April 21, 2021 Updated: April 22, 2021
On April 16, the Hong Kong court officially sentenced key pro-democracy activists who were convicted last month. Most of their sentences are around a year to 18 months in prison. The “crime” for which the people were found guilty was illegal assembly without permission for a large-scale protest in August 2019 that was attended by hundreds of thousands of Hongkongers.
The crime appears to have no connection with the Hong Kong National Security Law, but many have linked the trial and conviction of the Hong Kong court with the National Security Law imposed by the Chinese Communist Party (CCP).
As fear is the motivation for much of the CCP’s domestic and foreign aggression, the Chinese regime’s recent behavior in Hong Kong reveals some of its major fears.
On the world stage, the legitimacy of the communist regime in the past three decades has mainly centered on its economic growth and economic potential of its large population. It uses this as bait to manipulate foreign governments and corporations that want a slice of the Chinese market.
The three major driving forces of economic growth are investment, consumption, and exports. China’s mainland’s domestic consumption contributes the least to its own GDP, accounting for only a little more than 40 percent of GDP—far less than the usual 70 percent for most other countries. Foreign trade through exports are massive levers for China’s GDP.
The CCP system is an administrative-led authoritarian system. The regime controls society in many ways, but in the past two decades, this control has been reflected through China’s economic operations. The more money the authorities have, the stronger their control over society.
The economic development of mainland China relies on the East Asian model, which is export-oriented. The East Asian model relies on consumption in foreign markets to promote economic growth. This is precisely why former U.S. President Donald Trump’s launch of a U.S.-China trade war was terrifying for the CCP.
This is not simply due to the possibility of restraining the American market’s dependence on Chinese products—this action has forced officials in China to reconsider the continuation of the East Asian model in the mainland, which in turn poses a challenge to the structure of the country’s economic growth model.
In light of Trump’s trade war and the pandemic’s effect on the world economy, the CCP has had to take precautions for its future economic development. This is the biggest reason why the CCP has begun to promote self-reliance and internal circulation of Chinese capital. Once the economy contracts, the CCP’s government revenue will be under pressure, and its administrative stability maintenance budget will be affected. Without enough money for propaganda and enough incentive to legitimize their authoritarian leadership of China, the regime will be on shaky ground.
Disruption to Technological Exchange With the West
This fear is primarily related to the economy, because the China’s export-oriented economy has reached its limit, you can only export so many goods. With the development of the world economy at a threshold, the export of simple and cheap goods cannot increase at the pace it has in the past few decades. Therefore, China needs to upgrade the quality of its products to continue increasing its market share. This will require China to seriously upgrade its technology and design innovation.
Technological advancement is also an important factor in the CCP’s control over society and maintenance of its military. China is infamous for its draconian use of artificial intelligence (AI) to monitor and track its citizens.
If scientific and technological exchanges with the West are interrupted, it will severely impact the CCP, especially with regard to its losing the ability to steal intellectual property from foreign countries.
A large number of overseas students from mainland China study and engage in scientific and technological research in European and American universities. In 2020, there were over 370,000 Chinese students studying in the United States. For the CCP, this is an invaluable channel and method of “exchange” with American science and technology. Now, the United States has not only cut off various high-level academic exchanges but is also considering how to reduce the number of Chinese science and engineering students.
Although China has many outstanding scientific and technological professionals, the current culture inhibits true creativity and innovation, because innovation and creation are inherently incompatible with autocratic and totalitarian systems. If it is impossible to continue to “exchange” science and technology with foreign countries, then the progress of science and technology under the rule of the CCP will be greatly affected.
Hong Kong, Taiwan, Tibet, and Xinjiang Independence
The CCP started with Marxism and communism and has always used this as the basic core value for ruling mainland China.
But in reality, since the Cultural Revolution under Mao Zedong, pure communist ideology has disappeared in the mainland. Only a few senior Party leaders truly believe in Marxist and communist ideology, which has brought an unprecedented crisis of legitimacy to the CCP.
To deal with this crisis, the CCP has since adopted aggressive nationalism to assert its control. This is why Chinese nationalism has continued to rise in the past two decades.
For example, in previous generations of propaganda, the CCP deliberately talked about its victory against the Chinese nationalists to legitimize the CCP’s seizure of power. But recently, the CCP has begun to emphasize China’s historical wars against Japan, boldly claiming that the CCP led China’s victories over Japan. It is widespread knowledge that it was the Chinese Nationalists who led the war against Japan at the time. To obscure this fact, the CCP changed the historically recorded length of China’s war against Japan from 8 years to 14 years to include the Pacification of Manchukuo, an insurgency against Japan from Manchu, which was jointly led by the Soviet Communist Party and the CCP in the mid-1930s.
The fervor for mainland Chinese nationalism continuously promoted by the CCP has continued unabated. The Chinese people have begun to view the CCP from the perspective of nationalism and Chinese identity rather than communist ideology.
In 2016, Xi Jinping boldly claimed in a public speech that they “will never allow any person, any group, any political party, at any time, in any way, to split from China any part of its territory.”
This tough statement is a perfect example of fuel for the rising tide of aggressive nationalism in mainland China.
As a result, in the face of Hong Kong, Taiwan, Tibet, and Xinjiang affairs, the CCP cannot compromise or show any weakness via concessions. Through its evolution, the CCP has involuntarily taken on the cause of ultra-Chinese nationalism in order to justify its rule, devoid of any of its original communist ideals.
In the past decade or so, the CCP has stepped up its suppression of all religions and spiritual beliefs, with a very clear goal: to eliminate any ideological authority other than the CCP. To remain in power, it places controls on what Chinese people can see, do, and believe.
The pillar of a demolished Catholic church is seen in Puyang, in China’s central Henan Province, on Aug. 13, 2018. The church was demolished to make way for a commercial development. (GREG BAKER/AFP/Getty Images)
The pillar of a demolished Catholic church is seen in Puyang, in China’s central Henan Province, on Aug. 13, 2018. The church was demolished to make way for a commercial development. (Greg Baker/AFP/Getty Images)
The CCP has demolished churches, arrested underground church leaders, and forced Catholic leaders to follow CCP directives that violate Christian principles.
In Tibet, the CCP’s main strategy for destroying the Tibetan independence movement was to target Tibetan Buddhism. Police stations were set up inside Tibetan monasteries. Tibetan lamas were forced to study atheism, materialism, and “Xi Jinping thought.” Those who dissented were arrested and imprisoned without trial.
In Xinjiang, more than one million Uyghurs and other Islamic minorities were arrested and placed in concentration camps for collective brainwashing. The key focus here is still religious ideology. A large number of Muslim imams have been arrested, and various religious books have been destroyed. Any online speech about faith and religion is treated as “religious extremism” and censored.
The core of the suppression of both Xinjiang and Tibet is religion. In Xinjiang, communist authorities tried to eliminate all religious cultures. These efforts included forcing its adherents to drink alcohol, eat pork, marry Muslim women to Han Chinese men, and carry out forced abortions and sterilizations, all of which violate the basic teachings of Islam. But in the eyes of the CCP, these traditional Muslim practices are manifestations of religious extremism.
For practitioners of the Falun Gong spiritual discipline, a special extrajudicial body, much like Nazi Germany’s Gestapo, was created called the 610 Office. For the past two decades, Falun Gong practitioners have been arbitrarily arrested and subjected to all manner of physical and mental torture. Those who give in are forced to renounce their faith and declare loyalty to only the CCP and the doctrine of atheism. Those who resist face continued torture and even their organs being harvested and sold on the illicit transplant market to locals and foreigners desperate for an organ replacement.
Religion and personal belief often hold moral authority beyond national and political ideology, posing a serious threat to any totalitarian regime.
Detaching the CCP Label From the Chinese Identity
What the CCP fears most is the truth that the CCP is not China, and the CCP does not represent the Chinese people.
On Sept. 4, 2020, Xi Jinping delivered a speech to commemorate the 55th anniversary of the victory of China’s War of Resistance Against Japanese Aggression. The opening of the speech proudly introduced the five “no promises” of the Chinese regime. According to state-run media Xinhua, they are as follows:
“The Chinese people will never allow any individual or any force to distort the history of the [CCP] or smear the Party’s nature and mission.
The Chinese people will never allow any individual or any force to distort and alter the path of socialism with Chinese characteristics, or deny and vilify the great achievements the Chinese people have made in building socialism.
The Chinese people will never allow any individual or any force to separate the [CCP] from the Chinese people or counterpose the Party to the Chinese people.
The Chinese people will never allow any individual or any force to impose their will on China through bullying, change China’s direction of progress, or obstruct the Chinese people’s efforts to create a better life.
The Chinese people will never allow any individual or any force to jeopardize their peaceful life and right to development, obstruct their exchanges and cooperation with other peoples, or undermine the noble cause of peace and development for humanity.”
The fifth promise highlights the unwillingness of the CCP to decouple from international economies.
Political parties are not equal to the government, and the government is not absolutely representative of the people of any country.
The CCP is not equal to China, and the communist regime is not equal to the Chinese people.
In The Epoch Times editorial series, “Nine Commentaries on the Communist Party,” the CCP’s behavior is described as being like that of a possessing spirit.
The non-separation of the Party and the country, the Party and the people, and the Party and the government are the prerequisites and foundations for the CCP to exist in China.
Internally, the Party and its members are very clear. Civil servants must be Party members, and promotions must be given only to Party members. Many jobs are given priority to CCP members. The Chinese are very clear that members of the CCP are the elite.
The day that everyone understands that the CCP does not represent the Chinese people will be the day its end has come. The CCP is not China, and the CCP does not represent the Chinese people.
This understanding was first put forward in official terms by former U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo in a speech. The CCP has since had a deep hatred of Pompeo. His statement struck the CCP’s Achilles heel and has the power to completely delegitimize the Chinese communist regime.
Alexander Liao is a columnist and journalist in research on international affairs in the United States, China, and Southeast Asia. He has published a large number of reports, commentaries, and video programs in newspapers and Chinese financial magazines in the United States and Hong Kong.