Spotlight on Geopolitics

A few years ago Xi, China’s communist dictator, has toured Belgian universities. On that occasion, he tried to persuade Belgium’s would-be experts and intellectuals that in China no other political system has ever worked except the one he was embodying, at home and abroad.

By using such blatant lies, Xi’s aim is to shore up his power base at home and to silence his potential critics abroad. As an historian, however, I fully understand his reasons behind this diplomatic offensive. The truth is that China is these days more ripe to adopt a pluralist political system than at any time in its modern history.

In many ways, the Chinese people should consider themselves very lucky indeed. Unlike its European counterparts which dropped communism in 1989 – when Eastern European countries and Russia abruptly abandoned their planned economies, introduced market-oriented and political reforms and subsequently suffered a severe drop in living standards for at least a decade – China went on to become an economic powerhouse and a foreign investment magnet. The success in reforming its economy now makes it imperative for it to proceed with the radical reform of its political system, where the CPC’s monopoly has clearly become toxic for the Chinese nation.

According to sources, Xi seems to believe that the death of Stalin had been the main blow to the survival of the USSR, hence his choice to become China’s new dictator for life. Sadly, this is not the first time China’s communist leaders have gravely misinterpreted European political history, or that of neighbouring countries like Russia’s, and here is why.

Communism was abandoned in Eastern Europe and Russia by communist leaders themselves because the system ceased to work. To be sure, Soviet-style communism was slightly different than its Chinese version and its tenets were the most enduring of Stalin’s legacies. The leaders who followed Stalin into power only tried to arrest the decay already evident in the 1950’s, but failed and gave up on the system altogether in 1989.

Eastern European countries and Russia started to adopt political reforms in the absence of local entrepreneurs or opposition politicians (both categories had been completely obliterated by Stalin’s purges, terror campaigns and internal camps). Still, after overcoming such enormous difficulties, most of the former satellite states in Eastern Europe are doing well economically and politically, and have become members of the European Union. Even Russia has become a more ethnically cohesive country. It has succeeded in privatising its economy and in becoming a market leader in oil & gas and in military industrial production.

So far, China has been luckier than its former ideological allies. It currently has a vibrant entrepreneurial elite, a strong and growing market economy, as well as – unlike Russia – a sizeable and experienced political opposition, which had historically been spared total destruction by having retired to Taiwan, under the protection of the United States. In other words, no other communist state succeeded in shedding its planned economy without social turmoil and with such good results. It is now up to the current communist leadership to proceed with a successful opening of the political system to opposition parties, first and foremost to the Kuomintang, its former archenemy.

The recent coronavirus outbreak has proved, once more, that such political reforms cannot be delayed any longer for the promise of an elusive “Chinese dream”.

Unfortunately, quite a number of Western countries that shall remain nameless fail to understand that it is high time they should push back against Chinese expansion abroad while communists are still at the country’s helm. On this point, although I am rarely in agreement with George Soros on other issues, I subscribe to his recent assessment published by Project Syndicate:

“Neither the European public nor European political and business leaders fully understand the threat presented by Xi Jinping’s China. Although Xi is a dictator who is using cutting-edge technology in an effort to impose total control on Chinese society, Europeans regard China primarily as an important business partner. They fail to appreciate that since Xi became president and General Secretary of the Communist Party of China (CPC), he has established a regime whose guiding principles are diametrically opposed to the values on which the European Union was founded.”

Instead of appeasing the Chinese communist leadership for short-lived or elusive trade concessions, the Western alliance countries should instead proceed to isolate communist China diplomatically, if not economically, and to carefully monitor all its investments abroad. This is the only way the West can drive home to Beijing the point that, in its current form, its political system is not only expired, but is fast becoming unsustainable.

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