I’ve recently hired someone from China to clear my floor every day… an autonomous robotic vacuum cleaner. It (He, She?) would very swiftly move around the obstacles and get to the hardest places to reach, having memorized every single piece of furniture, thick carpet or stairs.
The robot was obviously connected to the Internet and controlled via an app. Once you download it from the app store, accept all the T&Cs you never read and connect your Facebook account (more data to give access to) you can track the robot in real-time. So much fun!
So there I was, staring at my Chinese-made phone screen, realizing I’ve just given out, totally voluntarily, more access into my life than the leaders of old communist Poland could ever dream of.
They were able to control the public media (there was no private), telephone calls, or official statements given during rallies, in the workplaces. But they didn’t have plugs to listen to every conversation in every house. And even if they did, they wouldn’t be able to hire enough people to analyze those recordings.
And what about me? I’ve just voluntarily paid with my own money for a device and brought it home. A device that can send information about my very own house to a receiver I know nothing about.
It’s how it works now and no need to be paranoid, right? We’re used to compromising freedom from safety. We’re giving out so much stuff about our daily lives out of… convenience. Where does the data go? Companies on the other side of the World, and in many cases — to the governments. And there’s no black and white here, governments on each side of the iron curtain have a history of spying on each other, as well on their own citizens (google Edward Snowden, latest Huawei scandal).
Obviously, I’m not assuming that some crazy Chinese member of the communist party is sneaking at my house to see if the robot cleans properly, but the knowledge about the numbers of rooms, their size, as well as information how many people are inside at a given point of time is already a pretty valuable piece of information in certain situations.
Was the approval to give my data to the People’s Republic of China part of the T&Cs I accepted? No, it wasn’t (I’ve just checked it). Am I gullible enough to think that any big Chinese manufacture is independent of the “influence” of the Part? No, I’m not. I come from Poland, I’ve heard enough stories “back from the days”
Alright, enough the robot. I wanted to write about how the Chinese position in the World has changed since January 2020.
Couple weeks after the Wuhan you-know-what, that turned into the global you-know-what, president XI Jinping had a PR crisis to deal with. He had to fight the image of China becoming responsible for World’s biggest paralysis of movement, trade, and life basically, since WWII. Even India (Population of 1,3bln) ordered a lockdown and essentially a house arrest.
What has China put into action? A large scale operation to help a large number of ( for now mainly European) countries. Whole cargo flight with equipment and medical staff have arrived in Italy. A lot of Polish and Nigerian companies (that I have direct communication with) have gotten a proposal from very small (confirmed) Chinese suppliers to deliver free masks and safety workwear.
American Media started running a story that COVID-19 wasn’t born in China, but was delivered to Wuhan by… American Army.
There’s been no new case of the virus in China for the last couple of days, so the country is very slowly easing the movement restrictions, although life will probably never be the same. In the meantime, Europe is entering the peak and the USA is next. The lockdown will hit the Western economy, and it will hit it hard. And China is reopening the factories and relaunching the economy. In a couple of months on the ashes of the old set up, we will have a new, global winner.
Products from China ordered online by millions of stuck in their homes consumers, will start flowing again. My product got delivered a month later? It doesn’t matter since I have no alternative.
President of the EU Commission Ursula von der Leyen has officially thanked the leadership of China for the support given to the European community. When China ships free help, Trump calls COVID-19 fake news and then closes the borders just days after. We haven’t seen in a while such a juxtaposition in the global superpower PR game.
More and more Nation leaders are looking up to China and praising it publicly for being a role model of speed, scale of action, and efficiency. And the surveillance mechanism used by China to fight the virus can now be finally imported to Europe, and later also help in counterterrorism or “counter-opposition-ism”
Chinese model spiced up wth economical incentives is a very seductive mix. Just ask the African leaders.
Mass invigilation of citizens (for their own safety of course), nationalism (virus was brought by foreigners, wasn’t it?) will be a weapon of choice of many absolute-power-longing heads of states.
We will trade our safety and stability for economical growth, better life, and more shit to order from AliExpress. The Americans have come and gone, now we have the Chinese. It’s not going to matter (I never really did, let’s face it) whether the new “business partner” is a totalitarian regime systematically killing its citizens (“Obama and Bush also killed people!”).
What is your government going to do when the Chinese friend asks to delicately “modify” how your school history books write about the Tiananmen square, or how your media reports Chinese camps for Muslims?
My parents were taught Russian in school. By the time I landed in class, Russian was replaced with English. What language will my kids learn? Programming hopefully will be there too, but Chinese is a given.
Sign up to my newsletter (link) and get a free ebook “Chasing Black Unicorns. How building the Amazon of Africa put me on Interpol Most Wanted list.”
For the article click here.
Posted on Medium.