During his dinner with Chinese President Xi Jinping at the G-20 Conference, President Trump agreed to withhold the imposition of higher tariffs for 90 days while his team of negotiators headed by Robert Lighthizer worked out a trade deal with China. The presumption is that everyone wants a deal so that all that we need to do is sit down and negotiate. But the ability to negotiate depends on the parties dealing in good faith. What if one of the parties is not dealing in good faith?
Ever since Richard Nixon’s trip to China and especially after Deng Xiaoping initiated “socialism with Chinese characteristics” Americans have assumed that market oriented reforms and growing wealth would moderate the attitude of the Communist Party of China and lead, eventually, to the rise of free market economics and democratization as China would realize the benefits of joining in the “Washington Consensus.”
This hasn’t happened. Although China, adopting a mercantilist form of state capitalism, has grown greatly in wealth, the regime under president-for-life Xi Jinping has become even more harsh and totalitarian than ever. The regime has placed communist party cadres in Chinese owned businesses and joint-ventures, created a technologically based social index to track all its citizens, and even gone as far as kidnapping its citizens in foreign countries if they were involved in activities thought to be against the interests of the regime. China has also used its wealth to build up its military, develop space-based weapons and built man-made islands to disrupt the sea lanes of the South China Sea.
President Trump has been accused of starting a trade war with China (and others) but, in truth, China has been engaging in a trade war with the United States for decades. Dangling their huge potential markets of over a billion people, they lured US and European companies to start up operations in China but only with Chinese partners and also requiring the transfer of proprietary technology. They used industrial espionage to steal our secrets, currency manipulation to gain a trade advantage, subsidized state-owned companies and imposed high tariff and non-tariff barriers.
China has become strong and prosperous thanks to capitalism and would become even stronger and more prosperous if they continued to adopt free markets policies. To our Western eyes the insistence of Chinese leaders that China is actually Communist China and that the Communist Party of China has supreme authority in the country appears contradictory and counterfactual. They have only become strong and wealthy because they abandoned Mao Zedong’s failed attempt to collectivize the Chinese people.
So why do they continue to adhere to an ideology that has been disproven by their own actions. But let us look at China, not through Western eyes, but those of a communist party cadre somewhere in Beijing or Shanghai. Karl Marx asserted that communism would arise from the collapse of an industrialized capitalist state. He stated that a revolutionary proletariat would overthrow the greedy capitalist state and create a communist state where there was no private property or any other of the ills of modern society.
But China in Mao’s time wasn’t industrialized. It was not a capitalist state. China in the early part of the twentieth century was the carcass of a vast monarchical empire that had broken apart with little or no central authority but only powerful regional warlords. It was an agricultural society populated by hundreds of millions of peasants. There was no proletariat. If you were a Marxist ideologue you would state that the necessary conditions required to transform into a communist state did not exist in China so it was no wonder that Mao’s attempt to impose communism on a bunch of illiterate peasants failed. What’s more, Mao’s repeated failures exemplified by the Great Leap Forward and the Cultural Revolution killed many millions of people, sowed dissension among the cadres and left China in a weakened and vulnerable condition.
So, in these circumstances what would a good Marxist leader do? He would create the prerequisite conditions to Marxist revolution. Deng Xiaoping and other Communist Chinese leaders created long term plans to revivify the Chinese nation and to place it on the path toward communism. They set about to create a capitalist state and also create a proletariat to operate the capitalist machines while the workers gained the essential revolutionary awareness to convert a peasantry into a proletariat.
However, instead of gaining revolutionary awareness their new proletariat has taken on some annoying Western habits and decadence. The greater sophistication of the Chinese and their growing comprehension of how other people around the world live has motivated the Chinese government to impose ever greater restrictions on their people using modern technology to keep them in line.
It is hard to tell when the revolutionary prerequisites will be met so that China can begin to convert to communism, but I don’t think that they are there yet and I don't think that they think they are there yet. And it is impossible to tell how that conversion will be managed. But there is one more obstacle preventing them from implementing their utopian dream. Us.
As noted in my previous essays, socialism and communism are slow-growth to no-growth economic systems. Why? Simply put, progress and economic growth are not high priorities in these economic systems. Further, innovation is discouraged and profits are reviled. So the engines of economic growth are stifled or eliminated. Equality and communal order are higher priorities. So, while free market interactions come naturally to human beings, communist order and placing community above individual must be imposed from above until such time as human beings become Communist Man (and Woman) as Marx had envisioned in the Communist Manifesto.
The principal problem facing the Chinese is that when they transition from state capitalism to socialism and ultimately communism economic growth will slow and innovation will be stifled and, as a result, the Chinese economy which is catching up and expected to eventually surpass the US economy will slow – allowing the US economy gain back its top spot. And China’s ability to compete internationally and militarily with the US will wither as innovation is sacrificed to Communist Party of China doctrine. This is what doomed the Soviet Union.
Luckily for the Chinese, the United States and the rest of the West is riven with dissension and discord and is being torn apart by identity politics, multiculturalism and other ills, real or imagined. Without reform, the West appears ready to collapse in on itself – much as Marx predicted a century and a half ago. However, if the United States and Europe can reform and recover from this current lassitude and begin to regain its strength and moral authority, China’s plan to transition to communism may have to be put on hold indefinitely – a condition that would not be acceptable to Chinese leadership. The only way for the Chinese communists to achieve their ultimate goal would be to confront the West militarily and to defeat the West and its liberal culture. And it is for that eventuality that we must prepare.
China is not yet ready to confront the United States and the West. It is likely to accede to some Western demands in the upcoming trade negotiations in order to put off a confrontation that could prevent China on achieving its ultimate goal. But keep in mind, a world of happy democratic nations, growing economically through free and fair trading policies and governed by the Western conceived Rule of Law, is not the ultimate goal of the communist regime in China.
And while we’re at it:
We Americans have difficulty in understanding the Chinese. They are said to be inscrutable but that may be due to their culture or to our cultural blindness. Nevertheless, it is difficult to understand why the Chinese would forsake capitalism, even state capitalism, which has made them wealthy and taken millions out of poverty, and to replace it with an ideology that has never been proven to work and has, in fact, cost hundreds of millions of lives.
But the Chinese believe in order. Chinese history goes back around four thousand years and even before that if myths and legends are to be believed. Early forms of Chinese writings discovered by archeologists have been dated to be almost ten thousand years old. For most of the last two thousand years, China has been run under a centralized imperial autocracy interspersed with periods of chaos where warlords dominated and factional fighting wracked the country.
The Chinese ideals were described by Confucius (551-479 BCE). Many Confucian ideals are compatible with communism (as are also many of Christianity’s) and President Xi Jinping praised Confucius in a recent speech on his 2,569th birthday. Among these ideals are the importance social order and submission to authority. No wonder President Xi likes Confucius.
Free market economics like we have in America seem like chaos and disorder to the Communist Party of China and to many Chinese, as well. And periods of chaos and disorder have not turned out well for the Chinese so they desperately want to avoid a disorderly society. Communism offers them a solution to their dilemma. But the powerful but erratic competitor represented by the United States threatens their ability to create the ordered society they desire. Multiculturalism, so beloved by progressives in our country, cannot resolve the incompatibility of these two ideological and economic systems.
Some of you may disagree with my hypothesis as to the reasons why peace with Communist China is impossible. But as Sherlock Holmes is well known to have said, “when you have eliminated the impossible, whatever remains, however improbable, must be the truth.”