Photo form: Reporters sans frontières
The 19th Communist Party Congress (referred to as “the 19th congress”) commenced in Beijing on 18th October. International media have already been releasing exclusive news and rumors through insiders from Zhongnanhai. The focus of the international community, of course, falls on the distribution of power (or power struggle?) and personnel appointments inside the Chinese Communist Party. When the Beidaihe Meeting (summer summit) was held in August, media analyzed and forecasted the distribution of political power in the coming 19th Congress. How would the China’s rights defending movement and civil society cope with the forthcoming political change?
Since Xi Jinping took office, in addition to anti-corruption campaign, which aimed to rectify the Party, dealt a heavy blow to civil society and Non-Governmental Organizations, as well as the rights defending movement. Since 2012, Shenzhen government began to displace Labour NGO; Seven topics (universal values, freedom of press, civil society, civil rights, the historical mistakes of the CPC, the bourgeois elites and independent judiciary) were banned in 2013, trials and arrests of Xu Zhiyong, Gao Yu, Pu Zhiqiang and the others in 2014. The crackdown on civil society reached its peak in 2015. The government systematically rounded up human rights attorneys and labour activists in campaigns later known as “709 Crackdown” and “1203 Crackdown” respectively, destroyed local churches and chapels, while the “Foreign NGO Law” and “Charity Law” were introduced. Legislation and political repressions were carried out simultaneously. Furthermore, when Xi Jingping proclaimed that “The central television’s should share the same last name with the Party,” and the subsequent handling of media reporting on the Wukan Village repression, it is evident that the Chinese Communist Party has already established a comprehensive management to control the media. After the “709 crackdown “and” 1203 crackdown”, with most of the detained human rights lawyers and labor rights activists sentenced, the Chinese government had taken the first step to quell the civil society. The next step is to establish a core power revolving around the Party, and to strengthen controls on the civil society and NGOs.
One may consider the demolition of the civil society and rights defending movement as part of the core ideology of the third generation leadership in the Chinese Communist Party, which has been passed down by the first and second generation leadership of the Party since the establishment of the People’s Republic of China in 1949. In hindsight, Mao Zedong’s core ideology is to struggle against everything as he famously proclaimed “to struggle against heaven and earth yields endless joy”. He continuously created imaginative enemies to unite the Party-State, launching anti-rightist campaigns and the Cultural Revolution to conceal his own failures. Through rigorous land reforms, landlords were tortured and crops were snatched from the peasants to accomplish military and industrial modernizations. The process is inhuman and brutal, but was cover up for the sake of nationalism.
After Deng Xiaoping inherited the Party and the country from Mao, he had to repair the damage. Deng led the Chinese economic reform, “reform and open up in a low profile” was his mandate. Before Deng, Mao mobilized the mass in the “Down to the Countryside” Campaign to solve the economic problems, through ideologies and revolutionary accomplishments. On the contrary, Deng lured peasants to the cities by means of economic incentives, which turned them into cheap labors of international capital. The central committees, local governors and state-owned enterprises eventually reaped fruits from the seeds sown by the peasant workers. Mao safeguarded his nationalism through class struggles, while Deng “gave in” to the West in exchange for international investments, as long as his total sovereignty over the country remained intact. Designated by Deng, Jiang Zemin and Hu Jintao were next in line to execute Deng’s line. Whether it is Deng or Mao, their ultimate goals were not the realization of socialism, but China’s modernization and national rejuvenation. Under the reign of Deng and his successors, labor activists and civil society were somehow tolerated to a certain extent since these constituents were deemed favorable to modernization and national revival. But after Xi Jinping came to power, the CCP has made a significant change in such Party line.
Xi Jinping and the Chinese Communist Party’s red second generation, as well as their close allies, clearly expressed their desires to break away from the line of Deng Xiaoping. After five tentative years, they are in a state of excitement to proclaim that Western societies are now much weaker than they have thought. Dreaming of “Chinese revival” for so many years, Chinese modernization has finally come into fruition and showed little signs of slowing down. They are delighted with China’s “successful” experience – from a Third World country to the world’s second largest economy. They are eager to extend its influence, especially to other Third World countries. They are sending messages to the world that developing in the way of Western civilization does not necessarily means instant success, while becoming a successful country are not necessarily a subsidiary of western democracy and human rights.
It is rumored that the constitution of the Chinese Communist Party will be rewritten in the 19th congress. The influence of Jiang Zemin and Hu Jintao would be played down, while Xi Jinping will be considered as the core of the third generation leadership of the Communist Party. Civil society and rights defending movement, which was deemed as a byproduct of Chinese modernization, are now stigmatized as Western infiltration and sino-phobic. If Xi Jinping successfully further consolidates his power in 19th congress, and defy the ten-year tenure rule established by Deng, the situation of civil society and human rights activities will become more challenging.
On February 2017, a resignation letter from Lung Zhenyang, then assistant chief editor of Pro-Beijing newspaper “Hong Kong Commercial Daily”, circulated on the internet. “Recently, China’s political and social environment are edging closer to a second Cultural Revolution. The hope of political system and social reform is completely shattered.”  Although the 47 years old Lung was born after the start of Cultural Revolution, he was still unable to cast off from the shadows of it. He believes that the Party is now going down the road of another Cultural Revolution and the hope of reform is dashed as the situation is degrading day by day.
Khrushchev once published “The Secret Report”, which triggered an ideological crisis within the communist camp before the Cultural Revolution in 1958. Meanwhile, Mao’s Three Red Flags (the General Line for socialist construction, the Great Leap Forward and the people’s communes) failed in a disastrous fashion, resulted in a great famine and death of millions, which costed his throne temporarily. These differ vastly from today’s political circumstances. Nowadays, it is the West that is going through an ideological crisis: values of democracy, human rights and environmental protection are now facing stern challenges from right-wing populism; the rapid global expansion of the US-led neoliberalism is contested by domestic protectionism; “Occupy Wall Street” and the European debt crisis, exposes the bottleneck of capitalist expansion in Europe. But on the other side of the world, China created an economic miracle that boasts the world’s largest foreign exchange reserves and second largest economy, despite at the expense of peasant workers, land, environmental resources and acute disparity. Under such circumstances, China is now ready to export her model of “modern revolution (without democracy and human rights)” to Third World Countries through the “One Belt One Road Initiative”.
The 19th congress is the beginning of this historical turning point, with the “One Belt One Road Initiative” as its road map. Whether or not Xi Jingping will overturn the ten years tenure rule, decisions and changes in personnel appointments during the Congress will certainly shed lights on such ambitions. In doing so, Xi will be able to promote his massive project on “revolution exportation”. Thus, Xi was uncharacteristically “high-profile” during his first five-year term. Even before he had a firm grip on power, Xi literally wiped out all political opponents within the Party in the name of anti-corruption. He established and assigned himself as the head of various policies working groups, which bypass the decision making authorities of other state apparatus. He suppressed the civil society, media, religious freedom and launched the largest political arrests since the Tiananmen Square protests.
Besides winning the power struggle within the Party, another important mission of Xi’s administration is to regulate foreign NGO. Within the unique governmental system of China, all NGOs that are independent from the party-state system has little room for survival, In fact, most of them are underground organizations. The development of civil society prospered when China applied for WTO membership in 1995. The Chinese Government was compelled to allow foreign NGOs to enter China, and therefore turning a blind eye to many foreign NGOs that operated domestically, which subsequently laid down the foundation of civil society in China. Nevertheless, just to show how determined the CCP is to clean up all unwelcomed NGOs, namely rights defending organizations, it only take two years for the current administration to legislate and implement the “Foreign NGO Law”. Among thousands of foreign NGOs across the country, only around 150 of them attained registration since the Law came into effect.
Xi Jingping and his party elites could only succeed in consolidating power given that the whole nation is now caught up in the fanaticism of “Chinese Revival”. As a matter of fact, the Party elites are now reaping the fruits and successes of the country’s economic reform. As for the middle class from the same generation, previous economic success becomes the foundation of their faith in the Party line. Ironically, appeasements from western multination corporates become the key to the Party’s perpetuation of such line. Hesitating to offend this “new savior of globalization” with enormous economic interests at stake, it will not be surprising that multinational will continue to bow down to this second largest economy in the world.
Without power checks and balance from the civil society and social movements, the state and capital collusion will continue to spiral out of control which would eventually turns to totalitarianism. The power that has the strength to prevent this tragedy is still huddling in the dark, caring for its own wounds, hoping to get through the more severe social control that is expected beyond the 19th Congress.