When Xi Jinping first took power in 2012, Chinese society was politically, economically, sociologically, and even sentimentally broken into Chinas. One is China, Inc. consisting of the political, economic, social, and cultural elite bonded together by corruption and maintained the one-party oligarchy, and the other China of over 1 billion Chinese “shitizens”, virtually enslaved by China, Inc. They were not only unable to share the benefits of rapid development but also had been deprived of almost all political and social resources. Every year more than a million protests erupt involving at least 100 protesters. Some warn that if China continues along this path, it would be like beating a drum with a stick of dynamite. The “reform” crony-capitalism initiated by Deng Xiaoping and continued by Jiang Zemin and Hu Jintao had reached to a dead end.
The ambitious Xi knew he must change. Many placed high hopes on him but soon discovered his focus was on two goals: consolidating his own power and maintaining CCP control of China. His famed anti-corruption agenda, while popular with the public which despises crony capitalism, selectively pursued potential rivals and their corporate allies. And he reverted towards Maoist policies both politically and economically, running contrary to people’s overall expectations based on the past 40 years of modest reforms.
College students waving national flags while watching the opening of the 19th Communist Party Congress. Photo Courtesy: AFP
The Tiananmen Massacre 30 years earlier ripped off the façade of CCP’s Marxist ideology and forced its exclusive reliance for continued power in the following years on two sources of legitimacy-- high-speed economic development and nationalism.
After Xi came into power, China’s economy reached structural bottlenecks and the country’s declining growth gradually became apparent. Xi, albeit excelled at power struggles, showed incompetence on economic issues. His political retreat towards Maoism means Cultural Revolution-like political repression; his economic retreat towards Maoism means Statism at the expense of private markets. The social space to revitalize the economy is suffocated, leaving China’s economic outlook even bleaker. Xi has to, more than before, rely on nationalism for political stability and use patriotism fanned by aggression abroad.
Xi ’s most important political slogans have been the “Chinese Dream”, and the “great rejuvenation of the Chinese nation.” These two slogans say nothing but “Make China Great Again.”
For sure, Xi wants for his “Middle Kingdom” to become strong enough to form a “new type of major-power relationship” with the United States. He changed Deng’s policy of “keeping a low profile,” and engaged in military expansion. He doubled down on government intervention to unbalance international trade to provide a “blood transfusion” for its regime, to force technology transfers, and to steal intellectual secrets from the United States. He uses debt-traps and bribes to colonize underdeveloped countries through the Belt & Road Initiative and purchases China’s influences in politics, academia, and show business in America and other democracies.
For a long time, the United States was not vigilant enough about this and let China continue unchallenged. The U.S.-China trade war has shifted US China policy toward countering China’s influence in various fields. This has been described by some observers as the “New Cold War.” The conflict is not merely about trade, it's comprehensive in nature. The deepest conflict is between values. Otherwise, it would be inexplicable as to why Canada, which is also involved in a fierce trade conflict with America, is siding with it in the so called New Cold War. When Canada arrested Huawei CFO Meng Wanzhou upon America’s request, China used tactics such as arbitrarily detaining Canadian citizens and illegally meting out death penalty on a Canadian citizen to engage in crazy revenge. Huawei, countered by the international community, will inevitably fall into decline. This is the “Waterloo” of China’s technology strategy—especially its military technology strategy. It is a heavy setback for Xi’s “Chinese Dream.” In addition, the trade war has dealt China’s economy another serious blow. Xi, hopeless on performance induced legitimacy, must fortify his nationalist stance in order to maintain his status and the stability of his regime.
We must not forget that in China’s context, nationalism does not just mean brandishing its sword against the US, but also means stabbing minorities within the People’s Republic of China—Uyghurs, Tibetans, and so on. The nationalism of the CCP is Han-centric; it is, in fact, racism. “Those who are not our kin are sure to be of a different heart.” The CCP control over and suppression of society manifests itself through ever-intensifying crackdowns on ethnic minorities. New and more brutal forms of suppression are always tried in ethnic minority regions first. When the news was exposed that the CCP has imprisoned more than one million Uyghurs in concentration camps in Xinjiang, the international community expressed indignation. However, all of this is the logical result of extreme nationalist racism. Nazi Germany has done it before.
However, one thing impossible for Nazi Germany to do but done by Xi’s China, is the implementation of Orwellian totalitarianism—comprehensive digital control over Chinese society—as the “Xinjiang model” is being rolled out across the country.
In fact, all of this stems from a fear of losing power. Admittedly, Xi holds power and is unmatched. However, he has offended almost everyone and has too many enemies. He doesn’t know who will be first to deliver the fatal blow to him. His personality cult offends “comrades” within the party. His economic Maoism offends CCP bureaucrats and private entrepreneurs, who most benefited under Deng’s path. Exactly one year ago, he revised the Constitution to abolish term limits on the presidency, and gave potential intra-Party enemies a flag of “defending the achievements of reform and opening-up.” Xi's tightening control over speech has offended intellectuals; Mao-style politics means the cruel suppression of dissidents, with civil society being squeezed almost to nonexistence; the economic downturn and more state interference in market has caused the middle class to lose confidence. The common people have realized that the anti-corruption they initially welcomed did not bring them any benefits; on the contrary, arbitrary anti-corruption measures have further undermined China’s rule-of-law, causing the powerless to become further victimized.
It is hard to believe that Xi is not informed of or sensitive to this situation. He is most alert to two things. One is a self-fulfilled misperception about the stability of his power. Last July, he clearly met resistance against his personal cult building effort, as his portraits were taken down in many places throughout the country and the People's Daily unprecedentedly reporting no news about him for a couple of days. Sensing some significant challenge facing Xi, people suddenly became more active and critical in public discourse and the expectation about Xi' s political future grew uncertain accordingly. At the month-end Politburo meeting, Xi proposed the so-called “Six Stabilities,” one of which is “steady expectations.” Since then, he has scaled up his cult of personal worship, signaling that “My grip on power is tight.”
The other thing Xi fears most is that China’s major economic problems become a pretext for rivals within the party to openly oppose him, and also give an opportunity for them to unite with the private sector to form a viable opposition or even overthrow him. So for him, heavy handed political stability-preserving measures must be in place at the time when economic crises loom. In order to stabilize people’s expectations, in the face of international pressure and a growing economic crisis, it is foreseeable that Xi’s tough nationalist stance will not change; his purge of comrades within the party, surveillance of civil society, and crackdown on minorities and religious groups will continue to escalate.
Under Xi, China has taken paths similar to Nazi Germany. A single, all-powerful party, one paramount leader, total control over all media, military aggression abroad, brutal suppression of dissent, creation of fictional external threats and enemies, and jingoism and strident nationalism masquerading as foreign policy. After the Holocaust of the Jewish people under Hitler we vowed “never again.” But among post-war atrocities that belie that pledge, and we today must add the “reeducation” concentration camps where more than one million people, one tenth of the Uyghurs, are detained. This is a mature fascism combined with communism, crony-capitalism and an Orwellian 1984 digital totalitarianism. I call it Fascism with Chinese Characteristics.
As one understands Nazi Germany so should he or she know Xi’s China.