With the execution of Lai Xiaomin of China Huarong Asset Management Co., China executed a subtle sword block and strike in the art of information war against the United States. Beijing’s leadership-level propaganda piggy-backs on decades’ long Russian intelligence narratives and memes marinating military, law enforcement, far right, and angry young men in the notion that only strongmen are free and manly enough to get things done because they can kill those perceived as ‘the problem.’ Stalin infamously said, “Death is the solution to all problems. No man – no problem.” It is no secret that Hitler felt the same way.
Donald Trump praised China’s Xi Jinping, North Korea’s Kim Jong Un, and Saddam Hussein for their ability to deal roughly with opponents and troublemakers at home. Trump at least twice reportedly told Xi that building concentration camps for the Uighers was the right thing to do.
The appeal of unbridled power in politics analogized to strongmen, action heroes, and military men, began with President Vladimir Putin’s PR-machine creating his own action-hero superstar status. Putin, and to some extent, Ramzan Kadyrov then reached out to Hollywood action stars, boxers, and macho celebrities such as Steven Seagal (granted Russian citizenship), Oliver Stone, Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi, Mike Tyson, Gerard Depardieu, Roy Jones, Jr., Micky Rourke, Donald Trump, and Formula One’s Bernie Ecclestone, who advocated that Russian President Vladimir Putin lead Europe with this plug: “He does what he says he’s gonna do, he gets the job done.” This tough-guy narrative became a staple message about Donald Trump online, on whom followers imputed Putin’s macho image even if it was not warranted.
China’s and Russia’s narratives that autocracies run by warrior leaders get things done while democracies run in place appealed to action heroes, elite military troops, and law enforcement types whose Facebook and other accounts as far back as 2009 trafficked in anti-Obama content comparing Putin’s military man status to conspiracy and racially-tinged meme-legends of Barack Obama as a liberal, civilian, Islamist conspirator unfit to protect the United States.
For China and Russia, these narratives are not reserved only for those on the Far Right, but are pitched in different language to centrists and those on the Left. Consider the execution of Lai Xiaomin in the context of this excerpt from a propaganda piece (Google cache link) seen across Chinese English language media extolling China as an enlightened democracy compared with the West:
The CPC has led the nation to unparalleled growth and staggering achievements, particularly in the reduction of poverty. It may be fairly described as a transformational miracle, bringing prosperity and optimism that were unimaginable a mere four decades ago.
After five years of intensive reform, an unprecedented anti-corruption campaign, and the maturation of rule of law, a confident CPC, remaining true to its founding tenets, is set fair to keep the country on the right course “for a long time to come.”
Again, the theme that autocracy ‘gets things done,’ includes China’s “anti-corruption campaign” in the name of which Lai Xiaomin was executed. Above, a euphemistic passage on socialist achievement dresses-up the lethal Stalinist animus underneath. No 8th Amendment. No rule of law. Just state terror with a shimmering exterior.
I will close with an anecdotal illustration of China’s approach: On LinkedIn last year a purported, overtly mainland China profile popped-up and responded to my criticism of the chaos behavior of then President Trump, writing, and I paraphrase: “Time for a military coup.” How interesting, I thought back then, recalling a 2015 closely-framed photo from a Chinese-generated media site making Los Angeles protests over the Freddy Gray case appear more massive and out of control than they were.