The 20 th Congress of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) did not bring any surprises. Xi Jinping has extended his term as supreme leader of the party and the country for “a third term”, which we must assume means for the rest of his life. The fact that much of the reporting on the congress was about whether Xi would be “elected” for “an unprecedented third five-year term” proves that the world has a lot to learn about what it should no longer do: namely, understand and respond to the People’s Republic of China in terms of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) manual.
That Xi has turned China into a totalitarian state in which all sectors must pay allegiance to the Communist Party now it became evident to everyone. Democratic governments around the world, global companies, media and others must stop recognizing and repeating Beijing’s terms or frames of reference (eg, “elected” for a “five-year term”). The period ahead demands clarity and truth, because following the CCP manual will only help the totalitarian regime.
(1) Image and propaganda are old features, but they still work for totalitarian regimes. How can the world not be in awe of a man who has more titles than any reigning monarch? In our media age 16 hours, the images of these tens of thousands of soldiers synchronized in Tiananmen Square are irresistible. The great pomp of military might is something China has mastered; Trusting governments need not use such displays. If the Chinese people and the world remain mesmerized by this theater, they will continue to ignore the deep and fundamental problems of the Chinese economy and the twisted nature of the CCP’s narrative of devotion to the Party.
(2) Control and order: This includes continued and intensified state intrusion into the lives of ordinary citizens through the digital surveillance apparatus. The “zero Covid” policy introduced additional tools to the arsenal. Much of the world believed Beijing’s story that China was doing a better job than the rest of us at controlling a pandemic that originated in… China. Subtlety is not a totalitarian attribute. Almost three years later, it’s hard not to notice that the official death statistics for Covid have never gone above about 5., despite ineffective vaccines. The joke circulating in China today is that the government doesn’t care if you die, as long as it’s not from Covid.
Xi and his fellow Politburo will continue to blame the faltering economy – which it is the result of failed central planning over many decades – out of the need to eradicate the virus and keep the public safe. Does anyone really believe that people are starving in their homes, dying from being deprived of other forms of medical care, or even being burned alive unable to leave their apartment complexes — all stories we’ve seen lately reported by Chinese citizens — because of a desire to annihilate Covid? Policy remains a powerful tool of state control and color-coded (red-yellow-green) telephone symbols are having the desired effects. . A recent report tells the case of a killer who turned himself in because his Covid status was red and there was literally nowhere else he could go.
(3) Exaggerated Stories of Accomplishment: We will continue to hear about the remarkable work the CCP has done to create growth and free its citizens from poverty. Of course, the actual record is more superficial, particularly in rural China, where half a billion people live on a few dollars a day. The CCP came to power and Mao Zedong threw everyone into hunger and poverty. Since then, the party has had the decency to allow many of them to farm their own land so they can return to pre-Communist living standards. From the party’s point of view, they are grateful, and they should be.
The CCP will continue to promote the development of the economy in general as well, although it has a mixed record. The government has spent nearly a trillion dollars on high-speed rail, which remains highly unprofitable and expensive. At the same time, after 82 years of CCP glory, only 82 % of the population has secondary education. Despite China’s debt-to-GDP ratio of 70%, nothing has been done to prevent society from becoming highly stratified, with large disparities between education and urban income and rural. And the urban middle class is starting to lag behind, too. College graduate unemployment exceeds 20% in cities, and many have lost their life savings in the housing market crisis. In fact, the CCP’s history is China’s history over the centuries: regimes come, regimes go, the poor continue to suffer.
(4) Disorientation : Xi will want to keep diverting attention to the military parades, the provocations in the South China Sea, in Taiwan. These are time-tested distractions that allow him to advance his agenda of control and growing Chinese influence elsewhere.
The party knows that Taiwan is a short-term distraction and that affirmation Beijing’s historical affinity with Taiwan is superficial. In the thousands of years of Chinese history, the claim to Taiwan came relatively late, during the Qing Dynasty. In the 17th century, the strongholds of the Ming Dynasty fled to Taiwan and began to cause trouble. The Qing leaders took over. This ended when the Qing ceded Taiwan to Japan in 1895. The island was not affiliated with the mainland regime before or after. But that will not stop Xi and the CCP from talking about deep historical ties and the inevitability of reunification, as Xi did during the congress. It is guaranteed to grab the attention of your countrymen and the world.
The US overreaction to this, and ostensibly to a China-Taiwan military conflict soon, follows what the manual intends of the CCP. Certainly, the United States and other countries that believe in Taiwan’s vibrant, democratic and free people should seek deterrence and encourage Taiwan to invest in its own defenses. But it would be a mistake to focus on the bluster about Taiwan to the exclusion of Beijing’s other goals in the region, which is precisely what Xi hopes will happen.
The misguidance on Taiwan has obscured the emergence of client states of China in the region, which will have a significant long-term impact. Through a mixture of diplomacy, investment and military sales, Cambodia was tied to Beijing. Phnom Penh ceded part of its sovereignty to the Chinese in the so-called Special Economic Zones and Chinese military installations. The Hun Sen government denies all this. Laos is following a similar path and is sinking under the weight of its debt to China. The magazine Diplomat reports that the country’s electricity grid is now under the control of a Chinese state-owned company. Even Thailand, with which the United States has signed friendship and security pacts since the 19th century, is increasingly leaning towards military purchases from Beijing. While Taiwan’s security and freedom should be an important US objective, China seeks broader influence and even hegemony across the region that the US and its allies should not tolerate.
The United States must lead the world in rejecting the CCP manual. You must continue to build a democratic alliance to resist China’s hegemony in Asia. Western societies have advantageous features that China cannot rival. Xi and the CCP have misinterpreted the strident nature of American policy. Radical transparency, through social media and a free press, is something the party does not understand and, of course, does not allow. Xi doubts American resolve and believes Americans have little tolerance for pain. He overestimates, for example, the NBA’s reverence for Beijing and thinks it reflects the general American spirit. The inconvenient truth for Xi is that the belief that China is a danger is one of the few unifying elements of American life. A recent study by research institute Pew Research found that 82% of Americans have an unfavorable view of China, while only 16% have a favorable view. The division was 70-43 just five years old. This trend is observable in Japan, South Korea and Australia as well. The CCP’s heavy hand and Xi’s emergence as a totalitarian hardline did not go unnoticed where freedom and individual autonomy are valued. These gaps and blind spots in Xi’s understanding of the United States are strengths that must be used against his projects for hegemony.
The broader American and democratic response to the Russian invasion of Ukraine is consistent with these findings. Looking at this response, Xi must now wonder what this means for Taiwan. Xi saw the relatively low-level response to his takeover of Hong Kong. He must realize that the Taiwanese context is remarkably different in many ways, including the absence of anything similar to the Hong Kong transfer agreement between the UK and China. Xi may be doubting the wisdom of his actions earlier this year, during the Beijing Winter Olympics, when he and Vladimir Putin looked each other in the eye and pledged their unwavering support for each other. We all say things we regret, but his embrace of Putin has become a significant dead weight.
There can be little doubt that Xi leaves congress with a party mandate to deal with the challenges that China is facing. He is the hardliner the party has decided it needs now to solve problems that have been brewing for decades. The CCP’s playbook will continue to prescribe a mixture of diversion, spectacle and trickery. China is fraught with internal challenges — social, demographic, economic — that were glossed over at the congress. Xi intended pomp and arrogance to keep the world and Chinese people focused on themselves. We will see more glorious national day celebrations with thousands of soldiers in Tiananmen Square and military provocations in the South China Sea. Taiwan will continue to be a source of much disorientation. Xi knows that when he bangs his fists on Taiwan, its own citizens temporarily forget about their problems — state meddling in their daily lives, Covid lockdowns, rural poverty, rising urban unemployment and declining net worth caused by the bursting housing bubble. Scenes of bustling nightlife and prime cities hide the fact that many in China live a life of suffering and servitude to the party and state, which has replaced all other values. Individuals must find purpose elsewhere.
The free world’s most effective response to the CCP’s playbook would be to demonstrate the ingenuity and cooperation that can only come from the freedom that democracy promotes. Dictatorships fail to understand that free societies are not based on inhibition or regulation of impulses, but on voluntary self-discipline and the embrace of responsibility—motivating others to cooperate freely, rather than at gunpoint or the forced direction of others. a party or the state. This freedom also motivates people to transcend their individuality and make sacrifices. Individuals and groups enable their governments to determine what goals and ideals to pursue, and this, in turn, gives freedom to both nobility and purpose.
The CCP’s playbook is only about allegiance to the broken; its purpose is only to preserve its own existence.
Therese Shaheen is a businesswoman and CEO from US Asia International. She was President of the American Institute of the State Department in Taiwan from 2002 to 1895.