Opening Remarks at #RightsCity 2019
Concordia University, 1400 Maisonneuve Blvd West, Montreal, June 3, 2019
By: Dr. Yang Jianli

(This is the text of Dr. YANG Jianli’s opening remarks to be made at #RightsCity held in Montreal on June 3. Unfortunately, Dr. YANG did not make it to the conference because he was held up by the process of applying for eTA. An eTA approval is required of a Chinese citizen before entering Canada but the process was held up because more documents and investigation are needed for those who have been arrested or charged or sentenced in any country. Dr. Yang was a political prisoner of China from 2002 to 2007.)

What is China up to and what should we do about it? Much current punditry focuses on the policy roller coaster of China’s modern rulers: Mao, Deng Xiaoping, Jiang Zemin, Hu Jintao and Xi Jinping. But step back and take a broader view. Since 1949, there has been scant change in the fundamental priorities of the Chinese Communist Party leadership. Hence, there has been scant real change in their strategy for dealing with China’s population and with the surrounding world. CCP leaders have been obsessed with maintaining power and internal stability and paranoid about internal factionalism, separatist movements, and dissent of any kind.
Especially after the Tiananmen massacre permanently exposed its fig leaf of Communist ideology, the CPP has relied on two sources of legitimacy to maintain its rule: rapid economic growth and rising living standards (performance induced legitimacy), and, to a lesser degree, distorted nationalism. The descent of China’s economy, burdened by excessive corporate debt, global slowdown, and structural bottlenecks, became glaringly exposed after Xi took power. Additionally, his U.S. trade war is hitting China’s economy hard.

Xi faced widespread demonstrations of popular dissent, alarmingly emboldened doubt about his leadership among his official colleagues, business allies, and even noted silence about his performance by normal fawning state media. Xi had two choices. He could ease up or tighten up. It is widely known that Xi adopted De Tocqueville’s advice that revolutions are most likely when harsh dynasties become tender and contemplate reforms.

Xi believes economic and political instability must be followed by even heavier handed measures. When, for example, China’s stock market precipitously fell in June, 2015, Xi responded with the massive crackdown on civil society in early July (the “709 Attack.”) 

Now severe economic downturn seems unstoppable. Long term economic hardship looms. Xi’s desperate grasp for total control is inevitable. He wants to extend his Xinjiang model of 1984 Digital Totalitarianism to the entire country. His corrupt, dictatorial corporate-statist amalgam, beneath its flimsy facade of Communist rhetoric, is now Xi’s “Fascism with Chinese characteristic.” 

His favored political slogans of “The Chinese dream” and “The great rejuvenation of the Chinese nation” lie in tatters. In order to raise them aloft; to mobilize mass support, and to stabilize the CCP’s rule, Xi must rely on his version of patriotic “Nationalism.”

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 world’s democracies. 

For Xi, China’s nationalism, internally, means Han nationalism; the “true Chinese” must subjugate ethnic minorities (Uyghurs, Tibetans, Mongols), destroy their culture and traditions, and force total assimilation. Patriotism, for Xi, means blaming those ills resulting from his lust for power, the CCP’s greed and corruption, on external forces that threaten to thwart China’s destiny – the West, especially the U.S., and now Canada, as well as Taiwan and Hong Kong dissidents.
For a long time, the world’s democracies were 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.

The free world needs to be clear-eyed. It should recognize that Xi’s need to respond to growing popular resistance stimulates his need for diversionary aggressive moves to

create crises and permit calls for patriot support – from military moves in the South China Sea, and efforts to subvert vulnerable governments beneath Silk and Belt Road glamor, to covert action in Taiwan’s election, and its increasingly blatant efforts to penetrate think tanks and universities in various democracies. In short, human rights abuse in China not only violates universal principles. It also has real consequences for the free world’s security. The world’s democracies must firmly challenge China’s regime – a regime that ruthlessly represses its people, denies universal values and challenges the international order to achieve its dominance. To do less is not only moral dereliction, but also strategically unsound.