索罗斯:中国是开放社会最危险的敌人

2019-02-18 05:26:01


正在瑞士达沃斯参加世界经济论坛(World Economic Forum)的乔治·索罗斯,于2019年1月24日晚(当地时间)在达沃斯西霍夫大饭店(Hotel Seehof Davos)发表演讲。索罗斯演讲中文译文来自中国数字时代。



2019年1月24日

晚上好,感谢各位光临。
我今晚的发言是要对全世界发出一个警告,即一个前所未有的危险会威胁到开放社会的基本生存。
去年我在这里的讲话,主要是分析信息技术垄断会产生的恶果。那时我说过:“在专制国家和大数据丰富的信息技术垄断公司之间,正在形成一种联盟,这种联盟使新兴的企业监控系统与已经发展的国家资助的监控系统结合起来,将导致形成一个甚至连乔治·奥威尔都无法想象的极权主义的监控网络。”
今晚我要提请大家注意开放社会面临的致命危险,即机器学习和人工智能可以被掌握在专制政权手中的控制手段。我重点讲中国,在那里习近平要使一党制的国家具有至高无上的统治权威。
自去年以来发生了很多事情,我对中国的极权主义控制的形成也有了更多的了解。
每个人可能被获取的信息正在迅速扩展,所有这些信息将被整合到一个中央数据库中,以建立一个“社会信用体系”。根据这些数据进行演算,对人们进行评估,以确定他们是否会对一党制国家构成威胁,并因此而区别对待。
这一社会信用体系尚未完全投入运营,但其发展方向已很明显。它将以前所未有的方式将个人命运从属于一党制的国家利益。
我认为这种社会信用体系非常可怕和令人憎恶。不幸的是,有些中国人却认为这一制度颇具吸引力,因为它能提供目前尚无法提供的信息和服务,而且也可以保护守法公民免受国家敌人的侵害。
中国不是世界上唯一的专制国家,但它无疑是最富有,最强大,和在机器学习和人工智能方面最发达的独裁政权。这使得习近平成为信奉开放社会理念的人们最危险的敌手。但习近平不是绝无仅有。集权体制正在全世界迅速增生,一旦成功,就会成为极权主义国家。
作为开放社会基金会的创始人,我毕生致力于反对整体极端主义的意识形态,这些意识形态错误地宣称,目的可以证明手段的合理。我相信人们对自由的渴望不可能永远被压抑。但是我现在感到,开放社会目前面临严重威胁。
尤其令我感到不安的是,由人工智能开发的监控设施,使专制政体相对开放社会具有了先天内在的优势。对他们来说,监控设施是有用的工具;而对开放社会来说,这构成了致命的威胁。
我所说的“开放社会”是一种简称,这种社会是依法而治而不是由某一个个人来统治;国家的作用是保护人权和个人自由。我认为应该特别关注那些遭受歧视或社会排斥,以及无法自我保护的人们。
与此相反,专制政权使用所有监控手段维护自己的权力,并以牺牲他们所利用和压迫的人们为代价。
如果这些新技术可以为专制政权提供先天内在的优势,那么开放社会如何得到保护呢?这是我最关心的问题,也应该是所有希望生活在开放社会中的人们所应关心思考的问题。
开放社会需要对生产制造监控设施的公司进行规范,而专制政权却可以宣称它们是“国家领军企业”。这使得一些中国国有企业能够赶上甚至超越强大的跨国公司。
当然这不是我们当下应优先思考的唯一问题。比如人为的气候变化威胁着我们文明的基本生存。但开放社会所面临的结构性劣势一直是我优先思考的问题,愿在此与大家分享如何应对的一些想法。
我对此问题深切的关注来源于我个人的经历。
我1930年出生在匈牙利,是犹太人。当德国人占领匈牙利并开始将犹太人驱逐到灭绝营时,我才13岁。非常幸运,我的父亲了解纳粹政权的性质,并为所有家庭成员以及其他一些犹太人安排了假身份证件和藏身之处,使我们大多数人幸免于难。
1944年是我人生经历的关键节点,使我很小就懂得了什么样的政治制度主宰一个国家有多么重要。当纳粹政权被苏联占领取代时,我尽快离开了匈牙利到英国避难。
在伦敦经济学院,受我的导师卡尔·波普尔的影响,形成了我的基本概念框架。当我在金融市场找到一份工作时,出乎意外地发现这一概念框架极为有用。这框架与和金融无关,但它是基于批判性的思维,使我能够分析出当时流行的指导机构投资理论的不足之处。我成了一名成功的对冲避险基金经理,我以是世界上酬薪最高的评论家而感到自豪。
经营一家对冲基金压力很大。当我为自己和家人赚到的钱多于我所需要的时候,我经历了一种中年危机。我为什要拼命去赚更多的钱?我反复深思,我真正关心在意的是什么,于是在1979年成立了开放社会基金会。我将其目标定义为,帮助开启封闭式社会,克服开放社会的不足,倡导批判性思考。
我最初致力于消弱南非的种族隔离制度,之后转向促使苏联体制的开放。我与匈牙利科学院建立了一个合资项目,是共产党控制的,但其代表暗中同情我的努力。这一项目的成功远远超出我的想象。我从此迷上了我所谓的“政治慈善事业”。那是在1984年。
接下来的几年里,我试图在匈牙利和其他共产党国家复制我的成功经验。在苏联邦阵营内包括苏联本身都相当不错,但是在中国则另当别论。
我最初在中国的努力看起来很有希望,是在共产党世界很受尊重的匈牙利经济学家们,与渴望学习匈牙利经验的中国新建的智库团队之间的交流互访。
在最初成功的基础上,我向智库的领导者陈一咨提议在中国复制匈牙利模式。陈得到了赵紫阳总理和他具有改革思想的政策秘书鲍彤的支持。1986年10月建立了名为中国基金会的合资项目。它不同于中国的任何其他机构,在书面上有完全的自主权。
鲍彤是这个项目的领导者。但是众多激进改革派的反对者联合起来攻击他。他们声称我是中央情报局的特务,要求内部安全机构对我进行调查。赵紫阳为了自我保护,将陈一咨换成了一个对外安全警察部门的高官。这两个部门是平级的,不能互相干涉。
我同意了这一变更,因为我不太高兴陈一咨把过多的资助给了他自己研究所的成员,而且我对幕后的政治内斗不知情。但是中国基金会的申请者们很快意识到该组织已被政治警察控制,于是开始远离。当时没人有勇气告诉我这其中的缘由。
后来一个项目执行人在纽约拜访我,冒着对自己相当的风险告诉了我真相。此后不久赵紫阳被废黜,我以此为由关闭了基金会。这发生在89年天安门广场屠杀之前不久,因此给与基金会有关的人留下了一个“污点”。之后他们费了很大力气洗清自己,最后总算成功。
回过头来看,我显然犯了一个错误,即试图建立一个以中国人陌生的方式在中国运作的基金会。那时,捐助一个项目则意味着在捐赠者和受益者之间建立了一种相互的义务感,使他们有义务永远彼此保持忠诚。
过去的事就讲这么多。现在来说说去年发生的一些事,其中一些令我感到惊讶。
我最初到访中国时见过很多高官,他们热衷开放社会的理念原则。他们年轻时多被上山下乡接受再教育,受的苦比我在匈牙利时大得多,但是他们活过来了。我们有很多共同语言,都经受过专制统治。
他们很愿意向我了解卡尔·波普尔关于开放社会的理念,并抱有很大兴趣,然而他们的理解与我不尽相同。他们熟悉儒家的传统观念,而在中国没有投票选举的传统。他们的思维仍然是等级制而不是平等主义的,对高职位有天生的尊重。但我想要的是每个人都有投票权。
所以,当习近平在国内遭遇严重反对时,我并不感到惊讶;但我对它采取的形式感到意外。去年夏天在北戴河海滨度假地举行的领导层会议上,习近平的影响显然略有削弱。尽管没有官方公报,但有传言说,会议不赞成取消任期限制和习近平围绕自己建立的个人崇拜。
值得注意的是,这种批评只是对习近平过激做法的警告,并没有扭转两届任期限制的解除。而且他自己推崇的“习近平思想”,作为他对共产党理论的升华,被提升到与“毛泽东思想”同样的高度。习近平因此有可能终生成为最高领袖。目前的政治内斗仍没有最终结果。
我一直在讲中国,但是开放社会还有很多其他敌手,其中首选俄国普京。最危险的前景是,这些敌手合谋,彼此学习怎样更好地压迫自己的人民。
下一个问题显然是,我们如何能阻止他们?
第一步是认识到这种危险。这也是我今晚讲话的目的。现在要讲一讲困难所在。我们这些想要维护开放社会的人们必需共同努力,形成有效的联盟。我们所面临的任务不能留给各国的政府。历史已表明,即使想保护个人自由的政府,仍有许多其他利益,他们必须优先保护本国公民的自由,而不是把个人自由作为抽象概念加以保护。
我的开放社会基金会致力于保护人权,尤其是政府不给以保护的人们。我们四十年前开始的时候,得到很多国家政府的支持,但目前已有所减少。美国和欧洲曾是我们最强大的盟友,但是现在他们都被各自的问题所困扰。
因此我想把重点放在我认为对开放社会最重要的问题上:即中国将会怎样?
这个问题只能由中国人民来回答。我们所能做的只是把他们和习近平明显区分开来。鉴于习近平已经表明了他对开放社会的敌意,中国人民便成为未来的希望所在。
事实上,这种希望也是有根据的。正如一些中国问题专家向我解释的,中国有一种儒家传统,即当给皇帝出谋划策的幕僚,强烈不赞同皇帝的某一项行为或法令时,会大声疾呼。他们充分了解这样做的结果可能会被流放或斩首。
在我处于绝望的边缘时,这对我来说是一种极大的安慰。在中国,开放社会理念的捍卫者大多是我的年龄,已经退休。取而代之较年轻的,要依仗习近平得以提升。但已出现愿秉承儒家传统的新的政治精英,这意味着习近平在中国继续会有政治上的反对派。
习近平把中国鼓吹为其他国家效仿的榜样,但他不仅在国内而且在海外都遭到批评。他的“一带一路”方案已推行了一段时间,足以暴露其缺陷:即它是为中国的利益而不是受援国的利益所设计的;其雄心勃勃的基础设施项目主要由贷款提供资金,而不是通过赠款,而且外国官员经常是被贿赂而接受项目。许多这些项目被证明是没有经济效益的。
斯里兰卡就是一个典型例子。中国为自身战略利益的需要在斯里兰卡建了一个港口,它未能吸引足够的商业流量来偿还债务,使中国得以占有港口。在其他地方也有类似的案例,普遍引起了怨恨。
由纳吉布·拉扎克领导的马来西亚前政府出卖给了中国,但在2018年5月,拉扎克被马哈蒂尔·穆罕默德领导的联盟投票赶下台。马哈蒂尔立即停止了中国公司的几个大型基础设施项目,目前正在谈判马来西亚仍需要向中国支付多少钱。
巴基斯坦的情况不太明朗,它是中国投资最大的接受国。巴基斯坦军队对中国感激不尽,但去年8月成为总理的伊姆兰汗的立场则含混不清。2018年初,中国和巴基斯坦宣布了军事合作的宏伟计划,到了年底,巴基斯坦陷入严重金融危机。但有一点变的很明显:即中国有意将“一带一路”方案用于军事目的。
所有这些挫折迫使习近平对“一带一路”的态度有所改变。9月份他宣布要避免“虚荣项目”,转而采取更为精心构思的举措;10月份,人民日报警告说,项目应该符合受援国的利益。
有关客户现已有预先警示,其中一些国家,包括从塞拉利昂到厄瓜多尔,正在质疑或重新谈判项目。习近平也不再谈论“中国制造2025”,这是他一年前自我推销的核心内容。
最重要的是,美国政府现已将中国视为“战略对手”。众所周知,特朗普总统的不可预知性臭名昭著,但这一决定是经过精心准备的战略计划的结果。从那以来,特朗普怪异的行为举止在很大程度上被政府各机构采取的中国政策所取代,并由国家安全委员会亚洲事务顾问马特·波廷格和其他人所监督。副总统迈克·彭斯在其2018年10月4日非常重要的讲话中概述了这项政策。
即便如此,将中国宣布为战略对手也是过于简单化。中国是全球的重要一员,对中国的有效政策不能简单概括成一个口号。它应该是复杂精细且可实际运作的;必须包括美国对“一带一路”方案的经济回应。波廷格计划没有回答的问题是,它的最终目标是平衡竞争环境还是不与中国交往。
习近平完全理解美国的新政策对其领导构成的威胁。他把赌注押在于2018年12月1日在布宜诺斯艾利斯举行的20国集团峰会上与特朗普总统进行的个人会谈。与此同时,全球贸易战的危险升级,股市开始严重抛售。这给特朗普政府带来了问题,这些问题集中在2018年的中期选举上。当特朗普与习近平会面时,双方都渴望达成协议。难怪他们达成了一个非常不确定的协议,即九十天的休战。
有明显迹象表明,中国正在经历广泛的经济放缓,这也在影响世界其他地区。全球性经济放缓是市场最不希望看到的情况。
中国不言而喻的社会契约,是建立在稳步提高生活水平的基础上。如果中国的经济下滑和股市下跌太严重,这种社会契约可能会受到破坏,那么甚至商界也可能会反对习近平。这种下滑也可能敲起“一带一路”方案的丧钟,因为习近平可能会耗尽为亏损投资继续提供融资的来源。
在更广泛的全球互联网治理问题上,西方与中国之间存在着一场未经宣战的争斗。中国想要通过其新的网络平台和技术控制发展中国家,从而决定数字经济的管理规则和程序。这构成了对互联网自由和开放社会本身的威胁。
去年我仍然认为,应使中国更深入地融入全球治理机构,但此后习近平的所作所为改变了我的观点。我现在认为,美国应该把重点放在中国,而不是与全世界发动贸易战;不应将中兴通讯和华为轻易放过,而是需要严厉打击。如果这些公司在5G市场占据主导地位,它们将给世界其他地区带来不可接受的安全风险。
令人遗憾的是,特朗普总统似乎正在采取不同的做法:向中国做出让步但宣称胜利,同时重新攻击美国的盟友。这可能会破坏旨在遏制中国的滥用和过度行为的政策目标。
最后,让我总结一下我今晚要传达的信息。我关键要说明的是,专制政权与信息技术垄断的结合,会赋予专制政权内在具有的相对开放社会的优势。控制手段是专制政权手中的有效工具,但它们对开放社会构成致命威胁。
中国不是世界上唯一的专制国家,但却是最富有,最强大,和技术上最发达的独裁政权。这使习近平成为开放社会最危险的对手。
这也是为什么将习近平的政策与中国人民的愿望区分开来是如此重要。社会信用体系如果开始运作,将使习近平能够完全控制其人民。正因为习近平是开放社会最危险的敌人,我们必须把希望寄托在中国人民身上,尤其是商界和愿秉承儒家传统的政治精英们。
这并不意味着我们这些相信开放社会的人只能被动旁观。一方面,不断变化着的冷战确实有危险,可能会变成一场炙手可热的战争。另一方面,如果习近平和特朗普不再执政,那么两个网络超级大国之间将有机会发展更多的合作。
设想类似于在第二次世界大战结束时的“联合国条约”之类的文件是有可能的。这将是当前美中循环冲突的适当结局。它将重新建立国际合作,并使开放社会能够蓬勃发展。我的发言到此结束。

Remarks delivered at the World Economic Forum
Davos, Switzerland, January 24, 2019

Good evening and thank you all for coming.

I want to use my time tonight to warn the world about an unprecedented danger that's threatening the very survival of open societies.

Last year when I stood before you I spent most of my time analyzing the nefarious role of the IT monopolies. This is what I said: "An alliance is emerging between authoritarian states and the large data rich IT monopolies that bring together nascent systems of corporate surveillance with an already developing system of state sponsored surveillance. This may well result in a web of totalitarian control the likes of which not even George Orwell could have imagined."

Tonight I want to call attention to the mortal danger facing open societies from the instruments of control that machine learning and artificial intelligence can put in the hands of repressive regimes. I’ll focus on China, where Xi Jinping wants a one-party state to reign supreme.

A lot of things have happened since last year and I've learned a lot about the shape that totalitarian control is going to take in China.

All the rapidly expanding information available about a person is going to be consolidated in a centralized database to create a "social credit system." Based on that data, people will be evaluated by algorithms that will determine whether they pose a threat to the one-party state. People will then be treated accordingly.

The social credit system is not yet fully operational, but it's clear where it's heading. It will subordinate the fate of the individual to the interests of the one-party state in ways unprecedented in history.

I find the social credit system frightening and abhorrent. Unfortunately, some Chinese find it rather attractive because it provides information and services that aren’t currently available and can also protect law-abiding citizens against enemies of the state.

China isn't the only authoritarian regime in the world, but it’s undoubtedly the wealthiest, strongest and most developed in machine learning and artificial intelligence. This makes Xi Jinping the most dangerous opponent of those who believe in the concept of open society. But Xi isn't alone. Authoritarian regimes are proliferating all over the world and if they succeed, they will become totalitarian.

As the founder of the Open Society Foundations, I’ve devoted my life to fighting totalizing, extremist ideologies, which falsely claim that the ends justify the means. I believe that the desire of people for freedom can't be repressed forever. But I also recognize that open societies are profoundly endangered at present.

What I find particularly disturbing is that the instruments of control developed by artificial intelligence give an inherent advantage to authoritarian regimes over open societies. For them, instruments of control provide a useful tool; for open societies, they pose a mortal threat.

I use "open society" as shorthand for a society in which the rule of law prevails as opposed to rule by a single individual and where the role of the state is to protect human rights and individual freedom. In my personal view, an open society should pay special attention to those who suffer from discrimination or social exclusion and those who can’t defend themselves.

By contrast, authoritarian regimes use whatever instruments of control they possess to maintain themselves in power at the expense of those whom they exploit and suppress.

How can open societies be protected if these new technologies give authoritarian regimes a built-in advantage? That's the question that preoccupies me. And it should also preoccupy all those who prefer to live in an open society.

Open societies need to regulate companies that produce instruments of control, while authoritarian regimes can declare them "national champions." That's what has enabled some Chinese state-owned companies to catch up with and even surpass the multinational giants.

This, of course, isn't the only problem that should concern us today. For instance, man-made climate change threatens the very survival of our civilization. But the structural disadvantage that confronts open societies is a problem which has preoccupied me and I’d like to share with you my ideas on how to deal with it.

My deep concern for this issue arises out of my personal history. I was born in Hungary in 1930 and I'm Jewish. I was 13 years old when the Nazis occupied Hungary and started deporting Jews to extermination camps.

I was very fortunate because my father understood the nature of the Nazi regime and arranged false identity papers and hiding places for all members of his family, and for a number of other Jews as well. Most of us survived.

The year 1944 was the formative experience of my life. I learned at an early age how important it is what kind of political regime prevails. When the Nazi regime was replaced by Soviet occupation I left Hungary as soon as I could and found refuge in England.

At the London School of Economics I developed my conceptual framework under the influence of my mentor, Karl Popper. That framework proved to be unexpectedly useful when I found myself a job in the financial markets. The framework had nothing to do with finance, but it is based on critical thinking. This allowed me to analyze the deficiencies of the prevailing theories guiding institutional investors. I became a successful hedge fund manager and I prided myself on being the best paid critic in the world.

Running a hedge fund was very stressful. When I had made more money than I needed for myself or my family, I underwent a kind of midlife crisis. Why should I kill myself to make more money? I reflected long and hard on what I really cared about and in 1979 I set up the Open Society Fund. I defined its objectives as helping to open up closed societies, reducing the deficiencies of open societies and promoting critical thinking.

My first efforts were directed at undermining the apartheid system in South Africa. Then I turned my attention to opening up the Soviet system. I set up a joint venture with the Hungarian Academy of Science, which was under Communist control, but its representatives secretly sympathized with my efforts. This arrangement succeeded beyond my wildest dreams. I got hooked on what I like to call "political philanthropy." That was in 1984.

In the years that followed, I tried to replicate my success in Hungary and in other Communist countries. I did rather well in the Soviet empire, including the Soviet Union itself, but in China it was a different story.

My first effort in China looked rather promising. It involved an exchange of visits between Hungarian economists who were greatly admired in the Communist world, and a team from a newly established Chinese think tank which was eager to learn from the Hungarians.

Based on that initial success, I proposed to Chen Yizi, the leader of the think tank, to replicate the Hungarian model in China. Chen obtained the support of Premier Zhao Ziyang and his reform-minded policy secretary Bao Tong.

A joint venture called the China Fund was inaugurated in October 1986. It was an institution unlike any other in China. On paper, it had complete autonomy.

Bao Tong was its champion. But the opponents of radical reforms, who were numerous, banded together to attack him. They claimed that I was a CIA agent and asked the internal security agency to investigate. To protect himself, Zhao Ziyang replaced Chen Yizi with a high-ranking official in the external security police. The two organizations were co-equal and they couldn’t interfere in each other’s affairs.

I approved this change because I was annoyed with Chen Yizi for awarding too many grants to members of his own institute and I was unaware of the political infighting behind the scenes. But applicants to the China Fund soon noticed that the organization had come under the control of the political police and started to stay away. Nobody had the courage to explain to me the reason for it.

Eventually, a Chinese grantee visited me in New York and told me, at considerable risk to himself. Soon thereafter, Zhao Ziyang was removed from power and I used that excuse to close the foundation. This happened just before the Tiananmen Square massacre in 1989 and it left a "black spot" on the record of the people associated with the foundation. They went to great length to clear their names and eventually they succeeded.

In retrospect, it's clear that I made a mistake in trying to establish a foundation which operated in ways that were alien to people in China. At that time, giving a grant created a sense of mutual obligation between the donor and recipient and obliged both of them to remain loyal to each other forever.

So much for history. Let me now turn to the events that occurred in the last year, some of which surprised me.

When I first started going to China, I met many people in positions of power who were fervent believers in the principles of open society. In their youth they had been deported to the countryside to be re-educated, often suffering hardships far greater than mine in Hungary. But they survived and we had much in common. We had all been on the receiving end of a dictatorship.

They were eager to learn about Karl Popper's thoughts on the open society. While they found the concept very appealing, their interpretation remained somewhat different from mine. They were familiar with Confucian tradition, but there was no tradition of voting in China. Their thinking remained hierarchical and carried a built-in respect for high office. I, on the other hand I was more egalitarian and wanted everyone to have a vote.

So, I wasn't surprised when Xi Jinping ran into serious opposition at home; but I was surprised by the form it took. At last summer's leadership convocation at the seaside resort of Beidaihe, Xi Jinping was apparently taken down a peg or two. Although there was no official communique, rumor had it that the convocation disapproved of the abolition of term limits and the cult of personality that Xi had built around himself.

It's important to realize that such criticisms were only a warning to Xi about his excesses, but did not reverse the lifting of the two-term limit. Moreover, "The Thought of Xi Jinping," which he promoted as his distillation of Communist theory was elevated to the same level as the "Thought of Chairman Mao." So Xi remains the supreme leader, possibly for lifetime. The ultimate outcome of the current political infighting remains unresolved.

I've been concentrating on China, but open societies have many more enemies, Putin's Russia foremost among them. And the most dangerous scenario is when these enemies conspire with, and learn from, each other on how to better oppress their people.

The question poses itself, what can we do to stop them?

The first step is to recognize the danger. That's why I'm speaking out tonight. But now comes the difficult part. Those of us who want to preserve the open society must work together and form an effective alliance. We have a task that can’t be left to governments.

History has shown that even governments that want to protect individual freedom have many other interests and they also give precedence to the freedom of their own citizens over the freedom of the individual as a general principle.

My Open Society Foundations are dedicated to protecting human rights, especially for those who don't have a government defending them. When we started four decades ago there were many governments which supported our efforts but their ranks have thinned out. The US and Europe were our strongest allies, but now they're preoccupied with their own problems.

Therefore, I want to focus on what I consider the most important question for open societies: what will happen in China?

The question can be answered only by the Chinese people. All we can do is to draw a sharp distinction between them and Xi Jinping. Since Xi has declared his hostility to open society, the Chinese people remain our main source of hope.

And there are, in fact, grounds for hope. As some China experts have explained to me, there is a Confucian tradition, according to which advisors of the emperor are expected to speak out when they strongly disagree with one of his actions or decrees, even if that it may result in exile or execution.

This came as a great relief to me when I had been on the verge of despair. The committed defenders of open society in China, who are around my age, have mostly retired and their places have been taken by younger people who are dependent on Xi Jinping for promotion. But a new political elite has emerged that is willing to uphold the Confucian tradition. This means that Xi will continue to have a political opposition at home.

Xi presents China as a role model for other countries to emulate, but he's facing criticism not only at home but also abroad. His Belt and Road Initiative has been in operation long enough to reveal its deficiencies.

It was designed to promote the interests of China, not the interests of the recipient countries; its ambitious infrastructure projects were mainly financed by loans, not by grants, and foreign officials were often bribed to accept them. Many of these projects proved to be uneconomic.

The iconic case is in Sri Lanka. China built a port that serves its strategic interests. It failed to attract sufficient commercial traffic to service the debt and enabled China to take possession of the port. There are several similar cases elsewhere and they’re causing widespread resentment.

Malaysia is leading the pushback. The previous government headed by Najib Razak sold out to China but in May 2018 Razak was voted out of office by a coalition led by Mahathir Mohamed. Mahathir immediately stopped several big infrastructure projects and is currently negotiating with China how much compensation Malaysia will still have to pay.

The situation is not as clear-cut in Pakistan, which has been the largest recipient of Chinese investments. The Pakistani army is fully beholden to China but the position of Imran Khan who became prime minister last August is more ambivalent. At the beginning of 2018, China and Pakistan announced grandiose plans in military cooperation. By the end of the year, Pakistan was in a deep financial crisis. But one thing became evident: China intends to use the Belt and Road Initiative for military purposes as well.

All these setbacks have forced Xi Jinping to modify his attitude toward the Belt and Road Initiative. In September, he announced that "vanity projects" will be shunned in favor of more carefully conceived initiatives and in October, the People's Daily warned that projects should serve the interests of the recipient countries.

Customers are now forewarned and several of them, ranging from Sierra Leone to Ecuador, are questioning or renegotiating projects.

Most importantly, the US government has now identified China as a "strategic rival." President Trump is notoriously unpredictable, but this decision was the result of a carefully prepared plan. Since then, the idiosyncratic behavior of Trump has been largely superseded by a China policy adopted by the agencies of the administration and overseen by Asian affairs advisor of the National Security Council Matt Pottinger and others. The policy was outlined in a seminal speech by Vice President Mike Pence on October 4th.

Even so, declaring China a strategic rival is too simplistic. China is an important global actor. An effective policy towards China can’t be reduced to a slogan.

It needs to be far more sophisticated, detailed and practical; and it must include an American economic response to the Belt and Road Initiative. The Pottinger plan doesn’t answer the question whether its ultimate goal is to level the playing field or to disengage from China altogether.

Xi Jinping fully understood the threat that the new US policy posed for his leadership. He gambled on a personal meeting with President Trump at the G20 meeting in Buenos Aires. In the meantime, the danger of global trade war escalated and the stock market embarked on a serious sell-off in December. This created problems for Trump who had concentrated all his efforts on the 2018 midterm elections. When Trump and Xi met, both sides were eager for a deal. No wonder that they reached one, but it’s very inconclusive: a ninety-day truce.

In the meantime, there are clear indications that a broad based economic decline is in the making in China, which is affecting the rest of the world. A global slowdown is the last thing the market wants to see.

The unspoken social contract in China is built on steadily rising living standards. If the decline in the Chinese economy and stock market is severe enough, this social contract may be undermined and even the business community may turn against Xi Jinping. Such a downturn could also sound the death knell of the Belt and Road Initiative, because Xi may run out of resources to continue financing so many lossmaking investments.

On the question of global internet governance, there's an undeclared struggle between the West and China. China wants to dictate rules and procedures that govern the digital economy by dominating the developing world with its new platforms and technologies. This is a threat to the freedom of the Internet and indirectly open society itself.

Last year I still believed that China ought to be more deeply embedded in the institutions of global governance, but since then Xi Jinping's behavior has changed my opinion.  My present view is that instead of waging a trade war with practically the whole world, the US should focus on China. Instead of letting  ZTE and Huawei off lightly, it needs to crack down on them. If these companies came to dominate the 5G market, they would present an unacceptable security risk for the rest of the world.

Regrettably, President Trump seems to be following a different course: make concessions to China and declare victory while renewing his attacks on US allies. This is liable to undermine the US policy objective of curbing China’s abuses and excesses.

To conclude, let me summarize the message I’m delivering tonight. My key point is that the combination of repressive regimes with IT monopolies endows those regimes with a built-in advantage over open societies. The instruments of control are useful tools in the hands of authoritarian regimes, but they pose a mortal threat to open societies.

China is not the only authoritarian regime in the world but it is the wealthiest, strongest and technologically most advance. This makes Xi Jinping the most dangerous opponent of open societies. That's why it's so important to distinguish Xi Jinping's policies from the aspirations of the Chinese people. The social credit system, if it became operational, would give Xi total control over the people. Since Xi is the most dangerous enemy of the open society, we must pin our hopes on the Chinese people, and especially on the business community and a political elite willing to uphold the Confucian tradition.

This doesn't mean that those of us who believe in the open society should remain passive. The reality is that we are in a Cold War that threatens to turn into a hot one. On the other hand, if Xi and Trump were no longer in power, an opportunity would present itself to develop greater cooperation between the two cyber-superpowers.

It is possible to dream of something similar to the United Nations Treaty that arose out of the Second World War. This would be the appropriate ending to the current cycle of conflict between the US and China. It would reestablish international cooperation and allow open societies to flourish. That sums up my message.