Two things happened in China exactly three decades ago: the peaceful democracy movement and the bloody massacre. All democracies in the world initially condemned the massacre in Beijing’s Tiananmen Square, excoriated the Chinese dictators, and supported Tiananmen activists in jail or in exile. As the 1990s went on, however, Western leaders, spurred by commercial interests, again welcomed the People’s Republic of China’s butchers and dictators with their red carpets, eager hugs, and state banquets.
In the United States, leaders of both major political parties sought to avoid a breach with Beijing. Only 17 days after student-led protests were put down by government forces, with a death toll in the thousands, President George H.W. Bush sent a secret letter to Deng Xiaoping and then dispatched a secret envoy to meet with Deng later.
By 1991, the first Bush administration had eased or eliminated many of the Tiananmen-related sanctions placed on China. In 1994, under President Bill Clinton, the U.S. government renewed China’s most-favored-nation status, delinking trade from the Chinese government’s human rights record. In 2001, the United States extended permanent normal trade relations status to China, which was at that time allowed to join the World Trade Organization. Then, China was given the opportunity to host the Olympic Games (the 2008 Summer Olympics in Beijing), the World Expo, a meeting of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation forum, and the G20.
Not a single country boycotted these games or events. China has repeatedly been voted in as a member of the United Nations Human Rights Council despite the fact that its human rights situation is among the worst in the world, and that the Chinese government has arrogantly manipulated the council and undermined U.N. human rights norms as established in the 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
China has shocked the world at least twice in the course of the past 30 years. The first time was the 1989 Tiananmen democracy movement and the ensuing repression, which made the world aware of the ruthlessness of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP). The second time was China’s “economic miracle.” In 2010, with the phenomenal growth of its economy, China became the second largest economy by nominal Gross Domestic Product. In 2014, it surpassed the United States, achieving purchasing power parity.
In fact these two—the extinguishing of the democracy movement and the flowering of the economic miracle—are closely linked. Without the massacres of June 3 and 4, 1989, there would be no Chinese miracle. “What’s most ironic is that the economic reforms of elite privatization that China carried out after June 4th were undoubtedly the most shameless and deplorable in moral terms, but also probably the most effective and likely to succeed. The Tiananmen massacre completely deprived people of their right to speak, and the lack of public participation and supervision in China’s privatization process allowed a minority of officials to treat public assets as their personal property. Officials instantly became capitalists, and privatization reforms attained their goal in a single step. Added to that, the relatively stable investment environment created by suppressive policies attracted a large amount of foreign capital.”
Rampant Miscarriages of Justice
It was believed that China’s embrace of the market economy and globalization would promote domestic freedom and democratization, but they did not; on the contrary, China is more totalitarian today than it was in 1989. Economic power and high technology have greatly strengthened the CCP’s control. China is quickly moving toward fascism with Chinese characteristics.
There are various explanations for the “China miracle,” but few understand or admit that China’s “low human rights advantage,” in the words of the well-known Tsinghua professor Qin Hui, is one of the main reasons for its “success.” Components of this include abundant cheap labor, low wages, low welfare, poor working conditions, no environmental protection, no collective bargaining, no right to strike, no independent labor unions, no free press, no freedom of demonstration and assembly, and no judicial independence.
No competitor of China’s that respects human rights, basic welfare, and democracy can replicate this advantage. And therefore it is no wonder, as Qin Hui once said, that “Goods made in China flow into the whole world, and capital from the whole world flows into China.” It is ridiculous that the Chinese government has attributed this achievement to the so-called “China model” and peddled it around the world, since if all countries adopted the “China model,” there would not be any “China miracle”; rather, the world would be remade in China’s image through a race to the bottom.
People are interested in talking about the rise of China, but in reality, what has been astonishingly rapid and violent has been the rise of the CCP since the party’s founding in 1921. People living in China do not have access to Google, Facebook, Twitter, or YouTube; nor do they have the right to protect their houses or land. They do not have freedom of expression, religious freedom, or the right to vote. Even the book Winnie the Pooh was banned.
Chinese people lack access to fresh air and clean water. Ten of thousands of human rights defenders, lawyers, dissidents, and journalists have been thrown into prison. Political prisoners have died in custody, including the Nobel Laureate Liu Xiaobo in 2017. The family members of rights activists are targeted. Rights NGOs are shut down. Torture, enforced disappearance, forced eviction, and miscarriages of justice are pervasive and rising to a crescendo.
Since 1999, more than 4,000 Falun Gong practitioners have been tortured to death in detention. And 153 Tibetans self-immolated to protest the persecution against them. The CCP is demolishing churches, burning Bibles, and has now sent at least 1.5 million Uyghurs and other Turkic Muslims to concentration camps in Xinjiang. This is not a “China miracle” or “China dream” but a China nightmare.
The low-tech CCP thuggery has now morphed into what I have called high-tech totalitarianism. The CCP utilizes its lead in Artificial Intelligence to make ts total control of Chinese society even more total. China’s Great Firewall, social media, Big Data, e-commerce, and modern telecommunications make it easier for the CCP to keep people under a surveillance akin to Jeremy Bentham’s panopticon, in which nobody knows if or when they are being watched, but it is always a possibility. The Internet has been used by the CCP as an effective tool for censorship, propaganda, and brainwashing. Facial recognition, voiceprint recognition, gait recognition, DNA collection, and biometric tags have all systematized the CCP’s growing control.
In Shandong Province, virtual reality (VR) was used to test party members’ level of loyalty to the CCP. The market-research firm IDC recently predicted that China’s public surveillance-camera network will keep growing, with some 2.76 billion units slated to be installed by 2022. For every Chinese citizen, then, there will be two surveillance cameras, not counting those on their personal devices that can be digitally commandeered at any time by the CCP. Considering China’s networked stability-maintenance, social credit system, secret police, party stoking of nationalist sentiment, expanded control of the media and Internet, mass arrests of rights activists, and cult of personality around Xi Jinping, what we have seen is an unprecedented high-technology totalitarianism, an advanced version of George Orwell’s 1984.
Taiwan the Next Hong Kong?
Moreover, China has become more and more aggressive on the international stage. Its extraterritorial laws and the long arm of enforcement stretch in many different ways: for example, its abduction of refugees overseas, including booksellers, Uyghurs, and legitimate businessmen. Its theft, bribery, and propaganda are institutionalized through the Asia Infrastructure Investment Bank, the multi-trillion dollar Belt and Road Initiative, the Confucius Institutes, the creation of islands in the South China Sea for military purposes, international cyber attacks and espionage, and the “Thousand Talents Program.”