China is now sponsoring a number of conferences in the West. While we should always encourage dialogue, we should also be aware of who we are dealing with
In his Oct. 2 response to my latest article in The Diplomat, Amitai Etzioni, a professor of international affairs at George Washington University and a flag bearer of “communitarianism,” demonstrated that even well intentioned and intelligent individuals can be duped by Chinese political warfare. [Note: I decided to publish my response on this blog rather than on Thinking Taiwan or at The Diplomat to avoid dragging those publications into the dispute. As always, the views expressed here are mine alone.]
What prompted Etzioni’s reaction was my Sept. 23 article, titled “Chinese Propaganda: Coming Soon to a Conference Near You,” which discusses the links between the China Energy Fund Committee (CEFC), a “strategic think tank” which recently co-organized a conference in Washington, D.C., and the PLA’s General Political Department Liaison Department (GPD/LD). As one of the co-organizers of and main speakers at the “Beyond the Current Distrust” conference, held on Oct. 5, Etzioni doesn’t seem to have appreciated the fact that such uncomfortable information was exposed to the public a week prior to the event, or my pointing out that the panels were nakedly stacked in China’s favor.
Leaving aside his preposterous and factually wrong reference to my employer — which was based solely on unnamed “commentators” at the bottom of my initial article, something the 86-year-old professor of sociology should have known not to do — some of Etzioni’s remarks warrant a few words. I do thank the professor for his response, which allows me to clarify my position. (Oddly enough, Etzioni feels compelled to defend his own think tank, of which I make no mention whatsoever in my article. There is something to be said about individuals who have an urge to deflect accusations that were never made in the first place.)
The principal aim of my article was to alert readers, and possibly some individuals who intended to attend the conference, to the fact that the Chinese propaganda apparatus has extremely close connections to the CEFC. Given that China-organized academic conferences in the West are a relatively new phenomenon, it is crucial that society be aware of the origins, goals, and connections of such organizations. When a “strategic think tank” that is headed by a billionaire and former deputy secretary general of the GPD-LD-linked China Association for International Friendly Contacts (CAIFC) claims to be an impartial outlet, it’s important that we know who it is we’re dealing with — and such transparence isn’t exactly a strength of the Chinese.
Let me first state that propaganda isn’t merely “subjective.” In China’s case, as is often the case with Marxist-Leninist regimes, there are institutions, funded by the party/state and staffed with intelligence officers, whose sole remit is to engage in propaganda and information/political warfare, and whose efforts are normally accompanied by heavy censorship. GPD 311 Base (61716 Unit), to which I refer in my article, is an example.
Using hyperlinks to various Chinese-language articles, I also supported my claims about the CEFC with plenty of evidence from my own research, articles by journalists Andrew Chubb and John Garnaut, and the landmark report on Chinese political warfare by Mark Stokes and Russell Hsiao of the Project 2049 Institute.
My objective therefore wasn’t to say that such conferences should not be held, but solely to alert consumers to the likelihood that what they were about to hear presented a very pro-Beijing position on issues ranging from its territorial claims to its attempts to annex Taiwan. Mr. Etzioni may claim all he wants that the CECF didn’t “advocate for the presentation of any particular viewpoint at the conference [or] seek to influence our selection of speakers,” the fact remains that the panel titled “Time to Decide: Contain China or Accommodate It?” only comprised individuals who favor the latter option. And why not? After all, Etzioni himself has sided with the accommodationists and the intellectuals who have made the case for ending U.S. arms sale to Taiwan in the naïve belief that doing so would secure guarantees that Beijing would drop its annexationist designs on the democratic island-nation.
Etzioni seems to have concluded that I was aiming to silence the “doves” and, presumably, of siding with war-hungry militarists. This is the usual trope, which turns logic on its head: call for the defense of democracy or respect for international law, and you’re a “hawk.” And that is where I think we enter sensitive territory with individuals like him. Although I have no doubt that Mr. Etzioni, who says he has seen combat, has pure intentions and wants to encourage dialogue between the U.S. and China, I fear that his noble intentions are being exploited by wolves passing off as doves. With all due respect to the old sociologist, there is nothing “dovish” about an increasingly authoritarian regime that builds military airstrips in the South China Sea, holds a fascist-style military parade to mark the 70th anniversary of the end of World War II in the Pacific, threatens a democratic neighbor with military invasion, occupies two nations and ethnically cleanses them, and that oppresses its own people by locking up dissidents, lawyers, writers and a Nobel Prize winner, and censors its media. I’m not saying we should demonize the CCP, but let’s not kid ourselves: we’re not dealing with doves here.
The CCP has demonstrated a keen talent for identifying individuals — prominent academics, retired generals and so on — who can be manipulated to further the Chinese cause. Some are conscious that this is happening; others, customarily known as “useful idiots,” aren’t. I believe that Mr. Etzioni falls in the latter category, and that his indignant reaction to my article stems from the all-too-understandable resentment at being proven to have been duped by the CCP.