Sunday, April 24, 2005

Premier Koizumi issued the boilerplate apology for Japanese aggression as Japan and China sought to paper over their rift.

Meanwhile, Hu Jintao took his lumps in a Philip Pan article in the Washington Post entitled "Hu Tightens Party's Grip On Power: Chinese Leader Seen As Limiting Freedoms". The article describes crackdowns on dissidents, and ends with the telling quote:

"The party's authority is gradually declining, and as a result, Hu is less confident and more insecure than the leaders before him," said a former provincial party chief, who spoke on condition of anonymity. "When a leader feels insecure, he tightens controls."

Fair enough.

However, I think the article veers off course in one area by implying that Hu’s hard line on dissent springs from some sort of perverse nostalgia for the Cultural Revolution:

The party's reformist wing has been especially alarmed by Hu's penchant for using hard-line rhetoric from the Cultural Revolution, the devastating political movement that rocked China in the decade before Mao's death in 1976.

And in blunt language that party veterans said recalled Mao Zedong's destructive Cultural Revolution, he urged the leadership to be alert to the danger of subversive thinking.

The article clearly seeks to link Hu’s rhetoric to the universally deplored fanaticism of the Cultural Revolution, with a little bit of editorializing overkill in applying the adjectives “devastating” and “destructive” to the two references to the GPCR, to ensure that today’s historically challenged reader gets the message.

Hu’s rhetoric does appear old school, but it’s not Cultural Revolution old-school.

The GPCR talking points covered counter-revolution and restoration of capitalism.

Hu is responding to the contemporary rhetoric and reality of the Bush administration’s regime-change campaign against Communist regimes.

It’s described plainly enough in the body of the article:

Hu warned that "hostile forces" were trying to undermine the party by "using the banner of political reform to promote Western bourgeois parliamentary democracy, human rights and freedom of the press," according to a person given excerpts of the speech.

Hu said China's enemies had not abandoned their "strategic plot to Westernize and split China." He blamed the fall of the Soviet Union on policies of "openness and pluralism" and on the efforts of "international monopoly capital with the United States as its leader

Chinese reformers—whose views are reflected in Pan’s article—may wish that the clock were turned back to 1976, when a successful alliance of pragmatists and intellectuals deposed the Gang of Four and introduced a new post-Cultural Revolution social dispensation that moved beyond the rhetoric of revolution.

But Hu’s rhetoric draws on the experience of a different time and a different crisis to respond to current challenges to Communist Party control.

It evokes 1989 and Tian An Men, when a portion of the Chinese political and intellectual leadership believed that the key to reform and progress for China was a convergence with the political as well as economic institutions of the West.

We know who won that argument. It wasn’t the liberal reformers.

That’s the source of Hu’s anti-reform rhetoric—opposition to what was then, in the Reagan years, called the Western tactic of “peaceful evolution”.

Now that the Bush administration’s participation in the democracy movements that pepper the ex-Communist bloc have become remarkably open, the source of Hu’s anxiety—and severity—should be readily apparent.

Consider Secretary Rice’s recent involvement in the Belarus democracy movement:

Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice told Belarusian dissidents Thursday she thinks an end to authoritarian rule in their country is within reach…

After meeting with the seven dissidents, Rice said next year's presidential election in Belarus offers "an excellent opportunity" to focus on the need for credible elections in the country, a pro-Russian former Soviet republic led since 1994 by President Alexander Lukashenko. On Wednesday, Rice had said it was "time for a change" in Belarus…

Greeting the dissidents Thursday at a hotel, Rice said, "While it may be difficult and long and at times even far away, there will be a road to democracy in Belarus. We admire your courage, and we admire your dedication and we want you all to know you are in our thoughts."

After the meeting, the dissidents told reporters they hoped to organize mass anti-government protests this fall.

Rice, at her own news conference, said the United States does not offer advice to opposition movements on tactics. "These are the people who know what's best to do," she said. …

The 2004 Belarus Democracy Act mandates U.S. assistance for Belarusian political parties, nongovernmental organizations and independent media. It also bars U.S. aid to the Belarus government, except for humanitarian assistance.

One of the by-products of the U.S. invasion of Iraq has been a devaluation of the concept of national sovereignty, at least when it applies to countries other than the United States. With remarkably little objection from the rest of the Western world or the U.N., the U.S. has appointed itself judge, jury, and executioner of regimes it deems beyond the pale.

With the repackaging of regime change as a generic freedom crusade in 2005, the Bush administration can move against offensive regimes without the need for casus belli and evidence that pre-emptive anti-WMD war demand. A country need not be regarded a state sponsor of terrorism and thereby represent a direct threat to the United States in order to attract the open and active hostility of the American government—it need only hurdle the much lower bar of being deemed “undemocratic”.

As a result, U.S. regime change activity seems to have become so routine and universalized the American public doesn’t even question it anymore, and our Secretary of State can openly meet with dissidents and promote regime change in Belarus, a country which threatens the interests of the United States only in the most indirect and abstract ways imaginable.

Given this sort of American activity, and the apparent precedents in Georgia, Ukraine, and Kyrgyzstan, don’t look for Hu Jintao to give dissidents a platform or the United States an opening by allowing democratic reforms any time soon.

It’s not 1976 in China. It’s not even 1989. And it is unlikely that China will respond to the rhetoric of freedom in the way that the reformers and the Bush administration hope.

Tian An Men is now viewed with an equivocal and bitter nostalgia.

The tragic, bloody collapse of the 1989 protest movement, which had in some part arisen in response to encouragement by then-premier Zhao Ziyang, is now contrasted in Chinese perceptions with the concurrent collapse of the Soviet Union into an economic and political kleptocracy and the subsequent rise of a thriving, apolitical Chinese economic juggernaut under Communist direction.

China’s 1989 brush with political liberalization now seems to a certain portion of elite Chinese opinion (not only within the higher reaches of the party) to have been a dangerous, futilely na├»ve exercise in political recklessness.

To them, the turn away from democracy took China to wealth, power, and pride--and a leading position on the world stage that makes the United States regard it as a threat.

And they don’t want to turn back, either to the Cultural Revolution or to the 1989 democracy movement.