The Atlantic published a piece this weekend that makes a point I think many people on the right have noticed over the past year or longer. The progressive left loves to label their opponents “fascists” but when it comes to actual fascism in China, they don’t seem to react as strongly.
Case in point: Sen. Tom Cotton’s op-ed for the NY Times was deemed “fascist” by Times’ columnist Michelle Goldberg. But when the Times published a piece by a pro-China member of the Hong Kong Executive Council defending the draconian new security law, there was little reaction. In case you missed it, here’s a bit of that piece:
The scale and frequency of antigovernment protests has now subsided — thanks to a national security law for Hong Kong promulgated in Beijing on June 30.
Several prominent democracy advocates have since announced their retirement from politics, disbanded their parties or fled the city.
The West tends to glorify these people as defenders of Hong Kong’s freedoms, but they have done great harm to the city by going against its constitutional order and stirring up chaos and disaffection toward our motherland…
To some, the new national security law is especially chilling because it seems simultaneously vague and very severe. But many laws are vague, constructively so. And this one only seems severe precisely because it fills longstanding loopholes — about subversion, secession, local terrorism, collusion with external forces. One person’s “severe” is someone else’s intended effect.
This is what fascism sounds like. Atlantic author Shadi Hamid asked the Times for an explanation of its decision to publish the piece:
When I requested comment about the Times’ decision to publish Ip’s op-ed, the acting editorial-page editor, Katie Kingsbury, responded in a statement that the paper had also published a variety of prodemocracy opinions, including from its own editorial board. “Regina Ip’s Op-Ed,” the statement continued, “allowed our readers to hear another side of the debate from a member of the Executive Council of Hong Kong.” Yet Ip’s piece was less a reasoned argument than an explicit assertion of Beijing’s right to repress. This is not a debate that requires a careful exposition of both sides, in part because there isn’t another side to defend. It is one thing for American news outlets to publish perspectives from authoritarian heads of state in the interest of informing. It is quite another to publish actual, and not merely imagined, articulations of the kind of fascism and totalitarianism that the Chinese regime upholds daily.
Liberals and liberal institutions feel understandable discomfort in portraying China as an enemy, since this is what Trump has done—often with considerable resort to xenophobia and without distinguishing between the Chinese regime and the Chinese people. To attack and focus attention on China also runs the risk of boosting the Trump administration’s narrative that China is America’s new enemy. That Trump might be right on one thing is certainly possible, but that doesn’t make the idea of agreeing with him any less uncomfortable.
This can sometimes lead to a moral equivalence, where the United States, under Trump, is relegated to the same plane as the Chinese regime on issues such as digital surveillance. It follows, then, that trying to exclude Chinese technology from American networks and markets would be the height of hypocrisy, as Sam Biddle has argued in The Intercept. This summer, Trump’s efforts to pry the popular app TikTok away from its China-based parent company prompted the writer (and former Times editorial-board member) Sarah Jeong to wonder, “‘Is the United States better, worse, or the same as China?’ … In 2020, this is becoming a genuinely difficult question to answer.” After all, Jeong reasoned, “China brutally represses its political dissidents; in America, law enforcement in military camouflage have grabbed protesters off the streets and shoved them into unmarked vans.”
I wrote a takedown of Sarah Jeong’s awful piece when it was published. It’s an embarrassment to the outlet that published it but it really does show how utterly out of touch some in the progressive media have become when it comes to this kind of moral equivalence with China. Meanwhile, Shadi Hamid reminds us what is currently happening in China:
The Chinese regime’s totalitarianism is still more evident in Xinjiang, where the sterilization of Uighur women is systematic, with the intent to decrease the Muslim population. Chinese companies have made beauty products for export with what appears to be the human hair of Uighurs in internment camps. Chinese authorities have organized the “Pair Up and Become Family” campaign, in which more than 1 million party cadres have been dispatched to live in Uighur households, monitoring families’ every move, with new male “relatives” sleeping with Uighur women and forcing marriage, while many of their actual male relatives are detained in the camps. There is another name for this, and it’s rape.
Hamid concludes: “A world where a Republican senator in a democracy—even a flawed democracy—is deemed fascist and therefore beyond the bounds of respectable discussion, while actual authoritarians, or worse, are free to propagate their views with little public censure is a world that is upside down.”
He’s right but there’s a lot more you could say here. After all, it’s not just progressives in the media that give China a pass, it’s also outspoken progressive celebrities and billionaires. They hypocrisy on this point is widespread on the left.
Finally, there’s another element of this argument that Hamid doesn’t touch in his piece. It’s not merely that some on the left give China a pass. Some elements of the far left seem intent on emulating elements of Chinese fascism. Many have made the point that you can look at some of the campus takeovers by woke progressives in the past few years and see echoes of the Cultural Revolution.
Support for this kind of extremism is still relatively limited at this point in the U.S., which is why so many attempts to cancel people fail. Still, it’s not hard to imagine a toxic brew of the left’s current fixations, from cancel culture to violent antifascism, could develop into something like Chinese fascism over time. By making space for China’s fascism, the far left is also leaving space for its own.