Observations of an ex pat: China Peak

History may well record the 2022 Chinese Communist Party Congress which starts next week as the Party’s peak.

It is certainly the apex for Xi Jinping who has climbed the greased pole to become the only Chinese leader since Mao to serve more than ten years in the top job.

China itself now has the second largest economy, army, air force and navy on the planet. It also has the largest population.

Beijing also has the world’s largest foreign aid budget and has invested trillions of dollars in foreign infrastructure projects for its belt/road initiative.

A third of the world’s goods are manufactured in China.

China is a super power and the Communist Party can claim credit for most of the country’s success. It united a country destroyed by ruthless colonialism, invasion and civil war and wiped out the stain of what the Chinese refer to as “the century of humiliation.”

But in the years to come the Chinese may well refer to the first quarter of the 21st century as the halcyon days for there are signs that the Communist Party is laying the foundations for serious problems for the future.

Xi Jinping, who will be crowned next week as China’s second “Great Helmsman” can claim both the success and the blame. He has substantially reduced corruption, boosted GDP, increased the military and turned China into a showcase alternative to Western democracy.

He has also tied his country to a dangerously unreliable Russian ally; angered Chinese with his strict zero tolerance covid strategy; created an economic crisis through poor management of the property market; made China and its political credibility a hostage to the policy of Taiwanese annexation and has started the process of reversing political and market reforms. All of this at a time when the world economy in which China is now a major player is significantly slowing down.

The damage that XI has wrought to the policy of reforms is the least obvious, slowest to realise and, at the same time, the most dangerous to the long-term interests of China and the rest of the world.

Communist China started political life as a strictly-controlled Stalinist state. A major cause of the Sino-Soviet split was Khrushchev’s 1956 denunciation of Josef Stalin. The Cultural Revolution was sparked off by Mao’s refusal to countenance the proposed reforms of Deng Hsiaopeng and Liu Shaoqui.

It was not until after Mao died in 1976 and Deng was rehabilitated that “socialism with Chinese characteristics” could be introduced. Since then Chinese GDP has grown at ten percent a year—the fastest in the world.

Xi, however, is believed to think that reforms have gone too far. As examples of the dangers he points to 1989 Tiananmen Square Massacre and the 1991 collapse of the Soviet Union. As a result, XI is rolling back political reforms. The “Great Firewall of China” employs 100,000 censors to block news considered critical of China, the Chinese Communist Party and/or Xi personally. In fact, XI is proposing that the Communist Party take control of the domestic internet. He calls it “smart governance.” The party already controls all other media outlets.

China also has the largest number of CCTV cameras in the world. A total of 200 million—four times the number in the US. And its cameras are equipped with facial recognition software that allows the cameras to identify individuals by name and follow them everywhere they are within range of the cameras.

Xi has also rewritten the state constitution to say that the country operates “under the leadership of the Chinese Communist Party” which means that the party is entitled to override and criminalise freedoms enshrined in the state constitution such as free speech and right to protest.”

Economic freedoms are also being rolled back under Xi. He has introduced a raft of regulations which foreign businessmen claim are designed to increase party control of their activities. The restrictions are particularly pronounced in the IT sector. The value of Chinese tech companies listed on the Hong Kong Stock Exchange has dropped dramatically.

As of the start of 2022 there were more billionaires in China than the US– 698 compared to 642. But Xi has shown signs he is uncomfortable with China’s world-beating figure. This is because he fears that wealthy individuals—and the aspirations they embody—offer an alternative to the Chinese Communist Party supremacy. The fate of Ali Baba founder Jack Ma is the best example. Ma effectively became a non-person on the eve of a flotation which would have turned him into one of the richest in the world.

XI maintains in his published “Thoughts” that the purpose of these changes is to make the Communist Party more responsive to the needs of everyday people and that strict central control is essential to maintain order and prosperity. In short, he proposes a benevolent dictatorship. The problem is that history fails to record a single instance of a dictatorship remaining benevolent.

* Tom Arms is foreign editor of Liberal Democrat Voice and the author of “The Encyclopedia of the Cold War” and the recently published “America Made in Britain” that has sold out in the US after six weeks but is still available in the UK.

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4 Comments

  • Steve Trevethan 8th Oct '22 - 11:48am

    Michael Hudson, economist, presents a stylised model of societies. It comprises:
    * The government
    * Thé very richest
    * Thé rest of us
    Thé combinations of the above control the running of the state.
    Might XI Jinping be pursuing a policy of blocking the power of the very rich so that they do not exploit the citizenry?
    Might our government be pursuing a policy of working with/for the very rich to exploit the citizenry?

  • Paul Barker 8th Oct '22 - 1:12pm

    We don’t know much about what’s happening in The Chinese Empire (China as its usually called) but we do know there’s been a lot of resistance to the massive apparatus of repression & that The Economy is in deep trouble. Dictatorships don’t last for ever, The Soviet Union lasted 73 Years, The Chinese equivalent has lasted 73 Years so far. There is reason to hope its replacement could be broadly Democratic & could join in making a better World.

  • Martin Gray 9th Oct '22 - 8:15am

    Not much said these days as regards the Genocide of a certain section of China’s population …
    The west has moved on & is wholly focused on Russia/Ukraine…
    They’ve outsourced significant manufacturing capabilities to China….Any condemnation is always going to be muted …Too big, too powerful , & let’s not upset those supply chains …

  • Peter Hirst 10th Oct '22 - 1:17pm

    China will continue to prosper as long as the USA continues to decline. It will be a combination of internal and external pressures that will cause any hault. Taiwan could yet prove its Achilles’ Heel as could its treatment of its far east.

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