Hazem Saghieh

China is Part of the Problem, Not the Solution

US academic and writer Perry Link, an expert in Chinese affairs, wrote an article entitled “The CCP’s Culture of Fear” for the “New York Review of Books” latest volume. He says Xi Jinping’s claims: resemble Mao’s of the late 1960s: the East is rising over the West; China is a new model for the world; the Great Leader is correct by definition; Chinese people everywhere can identify with the New China and feel proud. During the “scar” years after the Cultural Revolution, Chinese intellectuals and officials were virtually unanimous in saying that nothing like it could happen again. At the time, I believed them. Now, I’m afraid I don’t. Cyber versions of Cultural Revolution “struggle sessions” have already appeared. A return of the Cultural Revolution, adapted for the new era, is certainly possible.

As a reminder, the Cultural Revolution took between 500,000 and two million lives. This figure accounts for only those killed directly. It excludes the victims of the famines caused by that disastrous revolution’s economic policies (for example: there were reports of cannibalism in the southern Chinese province of Guangxi). Nor does it give us an idea about the Cultural Revolution’s other destructive implications for society, especially culture in China. Moreover, the Cultural Revolution was Mao’s second great accomplishment, succeeding his “Great Leap Forward,” which caused the deaths of no less than 30 million victims.

Could something similar recur in China? The prospect is extremely shocking and terrifying, especially after the massive transformations the country has seen over the past few decades.

The Economist on 2/10/2021 discussed China extensively. The conclusions it reached do not reduce the shock or the horror. Under the title: “China’s New Reality is Rife with Danger”, it wrote: “Xi Jinping is waging a campaign to purge China of capitalist excesses. China’s president sees surging debt as the poisonous fruit of financial speculation and billionaires as a mockery of Marxism. Businesses must heed state guidance. The party must permeate every area of national life. Whether Mr. Xi can impose his new reality will shape China’s future, as well as the ideological battle between democracy and dictatorship.”

In turn, the prestigious magazine does not forget to address that same Cultural Revolution: ‘’Another danger stems from the ideological crackdown. ‘Moral review councils’ and ‘moral clinics’ are enforcing orthodox behavior using public shaming. Although there is as yet no prospect of anything as awful as the Cultural Revolution, Chinese people are becoming less free to think and talk. As well as promoting his own doctrines, Mr. Xi has played up Red nostalgia and cast Maoism as a vital stage in building a New China, broadening his support before the party congress.”

And so, there are indications, political, economic, and ideological, that the coupling of capitalism and a one party system is at the end of the road, or, at least, that the prospect of such a divorce cannot be ignored. The communist authorities and their leader have perhaps begun thinking of imposing a greater degree of domestication on capitalism, whose development they had previously fostered. If that were to happen, a rotten smell that has started reminding many of the Cultural Revolution could start emanating from China.

The fact is that if that scenario comes about, it would not surprise the many observers who have dealt with Chinese capitalism as explosive material from the beginning. These skeptics were of the opinion that it is difficult to ensure that wealth and stability are sustained without freedom being provided and that freedom and one party systems are two opposites that can never meet. For years, these critics have been monitoring China closely and asking: when will the massive explosion detonate?

With that, those keeping up with Chinese affairs can only be afraid, very afraid:

If the model succeeds by some miracle, it would reinforce the dangerous notion that one party regimes can provide their people with wealth and prosperity.

If the model fails, the more likely outcome, whether it comes sooner or later, then the Chinese economy’s deep interconnectedness with the world economy would lead to a global crisis of a scope we have perhaps never seen before.

The “Silk Road,” with all its pazazz, will not relieve China and the world of confronting these fates.
For China remains, despite everything, more part of the problem than part of the solution. As for “heading East,” it would be better for the Arabs and Iranians hoping to do so to postpone promoting this project.