President-elect Joe Biden’s new national security team is a distinguished collection of men and women with long experience in global affairs. One wonders, however, if that experience will help or hinder them in grasping the challenges posed by a newly assertive China. The communist nation’s recent threats against our longtime ally, Australia, show how Chinese behavior is different and more dangerous than any of them have previously seen.
Last week, the Chinese Embassy in Australia released a list of 14 grievances that amounted to a threat to bludgeon our ally into submission. Declaring that “China is angry,” the diplomats unleashed a torrent of criticisms on issues ranging from Australia’s decision to ban the Chinese telecoms giant, Huawei, from participating in its 5G network, to “unfriendly or antagonistic” reports on China by the media. In other words, China threatened economic reprisals against a free country for behaving like a free country.
Even the number “14” in China’s list of grievances reveals the gravity of the threats. Much as the number 13 is considered unlucky in the United States, any number that includes “four” is considered extremely unlucky in China because the sound for “four” in Mandarin is extremely similar to the sound for “death.” Chinese buildings often do not have any floors ending with a “four,” and Chinese weapons systems often include the number in their names. Fourteen is even worse because the sound for “one” is a homophone for “certain.” Fourteen, then, sounds like “certain death” or “is dead” in Mandarin.
Henry Olsen is a senior fellow at the Ethics and Public Policy Center.