David Green is CEO of Civitas.
Is it time for a change of policy towards China? As we rethink our strategy, instead of referring to China, we should speak of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) to remind ourselves that we are dealing with an authoritarian dictatorship. We will constantly misunderstand Chinese rulers if we fail to recognise a simple truth: the ruling party in China is an organisation for keeping power in its own hands. It is as much in conflict with the Chinese people as with foreigners, as the experience of Hong Kong has reminded us.
The party doesn’t even have the excuse of believing that its high ideals justify violent methods. Everything is an instrument for keeping power. If voicing highfalutin ideals helps, then they will be proclaimed. If ideals widely shared in human history are obstacles, such as universal values and an autonomous civil society, then they will be denounced. Power is everything.
In the West, we are reluctant to think that a regime could be quite that bad. There is good in all of us and we never stop looking for it. But the internal documents of the CCP repeatedly give the game away. Take one prime example, the infamous Document Number Nine, distributed to party leaders in 2012 soon after Xi Jinping came to power. It was leaked the following year and we know that the person responsible was jailed for seven years for revealing state secrets. They didn’t want us to know about it. A translation is freely available on the website of the online publication, ChinaFile.
The document highlights seven false ideological trends found among the Chinese people. The first is promoting Western constitutional democracy, whose dubious characteristics include the separation of powers, the multi-party system, general elections, and an independent judiciary. The goal of Chinese enthusiasts for Western constitutional democracy is seen as undermining the CCP’s leadership and abolishing the People’s Democracy.
The second target is the promotion of universal values. Chinese people who champion them aim to “weaken the theoretical foundations of the Party’s leadership” and supplant the core values of socialism.
The third ideological tenet is “promoting civil society in an attempt to dismantle the ruling party’s social foundation”. This dubious doctrine holds that individual rights are paramount and that they “ought to be immune to obstruction by the state”. But advocates of civil society want to “squeeze the party out of leadership of the masses at the local level”. The fourth target is the neoliberal market economy, which aims to “weaken the government’s control of the national economy”.
The fifth target is promoting the West’s idea of journalism, which challenges “China’s principle that the media and publishing system should be subject to party discipline”. The ultimate goal of advocating Western-style journalism “is to hawk the principle of abstract and absolute freedom of press, oppose the party’s leadership in the media, and gouge an opening through which to infiltrate our ideology”.
Sixth is promoting “historical nihilism” or questioning the CCP’s interpretation of the past. The aim is “to fundamentally undermine the CCP’s historical purpose, which is tantamount to denying the legitimacy of the CCP’s long-term political dominance”.
Finally there is questioning reform and “the socialist nature of socialism with Chinese characteristics”. If these ideas are allowed to spread, “they will disturb people’s existing consensus on important issues”. Within China’s borders, some private organisations were creating “reactionary underground publications”, filming documentaries on “sensitive subject matter”, and “defaming the party and the national leadership”.
The seven ideological trends must be resisted by strengthening “leadership in the ideological sphere” and forcefully resisting “influential and harmful false tides of thoughts”. The party must not permit “the dissemination of opinions that oppose the party’s theory or political line”. There must be “unwavering adherence to the principle of the party’s control of media”. We must persist in “correct guidance of public opinion, insisting that the correct political orientation suffuse every domain and process in political engagement, form, substance, and technology”.
Finally, the party must reinforce our management of “all types and levels of propaganda” and “allow absolutely no opportunity or outlets for incorrect thinking or viewpoints to spread”. The party must “strengthen guidance of public opinion on the Internet” and “purify the environment of public opinion on the Internet”.
If the document had aimed to define totalitarianism as succinctly as possible, it could hardly have done a better job. As it happens the US State Department has just published the report of the Commission on Unalienable Rights, which allows us to compare America and Communist China.
There are plenty of Americans who criticise their own country, most notably for failure in race relations, and there are some who detect a whiff of unbridled power seeking in President Trump’s proposal to delay the November election. He was, however, overruled by Congress within a few hours (whereas no one in China can overrule the supreme leader).
The report of the Commission on Unalienable Rights is a nuanced defence of a free society, which steadfastly defends its own values without arrogance or righteousness. The preface begins with an acknowledgement of America’s faults. With recent racial divisions in mind, it says:
“With the eyes of the world upon her, America must show the same honest self-examination and efforts at improvement that she expects of others. America’s dedication to unalienable rights – the rights all human beings share – demands no less.”
The report reaffirms America’s commitment to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) because it reflects America’s founding values. Perhaps with China in mind, the report asserts that there can be no moral equivalence between “rights-respecting countries that fall short in progress toward their ideals” and countries that “regularly and massively trample on their citizens’ human rights”.
Maybe the sharpest contrast with Document Number Nine is found in the declaration that “in a free society, the laws will leave a vast range of human activity to the conscience of each” and in its reminder that the US Constitution protects freedom of speech “by declining to give Congress the power to pass laws prescribing or proscribing beliefs, utterances, and publications”.
The report urges the American Government to defend human rights with renewed vigour, with pride in what has been accomplished, combined with humility born of the awareness of her own “shortcomings and imperfections”. But, it proclaims that in the war of ideas between liberal democracy and autocracy, “the uneven progress of liberal democracies does not invalidate the lofty goals to which they are dedicated”.
About the same time as Document Number Nine was being sent to Communist leaders, our own David Cameron and George Osborne were declaring a “golden era” in relations with China. Looking back we can perhaps see that this was one of the biggest foreign-policy blunders of recent times.