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  • Writer's pictureXiaodong Fang

The 21st century "Machiavellianism" - How Communist China destroys democracies

Breaking its promises of preserving Hong Kong's autonomy and freedom when the former British colony was handed over in 1997, the Chinese government, under the leadership of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) is destroying the hope of Hong Kong to become a democracy by suppressing the democracy movement since 2019 and mass arrests of pro-democracy activists thereafter.

Similar malicious behaviors are being placed in Taiwan - an island on the front lines in the fight against the Communist China. Claiming democratic Taiwan as a breakaway province, China attempts to erode Taiwan's democratic processes throught political meddling, military threatening, and disinformation. A 2021 report from the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) indicated that "The disinformation campaigns carried out by the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) are often obscured by the secrecy and opacity of the CCP’s “united front” approach, which makes it difficult to accurately diagnose and right-size the problem of disinformation, complicating efforts to craft effective solutions."

Democracies in both Hong Kong and Taiwan are facing a similar challenge from China as what Niccolò Machiavelli described in The Prince about how to conquer and govern formerly free states.

"Whenever those states which have been acquired as stated have been accustomed to live under their own laws and in freedom, there are three courses for those who wish to hold them: the first is to ruin them, the next is to reside there in person, the third is to permit them to live under their own laws, drawing a tribute, and establishing within it an oligarchy which will keep it friendly to you."

-- from "The Prince" by Machiavelli

Firstly, China's disinformation campaign targeting Taiwan is, to some extent, an approach to "ruin" by damaging the underlying trust levels in Taiwan's democracy. Also, the incrimination of Hong Kong pro-democracy activists and groups reflects the first course of Machiavellianism.

Secondly, by imposing the infamous National Security Law in Hong Kong and proposing a National Unification Promotion Law, the Communist China is signing a suggestion to create formal a legal basis for its reunification with Taiwan, which reflects Machiavelli's second course of "reside there in person." A 2019 Council of Foreign Relations (CFR) report shows that China has a long history of meddling in Taiwan by supporting pro-China candidates. "Its strategy seems designed to sow confusion on the island and tilt the race against incumbent Tsai Ing-wen and in favor of Beijing’s apparently preferred candidate."

Thirdly, China follows Machiavelli's third course of "drawing a tribute, and establishing within it an oligarchy" through economic coercion and electoral interference in Hong Kong and Taiwan. A research by RAND Corporation shows that China is making effort to build Taiwan’s economic interdependence with the mainland through cross-strait trade, investment, financial, and other economic relationships, which would "increase Beijing’s capacity to inflict economic pain or deprivation upon Taiwan as a source of economic leverage."

The free society should be aware of China's Machiavellianist approaches against democracy. The disinformation campaign can be spread to everywhere in the world with China's rapid technological advances, particularly in social media. In 2021, RAND Corporation found that "The Chinese military's focus on information warfare is expanding to include information operations on social media." The notorious National Security Law also applies to everyone on the planet by asserting "jurisdiction over people who are not residents and have never even set foot there."

I call on the democratic leaders worldwide to contain China's aggression over democracies in Hong Kong, Taiwan, and elsewhere, and take concrete measures to prevent the Communist expansion and in turn spread freedom and democracy to the mainland China.


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