The contrasts are apparent between the two poles of power in the world. In Beijing, there were huge celebrations, with fanfare and fireworks, marking 100 years of the founding of what is today the world's largest political party (95 million members), holding power for the longest duration (72 years), in the most populous country of the world (1.4 billion). And in Washington, DC, legislators, policymakers, and the security Establishment were working overtime to give the finishing touches to a China-specific law, The Strategic Competition Act, which is a recipe for a new Cold War, planning for a grand strategy on how to contain, counter and confront China. It's like the lyrics of a popular American song, 'Yesterday Once More'! The visions and worldviews between these two poles of power couldn't be more different.
Take the Communist Party of China (CPC). During its 100-year history, the CPC has been through many trials and tribulations but has surmounted difficulties with fortitude and bounced back to achieve success. It was nearly decimated thrice in its long and eventful history. In 1927, the CPC attempt to foment a peasant uprising was ruthlessly crushed by its nemesis, General Chiang Kaishek's Kuomintang regime. In 1935, a bruised and battered CPC retreated to the mountains of Yenan through the Long March. And during the tumultuous Cultural Revolution, 1966-1976, the party lost many of its most experienced leaders and cadres. However, the CPC has always demonstrated an instinct for survival and an extraordinary resilience that only a battle-hardened party can muster successfully. Several factors account for this resilience of the CPC. An ability for course correction or what President Xi Jinping calls 'self-reform' is an essential ingredient of such a survival strategy. The CPC did this course correction during the Long March of 1935, then in 1937 when it teamed up with Chiang Kaishek against Japan, then in 1971, the opening to America to offset the Soviet threat, and again in 1978, by reversing the Cultural Revolution and initiating 'Reform and Opening Up' policy. The quality of leadership of the CPC throughout decades of struggle, whether it was Chairman Mao or Premier Zhou Enlai, Deng Xiaoping or Xi Jinping, has been exemplary, and they have all enjoyed the confidence of the Chinese people.
As the Harvard University's Ash Center's most comprehensive survey of Chinese public opinion in July 2020 showed, over 93% of the randomly chosen 38,000 Chinese respondents, spread over 15 years, expressed different degrees of 'satisfaction' with the CPC system of governance. On October 1, 1949, Chairman Mao, announcing the founding of the People's Republic of China from the rostrum of Tiananmen Square in Beijing, proudly proclaimed 'the Chinese people have stood up'. This was a defining moment in Chinese history as the Chinese people, thanks to the CPC, were bidding goodbye to the 'Century of Humiliation' that began with the Western-imposed Opium War in 1840. On July 1, President Xi Jinping's long celebratory speech on the CPC 100th Anniversary had a similar punchline in a statement reminiscent of Chairman Mao's October 1, 1949, remarks. President Xi was apparently responding to those in the West, particularly the American military-industrial-complex, which has an aggressive Cold War mindset that seeks 'containment of China' or 'countering China' by roping in countries under a new NATO-led 'democratic' alliance against 'authoritarian' China. President Xi remarked with uncharacteristic candour when he warned: 'the Chinese people will never allow any foreign forces to bully, oppress or enslave us. Anyone who dares to do that will find themselves on a collision course with a Great Wall of Steel forged by over 1.4 billion Chinese people.'
Conversely, the United States isn't pulling any punches when it comes to China. What is it that Washington is doing in practical policy terms that evokes concerns about a 'collision course' in Beijing? Ever since President Biden took over, his diplomacy is centred on what is virtually a recruitment drive to rope in countries for an anti-China alliance. Whether it's his maiden phone call to UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson in March urging for a copycat Western initiative to counter China's BRI or his cobbling of the Quad (Australia, Japan, India and the US), or the G-7 Summit in the UK or the NATO Summit in Brussels, it's all China-centric. In another first, NATO has now been given a new mission and a fresh mandate, and it's the 'China Challenge'! Through their policy document, NATO 2030, launched on November 25, 2020, in which 'threats' outside the geographical purview of NATO's turf were first invoked, the document then specifically referred to the 'geopolitical and ideological challenge from China', even raising it to the level of a 'systemic rivalry with China'. Welcome to Cold War II.
President Biden, following in the footsteps of his predecessor, President Trump, has now been busy institutionalising this NATO concept with his B3W alternative to China's BRI, plus legally cementing it with a wide-ranging 270-page Strategic Competition Act. If enacted into law, the Act would appropriate $300 million each year to a 'Countering Chinese Influence Fund' and create two staff positions in the Department of State and US Agency for International Development to organise a global anti-China Information Warfare campaign via propaganda, press and perception management. Basically, this is a belated American attempt to derail China's rise, as if the course of history can be reversed through legislative and executive diktat. No wonder that Xi's response to such antics, in his July 1 speech, unequivocally termed China's rise as a 'great rejuvenation of the Chinese nation (which) has entered an irreversible historical course'.
As a successor to the founding fathers of New China, President Xi Jinping has provided clarity of thought through his decisive leadership. In particular, learning lessons from the collapse of the Soviet Union, combating the culture of corruption at the top echelons of China, promoting globalisation through trade and cultural connectivity via BRI and providing leadership on such areas as climate change, while preserving and protecting the core interests of China, which revolve around the paramount role of the CPC.
President Xi is a good communicator with an almost Reaganesque, 'feel good' approach, often buttressed with an upbeat message of confidence and optimism for a better tomorrow: 'our country is now in its best period of development since the advent of modern times'. Ironically on globalisation, in marked contrast to the American protectionists, Xi Jinping's thinking reflects free market clarity, likening those opposing globalisation to 'locking oneself in a dark room'!
In his July 1 speech, celebrating 100 years of the CPC, President Xi referred to the 'journey ahead' for China, talking of implementing the 'national rejuvenation strategy within a wider context of the once-in-a-century changes taking place in the world'. The most important of the 'once-in-a-century changes' pertains to the inexorable shift in the global balance of economic and political power, away from the West and towards the East, and China's peaceful rise with the concurrent retrenchment of American power and clout.
Deep down, China feels that these efforts at 'containment' are not simply a policy design of some demented Western warmongers, but there are two core concerns that have a historical hangover with profound policy implications for China. First, having overcome the 'Century of Humiliation', China views the emerging gang up of Western countries with an undertone of racism lurking in the background. It feels the rise of a non-White nation outperforming the former colonial hegemons is difficult for the once-sole superpower and its Western allies to countenance or accept. Second, as Fareed Zakaria stated in his landmark article in 'Foreign Affairs', "The New China Scare": 'Unspoken but clearly central to the hawks' strategy is the notion that containing China will precipitate the collapse of its regime, just as happened with the Soviets'.
For the future, those in the West nurturing a Cold War mentality against China would do well to learn from their mistakes in understanding China. Commemorating the 40th anniversary of when China, under Deng Xiaoping, started the Reform and Opening Up, The New York Times wrote a series of articles under the title, "The Land That Failed to Fail", stating on November 18, 2018, referring to the experiment with free-market economy or 'socialism with Chinese characteristics': 'The West was sure the Chinese approach would not work. It just had to wait. It's still waiting'.
A similar miscalculation occurred in the West during the early stages of the Coronavirus pandemic last year, with the Western expectation that China would be mired in crises as it wouldn't be able to cope with COVID-19 effectively and expeditiously. Western leaders would do well to heed the advice of one of their own leading foreign policy specialists, American scholar Richard Haass, who wrote in The Washington Post, on February 11, 2020: 'it is always a mistake to underestimate China's ability to rise to challenges, as China has shown its ability to mobilise resources in this crisis'.
Resilience remains an abiding hallmark of the CPC all through its 100-year history, and Xi Jinping's China is in no mood to relent; rather, it seems ready to throw down the gauntlet at any wannabe Western Cold Warriors! Although couched in ideological terms, the real problem with Beijing for its Western detractors is China's economic prowess, reinforced by a stable polity that is not only firmly entrenched but also immune to outside pressures, which give China the ability to present itself as an attractive alternative to a whole lot of Third World countries.