Everyone feels that the US-China relations are getting tense with war drums. The public opinions on China have shifted towards hostility in the last few years. Whether you have any political position or not and whether or not you have any friendly relation with a Chinese through acquaintance, traveling, business relation even marriage, the public opinions on US-China relation affect you. Does one ever ask the question - how are the public opinions formed? I use the plural term because public opinions should be plural otherwise it is a consensus. Does the public know how the public opinions reach consensus? In particular, on an important international relation between the U.S. and China? Were there step by step factual actions leading the public opinions to reach a consensus? Or were there ‘public opinions’ created to lead the public to reach a target consensus? As a citizen, one often is too occupied in making a living to track public opinions. This is rather unfortunate, because the public is giving up the sacred right of expressing public opinion to a special entity who can shape the public opinions not in the best interest of the public..
The above process happens a lot in the U.S., resulting from a democratic system and process where public opinion is shaped by a little true public opinion expressed, some special interest group opinions and opinions from professional public relation firms and lobbyists hired by corporations and institutions. Under this environment, the true public opinion is always at a disadvantage competing for media coverage, worse still when public media no longer represents the true public but a fraction of a divided public. On certain issues close to the public’s day to day livelihood matter, the true public may have the urge to express themselves through organic media such as small community newspaper, social media, internet blogs or newsletters or by word of mouth to shape a true public opinion. However, for most international issues or foreign affairs, the U.S. public tends to be mute unless it involved war and lives at stake. Unfortunately, the U.S.-China relations falls in this category, initially it is viewed as a small trade imbalance. When the trade imbalance grew, the U.S. China policy changed; it is shifting from engagement to containment then to competitor- enemy. Does this shift follow public opinions? No, other way around, the U.S. China policy is shaping the public opinion through media channels, government nourished think tanks and government funded organizations involved in international relations work.
What evidence do we have that the U.S. China policy is top-down driven by a few in power? One clear evidence is that there is hardly any true public debate on the US-China relation and China policy. Furthermore, one can observe from many relevant opinion publications such as Foreign Policy, Foreign Affairs, National Interests, etc. (and mass media like newspapers and magazines) to find that their discourse on the US-China relations or China policy discussions is not public opinion driven but more one-sided opinion endorsing a preconceived policy. How did all those authors form a consensus? No one can tell for sure, but the sources of funding have a lot of influence on the authors and the media which select their work. Indeed, very few true public opinions get published in those ‘elite’ media. Any opposite opinion the true public can get is often from foreign sources which our media brand them rhetoric. The U.S. public opinions of course should not be interested in rhetoric but in honest debates and analyses.
The above situation is not totally dim with no hope. There is a bright spot worth noting. One young company called Quora, Inc., founded in 6/2019 and available publicly one year later, has offered a ‘Question and Answer Platform’ to the public. The author singles this social media out simply because it appears to provide a true open platform to the public for expressing true public opinions. After ten years, Quora has as high as 590 million visits per month, a significant number even though the topical information scope was broad covering several languages. The bulk of content is in English and the two dozen other languages are less but desirable. The founders Adam D’Angelo and Charles Cheever (relinquished operating role in 9/2012) seem to emphasize maintaining a quality Q&A discourse more than getting advertising revenue. Through its growth, Quora offered full text search on Q&A and stats on viewing. In 2017, Quora separated out the Anonymous Q&A from the regular ones presumably serving those who only feel comfortable expressing in anonymity. Quora does require users to register with real names and it also offers ‘Space’ for like-minded users to communicate. Hopefully, Quora can succeed in providing a true public opinion platform rather than caving in to other media's acquisition.
Let’s use a public Quora Q&A example to illustrate not only the value of Quora but also the importance to have a fair public opinion on US-China relations and U.S. China policy. The following was a ‘Question’ posted on Quora: “Do you think China will send its army into Hong Kong (HK) and put it under strict control like it did to the Uighurs?” This question submitted by an individual is seeking a public opinion on HK and expressing his opinion on Uighur. I read the answer from another individual and learned a lot on this subject clarifying some ‘rhetoric’ accusations the U.S. media is hurling at China. Part of the answer pertaining to data and facts is quoted here: “Xinjiang is a large central-Asian region within the People's Republic of China comprising numerous minority groups: 45% of its population are Uyghurs, and 40% are Han. Xinjiang has been part of China ever since tens of centuries ago, with the Uyghurs arriving from Central Asia in the 10th century. There have always been separatist movements in Xinjiang since 20th century. Those groups have dissolved but new ones appear such as the Turkistan Islamic Party. (TIP) or Turkistan Islamic Movement (TIM), formerly known as the East Turkestan Islamic Movement (ETIM) and other names, an Islamic extremist organization founded by Uyghur jihadists in Western China, considered broadly as a terrorist group. Its stated goals are to establish an independent state called "East Turkestan" in Xinjiang. According to a Chinese report (2002), between 1990 and 2001 the ETIM had committed over 200 acts of terrorism, resulting in at least 162 deaths and over 440 injuries. The UN Security Council Al-Qaida Sanctions Committee has listed ETIM as a terrorist organization since 2002. Since the September 11 attacks, the group has been designated as a terrorist organization by China, EU, Kyrgyzstan, Kazakhstan, Pakistan, Russia, Turkey, UAE, UK and the U.S., in addition to UN. Its Syrian branch Turkistan Islamic Party in Syria is active in the Syrian Civil War.” (Comment: The U.S. did list ETIM as a terrorist group but Mike Pompeo delisted it on 11-5-2020 saying that the listing gave China the reason to suppress the Uighur in Xinjiang, an illogical argument. The answer further questions the double standard of scrutinizing China's anti-terrorists activity but not the U.S. activities against terrorism, a fair comment.)
“The Chinese government is using the PLA to protect civilians and to save the Uyghurs from being terrorists by providing a better life for them by re-education, welfare and re-employment and safely assimilating them into society. There are 36 Muslim nations defending China on its Uyghur handling policies whereas the US and western nations continue to criticize China.(comment: the U.S. unfairly calls them concentration camp activities) There are already PLAs in HK since 1997. Every country has the right to protect itself from terrorism, invasions and attacks and that is why there is a National Security Act. HK is China's anyway so it should have a National Security Law otherwise Hong Kong will not be protected from terrorism, CIAs and attacks. The US is just using HK and the young people of HK like control game machines to flex its power under the cover of democracy and freedom.” (Comment: the answer equates what the U.S. does about HK like what she does about Xinjiang and Tibet are just propaganda and lies. The answer cited HK riots. Indeed, the HK riots are no different from the New York riots which must be controlled by the government.)
On the current US China policy, there is no justification for the hawks to push a war plan down the throat of the U.S. public, since there is no legitimate consensus in public opinions on a hawkish China policy. As Biden is taking up the helm, the public should urge the Administration to do a thorough Quora Q&A: What is a workable and beneficial U.S. China policy?
Ifay Chang. Ph.D., Inventor, Author, TV Game Show Host and Columnist (www.us-chinaforum.org) as well as serving as Trustee, Somers Central School District.