China sits there, growing ever larger and stronger. China is looming and lurking. American anxiety over China’s rise peaked in 2008 with China’s hosting of the Olympics. It was a spectacular event hosted by a people and regime proud of their heritage. Everything appeared new and functional.
Anxiety has abated somewhat. China’s economy has hit a rough patch, but the lingering fear remains and spikes when news items like man-made islands that can be used as air bases flash across a news screen. Unreported–but far more interesting–are the purges and reforms that Chinese President Xi Jinping is implementing.
Xi’s approach was an incredibly sharp and smart one. After taking power in 2012, Xi focused on an anti-corruption campaign. This is a tremendous public relations move that is a high-low alliance to go after wicked grifters within the government. The new king will be on your side, little peasant, and to prove it, he will imprison, execute, and humiliate these mid-level crooks. Per leaked records, the entire Communist Party apparatus has possibly trillions stashed abroad, so the targets are juicy. Xi can target rival power sources and networks to solidify his control over government infrastructure. In the process, he appears to be on the side of the little guy, while simultaneously scaring opponents and crooks from top to bottom. For Americans, imagine the political capital that Barack Obama would have had if in 2009 he had broken up some, if not all, of the too-big-to-fail banks and jailed many bankers.
Rooting out corruption with tangible results of imprisoned, executed, or impoverished corrupt kleptocrats is catnip for a public that may feel uneasy with the system. Some of this purge is simply replacing the old guard with his team; his network was triumphant with the most recent power shift a few years ago. Xi has not wasted that goodwill and moved from the attack on the tigers to other avenues. From a cultural perspective, Xi has made a few other moves recently that point to defense against Western corruption.
The attempt is to secure intellectual sovereignty.
In the last eighteen months, Chinese schools have been instructed to shun Western values. This has involved directives from the education ministry, censorship of books, and shaking down academics. Xi believes that Chinese thought should be rooted in the classic tradition of China. These acts are reported in the Western press without any self-awareness. Western universities select for progressive orthodoxy, purge non-believers and wrong thinkers and tightly control what is published, promoted, and taught. China is giving the same direction, but in opposition to progressivism; it’s just a bit more overt, as far as the eyes of Western media are concerned.
This does not just apply to the academic realm.
Chinese authorities have “banned all depictions of gay people on television, as part of a cultural crackdown on “vulgar, immoral and unhealthy content.“” This is not simply about homosexuals, but since the West adores homosexuals for now, this is the worst element of the ban. Extramarital affairs, underage relationships, homosexuality, and perversions are now banned, as well.
There will be no glorification or normalization of gays in China, which has the secondary effect of not fostering the feminization of men. If being effeminate is not normalized, accepted, or rewarded, men can remain men.
The Western righteous indignation over these reforms, as well as continuous insertions of the phrase “free speech,” are completely hypocritical in the current Western political and law enforcement environment. American colleges shout down invited speakers, ban speakers, and create safe spaces for students to silence any dissent. The British cannot be bothered to properly police Muslim rape gangs, but find time to arrest and jail citizens for tweets. Germany cannot police Cologne on New Year’s Eve, yet can get the brute squad out for German nationalists marching peacefully. Mark Zuckerberg at Facebook gleefully works to soft censor American trends, but Stasi-style censors any anti-migrant comments for Angela Merkel. In China, they cannot speak out against the regime.
In America, one cannot speak out against a myriad of sub-groups that all happen to be voting coalition blocs of the pro-regime party.
Xi’s work does not stop with the cultural, even if that is the reform element that the West pays the most attention to for tsk-tsking. Xi is attempting a major restructuring of the Chinese military. The genius of his anti-kleptocrat purge routine from 2012 is that it kept citizens’ eyes on going after the fat cats (red princelings), which would lead to the PLA since the PLA runs money-making operations. Xi does gain from the reforms, as well.
In the current reshuffling of power, the four general departments were weakened via the deactivation of some of their units. Some generals have even been removed from their positions. These signs are sufficient to conclude that the ongoing military reforms are in part based on Xi’s desire to consolidate his own position as leader of the military.
Xi takes control over the military, which in an moment of instability or outside-prodded agitation protects his position of power. If the Chinese house of cards economy does crash, having control of the tanks and troops can prevent a coup. This does help Xi not just from a matter of control, but for removing rival power factions and rewarding his men. Xi has even declared that the PLA cannot run businesses to fund their operations, which forces them to be subject to central budgets.
Using anti-corruption as cover initially allowed Xi to creep towards removing these rivals. Recall that Xi initially stated he was going after small (flies) and large (tigers) corrupt officials. The PLA offered some of the largest tigers out there. This also makes Xi’s anti-corruption efforts all the more spectacular with how high up the men are that he is arresting and expunging from power.
In 2014, Xi arrested a former CMC vice chairman, Xu Caihou, for participating in a “cash for ranks” scheme. After expelling Xu from the party, Xi followed up in 2015 with the arrest and purging of another former CMC vice chairman, Guo Boxiong, on similar charges. The arrests were unprecedented in that Xu and Guo were the two highest-ranking officers in China’s military when they served as CMC vice chairmen, and their arrests marked the first time the PLA’s highest-level retired officers faced corruption charges. As of early March 2016, Xi’s anticorruption campaign had resulted in the arrest of at least forty-four senior military officers, although the actual numbers could be higher.
If you live in an area with an influx of wealthy Chinese immigrants who buy large homes in cash, you may be talking to former Chinese military officers. The media’s mentions of Chinese millionaires emigrating is always portrayed as a vote against China’s situation. The 9,000 who emigrated in 2015 was a damning indictment of China, but what of the 3,000 millionaires who left Chicago in 2015? Some of those fleeing China are doing so for virtuous reasons and others to escape the crackdown on their corruption. Tens of thousands just want their kid to go to “good schools”.. What, pray tell, are the millionaires of Chicago fleeing?
If there is a hint of anger or annoyance in Western coverage of China, it stems from the “hurry up” feeling pervasive within the establishment that after economic development, liberal democracy flows automatically. The additional anger comes from the attempt in the ’90s to turn China into a vassal for America by granting most favored nation trade status. Recall that this also opened the door for American business to offshore millions of manufacturing jobs to China. There were not just economic gifts. There have been entire books written on the shenanigans of the Clinton administration with regards to its actions towards China.
Using the Blue Empire-Red Empire framework for reviewing domestic American battles, Clinton’s Blue Empire administration did its best to help hand over Red Empire military secrets and technology. The Blue Empire wanted a new client to use to fight the Red Empire. Clinton’s team was perfectly at ease with news that the Chinese had stolen American nuclear warhead design specs. It took over a year to even discuss it with the president. The CIA even interfered with the FBI’s initial investigation by saying that “shucks, we misread the data, no spying,” when in reality, there was clear-cut spying. Despite FBI recommendations, it was eighteen months before a suspected spy was fired from Los Alamos. The penalties for American firms giving China improved missile and satellite tech? Fines. For all of this wonderful help, the ungrateful Chinese chose to secure sovereignty, rather than become a vassal of USG.
There is a personal change that goes beyond reforms and hints at why this remarkable reform attempt is suppressed by Western media. Xi is not just reforming the government system, but he is reading his own speeches and connecting the current system with ancient ways. Xi argues about a cultural continuity and long historical thread that the West has completely forgotten in its drive to be on the right side of history. This could be the reason for Western tip-toeing around Xi’s work or views. Westerners should pay no attention to a large nation that punishes corrupt looters. Westerners should pay no attention to a call for historical continuity, honoring traditions, and following the rule of law. Xi’s purges, if successful, could not just set him up for stability as the global order changes. It could set China up for resistance to progressive infection.