Microsoft billionaire Bill Gates’ energetic defense of how the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) handled the Wuhan coronavirus pandemic might have been an eye-opening moment for many Americans.
The truth is that Beijing has been working on subverting globalist billionaires and Western Big Tech culture since the early days of “economic engagement” with that authoritarian regime.
The game of global influence the CCP is playing while its pandemic ravages the world is a game it spent decades preparing for, while the people of the West are still trying to figure out the rules and measure the stakes.
Gates raised eyebrows this week by denouncing efforts to hold the CCP responsible for the pandemic it unquestionably unleashed as a “distraction” in which “a lot of incorrect and unfair things” have been said about the Communist regime. He asserted that “China did a lot of things right at the beginning.”
Chinese state media immediately declared Gates a hero, a sensible opponent of “bizarre rumors” spread by American critics of the CCP and their “crazy followers,” and began repeating his comments in its propaganda broadcasts, an outcome Gates surely must have known was coming. Anyone who has the slightest experience with the CCP knows that it assiduously studies Western media, pounces on every political and social stress point it detects, and celebrates Westerners who toe the Communist Party line as heroes. This is the murderous regime that claims Americans have no right to criticize it for herding the Uyghur Muslims into concentration camps because we’re still having arguments about racism in our country.
It is especially jarring to hear anyone associated with Big Tech defending the CCP, because its sins were crimes against information: concealing the coronavirus for as long as possible, punishing doctors in Wuhan who tried to speak out, propagating dangerously false information through the World Health Organization (WHO), and posting laughably false numbers about coronavirus infections and deaths.
One of the basic laws of the information revolution is GIGO – Garbage In, Garbage Out. The best system produces faulty results when pumped full of bad data. The CCP pushed garbage data into the global health system. Every leader who took the CCP or W.H.O. seriously, including U.S. President Donald Trump and his top officials, is now being savaged for slow and weak responses to the Wuhan pandemic.
It is not surprising to see tech moguls and international business tycoons acting as spokespeople for Beijing. The hideous mistake made by the Western world three decades ago was embracing the globalist faith that “engagement” with democracies will liberalize tyrannies over time. The exact opposite is true. The CCP aggressively uses every bit of economic leverage it has been given to influence media and politics in the Western world, making them more friendly to authoritarianism.
We are becoming more like them, not the other way around, and the process begins at the top because the CCP holds a great deal of sway over our captains of industry and commanders of mass media.
The crudest manifestation of this influence is what students of China’s rise have dubbed “sharp power”: threatening foreign companies with the loss of Chinese investment or access to the surging Chinese marketplace if they do not comply with the CCP’s political agenda. Traditionally, “hard” power is military force and “soft” power means diplomacy. Sharp power is diplomacy, or else.
Wealthy globalists know perfectly well that Beijing can cost them billions with the snap of a Communist apparatchik’s fingers. They submitted to China’s rampant technology theft because it was the price of doing business in China. They will abandon Western notions of free speech without much objection when the CCP orders them to change their websites to remove “offensive” references to Taiwan or alter retail merchandise that seems to challenge Beijing’s territorial claims. The CCP is already enforcing censorship demands on Western speech about the coronavirus pandemic that it doesn’t like.
No brave stands are made by corporate moguls in free countries when the CCP tells them to sacrifice their freedom or face steep penalties. These companies have simply accepted, and increasingly internalized, the primacy of the CCP’s political agenda over Western values. The same is true of activists and non-governmental organizations. Environmentalists have nothing to say about China’s carbon emissions or endangered species on the bill of fare at the infamous wet markets. There would be steep costs, but no political profit, for them in doing battle with Beijing.
The threats don’t even have to be made explicitly anymore. Every company with interests in China has circulated memos with very strict instructions about referring to Taiwan, Tibet, and every rock in the South China Sea as Chinese possessions. It’s been a while since there was a controversy over a corporate “mistake” that enraged Beijing.
The corruption of authoritarianism is painfully obvious in Big Tech, whose business model is all about interfacing different systems and moving information globally. The lesson we should learn now, the painful truth we should have understood at the dawn of the Information Age, is that large systems tend to sink to the lowest common denominator of control. Those who act most aggressively to push their demands gain the most influence over the entire system. Information products are tailored to satisfy the market with the toughest censorship standards. No one wants to spend millions on a video game or movie that cannot be sold in China.
Corporate leaders do not like thinking about the moral compromises necessary to do business with a regime like China’s. The CCP knows this, so its propaganda arm works tirelessly to provide Western partners with more comfortable ways of thinking about their relationship.
Nobody making money in China wants to talk about forced labor or the brutal suppression of political dissent. When the CCP suggests they talk instead about global interdependence, “win-win cooperation,” and the unique achievements of Chinese culture, they listen. The latest comforting framework of thought provided to the CCP’s business partners, as espoused by Gates, is to focus on beating the global menace of the coronavirus instead of dwelling on who unleashed it.
The CCP has a tendency to lay out all of its political arguments that way: Opposing us is expensive and difficult. You’ll be called a racist, a nativist, an isolationist by your media. We have become an inescapable element of globalism, so if you want to remain globalist in your outlook, you need to make your peace with us.
Chinese dictator Xi Jinping’s addresses to international forums make this argument explicitly in relatively high-minded terms, while his state media can scarcely write an editorial without lapsing into thuggish threats, pausing only to express the CCP’s heartfelt regrets about the terrible fate that will befall any nation that defies it.
Not all of the CCP’s influence over Western moguls comes from arm-twisting and veiled threats. There is a certain ideological convergence at work. As noted above, the CCP aggressively argues that embracing globalism requires accepting the Chinese Communist agenda, while resistance equals isolationism. Isolationism is one of the “isms” Western elites wish to avoid being accused of, along with racism and sexism. They are increasingly uneasy about being accused of capitalism.
The Western left has been flirting with “enlightened” authoritarianism for a long time, an attraction the CCP knows how to exploit by flattering the intellectual vanity of the elite. The Obama years saw left-wingers daydreaming about how much President Barack Obama could accomplish if he enjoyed the powers of Xi Jinping. The Left’s romantic ideal of the enlightened strongman who Gets Things Done runs back through its worship of monsters like Fidel Castro to the early 20th Century intellectuals who swooned over Mussolini and even Hitler. It doesn’t take much prodding by the CCP to get people who think like that to see Xi Jinping as the wise despot the 21st Century needs.
Look at the rash of American media stories over the past few weeks urging a second look at the virtues of Chinese tyranny. CNN mused that China’s model “has been blamed for the coronavirus crisis, but for some it’s looking increasingly attractive,” with the heavy implication that blaming China is less reasonable than admiring it.
The Atlantic argued that Chinese censorship has conquered the Internet and “speech will never go back to normal” because the pandemic taught Big Tech to appreciate the importance of banning “wrong” speech and carefully monitoring all citizens. Free speech is dead, and Beijing killed it; a few of us are just lingering around the corpse to pay our respects before following Xi’s lead into a future of enlightened surveillance and control.
Big Tech and Big Business are heavily influenced by Big Media. The three are well down the path of blurring into one. There is no tech bigger than China’s state-run technology-stealing corporations, no business bigger than a Chinese industrial machine controlled by the Communist Party, and no media bigger than Beijing’s vast army of censors and propagandists. Western elites see more to admire, more to emulate, and much more to fear from the CCP than anything the deplorables are doing in the heartland with their inalienable rights. For the right price, with the right amount of flattery, with the right application of sharp power, everything is alienable.
Disengaging from China would be hideously expensive. Confronting its media operation would be exhausting. Challenging it from the floor of international bodies would be hard work, and it might require applauding the virtues of democracy, capitalism, and Western civilization. The CCP’s narrative of coronavirus heroism is much easier to swallow than the dangerous truth. Big Tech wants to use the immense power it has accumulated, not be tied down by Lilliputians squeaking about their rights to privacy and free expression. News organizations don’t want to risk getting kicked out of Beijing. Hollywood can’t hit billion-dollar jackpots without Chinese money.
Why are people who made billions off the free market so willing to parrot the line from Beijing? Simple: because they see little profit in parroting the countless confusing lines emanating from the rambunctious populations of their own countries.