Friday, December 17, 2004

China's Authoritarian Push for Hegemony

Chinese President Hu Jintao, former Vice President and before that extremely repressive Governor of the province of Tibet, seems to want Chinese regional, and perhaps eventually world, hegemony, and he seems to believe that such hegemony cannot be achieved without authoritarian, despotic government at home.

China recently arrested three political dissidents on trumped-up charges. Under China's code of criminal procedure, suspects of criminal activity can be detained indefinitely while the procuratorate 'investigates' charges (in China, the procuratorate and its organs, the body that investigates and prosecutes crimes, has power constitutionally equal to that of the Chinese courts. The highest organ of the procuratorate is equal to the Chinese Supreme Court). If a prisoner is designated political, as is the case here because there are charges of leaking state secrets, the judgments of the Chinese courts are given yet less deference and the Chinese Communist Party can intervene directly -- China's constitution is shadowed by the constitution of the CCP, which will always take precedence where a matter is 'political' (in the sense that it threatens Communist rule).

The arrests of these three intellectuals are part of a broader trend, signaling that President Hu intends to reign in the free speech and dissent that had been until recently beginning to flourish on college campuses and in internet cafes. Fearing political debate brewing in internet cafes, the Chinese government permanently closed 1,600 such cafes between February and November of this year. 18,000 more internet cafes have been temporarily closed for 'rectification.' Dissent is being stamped out in the country's state-run newspapers as well. In November, China banned all reporting on 'outspoken academics,' including all scholars who takes a public position on a political or social issue. Thus, today in China, Chinese citizens receive no news of political dissent or alternative ideas about the direction of Chinese policy, they are fed a steady stream of ideological propaganda through the state-run news and coordinated by the 'Publicity Department,' they cannot utilize the internet to discuss matters of public significance or gain news from foreign sources, and if they dare take public positions contrary to the government, they will be arrested and 'administratively detained.'

At the same time, China is increasing spending on its military and its space program. China is on the verge of fielding a new class of nuclear ballistic missile submarines carrying nuclear weapons capable of striking the United States from very long distances. The increased range makes it more difficult for our attack subs to prevent a sea-based nuclear strike as the Chinese need not venture too close to the United States in order to carry out an attack. And China is changing its tactics as well, pushing the envelope militarily vis-a-vis Japan and the U.S. Just last month, a Chinese Han-class nuclear-powered submarine penetrated Japanese seas and circled Guam as well.

Having lived in Beijing for a period of about six months, I can report that military and space program spending is a vital part of the Chinese propaganda machine. Newspapers read by subway-riders always tout the latest tanks, missiles, ships, and subs being fielded or tested by the Chinese military. Comparisons are made between these new technologies and U.S. military technologies in bold, threatening (at least in the eyes of an American reading over a Chinese reader's shoulder) headlines. These headlines inspire nationalistic pride in the Chinese populace and help them to forget their lack of certain basic liberties like speech and worship. It is even easier to make them forget when the government 'allows' the people to participate in greater economic freedoms that yield greater material wealth and comfort.

This is Hu Jintao and the CCP's new strategy for Chinese hegemony, and insofar as it has been successful up to now, it proves that economic liberties do not necessarily breed political liberties: Stamp out all dissent, deprive the people of forums where dissent can form, and feed the people a steady diet of propaganda, chiefly featuring military successes and expenditures. Having established firm ideological control, continue to encourage the free market and economic growth to increase the peoples' material comforts, tout the marked improvements in Chinese standards of living to win popular support for the regime, and all the while use that economic power to drive military production to achieve eventual parity with the United States. Eventually, the Chinese will test their strength by acting in some fashion with regard to Taiwan, and a new age of war might begin.

This seems to be the direction in which China is moving, and if successful, the China threat may prove more menacing to than the current threat of global terrorism. Luckily, the Bush administration is not blind to the China situation. President Bush's hard push for an anti-ballistic missile shield is a way to neturalize the Chinese nuclear threat, and the modernization of our military to fight the current war on terror will become an asset when and if we find ourselves in conflict with China. But we can do more to head off the conflict. We should be giving dissidents in China support, we should not blindly aid China's economic development. We must give more than moral support to Taiwan, for Taiwan is a vision for an alternative, democratic China.

A conflict with China would be an ideological one, pitting our conceptions of liberty against the Chinese conception of using citizens for the purposes of the state and its power. Taiwan is the proof that our vision can work within the context of Chinese culture and its historical traditions, and we would do well to be more friendly to that regime. We must counter the enemies of freedom and our shared values wherever we find them, be those enemies Islamist terrorists or Chinese communist totalitarians. History proves the adage again and again: eternal vigilance is the price of liberty.

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