"If I listened to John Bolton, we would have had world war six by now!"
Donald Trump, President of the USA
Homo Sapiens? Are we?
When Yuval Noah Harari speculated in Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind, rather off-handedly, that the human species was unlikely to be around for another thousand years, I thought he was exaggerating. These days, I'm not so sure. One thousand years is beginning to sound optimistic.
The Doomsday Clock
In 2020, the Doomsday Clock moved to 100 seconds 'til midnight. According to the "Thucydides trap" hypothesis, a war between China and the USA isn't just possible, it is statistically probable. When he first presented this hypothesis in 2015, Harvard professor Graham Allison argued that
Managing this relationship [China/USA] without war will demand sustained attention, week by week, at the highest level in both countries. It will entail a depth of mutual understanding not seen since the Henry Kissinger-Zhou Enlai conversations in the 1970s. Most significantly, it will mean more radical changes in attitudes and actions, by leaders and publics alike, than anyone has yet imagined.
Since 2015, we have been moving rapidly in the opposite direction, with marked acceleration in 2021. According to the 2021--Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists:
US and Russian nuclear modernization efforts continued to accelerate, and North Korea, China, India, and Pakistan pursued “improved” and larger nuclear forces. Some of these modernization programs are beginning to field weapons with dangerous enhancements, like Russia’s nuclear-tipped Avangard hypersonic glide vehicles, which are being installed on new SS-29 (Sarmat) missiles designed to replace 1980s-era intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs). Russia continues to field battalions of intermediate-range, ground-launched, nuclear-armed missiles—missiles previously banned by the now-defunct Intermediate-range Nuclear Forces Treaty, from which the United States withdrew in 2019. China, which has historically relied on a small and constrained nuclear arsenal, is expanding its capabilities and deploying multiple, independently retargetable warheads on some of its ICBMs and will likely add more in the coming year.
The Triggers of war
The causes of war usually involve complicated gestalts which experts will spend generations attempting to untangle and explain. The causes of the Vietnam War are entangled with the vagueries and incoherence of an ideological Cold War which make them near impossible to fully understand even fifty years later. However, in our high-school history classes, we Boomers were always instructed about the "triggers of war." For example, the Spanish-American War was triggered by the sinking of the USS Maine. "Remember the Maine" became the battle cry of the war; however, subsequent investigations concluded that the sinking of the Maine was likely an accident caused by an internal explosion onboard. (For more recent "triggers" see Petrodollar Warfare: Understanding the US Obsession with Iran)
The most significant trigger of all time was a 19-year-old Bosnian-Serb named Gavrilo Princip, who assassinated Archduke Franz Ferdinand of Austria and his wife, Sophie, in Sarajevo on 28 June 1914, which led to World War I which, arguably, with the botched Treaty of Versailles, led to World War II. I first alluded to Gavrilo Princip in 2018 in a post on "The Chaos Theory of International Trade."
Imagine a high-school history class after World War III. There are a lot of "ifs" here: if there is a third world war, if the Species survives, and if History is still taught in high school.
A History of the future
My historical narrative begins with Richard Donoghue, a young army officer who joins JAG (Judge Advocate General's Corps), first as an attorney, then becomes a judge. In 2011, he accepts a position as vice president and Chief Litigator for CA Technologies, one of the largest tech companies in the world (in the top 100 according to Bloomberg). [CA needed a good lawyer. In 2006, the chairman of the board was sentenced to 12 years in prison for fraud.] January 2, 2018, Donoghue leaves CA to become US Attorney for the Eastern District of New York. Eight months later (22 August 2018), Donoghue issues a warrant for the arrest of Meng Wanzhou, CFO of Huawei and daughter of the company's founder
Why was Meng arrested?
Why? [Try explaining this to a class of high-school students!] The charge is "bank fraud." For most people, "bank fraud" means she stole money, but not in this case. According to the indictment, at a meeting in a tea-house in Hong Kong in 2013 she allegedly told an executive of HSBC (Hong Kong Shanghai Banking Corporation) that Huawei did not control a company called Skycom which was doing business in Iran in contravention of US sanctions.
Is she guilty?
Did she really say this? Did she really fool HSBC into contravening US sanctions? Who knows? Does it really matter? HSBC had already been convicted of money laundering, including making investments in Iran, but Meng's "lying," saying or not saying, really has no bearing on the ultimate story. There was no precedent for arresting a business executive for moving money in Iran, though many companies had been convicted and paid fines. Meng was arrested because the USA, for political reasons, ideological reasons, business reasons, security reasons (choose the one which makes the most sense to you), was out to get Huawei. Meng (and Canada), it has become evident, were collateral damage in the plan to undermine Huawei. The sensible thing for Canada to do was just get out of the way, but it was up to the Minister of Justice, Jody Wilson-Raybould, to get us out of the way.
Meng was traveling the world as Huawei's leading sales-person but, apparently, Donoghue couldn't find a country willing to serve his warrant. Then, on December 1, 2018, he asked the Canadian Minister of Justice, Jody Wilson-Raybould, in keeping with the Treaty on Extradition Between the Government of Canada and the Government of the United States of America and the Canadian Extradition Act to have Meng arrested, and she did.
Why arrest Meng in Canada?
Why did she accept to have Meng arrested? [Try explaining this to a high-school class!] Why would she accept to proceed with this unprecedented arrest which would have predictable and dire political consequences? To most of the world, the arrest would appear arbitrary and illegal, Canada kowtowing to US hegemony--showing the Americans that Canada would ditch its trade deals with China if that's what the Trump White House wanted. In truth, the Americans, that is, Donoghue did the minimum in asking Canada to serve the warrant. Chances are they were surprised by how easy it was to get Canadian law enforcement onboard even to the point of "accidentally" contravening Meng's rights. Donoghue did the necessary, specifying that the crime was "bank fraud," which was on the Treaty's list of extraditable offenses. And he went through the motions of a Grand Jury trial, which would have been a foregone conclusion.
Is there any chance that the USA will keep a Chinese executive in prison?
Has anybody noticed how little the Americans have to say about the seriousness of Meng's crimes? Clearly, the Americans are keeping their options open; allowing them to release Meng at a later date without much fanfare. The last thing the Americans want is to have a major Chinese executive in a US jail, while they continue to do 100 to 150 billion dollars in trade every year with China. Can you imagine a situation--with Meng in a US jail--where every American business executive who travels to China or any country where China holds influence would risk arrest and/or extradition? Meng's extradition to the USA allows only three possibilities: 1) she and/or Huawei will pay a fine proving that she should never have been extradited in the first place (the Extradition Act and the Treaty specify that the minimum requirement to justify extradition is one year of imprisonment), 2) an all-out Sino-American war or 3) she will be released (without prejudice) and some US Democrat will express media-wide surprise that Canada went along with the ill-conceived Republican plot (orchestrated by John Bolton and Richard Donoghue) to arrest her.
Richard Donoghue's conflict of interest
I originally speculated that there might be a financial pay-off for Donoghue from CA Technologies for slowing down a competitor--Huawei. But CA Technologies was sold to Broadcom in 2018, so Donoghue's pay-off would probably have to come elsewhere.
Donaghue was given the honour of announcing the conviction of El Chapo, head of the Sinaloa drug cartel, in 2019. Of course, attorneys, NYPD, FBI, DEA, Homeland Security, etc, etc, had been working the case for 30 years, but Donaghue got the plum of announcing the conviction after little more than a year on the job. Then he was promoted to special duties on the Ukraine file. In public media, no-one seemed to know exactly what "Ukraine file" meant, but I interpreted he was assigned to getting the dirt on Hunter Biden. When William Barr resigned as Attorney general, Deputy Attorney General Rosen replaced him, and Donald Trump named Donoghue the new Deputy Attorney General.
Did Trump know?
Did Trump know the very day he was having a one-on-one meeting with Xi that Donoghue was having Meng arrested in Vancouver? No. Despite hedging in the Guardian interview, claiming he didn't know if Trump knew, John Bolten confirms in this book that he, as National Security Advisor, had been informed of Meng's arrest and decided not to tell President Trump. Trump was incredulous when he found out and, according to Josh Rogin in Chaos under Heaven, complained that they had "arrested the Ivanka Trump of China."
Why did Jody Wilson-Raybould arrest "the Ivanka Trump of China"?
Why did Jody Wilson-Raybould arrest "the Ivanka Trump of China"? When Prime Minister Justin Trudeau was asked about the arrest:
“The appropriate authorities took the decisions in this case,” he told reporters. “We were advised by them with a few days’ notice that this was in the works but of course there was no engagement or involvement in the political level in this decision because we respect the independence of our judicial processes.”
If extradition isn't political, why was the Prime Minister informed in advance? Who were "the appropriate authorities"? According to the Canadian Extradition Act, the only appropriate authority was the Minister of Justice, Jody Wilson-Raybould. Who is "them" in the PM's statement? Did the PM think that Richard Donoghue or the American DOJ was the appropriate authority to decide a Canadian extradition case? As I've pointed out a dozen times and a dozen different ways, the claim that in Canadian extradition law, "there is no engagement or involvement in the political level in this decision" is completely wrong. It is easy to disprove the claim of the independence of the judicial processes in extradition cases with a quick click on the Canadian Extradition Act and 15 minutes of reading. I think we can forgive the PM for not knowing the Canadian Extradition Act just days after (and before) Meng's arrest. But what about Jody Wilson-Raybould? What about the "free" and "independent" Canadian media which has been repeating or ignoring this falsehood for over two years now?
Who makes extradition decisions? The Minister? Or "officials"?
Eleven days after Meng's arrest, Jody Wilson-Raybould issued a statement, in lockstep with the PM's misinformation, saying that "The decision to seek a provisional arrest warrant from the court is made by Department of Justice officials without any political interference or direction." I believe that it may be common practice for "Department of Justice officials" to seek an arrest warrant without necessarily consulting the Minister of Justice, but this was obviously no typical extradition case. Moreover, what the law (The Extradition Act) specifies is:
Warrant for Provisional Arrest
Minister’s approval of request for provisional arrest
12 The Minister may, after receiving a request by an extradition partner for the provisional arrest of a person, authorize the Attorney General to apply for a provisional arrest warrant, if the Minister is satisfied . . .
Since Jody Wilson-Raybould was both Minister of Justice and Attorney General, the law specifies that Jody Wilson-Raybould "may" (she could have ignored or refused the request) authorize herself "to apply for a provisional arrest warrant." Nowhere does it say that DOJ officials were supposed to make the decision and keep Jody Wilson-Raybould out of the loop.
Why would Jody Wilson-Raybould pass the buck to underlings?
Why would Jody Wilson-Raybould duck her responsibilities as Minister of Justice? Well, there was the SNC Lavalin case. [Try explaining this to high-school students!] We've already been there, but the short version is that the PMO had been putting pressure on JWR to break the law and give SNC Lavalin a pass on its various bribery crimes. JWR resisted and was on the verge of being demoted out of Justice for her resistance when Meng was arrested.
The combination of the laws governing Remediation Agreements (a new, Liberal version of Deferred Prosecution Agreements) and those governing the Public Prosecutors Office made it impossible for JWR to do what the PMO was asking without breaking the law. The Extradition Act is the exact opposite in terms of the Minister getting involved. The Act makes it the Minister's responsibility to investigate and make a decision. Would the public understand this difference? Did politicians know the difference? Both Trudeau and Freeland have been very public in denying this distinction and insisting that extradition is a judicial and not a political decision--despite the explicit wording of the Act and the Supreme Court's ruling to confirm that extradition is an "executive"; i.e., political decision.
When Allen Rock, former Minister of Justice, was on Power and Politics to present the argument that Meng should be released, Vassy Kapelos asked him if he had ever intervened in an extradition case. He hadn't. I was struck by his response but then it occurred to me: politicians are politicians. Politicians don't like to get publicly involved in extradition cases because there is nothing for a politician to gain. No matter what decision they make, they will be criticized by one quarter or another. For a politician, it's always better to leave the impression that an extradition was decided by anonymous officials.
We shouldn't be too surprised that JWR decided not to take the heat and opted for "bureaucracy as usual" despite the obvious that this case was not "as usual." Someone from the PMO should have pointed out her power according to the law:
Since the PMO and JWR were already at odds (not speaking to each other?) over SNC Lavalin, we can imagine that in the end no-one said anything.
The atomic scientists who manage the Doomsday Clock point out that
Unchecked internet disinformation could have even more drastic consequences in a nuclear crisis, perhaps leading to a nuclear war that ends world civilization. Disinformation efforts across communications systems are at this moment undermining responses to climate change in many countries. The need for deep thinking and careful, effective action to counter the effects of internet-enabled disinformation has never been clearer.
Are we at war with China?
The general Canadian public could be forgiven for imagining that we are already at war with China. China has been accused of genocide in terms usually reserved for the Holocaust. The CCP (Chinese Communist Party) is being compared to the Third Reich and Xi Jinping to Hitler. China is being accused of undermining Canadian sovereignty, intimidating Canadian citizens, taking over Canadian businesses, manipulating Canadian politicians, mistreating Canadian workers, arbitrarily imprisoning Canadians in China, infiltrating Canadian universities, cyber espionage, and stealing Canadian intellectual property. What more do we need to know before going to war?
In addition to the rape, murder, sterilization, forced labour, and mass imprisonment of Uyghurs, China is overthrowing democracy in Hong Kong, threatening Taiwan, and illegally claiming sovereignty over the South China Sea. The Chinese are using dystopian levels of surveillance of their own citizens, especially ethnic minorities. And the Chinese are responsible for the coronavirus which has spread around the world and killed millions. What more do we need to know before going to war?
The Devil's advocate
Dare we consider a Chinese perspective and response? Despite claims of "free speech" and "transparency," it has become common practice to denigrate and dismiss anyone who challenges the common Canadian discourse on China (and/or Meng).
Here, at least, it is possible to play "devil's advocate."
A response to terrorism?
There is no genocide taking place in Xinjiang. Every neutral observer who has visited the region comes to this same conclusion. China faced a terrorist threat in the region and, in comparison to the USA with its invasions in Iraq and Afghanistan killing a million Muslims, has responded with moderation and efficiency in dealing with religious extremism. As reported by Colin Clarke and Paul Rexton Kan in “Uighur Foreign Fighters: An Underexamined Jihadist Challenge,” The International Centre for Counter-Terrorism – The Hague 8, no. 5 (2017):
Uighurs, specifically individuals of Turkic descent from China’s northwest province of Xinjiang, have become a noticeable part of the constellation of globally active jihadist terror groups. Uighur jihadists first came to the world’s attention when the United States and its allies invaded Afghanistan in 2001. While continuing their cooperation with the Taliban under the banner of the East Turkestan Islamic Movement (ETIM), Uighur jihadists have now spread to Southeast Asia and the Middle East. ETIM’s members are part of the Turkestan Islamic Party fighting with the Al-Qaeda umbrella group in Syria, but other Uighurs have joined IS in Syria and Iraq, and still others have joined local terror groups in Indonesia.
China: A multi-ethnic nation
China is home to twenty-six different ethnic groups. While Western democracies have paid lip service to individual human rights as they practiced "systemic racism" and "white supremacy," over the last 30 years, China has raised 800 million of its citizens out of dire poverty--many from the ethnic minorities it is now being accused of mistreating. As reported by the Brookings Institute, China's policies with regard to the Uyghur began in the 1990s, but only since China's economic power began to rival that of the USA have we heard any claim of genocide.
Hong Kong is part of China--not a distant island
Hong Kong is literally a stone's throw from the mainland and has always been part of China. As a condition of losing the Opium Wars, whereby the British Empire forced China to accept imports of opium, China accepted that Hong Kong would remain a British colony for 99 years. That period of 99 years expired in 1997 at which time China reclaimed sovereignty over Hong Kong while allowing it to operate as a distinct, autonomous region. China was prepared to allow this situation to continue until demonstrations, protests, and riots broke out in Hong Kong. Even after the demonstrators' demands were met and the new extradition act repealed, riots continued with demands for full, Western-style democracy. China's allowing Hong Kong to, once again, become a Western colony is about as likely as the USA returning Texas to Mexico. Logically, the continuing protests can only be understood as part of an American plan to destabilize the country and eventually overthrow the regime in Beijing. The fact that Hong Kong media tycoon Jimmy Lai, a leader of the pro-democracy demonstrations, had frequent meetings with Secretary of State, Mike Pompeo, confirms this interpretation.
Security and surveillance
Yes, China uses CCTV to guard the security and safety of its citizens, just as is done in London, England, and in every major city in the world these days. Chinese computer surveillance systems have been developed but they are nowhere near as widespread or invasive as the Anglo-American ECHELON system designed to intercept private and commercial communication all over the world, or the PRISM surveillance system used by the US National Security Agency to spy on US citizens as well as people around the world. Chinese data collection is modest in comparison to that of American technology companies like Facebook and Google.
Education in Xinjiang
China believes that education is the key to equality. As outlined in MA Rong's research on "The development of minority education and the practice of bilingual education in Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region," Uyghurs, traditionally, have the highest birth rate in China but . . .
The development of an education system started late in Xinjiang, where there were only 525 college graduates and 593 high school graduates in 1957 (Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region Bureau of Statistics, 2006, p.519). In 2005, however, college enrollment reached 59 000,
And university enrollment of Uyghur both throughout China and abroad has continued to grow.
Is Paid labour "forced labour"?
Uyghur workers are paid for their labour wherever they work. On some occasions, they are required to work outside their home regions where their labour is needed but are paid wages that exceed what they would earn at home. Throughout its history, China has called upon its citizens and leaders of the Communist Party (including Xi Jinping) to work as manual labourers in the fields as a demonstration of equality, discipline, and solidarity.
The Arrest of two Canadians
There are only two possible explanations for China's arrest of Michael Kovrig and Michael Spavor and in both cases, Canada is to blame. Either they are guilty of espionage (presumably on behalf of Canada) as the Chinese courts have alleged or, as is generally assumed in Western media, they have been imprisoned in retaliation for Canada's arrest of Meng--in which case Canada is guilty of having thrown the first punch.
Where's the truth?
Here's a Chinese joke I encountered on Quora. A young Chinaman is at customs about to enter the USA. The customs agent asks him, "Why are you entering the USA?" The young man replies, "I'm here to study the new brainwashing techniques." The agent responds angrily, "We don't have brainwashing in the USA, we're not like China!" "Yes, yes, that's it," the young man answers, "that's what I'm here to study."
"The truth," it is commonly observed, "is always the first casualty of war." In the claims and counter-claims about China, I don't know where the truth lies, but the more I investigate, the more I find the inflated and inflammatory rhetoric of Western mass media to be uncontextualized, weakly supported by evidence, and reckless.
The "Thucydides trap" denied
In Chaos Under Heaven, Josh Rogin claims that the "Thucydides trap" "theory doesn’t fit the US-China relationship." As Rogin rightly points out, there are many variables in the lead-up to war. One weakness of the theory, according to Rogin, is that "it assumes that China's rise is inevitable." In 2015, China's rise might have been an assumption, but in 2021 it seems an undeniable fact. By what measure would it be possible to conclude that China has not risen to the level of a world power?
Rogin concludes: "The Thucydides Trap concept is interesting, but we shouldn’t base our strategy on it." "Interesting" is what we academics say when we want to say nothing. Given that the subtitle of Rogin's monograph is "the Battle for the 21st Century," what is the logic of claiming that as we concoct a strategy (for what?) we should not consider the possibility of a war? No-one in their right mind wants a war and yet they keep happening. The whole point of the Thucydides argument (as I've quoted above) is that it is possible to avoid a war. We can reduce the risk of war by cooling down the rhetoric, by being empirical, logical, accurate, precise, transparent, well-informed, and measured--all the things that we are not doing and being now. Simply denying any possibility of a war does not reduce the possibility of it happening.
How a hot war begins
I was ten when President Kennedy announced that Soviet ships bringing missiles to Cuba would result in a nuclear war. In our town, we had a special siren to announce that nuclear bombs had been launched. I vividly recall the day the siren sounded. No, it wasn't a nuclear war, but some idiot thought we should test the system without bothering to inform ten-year-olds like me. Cuba is 103 miles from the USA. Taiwan is 81 miles from China. While the USA continues to impose sanctions on Cuba; goods, services, and people move freely between Taiwan and China. According to the Taiwanese government website: "Today, Taiwan is one of the biggest investors in China." However, China is ready to go to war to prevent a US-backed Taiwan from declaring independence. At least one observer has pointed out that "A US War with China over Taiwan Would Be Foolish and Costly"--not to mention potentially nuclear and absurd because Taiwan and China seem to be getting along fine if not for US intervention.
Preparations for war
With relatively little notice being taken in Western media, both China and the USA are preparing for war. The focus of preparations is the South China Sea. In theory, the battle is between China and the Philippines over conflicting claims of territorial waters. The Philippines, like Taiwan, Hong Kong, Australia and Canada, is a pawn in the conflict between the USA and China.
Davidson added that he believed China would attempt to forcibly reunify Taiwan "in the next six years." To guard against this possibility, Davidson asked Congress to provide a whopping $27 billion in additional funding over the current defense budget.
Ships and chips
It seems a historical motif that wars begin with the sinking of ships. The sinking of the USSS Maine started the Spanish-American War, the sinking of the Lusitania brought the USA into WWI. The Gulf of Tonkin incident led to a US escalation of the war in Vietnam. Everyone knows about the Japanese "surprise" attack on Pearl Harbour, but do people know why the Japanese attacked? It wasn't a surprise. In fact, it was quite predictable. The USA had imposed sanctions on Japan, blocking the supply of oil while Japan was at war with China. The Japanese had to destroy the blockade or lose the war with China. These days, the equivalent of oil is computer chips, and the USA is doing all it can to block the supply of computer chips to China. Taiwan is the world's largest manufacturer of computer chips. The government of Taiwan is happy to continue with its "unofficial" independence and its sales of computer chips to China. The USA seems to be the one more interested in Taiwan's "official" independence and in cutting off the supply of Taiwanese chips to Chinese companies.
More ships, more triggers
As if arresting Meng weren't enough, in the midst of ongoing tensions, the Canadian navy warship, HMS Calgary, crossed the South China Sea because it was the shortest route between A and B, and to show whose side we're on.
With the US canceling the nuclear treaty, Iran has begun to process high-grade uranium once again. In the face of US sanctions, Iran has formed a closer alliance with China. As reported in Haaretz, just as new treaty negotiations were getting underway (without US participation), Israeli forces attacked an Iranian cargo ship which had been anchored in the Red Sea for years.
Why blame Jody Wilson-Raybould?
Why blame Jody Wilson-Raybould? Because I believe in the theory of chaos. Each of us is the potential trigger of a future that we could not possibly imagine. And history isn't fair. From 1949, when the Communist Party of China took control, until 1970, China was treated as a global pariah by Western powers. In 1973, Pierre Eliot Trudeau was the first Canadian Prime Minister and one of the first Western heads of state to visit China. From that period until 2017, Canada's trade and diplomatic relations with China grew and improved steadily under both Conservative and Liberal governments, until the government of PM Justin Trudeau faced increasing criticism for becoming too friendly with China. The Canadian arrest of Meng Wanzhou, Dec. 1, 2018, was an abrupt about-face from the last 48 years of our relations with China. History will also mark that date as the day Canada was given the opportunity for another Lester B. Pearson moment, the opportunity to prove that Canada could be an independent peace-maker. History will mark the day, in contrast to what might have been, as the moment when the channels for dialogue and negotiations between China and the West were broken, and Canada played a key role in the break.
To continue my Gavrilo Princip analogy, Richard Donoghue supplied the gun, but Jody Wilson-Raybould pulled the trigger. Or, at least, she stood down from her responsibility as Minister of Justice, and let anonymous officials of the DOJ take responsibility for pulling the trigger. In consequence, we face the absurdity of government leaders in two countries saving face with their constituencies by keeping a Chinese under house arrest in Canada and two Canadians in prison in China, the minor inconvenience of declining trade and economies, and 300,000 Canadians living in China put at risk while Chinese living in Canada face Anti-Asian hate crimes. If the unimaginable worst-case scenario, which I have imagined here, happens, the question which will be asked: "How did the Canadian Minister of Justice allow it to happen over something so petty and remote as the allegation of a Chinese executive telling a fib to a Chinese banker in China?"
A Glimmer of hope
Before I begin, I’d like to address an important issue: the reports of horrific attacks on Asian Americans across the country. I want to be clear here: No one in America should fear violence because of who they are of what they believe. Period. These types of attacks have no place in our society. We will not tolerate any form of domestic terrorism or hate-based violent extremism, and we are committed to putting a stop to it.