WHO cares…? Global Hegemony and China’s Long March Through the Institutions

In the latter 1920s, a foundational thinker of Western Marxism lay incarcerated in an Italian prison cell. Much as we’re told now by cheery memes not to ‘waste’ lockdown and learn a new language or stage an opera with sockpuppets, Antonio Gramsci used his time inside to reflect on the state of the stalling International Communist movement. Why had the inevitable proletarian revolt and transition to worker’s control not begun among the developed nations of West Europe, as Marx had predicted? Why was it only backward, superstitious Russia that had made the leap? The result was the multitudinous Prison Notebooks, which identified ‘cultural hegemony’ as the main obstacle to be surmounted; that bourgeois value systems would have to be displaced by revolutionary, proletarian ones across society’s institutions, to establish strength in a ‘war of position’ before a ‘war of manoeuvre’ became viable. In the 1960s, the German activist Rudi Dutschke took up the baton, calling for a “long march through the institutions”, as a tribute to Chairman Mao’s blood-trailing Long March during the Chinese Civil War. Anyone who has been through the British university system has probably encountered this theory in practice, whether unconsciously or by design.

Reclaim the student lounge. Decolonise the library. Unite the toilets.

Decades in power have not inoculated China’s Communists from the need for radical reassessment of their situation. In 1999, two People’s Liberation Army colonels, Qiao Liang and Wang Xiangsui, set out to tackle the hard facts of US geopolitical hegemony. Their diagnosis was that the People’s Republic had no hope of displacing the States as top military power, and the cure, as laid out in their book, known in English as Unrestricted Warfare, was to aggressively sap away at American predominance by any means other than direct military ones. This could include striving for economic hegemony; cyberattacks on financial, transportation and communication networks; even terrorism. We have undeniably witnessed the former two in the subsequent decades; the third remains the stuff of macho-lit novels.

But there is one method laid out in the book that is not only undoubtedly being enacted but pertains urgently to our current crisis. The Internet watched agape at a now-notorious interview of the assistant director-general of the World Health Organisation, Dr Bruce Aylward, who executes a painfully obvious ducking of a question about revisiting Taiwan’s discontinued membership of the WHO asked by Hong Kong journalist Yvonne Tong. If you haven’t seen it, forget “Did you threaten to overrule him?”; this is a whole new field of study in Political Avoidance Syndrome. After he pretending he hasn’t heard the question, then that his connection has gone dead, Tong reconnects and asks him instead how he thinks Taiwan has done in combatting the virus. His response could’ve come directly from Premier Xi Jinping himself: “Well, we’ve already talked about China.”

The uninitiated will be wondering what on earth is going on. What business would an international health body have ‘carrying water’ for the Chinese Communist Party? The reason is that the heirs to Mao have gone Gramsci on steroids, embarking on their own Long March through the world’s institutions, posting their loyal comrades into key leadership positions, with demonstrable impact on policy. The first significant conquest was the United Nations Department of Economic & Social Affairs (DESA) as long ago as 2007, when Chinese diplomatic offensives succeeded in getting China’s former ambassador to the UK elected as its head. Now led by Liu Zhenmin, former Vice-Minister of China’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the Chinese dominance of DESA is now treated as an established fact: “DESA is a Chinese enterprise,” says one European diplomat. “Everybody knows it and everybody accepts it.” But since 2013 and the initiation of China’s Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), a vastly ambitious infrastructure network across Asia, Europe and Africa, the CCP has gained the ear of the highest ranks of the UN. In May 2017 UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres praised BRI as having “immense potential” in expanding market access for “countries yearning to become more integrated with the global economy.” The following June, his deputy Amina Mohammed announced that “We must work to take advantage of one of the world’s largest infrastructure initiatives.” At the UN, social and economic development is now seen as ‘China’s thing’, despite a major plank of BRI resting on a ruthless brand of ‘debt diplomacy’ towards lesser developed nations.

The next scalp was the International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO) of which Dr Fang Liu became the first female general secretary in 2015. This milestone for women’s empowerment was a disaster for Taiwan who were denied a seat at the body’s assembly in 2016. This bore bitter fruit this year as China’s exported Covid-19 crisis ravaged East Asia, as well-meaning people calling for Taiwan’s temporary representation at ICAO meetings in view of the severity of the crisis were ignored, and dozens of their accounts blocked on Twitter, including Taiwanese-American Asia analyst Jessica Drun.

In telecommunications, also in 2015, Houlin Zhao became Secretary General of the International Telecommunications Union (ITU). He has used his post to defend the controversial Chinese network Huawei from American concerns about espionage, dismissing them as stemming from a “loser’s attitude”. Any last remaining doubters that Huawei is hand-in-glove with the Communist regime should check out the report they jointly delivered with China’s fully state-run telecoms companies China Unicom and China Telecomm, along with the country’s Ministry of Industry & Information Technology (MIIT) advocating a radical overhaul to online infrastructure. It criticises the current global Internet network as “unstable” and “vastly insufficient”, recommending the Chinese-controlled ITU “shoulder the responsibility of a top-down design for the future network”. Quelle surprise.

In international law enforcement, we had Meng Hongwei as head of Interpol since 2016. That is, until September 2018, when he disappeared. After almost a fortnight and an official demand from Interpol as to the whereabouts of their president, Peking revealed Meng was being indicted for ‘corruption’ as well as the truly Orwellian offence of an “insistence on doing things in his own way”.

But the UN stubbornly refused to wake up and smell the bat soup. Not just at the higher echelons, as you’d expect from the reality-immune waxworks that head up that organisation, but at member state level. A vote last June made China’s vice foreign minister for agriculture head of the UN Food & Agriculture Organisation (FAO) by 108 votes to 12. This fiasco spurred the US to drum up a more coordinated effort to prevent the CCP-approved candidate taking leadership of the World Intellectual Property Organisation (WIPO).

But one of the silver linings of the very, very dark cloud of Covid-19 is that the world is now following the Americans in waking up to Chinese entryism. For many the Awk- *ahem* sorry, Aylward interview was the tip of a hitherto-unseen iceberg — the cost of the WHO’s mercenary slavishness to the Communist Party line. The warning they received as early as December 31st that the coronavirus was transmitting between humans was ignored on the basis that it came from — you guessed it — Taiwan. Weeks later, the WHO parroted the CCP’s claim that there was no human-to-human transmission of the virus. “An opportunity to raise the alert level both in China and the wider world was lost,” the Taiwanese vice-president said regretfully.

The Republic of China’s exemplary response to the ‘CCP virus’ has been cold-shouldered by the WHO in favour of the People’s Republic of China’s, despite it being both dangerously obscurantist and appallingly brutal (sensitivity caution on that second link). Director-General Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus has had nothing but praise: “Its actions actually helped prevent the spread of coronavirus to other countries.” Tedros’ native Ethiopia, by the way, is a signatory to BRI and owes half of its considerable foreign debt to China.

But there is an ongoing awakening to this unpleasant reality. There is now a petition calling on Tedros to resign, garnering more than a million signatures. The first, microscopic signs of a electoral rejection of a China-aligned foreign policy (outside of Taiwan) may have come this week in the Pacific island nation of Kiribati, as its pro-China president suffered a striking loss of his majority on Wednesday. Even our government — which now has deeply personal reasons to be sceptical of claims of Chinese benevolence — may ditch its baffling Huawei fudge-box.

A well-known London university after a recent Long March.

We mustn’t be complacent about this. The CCP still has a great many weapons in its arsenal, and there are serious commentators who believe it will emerge stronger, not weaker, from this global crisis of its making. It does appear this week that in the case of the European Union, old habits are dying hard, as a “not particularly strident” critique of Peking’s handling of the crisis was further softened at the 11th hour before publication. But those who care about liberty and democracy in the world must seize the opportunity and ensure that Communist China is seen for what it is, not a business partner or humanitarian saviour but as an enemy. Then we can worry about those pesky universities.

Writer & actor. Conservative liberalism. Generous orthodoxy. (For everything else, there’s Blu-Tac.)

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