Greatest risk to national security is from within

In my view, the greatest risk to national security comes from within. Too many people, especially among local young people, believe that the Communist Party of China-led system is by the West’s definition not democratic. Too many people, even older people, harbor a hatred for the CPC because they think that it has made mistakes in the past. With such misunderstanding and hatred, they could easily succumb to the propaganda of some hostile forces from outside the country. Unknowingly, they may become pawns of these hostile foreign powers. 

To me, therefore, educating our young people about the nature of our country’s political system and the true nature of the CPC is crucial to national security. Although military strength is no doubt of paramount importance, it was the lack of understanding about the country’s political system and about the nature of the CPC that led many young people to protest against the extradition bill in 2019. Sadly, the entire “pro-democracy movement” was based on misinformation and a simplistic view of democracy, which the West was able to leverage on in its sinister plans. 

The Western narrative, which portrays the current clash between the United States and China as a contest between “liberal democracy” and “authoritarianism”, had captivated many young minds. Under this narrative, no matter how well the CPC performs, it is “authoritarian” and “undemocratic” regardless of how effectively it has eradicated extreme poverty, how well it has protected the environment and promoted sustainable development, and how well it has cleaned the bureaucracy of corrupt practices. The CPC is dreaded by the West exactly because it has done so well in serving its people, regardless of ethnicity, background, gender, and religion. Today China is not only the world’s factory; it is also one of the world’s safest countries. It has a well-established social safety net offering universal healthcare, pensions, and care for the unfortunate. Life expectancy keeps rising and has now exceeded that of the United States. 

The excuse the West uses to call China an “authoritarian” country is that the CPC is not popularly elected and China does not allow an opposition party to “check its power” and allow people a choice for an alternative. This is entirely based on a lack of knowledge about what constitutes effective governance. Effective governance requires effective mechanisms to guard against power abuses and to ensure that socially desired goals are achieved. Contrary to what is believed, party rotation in practice undermines effective governance. Party rotation does not ensure that a country’s leaders are competent and devoted servants of the people. With periodic elections, politicians who need the support of their constituents will inevitably be distracted from things that matter to the country over the longer term. 

China’s impressive achievements since the reform and opening-up process started in 1978 were possible only because its leaders could devote their attention to serving the country without having to attend to electioneering. 

“Constraint to government powers” is a major aspect of governance. Unfortunately, party rotation does not necessarily lead to effective constraint against misuse of government powers. Many Americans did not want the Vietnam War, the Afghanistan War, and the Iraq War. Many Americans wanted effective gun control, better infrastructure, cheaper higher education, and universal healthcare. They did not get what they wanted. The Edward Snowden and Jack Teixeira incidents indicate that the US government has been eavesdropping on key allies, including Germany, South Korea, Israel and Ukraine. Environmentalists and the Native American community did not want oil drilling in Alaska in what is called the Willow Project. Yet they were powerless when US President Joe Biden approved it. 

According to the Prison Policy Initiative (PPI), the US has “thousands of federal, state, local, and tribal systems. Together, these systems hold almost 2 million people in 1,566 state prisons, 98 federal prisons, 3,116 local jails, 1,323 juvenile correctional facilities, 181 immigration detention facilities, and 80 Indian country jails, as well as in military prisons, civil commitment centers, state psychiatric hospitals, and prisons in the U.S. territories.” An article on the PPI website raised questions about how many people in jail are legally innocent, how much of mass incarceration is a result of the war on drugs, or the profit motives of private prisons. While the US accuses China of “forced labor” in the Xinjiang Uygur autonomous region, the American Civil Liberties Union published a research report, in collaboration with the Global Human Rights Clinic of the University of Chicago Law School, that found that incarcerated workers are under the complete control of their employers, and they have been stripped of even the most minimal protections against labor exploitation and abuse. 

The Communist Party of China, like any organization, is manned by people, and people are liable to make mistakes. But over the years, the CPC has shown its ability to self-correct. Today, China’s Constitution has had a number of notable amendments, including the 1988 amendment that affirmed the legal status of the private sector, the 1993 amendment that declared China will practice a market economy instead of a planned economy, and the 1999 amendment that enshrined the guiding role of Deng Xiaoping Theory and stipulated that the rule of law is a national policy. The 2004 amendment stipulated that going forward, the CPC is subject to The Thought of Three Represents and clearly states that “private property obtained legally shall not be violated”. 

Some people are appalled by the allusion that the CPC leads the judiciary system and is thus “above the law”. If we understand The Three Represents, this is nothing strange. In China, every individual is subject to the rule of law and no one is above the law. However, the law serves the public interest. What the CPC represents — namely, the public interest — must be above the law. 

Finally, in 2018, Xi Jinping Thought on Socialism with Chinese Characteristics for a New Era was also written into the Chinese Constitution. This is yet another constraint on government power. Xi Jinping Thought includes 14-point fundamental principles including “exercising full and rigorous governance over the Party”. Party members must devote themselves to the vision of national rejuvenation and common prosperity, and must never abuse the power vested in them by the people. 

The author is the director of the Pan Sutong Shanghai-Hong Kong Economic Policy Research Institute, Lingnan University.

The views do not necessarily reflect those of China Daily.