The Chinese Communist Party’s centennial has generated an avalanche of essays and books about the Party.
- Some excellent like Harvard Kennedy School’s Tony Saich’s ‘From Rebel to Ruler,’ featured in the last CHINAMacroReporter. Some not so excellent.
But for sheer concentration of insights from top China experts, it’s hard to beat the latest issue of Foreign Affairs with the cover ‘Can China Keep Rising.’
- Today, I highlight two of the essays from that issue – but for space concerns I would include them all here.
- Buy the print version or go online (you may have to subscribe). But don’t miss this one.
Here are a few of my thoughts on the importance of Wang Jisi’s ‘The Plot Against China.’
- Yuen Yuen Ang’s ‘The Evolution of Chinese Corruption’ speaks for itself - but note especially how Mr. Xi's anti-corruption campaign could hurt China's economy.
I have now lived long enough that when a friend complains about his or her spouse, I say to myself, ‘There are no doubt two sides to this story.’
- This snippet of wisdom applies to the analysis of U.S.-China relations: There is another side to this story.
- The problem is that most of what we consume in the West are repetitions of our grievances.
That’s why ‘The Plot Against China?’ by Wang Jisi, President of the Institute of International and Strategic Studies at Peking University, in the latest Foreign Affairs, is both rare and important.
- Wang explains:
‘The conventional wisdom in Beijing holds that the United States is the greatest external challenge to China’s national security, sovereignty, and internal stability.’
- ‘Most Chinese observers now believe that the United States is driven by fear and envy to contain China in every possible way.’
‘From Beijing’s perspective, it is the United States—and not China—that has fostered this newly adversarial environment, especially by carrying out what the CCP views as a decades-long campaign of meddling in China’s internal affairs with the goal of weakening the party’s grip on power.’
- ‘Anytime the CCP has encountered political turmoil at home, it has believed the United States to be a hidden hand.’
- ‘Americans often fail to appreciate just how important this history is to their Chinese counterparts and just how much it informs Beijing’s views of Washington.
In short, in Mr. Wang’s telling, Beijing is not disingenuous in its positions defending its system of government and it actions at home and abroad – and it has beefs too and, to the Chinese, good reasons for them.
- Wang lays out Beijing’s side of the story point by point. A very useful corrective
Even those of us who may think China’s perspective is misguided baloney have to accept: It is China’s perspective.
- And if we want to have any hope of getting China right, we have to understand it.
Along the line of reasons why we get China wrong, let me add the slant that western media tends to take in reporting on China.
- The most recent example is General Secretary Xi Jinping’s address at the centenary celebration of the China Communist Party.
Headlines like these two from The Washington Post showed up across the media:
- ‘At Communist Party centenary, Xi says China won't be bullied’
- ‘ “Heads bashed bloody”: China’s Xi marks Communist Party centenary with strong words for adversaries’
Wow! I thought Mr. Xi must have used his 70-minute speech to gin up nationalist discontent against China’s enemies (read the U.S.) and to threaten those enemies.
- Wanting to see for myself, I read the Mr. Xi's whole speech.
- And of course he did make the statements the western media seized on – but they were far from the only or even the most important points.
In fact, much of the speech was about how much the Party has done to create a secure and prosperous nation since 1949.
- Credit where credit’s due, the Party (with a few now well-concealed hiccups like the Cultural Revolution and the Tiananmen Massacre) has reason to crow.
The rest was that China going forward still had a long road to achieving rejuvenation.
- And only through Party leadership and the loyalty of every Chinese to the Party will it get there. Box checked.
In other words, pretty much what you would expect from a Chinese leader’s speech on the Party’s 100th anniversary.
That’s not to diminish the threatening words when Mr. Xi uttered them – they were there, and no doubt, his countrymen loved them.
- It’s just to point out that you have to careful to go deeper into any given report about China – the incendiary sells papers; ho-hum doesn’t, and sometimes ho-hum is the real story.
- Remembering that there are two sides to every story, and that we come to bad conclusions if understand only one, especially if that one is the one we are hammered with all the time.
Just for good measure, let me add one more thing we get wrong about China that badly skews our views.
- We somehow have the notion the by and large the Chinese people are unhappy and dissatisfied with Xi Jinping, the Chinese Communist Party, and the government generally.
- Some Trump officials even seemed to be nearing the line of calling for the Chinese people to rise up or at least resist.
The problem is - from all the unbiased surveys and reports I’ve read - the Chinese people seem very supportive of the government, the Party, and Mr. Xi.
- You can say that is brainwashing by the state-controlled media and education system.
- But that ignores things like the rapid increase in well-being and the pride in China’s achievements – things that the people experience for themselves.
With that in mind, ask yourself if the audience for Mr. Xi’s speech was on the whole cynically muttering ‘yeah, yeah,’ or were they sincerely cheering?
- If you still think the former, you’re going to have a tough time understanding China today.
Once again, my posting an essay doesn’t imply my agreement with its arguments.