Commentary

Xi hijacks ‘people power’ to hold democracies hostage

His plan to link the Communist Party with nearly 1.4 billion Chinese citizens is aimed at muzzling Beijing’s critics

President Xi Jinping’s hardline “Wolf Warrior” diplomacy represents Beijing’s pack mentality. The script is simple and extremely provocative, linking the destiny of the Communist Party with nearly 1.4 billion Chinese citizens.

When policies are rolled out abhorrent to the international community, Xi’s “regime” brands the response as an attack on the nation and the people.

Social media sites such as the Twitter-like Weibo erupt into indignation while online global platforms banned in the country are peppered with Chinese government indignation. The ultimate irony.

Xi’s “regime” has also not hesitated in playing the “racism” card. 

“Beijing’s position [is] that criticism of the regime is tantamount to attacks on ‘the Chinese people,’” Ho-fung Hung, of Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, wrote in a commentary for China File, an academic website.

“Outside [of the country, Beijing also] promotes that all people of Chinese descent owe loyalty first to China, regardless of [their] citizenship or where [they were] born,” he said.

Binding the people to the actions of an unelected government has been a pivotal pillar of the Party’s right to rule. It encompasses national security and foreign policy, spanning a range of highly contentious issues. Below is a rundown of flashpoints that threaten to explode.

China, the United States and the Euorpean Union have been at loggerheads. Image: File
Foreign Policy

At the heart of the matter is the belief by President Xi and the Party’s inner circle that this is China’s century. A view backed up by academia.

“The most profound change in the global power structure is that the western world is experiencing a prolonged downturn … ‘East rises and the West falls,’” Yuan Peng, of the influential China Institute of Modern International Relations, said in an interview with The Beijing News last month.

Altered state: A wave of nationalistic propaganda has percolated through state-run media, such as Global Times, the People’s Daily and the Xinhua News Agency, to herald the new dawn. “Patriotic” fever will continue to grow as the Communist Party of China prepares to celebrate its 100th anniversary later this year. “Wolf Warriors” are on the prowl and scenting blood.

Democracy dump: “We believe that it is important for the United States to change its own image and to stop advancing its own democracy in the rest of the world. Many people within the United States actually have little confidence in their [system of] democracy,” Yang Jiechi, the Party’s top diplomat, said during last month’s two-day summit between China and US officials in Alaska.

A coherent trading policy with China was high on the G7 agenda. Image: Shutterstock
Trading places

China has been accused of not just bending World Trade Organization rules but stretching them to breaking point since joining the WTO in 2001.

Heavy state subsidies and Beijing’s tendency to talk about “free” trade while doing the complete opposite have soured relations with major global economies.

Companies such as Alibaba, Baidu, Tencent and even ByteDance have only flourished because foreign competitors have either been barred from entering China’s market or forced to hand over technology.

Enough is enough: “This is the time to get tough on China and their behavior in the global trading system [and] also [to] modernize the WTO. In many ways, it’s stuck in the 1990s,” British Trade Minister Liz Truss told the Financial Times last week before hosting a G7 meeting.

Alternative view: “If China is like what the UK official accused it of, why would so many countries and regions be willing to carry out trade exchanges with China, and why would so many foreign enterprises like to invest and do business in the country?,” Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying said as reported by state-run China Daily.

Uyghur Muslims held in a Xinjiang internment camp. Photo: Wikimedia Commons
Human rights issues

Major western democracies have rolled out sanctions against the Communist Party of China for human rights violations against ethnic Uyghur Muslims held in internment camps. Beijing has described the accusation of “genocide” in Xinjiang as “lies.”

Hanging by a thread: China has targeted global brands, such as H&M, Burberry and Nike, for speaking out about the alleged use of forced labor in the Xinjiang cotton industry. Data released by the “End Uyghur Forced Labour” website highlighted the problem. “The Region supplies more than a fifth of the world’s cotton,” it stated. 

Red tide: “The few Western forces slandering China should know that the era of wantonly interfering in China’s internal affairs with made-up stories or fabricated lies has ended, never to return. Those retrogressive moves cannot stop China’s tide of historical development,” Foreign Minister Wang Yi said as reported by the official Xinhua News Agency.

Protesters in Hong Kong unveil a Pro-Democracy Movement statue. Photo: Wikimedia Commons
Hong Kong crackdown

China has crushed the city’s dreams of democracy by ripping up the “One Country, Two Systems” model.

In less than a year, Beijing has imposed a draconian National Security Law and effectively banned pro-democracy candidates from running in Hong Kong elections later this year.

A pro-China selection committee will weed out Beijing’s critics. China’s ruling Communist Party has also launched a massive crackdown, locking up pro-democracy activists or charging them under the National Security Law to muzzle opposition.

Road to repression: “The Chinese government is showing the world that it stands in direct opposition to human rights and democracy. Beijing is on track to smother the remaining vestiges of democracy in Hong Kong,” Maya Wang, a senior China researcher at Human Rights Watch, said. 

Put up or shut up: “If the moderate opposition still wants to play a role in Hong Kong politics, they might explore how to provide constructive suggestions to the city rather than engaging in destructive actions,” Globel Times, which is owned by the official mouthpiece of the Communist Party, the People’s Daily, said in an editorial.

Chinese carrier groups have been conducting navl drills near Taiwan. Photo: File
Target Taiwan

If there is one flashpoint in the world that could turn the New Cold War between Beijing and Washington hot, it is semiconductor superpower Taiwan.

The democratic island is considered a renegade province by President Xi and his Communist Party inner circle even though the CCP would struggle to win a single vote there.

Apart from reuniting Taiwan with a mystical vision of China’s homeland, Beijing would also be able to dominate the global chip or semiconductor sector by holding economic rivals hostage to its policies.

Exposing the lie: “The existence of Taiwan’s democracy serves as proof-positive that there is nothing incompatible between a Chinese-speaking polity and self-government. Quite the contrary,” Michael Mazza, of the American Enterprise Institute, wrote in a commentary.

End game: Beijing’s “bullying” of Taipei reached new levels after launching a wave of incursions into Taiwan’s air defense identification zone earlier this year. Amid international condemnation, China’s Defence Ministry spokesman Wu Qian defended the sorties and warned that “Taiwan independence means war.”

Aerial view of China’s flotilla of fishing boats reported as ‘maritime militias.’ Photo: Screenshot
Waves in the South China Sea

Hardly a day goes by without President Xi’s administration advocating a rules-based world as it trashes the perceived behavior of democracies around the world. But when it comes to the South China Sea, Beijing simply flouts the law.

In 2016, an international tribunal dismissed China’s claim to 90% of the 1.3 million-square-mile maritime superhighway. In response, Beijing built artificial islands in the disputed waters equipped with missile batteries and hangars for fighter jets.

To put that into perspective, up to US$3 trillion of trade traverses through the South China Sea. Whoever controls this aquatic artery, controls trade.

Shipping news: Further evidence of China’s aggressive stance surfaced last week when more than 200 ships reported to being “maritime militias” were moored within the Philippines’ 200-mile exclusive economic zone. “The presence of Chinese maritime militias reveals their intent to further occupy [areas] in the West Philippine Sea,” Defence Secretary Delfin Lorenzana said in a statement.

Beware the swarm: “Nobody has the right to make wanton remarks on such activities,” the Chinese Embassy in Manila said, adding that the flotilla was comprised of fishing boats. Beijing also refuted claims that they were “swarming” and acting in a “threatening” manner.

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