The view that the Chinese regime is a benevolent autocracy, one that has some blemishes but delivers good governance for the benefit of the people, remains surprisingly widespread among observers outside of China. A respected colleague (American) put it thus in a recent debate: “I believe that Xi Jinping and his colleagues have the interests of the Chinese people at heart.”
This belief, however, is just wishful thinking disconnected from reality that makes for distorted analysis. There is no evidence whatsoever that governance in the People’s Republic is or has been dedicated to the interests of the people. Rather, all the evidence is that the regime’s dedication has been and is its own perpetuation.
– When Xi came to office, the world expected him to be a liberal (in the Chinese context) and an economic reformer. Instead, he has let the economy drift and tightened political repression. There is no basis to believe that what he has at heart is diametrically different from what he does.
– When the previous regime trumpeted ‘harmonious society’, that proved to be manipulative rhetoric to disguise cleptocracy, the leaders’ enrichment of themselves, and China’s drift to obscene inequality.
– In 1989, it was obviously not the Chinese people the leaders had at heart. This, remember, was the reformed PRC.
– When Mao left the stage, the choice was between economic and political opening up and economic opening up and restitution of political control. Deng Xiaoping, far from the reformer he is credited for having been, chose the latter.
– On all occasions, during and after Mao, when controls were relaxed and the people allowed to express their interests, and their expression turned to a demand for democracy, their space for free expression was closed down and those who had used it punished.
– During Mao’s disasters, the people were just sacrificed. This is 100% relevant today; the reformed regime has not disavowed Mao’s calamities or settled with its own past The people whose interests Xi has at heart are not even allowed to know who they are or where they come from.
A regime that has the interests of the people at heart is just not the kind of regime the People’s Republic of China, reformed or not, is. It has been and is a regime that has itself at heart, before the people.