Although China’s “reform and opening up” has become an empty slogan, Chinese President Xi Jinping (習近平) still put on a show by touring southern China to mark the 40th anniversary of the Shenzhen Special Economic Zone’s establishment.
His motive was not to regain the international community’s trust, but to shore up his power in China. Externally, it was a response to diplomatic setbacks, and it even revealed his adventurist attitude of not being afraid to go to war.
When former Chinese leader Deng Xiaoping (鄧小平) in 1992 conducted similar inspections, it was to suppress the “leftist wind” that was interfering with his reforms.
In contrast, the aim of Xi’s modern-day southern tour seems to be to tighten Beijing’s grip on Hong Kong and demarcate its front line ahead of any potential external conflict.
It also gave Xi an opportunity to wave the banner for his own “leftist wind.”
Rather than reiterating Deng’s policy of opening up, Xi is signaling his determination to prepare for war, and indeed his willingness to wage war if need be.
Chinese military aircraft have been flying near Taiwan’s southwestern airspace, while Chinese Coast Guard vessels have been in the vicinity of the disputed Diaoyutai Islands (釣魚台), which lie northeast of Taiwan. These maneuvers are becoming a routine part of China’s brinkmanship.
There have been frequent clashes on China’s border with India, while its militarization of the South China Sea is helping gather the clouds of war.
Going back further, Beijing has “occupied” international organizations and turned Chinese standards into international ones. Given that it has chased and acquired a seat on the UN Human Rights Council, its ambitions with regard to other organizations are boundless.
The manipulation of its lackeys in the WHO, which allowed COVID-19 to cause havoc worldwide and obstructed an investigation into the origins of the virus, has led to the deaths of more than 1 million people worldwide.
This alone is enough to show how much of a risk China poses to the world. If it is allowed to go on doing what it wants, even greater disasters lie ahead.
Western countries should think about the significance of the 40th anniversary of the Shenzhen zone. The reforms masterminded by Deng gave the West hope of bringing about change in China.
However, 40 years have passed and the idea that China would eventually change its spots has never come to fruition. On the contrary, it has transplanted the genes of its one-party rule to the West, spreading its “red infiltration” everywhere.
Democracies around the world have suffered from Chinese interference, with Australia being one of the most serious examples.
As the COVID-19 pandemic ravages the world, Xi sees a rare opportunity to achieve the “great rejuvenation of the Chinese nation.” His words and actions during his southern tour are enough to show that he sees this as a heaven-sent opportunity to replace the US as a hegemonic power.
Following the suppression of the democracy movement culminating in the 1989 Tiananmen Square crackdown, China was confronted with international sanctions. Under such circumstances, Deng proposed a principle of “hiding our strength and biding our time.”
However, Xi is going in the opposite direction.
Even China’s promise that Hong Kong’s “one country, two systems” would not change for 50 years is gone. From reform and opening up, Xi is taking China back to Mao Zedong’s (毛澤東) ideal of self-sufficiency.
Xi’s “China dream” and the “China dream” of the West have nothing in common. Xi’s core value is Mao’s view that “either the East wind prevails over the West wind, or the West wind prevails over the East wind.”
As the trade conflict between the US and China grows fiercer, Washington has imposed sanctions on Chinese technology companies such as Huawei Technologies Co and Semiconductor Manufacturing International Corp.
Chinese Communist Party (CCP) Shenzhen Municipal Committee Secretary Wang Weizhong (王偉中) said that China is relatively weak when it comes to basic research, but Xi is obsessed with self-sufficiency, believing that no one can resist China’s sharp power and that the US is waning.
In May, before and after this year’s National People’s Congress and the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference (CPPCC), Chinese Premier Li Keqiang (李克強) said that 600 million Chinese barely earn 1,000 yuan (US$150) a month.
He even called for street stalls to help revive the economy and create jobs. Since then, Li has several times said that the government is finding it hard to live up to its promise of guaranteeing jobs for all, and he has called on departments at all levels to maintain austerity.
“Outwardly strong, but inwardly weak” would be an apt description of China in the age of Xi.
Voices of doubt from within the Chinese establishment have been challenging Xi’s about-turn on opening up. Those dissident voices include members of the “red second generation,” such as former Chinese Communist Party (CCP) member and property tycoon Ren Zhiqiang (任志強) and Cai Xia (蔡霞), a former professor at China’s Central Party School who was expelled from the party in August.
Other examples are former CCP Shenzhen Municipal Committee secretary Li Youwei (厲有為) and former CPPCC delegate Wang Ruiqin (王瑞琴), who said that reform and opening up cannot be done Xi’s way.
Wang Ruiqin said that most people within the establishment are quite clear about that, and that they support democracy, but cannot or dare not say so.
For Western countries, the attraction of policy reform was that it made it look as though China was going to change its spots.
This expectation led capital, technology, talent and management to pour into China. The US gave it permanent favored-nation status, while the WTO opened its doors wide.
Western countries expected that China would raise its bamboo curtain, move toward universal values and provide the international economy with huge factories and markets.
Under former leaders Deng, Jiang Zemin (江澤民) and Hu Jintao (胡錦濤), China’s planned economy gradually became more market oriented. Its political reforms were extremely limited, but its authoritarianism did soften somewhat. The road to change was expected to be long and winding, but Western countries were willing to wait.
Rapidly growing business interests also encouraged them to believe that China would blend into the world community in accordance with the 2008 Beijing Olympics slogan of “one world, one dream.”
What actually happened is that Xi emerged in 2012, just as Mao emerged in 1949. His rise has led to revisions in China’s domestic and foreign policies. Xi believes that China has already risen to the status of a great power, so he no longer sees any need to “hide its strength and bide its time” in international affairs. Instead, he seeks hegemony and a “great rejuvenation of the Chinese nation.”
Domestically, he turned the clock back to the days of Mao with the publication of his book Xi Jinping Thought on Socialism with Chinese Characteristics.
After Xi had purged opponents and established himself as the sole authority, he did away with conventions such as collective leadership, echelon succession for cadres and term limits.
Thus China has reverted to being unpredictable.
Domestically, the suppression of human rights, religions and races is reminiscent of the limitless disorder during the Cultural Revolution. At the same time, China has been waging a “red terror” against international stability and peace.
That other countries are no longer giving up and running away when they encounter China’s “wolf warrior” diplomacy shows that the West is gradually waking up from its “China dream.”
Among international leaders, the first to realize that China wants to change the world and not to change itself was probably US President Donald Trump, who started out as a lone warrior in the US-China trade conflict, but over the past two years has awakened other democratic countries one by one.
By exposing the true nature of China’s theft economy and its dream of building an empire, he has counterattacked Xi’s digital dictatorship and the rewriting of international standards. In the midst of the global pandemic, bellwether Trump and wolf warrior Xi are in a struggle between the “East and West winds.”
Trump is campaigning for the Nov. 3 presidential elections. Meanwhile, Xi is under pressure at home and abroad, and faces a power struggle at the Fifth Plenary Session of the 19th CCP Central Committee this month.
These events could produce several results. Whatever the outcome, it is certain to have deep and wide-reaching effects on the geopolitics in the post-pandemic world, and any change in the pace and pattern of China’s reform and opening up will swiftly change the course of world politics.
Translated by Julian Clegg
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