The Chinese Communist Party (CCP) is the founding and ruling party of the People’s Republic of China (China) since 1949. During this time we’ve seen colourful characters such as Mao Zhedong, Deng Xiaoping and the current Xi Jinping take office as China’s “paramount leader”. Each leader mentioned ruled China with an iron fist, as is the modus operandi congruent with the CCP. This has resulted in a Chinese dictatorship.
Throwing labels in political debate is always cumbersome, as everyone has different definitions of what ‘is’ and ‘isn’t’ something. For the purpose of this article, Linz’s definition of a dictatorship will be used.
Linz’s definition of a dictatorship must fulfil three characteristics: all major powers are based on a monistic centre, an exclusive and autonomous ideology influences the policies and civic mobilisation is encouraged and rewarded by the single ruling party. Unfortunately, China now meets these requirements.
The reason a Chinese dictatorship is dangerous is that the afore-mentioned Mao Zhedong decided to give it a go, with dire consequences. In 1958 Mao Zhedong forced 700 million people to work to grow China’s agriculture and industry to new heights. This was known as The Great Leap Forward.
If people couldn’t meet the targets Mao wanted they were thrown in prison. This punishment, coupled with bad weather saw 9 million people starve to death in 1960, with many more dying from overwork.
In 1966 Mao launched the Cultural Revolution. In order to reassert control over the Chinese government, Mao encouraged the people to purge the ‘impure’ elements of Chinese society. Intellectuals, the elderly and others who didn’t follow Mao’s ideology were killed, tortured or harassed. 1.5 million people died during the Cultural Revolution, with millions more brutalised. This is an example of the nature of Chinese dictatorship.
In 1989, Deng Xiaoping sent 300,000 troops to kill protesters and quell dissension in Beijing’s Tiananmen Square. People in China aren’t allowed to search the internet for any mention of the massacre, and any mention of it has been erased from books and TV programs.
Current politics in China aren’t as Stalin-esque, but there are certainly parallels to be drawn. In March 2018, Xi Jingping passed to remove term limits from the Chinese presidency which means he can be a president for life. This is a classic example of the move towards and consolidation of a dictatorship.
In 1982 Deng added structures to the Chinese constitution to guard against dictators like Mao. Xi has dismantled these safeguards and is now moving towards complete totalitarianism.
A new body called the National Supervision Commission will give Xi unrestricted powers outside all laws to detain and torture Chinese citizens. Further, in a chilling development, China is quickly introducing social scorecards in which all citizens will be monitored 24/7 and be ranked on their behaviour.
Citizens will receive a score out of 800. Those with higher scores will receive benefits, while those lower down will be punished. Some 200 million cameras – a figure which will triple in 18 months – will ensure this system runs smoothly, and an individual will lose points even if their father or their friend speaks ill of the government. If you are a “model citizen” then you’ll have no problems, but anything outside of this framework will make life difficult.
Coupled with heavy propaganda, media censorship and lack of political and civil challenge, China has become a truly scary dictatorship. Yet moving past the impact on Chinese citizens, this dictatorship has consequences for international politics.
Immanuel Kant’s democratic peace theory states that democracies won’t go to war with each other because it would be too costly in every aspect. Democracies understand how each other work and will therefore promote peaceful relations based on mutual understanding and values.
As China is a dictatorship, these mutual values don’t apply. It is this logic which underpins China’s belligerence in territorial disputes, matters of history and sovereignty. If you can’t predict or reason with the actions of one of the world’s largest military and economic powers, then that’s cause for concern amongst players in international politics.
In the past week, the US slapped $200bn worth of tariffs on Chinese imports. As a result China retaliated with $60bn of tariffs on American goods, sparking a volatile trade war. There is also growing dissent building amongst intellectuals, liberal-minded officials and the middle class in China about Xi’s recent policies.
Who’s to say that to quash this dissent, Xi won’t start another Cultural Revolution? He has the power and authority to do so, and it is this unpredictability and lack of opposition that makes a Chinese dictatorship so dangerous.
George Sagris is a journalist and Honours graduate in Japanese-Chinese politics based in Adelaide.