Putting on the mainland thinking cap

Management consultant-turned-commentator James Quan (全軍) may have gotten himself out of China, but getting China out of him has proved difficult, if not impossible. Coming from a country where deceit is part of everyday life, he finds it unbelievable that in his adopted country of Canada, supermarkets don’t sell overripe fruits to unsuspecting customers: every time he peels the label off a fruit, he discovers that labels are labels, and not, as they are in mainland, a means to hide the parts of fruits that have spoiled.

With the ascension of Biden as president, however, Quan’s instincts for assuming the worst of situations are kicked into high gear. Most of those in the anti-CCP crowd have zeroed in on those measures of Biden’s that are manifestly CCP-friendly: he has allowed the rule prohibiting US companies from investing in Chinese firms with military ties to take effect four months later ; granted the secretary of energy 90 days to reconsider a Trump ban on buying parts from Chinese companies, therefore giving China 90 more days to sell equipment to US companies that build the country’s power grid system ; dropped the requirement for US schools to report their ties with the Confucius Institute; suspended legal action against WeChat and TikTok. But Quan, thanks to his prior experience of advising Chinese state-owned companies, can spot even the CCP-appeasing moves Biden has made that are less obvious to the eye.

Take for example Biden’s order to halt oil drilling on federal lands. Quan thinks this decree will eventually result in an exodus of shale oil experts to China. In light of the fact that China has 108 billion tons of untapped shale oil in Jilin province, over time, Biden’s policy will benefit the CCP by making the regime more self-sufficient energy-wise.

“The US is currently number one in shale oil extraction. In depriving oil workers in the US of their means of living, does Biden expect them to mow lawns? They will simply flock to China, where the industry is in its infancy,” Quan predicts.

And then there’s the irony that, if history is to be of any guide, the US will be the one financing the downslide of its oil industry.

“China will set up a large oil company and get it listed on Nasdaq. It will use the funds raised to buy oil-drilling equipment and raid the US oil sector talent pool. This is the China model. Trump understood the ridiculousness of it all, which was why he set up so many hurdles for the CCP.”

Like Quan, Wen Zhao (文昭), another Canada-based mainland commentator, is attuned to hints of Beijing quietly working behind the scenes to engineer outcomes favourable to it in the global arena.

Wen thinks it’s no coincidence that these events took place at around the same time: Biden’s signing of an order that prohibits calling Covid “China virus”; Harvard’s school of public health’s announcement that WHO director-general Tedros Adhanom will be this year’s commencement speaker.

“Harvard’s school of public health is funded by a rich Hong Kong family with CCP ties. In this case, it’s difficult not to suspect that the CCP, eager to distance itself from the virus, has arm-twisted (1) Harvard into presenting Tedros as a paragon of virtue and (2) Biden into pushing the public to disassociate the CCP from the virus.”

Nor does Wen thinks it’s a coincidence that around the time China arrested 14 people who worked for the pirated-video platform YYeTs.com, Biden made a speech recharacterizing China as a “competitor” – a downgrade from Trump’s “adversary” designation – whom the US is open to working with as long as it curbs malpractices like intellectual property violations.

“YYeTs.com had been pirating films for years, so China has to be cracking down on it for reasons other than IP infringement. My guess is Beijing wants to create the impression of being serious about IP, so that Biden can point to its ‘good behaviour’ and use it as an excuse to, say, relax Trump’s ban on chip imports to the country. Before long, mainland students may even be allowed to study STEM in the US again.”

“America the beautiful is fast becoming America autonomous region,” fretted a mainland friend who has emigrated to the US to escape from the CCP, but is now concerned he may lose his freedom the second time. As for those of us in Hong Kong who believe a stronger China bodes ill for our city  – who have long seen through the “a strong China means a strong Hong Kong” (中國好,香港更好) fiction Tung Chee-hwa has tried propagating – we should perhaps actively try to think like a mainlander. For it may only be through the fruit-must-be-decomposing-under-the-label mindset that we can better detect Beijing’s cunning, and gain a foretaste of Hong Kong’s plight under party secretary Biden.

I'm Michelle Ng (吳若琦), an Oxford-educated bilingual political writer and English writing coach based in Hong Kong. I'm currently an English columnist for Apple Daily and Ming Pao, and a Chinese columnist for 眾新聞. I have written for Hong Kong Free Press, The Wall Street Journal and The Vancouver Sun. 

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