Sun, Apr 29, 2018 - Page 6 News List

Combating China’s anti-liberal turn

By Joseph Tse-Hei Lee 李榭熙

“Globalization without liberalization” best characterizes the political climate in China. In March, the country entered an era of single-man rule after Chinese President Xi Jinping (習近平) removed all institutional obstacles and amended the constitution to allow him to govern the nation permanently.

The amendment surprised Western scholars and journalists, who thought that as China became increasingly globalized, it would follow a path toward liberalization as Taiwan and South Korea did during the 1990s.

However, there has hardly been a period of Chinese history in which the ruling elites have limited their power and respected the consent of their people willingly. Xi’s efforts to consolidate his absolute leadership are derived from the long tradition of imperial obsession with control. The ultimate objective is to regulate, exploit and weaken civil society.

Since China is facing a trade war with the US and a potential economic slowdown, a heightened sense of crisis has prompted the Chinese Communist Party’s (CCP) dramatic totalitarian turn to silence internal dissent and suppress civil rights protests.

Ironically, this year marks the 170th anniversary of The Communist Manifesto, a political treatise that argues that human societies are divided into warring classes, and that a socialist utopia will eventually supplant the system of industrial capitalism.

Compared with impoverished factory workers who suffered extreme poverty in 19th-century Europe, contemporary Chinese workers and professionals are not drawn to communism as a mobilizing belief. The Chinese communist transformation since 1949 has revealed the failure of workers to achieve a revolution.

The pragmatism of China’s Leninist market economy is built on the state’s blatant rejection of universal values and cruel indifference toward migrant workers and peasants.

Three structural problems can be discerned in China’s totalitarian polity. The first is a lack of cosmopolitan vision within the CCP hierarchy.

As products of the Cultural Revolution, some Chinese leaders are nostalgic about Maoism and show no interest in implementing liberal reforms.

Balancing the policy of class struggle with that of class coalition, the leaders have launched intense propaganda campaigns to unify the majority of the population against what the state perceives as a slew of “enemies of the people.”

Unlike Mao Zedong (毛澤東), who skillfully manipulated mass sentiment and encouraged popular participation in political campaigns against his opponents, Xi does not permit any public attacks on corrupt officials.

Worrying that criticism might turn into an uncontrollable force against the regime, he is determined to repress society into quiescence. Mass submission to Xi-ism, not mobilization, is the latest political culture.

If this authoritarian governance remains intact, Xi might risk jeopardizing the fragile elite coalition that has supported the communist regime since the suppression of pro-democracy protesters at Tiananmen Square on June 4, 1989.

The second problem is a lack of opportunities for competent officials to advocate, formulate and execute progressive socioeconomic and political policies. Many relatively young and educated officials are quite disillusioned with the nation’s future and have put a brake on any modernizing initiatives.

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