The Chinese government finds itself in a peculiar and precarious position. The Communist Party of China maintains full control over the People’s Republic of China with General Secretary Xi Jinping steadily consolidating and solidifying more power, yet China is also a highly influential member and beneficiary of a global capitalist economy and liberal world order. With the US under the control of President Donald Trump, it faces an intensifying trade war with its greatest economic partner and rival. Due to its attempts to buildup its military prowess and assert control over its self-proclaimed territory, Beijing risks inflaming the South China Sea Crisis as well as various conflicts with its regional rivals. To boot, it seems fears of mass civil unrest and rebellion may well soon become a reality as the Chinese Peoples appear to be increasingly critical of their leadership for itself failures to manage economic and international issues.
Although socialist-leaning governments reject many of the civil liberties democratic societies extol, their pursuit of individual financial security technically makes communism a liberal, albeit illiberal, form of governance. While now largely communist in name only, modern China and its place in the modern liberal world order is rational to a degree for this reason. Recognizing the oppressive and increasingly plutocratic nature of the Communist Party, however, a neutral observer would never have expected China’s rise as a world power. The liberal world order is, after all, an American liberal order. As the self-proclaimed leader of the “free world” dedicated to making the world safe for democracy, the US should have rallied its allies against the rise of China decades ago. It certainly should not have facilitated China’s rise by forging strong economic ties with the communist power. Unfortunately, the modern liberal world order is actually an illiberal world order, which Beijng exploited to attract the economic support of capitalists.
Although the Chinese Communist Party has been a fierce competitor in the global economy, recent history and events suggest those days might be over. Confrontation with the Trump Administration may be the awakening of the sleeping American giant that the Chinese have feared for decades, but something else has been in play for a very long time. Already exhausted by the costly wars in Afghanistan and Iran, the 2008-2009 Great Recession to some signaled the final stage in America’s long-anticipated decline as the world’s global hegemonic power. When Xi Jinping ascended to power in 2012, he wasted no time consolidating power and launching a massive campaign to assert Chinese control over Asia through global economic initiatives, ambitious military projects, and a set of confrontational foreign policies. Russia also acted by seeking to reassert itself as a world power. Xi Jinping, Vladimir Putin, or any of the other authoritarian leaders hoping to advance their agendas as the US turned inward recognized the emerging threat to their plans.
In 2011, the Arab Spring Revolutions swept across the Middle East. When the authoritarian governments of the Middle East cracked down on protesters, they slowed progress and ushered in an era of instability, yet revolutionary sentiments still remain. Elsewhere, the 2014 Hong Kong protests and others soon followed. There had been a steady drip of mass civil unrest in authoritarian-controlled countries for years, e.g. Pakistan, Iran, Myanmar, etc., but the aftermath of the Arab Spring was a flood of revolutions, which continue to this day even as heavy-handed, oppressive governments struggle to suppress dissent and maintain security. In the wake of the Great Recession, Europe was, of course, paralyzed by massive civil unrest while the so-called Tea Party movements, Occupy movements, and others dominated US politics. Although the governments of the world had already started rejecting US leadership by reasserting their interests and sovereign rights, the nations of the democratizing International Community were also democratizing. For the Communist Party, the strong possibility of its own citizens embracing democracy was a nightmare waiting to happen.
Unfortunately, the democratizing of world governance has been significantly hampered by wave after wave of brutal government crackdowns and the security threats posed by terrorists seeking to take advantage of weakened governments. The cultures and Peoples of the world continue to be democratized, but a truly democratic world has proven to a premature dream. With that in mind, it has been said that movements like the Arab Spring Revolutions were not actually seeking democratic representation. They wanted governments that would be more responsive to their interests, particularly their economic interests, and they wanted governments to give them increased representation, but they did not necessarily want democracy. They wanted rights. They wanted the liberalization of their nations and economies. Some protesters wanted some form of democracy while others wanted limited versions of liberal governance, yet they all wanted government to focus on their needs and wants.
Just as China is an illiberal nation thanks to its liberal views on personal economic security, the Peoples of the Middle East as a whole wanted to embrace liberalization that did not include a religious freedom. In the West, which is more illiberal and ill-democratic than the politically influential would like to admit, illiberal tendencies can be seen in their illiberal economies. As Westerners, much like all people, value their personal economic security and freedom, civil discontent and reoccurring civil unrest is due to the illiberal nature of Western economies and the global economy. This creates friction between average income people and the wealthy influential whose riches often come at the expenses of the masses. Although socialism has seen a resurgence in recent years, this does not mean people want or need socialism. Westerners are simply undertaking the liberalization process all the Peoples of the world are pursuing. Looking at the widespread rejection of international governance, e.g. US dominance, the European Union by Britain, Russian influential, Chinese dominance, etc., and the rejection of influential governance in general, global liberalization means the rejection of powerful centralized authority.
The Communist Party of China is clearly an oppressive, centralized authority that is incompatible with liberalization. Democratic governance in all of its forms is a just a vehicle for increased representation. Replacing powerful governments with stable, thriving democratic institutions is difficult. From the failure of events like the 2012 Egyptian Election and the 1998 Cambodian Election, it is clear society and the cultures of a society must be democratized before the democratization of government can be successful. The liberalization of a People and the failure of government to liberalize, in contrast, leads to unavoidable civil discontent. The Chinese government has largely been successful when it comes to suppressing democratic sentiments and uprisings. By embracing a liberal governing philosophy, however, the Beijing has cultivated liberalism among its massive population. It has, therefore, primed the Chinese People to eventually reject it. As the Communist Party’s incompatibility with the liberal world orders increasingly becomes a source of conflict, the forces of liberalization will help undermine Beijing’s authority.
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