting to provide that because there are a couple of narratives inside China that are not playing very well out of the Olympics. And one of them is that China's teams tend to be foreigners. And this, of course, with the this, this gets Americans because we've got some Americans there, but it's also playing poorly inside of China because some of these foreign athletes are not performing very well. So, for instance, the skater Ju Yi, who renounced her American citizenship. She has been severely criticized throughout Chinese social media. And then you have the hockey team composed Americans and other foreigners, mostly foreign, and this hockey team is being beaten up by everybody, including the good old USA, which which defeated them eight ZIP. But they've been defeated by everybody else as well. So these are things that I think that senior leaders who want to get and see jumping can get them at. And obviously, some of these other narratives have gotten out into Chinese society. Yeah.
Matt Whitaker [00:09:46] And do you think that the hope by Xi Jinping and other leaders was that they could cobble together? Maybe they thought they had enough time to cobble together all of the sports to be competitive, maybe to win the medal count? Certainly, that had to be what their desire was. And like you said, they they did it with, you know, foreign players, some Americans. I mean, the hockey team is a prime example where, you know, in anticipation of the Olympics, this this KHL, which is the Russian hockey team, European Professional Hockey League, I'm sorry, the KHL, mostly Russians, you know, mostly Russian teams. They created a Chinese team in that Chinese team is essentially what is playing in this Olympics. And but it includes a lot of foreign players, as you would expect, because there's not a lot of Chinese born hockey players and they have to grow that over 100 years like Canada and the U.S. and Slovakia and Sweden and all that, you know, the teams that are there that are dominant. And it's it's really kind of blown up in their face. And is that just the poor planning or is it point to a deeper failure of the Chinese of a man's imagination?
Gordon Chang [00:11:04] I think people are starting to say deeper failure. And the reason is there's this this goes to the issue of why China doesn't succeed at soccer, despite great effort on the part of the regime and people are starting to say, Well, is there something in Chinese culture that prevents teamwork? And this is a fascinating question. I don't think there's anything in Chinese culture that does it. This is just a failure of the Communist Party, but they're starting to ask the same thing with regard to the hockey team because it's also a team sport and it's also failing.
Matt Whitaker [00:11:36] You know, I think the the hockey team is a microcosm for really some of the other challenges. You know, there's there's a lot of directions I want to go, but you mentioned something about Xi Jinping. And so let's get into his desire to be emperor for life. What did he see throughout Chinese history that made him want to continue beyond his 10 years or his four to five year terms? And what has he done to consolidate that power? And at the same time, what did he overestimate or miscalculate the appetite and his ability to hold it all together?
Gordon Chang [00:12:12] He's looking back at two periods in Chinese history. The first one is the beginning of the People's Republic, started in 1949. Mao Zedong, considered to be the founder of modern China, as they call it, was a monster. And Xi Jinping reveres it, so we can see hints of Mao's policies in Sea Jinping's. So, for instance, the common prosperity program that was announced last year. But Xi Jinping is also looking back at two millennia of imperial rule, where Chinese emperors believe that they not only had the mandate of heaven over Tenisha or all under heaven, but that heaven compelled them to rule all of TMC. And so Xi Jinping, in his writings and in his speeches, recycles these imperial themes of worldwide Chinese rule. And, of course, Chinese officials, they were much more explicit than he is. But, for instance, Chinese space officials, especially since about twenty eighteen, have been talking about the Moon and Mars as sovereign Chinese territory. So this is a harkening back to a period of just sort of global Chinese ambitions. And that's what is driving Xi Jinping, and that's what makes him dangerous. You know, Matt, I don't care that Sea Jinping wants China to be number one. Every leader of every country should want to be number one, and that's part of our Westphalian global international order in place. And sixteen, forty eight, everybody competes and everybody should want to be powerful. Problem was Xi Jinping is that he wants to take down the international system and even worse, he wants to. He's been using tactics that are malicious, that are criminal, that are vicious. So for instance, although we don't know where SARS-CoV-2 came from the pathogen that causes COVID 19, we know that Xi Jinping deliberately spread it beyond China's borders. That's 5.8 million people that he has killed. And by the way, that happens to be a genocide as defined under Article two of the Genocide Convention of 1948, to which China is a party. But the point here is that it's not so much competition. Competition is inherent in our Westphalian international order. It's what China is trying to do to compete and what China is trying to do to bring down at the international system.
Matt Whitaker [00:14:41] We're going, where are they now in their ability to project power? Who, where, where? What's their sphere of influence? Where are they projecting power? And you know, I guess the follow on question is where are they going from current their current position?
Gordon Chang [00:15:04] That's a great question, Matt. And their pretension is to project power around the world. And in fact, they're doing a pretty good job of it. In a sense, part of Chinese statecraft is intimidation, and they've obviously intimidated a lot of people, including a lot of Americans who should know better. So for instance, we have a Pentagon that believes that we cannot militarily contain China. And so therefore, there's a fair amount of defeatism in the upper reaches of our military. And there's certainly defeatism in our political system, as well as Wall Street and corporate boards. But when you look at China, it is actually a fragile state for a lot of reasons. So although China has been very successful in projecting power because of the image of power, I don't believe that it will be able to sustain that for a lot of reasons. There's, you know, it can run through the list of them. But the one thing that people are starting to talk about is demography. China, which probably has somewhere about one point four one billion people, as it claimed in its last national census, taken in November and December of last year. But Chinese demographers are talking about the country losing half its population by twenty sixty five. And if you just do the arithmetic, China probably will have one third the number of people that it now has at the turn of the century. This is the most rapid demographic decline in history in the absence of war disease. When you add in the debt crisis, food crisis, the environmental crisis, China is a state that can't meet its challenges.
Matt Whitaker [00:16:47] And you had predicted, and I think you continue to believe that the the Communist Party especially is not sustainable into the long term on what what look in your your crystal ball and tell us where you think their challenges are. Because as I as I look at this and I when I was at the Department of Justice in the Trump administration, I went to China as as an envoy to try to get them to do less in the production of fentanyl. I wanted them to schedule the precursors to knock off what they were doing, which was a tacit, you know, destabilization of the United States through through fentanyl, quit stealing our intellectual property. And then also, you know, we have I don't know if it's a million, but we have certainly hundreds of thousands of Chinese citizens that they won't take back that have either committed crimes or are here illegally or otherwise, that they just won't repatriate like a first world country would. And so, you know, I saw this firsthand when I was at the Department of Justice is to kind of how they don't follow the norms and the conventions of of a of a first world nation. But we're look in your crystal ball. What do you predict as we as we go forward out of this Communist Party and their grip on power?
Gordon Chang [00:18:13] Yeah. Well, my crystal ball has been wrong. I mean, in 2001, I wrote the book The Coming Collapse of China, and I predicted the Communist Party would fail within a decade. So we're well past the middle of 2011 now. What happened is the 2008 global downturn for various reasons, gave the Communist Party a renewed lease on life. But I've been wrong about timing, so I'm probably the last person to ask about crystal ball stuff, but I don't think they're are going to contribute. Yeah, I don't. I actually don't think that they can continue this too much longer, as if we have a president like President Trump who is willing to defend the US. You know, take fentanyl, which you mentioned, this is critically important. Remember these fentanyl gangs in China that make the precursors? And in some cases, actually make the final product? These fentanyl gangs are large. They're well-organized, and in a near total surveillance state, Beijing knows what's going on. So, and in many cases, local Communist Party officials are actually profiting from these gangs. So what we should be doing is saying to China, this is deliberate. This is, you know, Americans are being killed. You want these Americans killed, this is murder. We're going to hold you responsible for that because that is what's going on. And it's not just the the front end of the fentanyl gangs. Fentanyl money from Chinese gangs is recycled through money laundering coalitions. And these are increasingly Chinese these days because with burner phones and apps, they're able to move large amounts of money through the Chinese financial system quickly. Remember, this is a state owned system, so Beijing knows about that as well. So when you run a near-total surveillance state, you can't say, Oh, you know, I don't know what's going on. Of course they do, and we should be holding them accountable. So because Americans are dying? Yeah, I think so.
Matt Whitaker [00:20:21] I think another interesting topic and you know, we there's so much in your you have such a rich knowledge on these topics that I any time I get your time to talk. I always take advantage of it. And I'm sure you get tired of me asking these questions, but I never get tired of talking about it. So thank you. If I'm Japan, if I am South Korea, if I'm anyone in that kind of Pacific Rim, in that sphere of influence where China can truly project power, you know, they certainly are worried. And you know, Japan is, you know, obviously worried about what China is going to do. But I want to specifically talk about Taiwan. You know, let's let's look at what is China doing as it relates to Taiwan and is a move to invade ultimately on the table? Or is it going to be a more sophisticated operation?
Gordon Chang [00:21:15] China has never taken force off the table, and so we've always got to be concerned about that and indeed, you know, these Chinese flights to the air defense identification zone, although although they fly through international airspace, it's considered to be hostile when you don't notify the state that you're flying through their edu's. But also a week ago, there was an unidentified craft, a Chinese for sure that actually penetrated Taiwan's sovereign airspace. So we are seeing increasingly belligerent tactics. Now, the issue of whether China will actually invade Taiwan is obviously very important to us. It is, I think, more a question of we know what China wants to do. They want to absorb Taiwan. But the United States can prevent it. And the United States can prevent it with resolute policies. And so the issue is really, you know, will China invade is almost an American question as much as it is a Chinese one? Just a couple of things that people don't talk about because there's a lot of defeatism in the Pentagon saying, Oh, you know, we can't do anything. If China decides to invade, well, we can deter China. And there are a couple of reasons why. For Xi Jinping to invade Taiwan, he's got to give some general or admiral, almost complete control over the People's Liberation Army. And that makes that flag officer the most powerful figure in China. And Xi Jinping is not about to do that for a lot of reasons some historical, some relating to see Jinping himself. Second thing is, China right now is extremely casualty averse, far more casualty averse than the United States. And we can see this in their reaction to their casualties in India now. I don't think that the people in China really want an invasion of Taiwan for a lot of reasons I think would be politically unpopular. And if it were unsuccessful, it would lead to the fall of the Communist Party. And Xi Jinping knows that, so it's easy for us to deter. We tend to think of China as much more powerful than it actually is. But when you look at the metrics, we're a far more we're far stronger society than China is. It's just that we've been intimidated. If I can just go on for one second. And that is we go back to the nineteen seventies, we had Nixon and Kissinger saying, Oh, we have to live with the Soviet Union. They're so powerful. We need detente. And so we had defeatist foreign policy then as well that a guy whose name I believe was Ronald Reagan, was it Ronald Reagan who actually came in and said, We win, they lose. We're going to prevail. And guess what we did because we're America and we can use our power. And unfortunately, we have not had American presidents willing to use the full extent of their powers to protect the United States of America, especially the guy who the current occupant of the Oval Office.
Matt Whitaker [00:24:27] Gore knew this. Going to make one comment, and then I really I think that what you just said there is is a good segue way to the next topic, but one one of the things I was just thinking as you were talking, especially about the the substandard construction of the Olympic venues and the in the athletes village and all those kind of things makes me think that even though they have tanks and ships and and all the sort of appearances of a powerful military. The question is, are they really functional and could they be used in their full force? If you know, if they're substandard, you know, manufacturing techniques would come to bear, that's that's that's a that's a comment. And I don't, you know, we don't have the time today to answer that.
Gordon Chang [00:25:12] But could I just say two things? One thing very quickly and that is, remember, China has a political military. It's got two lines of command one military, one political, and the political one is more important. You can't run a war that way. The last time China tried to run a war, it got beaten by Vietnam. It's China's first string got beaten by Vietnam's third string. Now, China is fearsome from a military point of view, but it's not as fearsome as people in that five sided building and in Arlington, Virginia, think right?
Matt Whitaker [00:25:45] But let's talk about you mentioned Russia. You mentioned Reagan defeating Russia without really a shot being fired. If you proxy wars here and there. What this alliance coming out of the Olympics of Putin and Xi President Xi, what did you make of that? And is that should that be of concern or is this just a couple of, you know, JV players uniting and still aren't going to be able to compete on the varsity?
Gordon Chang [00:26:11] I take a view that China and Russia a fearsome combination. You know, a lot of very smart people say, Well, you know, China and Russia have conflicting interests. And of course, that's true. And if we're talking about one hundred years from now, China and Russia probably are not going to be playing on the same side. But that's irrelevant. It's irrelevant because right now they are forming a durable relationship and an alliance in effect. And we saw this on February 4th, when Putin actually talked to see Jinping for almost three hours on the before the opening ceremony of the Olympics. And what they announced, I think was important. Not only were the words that they're saying, we have a no limits partnership, no area of cooperation is forbidden. Putin announced one hundred and seventeen point five billion dollars in oil and gas deals. That's the one thing that Putin needs in order to invade Ukraine. He needs China's economic support because the Biden administration has said, Look, we're not going to contain you militarily. We are going to impose sanctions. That threat of sanctions from Biden doesn't mean anything if Putin believes that China will backfill, as our State Department calls it. Now these new deals that were announced on February 4th, they're not going to start gas and oil flowing for two years. But I think the signal was that under existing oil and gas deals, China will support Russia. And that means Putin, if he wants to invade Ukraine, has the economic backing to do so. So that's why we should be concerned. Yeah.
Matt Whitaker [00:27:48] Well, in the final minutes that we have together, I want you as deep and as complex as you can explain to me and the folks that are that are watching or listening to this where Xi Jinping is, is has his 10 year term up in soon and he's going to go for a third and unprecedented really in modern times term. And that would, you know, the Constitution. My understanding has been changed in China to allow for this and allow him to do that. Talk about where, you know, the powers that are aligned against him, talk about the powers that are with him. And really the internal politics of this very important moment in, you know, really in the future of the Chinese Communist Party.
Gordon Chang [00:28:39] We are seeing signs of discord at the top of the Communist Party, and these things don't happen in the absence of intense infighting, so we know that's going on. We have some sense of what's occurring, but it is an opaque system, so we don't have all of it. But this infighting is more severe than it would normally be in the run up to a National Congress, which the Communist Party will hold, probably at the end of this year. I think this means that Xi Jinping right now realizes that if he doesn't get his third term, it's not like he's just out of power and retires. That's not the Chinese system anymore. Xi Jinping changed that system so that if you, you know, if you fall from power, you not only lose your position, you lose your freedom, you lose your assets. And maybe even going back to Maoist times, you could lose your life. That means seizure. Peng has a very low threshold of risk. That means he could do things which don't make sense, at least from our perspective, which means he can take us by surprise. And whether the issue is Taiwan or something else, he can take us by surprise. Remember that he deliberately released coronavirus beyond his borders. He lied about contagiousness. And while he was locking down his own country, he was pressuring other countries, including the US, not to impose travel restrictions and quarantines on arrivals from China. Well, he's killed now about nine hundred and ten thousand Americans and five point eight million people around the world, and there's been no cost imposed on China. So there's no deterrence. So at a time when his risk factors are pointing in one direction, it mean the international community has not put up opposition to what he's been doing, which means he could very well roll the dice and say, Look, you know, if I'm going to die anyway, at least give me a chance. You know, I'm going to attack X, Y or Z. And that can change the international system as his friend Vladimir Putin puts pressure on Ukraine or other places in Eastern Europe. So we could have conflicts at both ends of the European landmass at the same time. It could be their proxies North Korea, Pakistan, Iran, Algeria. So we could have conflict all over, which means that we're not prepared. I think mentally to think about how the world can change in just an instant.
Matt Whitaker [00:31:07] Yeah. Well, Gordon Chang, thank you so much for joining me today on Liberty and Justice. Why don't you tell our viewers and listeners where they can learn more about what you're up to and keep track of all your important media hits? Discussing these topics,
Gordon Chang [00:31:26] I tweet and Gordon Chang, Geordie, O, N, G, C and G. And my website is W W W Dot Gordon Chang dot com, where archive all my articles for free. So that's how to get a hold of me. All right. And of course, on your show as well.
Matt Whitaker [00:31:45] Well, we'll make sure we put that in the show notes, and I really appreciate your time. And I look forward to seeing you at C-PAC in next week, I believe. And I really can't wait to see you and your lovely wife. So thanks for being on our show.
Gordon Chang [00:32:01] Thank you so much, Matt. I really, really appreciate it.
Matt Whitaker [00:32:08] I want to thank Gordon Chang for joining me on Liberty and Justice. What a great discussion. We covered so many important topics. And I know, like you, I found it to be a very interesting and helpful discussion, shining a light on the current geopolitical issues surrounding China, the Olympics and its relationship with Russia. Next week, we'll have another great episode of Liberty and Justice, and I will see you at CPAC. Take care and God bless. Liberty and justice with Matt Whitaker.