JAPAN MUST UNDERSTAND VULNERABILITIES OF CCP
On July 1, the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) marked its centenary with a highly choreographed spectacle at Tiananmen Square. With the CCP persistently resorting to coercive measures toward its neighbors, we Japanese must calmly watch what course of action the party will take going forward, strictly abstaining from preconceived notions about its moves.
But I suspect that the Japanese media outlets generally have read Xi Jinping’s centenary address largely on the basis of the stereotyped image they hold of his vision. As a result, most of our media outlets spotlighted “Taiwan” in their headlines emphasizing Beijing’s belligerent stance by citing Xi’s remarks such as: China will “resolutely crush any plot for Taiwan’s independence” and the world should not underestimate “the strong resolution, intentions, and powerful capabilities of the Chinese people to completely protect their national sovereignty and territory.”
In point of fact, Xi only made a brief reference to Taiwan toward the end of his 65-minute address. Prominently playing up a portion of his remarks in headlines would mislead the reader.
Undoubtedly, China will continue to aim to reunify with Taiwan while determinedly strengthening its military capabilities and its coercive foreign policy. But quite unexpectedly, Xi apparently is holding his breath as China currently is hemmed in by nations who do not accept its sinister misbehavior, including its hideous suppression of the Muslim Uyghers in Xinjiang, which has widely been labeled as genocide. No ordinary nation would approve of such heinous offenses on the part of China. Against such a backdrop, China is staking its national honor on staging the 2022 Winter Olympics. If China is committed to provisionally lying low for that purpose, now is a good chance for Tokyo to take proactive steps toward Beijing as regards the Senkaku Islands and other issues pending between the two nations.
Xi also failed to refer to either the US or Japan, devoting most of his time instead to exalting a groundswell of Chinese public opinion supporting the CCP and alerting the people to brace themselves for China’s challenges ahead. He also repeated how great the Chinese people are and stirred up their love of the CCP.
Xi lavishly extolled the Chinese race, calling them a “great people” by acknowledging China’s “great accomplishments,” “great dreams,” “great enterprises,” “great rejuvenation,” “great party-forming spirit,” and “great transformation.” Vowing that the Chinese race will tower above the rest of the world,
“A century ago, China was in decline and withering away in the eyes of the world. Today, the image it presents to the world is one of a thriving nation that is advancing with unstoppable momentum.”
Personal Worship of Mao Zedong
As regards why the Chinese have been able to rejuvenate themselves over the past century, Xi had this to say:
“…only socialism could save China…only socialism with Chinese characteristics could develop China.”
“Socialism with Chinese characteristics” is central to Xi’s philosophy. He asserts that Mao “unified China as a nation” and Deng Xiaoping “made it richer.” Xi credits himself with having “made China stronger.”
As is widely known, Xi desires to remain in power for life as president, following in the footsteps of Mao, to whom he likens himself. Time and again throughout his address, Xi boasted that only the socialism with Chinese characteristics that he champions can ensure the continued growth of his nation.
He further declared:
“The Communist Party of China holds the key to its future. Without the Party… there would be no new China and no national rejuvenation…The leadership of the Party is the defining feature of socialism with Chinese characteristics.”
In other words, Xi boasts that China will function as a great nation and can realize its greatness thanks solely to his vision.
Two days before his passionate address at Tiananmen, Xi attended the “July 1 Medal” awarding ceremony. The medal is allegedly the highest award in the CCP, given this year to 29 grassroots heroes who have faithfully dedicated themselves to their work. The recipients included a member of China’s maritime militia that threatens the Japanese-administered Senkaku Island in the East China Sea. Reclaiming the Senkakus is an obsession of the CCP. Xi urged while addressing the ceremony:
“All comrades in the Party must regard the belief in Marxism and the belief in socialism with Chinese characteristics as their lifelong pursuits, always believe in the Party and love the Party, work determinedly in their respective posts, and continuously push forward the practice of fighting for lofty ideals.”
Xi thus demanded absolute confidence in, implicit obedience to, and ardent love of the CCP, asserting that it is his philosophy that dictates the party’s fundamental policies. Put differently, Xi is demanding that the absolute confidence in and enduring love of the CCP he demands of the people be concentrated on him instead. Wouldn’t that be nothing else but a return of Mao’s cult of personality?
From these two addresses by Xi, one can pretty much figure out what direction his administration will take in the near future. Most nations want to see China become at least a somewhat more open and gentle big power, but under Xi that clearly is not going to happen. Foreign Affairs in its July/August issue carried a special feature entitled The Robber Barons of Beijing, in which author Yuen Yuen Ang explored whether or not China will be able to continue its rise. Ang is Associate Professor of Political Science at the University of Michigan.
Four Trillion Dollars in Debt
Ang points out that a “dramatic evolution of corruption” began with Deng, who steered China in a pragmatic direction in order to generate as much money as possible to enrich China. But he turned a blind eye to apparatchiks practicing corruption as long as they stayed loyal to the CCP.
As a result, unimaginable corruption flourished in China as the market opened up beginning in the 1980. Ang cites the case of a former minister of railways who “was charged with taking US$140 million in bribes, not including the more than 350 apartments he had been given.” She also refers to the head of one state-owned lender who allegedly “kept a harem with over 100 mistresses and was arrested with three tons of cash hidden in his home.”
Through media exposure, the preposterous reality of corruption in China was revealed to the public. As a result, corruption took another form, making land a new source of income. All land in China belongs to the state and thus cannot be sold, but the right to use it can be leased. Local governments began to lease those rights to corporate entities at an exorbitant price in order to raise revenue. “In the two decades after 1999,” notes Ang, “the amount of revenue raised through the leasing of land rights grew more than 120-fold.” Thanks to big loans from financial institutions made available through connections with the CCP, the land lease business has created a bubble that has made a handful of individuals rich with mind-boggling revenue. But local debts have continued to rise, “reaching US$4 trillion in 2020—nearly equivalent to the total income local governments earned that year. This is the bubble that so many fear could burst.”
Xi has put a lot of effort into eliminating corruption. But the operations and reforms he has introduced are not based on a set of rules; rather, they are merely in place to arbitrarily protect those with personal relationships with him. In this light Ang feels a real rebuilding of the Chinese economy will be difficult—an interpretation widely shared by experts.
Mao was an excellent strategist but eventually drowned in the torrent of the Cultural Revolution he had instigated. We must now understand the vulnerabilities of Xi and use them to the advantage of our national interests. Not only must we work out measures to safeguard the security of the Senkakus but also forge ahead with strengthening the Japan Self-Defense Forces and revising our “peace” constitution as soon as possible.
(Translated from “Renaissance Japan” column no. 958 in the July 15, 2021 issue of The Weekly Shincho)