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JOHN HUMPHRYS: In today's China, our aircraft carriers are as useful as a terracotta army


The cyclist, an elderly farmer, turned into our minibus on the quiet road in rural China.

He was flying. He was clearly badly injured. We called the driver to stop and take the man to the hospital. But our Communist Party supervisor ordered him to continue.

It was 1979 and a tiny but terribly revealing memory of the calluses of a regime that had killed more of its own citizens than anyone else in history.

Under Mao, tens of millions of people died in the so-called big leap forward and in the cultural revolution. Now he was dead and his successor Deng Xiaoping wanted to show a different face to the world through foreign journalists like me.

The HMS Queen Elizabeth is shown above. It has become known that our military chiefs have worked out plans to deploy one of our two new aircraft carriers to the Far East early next year to help combat an increasingly assertive China

A few years earlier, peasants digging a new well had found the remains of an old grave. This would lead to one of the most extraordinary archaeological discoveries in history: the terracotta army.

We were taken to a dimly lit underground museum. Lined up were endless rows of full-size clay soldiers, each of which was immaculately preserved, each with distinctly different faces and different uniforms to indicate their rank. There were several hundred of them.

And this breathtaking performance turned out to be a mere foretaste of what was to come. In a huge archaeological excavation, more than 8,000 soldiers with 130 chariots and 670 horses were discovered.

This terracotta army and its massive mausoleum were created on the orders of Qin Shi Huang when he became the first emperor of China almost 2,500 years ago. Like Deng, he wanted to send a message to the known world.

Under Mao, tens of millions of people died in the so-called big leap forward and in the cultural revolution. Now he was dead and his successor Deng Xiaoping (above) wanted to show a different face to the world through foreign journalists like me

Under Mao, tens of millions of people died in the so-called big leap forward and in the cultural revolution. Now he was dead and his successor Deng Xiaoping (above) wanted to show a different face to the world through foreign journalists like me

His was very simple: China is the most powerful nation on earth. You take on us at your risk.

Do you remember someone who is still there today?

We know that the emperors lived more than 2,000 years. We know that Mao's reign of terror died with him. But the People's Republic of China, which he founded, survived.

It is now run by a man, Xi Jinping, whose ambition is that of an old emperor.

China has become the second most powerful country in the world. Xi wants it to be the first. And he changed the rules of the Communist Party to keep him in the job for a lifetime.

Should we fear this prospect and can we do anything to prevent it?

The first is easy to answer. China under Xi has become an increasingly malicious regime – both domestically and abroad.

Not only was it the source of Covid-19, they also tried to cover up the Wuhan outbreak and then armed the World Health Organization to underestimate the danger. We all pay the price.

China has also signed a decade-long Hong Kong deal with the UK that will last another 27 years and has imposed stringent new security laws on its people.

The world condemned it. Beijing ignored it. There are worrying signs that Taiwan is the next target.

The Chinese people themselves have nothing to complain about – as long as they don't care about trifles like basic human rights and do exactly what their communist leaders tell them.

And only as long as they were not born into an ethnic group that these leaders disapprove of.

This terracotta army and its massive mausoleum were created on the orders of Qin Shi Huang when he became the first emperor of China almost 2,500 years ago. Like Deng, he wanted to send a message to the known world

This terracotta army and its massive mausoleum were created on the orders of Qin Shi Huang when he became the first emperor of China almost 2,500 years ago. Like Deng, he wanted to send a message to the known world

The treatment of the Uighurs has become worse and worse under Xi. There are more than a million of them, many of whom are locked up in so-called re-education camps.

Others call them concentration camps. Uyghur women are at risk of forced sterilization. Rebellious. Inhuman. But despise it, although we like it, it's an internal matter.

China's foreign policy is very different. Especially when there is a risk of destabilizing the region and ultimately the world order, for example by building military bases on reefs in the South China Sea.

And when it tries to convince other governments that a powerful Chinese company like Huawei is as independent from the state as BT from the British government. It is not. It does what it said. There is a law that says it has to.

For this reason, the worm has turned after years of familiarizing ourselves with Beijing and giving Huawei the opportunity to operate our communications network effectively.

It's a humiliation for Boris Johnson. It will cost billions to move the kit to another location for our 5G cellular network to work. It will reset the program by at least a couple of years. And China inevitably threatens retaliation.

But it's all worth a price. The alternative would have been to give a potentially hostile alien power the bare essentials to free and spy on us from the heart of our communication system.

The next big question for the government is whether the Chinese can design a new nuclear power plant in Essex – crucial for future energy supplies.

And then we are faced with the even bigger question of how to deal with the threat to a country whose economy will soon overtake the United States to become the most powerful in the world and whose military might should scare us all.

We had a worrying clue this week about how we shouldn't be doing it. It has become known that our military chiefs have worked out plans to deploy one of our two new aircraft carriers to the Far East early next year to help combat an increasingly assertive China.

Vice Admiral Jerry Kyd, the Royal Navy fleet commander, said: "Our goal is to be absolutely stubborn and forward-looking there."

If this actually happens, it will be a reversal of a decision in the 1960s to withdraw Britain's military presence "east of Suez".

I try to imagine President Xi inviting his generals to an emergency meeting on the news. Panic is engraved on their faces. The British bulldog bares his teeth, he will tell them. We have to resign.

"Really?" The days when Britain roared and the world shook are long gone. And that's not a bad thing. But on the contrary.

Unfortunately, it's far too late to reverse the ridiculous decision that resulted in us wasting so many billions on aircraft carriers that we didn't need that have proven to be technically hopeless. And that would be ducks for one of China's new long-range missiles.

China under Xi has become an increasingly malicious regime - both domestically and abroad. Not only was it the source of Covid-19, they also tried to cover up the Wuhan outbreak and then armed the World Health Organization to underestimate the danger. We all pay the price

China under Xi has become an increasingly malicious regime – both domestically and abroad. Not only was it the source of Covid-19, they also tried to cover up the Wuhan outbreak and then armed the World Health Organization to underestimate the danger. We all pay the price

We even have to rely on the Americans when it comes to airplanes. Just as we would have to rely on them if, God forbid, we had ever threatened to deploy our "independent" Trident nuclear missiles.

You can almost see why our best military (if not all) and a dwindling group of patriotic politicians want to hold onto the idea that Britain is still a so-called "Tier One" troop on the world stage. Check out our proud story, damn it!

Well, actually no. Let's look at our future instead. Past is past.

First of all, let us accept that we simply cannot afford the enormous defense expenditure that is needed. Just in case nobody notices, we are a little bit dependent on cash. Like an overdraft of a few hundred billion. And will take a long time.

But the bottom line is that if China or Russia really pose a threat in the future, it won't come from a gun or a nuclear missile. It will come from a computer keyboard.

Cyber ​​warfare has the potential to bring an advanced country like ours to its knees at an alarming rate.

We panicked a few months ago when the stores ran out of toilet rolls. Imagine supermarkets without food. Or garages without fuel. Or houses and hospitals without electricity. Civilization has never been so vulnerable.

As is well known, Lenin said that society is only three meals away from anarchy. That was before computers controlled the world.

And that's why we're right to drop Huawei and wrong to rely on aircraft carriers.

They are about as useful as a terracotta army.

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