As the CCP tightens its grip on the Chinese people, what does this mean for the future of China and its freedoms?
Since the creation of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) in 1921, the influence of communism in China has been hard to ignore. The current regime controls most aspects of Chinese citizens’ day to day lives and are tightening their control. The Chinese Communist Party has tightened its control over the state bureaucracy, the media, online speech, religious groups, universities, businesses, and civil society associations and has already undermined its more moderate legal reforms regarding civil rights and government jurisdiction. Xi Jinping, the current leader of the CCP and the president of the People’s Republic of China has consolidated power and triggered rising discontent among elites within and outside of the communist party. The internment of Uighur Muslims in the Xinjiang region paints a vivid picture of conditions in China for those not in the favor of the regime in power. These legal reforms along with increasing discrimination and internment of the Chinese Uighur population have illustrated a bleak picture for the future of China in terms of its freedom for citizens and autocratic consolidation. With rapid economic development occurring across the country, especially in its large urban metropolitan areas, there has been generation of increasing demands by citizens to participate in decisions that affect their lives and for authorities to respond more fairly to their grievances. It will be interesting to observe into the future the responsiveness of China’s government to increasing grievances and whether this system of authoritarian communist government can continue to exert its will on the people of one of the most powerful and populace countries in the world.
Background on CCP
The Chinese Communist Party is the founding and sole ruling party of the People’s Republic of China. It was founded in 1921 by revolutionaries including Li Dazhao, Chen Duxiu, Mao Zedong, and others. Many Chinese had turned to Marxism after the Bolshevik victory in the Russian Revolution of 1917, and they tried to implement similar government in China. The CCP enjoyed early success from organizing labor unions in cities. However, in 1927, the Nationalist Party which was originally allied with the CCP turned violently against the communists and drove the CCP underground. After many struggles and the intense conflict of World War Two with Japan’s invasion, the civil war between the CCP and the Nationalist party recommenced in 1946. In 1949, the Nationalists were decisively defeated and were forced to retreat to Taiwan where they remain, allowing for the CCP and its allies to create the People’s Republic of China. After its victory the CCP began adopting the Soviet model for development and closely allied itself with the Soviet Union with their Communist governmental structure. Through a largely capitalist economy with communist government and a ruling party of the CCP controlling the economy, China has consolidated authoritarian control in and through the CCP.
Authoritarianism in China
In the late 1970s, Deng Xiaoping led the Chinese leadership and launched a modern reform period where they relaxed economic and ideological controls, fueling an unprecedented 30 year economic boom. Due to these lax reforms and Xiaoping’s neutral mindset towards capitalism, seeing how it could serve the needs of a communist regime, China has experienced a ten-fold expansion in GDP, has overtaken Japan as the second-largest economy, and has emerged as a world power. However, central government leaders currently remain adamantly opposed to fundamental political reform by rejecting notions for free speech and representative democracy. In China, the CCP’s authorities choose key figures in executive and judicial institutions with subordinate government officials being selected through competitive civil service exams. The CCP and government authorities regularly reject a democracy consisting of multiple parties representing the people as a “Western” concept that does not fit China’s political conditions. The CCP has been known to repress peaceful protest with brutal force such as with the Tiananmen Square massacre in 1989 and shut down all minority opinion through censorship of media and repercussions for those trying to enable free speech. The CCP and the government have prioritized party control at the expense of building autonomous legal and political institutions.
A recent case that showcases China’s autocratic consolidation involves the ethnic Uighur group living in China. Human rights groups believe China has detained more than one million Uighurs against their will over the past few years and placed them in internment camps that the state has labeled “re-education camps”. Uighurs are being forced to do labor and women are being forcibly sterilized. There are about 12 million Uighurs in China, who are mostly Muslims, living in the Xinjiang Uighur Autonomous Region. Several countries including the United States, Canada, and the Netherlands have accused China of genocide, interning Uighurs in labor camps and for forcibly mass sterilizing Uighur women to suppress the population and break up cultural traditions of the group. Xinjiang is now covered by a substantial surveillance network including police checkpoints and cameras along with mobile apps to monitor people’s behavior. China has denied all allegations and said in 2019 that they had released everyone from their “re-education” camps, though testimonies suggest that there are many still detained, and that people are continually being transferred to these camps to this day. China claims that the crackdown is to prevent terrorism and Islamic extremism and that these camps are effective in suppressing such dangerous attitudes. The CCP and the Chinese government have suppressed an entire ethnic group and are asserting their will on the masses through autocratic consolidation that the people have no say over.
As China progresses into the future and as the world becomes more globalized it will be interesting to note how increased grievances and desire for free speech and representation will interact with the strict, authoritarian CCP. During the more progressive and laxer rule of Deng Xiaoping, China was able to assert itself as a global economic power. With Xi Jinping’s more authoritarian and oppressive social policies it will be interesting to observe how China progresses into the world stage and whether their citizens call for political reform. China through the CCP and strict leadership has consolidated authoritarian control and suppressed democratic ideals and thinking in China as an extremely influential global actor.