Xi warns of Western “bullies” to advocate for one-party regime

FOR ALL who believe that people are endowed with inalienable rights, including life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness, and that righteous governments derive their powers from the consent of the governed, it was alarming to hear the applause and cheers that greeted Xi Jinping on July 1, the 100th anniversary of the Communist Party. Speaking in Tiananmen Square, the Chinese leader had just promised that any foreigner who tried to intimidate China “would smash their heads against a Great Wall of steel, forged from flesh and blood over 1.4 years old. billion Chinese ”. The party crushes individual freedoms with despotic cruelty. Yet its leaders are sure to rule with the consent of the vast majority. As a result, they claim to enjoy as much legitimacy as any democracy.

It would be dangerous complacency to regard the cheering in the square as an empty spectacle. True, the crowd was handpicked and transported by bus hours before Mr. Xi arrived. Almost all of the details of the event have been kept under wraps beforehand. But as so often with the paranoia of Chinese officials, it was probably unnecessary. Without prompting, many ordinary people express their sincere admiration for Mr. Xi and would encourage him in person if given the chance.

The party sees a lot of promising forces coming together. After 40 years of economic, technological and military progress, he is ready to take credit for being an indispensable source of wisdom guiding China’s rise. At the same time, a crisis of confidence grips much of the democratic world. Civil servants like to compare their autocracy with what they describe as Western disarray. They like to point fingers at America, making fun of her like hell of covid-19 deaths, racist police, gun violence and partisan paralysis.

The Chinese leaders are, in effect, trying to take the established definitions of representative government and redefine them according to the party. Where the United States Declaration of Independence called on free men to pursue happiness as everyone sees fit, Chinese media say the party pursues “happiness for the people” – a shameless top-down enterprise. Rather than echoing Abraham Lincoln’s call for government of, by and for the people, party spokespersons praise Xi as a “leader of the people” whose years of selfless service led him to a “people-centered development thinking” that focuses on “the fundamental interests of the overwhelming majority”.

Western political systems devote a great deal of time to how governments obtain and retain the consent of the governed, whether through elections or under the continued scrutiny of a free press, opposition parties and political parties. an independent judiciary. The party maintains that it deserves to govern because of the awesome things it does and that it is held accountable by its own self-discipline.

Chinese claims to the legitimacy of performance, to use the jargon of political scientists, are often surprisingly detailed, and not particularly ideological. All summer long, party organs praised Mr. Xi for providing better education, more stable and satisfying incomes, more reliable social security payments, better medical services, more comfortable housing and an environment. more beautiful. This emphasis on real-world problem solving is called proof that “socialist democracy” – that is, government by unelected technocrats – is more “genuine” than Western political systems. As Chinese officials say, Western politicians only worry about the interests of certain people every few years at election time.

Although Mr. Xi is an austere authoritarian, severely demanding hard work, discipline and sacrifice on the part of party members and the masses, he also has a populist side. He and his advisers make sure to back up dry lists of accomplishments with moving stories about heroic party workers, including those who have died martyrs in battle or serving in difficult and dangerous places. A centennial gala at the Olympic Stadium in Beijing featured a series of elaborate mini-dramas, such as one depicting doctors and nurses in white coats battling covid-19.

When Chaguan was first posted to Beijing as a journalist 23 years ago, officials were somewhat on the defensive against the one-party regime. They described their political system as a work in progress, worthy of a still poor China. The party might be difficult to spot as Reform leaders courted foreign businessmen. The visiting bigwigs often met with government ministers, city mayors and university presidents, rather than the real boss of each institution, its party secretary. Now, senior officials openly speak of their faith in the party like priests describing a vocation. “East, west, south, north and center; the party runs everything, ”Xi said.

Before the anniversary, Mr. Xi visited revolutionary sites and encouraged the study of the history of the party. This does not include the cruelties of the Mao era, which were largely omitted from the centennial reflections. Those who insist on remembering the millions of deaths caused by the party’s worst mistakes risk being accused of “historical nihilism,” or the offense of slandering the party heroes.

When the majority is silent

The party is increasingly reluctant to accept any criticism in principle of its 21st century autocracy, which it describes as the moral equal of any democracy. In truth, this claim has not been tested. On the one hand, censors, propagandists, and security agencies put so much effort into hiding mistakes and silencing critics that it cannot be said that public consent is fully informed. On the other hand, every political and economic system ends up making mistakes too important to cover up, such as a financial crash or defeat in wartime.

As many Western experts would attest, reputations of competence are powerful assets until they are not. China has avoided a serious crisis that has rocked society since the Tiananmen Square protests in 1989. But one will come and, at this point, other forms of legitimacy will be needed. Even the party’s emphasis on serving the interests of the majority is a problem. It involves trampling on groups that number millions of people, from Muslims in Xinjiang to Democrats in Hong Kong. At 100 years old, it remains a celebration to which not all are invited.

This article appeared in the China section of the print edition under the headline “It Works Until It Doesn’t Work”

About Dianne Stinson

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