China’s pursuit of more power goes to unreasonable lengths / Respect for universal values is essential

A hard-line stance on foreign affairs will cause unnecessary friction with other countries, which in turn will damage national interests. China, which has become a major power, should be aware of this.

The Chinese Communist Party (CCP) has held a ceremony to celebrate the 100th anniversary of its founding.

In his speech, Chinese President Xi Jinping, who is also CCP general secretary, said emphatically that his party has “achieved the historic leap” and reaffirmed his party’s commitment to building a “strong nation” on a par with the United States.

History repeats itself

The CCP was formed in Shanghai in July 1921. The party expanded its influence among workers and farmers and founded the People’s Republic of China in 1949 when it won a civil war against the Kuomintang.

The ruling system, in which the CCP led the government and the military and extended the party organizational network to every corner of society, raised the impoverished country, which had been disparaged as the “sick man of Asia,” to the world’s second-largest economy.

The party, founded with about 50 members, now has 95 million. Last year, for the first time, the number of members who are white-collar clerical workers surpassed those in agriculture, fisheries and other industries. The worker-centered party has transformed into an “elite party.”

“Without the Communist Party of China, there would be no new China,” Xi said, praising the party. However, the CCP has a negative history that Xi has never mentioned.

As Mao Zedong, communist China’s founding father, strengthened his personal dictatorship, the lives of tens of millions of people were lost due to starvation caused by economic policy failures. The Cultural Revolution, a mass movement set up by Mao to solidify his power, plunged society into chaos.

Deng Xiaoping introduced his reforms and opening-up policies in the late 1970s, paving the way for China to become an economic power. However, in the 1989 Tiananmen Square Incident, he suppressed the pro-democratic movement with force, causing many casualties.

The party has been turning a blind eye to the sacrifices of the people amid fierce power struggles and suppression to maintain a one-party dictatorship.

Material on the party’s history published this year did not mention the victims of the Tiananmen Square Incident, but said that China challenged countries that had imposed sanctions, and made Japan become the first to lift them. This can be said to be a manifestation of China’s attitude of interpreting history to its advantage.

Reflecting on the fact that the party allowed Mao to get out of control, the regime made efforts to establish a collective leadership system in the party under the leadership of Deng Xiaoping. It is problematic that Xi is pushing ahead with the centralization of power as if he is ignoring such history. In addition, social control, including surveillance of residents, has also become stricter.

Any opinions against Xi have been suppressed. Even if he makes a wrong decision, it is worrisome that it would become difficult to correct its course.

Hard-line policies don’t pay

The problems of Xi’s hard-line foreign policies are clearly shown in the current situation in Hong Kong. The joint declaration between China and Britain stated that a high degree of autonomy would be guaranteed for 50 years after the return of Hong Kong to China in 1997. The Xi administration violated this international pledge and has been rooting out freedom in Hong Kong.

China’s “wolf warrior diplomacy,” which threatens countries that China deems hostile with punitive tariffs and blatant slanders, and presses them to surrender, is worsening its image worldwide. Even though it satisfies the patriotism of the people, it will not be in China’s interest.

Taking seriously the crackdown in Hong Kong and the Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region, the international community is stepping up pressure on China. In response, Xi said in his speech at the ceremony, “We will never allow any foreign force to bully, oppress or subjugate us.”

This may be an attempt to justify his hard-line foreign policies by comparing the current situation to that at the time of the foundation of the party under the pressure of major powers. However, it is an assertion that clearly flies in the face of reality, and it is totally impossible to gain sympathy from the international community.

Keep dialogue with China

Xi stated in his speech that reunification of Taiwan to mainland China is “a historic mission” of the party. Due to the principle of “one country, two systems” losing its substance in Hong Kong, and Hong Kong’s “Chinafication,” Taiwan has become more wary of China’s moves for reunification. Thus the possibility of peaceful reunification is becoming distant. China’s recent moves merely have strengthened a view that China is leaning toward the unification of Taiwan by force.

In the event of an emergency in the Taiwan Strait, Japan will inevitably be seriously affected. Following the inclusion of the Taiwan issue in documents released after the recent Japan-U.S. summit, the issue was also included in documents after a summit of the Group of Seven industrialized nations for the first time. Strengthening the solidarity of the G7 is essential.

China is attempting to expand its influence in a wide range of fields, including the ocean, cyberspace and space. The administration of Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga must respond quickly with a sense of urgency. To maintain stability in the East China Sea, including the Senkaku Islands in Okinawa Prefecture, the government should develop a system that can cope with contingencies.

On the other hand, for Japan, China is an extremely important neighbor, both economically and for the stability of East Asia. Japan should avoid behavior that could raise tension by itself with measures focusing only on confrontation.

Japan, in cooperation with the United States, European countries and others, should persistently urge China through dialogue to respect universal values, such as the rule of law, freedom and human rights, and international rules.

— The original Japanese article appeared in The Yomiuri Shimbun on July 2, 2021.