World must counter the designs of China’s Communist Party

It’s not unusual for a political party to survive for a century after its formation, but to thrive without a popular mandate is. On 1 July, the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) celebrates its 100th anniversary. It captured power under Mao Tse-tung in 1949 after a bloody civil war that saw the ruling Kuomintang led by Chiang Kai-Shek exiled to Taiwan, an island province that has governed itself since but Beijing has vowed to annex. The CCP remains at the helm of affairs in the so-called People’s Republic of China, with little if any threat to its absolute dominance. The murmurs of dissonance that do surface now and then are put down firmly. Yet, China’s emergence as the world’s biggest economy looks inevitable and the power it has come to wield attracts awe. For how long, though, can a party riven with deep ideological contradictions sustain itself? It has been over four decades since Deng Xiaoping switched from Mao’s legacy of hard communism to “socialism with Chinese characteristics”. This entailed a brazen embrace of capitalism. Justified back then as a new tool to achieve old ends, it has generated enough riches to induce amnesia on that score. Today’s China is a byword for inequality, its people live repressed lives, and its ruling party’s longevity is a cause for reflection, not celebration.

There are many admirers of the CCP’s acrobatic ideology. At their core, what separates classic communism from true capitalism is a divide over collective versus individual ownership of property. Mao wanted state control of all means of production. However, a chance encounter with the profit motive—or with the superior results of farming done privately rather than collectively—led Deng to adopt market mechanisms. That was more than a decade before the collapse of the Soviet Union exposed the flaws of statism. China’s subsequent success in lifting millions out of poverty gave the party an aura of competence. Instead of abolishing private assets, as once envisaged, the CCP has packed its ranks with billionaires. Tencent founder Ma Huateng, with a net worth placed at $75 billion this January, is a member of parliament. So is Lei Jun, founder of Xiaomi. President Xi Jinping is known to spout Maoist sayings, but he seldom displays any memory of the private pursuit of wealth being a means to an end. Even Beijing’s arm-twisting of entrepreneurs, as seen in its recent actions against Alibaba’s outspoken chief Jack Ma, is little more than a cynical exertion of authority.

There is scant evidence that the CCP under Xi has aims beyond the use and abuse of power to perpetuate its hegemony. A regime that subjects its people to 24/7 surveillance, assigns ratings for how well they stay in line and herds minorities into “reform camps” cannot claim to be welfarist. If Beijing’s repression has worsened with China’s economic advancement, so too has its zest to play the regional bully. In the guise of aiding the development of other nations, it has sought to entrap them in debt. In its quest to dominate Asia, it has muzzled voices in Hong Kong, flexed muscle in the South China Sea and tried to grab Indian territory in the Himalayas by force. Its border aggression last year in Ladakh was an example of its disregard for diplomacy as a way to resolve disputes. Yet, there is an even bigger reason for us to be wary of China. Backed by its tech-enabled military heft, it has revealed a will to supplant liberal democracy globally with its peculiar notions of a stable world order. The CCP is not a party of the proletariat. Its designs should be resisted.

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