Xi’s China in 23 points

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实现中华民族的伟大复兴就是中华民族近代最伟大的梦想。这个梦想是强国,对我们每个中国人来说,他是我们自己的梦 Shixian Zhonghua minzude weida fuxing jiushi Zhonghua minzu jindai zui weidade mengxiang. Zheige mengxiang shi qiangguo meng, dui women meige Zhongguo ren lai shuo, ta shi women zijide meng. To realise the great juvenation of the Chinese nation is presently the greatest dream of the Chinese nation. This is the dream of a strong nation, and when we talk of every single Chinese, it is our own dream

Over the years Mijngroeve has posted a wide range of blog posts on Xi’s China. I thought it would be a good idea to summarize and update the key observations of those posts into 23 points, as we are heading towards the end of 2023:

  A description of Xi’s China in  23 points

  1. In the eyes of Xi:   the People’s Republic of China = the CCP = Xi
  2. Though the CCP has a massive membership (~98 million active members), it is anything but sufficient to support its claim that it represents the whole Chinese population (~1.4 billion people)
  3. Cynicism about the role and accomplishments of the CCP has pervaded Chinese society since Deng Xiaoping opened up the country in 1978. Communist ideology and jargon are the targets of frequent mockery and sarcastic jokes. In response the Party under Xi has appealed to feelings of national pride, while presenting the President as a caring, Confucianist father, who is looking after his family, the Chinese people, ensuring their harmony and success. While national pride is certainly very strong among the Chinese population, Xi’s China can’t be called a harmonious society. The levels of wealth- and income inequality are approaching those of the US, while the wealth is concentrated in the hands of the government (=the Party) and the Party elite. Ethnic minorities are bullied and tortured into submission as we have witnessed during the ‘socialist modernization operations’ in Tibet and Xinjiang. Most Chinese citizens just want to stay out of politics and trouble, hoping to make a living without the Party constantly interfering in their private lives and wellbeing
  4. For several decades all policy goals in China were subordinated to economic growth. Under Chairman Xi these diverse goals have been subordinated to a relentless drive for national greatness and prestige and the strengthened political and ideological hegemony of the CCP, his “China Dream” under which all Chinese people will prosper, the illustrious alternative to the American dream. Yet the paradox for Xi:  without continuous economic growth, his ambitious China Dream could turn into a quagmire
  5. Beijing has said it wants China to be the strongest country in the world by 2049, when apart from Hong Kong the island of Taiwan is also supposed to have been ‘reunited with the motherland’: China hopes to have replaced the US as the global superpower by then. Its long term goal is to reform the current global order, rules, values and principles so that they are more in sync with President Xi’s values and practices
  6. The PRC is only interested in multilateralism as long as it serves China’s national interests and undercuts American credibility and Washington’s international reputation and scope for action. It loves to cast doubt on international law and the current global order in which -according to Beijing’s argument- just a handful of wealthy, Western countries hold too much global power. Instead China likes to push its extremely hazy global vision in which peace is ensured through “dialogue and common interests” between countries
  7. Xi has been mobilizing the Party, the industry and society for a long struggle with the West.  His policy reversals are predominantly tactical compromises and (instantaneous) responses to crises, resulting in a lot of unpredictability and confusion. The Chinese President, however,  is leaving no doubts about the long term: “once our strategy is set, we must stick to it in the long term and not change it arbitrarily. We must follow it in principle while showing tactical flexibility”.
  8. The Chinese communist leadership is not contributing to international peace in a very credible, convincing way. As a matter of fact, the PRC under Xi has turned into a worldwide enabler of instability, refer f.e. the Chinese support for Iran, Syria, the Taliban, North Korea, Hamas and Russia in the Ukraine war,  its responsibility for the border conflicts with India, its continuous intimidation of Taiwan and the Philippines and its rapid militarization of the whole South China Sea. It induces and tolerates instability up to a certain degree, i.e. for as much as it undermines American capabilities and does not endanger China’s national interests. It does not want Russia to lose the Ukraine war and implode, because it could result in chaos around China’s borders. Yet as long as the war makes Russia ever more dependent on the PRC and is keeping the US preoccupied, Beijing feels little pressure to help end it. China supports Hamas and Iran, but doesn’t want war in the Middle East, because it imports 50 percent of its oil from that region. China praises Hamas, yet treats its own peaceful Muslim population in Xinjiang as terrorists. Beijing’s foreign policy statements and motives are usually very vague and shrouded in mystery, because the CCP leadership either believes it allows for the most flexibility or has no real clue how to react. As a consequence China’s peace proposals and (public) positions in international conflicts are non-committal, open for multiple interpretations or largely symbolical. They intend to show the world, in particular the Global South, that China does have an alternative to offer to the US
  9. Xi’s China has disavowed the sovereignty principle in international politics, following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. The PRC has proclaimed the existence of  “legitimate security concerns” as valid exceptions to the principles of sovereignty, without providing any clarity on what they cover and who will/may decide what is legitimate. The remarks by China’s ambassador to France Lu Shaye, who said during a television interview in Spring 2023 that former Soviet countries don’t have “effective status in international law,” -in an apparent reference to the status of Ukraine- were also illustrative. Setting up illegal police stations in Western countries serves as another example of complete disregard of other nations’ sovereignty
  10. The position of big private companies in the PRC is more unstable and insecure than any time since 1989. Xi is asking for their absolute compliance and loyalty to his will and whims. The CCP has heightened its direct and indirect influence over private businesses. Corporate governance institutions in state-owned enterprises have also been restructured in manners that have dramatically strengthened CCP control
  11. But this CCP Inc. is not by default a smooth, well oiled machine that thunders along the important parts of the world in an unstoppable way. Rather, it is  a very complex mix of players and stakeholders who have to deal with a growing number of substantial or even existential challenges and set backs.  Such as the challenge of having to coordinate market actors and actions when the CCP leadership is frequently adjusting the rules of the game. Moreover, the CCP Inc.’s non-economic goals have already generated a major backlash in the democratic world, giving Chinese company execs severe headaches
  12. Xi is not interested in political reform nor is a large part of  the Party elite. The latter includes many in the state-owned sector and industries as well as central and local CCP officials and their families and friends, who have become very rich after China’s opening up to the West. These vested interests would feel seriously threatened by any major political reform. Xi considers Gorbachev’s glasnost as one of the prime reasons for the fall of the Soviet Union. Xi Jinping’s thought is infallible as long as he can keep these vested Party interests satisfied
  13. The CCP has always been afraid of becoming (over)dependent on Western technology and products: Beijing’s very aggressive ‘China  first policies’ to replace Western products, know-how and companies with domestic alternatives, started a decade ago under Xi, way before any Western sanctions or geopolitical technology war had even been ignited. Irrespective of the current American sanctions, it has been the CCP’s stated goal to reach a high level of self sufficiency, meaning there will never be any real or full reciprocity in economic relations with the West. Xi want others to be dependent on China, not vice versa. While he will keep on claiming “China is open for business”, he is actually striving for selective engagement: for the time being the PRC still needs foreign investment and specific (high tech) knowhow to materialize Xi’s China dream.  It’s a recipe for increased or even permanent tension with many international economic players or “partners” because it devalues the benefits of market-driven production networks  
  14. Ironically, Xi’s China has in some ways started to resemble the Japanese military-fascist dictatorship of the 1930’s, the ghost of the colonial past which every Chinese has been taught to loathe and despise. That dictatorship saw itself in an existential struggle with the West and wanted to beat the latter at any cost and in every field be it military, industrial or science, believing it was on a heaven-inspired mission to lead and rule the world and create ‘a Greater East Asia Co-Prosperity Sphere’. Xi and his comrades give the impression to be on a similar mission, acting like zealots who want to demonstrate China’s political, cultural and moral superiority as well as the supremacy of their governance model. “No matter how blonde you dye your hair, how sharp you shape your nose, you can never become a European or American, you can never become a Westerner,” Chinese foreign minister Wang Yi recently told his Japanese and South Korean counterparts. “We must know where our roots lie.” It is as if we hear a Japanese foreign minister speak in 1940
  15. Supreme military commander Xi has unleashed an unprecedented military-civil fusion strategy weaponizing and securitizing China’s society. The PRC has built a sizeable modern navy over the past decade. Among the legally recognized nuclear weapon states, China has long been the most intransparent about its nuclear forces. The Chinese government provides no official information about the size and composition of its nuclear forces. The PRC is believed to be rapidly increasing its nuclear arsenal, from 250 in 2013 to  500 operational nuclear warheads in its arsenal in 2023 and 1,000 warheads by 2030. The US has a stockpile of about 3,700 nuclear warheads, of which roughly 1,419 strategic nuclear warheads were deployed in 2023. In step with the deterioration of relations between Washington and Beijing, Xi’s regime apparently no longer considers an American pre-emptive nuclear strike unlikely. It wants at least to make sure it has sufficient nuclear forces to respond to any nuclear attack. Meanwhile Russia has about 1,550 nuclear weapons deployed and a stockpile of 4,489 nuclear warheads. Many in the US and in the Asia Pacific region fear China’s nuclear buildout will give it offensive options as well, especially since the conclusion of the Sino-Russian ‘partnership without limits’, which forces Washington to take into account a possible nuclear conflict on several fronts….A new arms race is looming…
  16. Since the foundation of the PRC, the CCP has feared encirclement, containment and suppression by the US. This perception and level of fear have fluctuated depending on the overall status of the relationship with the US (and Russia).  Sadly, Xi appears to be more paranoid than his predecessors, no surprise that he has found his best buddy in Putin who shares Xi’s assessment of the US threat and is the most paranoid and cynical of all authoritarian world leaders. But how much do two paranoid Presidents trust each other?
  17. The Chinese government has developed one of the world’s largest online disinformation operations. The CCP’s history in disseminating disinformation and propaganda around the world dates back a long time, but in the 21st century it does possess the technological abilities to spread the (fake/false) word on-line on a daily base and on a global scale with an intensity and reach that Mao could have never dreamt off. In addition it has the companies, people, technology, tools and willingness to destabilize or sabotage vital communication systems in other countries whenever deemed beneficial or necessary: Taiwan is confronted by 15 million cyberattacks per month originating from the PRC. The Dutch intelligence services consider China one of the biggest hackers -if not the biggest- of the communication systems of  our hospitals, universities, multinationals, government agencies etc
  18. Xi is the pioneer of digital authoritarianism. Technology is above all used to enhance the power of the Party domestically and internationally, to survey and censor the Chinese population and to solidify and enhance political repression at home. Xi aims to set international technology standards via China’s tech multinationals and international organizations that subscribe to the CCP’s vision of absolute state control over digital communication systems, media content and data
  19. China is a force of innovation not thanks to the Party but owing to its people and their creativity. Unfortunately the true innovators have nowadays to fall completely in line with the historical mission of Xi and his zealots. Those who don’t are sanctioned, punished, called traitors or -even worse- imprisoned
  20. Xi’s China has been drafting and using (extra-territorial) lawfare to make the country as resilient and well-prepared as possible in the anticipated long struggle with the West. Xi is constantly trying to create faits accomplis either in writing or on the ground (and even in outer space) or via so called ‘grey zone activities’ to test the response and resilience of the democratic world. This lawfare and grey zone tactics will seriously hamper the operations and room for maneuver of foreign companies, embassies and dignitaries in the PRC in the future
  21. The CCP has always tried to use foreigners to “tell its story well.” In Mao’s days these were often fervent Western believers in communism and radical enemies of “dirty Western capitalists”. In Xi’s time they regularly have been Western capitalists who – for commercial reasons or out of sheer ignorance- have praised China as the new wunderkind bound to lead and overtake the world, whereas failing to ever notice or mention any of the many darker or less promising sides of the PRC
  22. Beijing won’t quail at trying to rally the large and very diverse overseas Chinese community for its China dream, intimidating those who dare to speak out against the regime. The threats against the Chinese diaspora in the 2020 Australian elections should serve as a worrisome warning
  23. Xi, the President for life of everything a.k.a. the new Chinese emperor, has created a succession problem and thus introduced further unpredictability in the Chinese Party governance system.

The core problem with the West’s intention to have a stable, constructive relationship with Xi’s government – is that it is hard to believe there can be such a stable relationship as long as Beijing prefers to be a destabilizing power and continues to pursue and promote its authoritarian and mercantilist state capitalism. To find long term common ground with Xi’s China is becoming increasingly difficult in an environment of very diverging values and deep mistrust, especially if there are no talks about nuclear arms control.

While Western leaders are entitled to hope for the best,  they should at least be prepared for the worst. An effective U.S and EU strategy needs to start with the recognition that fierce and long competition with China is unavoidable. It will require much more US and EU cooperation and the coordination of policies among like-minded countries. A much better defensive and offensive game is a must, also in the context of the on-going ‘battle of narratives’ with Beijing on the international stage and in particular towards the Global South.  

Although European political leaders have begun to call their competition with China “systemic”, often their first reflexes are to still treat or frame the related dynamic as just a great power contest between Beijing and Washington, making the EU a powerless bystander, while absolving those leaders from taking any responsibility or action themselves. The U.S.-China friction is but one dimension of the many challenges Xi’s China poses.

2024 is set to become another very hectic year, with the Presidential elections in Taiwan and the US around the corner, and war in Ukraine still expected to rage on. It will put the international order under further stress and is likely to drive the systemic rivalry to new heights.