Marco Polo all over again – Our Response to the Rise of China
“Silence in the face of evil is itself evil. Not to speak is to speak. Not to act is to act.”
– Dietrich Bonhoeffer
I am watching the Netflix series “Marco Polo”. If you like to learn a bit of History and also escape to another time you will probably enjoy the series. But entertainment value is probably not why you are reading this article. As a CACOR reader you want to know: what has Marco Polo got to do with the environmental/economic/political/social challenges of today? Well, everything! You see, in the middle of our Climate Disruption and 6th Mass Extinction is a possible major shift in power from the USA/West to China/East. This will affect our ability to cooperate internationally to combat these challenges. Now this is not “bad” – it just a reality that must be faced. As a matter of fact I would call this shift a return to “normal” – normal being when the centre of power and population is Asia, as it was during the time of the Mongol Empire when Marco Polo was wandering up and down the Silk Road that connected Europe to China.
The Silk Road
In the series it is made abundantly clear that Europe/West is a side show and the real money/power lies in in Asia, specifically China. They had valid reasons for this: population, the military might of the Mongols – who ruled the world’s largest ever empire, but also, and for my purposes, the most important: the most advanced culture and technology. Until recently we thought of the Chinese as backwards, and even today their advanced technology is often stolen from the West. Back in the time of Marco Polo, the Chinese were clearly the leaders. Gunpowder. Paper, The printing press. Paper money. Porcelain. Tea. The first crucibles to do Chemistry with. The compass. The Great Wall. Their culture dominated all their neighbours, notably Korea and Japan, who borrowed most of – alphabet, music, religion [Buddhism, originally from India], architecture – you name it. And with the Mongol conquest of Asia – to the borders of Poland and Egypt, the Chinese culture and its products were being exported worldwide. We have, in fact, found Ivory carvings in European churches from this time that were made in China! Clearly, “Made in China” is not a new phenomenon.
You may respond and say: “But European explorers travelled the world in search of gold and riches building a vast trading empire: this is what set the stage for European culture to dominate the world.” True, yet the Chinese had the lead on this front too. Just after Marco Polo’s time, just before Christopher Columbus, the Chinese had designed and built HUGE sailing ships, 10x the size of the early European vessels, that we now know were the start of a mercantile empire ranging from Africa to North America [1 ]. Because of palace politics all these ships were destroyed, the ocean trade routes abandoned. This set the stage for the gradual slide that turned China from a world leader to a technological and military backwater.
15th century Chinese Trading Ship
During this time they suffered greatly from the abuse by Western powers, and Japan. This abuse was doubly tough psychologically on them because China, which means “The Middle Kingdom” had always considered themselves the most important country on the Earth. [all empires do] The Opium war. The annexation of Hong Kong. The total control of trade in Shangai by several European countries. Their sphere of influence – Vietnam, Korea, Mongolia, controlled by European powers or Japan. The brutal rape of Nanking and Japanese invasion. The immigration laws banning Chinese immigrants to Australia, Canada and the USA. These are mighty scars etched deep in the Chinese psyche. We may have forgotten or perhaps we think of these events as so far in the distant past as not too matter. Well, the Chinese Communist Party has not forgotten. Now it’s time to even the score. Now is the time for China to seek its place on the world stage. Perhaps as the centre of power as it once was, but at a minimum dominating all economic and military power in all of Asia [ie. The building of islands in the South China Sea off Vietnam as military bases and from which they now claim this entire Sea as Chinese,2 ],
Our challenge, as it was in the time of Marco Polo is this: how do we dance with the Dragon? However now things are more delicate and complex because the Chinese have been hurt, by us, and want to be recognized as equals. Fair enough. That is their due. Our challenge is, how do we do this without being weak and giving in to all their demands, ie. The South China sea is ours, and yet not be confrontational and aggressive in a way that only expands the already wide gulf in our respective desires? We are in a new phase of world power relationships, make no mistake. Much of Africa is under the Chinese thumb [8 ]. The Chinese army invaded a part of “disputed” territory with India a few month back [ ]. Sri Lanka is effectively under Chinese control because of the debt they owe for weapons supplied by the Chinese to win the civil war with the Tamals. Politicians and organizations and companies in Australia and Canada have finally been recognized as being manipulated for the political objectives of the Communist party. Closer to home, it is finally being acknowledged Nortel, once the flagship of Ottawa’s and Canada’s economy, was systematically hacked by the Chinese military and its technology used to create Huwai and its current dominant position in the world telecommunications networks [ ] . I recommend you read articles such as these below to get a feeling for the vast scope of what the Chinese Communist party is doing and how large a threat it is not just to Canada but to the International Order that we need to combat the Climate and Extinction Crises.
China’s island fortifications are a challenge to international norms 
Why China’s Technology Theft Poses a Bigger Challenge Than That of the Soviet Union 
Inside the Chinese military attack on Nortel 
Canada’s misguided China policy needs an urgent review 
China and India’s disputes over land has recently led to conflict 
So, what are we to do? Stop being naïve, but not be belligerent. Cooperate with our allies. No 5G from Huawei. Reduce our imports from China. If we export, have alternative markets for when they use sanctions as a political weapon. Recognize and stop the influencing of Politicians by the Chinese Communist Party. Don’t allow “cultural organizations” to operate that are supported by the Communist Party & use culture as a front to support Communist objectives. Get Canadians Michael Spavor and Michael Kovrig out of jail. No longer allow the purchase of Canadian companies or land by Chinese companies. Do something significant to support the Uighurs. Stop tolerating expansion in the South China Sea… Help India in  . The list goes on. The trick is to do all this while allowing the Chinese to “save face”.  We don’t want to repeat the mistakes that led to the rise of Hitler [ie. The Versailles treaty, which humiliated the Germans and destroyed their economy] or the Japanese attacking Pearl Harbour because they felt they had no choice. [80% of their oil came from the USA and Roosevelt put in place an embargo to stop Japanese aggression in south Asia]. It’s going to be a bumpy ride. The climate disruption and 6th mass extinction can only “solved” through international cooperation. Without a focus on how to play ball with an aggressive China we are sure not only risk a war with China but also ensure our climate war and battle to save many species on Earth will be lost. This does not mean making China the enemy, but being realistic that they want to feel like an equal player in the world order, something do not feel now, so it means engaging with them. As a good friend from the military told me: “Keep your friends close, but keep your enemies even closer.”
Nothing in the world is more dangerous than a sincere ignorance and conscientious stupidity.
Martin Luther King Jr.