Sir Iain Duncan Smith writes for the The Telegraph.
Liberal democracies' failure to cope with the impact of coronavirus has been a gift to the despotic regime.
As the autocratic Communist leaders of China look out at the once-great liberal democracies of the free world, convulsed in a mixture of economic collapse and growing authoritarianism, what they can now see is the full soft underbelly of the West finally and fully exposed.
They have always believed that our form of government is weak but it is the virus they passed to the West that has finally proved them right. As Beijing takes advantage of our desperation, keeping their economic growth going on the back of sales of PPE to desperate Western nations, it is obvious to them that the virus has exposed democracies' inability to make long-term plans and prepare for such an event.
China has read us well. Over the last 20 years, its leaders understood how motivated we are by greed and that if they could offer the West cheap products and growing technology then the West would greedily beat a path to their door. That was exactly what happened. Such was our casual arrogance that we assumed our money would change China and their system would become more liberal. That was certainly part of the supposed rationale behind the UK’s Project Kow Tow.
China's riches have been put to brilliant effect, as the book Hidden Hand, released this summer, points out. It shows how the country's growing wealth was used to influence the influential around the world. I remain astonished at just how many movers and shakers in this country and others blatantly extol the virtues of China while receiving money from China.
As Hidden Hand makes clear, the West has ignored the Chinese government's policy to suppress constitutional democracy, universal values, civil society, neoliberalism, western journalism and any criticism of the Chinese Communist Party at home and abroad. Whilst what the book calls “tech-enhanced authoritarianism” increases the party-state’s control of China, it is clear this is now being applied to the West, too.
Worse, in the pursuit of trade with China, the West has been too compliant in turning a blind eye to the enormous list of abuses. From the suppression of the Uighurs to the Tibetans, Christians, Fallon Gong and Hong Kong, nothing, it seems, can be allowed to disrupt our trade with China.
Yet I doubt that even the Chinese government would have anticipated the depth of the crisis now facing the West.
At present the UK is engaged in a fierce argument about the second lockdown after being devastated by the first, which damaged not just the economy but livelihoods and health.
Meanwhile our civil liberties, the jewel in the crown of modern democracies, are being suppressed as police are instructed to enforce the regulations with greater fines and ordinary people are encouraged to snoop on their neighbours.
All this stands against an unprecedented background of cultural strife as the free world, driven by the woke Left as it sets out to selectively judge the past and repudiate its core tenets. China calmly watches as the free world’s global leader, the USA tears itself apart, divided and angry. The proposal here that even our private comments around the family table could become a hate crime is but the latest example of the loss of intellectual self-confidence debilitating the West.
Worse, we now know that the figures put out by the British Government's scientists to justify the lockdown were vastly overstated with the result that people were scared into compliance. The Government claims that it is following the science, yet the truth is that ministers are being governed by scientists who have shown that, just like economists, their forecasts are often wrong. It is little wonder that policy too often lacks all semblance of balance.
Of course we have faced crises in the past, which have required governments to tighten up on our civil liberties to some degree. But never have we combined both vast suppression of civil liberties with suppression of our economy.
As Remembrance Sunday approaches, it is impossible not to recall the wartime generation that faced life and death every day. I can remember my mother telling me how, as a ballerina, she would perform in the theatre no matter the risk of bombs and then go to parties after. I also recall my father – a fighter pilot – saying the reason he fought was that he hated all that strutting authoritarianism of Nazi Germany. I wonder what they would make of us now?
Our liberties are our strength, the thing the Communist government of China fears will seep into their country. It is without these liberties that we expose our soft underbelly. Now more than ever we should heed Gladstone’s words, "If you want a bulwark against despotism, there is no rampart like the breasts of free men."