After months of secrecy, the Chinese Communist Party Politburo on Tuesday last week finally revealed that its quinquennial 20th National Congress would be held on Oct. 16. That such an important event in China’s political calendar is kept under wraps until just over two weeks before it is to take place illustrates the highly brittle nature of the regime: The more the party keeps outsiders in the dark, the more secure it feels.
The specter of an internal rebellion is never far from the minds of China’s leaders, who fear internal challenges to their power far more than they do external enemies. This is borne out by its allocation of resources. Like the former Soviet Union and East Germany before it, the party is now spending more on internal security than on its military. Although history shows that this is unsustainable over the long term, in the short-to-medium term Taiwan faces an existential threat from a regime that sits atop an increasingly restless population.
Despite months of speculation that a rival faction led by former Chinese president Jiang Zemin (江澤民) might toss a wrench into Chinese President Xi Jinping’s (習近平) reappointment machine, having stamped his authority over the military and security apparatus, there is no indication that Xi will be prevented from extending his “mandate from hell” for another five years — although in reality, like all dictators, surrounded by enemies thirsting for revenge, Xi will have to remain on the throne until he is driven out of the Zhongnanhai leadership compound in a hearse.
While the Chinese state is always on edge during the lead up to a national congress, when it shuts down large swathes of the capital, mobilizes military units and polices speech with even more zeal than usual, this time there are palpable signs that the party is particularly on edge. Beijing has sent out the order to local governments: No major outbreak of COVID-19 before the congress and no social unrest. Local governments across China have responded with knee-jerk lockdowns, further damaging an economy already battered by three years of stop-start shutdowns and reopenings. Since Aug. 20, at least 74 Chinese cities with a combined population of 313 million have undergone lockdowns, a CNN report published on Monday showed.
Economically illiterate and a party ideologue through and through, Xi is clearly determined that nary a speck of dust will be allowed to tarnish his coronation as lifelong emperor. Suppression of the merest bat squeak of dissent online is already in full swing. A 137-character poem, titled Waiting for the Wind to Arrive (等風來) by poet Hu Minzhi (胡閔之), which uses the random nature of wind as a metaphor to skewer the absurdity of the party’s capricious rule, went viral after it was published at the end of last month. It has now been comprehensively scrubbed from the Chinese cybersphere. Meanwhile, a 3,000-character puff piece on Xi’s leadership is being promoted by Xinhua news agency.
There is speculation that Xi might reduce the number of Politburo Standing Committee members from seven to five to further centralize his power. If, as many are predicting, China suffers a major economic recession — or even depression — Xi might be tempted to switch strategy on Taiwan and risk bringing forward a timetable for a military invasion to divert the attention of a restive populace. If Xi’s coronation goes as planned, a window of danger would open for Taiwan that would not shut until Xi has shuffled off this mortal coil.
It is a plot that could have come straight from the pages of a John le Carre novel. The head of a nation’s secret intelligence service is caught in a honeytrap: captured on camera with a mysterious younger woman at Bangkok International Airport and covertly followed to their hotel. A secret liaison in an exotic location, used to blackmail the spymaster of an adversary, who misappropriated public funds to pay for the clandestine affaire d’amour. This is what the Chinese Ministry of State Security wants people to believe after it used a Thai-language “cutout” Twitter account to release a “leaked” photograph
In a China-US war over Taiwan, paradoxically the greatest loss of life could be inflicted on the Muslim Uighurs. Uighurs constitute 45 percent of the Xinjiang population of 25 million people, with over 1 million incarcerated in internment camps in accordance with a policy initiated under Chinese President Xi Jinping (習近平). Another half-million children have been placed in state-run boarding schools. Forced sterilization has led to a 24 to 60 percent drop in the birthrate, leading officials from many countries to describe the mass detention as genocide. Estimated annual death rates in the camps of between 5 and 10 percent could
Starting from November, and in line with recent amendments to the Compulsory Automobile Liability Insurance Act (強制汽車責任保險法), electric bicycles (e-bikes) and other small electric two-wheeled vehicles must be licensed with mounted license plates before they can be ridden on the road. This change should resolve some existing problems, such as the difficulty that e-bike owners have faced in receiving help to find their bikes if they are stolen, and the difficulty that road users have in holding anyone accountable when an accident occurs. It would also allow the more than 600,000 e-bikes that are currently being ridden on Taiwan’s roads to
The United States may soon find it somewhere between difficult and near impossible to maintain a sufficiently favorable balance of power against the People’s Republic of China in the Western Pacific. That is, unless our leaders in Washington can evaluate past policy decisions with a critical eye and begin to integrate Taiwan into an overarching plan to maintain regional stability. For its part, Taiwan simply cannot ensure its long-term survival unless it is able to obtain a greater degree of support from America. War and peace in the Taiwan Strait will likely turn on whether or not Washington and Taipei