“Zero Tolerance” and “Maximal Force”

“Zero tolerance is the approach they’re using,” Deepak is later explaining to us over lunch through a mouthful of lasagna bolognese.  “The policy is pretty simple:  Use ‘maximal force’ against all infractions as a deterrent to prevent future mischief by your citizens.”

After giving us the “shock and awe” presentation on Oracle, Vanessa and Alan fielded a few more questions and then wrapped up the meeting since they needed to peel off to attend to their other responsibilities.  Shu also wandered off somewhere to do something but the rest of us decided to all get a late lunch together at the cafeteria.  As foreigners, we were all strangers in a strange land and it was nice to be part of a tribe, even if we’d just met that morning.  After getting our food from the bazaar, we got a table as far away from everyone else as we could in the cafeteria corner.  Since it was late afternoon, the seating area was luckily sparsely populated.

Katherine frowns.  “What do you mean,” she asks Deepak, “by ‘maximal force,’ exactly?”

“It’s exactly what it sounds like,” Deepak says, shrugging.  He leans back, having finished his lasagna, and pats his professorial potbelly contentedly.  “For every single infraction they observe in Ürümqi, no matter how trivial,” he explains, “the CCP likely levies the maximum penalty– I’m guessing either imprisonment or maybe even death.”

I raise an eyebrow.  “You think the Chinese Communist Party is summarily executing Uyghurs by firing squad if they’re caught littering?”

Deepak shakes his head.  “No, of course not, don’t be absurd.  That’d be a total waste of bullets.  The CCP’s probably following Singapore’s model and hanging rule-breakers at high-noon in the public square.  That way it’s a twofer– no money wasted on bullets and you make a very public, very visible example to your citizens.”

“You cannot possibly be serious.”

“Why not?” Deepak asks and he rolls his eyes.  “You Americans are so naïve.  You think your precious Geneva Convention and humanitarian ideals are so high and mighty, so important.”  He harpoons a lone meatball on his plate, apparently having caught a second wind.  “You in the west can only think your lofty thoughts because you’re an obscenely rich and privileged country with a population that’s never exceeded 350 million.”  He points his fork at me.  “And yet, you Americans somehow manage to occupy the best, fattiest midsection of an entire continent.  You’ve never lived in a country of 1.4 billion people.  China, India, Indonesia– together, we’re half of the world’s population.  And yet, our people collectively on average live on less than two of your American dollars a day.

“When you’re trying to build a new world order in this environment of crushing poverty, like Xi’s been trying to do for a decade now, it’s necessary to curtail individual freedoms for the greater good.  If one homeless person litters without consequence, then everyone litters.  Soon your streets run with filth and garbage.  The drainage and plumbing get backed up.  Sewage seeps into the water supply.  And then you’ve got Detroit on your hands, just like that.  But if you make an example– swiftly and visibly— then after a few public executions and lots of tears, people start getting the gist and falling in line.”


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