Under Xi Jinping’s (習近平) indefinite leadership of communist China, Beijing has apparently set itself a twofold goal.
First: Xi is committed to enforce strictly the dictatorship of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) with him as its leader for life.
There are no ifs or buts, only unqualified support and implementation of the policy with Xi as the “core leader,” which is analogous to Mao Zedong’s (毛澤東) role as “supreme leader,” overriding whatever institutional apparatus might exist.
With Xi as the core leader, and the CCP his instrument, he personifies both the ruling party and the country. In other words, he has become the Mao of today’s China.
However, there is one important difference, which is that China is a more powerful country today.
This is not because it followed the Maoist path of permanent and perpetual revolution. It is because, starting under Deng Xiaoping’s (鄧小平) leadership, it diverged from Mao’s ideological banner to take the capitalist development model, but under strict party control and dictatorship.
It was generally believed that China’s economic development would eventually open up its political system towards a pluralist democratic system, as a growing middle class would demand political participation and transparency about the country’s governance.
The first major blow to this hope and aspiration was dealt when the army was let loose in June 1989 on the country’s democracy movement, resulting in the Tiananmen Square Massacre with thousands killed.
Thirty years on, with Xi as the party leader and the country’s president, the CCP’s control is even more pernicious in this digital age.
The fourth plenary session of the 19th CCP Central Committee, held in Beijing from Oct. 28 to 31, emphasized the importance of party leadership in the country’s governance, based on it and the people working together.
To quote from the communique: “The system of socialism with Chinese characteristics is a scientific system developed by the Party and the people through long-term practices and explorations.”
They seem serious about this coded message about party-people partnership, which, in effect, means that the CCP dictates the orders and the people have no choice but to follow or else. In other words, the party reigns supreme and Xi is the source of all power.
Of course, it is understood by the CCP leadership that its claim about their infallibility is dubious and regarded as such in the outside world.
Hence, Ma Liang (馬亮), a professor at Renmin University in Beijing, lends his academic legitimacy when he said: “This is often misunderstood outside China, but by putting the party in the center it is easier to streamline the various government agencies and deliver services to the people more efficiently.”
This is a belabored argument to justify the arbitrary nature of the system based on dictatorship.
It will need to be enforced by all the instruments available to a dictatorial regime, and would need to be expanded and updated all the time, sharpening its insidious and brutal nature, which we are seeing today in China.
With China’s power growing, and its patronage expanding, it is succeeding in coercing and buying off countries to fall in line with its propaganda — or else stay quiet — both about the “benevolent” nature of its system at home and “peaceful” intentions abroad.
Xi’s Belt and Road Initiative is an important example, where China is expanding its control through all sorts of infrastructure projects, connecting China with participating countries, supposedly to create an interconnected world.
In reality, these countries are pledging their projects and resources to long-term Chinese control through the high levels of debt they incur, which in most cases, these countries will be unable to repay.
At the same time, China is infiltrating open societies to subvert and control them in all sorts of ways.
Anson Chan (陳方安生), who headed Hong Kong’s civil service for four years each under the British and Chinese control respectively, said on a visit to Melbourne, Australia, in 2016: “I don’t think Australians understand the sort of country [China] they are dealing with. Look at the way they are infiltrating, even in Australia.”
“It wouldn’t have occurred to the people of Hong Kong until we experienced it firsthand,” she added.
“No one should be under any illusions about the objectives of the Communist Party leadership — it’s long-term, systemic infiltration of social organizations, media and the government,” she said.
“By the time China’s infiltration of Australia is readily apparent, it will be too late,” she added.
Duncan Lewis, recently retired chief of Australia’s prime intelligence agency, ASIO, was not mincing his words in an interview with Peter Hartcher, political editor of the Sydney Morning Herald.
When Hartcher asked Lewis what the Chinese government wanted from Australia, he said: “They are trying to place themselves in a position of advantage. Espionage and foreign interference is insidious. Its effects might not present for decades and by that time it’s too late.”
“You wake up one day and find decisions made in our country that are not in the interests of our country. Not only in politics, but also in the community or in business. It takes over, basically, pulling the strings from offshore [Beijing],” he said.
This pattern might vary here and there, whether through Belt and Road or by other means, but the objective is the same, which is to exercise control from Beijing.
Still, there is much more to come from a Chinese spy who has sought asylum in Australia, and had been assigned to play a destructive role in Taiwan’s elections next year.
Sushil Seth is a commentator based in Australia.
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