On July 1, the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) celebrated its 100th anniversary with a huge celebration of the party’s “greatness” and “glory” in Tiananmen Square in Beijing.
In his speech, Chinese President Xi Jinping (習近平) repeated the phrase “great rejuvenation of the Chinese nation” 21 times and aimed warnings at the outside world with talk about how anyone who wants to “bully, oppress, or subjugate” China will “beat themselves bloody” (碰得頭破血流) as they attack the “great wall of steel forged by over 1.4 billion Chinese people” — although the bloody part was left out of the speech’s official Chinese translation.
In an authoritarian country ruled by a strongman, such scenes are commonplace, but what matters is not their self-importance, but the outside world’s general perception.
A poll released last week by the Pew Research Center shows that an average of 69 percent of respondents in 17 developed economies — the highest ever — hold a negative view of China, mainly because Beijing does not respect people’s personal freedom. Almost 80 percent have no confidence in Xi’s handling of world affairs, an all-time low.
The Taiwanese Public Opinion Foundation also released a poll, in which, on a scale from zero to 100, the average “temperature” of Taiwanese people’s feelings toward the CCP is 32.21 degrees. Michael You (游盈隆), who conducted the poll, said that “this is very cold, near freezing” (if the temperature is measured in Fahrenheit).
It is common for authoritarian countries to experience such a wide gap between their self-perception and global opinion. This is also the case in North Korea, a closed and tightly controlled country, and China under Xi is heading down the same path.
Why is China attracting such universal and intense dislike? Xi’s speech in Tiananmen Square provided the answer. He loftily declared that China has never bullied, oppressed or enslaved other people, not in the past, not now and not in the future, and that China is a force for world peace. This high profile might be intended to warn “foreign forces” that China is not to be trifled with, but his claim does not stand up to scrutiny.
Historically, China has annexed and exterminated other nations and expanded its territory, and it exported revolution to underdeveloped countries under Mao Zedong (毛澤東). It went to war with Vietnam during late Chinese paramount leader Deng Xiaoping’s (燈小平) rule, and now Xi is militarizing the South China Sea, turning it into Chinese waters.
None of this is the “kingly way,” nor is it peaceful. Although Xi’s words provoked cheers and applause from the audience, they were, as Germany’s largest newspaper, Bild, said: “shameless lies.”
This also confirms what Chloe Zhao (趙婷), the winner of this year’s Academy Award for best director, said in 2013: China is “a place where there are lies everywhere.”
Sadly, the 39-year-old Zhao was referring to China when she was a teenager, which shows that China under the CCP has been filled with lies for decades. Xi ignores this and continues to play hardball and serve up lies, which is insincere and unconvincing.
A country whose leaders tell blatant lies are not seen favorably internationally. More importantly, the world is watching as China is doing it. China has long languished at the bottom of the global rankings for freedom, human rights and democracy. The CCP has monopolized power and led the government as well as the military, causing the deaths of tens of millions of Chinese since it came to power.
Despite China’s rising economic and military power, the Chinese people have not been able to enjoy personal freedom, and this is what the rest of the world finds most difficult. The history of the CCP is a history of Chinese human rights violations.
As a representative of the New Power Party said, the CCP “has the blood of the Chinese people on its hands.”
China is now reaching outward for more. It is bullying Taiwan and it has not let up during the pandemic, instead continuing its military harassment and cognitive warfare, in addition to a COVID-19 vaccine blockade. It has reneged on its international commitment to uphold the “one country, two systems” model in Hong Kong, which would have allowed the territory’s legislative and economic system, including its human rights, to remain unchanged until 2047. The people of Hong Kong have been deprived of the freedoms of assembly and expression.
In Xinjiang, Beijing has created what are euphemistically called “re-education camps” and imprisoned millions of Uighurs in what amounts to genocide. People in advanced countries are convinced that what Beijing is doing is wrong, so of course they dislike China.
Despite the pomp and circumstance of the party’s centennial celebration, the glory it claims does not outweigh the ill feeling against it. Considering China’s recent international setbacks, the party’s celebrations show that it is not as strong as its outward appearance might imply. In addition to the negative public view of China highlighted by the Pew and Taiwanese polls, its vaccine diplomacy is also being challenged.
The efficacy of Chinese COVID-19 vaccines is being questioned in ASEAN countries — a main Chinese focus — where acceptance of the vaccines is low, and the people in these countries are more inclined to accept US and European vaccines that are manufactured in Vietnam and Thailand.
China’s frequent use of these vaccines as a tool for diplomatic rewards and punishments, coupled with the sovereignty dispute over the South China Sea, have all contributed to the failure of its “vaccine diplomacy” in Southeast Asia. Now that the US, Japan and Europe have joined the vaccine diplomacy war, and the international community is investigating of the origin of the pandemic, China’s vaccine diplomacy is failing.
An even more obvious case in point is China’s “wolf warrior” diplomacy. Beijing has imposed economic sanctions on Australia for its position on an independent investigation into the origins of the pandemic, and it has threatened to cut off vaccine supplies to Ukraine if it continues to criticize the Uighur genocide in Xinjiang.
Since US President Joe Biden’s “America is back” trip to Europe last month, a US, European and Indo-Pacific alliance against China is gradually taking shape, and the internationalization of Taiwan’s security and peace in the Taiwan Strait are signs that the Chinese party-state is up for a challenge following its centennial celebration.
Xi’s declaration in late May that he wants to create a “credible, lovable and respectable” image of China was an attempt to avoid containment and isolation by an international community that has awakened to see through his ambitions.
Xi might have sensed the reality of the decline of China’s and his personal international prestige, but the nationalist sentiment he has stirred up could be difficult to harness. Powerful people and totalitarian politics often become captives of nationalism, and the Chinese party-state is walking right into this trap.
Translated by Perry Svensson
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