Thucydides' Trap and the Wolf Warriors

Foreign direct investments in China are at their lowest since 1993: from 334 billion in 2021 they have fallen to 33 billion in 2023. Thus a few days ago, during the visit to China of a group of US CEOs, received in the Great Hall of the People in Beijing, Xi Jinping has preferred to abandon his Wolf Warrior clothes to wear those of a storyteller, more useful to the current situation, to explain to his guests how the “Thucydides trap” is not inevitable. In fact, the theory, according to which when one great power threatens to overthrow another, the result is almost always war, seems increasingly on the verge of coming true in this period.

Electric vehicles are the measure of the dystopian future that awaits us. Tesla drivers in China are facing restrictions entering more and more government areas: They cannot enter the Grand Halls area in the heart of Shanghai's North Bund district, even if they are just passing through, due to hypothetical risks to China's national security. In some cities, such as Chengdu or Chongqing, which host sporting events, restrictions on US electric vehicles have been tightened. In Jiangsu, Zhejiang and Hubei provinces, many drivers say their Teslas are barred from entering certain areas, citing safety risks.

Meanwhile, US Commerce Secretary Gina Raimondo theorizes that Chinese electric vehicles could be used as spies: “Imagine a world where there are millions of cars, Chinese cars on the streets of the United States, collecting this data every minute of every day on millions of Americans and sending it to Beijing“. More generally, US “Sinophobia” is reaching levels not seen since the days of Senator McCarthy and the House Un-American Activities Committee when, under the pretext of protecting Americans from Soviet espionage, abuses were carried out against hypothetical communist sympathizers. The real risk is to provoke the very thing we want to discourage: Chinese aggression against Taiwan.

China, for its part, is pursuing a real crusade in favor of espionage: the Communist Party has invited all citizens to become spies for the party. In the “Law on the custody of state secrets”, promulgated a few weeks ago, we read how the State must strengthen secrecy education and include it in the national education system for citizens and in the education and training system for public officials. It is considered necessary to encourage the media to conduct a campaign, aimed at the general public, where secrecy is promoted and educated.

The result, as reported by the US National Counterintelligence and Security Center (NCSC), is that if China considers the outgoing data flow to be a national security risk, this law provides the Chinese government with an expanded legal basis for access and control of data held by US companies in China. It could also force Chinese citizens, employed locally by U.S. companies, to cooperate with Chinese intelligence efforts.

The paranoia of the Ministry of State Security (MSS), China's version of the KGB, is making the country a dangerous place for business visits by executives and research and development workers. The diligent agents of China's main intelligence agency are on the lookout for foreign spies, hostile foreign forces and, of course, regime dissidents. Agents trying to counter foreign organizations that would have their eyes on the country's rare strategic resources: starting with rare earths.

And so a comic titled “The Secret Special Investigation Division” whose plot tells how two undercover foreign agents were sent to the fictional mining area of ​​Xishan as lost hikers to gather information on some minerals that have become rare strategic resources. An attempt to exploit, and fuel, the nationalistic impulses that pervade the country to join the anti-espionage efforts of the second largest economy in the world.

State media Global Times presents the comic on its X account as an adaptation of “real cases of counterintelligence operations.”

China's prolonged real estate recession is eroding the balance sheets of its largest state banks while bad loans accumulate and this is probably enough to explain the completely opposite tone with which Xi Jinping addressed his guests, including Schwarzman from Blackstone and Amon from Qualcomm were there to explain how Beijing is planning further global reforms that should make the country a business environment characterized by free markets, rule of law and internationalization, capable of providing broader development opportunities for businesses in many countries, including those in the United States.

Among the reforms, it is speculated, there could be the granting of visa-free travel to China to US citizens: a move to try to break the monopoly of information on China by the elites in power in the US, whose anxieties about China are bipartisan, and allow the average American to form his own idea of ​​the Middle Empire. According to Beijing's vision, people from all walks of life in both countries should engage in more exchanges, communications and cooperation to continuously accumulate consensus.

It is difficult to understand what the real role of the cordial Guest of the Great Hall of the People in Beijing is: the Statesman, who claims that a strong and prosperous China is a positive force for the world or the Wolf Warrior launched towards the construction of a hegemonic China. As underlined by the president of Zijin Mining, a state mining giant, the efforts of the USA and their allies will slow down the development of the Chinese economy and mining industry and could increase geopolitical tensions with the real danger of being projected towards a war that neither of them wants.