September 23, 2023

Minxin Pei is a China expert who teaches at Claremont McKenna College, and who has written a piece in Foreign Affairs arguing that Chinese President Xi Jinping’s “total victory” at the recent 20th Party Congress was actually a long-term defeat due to what he describes as the “paradox of power.”

In the professor’s view, Xi’s consolidation of power within the ruling elite of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) spells trouble for Xi’s plans to “reinvigorate economic growth, promote technological self-sufficiency, and address the looming demographic catastrophe.”

Pei acknowledges that Xi has accumulated power within the CCP that rivals Mao Zedong’s hold over the party, power that “may make him all but invulnerable inside the regime.” Looking to history, Pei claims that Mao’s dominance at the Ninth Party Congress in 1969 made the CCP’s rule “less stable” because there was no “succession plan,” meaning that, after Mao, a struggle for power would ensue — which is precisely what occurred. But this is how communist regimes have always operated, unless, like North Korea (and Cuba for a time), power stays within the ruling family. Where Pei errs is in treating the CCP as if it were a normal government when in fact it is a criminal oligarchy whose chief goals are the maintenance and expansion of its power.

Pei claims that within three years after Mao’s death, “his legacy lay in ruins,” with a former rival in charge and the regime’s embrace of “market-based reforms.” But the CCP maintained its monopoly of political power — that was Mao’s real legacy, and it continues today under Xi. Mao’s “rivals” ensured that no “Chinese Gorbachevs” emerged to weaken the party’s rule.

Xi, as Pei points out, has filled the Politburo with his loyalists and forced out perceived rivals. It was a display, Pei correctly notes, of “raw political power.” Yet, Pei contends that this will not guarantee another decade of success but is more likely to lead to a “period of political rivalry among his own loyalists who are eager to seek his favor and gain an edge in the inevitable struggle for succession.” Looking back in communist history, the very same phenomenon occurred after Vladimir Lenin’s death in the Soviet Union, yet Joseph Stalin managed to amass unprecedented internal political power and gradually eliminated anyone in the party that he deemed a rival. And Stalin held on to power for the next three decades, despite famines, massive purges, and a devastating world war. And after Stalin died, another struggle for power ensued, but the Communist Party maintained its monopoly of political power for another four decades until Mikhail Gorbachev.

Pei was one of the many China experts who predicted that China’s commitment to “market economics” would result in political pluralism in which the CCP’s hold on monopoly power would wane. It didn’t happen because all the CCP’s leaders — despite internal political rivalries — were committed to maintaining the party’s absolute political control. Economics never trumped politics within the CCP — not even during the “reform” era of Deng Xiaoping, as evidenced by the Tiananmen Square massacre in 1989. The CCP, unlike Gorbachev, was willing to crush those who threatened its monopoly of political power. (READ MORE from Francis P. Sempa: Biden Plays Geopolitics With China and Russia — And Loses)

Pei has been writing about “China’s governance crisis” since at least 2002. Two years ago, he suggested that Xi was “eroding the foundations of China’s economic and political power.” In his most recent article, he writes that Xi’s effort to revive “orthodox Communist ideology” will fail because Xi “is not nearly as charismatic a leader as Mao was.” But as Frank Dikötter has pointed out in his new book China After Mao: The Rise of a Superpower, the CCP never discarded communist ideology and, more importantly, Leninist political principles. Economic success and technical self-sufficiency have enabled China to become a peer competitor of the United States, but neither is as important to the CCP as maintaining a monopoly of political power in China. The notion that Xi, in Pei’s words, “should consider the possibility that political supremacy may be a curse disguised as a blessing” ignores the history of communism in China and elsewhere. Political supremacy is what communism — Leninism — is all about.