With Hitler defeated and Western values and institutions seemingly secure, it wasn’t long before, left-wing intellectuals in search of ‘big structural change’ began attacking them. They exploited the hedonism of the ‘swinging Sixties’ to push a big government, equal outcomes, ideology.
Socialists infiltrated campuses and workplaces pushing their anti-capitalist critiques. Throughout the Vietnam War they ramped up their offensive, preaching that capitalism and injustice were synonymous. They heralded the Soviet Union as the future until it wasn’t. Without liberalisation the moribund federation broke apart. Even a desperate coup attempt by hardliners couldn’t save it. On Christmas Day 1991, the Soviet flag flew over the Kremlin for the last time.
And so the People’s Republic of China became the undisputed global power base for Marxist ideology. Unlike the erstwhile Soviet Union, China was enjoying a sudden ‘great leap forward’ thanks to the reforms of Paramount Leader Deng Xiaoping who incorporated capitalism into central planning. However, with the PRC’s 70th anniversary in sight, Communist party leaders worried that Deng’s liberating reforms were exposing the party to an existential threat. Restoring absolute control became the first priority.
So, in 2012, a ‘princeling’, Xi Jinping, was elected president. Xi had never accepted Deng’s liberalisations were behind China’s economic prosperity. To him, empowerment of individuals was a ‘bourgeoise fallacy’ and free speech, equality under the law and other human rights, had to be ‘controlled’ or ‘delayed’.
Once in office, Xi’s grip on power tightened. He took control of the party, the government, the military and the armed police. Citing Mao Zedong, he ordered the systematic dismantling of law and order institutions and ended civil service independence. As ‘Core Leader’, he secured an unlimited presidential term and had his thoughts incorporated into the preamble of China’s constitution. Xi conducted a vast and ruthless ‘anti-corruption’ drive in which more than a million officials were dealt with, some brutally. He also introduced a social credit system where a person’s general behaviour determines their eligibility for everyday amenities.
Come July, the Chinese Communist Party will celebrate its centenary. It will coincide with the 14th Five-Year Plan which will be strongly nationalistic and feature the CCP and Xi Jinping, front and centre. Ideals of liberalisation will be officially cancelled so that President Xi can boast he eradicated absolute poverty ‘four months ahead of schedule’. Xi will also take credit for another ‘great miracle’ namely the control of Covid-19. Beijing has only reported 4,636 deaths, ranking China, with a population of 1.4 billion, between tiny Serbia and Ireland.
Notwithstanding these triumphs, Xi warns, ‘The great rejuvenation of the Chinese nation is at a critical stage’. He knows China is no longer the low-cost manufacturing hub it was and that there is dissatisfaction with low pay, underpayment of social security insurance and abusive management. He also knows that plant closures have left growing numbers of jobless workers unhappy and unpaid.
This is the legacy of decades of profligacy and corruption. Previously concealed bad debts now threaten the viability of financial institutions. Some 70,000 heavily subsidised zombie companies sap productivity. Unsurprisingly, China’s stock market has plunged. Most worrying for Xi is the decline in the birth rate when life expectancy is increasing. It will mean fewer workers supporting a rapidly ageing population. With total debt to GDP at 340 per cent and falling productivity and weak profitability, China’s options are limited and its future is not what it tells the world.
Politically, attempts to make the bureaucracy more responsive and efficient, are failing. Officials remain steeped in a risk-averse, tick-a-box, ‘please Beijing’ culture. With a wealth gap wider than America’s and with personally intrusive initiatives like the ‘empty plates’ food-wastage campaign, it’s no wonder the 2020 World Happiness Report ranks China 94th in the world. America is 18th.
In this centenary year, President Xi is understandably projecting China as a united, financially strong, militarily powerful and morally superior nation. His mission is to ‘restore’ China to its rightful place in the world thereby vindicating Chairman Mao’s adage that ‘The weeds of socialism are better than the crops of capitalism’.
Having reclaimed Hong Kong, Xi is pressing territorial claims over more than 80 per cent of the South China Sea. Of these, Taiwan ‘reunification’ is a strategic priority, especially given the world’s dependence on Taiwanese semiconductors. China’s military buildup across the Strait may signal intent. With a deteriorating economic and social outlook at home and the risk of Donald Trump or a similar nationalistically inclined president in 2024, an early military strike on Taiwan could boost Xi’s standing at home and enhance China’s superpower credentials abroad. With the 20th National Party Congress in 2022 in mind, it has appeal.
President Xi will be encouraged in this by President Joe Biden’s meek response to China’s genocide of its Uyghur Muslim minority. Biden dispassionately observes that ‘Culturally, there are different norms that each country and their leaders are expected to follow’. Perhaps a Taiwan invasion will be seen as a cultural norm?
Xi must also derive confidence from the fifth columnists active inside Hollywood, the mainstream media, Big Tech, government agencies and even the West’s military. These activists are weakening his enemy from within. Indeed, Beijing exploited their ‘woke-washing’ at the recent Alaska summit. Demonstrating breathtaking chutzpah, laced with contempt, the Chinese delegates lectured America on its ‘many deep seated problems’ on human rights, pointing to Black Lives Matter.
Whatever China’s medium-term prospects, Xi Jinping is no fool. As he smugly watches vacuous, Western leaders tearing themselves apart in a puerile, divisive competition for ‘wokeness’, he purposefully feeds the socialist weeds rapidly strangling freedom’s Western crops. Xi knows well that by the time enough people realise how lethal they are, it will be too late to get rid of them. Xi’s dream of China as the world’s dominant power can then be realised.
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