China: no more Mr Nice Guy
Vincent Yu / AP
Students light candles after the “Goddess of Democracy” statue, a memorial to those killed in the Tiananmen crackdown in 1989, was removed from the Chinese University of Hong Kong on December 24. The university removed the statue which was based on a figure created by art students and brought to the square shortly before the crackdown in which hundreds of people were killed.
OPINION: More than 200 Hong Kong police raided and shut down one of Hong Kong’s last remaining pro-democracy news sites on Wednesday, the latest sign that the Beijing regime will no longer tolerate dissent of any kind.
It was totally overkill – a few cops with a court order would have been enough – but they were “messaging” other “disgruntled” people.
Chief Administration Secretary John Lee defended the police operation (which also arrested editors and former editors and board members at their homes) in everyday Orwellian parlance : “Anyone who tries to use media work as a tool to pursue their political goal is breaking the law. These are the perverse elements that undermine the freedom of the press.
It’s not just Hong Kong: all of China is shutting down. The limited free speech and tolerance for dissent that prevailed for 20 years under President Xi Jinping’s predecessors Jiang Zemin and Hu Jintao have been systematically eroded, and Xi is now effectively president for life.
* “One China”, three flags: Beijing’s pursuit of Olympic domination intensifies
* What is behind China’s bullying of Australia? He sees a soft target – an essential target
* “Rights and freedoms are not absolute”: Hong Kong leader warns protesters
It even encourages a cult of personality, something the party had managed to avoid since Chairman Mao Zedong’s disaster.
And there is no longer a velvet glove on the iron fist: wealthy ethnic groups like Tibetans and Uyghurs are simply overwhelmed by imported Han Chinese majorities, and those who complain are sent to concentration camps. .
It is the same abroad. The “wolf warrior” diplomats reprimand the foreign countries in which they are stationed for any criticism of China, and the crushing of freedoms of Hong Kong signals the abandonment of any idea of seduction of Taiwan towards the unification under the banner ” one country, two systems ”. When the time comes, it will be annexed by force.
But the question is: why now?
Xi’s personality is authoritarian, of course, but that’s pretty standard among the “princels” who grew up as part of the second and third generation Communist aristocracy.
Yet for decades they supported limiting the tenure of rulers because it protected them from being victimized by another figure of Mao.
If they now accept Xi’s rise to supreme and perpetual power, it cannot be simply because they are afraid of him. He’s just a man.
There must also be some feeling among others in the party leadership that he will need a tough autocrat to weather the storms ahead and preserve his rule. So what can these storms be?
It has been evident for years that Beijing was preparing the books and overestimating China’s economic growth rate.
It was evident from previous examples where industrializing countries enjoyed high growth rates by exploiting the cheap labor flowing into cities from the countryside, that this was a one-time bonus.
The 10 percent growth never lasts more than a generation; then it falls back to 2 to 3% “normal”. Recent examples are Japan (1955-85) and South Korea (1960-90).
Maybe the Chinese regime thought they were exempt because they were communists, but they ignored the fact that the Soviets were riding on exactly the same economic roller coasters (except that they were interrupted in the middle by World War II. world).
Or maybe they just forgot that they really run a hybrid capitalist economy, not a communist economy.
Like it or not, China has experienced its 30 years of rapid growth (1985-2015), and behind a facade of lies, its real growth rate has already been declining for at least half a decade. In recent quarters, in fact, China’s gross domestic product has grown by half of that of US GDP.
This is in part due to increased production in the United States as the economy recovers from Covid lockdowns, but published Chinese growth rates have been fictional for at least five years.
Realistic estimates, “fed back” from electricity consumption and other indicators, have instead been 3 to 4%, and growth is doomed to fall further.
The Chinese birth rate has collapsed: each new age cohort entering the labor market will be much smaller than the previous one, which will hit demand very hard.
In addition, the debt incurred by reckless overinvestment in housing, roads and other infrastructure, just to maintain employment and growth statistics, is already a major burden on the economy.
Two implications of this are long-term threats against the Communist regime in China.
The party’s promise to overtake the US economy and make China the dominant power in the world will probably never come true, nor will its promise to raise the standard of living of the Chinese to the level of the developed world. (The current GDP per capita is only $ 9,000.)
If the Communist Party cannot keep these two promises, what gives it the right to monopolize political power in China? He is certainly not keeping his old promise of equality either.
No wonder Xi Jinping is closing the hatches politically, and no wonder nomenklatura (to use the old Soviet word) accompanies him. Stagnation awaits you.