May 6-7, 2005

The Bell - Association for Freedom and Democracy
in the BELL Association annual series:
Prague, Czech Republic

Communist China in the 21st Century

by Harry Wu

Today, China is a nation standing at the crossroads of history.

Trade and investment benefits both the West and China. Within China, both the common people and, unfortunately, the communist government benefit from economic development. The benefits from economic development provide the Chinese dictatorship with the financial resources to purchase advanced weapons and technology, which it in turn uses to maintain control over the populace.

If China remains a communist regime with significant economic power, this will not portend well for the Chinese people or world peace.

The twentieth century witnessed many catastrophes in human society: killings during two world wars, mass destruction by atomic bombs, and the rapid spread of AIDS. However, these catastrophes, taken together, are far dwarfed by the experiments carried out to bring about the "communist ideal". Inestimable are the prices we paid in politics, economics, culture, moral, human rights and other fields due to the practice of communism.

Beginning in the nineties, a series of communist powers, big and small, like fallen leaves swept away by the autumnal wind, simply disappeared from the horizon. This is the current of history. All of those evil communist powers had struggled briefly before they were washed down the river into the sea. Facing crises, they all tried in a thousand and one ways to survive. They tried to extricate their communist powers through political and economical reforms. However, they were unsuccessful.

Today, China is a nation standing at the crossroads of history. It is a nation whose struggles, as its people collectively ponder which way to go, will become an important international issue that the rest of the world will have to deal with in the new century.

The present situation in mainland China can be summarized with Lenin's words: "Those at the top are no longer able to rule the old way, and those at the bottom do not accept being ruled the old way."

Since the establishment of the People's Republic of China in 1949, the country has known only one form of government: Mao Zedong's comparatively orthodox communism, with its emphasis on isolation and "class struggle". After Mao's death, Deng Xiaoping launched a form of market-oriented communism with "Chinese characteristics". There are significant differences between Mao's and Deng's economic systems, stemming from Mao's refusal to implement the type of capitalism that Deng permitted in his later years and which is thriving today in China. However, their political approaches were fundamentally the same. Both Mao and Deng relied on the politics of totalitarian despotism, and only differed in their means, modes, and methods of rule.

After Khrushchev seriously condemned Stalin in 1955, the Soviet Union under Khrushchev and Brezhnev was different from the Soviet Union of Stalin's day. However, it remained a communist "evil empire" until 1991. Since Mao's death in 1976, have we ever heard Deng Xiaoping, Jiang Zemin or other Chinese Communist leaders publicly condemn Mao Zedong? Modern China remains under the firm control of the Chinese Communist Party, and is not a "former communist country."

Let us picture China's communist regime as a gigantic building. For most of the first three decades it looked ugly and terrible from the outside because of its disastrous poverty, communist atrocities and uncooperative international attitude. But the ugly building was stable, its pillars were strong and the majority of the Chinese people believed that living in it, under the Communist Party's leadership, was their best hope for future prosperity.

Under the rule of Deng and China's current leaders, the appearance of this Chinese Communist building has changed. As Western technology and capital have flooded in, the building has taken on a colorful appearance, but the pillars that support it are now cracking, because the concept of communism as a guiding principle has already been thrown onto the trash heap of history. This ideological void constitutes a crisis in the minds of ordinary Chinese. For thousands of years, dynasty after dynasty, the Chinese have maintained a tradition of following a leader with "the mandate of heaven." Today's communist leaders have no such mandate, and the pillars of the communist building continue to crumble.

The major factor contributing to the failure of communist ideology in China is the fact that the state's ownership of the nation's primary means of production has not led to a better life for the common people. Evidence of this fact can be seen in the former Soviet bloc, where countries have changed their political systems, but are, in many cases, still struggling, because privatizing the means of production is not easy work.

Capitalist economic forces - especially those imported from abroad - are the fuel powering China's current economic development. Small systems of private ownership, meanwhile, are growing in China. Legal status has been granted to private ownership. In rural areas, authorities are allowing the hiring of farmhands and transfer of right of land use. Also, bankruptcy is now permitted, where it was not before. But these reforms, and the existence of capitalist-driven economic development do not indicate that the Chinese Communist Party is going to give up the state-ownership system that is the bedrock of communism, and the contradictions between the two systems are serious and unpredictable.

The issue of domestic control reveals another crack in the pillars. The Chinese Communists believe in Mao's maxim that "power comes from the barrel of a gun." Mao and Deng were both soldiers who naturally commanded the respect of the People's Liberation Army. President Hu Jintao has no background with the PLA, but he is trying to control it. Only time will tell whether or not he will be able to succeed at this difficult task.

The simple fact is that since the establishment of the Chinese Communist Party in 1921, its internal power struggles have never ceased. Most of the CCP's leaders have been killed, not by foreign enemies, but by their own comrades. Because the CCP is a dictatorial system, it follows the concept of one country, one party, and one leader. In recent times, Party leaders have tried to present themselves to the world with the friendly face of a collective leadership. However, this has been undertaken at the risk of ignoring history. Hu could be on his way to becoming China's new communist leader, but if he shows weakness, others will try to topple him. I don't believe we can predict what the outcome of the Party's internal power struggle will be, but it is clear that it will become more heated as time goes on. As China's centrally-planned economic system continues to break up and regional power bases continue to grow, the political crisis that is smoldering will become more apparent. I believe this could lead to a Chinese civil war in this century.

Another crack in the building's pillars runs through the people themselves. Having endured decades of oppression under the Communists, the people, sooner or later, will cry out. This quiet but simmering rebellion has many faces. The nationwide movement for religious freedom, the Tibetan freedom fighter resistance movement and the Uyghur separatist movement in the Northwest could all become serious problems for the communist government. There is a great deal of underground literature being circulated throughout China today, and underground publications are deeply critical of the ruling authorities.

Considering all of the cracks in this colorful communist building, it could, just like the Berlin Wall, collapse in one night. But even if this were to happen, it would not mean that a free, democratic and peaceful nation would rise out of the rubble. I believe that tyrannical systems will persist in China for a long time to come.

Marxist-Leninist ideology in today's China is but a thin coat covering the body of a traditional and tyrannical Chinese dynasty. The communist system of political dictatorship is in many ways the same as the former dynastic systems. The Communist Party controls the government, military forces, media, economy and educational system. What is different from the P.R.C.'s earlier years is that today, "nationalism" and "patriotism," instead of communism/socialism, have become the major political slogans of the communist regime.

The two banners of "nationalism" and "patriotism" both deeply rooted in Chinese society, are very effective in upholding the rule of the communist regime. The Chinese, particularly intellectuals, never differentiate between the motherland and the ruler. For millennia they have been indoctrinated: be loyal to your sovereign and love your nation. This doctrine is the root of the same tree that created the slogans, "he who loves the Party loves the nation; he who opposes the Communist Party thus opposes China." Communist rulers can even strip the garb of "communism" and still effectively uphold their totalitarian system, using "nationalism" and "patriotism" as dams against the mighty torrent of democracy and freedom.

Envision China as a bird with two wings, that of politics and the economy. The bird cannot fly with either of its wings tied up. The Soviet bird, with its economic wing bound up, desperately flapped its political wing, only to crash. What will happen to the Chinese communist bird?

Genuine economic transformation can only be achieved through the transfer of the ownership of means of production to the private sector, but it is clear that Party leaders are not considering allowing the 850 million peasants who live in rural areas to own the land they farm, or giving all the ordinary people of China more say about where they live and work.

China is, however, well on its way to becoming an economic giant. China is also on its way to becoming a military giant. If the totalitarians in Beijing have their way, the availability of ready cash and military power will transform them into a communist giant. If this comes to pass, Western leaders will have to make difficult decisions about how to deal with this emerging communist giant. China's economic success is certainly not to the credit of the socialist state-owned economy. It must be pointed out that most profits from international trade and investment go to the government and help further prop a communist regime.

According to the International Monetary Fund, China's share of the global economy (adjusted for price differences) increased from 3.2% in 1980 to 12.6% in 2003. With this quadrupling in its proportion of global output, China's economy became the world's seventh largest. Meanwhile, the ratio of the economies of the U.S., Japan, Russia, Germany, the UK and Italy to the world economy remained approximately the same or decreased during the same time period.

In March, Chinese officials announced a plan to increase military expenditures by 12.6% this year to 247.7 billion yuan ($29.9 billion). According to analysts, these numbers are an incomplete indicator of the actual scale of resources China is pouring into defense. According to the CIA, China's publicized military budget is "less than half of China's actual defense spending." Other military analysts say that China's actual defense spending could be up to three times more than its stated figure, as Beijing does not include new arms purchases and weapons' research and development in its figures.

China currently has the world's third-largest submarine force, and it continues to upgrade its submarine fleet, by embarking on a $10 billion submarine acquisition and upgrade program. Military analysts say that China is rapidly expanding its submarine force to about 85 by 2010, about one-third more than today. According to an April report in the Washington Times, China has rebuilt its old nuclear-powered submarines and added French electronics and sonar equipment. The report says these subs now carry submarine-launched cruise missiles. It states that he first of China's newest nuclear attack submarine, Type 093, is nearing completion and the second is under construction, with two more planned.

China's rapid economic expansion has driven up its demand for foreign oil and other commodities and its interest in foreign consumer markets. As China gains more and more economic power, it is racing forward in terms of overseas investments, and Chinese companies are moving to expand their international business holdings. There are several recent examples of this phenomenon. For one, China's third-largest oil and natural gas company, China National Offshore Oil Corp., bid for a purchase of U.S. oil company Unocal, although it was recently beat out by ChevronTexaco. Unocal is the ninth-largest oil company in the U.S. in terms of reserves.

The Chinese government said in January that China's foreign exchange reserves hit a record US$609.9 billion at the end of 2004, up 51.3 percent from a year ago and second only to Japan's. According to the Xinhua news agency, China's new foreign exchange reserves last year included US$60.6 billion in foreign direct investment, US$32 billion in trade surplus as calculated by customs, US$30 billion from foreign exchange clearing under the account of imports and exports by enterprises, US$35 billion in foreign debts, over US$10 billion in service trade surplus, US$30 billion in individual asset transfer and earnings and over US$10 billion in securities investment.

An assumption has been in vogue recently that a prosperous economy will gradually bring democracy and human rights to the people living under the yoke of a totalitarian regime. This would indeed be an ideal and peaceful transition from totalitarianism to democracy. But if this theory is valid, why was it not applied to the Soviet Union and its Eastern European satellites, and why is it not applied to today's Cuba? Economic growth without the expansion of civil liberties has its limits, and we must remember that capitalism does not equal democracy. We should remember that under Hitler's Nazi regime from 1933 to 1937, Germany's economy increased by 73 percent, but because the country was ruled by tyrants, Germany and the world were led into disaster.

It is widely believed that engaging Communist China's leadership and integrating China into the international community will encourage China to comply with international norms. To believe this is to ignore history. Past and present Chinese practices confirm that China only follows its own rules, even in the face of fierce international condemnation.

The Beijing government has opened up China's vast and attractive investment to Western capital. China has offered up a 1.3 billion population of cheap manpower to the West, and the West has accepted it with relish. In fact, to some extent, China's totalitarian rule is favorable to foreign investors, with the Chinese government swiftly and deftly silencing labor unions and civil rights groups. Money is quick to come by when one turns a deaf ear and a blind eye to the plight of workers.

The Chinese Communists are masters of manipulation and deception. The Chinese ambition of becoming a world superpower is the foundation upon which its foreign policy is built. China wants Western money, advanced technology, management skills, and market share in order to modernize and fuel its military buildup in preparation for "the inevitable confrontation" (as a leading Chinese think tank put it) that it must face on the road to becoming a world superpower. The West must accept this reality.

History has repeatedly taught us that appeasing dictators does not bring peace or prosperity to the citizens of the countries they rule over. If we are to believe that trade can convert a communist system of rule, then World War II should not have been fought. According to this belief, Nazism would have been dismantled as a result of other countries giving Hitler all the high-tech equipment he wanted. If we are to believe that trade will create democracy in China, then Ronald Reagan was mistaken when he described the Soviet Russia as an "evil empire," and told Moscow to "tear down this wall!" History has shown that appeasement will only lead to the deaths of millions after dictators have been strengthened through trade.

The shrewdness of Deng Xiaoping and his successors cannot be denied. The rapid growth of capitalism they have allowed has given Communist China enough economic leverage to buy off all external pressure. As China's economy has grown, Western money and technology have acted as the fuel in the tank that is powering the Chinese Communist vehicle.

While they are dealing with the West on a commercial level, China's leaders keep in their hearts a deep-seated fear of real democracy and the human rights that go with it. When they are confronted about this question, these leaders reflexively say that Asian concepts of human rights differ from those of the West. It is a sad but all-too-common thing to hear their Western partners echo this convenient lie.

In seeking to keep a lid on the internal pressure its brutal rule creates, the Chinese government has consistently relied on its Laogai system as its most fundamental means of control. In Chinese, "Laogai" literally means "reform through labor." I believe that "politically-imposed system of slavery," is a better definition. The Laogai possesses many of the same characteristics as Stalin's gulag and Hitler's concentration camps.

Hitler's Nazi ideology divided people by race. Stalin's and Mao's communist ideology divided people by class. All three rulers were criminals. All three established forced labor camps to destroy human beings. Driven by ideology, party directives and the whims of dictators, the Chinese Communists established a repressive machine designed to control and eliminate people with contrary political views, religious believers, and those with a different concept of society.

We have done a great deal to help China develop its economy, and we have also benefited from China's economic development. But have we done enough to help improve the human rights situation and initiate political reform in China? Despite economic improvements that have been made, serious human rights violations continue to be perpetrated in all areas of Chinese society.

Those who deal with a totalitarian regime must never overlook its human rights issues. The international community must give the Chinese authorities a clear-cut ultimatum. They must stress that they expect to see a peaceful, prosperous, free and democratic China, and by no means a prosperous and stable Communist China. Human rights issues must have their unalienable place in China policy. The international community must state clearly that political reform and human rights improvement must not only accompany economic development, but must be the bench mark for reform. Genuine peace and prosperity are possible only in an environment that respects human rights, democracy and freedom.