The Hill reports that China’s leaders have warned of a “impending crackdown” on massive protests against the communist regime’s rigidly enforced zero-COVID policy in several Chinese cities. A spokesperson for the Central Political and Legal Affairs Commission pledged to “resolutely crack down on infiltration and sabotage activities by hostile forces.” Protesters have already clashed with security forces in Guangzhou. Chinese authorities have also said that internet users will be punished for “liking” social media posts about COVID and the protests deemed “harmful” by the regime.
The crackdown on dissent is a manifestation of the Chinese Communist Party’s continued adherence to the “dictatorship of the proletariat,” a Marxist-Leninist concept that empowers the ruling elite to exercise totalitarian power in the “struggle” for communism. Yet there are still some China “experts,” including some in the Biden administration, that still believe we can “engage” this communist regime.
During the first Cold War, Soviet experts were often called Kremlinologists for their efforts to divine the intentions of the communist leaders who ruled the Soviet Union from the Kremlin in Moscow. Today, a new generation of China experts endeavor to do the same thing with respect to China’s rulers in Zhongnanhai (the principal office complex of China’s communist leaders) in Beijing. Let’s call them Zhongnanhaiologists. And three of the best have written an important article in Foreign Affairs that provides persuasive evidence that China’s President Xi Jinping is committed to Marxist ideology and Leninist politics.
Xi urged his colleagues to wage an ideological war against Western capitalism and insisted that all party leaders learn about the mistakes that led to the fall of the Soviet party so that nothing similar could happen in China.
The best Kremlinologists during Cold War I often were ex-communists or scholars who had at least flirted with Marxism, such as James Burnham and Bertram Wolfe, but also serious students of Russia and communism such as Leonard Schapiro, Richard Pipes, and Brian Crozier. One trait that the best Kremlinologists shared was their willingness to read and study Soviet documents, writings, and speeches — not the obvious propaganda meant for Western liberal ears, but instead what Soviet leaders wrote and said to one another and their party members.
Matt Pottinger, David Feith, and Matthew Johnson, the authors of the Foreign Affairs article titled “Xi Jinping in His Own Words,” are not former Marxists, but they are serious students of China and communism. Pottinger and Feith held important foreign-policy posts in the Trump administration. Johnson is a scholar at the Hoover Institution. Their essay should serve to dispel any remaining notions that the United States and the West can responsibly engage China while it is ruled by the CCP.
They begin their essay by noting that at the recent 20th Party Congress, Xi, who attained an unprecedented post-Mao third term as China’s leader, “enshrined the Stalinist-Maoist concept of ‘struggle’ as a guiding principle in the Party Charter.” Of greater note, however, was Xi’s success in codifying a “worldview” that sees the United States as the main enemy, Russia as an important ally, and Taiwan as an integral part of China and that expresses “confidence in the ultimate victory of communism over the capitalist West.” Xi, the authors write, established as the CCP’s main objective the replacement of “the modern nation-state system with a new order featuring Beijing at its pinnacle.”
Xi’s worldview, the authors note, “reflect[s] his inheritance, as the latest in a long line of communist theorists and leaders steeped in similar doctrines, traditions, and desired end states.” The “long line of theorists and leaders” includes Marx, Lenin, Stalin, and Mao, whose doctrines and political traditions are manifest in Xi Jinping Thought. The authors quote from a December 2012 “closed-door” speech in which Xi urged party members not to dismiss Lenin and Stalin. To do so, he said, “is to engage in historic nihilism” and would undermine the CCP’s rule. In January 2013, the authors note, Xi, in a speech “kept secret for six years,” predicted the inevitable triumph of socialism over capitalism, explaining that Marx and Engels were right about “the basic contradiction of capitalist society.” Later that year, Xi urged his colleagues to wage an ideological war against Western capitalism and insisted that all party leaders learn about the mistakes that led to the fall of the Soviet party so that nothing similar could happen in China. Xi blamed the United States for engineering the Soviet collapse and claimed that China’s “national rejuvenation” will result from a “struggle against the system of American hegemony.”
Pottinger, Feith, and Johnson provide example after example of Xi Jinping Thought, showing that Leninism is the means by which the CCP maintains power and will achieve “global supremacy” and that the goal of global supremacy is a Marxist world system ruled from Beijing. Marx, according to Xi, is “the greatest thinker in human history,” and Marxism will “change the destiny of human history.” In a 2018 speech, Xi told party cadres that China “must struggle for communism our entire lives” to create a “collectivized world.” The authors quote from a People’s Liberation Army training textbook, approved by Xi, that envisions a “new world order … that will surpass and supplant the Westphalian System.”
There is nothing in Xi Jinping Thought about “peaceful coexistence,” a phrase that was popular among détentists during the first Cold War but that the best Kremlinologists understood as meaning a continuation of the struggle by means other than war. One party-approved text notes that Xi “has emphasized that our state’s ideology and social system are fundamentally incompatible with the West” and that “our struggle and contest with Western countries is irreconcilable.” And Pottinger, Feith, and Johnson note that Xi’s new leadership team “appears tailormade for ‘the spirit of struggle” with the West. (READ MORE from Francis P. Sempa: Protests in China Make War in South China Sea More Likely)
What is to be done? The authors advocate a policy of “constrainment,” which they describe as an approach that is similar to containment but that recognizes the “realities of economic interdependence and seeks to tilt them to Washington’s advantage.” The authors’ conception of “constrainment” is geoeconomics in the service of geopolitics. The United States, they write, must use economic leverage to our advantage in areas such as supply chains, semiconductor manufacturing, internet governance, information warfare, and a strengthened dollar. We must take the lead in “the balance of dependence” while fielding (with our allies in the region) “an unmistakably superior and well-coordinated military presence in the western Pacific.”
The authors’ proposed policy of “constrainment” is Luttwakian in conception. The great strategist Edward Luttwak, one of the better Zhongnanhaiologists around, has for some time advocated a combined geoeconomic and geopolitical approach to a rising China. Luttwak has noted China’s weaknesses and vulnerabilities and has called upon the U.S. and its allies to exploit them, just as Burnham and Pipes did with regard to Soviet vulnerabilities in the first Cold War.
If only we had some good Zhongnanhaiologists in the Biden administration.