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Communism in China

The Communist Party in 21st Century China

Even into the 21st century, China's citizens have few, if any, rights against the State. As the signers of Charter '08 have found out, there remains little freedom to air political views. As the parents of children killed in the collapse of shoddily-built government schools during the May 12 Sichuan earthquake, or families of children poisoned by melamine in poorly regulated food production have discovered, complaining is okay, so long as no one complains about the Party. 8 Ethnic minorities continue to protest the state's repression of religion and culture, in Buddhist Tibet or Moslem Xinjiang.

But China is now a recognized economic superpower, 9 or perhaps something more challenging: it is an economic superpower where absolute authority over economic decisions rests with the leadership of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP). Since the 1990s, China has evolved from a command economy to a mixed economy with increasing use of the market. But the state presence remains very ample in many different sectors. 10 So, while the last three decades of unprecedented prosperity and economic growth rest largely on what the late Chinese leader, Deng Xiaoping, called the "socialist market economy", China is not a "market economy." Quite the opposite of the world's true market economies – China's full economic power can be marshaled and directed at the absolute will of the state.

There are those who believe that China will mellow in its own way and in its own time. Those believers point to the mechanism of a growing “middle class” that will demand peace and stability from the regime and will exert adequate restraint on state power. About 5 percent of the population consists of CCP members. 11 About the same number are “middle class.” 12 Are they substantially overlapping sets? That is, are members of the "middle class" more likely to be Party members?

Indeed, of this "middle class" at least nine out of ten of its wealthiest members are Party members. A confidential survey of Chinese incomes conducted by the Central Party School Research Office in March 2006, reportedly reflects that, under the heading “private ownership of property (foreign property not included)” some 27,310 Chinese own property valued in excess of 50 million yuan (about US$15 million). And 3,220 people own in excess of 100 million. Of this latter figure, 2,932 people – 91 percent – were identified as “children of senior cadres”. And those 2,932, held “assets valued at 2.045 trillion yuan.” 13

The same report also claimed “in the cities, income of middle and high-ranking bureaucrats already exceed the income of civil servants and mid-income people in developed countries in Western Europe and the United States.” This statement could not possibly be true—unless, perhaps, it includes the institutionalized corruption that seems to be a perquisite of Party membership.

This is to say, the Party is quite adept at using its full panoply of economic instruments and its newly rising "middle class" to support the political and military goals of the CCP. 14

And – as any businessman in China, foreign or domestic, can attest – it does. Boycotted French businesses in China felt China's wrath when it permitted demonstrations in Paris against the Praetorian phalanx of Chinese security police that guarded the "Olympic Torch"in 2008. 15 U.S. aerospace companies that sell defense arms and services to Taiwan are pressured. 16 American commentators and screen acting personalities who engage in acts of lèse majesté against China's leaders become the butts of state-directed boycotts. 17 Chinese student thugs in Seoul, Korea, viciously assault South Korean police defending anti-Beijing protesters there. 18 And an overseas Chinese student at Duke University, whose sole transgression was to urge Chinese and Tibetan students to dialogue peacefully, was so vilified in the state-controlled Chinese internet that her father fears "he may have to change jobs." 19

And that's just the influence that China now exerts on people outside of China by virtue of the Chinese state's unquestioned authority over the economy. In the near future, with China's GDP doubling every three years in U.S. dollar terms 20, China's economic clout may be more to fear than its rapidly expanding military forces – which are probably growing at about the same rate. 21

The 21st century will be more hospitable to the emerging Chinese superpower than the 20th. But Communist China seems unlikely to use its new influence in the pursuit of global goals that the free world will find satisfactory. As one think- tank scholar in China's intelligence services points out, “In the world today, virtually all of America’s adversaries are China’s friends.” 22 Human rights, restraint of nuclear proliferation, open trade and capital markets, respect for intellectual property, even mitigation of climate change and environmental degradation are policies that the Chinese regime believes are someone else's responsibilities.

 

 

Author Bio:
John Tkacik has spent four decades studying and working on China, Taiwan and Mongolian affairs in academia, in the U.S. Department of State, in private business, and with The Heritage Foundation in Washington, D.C. He was the editor and primary contributing author of two books, “Rethinking One China” (2004) and “Reshaping the Taiwan Strait” (2007), both published by Heritage.