If anybody had lingering doubts about the ruthlessness of the Chinese Communist Party, the speech President Xi Jinping delivered last week to mark the centenary of the party’s founding should have removed them. Based on what Xi said, it is clearer than ever that China operates under a sinister dictatorship on par with the worst regimes of the 20th century. His government’s default position is to rule by command. China’s growing military might has begun to worry many people in the West. I fear they have woken up to this threat too late.
In his speech, Xi confirmed everybody’s worst fears. At no point did he mention the misery and mass murder that Mao’s Cultural Revolution inflicted. Instead, by way of tribute to his communist dictator hero, he chose to dress in the same style of clothes as Mao. The speech looked back on “the glorious journey” the party has travelled since 1921 and told of how China has beaten back colonial oppressors.
The villains of the speech were the British, because of the mid-19th-century Opium Wars which plunged China into a downward spiral. The message was that, thanks to the Communist Party, there has been a national rejuvenation (again). Now, with the imperialist past gone, is the time to build a full, powerful military dictatorship and to “maintain the party’s absolute leadership over the people’s armed forces.” This is to be bolstered by “comprehensive measures to enhance the political loyalty of the armed forces.”
All of this comes straight out of the playbook of the 20th century’s worst dictators. This power is to be used, Xi said, to defend China, and any attempt to subjugate the country will be met by a “great wall of steel” in the form of its 1.4 billion people. This, at least, is the official transcript. Other interpretations of Xi’s words say that anyone who dares to challenge China “will have their heads bashed bloody against the Great Wall of Steel,” an aggressive threat one would associate with a criminal gang.
Even more worrying, perhaps, is the issue that could become the most important in global politics in the near future: Xi’s demand for China’s complete reunification with Taiwan. The Japanese are already nervous about this prospect and have said that any Chinese military incursion into Taiwan will be met with resistance. I believe the Japanese have set out their stall in this way in an effort to persuade the Americans and NATO to follow suit. Yet the question remains: if China were to take back Taiwan by military force, how would the West react? I’m not sure it would react at all.
I fear that at some point in the near future, a line will be crossed that will turn out to be every bit as significant as the Cuban Missile Crisis. Just look at what’s happened in Hong Kong. Xi said recently that social stability there was a priority. Within a few days of making this statement, the chief executive of Hong Kong asked parents, teachers and religious leaders to observe the behavior of teenagers with a special focus on their ideology. Any pretense that Hong Kong is independent from China has vanished.
No doubt those who oppose authoritarian control, and would prefer a democratic Hong Kong, will be sent off for the “reeducation” in which Chinese authorities have proved themselves to be expert. Consider the hundreds of thousands of Uyghur Muslims who have been put through this unspeakable process. In the case of Hong Kong, the Sino-British joint declaration secured by Margaret Thatcher in 1984, in which the Chinese promised that the way of life in Hong Kong would remain untouched until at least 2047, is now worthless. Human rights are suppressed at every turn as the authoritarians tighten their grip, yet the West says little and does nothing.
Indeed, the West’s descent into a collective spasm of indecision was evident just a few weeks ago at the G7 meeting. When the matter of China was raised, those countries gathered could not even agree on the wording to a resolution condemning Beijing’s actions towards the Uyghur minority. German chancellor Angela Merkel, among others, described China as a “partner.” Boris Johnson, who hosted the event in Britain, perhaps best exemplified the West’s general non-reaction to China when he declared his intention of “building back better together, and building back greener, and building back fairer, and building back more equal and in a more gender neutral and perhaps a more feminine way.” It is clear that these leaders have all chosen to bury their heads firmly in the sand.
Yet while Johnson and company obsess about climate change and signal their virtue, have no doubt that President Xi is laughing—mostly in disbelief but also in defiance. His centenary speech made no mention of climate change whatsoever. In fact, the Chinese intend to build up to 100 new coal-fired power stations every year. All those who are truly concerned about the environment should make China, and not the West, the focus of their scrutiny and attention—if they dare.
President Xi and his team are hell bent on pursuing total economic and military supremacy over the West, whatever the cost. Our leaders had better work out how they are going to contain this threat—and quickly. There will be no time for second chances.