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The Fourth Force: Change in China Has a New Face

With the passage on March 14 of a new “Anti-Secession” law by its rubber-stamp National People’s Congress, China moved one step further in its designs to attack Taiwan. The legislation vows to use “non-peaceful means” to prevent independence by Taiwan. China’s State Council and Central Military Commission now may declare war on Taiwan, the first democratic Chinese state.

The maneuver should confirm doubts in the free world as to communist China’s self-professed “non-threatening rise.” As the Taiwanese and others around the world angrily protest the new law, we do well to remember that the problem is not so much one of China or its people per se. Rather, the problem lies in Beijing’s communist dictatorship itself. The lasting peace and stability we so earnestly wish to see in East Asia is only possible when this, the deeper problem of the CCP, is uprooted.

A survey of the past hundred years quickly reveals an important fact: Not once has there been a war between two democratic nations. Many of the conflicts in fact can be traced back to ideological discord. Take for example the Korean War, the Vietnam War, or the Cuban Missile Crisis, each of which owed to the expansion of a communist regime and marked, rightly, efforts by the democratic world to curb them. And yet, in the end, following a drawn-out Cold War and the many crises it witnessed, not a single communist regime was toppled by outside force. We might expect military intervention, then, to do little to effect a regime change in communist China. To what, then, may we turn our hopes?

It was ultimately, in the waning years of the Cold War, internal economic woes that led to political change in Eastern Europe and Russia and finally the collapse of the Communist Bloc. When similar internal reformist forces rose up in China two decades ago, however, tanks and machine guns quickly dashed hopes of change in an orgy of bloodshed known as the 1989 Tiananmen Massacre. CCP rulers drew one lesson from the affair: to allow absolutely no further political reform. And thus, to this day, political pressure leveled against that regime, be it of a domestic or foreign sort, stands little chance of success. The regime sees political freedom, freedom of press, or free speech as tantamount to political suicide. Any efforts to secure such things are immediately identified and harshly dealt with.

Cognizant of this fact, in the aftermath of the Cold War the West has changed its strategy toward China from one of political pressure to economic engagement. And the Chinese regime has indeed, being ever so keen on economic growth, in keeping with these overtures implemented significant economic reforms. Investors and politicians have since rushed to China to do business, offering that trade and capital investment will, eventually, move China towards democracy. Yet those hopes, two decades later, look sadly naïve. For the investment of billions of dollars has not, in the end, changed China’s communist regime. Quite the contrary, it is China’s regimeempowered by foreign investments, hopes, and allowancesthat is changing us.

In today’s China, the CCP remains the only bona fide, legitimate political force, and its suppression of its own people is as harshalbeit less publicas ever. International bodies have proven rather powerless in the face of this reality. The United Nations Commission on Human Rights, for example, has failed repeatedly during its annual meeting in Geneva, Switzerland, to pass any form of resolution censuring China for its sliding political and human rights. The CCP has enough economic weight now to buy off third-world governments and keep many a democratic government silent. The United Sates, once seen as the counterbalance to China and its repressive ways, has increasingly become estranged at the Commission; this year the United States decided not to even introduce a resolution criticizing China’s human rights practices. More worrisome still for the United States is that China-the-economic-player can now buy, with ever increasing ease, the support and sympathy of politicians, media, businesses, and even think tanks in democratic countries. Europe’s recent efforts to repeal its arms embargo to China is telling in that it comes amidst dramatic military expansion by PRC China (much less talk of war on Taiwan) and at a time when American troops are stretched thin owing to war in Iraq.

All three would-be democratizing forces thenthose we might term military, political, and economichave failed to change China’s communist regime. If anything, the balance of power is now shifting in the CCP’s favor.

Yet despite what is on many fronts a bleak picture, a fourth force is now emerging, and emerging strong. It is a growing disillusionment within China with the ruling Party. This is a force born of conviction and experience, of a growing sense that things could be otherwise, and it finds expression most vividly in the astounding wave of CCP resignations now taking place across China. At the time of this writing, some 690,000 Chinese have publicly renounced the Party and their membership in a span of but a few months. With this emerging force come new prospects for change in China, on at least two accounts.

First, the force is something of a reaction to the CCP’s very nature itself. It emerged in the wake of a series of polemical essays called “The Nine Commentaries on the Communist Party.” The essays are said to “strip naked” the Party and its theoretical framework, revealing it to be a sinister, oppressive thing. They trace the history of the Party from infancy on through its litany of cruel political campaigns and into the present, concluding that it is an unsalvageable, manipulative, and murderous entity. Without delving into the merits or the message of the essays, it suffices to say theirs is a reinterpretation of history the likes of which the Chinese people have never seen.

From all indicators, the Commentaries mark nothing short of a shift in consciousness unfolding in China. No longer are people bound to thinking about the CCP in terms of their own personal mishaps, or through the fallible filter of memory; they now have a framework with which to recast the Party, their present realities, and even the world beyond China’s borders. Common among the public renunciations is the sentiment that the Party is “hopeless” and being a Party member is shameful.

Secondly, this reaction is from the inside, both geopolitically and existentially. The surge of questioning, of rethinking, is this time not limited to China proper or to even the topic of the CCP, but is part of broader revisioning of self and worldone happening deep within the Chinese soul. It is “almost a metaphysical response,” in the words of one China analyst. The Commentaries call for readers to do nothing short of wash their souls clean of the Communist Party and its specter, and the means is none other than introspection. Each has been called to askwhen seeing now, anew, the barbarity, suffering, and injustice perpetrated by the CCPto what extent they have been, or will continue to be, a part.

Whether this is China’s great awakening, the catharsis of a long-tormented people and their nation, is perhaps something time alone will tell. But the beginnings are clear and cause enough for hope. As many as 20,000 new resignations continue to appear daily. A cloud of fear is lifting. The sense of numbness, despair, and helplessness is beginning to melt. This fourth force, out of the conscience of the Chinese people, has the most potential to disintegrate the CCP and change China into a free nation, peacefully. We in the democratic West have our responsibility to support and help this historic moment to fulfill its tremendous promise.

Shujia Gong is a Ph.D. student of telecommunication at George Mason University. He regularly writes articles commenting on China issues.