New regime change dreams- Foreign Policy Research Institute: What comes after the Communist Party in China?

New regime change dreams- Foreign Policy Research Institute: What comes after the Communist Party in China?

It is interesting to see that while most US think tanks don´t think about toppling the CCP anymore, the Foreign Policy Research Institute had an event on December 3rd, 2020 “What comes after the Communist Party in China?“. The speakers were Stephen Kotkin and Robert Kaplan who was also writing articles in The Atlantic like „How do we fight China“ and proposing to lead the fight beyond the Pacific also  in the Indian Ocean before Michael Auslin created as a forthinker the concept of the „Indo-Pacific“ which became the new term in the National Security Strategy of the Trump administration.

Stephen Kotkin is an FPRI Eurasia Fellow and the Birkelund Professor in History and International Affairs at Princeton University, where he directs the Princeton Institute for International and Regional Studies and co-directs the Program in the History and Practice of Diplomacy.  He is also a senior fellow at the Hoover Institution at Stanford University.

Robert D. Kaplan  is the bestselling author of nineteen books on foreign affairs and travel translated into many languages, including The Good American, The Revenge of Geography, Asia’s Cauldron, Monsoon, The Coming Anarchy, and Balkan Ghosts. He holds the Robert Strausz-Hupé Chair in Geopolitics at the Foreign Policy Research Institute. For three decades he reported on foreign affairs for The Atlantic. He was a member of the Pentagon’s Defense Policy Board and the U. S. Navy’s Executive Panel. Foreign Policy magazine twice named him one of the world’s “Top 100 Global Thinkers.”However Kaplan not only thinks about how to fight China economically and militarily, but also politically and how a post-Communist China would look like.

It is interesting to see that a US think tank again is not only discussing geopolitcal questions and balancing and detterence or containmenmt or congagement, but also about what a China without the CCP would look like. Before you had articles at the American Enterprise Institute by Arthur Waldron „China after Communsm“, Larry Wortzel´s article at the Heritage Foundation how to use PLA veterans and members to topple the  CCP-

Arthut Waldron in his article „China after communism“ wrote:

„Only two institutions, the Party and the military, are national, and even then only for people at the very top. (…)A dictatorial und highly nationalistic China is perhaps the most worrying prospect for China´s neighbours and for the United States. Much of it is already in place, as a result of massive military spending program that continues despite weak government finances and pressing needs in areas such as education, agriculture, social security, and so forth.

A formal imposition of military rule may come when the Party itself begins to split(…)What happens when the Party itself cannot agree about what to do, as had happened numerous times in the past? No mechanism exists to resolve such problems except to call in the military. But what if several different officials call in the military? We tend to think of society as being horizontally ordered, so that the thing to watch is, say, workers protesting against owners and managers.(…)But in China´s system, the most dangerous splits have regulary been vertical, not between classes but between rivals at the top. Two men at the top square off and begin mobilizing constituencies, assets, regions ,and so forth, in their support. In 1924 and 1925, as I have written, this process plunged the country into war. It could easily happen again. The same is true of the Communist Party. It splits from the top, and only the military can decide who  wins. How was the cultural revolution ended in 1967?By the army. How were Mao´s choosen successors ousted from office? By the army in 1976.How was the crisis of 1989 resolved? By the military force against the people and against members of the Party on the liberal side.

Zhao Ziyang, the then –prime minister, is still extralegally detained at home, and his colleagues are in prison or on blacklists. So even within the Party there is no order. The crisis may come if the army is ever called upon to do Tiananmen again. Soldiers seek their mission as defending the country against foreign enemies, not shooting their unarmed citizens in order to keep the Party in power. So one can imagine a day when, instead of doing as instructed, a Chinese general will take over and go on television, saying in the first breadth, “Communism is nonsense and the Party are all criminals and we have arrested them”, or words to that effect, but then adds, “We are all Chinese, strong and proud of our homeland. We need order and discipline.”.This may bring unity for a while, but it suffers from the same defects as communist authoritarianism: no mechanism except force for resolving disputes. Even more than the current regime, a military regime is likely to recentralize, and that classically triggers civil war. Such a China would be a menance to its own people and to Asia. Furthermore, it would not be stable. We might see international incidents triggered to build support at home. Eventually we would see rivals at home split the new dictatorship just as the first military rulers had split the communist dictatorship. This brings us to the possibility of disorder.“

”(Arthur Waldron, China after Communism, September 2000,AEI-Website:

Democratization strategist Larry M. Wortzel, who was Assistant Army Attache in China during the Tiananmen massacre in 1989 and the US Army Attache in China in 1995, served on the Security Policy Staff in the Department of Defense’s office and served as director, raised this issue at the US think tank Heritage Foundation of the Strategic Studies Institute at the US Army War College in Carlisle, Pennsylvania. In a programmatic paper called „Challenges as China’s Communist Leaders Ride the Tiger of Liberalization“, June 13, 2000m he analyzed the reliability of the People’s Liberation Army towards the CPC and its possible role as a supporter of democratization. The paper lists trends that could undermine the loyalty of the People’s Liberation Army to the CCP: Demography, liberalization, demobilized military who, with their military knowledge, become workers in factories themselves, and poor pay for the military and their contacts with the population.

Former German ambassador to China Konrad Seitz also wrote:

„Finally, a third wave of new unemployed is approaching the economy from the People’s Liberation Army, which has to dismiss 500,000 soldiers over three years.“ (P.380).

That is also the starting point of US democratizer Larry Wortzel that trained military personnel join the ranks of the working class and that this is potentially accompanied by a proliferation of combat knowledge. In addition, many soldiers could not support their families with their income and others would become unemployed. A people’s war against the People’s Liberation Army could be organized with the help of the old and dissatisfied People’s Liberation Army. The experience of the Tiananmen massacre in 1989 is referred to as the groundbreaking germ of a seed that had yet to be organized.

„A Labor Force with Military Skills

The military´s problems with retention and loss of legitimacy have consequences beyond the immediate impact of its active force. The demobilized soldiers leave the PLA with military skills and training. For Beijing, this means that there are citizens throughout China who have been trained to apply violence in an organized way-and perhaps could use this skills against the government. For example, the level of military training within the general working populace was evident during the pro-democracy demonstrations surrounding the Tiananmen Square buildup in May and June 1989.Workers and students had established and manned roadblocks. At these roadblocks, organized groups of people were ready to fight the PLA troops with Molotov cocktails and to break tracks of the PLA´s tanks and armored personell carriers. Even in the agricultural villages in Beijing´s surrounding counties, organized groups of peasants blocked the military access to the cities and prepared to do battle. The protesting workers in Beijing almost uniformly had military training, and the demonstrating farmers either had seen military service or militia training. At a roadblock on the Northeast side of Beijing, for example, one of the young men leading the resistance, holding bottles full of gasoline stuffed with rags hanging in bags from his shoulders, told standers-by “the PLA taught us to conduct “People´s War and we´re going to show them what “People´s War” is about.”.Such “People´s War” is the Beijing leadership´s greatest fear. The improved economy and the flexibility in the labor market have ensured that each city in China has large group of people who know how to use violence and manage force in an organized way.”

Wortzel even used the scenario of involving China in a war with Taiwan in order to expose the People’s Liberation Army and the Communist Party and undermine their legitimacy as a starting point for further euphoric civil war scenarios:

„Recent examples of the internal military and security stresses faced by the Chinese Communist Party abound. In February, some 20,000 mine workers faced down the People´s Liberation Army to protest job losses, but the PLA acted to stabilize the situation. Some times later, a similar incident, took place in Liaoning, where factory workers protested and stood up to the PLA. These incidents have the potential to grow in size and seriousness, threatening the grip of the CCP.

Until recently, Beijing was always certain of the military´s support in quashing internal unrest. Today, however, domestic conditions have put a great deal of stress upon the military, making its response to unrest less predictable. If Beijing pursues its nationalist agenda and takes action against Taiwan, it may discover that the PLA, despite its modernization efforts, is not up to the task. Its failure would further undermine the legitimacy of the Communist Party leadership and the stature of the PLA as a force of repression.

The potential for civil unrest is large. Imagine the equivalent of two or three divisions of infantry, each 10,000 men strong with tank and artillery support, in rebellion each of China´s major cities because they are dissatisfied with the government policies. Add to that some rebellious mobs forming from the 100 million unemployed people concentrated in major industrial areas who are dissatisfied with the government and have basic military training. Factor in several hundred million reasonably well-off but volatile peasants on farms who are sick and tired of being gouged by illegal taxes on land, crops, and even machinery by the Communist Party cadre unchecked by a legal system”.

However, it never happened as Wortzel and the Heritage Foundation imagined and there was no movement to topple the CCP. That was 20 years ago and since then nobody ever thought so openly and loud about toppling the CCP or about a post-Communist China anymore as Waldron and Wortzel did at this time. The unemployed PLA members found new jobs, were integrated by the CCP and former defense minister Chi Haotian also abolished the PLA business empire which he saw as a potential source of disintegration for the rule of the CCP and the PLA. While the military didn´t follow Wortzel´s civil war scenarios and enjoyed with the civilians a peaceful life, the Chinese civil opposition was expelled from China or imprisoned. Most of the Chinese opposition and its most prominent members are exiled in the USA and have their headquarters there or are in Hongkong. The old veterans Wei Jingsheng, Hu Ping and his magazine Beijing Spring, Falungong leader Li Hongzhi and the Chinese Trump and exiled oligarch Guo Wengui have their base in the USA.

After the Democratic Party of China and the Falungong have been banned in 1998 in China and after the Tawain crisis during the presidency of Clinton who sent some aircraft carriers in the Taiwan Street, the Chinese opposition was silenced. Under George W. Bush jr. China was declared as a strategic competitor and as a new Asian pivot, but 9 11 and Bush´s stupid neocon policy and war of aggression against Iraq in 2003 brought the USA into the Greater Middle East quagmire while China became a member oft he WTO and boomed during these years and became a new great power.2008 the Olympics were held in Beijing, the financial crisis broke out, the USA suffered from an imperial overstretch and loss of soft power and image as the benign hegemon.Bush W. jr. Invited the Chinese veterans Wei Jingsheng and other 1989ers and the chief of the Uigur opposition in the White House and Liu Xiaobo published his Charta 2008. However, this didn´t have any effect and Liu Xiao Bo and his supporters were suppressed.

President Bush during a meeting on Tuesday with Chinese dissidents (left to right) Ciping Huang, Wei Jingsheng, Sasha Gong, Alim Seytoff, translators; Rebiya Kadeer, Harry Wu and Bob Fu. (Eric Draper / White House)

Obama officially declared the Asian pivot, wanted TTP and TTIP as free trade areas against China, but de facto was still too much focused to clean up the mess oft he Bush jr. Years in the Greater Middle East and the financial crisis. During his presidency the Chinese opposition didn´t receive any invitation into the White House and the hope that the Arab spring could trigger a Yasmin revolution in China turned out to be a pipedream.In reality, Obama also cuddled with China and during his presidency, the Chinese opposition was very silent, passive, frustrated and one had the impression that the old veterans of 1989 were retreating and enjoying their exile life and be pacified.With Trump, everything changed.China and Iran became the main adversaries, especially China as a competitor for the role of a new superpower which could replace the USA. Now the Chinese opposition got more support and attention in the media, politics and even the public. But it were not the 1989 veterans who more focused on their role of a victim or the Falungong, but the sudden appearance of Chinese exile oligarch and Trump Guo Wengui in the USA.

Guo Wengui was a Chinese self-made man who made a fortune during the 2008 Olympics by real estate investments and didn´t want to pay the CCP their bribes. He had good contacts to the CCP, the business community, the secret service. After he was arrested and released, he fled to the USA Guo is wanted by anti-graft authorities in Beijing. He left China in 2013 and moved to New York when authorities began investigating his involvement in a series of crimes, involving blackmail, bribes and multiple instances of sexual assault.Three years later in December 2016, Beijing authorities officially pursued corruption charges against China’s former spy head Ma Jian, who had secretly helped Guo to get rid of his business rivals.In early 2017, the billionaire began publishing allegations of misdeeds by CCP officials, primarily by way of Twitter, where he posted videos of talk shows that he conducts online. Guo’s main target has been Wang Qishan, who leads China’s anti-graft campaign. Guo has accused Wang of stealing wealth from the country by turning the HNA Group, a giant corporation with an opaque ownership structure, into a family asset, but Guo has produced no conclusive evidence to support this claim.Guo promoted the idea that by exposing acts of corruption, he will bring radical changes to China’s political system. He started a Twitter community, made YouTube videos, founded the Rule of Law Society and teamed up with Kyle Bass, the chief of Hayman Capital and Steve Bannon who were also founding members oft he Committee fort he Present Danger: China, an organization of China hawks, former militaries, intelligence officers, old China hands, former CIA director and Freedom House chief James Woolsey. However, when Guo Wengui and Bannon and the Falungong openly supported Trump and attacked the Democrats and „Beijing-Biden“ and many Chinese opposition leaders as Chinese spies, they were criticised for splitting the Chinese democratic movement, splitting the USA and the West and de facto supporting China´s main strategic goal: To portray the West and especially the USA as an unreliable and unstable power which is internally split and can´t be a real-world power anymore in international politics, while China fills this vacuum.. However, while  Guo Wengui and the Falungong openly want to topple Biden and the CCP, Wei Jingsheng hopes for an opposition party that the CCP should allow at its own side and the other opposition is not clear on this question. Reform or revolution- reform the CCP or topple it.

However, till now no US think tanks, be it the  Heritage Foundation, Brookings Institution. CATO or the American Enterprise Institute till yet had any event anymore about a post-Communist China, but the Foreign Policy Research Institute seems to become the new avantgardist thinking about a China after Communism and maybe how to topple the CCP.

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