Life expectancy in China being close to 77 years by now, at 100 the Chinese Communist Party is long overdue for demise. That this happens speedily and as peacefully as possible is all we can wish the long suffering people of China on their masters’ centenary. Alas, as with many other wishes, this one looks unlikely to come true any time soon.
Having been responsible for some 60 million deaths, the Chinese Communist Party is the most blood-soaked criminal organisation of the last hundred years, and in the past four decades, as it had largely ditched Marxism while retaining Leninism, it has also emerged as one of the canniest and most effective. Thanks in part to harnessing new technology, its apparatus of surveillance and control would make Stalin and Hitler weep with envy, while its pivot towards “guided capitalism”, where the Party and the business world have more or less seamlessly merged, ensures that it controls resources – and therefore power and influence – that the old style communists and other assorted totalitarians and authoritarians could only dream of. This is a potent and dangerous combination. While essentially a modern European state, the Soviet Union was a Third World country; as someone had once described it, a Bukina Faso with nukes. By contrast, China has built its success on being an economic power, and from that flows both the military and political might and influence. Friends and supporters of the Soviet Union were largely ideological misfits and idealists; by contrast, China, an economic powerhouse that has managed to entangle itself with much of the international economy, counts some of the world’s richest and the most powerful as its de facto vassals and agents of influence. Lenin had once said that the capitalists will sell us (the communists) the rope with which we will hang them. They (the capitalists) would have had if only the Soviet communists had money to buy it. Today, the communist China has manufactured the rope with which it has tied up the capitalists and put them in service. It is at once less ambitious than Lenin’s dream of global communism, and at the same time much more effective: kill the capitalists with kindness (money) and they will have the best incentive to help you and do your bidding.
Just the other day, as CNN reported, “Berkshire Hathaway vice chairman Charlie Munger praised the Chinese government for silencing Alibaba’s Jack Ma in a recent interview, adding that he wishes US financial regulators were more like those in China.” All that such stories are notable for nowadays is their ubiquity.
Clive Hamilton’s new book should be a required reading for anyone interested in politics and current affairs (as indeed his previous one, dealing specifically with China’s infiltration of Australia, “Silent Invasion”). Whatever you have though the extent of the Chinese Communist Party’s influence in the world (including the developed democratic world) is, the reality is much worse. Because as they say, money talks and bullshit walks, the greatest reach in the modern world is assured through economic power. As so many in the West now do business with and in China, the large section of our business class is automatically blackmailed into toeing Beijing’s line (or else). You see it in a pro-Chinese advocacy by our business elites, you see it in censorship and self-censorship, from Hollywood through internet companies to even major sports, where criticism of any aspect of Chinese communism is now a no-no. Again the other day, comes the news that Uyghur human rights groups are being censored by the tech giants. This is likely the result of a Chinese bot army reporting the content they don’t like, and so an automated process, but make no mistake: none of the big internet companies would be likely to say no to the Chinese authorities if a more direct request for “cooperation” came their way. Too much money is at stake to displease the Big Panda, and so, increasingly, our brave business world’s preferred pronoun is Xi.
But it’s not just money. The Chinese model, such as it is, has a hypnotic appeal to many (too many) among our technocrats, bureaucrats and the political class. These are our betters, after all, and certainly the people who think they are smarter than everyone else, yet they are constantly constrained by the outmoded mechanisms of representative democracy, rule of law, and liberal state. How envious are they of the Chinese authorities (the Party and the government being largely the same, certainly the same for all practical purposes), which are not restrained by any considerations of accountability or public opinion. The Party can do whatever it wants – build a fast train network, carry out massive infrastructure projects, regulate emissions, direct economic resources, and so on – while the Western governments and administrations get bogged down in petty politics. The Chinese Communist Party is also a meritocracy of sorts, which promotes skill and talent (and of course loyalty, ideological reliability, and personal connections), while too many self-described smart people in our democracies are at the mercy of fickle voters. There is no stability and continuity, no long-term planning, no concern for the “national interest”; ah to be a mandarin instead!
Then there is the Chinese government’s ability to surveil and control their people – for their own good, of course. How many over here would love a Social Credit System, where they can reward and punish people according to government’s priorities, from environmentally-conscious behaviour to public health considerations. In democracies, the people rate their leaders; in China the leaders rate their people. Just imagine how much more effectively our governments and health authorities would be able to to deal with all of us during the current pandemic if they could “see” and “nudge” every individual at every moment and in every situation. The most dangerous virus to come from China recently is not COVID, it’s “socialism with Chinese characteristics” with its siren call of unrestrained power for large sections of our political and economic elites.
It has been a popular hope over the past few decades (it certainly used to be mine) that, as it had happened in many other countries around the world, economic liberalisation would lead to political liberalisation in China. Give people bread – and iPhones – and soon they will start asking for personal freedoms. Sadly, China proved to be the outlier because the Chinese Communist Party proved to be far smarter than any other comparable dictatorial force. As too many observers have recently noted, far from us, the democratic liberal West, slowly changing China into our own image, it is China that is increasingly changing us in theirs, not only by making the world (and the West) safer for Chinese autocracy but also by inspiring the latent authoritarian tendencies among our elites. The Soviet Communist Party never achieved even a fraction of all that and it did not get to celebrate its hundred years. This makes the Chinese Communist Party not only more successful but also more dangerous. This – and not the fluff about centenary parades, fetes and spectaculars – is what should be the focus of our attention today and into the future.