More than 65,000 Hong Kong residents applied this year during the first five months of a program granting residency in the United Kingdom. The British government estimates that as many as 300,000 Hongkongers will flee Chinese oppression by moving to the U.K.

The flight of Hong Kong people, to Britain and elsewhere, is a warning of dangerous Chinese ambition. Beijing has, in public pronouncements, been making the case that it should rule the world. In fact, Chinese officials have announced even grander plans, publicly talking about making the near regions of the solar system parts of the People’s Republic of China.

Can Biden stand up to Xi?
Can Biden stand up to Xi? (Alex Brandon, Eraldo Peres/AP)

For decades, much of the world viewed China’s Communist Party as benign. The people of Hong Kong, for instance, confidently believed Beijing, in oft-heard words, “would not kill the goose laying the golden egg,” in other words, that China’s leaders would leave the prosperous territory alone.

If only. In 1984, Beijing signed the Sino-British Joint Declaration. Britain agreed to hand over the territory to China in 1997. In return, China promised Hong Kong 50 years of a “high degree of autonomy” pursuant to the “one country, two systems” formula.

Beijing reneged. The National Security Law, imposed on June 30 of last year, has been called the end of law in Hong Kong. Since then, China has jailed residents for political speech, imposed strict controls on expressions of discontent, and closed down the territory’s main newspaper. Jimmy Lai, the publisher of that paper, Apple Daily, is now in jail for peaceful opposition to Beijing’s crackdown, quite possibly for the rest of his life.

Chinese ruler Xi Jinping, responsible for Beijing’s repressive Hong Kong policies, also oversaw the imposition of ruthless social-control measures in Tibet. In 2017, when Chen Quanguo became the Communist Party secretary of the misnamed Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region, Xi ordered the elimination of Turkic culture and identity. Chen’s brutal measures — mass detentions, killings, torture, rape and enslavement, among other atrocities — constitute “genocide” as defined in Article II of the Genocide Conventionof 1948 and other crimes against humanity.

Xi’s ambitions are not confined to controlling the people inside his borders. In a July 1 speech marking the Communist Party’s centennial, he promised China would “crack skulls and spill blood” of those standing in his way. In even more chilling words, he said “the Chinese people are not only good at taking down the old world but also good at building a new one.”

Xi, with these words, is announcing his international system: The Chinese imperial-era order in which emperors believed they had both the Mandate of Heaven to rule tianxia, or all under Heaven, and the obligation to do so.

In public statements, he has been employing tianxia language for decades, and so have subordinates. In September 2017, for instance, foreign minister Wang Yi, in Study Times, the Central Party School’s influential newspaper, wrote that Xi’s “thought on diplomacy” has “made innovations on and transcended the traditional Western theories of international relations for the past 300 years.”

Wang with the time reference is pointing to the Treaty of Westphalia of 1648, which established the current system of sovereign states. His use of “transcended,” consequently, hints that Xi wants a world without sovereign states — or at least no more of them than China.

But why stop at ruling just Planet Earth? Chinese officials in 2018 talked about the moon and Mars as sovereign Chinese territory, a part of the People’s Republic. That means they consider those heavenly bodies like the South China Sea, theirs and theirs alone.

They’re serious, as they remind us from time to time. Beijing in April introduced its Mars rover, stating the device was named after the god of fire in Chinese mythology. Yes, Zhurong is the god of fire, but what Beijing did not tell us is that he is also the god of war — and the god of the South China Sea.

China’s modern war god, Xi Jinping, has sent Chinese troops deep into Indian-controlled territory in Ladakh, in the Himalayas and into India’s Sikkim; authorized Chinese encroachments into Nepal and Bhutan; sailed vessels into Japanese territorial waters around the Senkakus in the East China Sea; and flown planes in great numbers into Taiwan’s air-defense identification zone.

His military is building hundreds of missile silos for the fearsome DF-41, which can hit any part of the U.S. homeland with nuclear warheads, and he took the world by surprise with a late-July around-the-world flight of a hypersonic glide vehicle, apparently seemingly designed to deliver nukes with almost no warning. Chinese generals and propagandists have threatened — without provocation — to incinerate American cities, and since July the regime has made public threats to nuke Japan and Australia as well.

Is this just fearmongering or warmongering? No. Americans must begin to pay attention to Beijing’s pronouncements.

Yet an ambitious China is also an overstretched one. There is a debt crisis Beijing cannot solve — Evergrande, the failing property developer, has triggered a chain of missed bond payments by others — plus China is plagued by rolling power outages, a stagnating economy, worsening food shortages, a deteriorating environment, and accelerating COVID-19 outbreaks.

To make matters worse, the country is on the edge of a demographic collapse, the steepest in history in the absence of war or disease. Chinese demographers believe their country could lose half its population in 45 years. Beijing’s announcement five years ago ending its one-child policy has not increase births.

Most observers, pointing to Xi’s ability to rewrite Communist Party history, believe he is consolidating power, yet common sense, if nothing else, points to the opposite conclusion. Policy failures must be eroding Xi’s base and and roiling the political system. Even though that system is designed to thwart accountability, Xi is undoubtedly being held accountable for policy failures. Because of his almost-unprecedented accumulation of power, he has few others to blame. He has during his tenure raised the costs of losing political struggles. China’s supremo, therefore, now has a low threshold of risk and many reasons to pick on some other country to deflect elite criticism and popular discontent. Xi is increasingly likely to take the world by surprise.

In 1966, a sidelined Mao Zedong, the founder of the People’s Republic, started the Cultural Revolution to vanquish political enemies in Beijing. Xi is doing something similar with his “common prosperity” program and ferocious attacks on private business.

Unlike Mao, however, Xi also has the power to plunge the world into war.

Unfortunately, many in the policy establishment still believe Washington can work with Beijing and entice it into becoming a “responsible stakeholder” in the international system. Would that it were so simple.

China’s regime cannot be reformed. “A liberal internationalist foreign policy is incompatible with China’s illiberal domestic order,” writes political scientist Minxin Pei. “Although an illiberal regime can occasionally demonstrate tactical brilliance in diplomacy, its execution of a constructive, long-term foreign policy will be undermined by the character flaws inherent in autocracies: insecurity, secrecy, intolerance and unpredictability.”

The ugly China of today is sometimes called an anomaly. Analysts suggest the unwelcome developments and trends are the product of its current leader, that his personality is the driving force behind the “Wolf Warrior” diplomacy as well as the regime’s recent moves to close itself off from the world and its relentless drive to reestablish totalitarian controls at home.

Yet Xi and his hero Mao are the inevitable products of communism. The so-called “reform era,” the four relatively benign decades sandwiched between Mao and Xi, is really the aberration.

China is not trying to get along inside the existing international system as it sometimes says it is trying to do. It is not even trying to change that system so that it is more to China’s liking, as analysts believe. It is, as we can see from Xi’s own words, trying to overthrow the Westphalian order, which means that once again the Chinese state is ruled by a revolutionary.

In periods of Communist Party vulnerability, Washington periodically came to the aid of the party, most particularly in 1972 when Nixon went to a country severely weakened by the Cultural Revolution; in 1989, when George H.W. Bush assured the murderous Deng Xiaoping of American support in the wake of the Tiananmen massacre, and in 1999, when Bill Clinton signed a generous trade deal that paved China’s entry into the World Trade Organization.

Each of these moves had their benefits; hundreds of millions of Chinese people are more prosperous as a result. But in retrospect, aiding the regime was a mistake. With this help, China was able to later threaten the international system. Today, it can continue to cause havoc only if the world provides more money, technology and diplomatic support.

No comments:

Post a Comment