‘Xi Jinping’s Moment’ – Communist Party primacy in all realms of politics and civil society

Xi Jinping has emerged as the most decisive, disciplined Chinese leader in a generation, and, given China’s rise in relative strength compared to the West, the most powerful in more than a century, notes analyst Richard McGregor.

“Xi has swept aside potential rivals at home in his first five-year term, re-established the primacy of the Communist Party in all realms of politics and civil society and run the most far-reaching anti-corruption campaign in the history of the People’s Republic,” he writes. “Xi’s resounding political authority means that he is certain to be anointed for a second five-year term at the Party Congress, which opens on October 18 in Beijing, and he may have the means to extend his rule beyond that,” he suggests in a policy paper for the Lowy Institute, Xi Jinping’s Moment, released on October 6.

China’s economic slowdown and widespread corruption had pressed the party center to move to strengthen its control when Xi took office in 2012, said Matthias Stepan, an expert on Chinese policymaking at the Berlin-based think tank MERICS.

“The underlying message of most [party] documents issued ever since is … ‘we have to strengthen the party and the discipline of all party members. If we want to keep the legitimacy to rule, we have to be able to govern this country more efficiently and more professionally’,” he told The South China Morning Post.

Communist Party members should study contemporary capitalism but must never deviate from Marxism, Xi said, offering a clear signal there will be no weakening of party control weeks ahead of a key Congress opening, Reuters reports.

“If we deviate from or abandon Marxism, our party would lose its soul and direction,” Xi said. “On the fundamental issue of upholding the guiding role of Marxism, we must maintain unswerving resolve, never wavering at any time or under any circumstances.”

The Economist

China’s Communist party is making clear that it expects to dictate business decisions — not only at state-owned enterprises, but also at private companies and joint ventures with foreign partners, The Financial Times reports:

Under President Xi Jinping, the party has become more assertive, reclaiming functions that the civil government and industrial groups carved out during decades of liberalisation. Beijing has largely abandoned a list of promised economic liberalisation issued four years ago, opting instead for greater control by the party and state over the economy and civil society. For businesses, that control takes the form of party cells, long a feature of SOEs but increasingly a part of corporate life at private companies and foreign joint ventures.

Freedoms of speech and religion, the rule of law, and individual rights and freedoms have worsened during the past year under the ruling Chinese Communist Party, an annual congressional-executive report has found, calling on the administration of U.S. President Donald Trump to do more to halt the decline in basic freedoms, RFA reports:

The report found that the Chinese Communist Party continues to “use the law as an instrument of repression to expand control over Chinese society,” and that “the criminalization of China’s human rights lawyers and advocates is ongoing, including credible reports of torture in detention.” …Meanwhile, the Congressional-Executive Commission on China said it would award a Congressional Gold Medal to late political prisoner and 2010 Nobel Peace Prize winner Liu Xiaobo, and to all advocates of democracy and human rights in China.

Xi has launched a high-profile anti-corruption campaign, but Guo Wengui, a controversial Chinese billionaire in self-imposed exile blasted on Thursday the small clique of corrupt “kleptocrats” running China, CNBC reports.

“They are just a tiny group of Mafia, pure and simple,” said Guo. “I would like all the members of the Chinese Communist Party to wake up and say no to this ruling clique,” he said during an appearance at the National Press Club in Washington.

“What the U.S. ought to do is take action, instead of just talking to the Chinese kleptocracy,” Guo said, two days after a previously scheduled appearance at a think tank in the same city was postponed due to pressure from the Chinese government.

“My only single goal…is to change China,” Mr. Guo told the press conference, put on by the U.S.-based pro-democracy group Initiatives for China.

Five years of constant pressure on China’s civil society and heightened control of the internet means open censure of the state is all but impossible, notes one observer.

Grassroots groups, including feminists and Christians, have faced intensifying crackdowns, and recent laws on foreign NGOs have further stifled civil society participation, notes Viola Rothschild, a research associate in Asia Studies at the Council on Foreign Relations:

In western China’s Xinjiang autonomous region, authorities have continued their sustained crackdown on the Muslim Uighur minority, forcing them to install surveillance apps on their mobile phones, banning their native language in local schools, jailing prominent Uighur scholars, and even reaching beyond China’s borders to repatriate Uighur students studying abroad.

Like Mao, Xi “clings to the dogma that the party’s role is to guide economic forces, direct every aspect of political life and mold human behavior,” says The Wall Street Journal’s Andrew Browne. “The vanguard of his economic policies are state-owned enterprises, entrusted with almost limitless state wealth and endlessly obedient.”

Contrary to suggestions that China’s exposure to the benefits of globalisation would lead the country to embrace democratic institutions and support the American-led world order, China has remained an authoritarian, one-party state that is backed by an increasingly powerful military, writes Columbia University’s Andrew J. Nathan, a board member of the National Endowment for Democracy.

China wants to assert a new world order, Nathan suggests, as is evident from its aggressive assertion of soft power and subversive foreign influence peddling.

One of Australia’s biggest political donors, who rubbed shoulders with serving and former prime ministers, has been accused of engaging in clandestine activities to “advance the interests of the People’s Republic of China,” The Sydney Morning Herald reports:

The allegations involving Chau Chak Wing, an Australian citizen who has also donated $45 million to Australian universities, are detailed in a defamation case in the Federal Court……The documents allege that the Chinese Communist Party uses “agents” to “learn about, influence and subvert” the policies of foreign governments, including Australia’s.

“There are reasonable grounds to believe that [Mr Chau] … donated enormous sums of money to Australian political parties as bribes intended to influence politicians to advance the interests of the People’s Republic of China, the Chinese government and the Chinese Communist Party,” say the documents, authored by barrister Matt Collins, QC, and filed on Friday.

In the wake of the controversy over Chinese government requests to censor academic journals, notably Cambridge University Press’ China Quarterly, two podcasts delve into issues relating to censorship and academia. On Sinica, Kaiser Kuo and Jeremy Goldkorn speak with Jim Millward of Georgetown Universityauthor of one prominent critique of CUP’s actions, about the situation at China Quarterly, China Digital Times reports.

The upcoming 19th Party Congress in China, considered to be President Xi Jinping’s “midterm,” is fraught with risks and challenges for him, the 21st Century China Center notes. As Xi seeks to strengthen his hand by elevating his close supporters into the Politburo and its Standing Committee, the Party’s institutional rules and precedents require him to share power and patronage with other senior leaders.

Will Xi follow the rules and preside over a normal collective process or will he flout the rules in order to consolidate his position as the core leader? What is the agenda for economic policy reform? To help us understand what has transpired under Xi’s rule in the past five years and how the 19th Party Congress could reshape China’s political landscape, the 21st Century China Center has assembled a team of UC San Diego’s leading experts on Chinese politics and economy to address a series of issues related to the 19th Party Congress.


Tai Ming Cheung, Director, UC Institute on Global Conflict and Cooperation; Associate Professor, School of Global Policy and Strategy, UC San Diego

Barry Naughton, Sokwanlok Professor of Chinese International Affairs, School of Global Policy and Strategy, UC San Diego

Margaret Roberts, Assistant Professor, Department of Political Science, UC San Diego

Victor Shih, Associate Professor, School of Global Policy and Strategy, UC San Diego

Susan Shirk, Chair of 21st Century China Center, School of Global Policy and Strategy, UC San Diego


Susan V. Lawrence, Specialist in Asian Affairs, Congressional Research Service

This event is co-sponsored by the US-Asia Institute and will be held at the University of California Washington Center (directions).

Timeline: 9:30-10 Reception 10-11 Panel Discussion 11-11:30 Q&A

Questions? Contact Samuel Tsoi.

Mon, October 23, 2017

9:30 AM – 11:30 AM EDT

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UN General Assembly a crucial opportunity to reassert democracy-based soft power

This week’s United Nations General Assembly is a crucial opportunity to reassure the world that U.S. foreign policy is based primarily on the soft power of diplomacy rather than military might, says Zalmay Khalilzad (left), who served as Washington’s U.N. ambassador under former President George W. Bush.

“The world is concerned that our current president may be de-emphasizing America’s soft power and the values America has traditionally been seen to stand for, and he may be more interested in hard power,” Khalilzad [a board member of the National Endowment for Democracy], tells VOA .

Mark Green, the administrator of the United States Agency for International Development (USAID), is a firm believer in fostering democracy abroad, The Weekly Standard’s Jenna Lifhits writes:

With a slight Midwestern twang, the clean-shaven 57-year-old tells me that he sees the spread of democracy as integral to global stability and American prosperity. Before heading up USAID, he was president of the International Republican Institute, a nonprofit organization that seeks to support and encourage democracy overseas. Now, in what ought to be his dream job, he is serving a president whose foreign policy prioritizes military force and security at home.

The Trump administration has signaled broad skepticism about soft power. Its May budget proposal featured a 30 percent cut in the State Department and USAID budget, with a specific 32 percent cut in funding for democracy-promotion programs, according to the Congressional Research Service.

State Department officials briefed Senate staff on Friday on plans to cut up to $10 billion from the department’s budget over five years, but offered few specifics to ease concerns that the administration risked weakening U.S. standing in the world, Reuters reports.

As part of his plan to restructure the State Department, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson is pledging not to concentrate more power in his own hands — for now —according to new material obtained Friday by POLITICO. Investing in upgrading the two institutions’ information technology is a huge part of the plan, as is better prioritizing where the U.S. operates overseas and how it disburses foreign aid.

“There is no intention by State or USAID to take the following actions at this time: moving consular affairs to [the Department of Homeland Security]; eliminating the Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labor; dismantling State or USAID; concentrating power in the hands of the secretary; [and] forcing a preconceived organizational chart on the workforce,” the slide states.

On Friday, the department hosted the Community of Democracies, a conclave of leaders from more than 100 nations. But for months, no one knew whether the meeting would actually take place and embassies finally received the official invitation on Sept. 7 — eight days before the event began, The New York Times reports:

The delay meant that only a handful of the nearly 30 foreign ministers invited and about a third of the activists expected were able to attend, according to Robert Herman, a vice president at Freedom House, which received a grant from the State Department to help organize the event. Some foreign activists were not able to get visas in time, while others had long since made alternative plans they could not break, he said. Those who did come had to pay premium prices for last-minute arrangements, he said. The delay was just truly egregious, and it had a really deleterious impact,” Mr. Herman said.

Tillerson called on member states to strengthen and sustain their commitment to democratic values and practices.

The Community of Democracies brought together young and old democracies to strengthen representative government by sharing experiences and through coordination of policies, said Thomas Garrett (right), the CD’s secretary-general:

Very often the help given appears modest. As former Secretary of State Condi Rice said recently, “Democracy assistance is not always dramatic, but I can tell you support to democracy is important.” Those united around freedom and democracy need to come to one another’s aid, need to come to one another’s support.

In Gambia, for instance, the Solidarity Center, with support from the National Endowment for Democracy, and working in close collaboration with the International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC), has proposed a year-long program of intense leadership training for elected union officials and others.

China exploits vulnerability of open democracies


Openness, diversity and tolerance are the greatest strengths of the world’s liberal democracies. But to autocratic regimes like China, these same attributes are vulnerabilities ripe for exploitation. As reported by the Financial Times on Wednesday, a sitting member of the New Zealand parliament has been investigated by the country’s spy agency in connection with the decade he spent training and teaching at elite military and military intelligence institutions in China, his country of birth, The FT’s Jamil Anderlini writes:

It is entirely possible that Jian Yang (left), an MP for New Zealand’s governing National Party since 2011, severed all ties with Chinese military intelligence when he left China in 1994 and has had no contact with any Chinese agents since then. But the fact he was able to enter parliament with very little scrutiny and serve on a committee overseeing foreign affairs, defence and trade, and that his education and military intelligence background appeared nowhere on his official biographies in New Zealand, raises some troubling questions.

People in other western democracies may put this down to naivety on the part of innocent Kiwis. But western intelligence analysts say relatively “soft targets” like New Zealand and Australia are just testing grounds for China’s global espionage activities. In the past five years China has massively expanded its efforts to infiltrate, influence and spy on western democracies and these efforts have already been remarkably successful in countries like Canada, the US and the UK.

“Liberal open democracies are more fragile than most people believe,” Anderlini adds, “and without the courage to face up to the potential threat posed by illiberal countries and their subversion efforts, we are all contributing to the erosion of what makes these systems so great.” RTWT

The crackdown in Cambodia is testimony to the fact that China’s rise at the expense of U.S. influence is having political consequences throughout Asia, says the Wall Street Journal.

Not only is China vastly outspending the United States in a country once destroyed by Cold War superpower rivalry, but its money goes on highly visible infrastructure projects and with no demands for political reform, Reuters reports:

US aid goes more toward social projects and trying to build democracy – unwanted interference for the government of a prime minister who has ruled for over 30 years. …The US funded National Democratic Institute (NDI) pro-democracy group was expelled last month and accused of conspiring to help bring down Hun Sen – a charge rejected by the NDI and the opposition Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP)…. The United States is a much bigger export market than China, particularly for Cambodia’s garment factories, but the United States has not publicly suggested it could use trade to bring pressure for democratic change.

“The fact the government has been criticized by Western donors over the recent crackdown just means Cambodia is becoming more dependent on China,” said Ou Virak of the think tank. Opposition leader Kem Sokha’s deputy, Mu Sochua, said aid that did not include conditions on human rights did not serve Cambodia well. “Cambodia needs China, it needs America, it needs democracy to pull it out of many years of poverty,” she told Reuters.

The regime has accused the Cambodian opposition and NGOs of colluding with Western democracy assistance groups in a plot for ‘regime change.’

“Speculation that the National Endowment for Democracy (NED) or NDI have a ‘secret agenda’ in Cambodia is wrong and baseless,” said Jane Riley Jacobsen, senior director of public affairs at NED.


Why advancing democracy matters

The crisis and ‘democratic deconsolidation’ in Venezuela is a glaring demonstration of the value and necessity of democracy promotion as a foreign policy objective, according to The Washington Post’s Jennifer Rubin.

“Everything we do to foster democracy in emerging states is an investment in national security,” Sen. Robert Menendez (D-N.J.) told Rubin.

“Democracies make better partners for peace and prosperity. Renouncing our commitment to work for the values we hold dear would be a dangerous abdication of U.S. leadership, making our world less safe by destabilizing global security,” he added. “From the Arab Spring to Venezuela and Washington, we can’t forget the fight for democracy requires more than a Twitter account and the adoption of a few budgetary changes.”

Contrary to the mistaken conflation of democracy assistance with coercive forms of ‘regime change’, democracy promotion in the form of “pressure directed at undemocratic adversaries, support for those persecuted by undemocratic states and reinforcement for besieged pro-democratic leaders in struggling democracies — is an alternative to force, a key element of ‘soft power’,” says Rubin.

Providing assistance and practical solidarity to democrats striving to nurture democratic values and institutions does not amount to ‘exporting democracy’, argues Cliff May, who heads the Foundation for Defense of Democracies.

“I think it would be a great mistake for the U.S. government to give the appearance that it no longer values democracy. That should not be confused with harboring the conceit that we can export democracy.” He adds, “We should support democrats, those fighting for freedom and human rights. If we don’t, who will?”

Michael Abramowitz of Freedom House adds: “America should stand up for both its interests and its values. We will be safer and more prosperous if we live in a world governed by democracies, and we should make democracy support a central goal of our foreign policy.”

A foreign policy driven by ‘principled realism’ is still consistent with advancing democracy, Council on Foreign Relations analyst Elliott Abrams argues in a new book.

“Balancing ideals and interests are inescapable for any president. The U.S. government is not an NGO,” notes Abrams, a board member of the National Endowment for Democracy. But successful balancing requires a fair weighting for the value of America’s association with freedom, he wrote for Politico.

American International Nationalism?

While realism accepts the world as it is, thankfully Truman and Ronald Reagan did not think that way when they constructed the world they wanted, notes Henry R. Nau, a professor at George Washington University’s Elliott School of International Affairs.

For the first time since WW II, American nationalism figures prominently in US foreign policy. But American nationalism is not typical nationalism. It is republican not ethnocentric and embraces relative decline not empire, he writes for The American Interest.

Efforts to jettison democracy support as a foreign policy objective will be read by some analysts as confirming the United States’ retreat from global leadership. Last month, Canadian foreign minister Chrystia Freeland delivered a remarkable address to that country’s Parliament. While Canada is “grateful” to its neighbor “for the outsized role it has played in the world,” she noted that American voters in last year’s presidential election were “animated in part by a desire to shrug off the burden of world leadership.” Consequently, US retrenchment required Canada to play a more pivotal role in defending and strengthening the international order from “strategic threats to the liberal democratic world.”

There remain powerful reasons to embrace and uphold the liberal international order, analyst Fareed Zakaria writes in a New York Times review of Edward Luce’s The Retreat of Western Liberalism:

Britain, a perennially Euro-skeptic country, has decided to leave the European Union. But that Union has grown from six to 28 over the past decades because dozens have clamored to join. And they have done so for a reason. Consider the latest aspirant, Ukraine. In 1990, around the time they were liberated from the Soviet empire, Ukraine and Poland had the same per capita GDP. Today the average Pole is over three times as rich as his counterpart in Ukraine, and Poland is secured economically, politically and militarily by the European Union and NATO. It is not just elites who benefit from the Western order; it is primarily ordinary people.

The US should adopt a new Truman Doctrine, a muscular approach to combatting authoritarianism, instead of neo-isolationism, some observers suggest.

The geopolitics of democracy promotion

President Harry S. Truman. WikiCommons

For 45 years, the Truman Doctrine and strategy of Containment guided U.S. foreign policy through the Cold War, notes Will Moreland, Senior Research Assistant and Associate Fellow at the Brookings Institution.

On July 19, 2017, the Project on International Order and Strategy at Brookings hosted Senator Tim Kaine (D-VA) and Senior Fellow Robert Kagan as part of long-deferred public conversation on U.S. strategic drift in the post-Cold War era and the U.S. role in the world. Following the senator’s remarks outlining a Truman Doctrine for the 21st century, Kaine and Kagan delved into a discussion of U.S. strategy for the challenges of the contemporary world, Moreland adds:

For Kagan, Kaine’s new Truman Doctrine, casting the United States as an “exemplary nation,” risked missing the critical military role of the United States “in both Europe and Asia [after] decades of conflict and a cycle, a sort of unending cycle of conflict…the United States after World War II essentially put a cork in both of those conflicts by becoming, in effect, a European power and an Asian power.” While recognizing the senator had voiced concerns surrounding U.S. activity in the “backyards” of authoritarian powers, Kagan asked how Washington could decrease its involvement when American allies such as the European Union or Japan exist in that same space?