Are we living in the new Red Scare?

Zach Murphy, Staff Writer

The words “red scare” tend to conjure images of Joseph McCarthy, nuclear weapons and spies compromising national security. It was a distinctive part of 20th century America; a part of our cultural history as much as cowboy movies and rock music. Though the Soviet Union’s dissolution undoubtedly abetted anxieties over communists infiltrating Washington, D.C., it seems that the media wants to spark a new fear campaign surrounding China. Media reports on China continuously paint the country as plotting against international cooperation and attempting to curb the freedoms of foreign citizens. A recent BBC article highlights this tendency candidly, conflating a new technology that would help ex-pat Chinese citizens access their finances with a grander fear campaign of spying. Such media portrayals of China are highly problematic and don’t provide proper historical context that would reveal the United States’ role in international aggression and disinformation.

Before continuing, I would like to make it clear that China is in no way an innocent actor in this situation. There is significant evidence that the Chinese government violates human rights amongst Uyghur people and stunts democratic movements in Hong Kong. This article is more focused on how American and Western European media outlets portray China’s motives in technological development, international relations and economic trade. Reports from the BBC reveal that the Chinese government is working on a payment system called Digital Currency Electronic Payment (DCEP). This payment system would help Chinese citizens abroad access their finances and allow non-citizens who work with China the ability to conduct business more efficiently. The BBC tacitly argues that this currency could be used for spying on citizens. While this is one example of fear-mongering surrounding China, it nonetheless stands as a candid and powerful example of how a lack of context influences how w perceive other countries.

The recent storm of fear surrounding China does not include conversations on how the United States government also interferes in international politics and conducts surveillance on citizens. Articles like the one in the BBC attempt to make it seem like China will become a new evil empire akin to the Soviet Union, but simultaneously ignore how the Central Intelligence Agency has conducted covert operations to overthrow democratic governments in Indonesia, Iran, the Congo and a host of other countries. Without this context, it would seem that the United States is innocent in terms of interference and espionage against foreign citizens and countries. This is the vital context that is missing from these articles, and it allows the American reader’s imagination to run wild without consideration of how their government does the same thing.

My point is not simply to highlight the fact that America has done bad things in the past. Rather, I want to emphasize that media outlets are portraying China in a manner akin to the red scare. News articles like the one from the BBC make it seem that this is solely a China problem instead of a big-government one. Such reporting implies that blockchain technology is good in the hands of American corporations but bad in the hands of the Chinese government. The new red scare pops up in articles over a wide range of subjects, especially concerning economics and trade. Our skepticism should not be directed only on one nation and not the other, but should rather be focused on the problems associated with strong central governments that have the ability and drive to abuse new technologies. Hopefully, the media will change in the future to become more nuanced about this issue, but when sensation sells more clicks and papers than deep dives into nuance, such a hope becomes more of a pipe dream.

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