Chapter Nine – Passage Three
Notwithstanding my own massive reservations with this new proposed direction for our project, we decide to dive down this rabbit hole to see how far it goes. In life, it’s generally a net plus to maintain an open mind. It’s a truism that sometimes the best ideas originate from the least likely places and in all of my years consulting as a data scientist, I’ve definitely witnessed my fair share of harebrained ideas.
But this one, I’m fairly confident, takes home the gold: Fabricate the existence and wild spread of a fictional virus to scare the good people Xinjiang to stay at home, give Chinese authorities the cover to withdraw, let the region degenerate into complete chaos, and then have the Chinese move back in to save the day.
What on earth could go wrong?
“It’s not without precedent,” Deepak muses. “Back in 1947, the British partitioned India, picked up their toys and simply left. Sometimes if nothing’s working, it’s worth just shaking up the snow globe and trying something totally new.”
“Right,” Coleman says dryly. “And remind us all again, please, how that turned out?”
“Well, over half-a-century of bloody territorial dispute ensued between the newly formed Pakistan and India resulting in thousands of casualties and fatalities,” Deepak admits. “Not to mention, because of all of the bombings and extrajudicial bloodshed, to this day bitter religious blood-feuds among the 10-12 million displaced along the Line of Control endure still to this day.”
Kristen works the holo-table and 3D projection of Xinjiang materializes in the air. She taps several of the floating options and different parts of the region light up.
“This would be a classic ‘divide and conquer’ move,” she says, looking at Alan. “Didn’t you say earlier that’s how Mao stole all China from Chiang Kai-shek way back when?”
“Yes, that’s right,” Alan says, looking surprised that she remembered. “Chiang at one was running the show on the mainland but then depleted all of his men and forces fighting off the Japanese. By the time Chiang was finished, he’d beaten off the Empire of the Rising Sun but had nothing left to fend off Mao when the PRC swept the country. It was actually quite ingenious on Mao’s part.”
“Right, so we now essentially can use the same playbook on the Uyghurs. What we need, now, is a way to break their fighting spirit,” Kristen says aloud. I think she’s still half working out the plan for herself as she’s explaining to us. “In the beginning, everyone’s always super gung-ho about defending the homeland. Lots of patriotism and nationalism abound. But eventually, a decade in, it just becomes Vietnam all over again. The new generation won’t even understand why, what, or whom we’re fighting. And everyone then just wants to just go home.”
I begin to see what Kristen is driving at. Resistance to a regime can never entirely be eliminated. No matter what you do, and how good of a job you do, there will always be some vocal minority immensely unhappy with your effort. Like that damn air bubble you can never totally get rid of when you’re newly laying down fresh carpet. In fact, if my past few months in China had taught me anything, it was that there was actually immense value in publicly recognizing a minority opposition party– people who disagree with you but are not in control. If you don’t, then you get a setup like the CCP’s politburo: Where everyone appears to be on the same page but really all secretly harbor their own agendas. Then that’s just a slime-infested swamp of palace intrigue, backstabbing, double-and-triple-crosses, etc. It’s a complete desert wasteland where you don’t even know who’s on your side, who or where your enemies are, and anyone can be actually murdered or jailed at any moment.
In other words, modern day China.
Just because you declare some land “one harmonious kingdom singularly united under the banner of heaven” or whatever, it doesn’t mean all of the differences in political ideologies, philosophies, lineages of family rivalries, and petty interpersonal conflict just suddenly disappear overnight. You can say the words, but that doesn’t change reality– all of it just goes underground.
In America and the other modern democracies, at least you knew who your enemies were at all times. Like, the teams are very clearly delineated. At least compared to this Kabuki theater situation that existed in China. No matter the fancy system or label that you apply to a regime or group of people, at the day’s end, after all the dust’s settled, humans are going to human.
Kristen points at the two regions of the holo-map that she’s highlighted.
“This is Urumqi and roughly 315 kilometers away to the northwest is Karamay, the fourth largest city in Xinjiang at a population of about 400,00 people.”
“So about ninth the size of Urumqi,” Coleman says. “It’s also a paltry 200km from the Kazakhstani border.”
“Yes– so what we can set up,” Kristen says, “is some kind of intercity competition in Xinjiang. Right now all of the hatred and resentment in Urumqi is directed towards a single common enemy: The CCP. But what if we could frame improvement differently? Instead of seeing non-vandalism and criminal and anti-corruption measures as highhanded mandates coming down from Beijing, what if we could sway the Uyghurs into believing that they were locally creating these measures organically?”
The key to a good negotiation between two hostile sides which want nothing more than to destroy each other is always to first find common ground. No matter how much two groups of people may despise each other, no matter whatever eons of bad history may exist between them, there is always something that both parties want. That’s step one.
Then step two is to frame the proposal in a way that’s acceptable to both sides. Who came up with the idea, who gets to take the credit, who’s dictating what, etc. Sensitive egos, bouts of pride, nationalism, all that.
“Right now what we’re lacking in Urumqi is an aspirational model of what they desire to be,” I say aloud. In my head, I can’t help but think of the Puritan, John Winthrop, in 1630 having just arrived in the Massachusetts Bay. America was to “A City Upon a Hill“— a beacon of hope and light to the rest of the world of what was possible.
Without a City Upon a Hill to admire, Urumqi had no sense of direction. It was just all chaos and messiness.
We needed to give them direction. And Karamay could be that model vessel. We all need greenlights at the end of the dock, even entire cities.