Like the Cuban Americans, some Chinese Americans see in Trump the strongman standing up to the despised communist regimes they fled from. And the Epoch Times, Falun Gong’s mouthpiece, is now a key fixture in the right-wing conservative media ecosystem. The Chinese dissidents’ flirtation with the far right is disconcerting. It is unlikely to yield their intended changes in the PRC and may instead imperil the US.
In many ways, the Falun Gong story is an American one. Like the Pilgrim Fathers, they fled persecution for a safe haven in the new world. And like some of the Christian sects, Falun Gong is a mystical Buddhist offshoot with its variant of apocalyptic belief. America, the founding fathers declared, will be the land of the free, for people of any faiths. And for the most part, religious sects like the Falun Gong relish their liberty in seclusion, shunning outside contact and the spotlight.
Actually, in this singular act of censorship on the president of the US lies the crux of the American saga rooted in a quintessential American value — liberty, or more precisely, unbridled liberty.
Then came the 6 January assault on Washington DC. Instigated by President Trump, himself an outlier, a motley group of far-right militia and white supremacists, evangelical prayer warriors and QAnon shaman, emerged from the fringes to storm the national capital, shaking the republic to its core.
Shocked and perturbed, Twitter finally moved to ban Trump. Actually, in this singular act of censorship on the president of the US lies the crux of the American saga rooted in a quintessential American value — liberty, or more precisely, unbridled liberty.
There are limits to the First Amendment, of course. But sceptical of government, Americans out-sourced the policing to Big Tech. Wedded to the conviction that the best antidote to hate speech is more free speech, the tech giants resisted pressure to restrict expression and was duly accused of providing a platform to extremist groups. When the president is belatedly “de-platformed”, the same tech companies swiftly came under fire for subverting liberty.
Indecision over who should and where to draw the line of permissible speech have left America marooned in a post-truth reality of blurred boundaries between fact and fiction. The country has fractured into hateful halves with both sides denouncing the other of deception and falsehood.
If America’s liberal democracy is too open, laying bare its ills for the world to see, the converse is true of the CCP-PRC one-party-state.
China to unite the US?
A rising China, however, seems to have a coalescing effect on a polarised US. Indeed, Americans across the partisan divide are equally vexed by their country’s diminishing stature, a decline hasten in large part by America’s weaknesses rather than China’s strengths.
China in fact remains an enigma. If America’s liberal democracy is too open, laying bare its ills for the world to see, the converse is true of the CCP-PRC one-party-state. Closed and secretive, China continues to be poorly understood by the world.
Media outlets such as Fox News and Newsmax are making China the convenient bogeyman for America’s ills.
An inscrutable China is a concern. But these justifiable apprehensions are sabotaged by America’s xenophobic reaction to its Asian rival. Media outlets such as Fox News and Newsmax are making China the convenient bogeyman for America’s ills. Trump’s refusal to stop his “China virus” taunt had led to a spike in hate crimes against Asian Americans.
A cloud of suspicion hangs over the Chinese diaspora. Senator Ted Cruz blocked the bill granting refugee status to Hong Kong residents for fear of spies infiltrating America. Within the Chinese exile community, recrimination has begun. Supporters of billionaire businessman Guo Wengui have accused fellow dissident Teng Biao, a human rights scholar, for being a spy for communist China. Earlier, Guo had allied with Steve Bannon to trumpet discredited Hong Kong researcher Yan Li-Meng’s unsubstantiated claims that the coronavirus was a bioweapon manufactured by China.
Disinformation propagated by the Chinese dissidents puts the US government in a predicament. Reining them in would render the US no different from authoritarian China.
Chinese dissidents’ dalliance with the far right does not help matters
Disinformation propagated by the Chinese dissidents puts the US government in a predicament. Reining them in would render the US no different from authoritarian China. Yet letting them slide has consequences beyond US-China ties. Falun Gong’s Epoch Times, for example, is regurgitating the same QAnon conspiracy theories on voter fraud, threatening the very foundation of America’s electoral democracy.
President Biden faces formidable crises at home and abroad. The China issue, in particular, is compounded by former Secretary of State Mike Pompeo’s slew of last-ditch foreign policy measures. Any roll back of these deliberate roadblocks, such as reversing the lifting of constraints on US-Taiwan relations, will play right into the conservative trap: Democrats are soft on China.
Biden must remain firm on China but on his own terms. The new administration has to reject Trump’s “Make America Great Again (MAGA)” world order and Pompeo’s apocalyptic worldview. Biden must discard Trump’s zero-sum calculus and rise to the challenge through constructive engagement with a China that America has to learn to coexist with.
China, for its part, needs to show nuance in its reaction towards America. Beijing should rightly call out and repudiate the sinophobia emanating from segments of the American body polity. But the Chinese ought to also respond in good faith to legitimate concerns. And to work to overcome the deep mistrust affecting the two countries relations.
Risk accompanies any geopolitical reconfiguration. Today’s tension is compounded by domestic dynamics pushing US and China apart, towards opposite extremes. America’s unthinking adulation of freedom is hurling the country to the precipice of anarchy. China, on the other hand, is back-sliding into an increasingly autocratic state as President Xi tightens his reign.
To coexist, both superpowers must pull back from the brink and return to the middle.
To coexist, both superpowers must pull back from the brink and return to the middle. China has to loosen its grip and free up space for greater openness with the world. America, on the other hand, must reckon with its self-inflicted chaos and get a hold on its unruly liberty. This is critical not only because the integrity of the democratic world order is at stake but the viability of the US itself is at risk.
Chinese dissidents escaped China for freedom in the US. But a toxic mix of blind hate against communist China and mindless faith in American exceptionalism have driven some to embrace the extreme far right. This has no transformative effect on the authoritarian regime they fled from but instead is ravaging the liberal democracy they fled to and quashing their American Dream along with it.
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