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. The event is now also available at YouTube.
However, the main thesis is in the video is that the naïve idea of democratization of China has to be questioned. The old optimism of the engagement philosophers of US foreign policy seems to have reached its tipping point and Kotnik and Kaplan fear that democratization of China could have the effect that a communist regime was replaced by an even more nationalist or ultrachauvinist authoritarian regime which might be much more a challenge or threat for the USA, even producing a hot war or as Kotkin says: The good thing on a Cold War is that it is not a Hot War. However, Kotkin and Kaplan see Taiwan and its defense as the most pressing issue for the coming US administration. Kotkin because of the democratic city on the hill and democratic Chinese role model which could spread the spark to China, Kaplan more because of geopolitical reasons that not defending Taiwan would mean the loss of the Indo-Pacific for the USA: While we won´t give up Hongkong the leverage is limited and we have to focus on Taiwan. Or as Kotkin says: Not provoke China, but make sure that we will defend it and stick to the status quo.
The discussion remained quiet abstract and some very important points were missing due to the lack of time. First, the internal fabric of China and the USA. Kotkin claims that the CCP and China would not be another authoritarian rule, but a Communist rule. While the CCP liberalized its economy, it remained to be a Leninist party that couldn´t be reformed. Any liberalization of the political sphere would unravel the whole political sytsem as it did in the Eastern bloc and the Soviet Union. The CCP would know this and not allow any political reforms. In the economic sphere, you see a cyclical movement between liberalization and state centralization, but the private economic sector is still perceived as a threat, even as it is a growth machine. While former Communists tried to expropriate the capital, the CCP would possess it and control and manage it.. However, while Kotkin talks about the Leninist structure of the CCP, one has to keep in mind that we face a change from a Leninist collective leadership- one-party dictatorship to a Stalinist/ Maoist one man-dictatorship and a neototalitarism which combines with a social credit system and which Kai Strittmatter in his book “ The reinvention of dictatorship” calls a mixture between Aldous Huxley´s Brave New World and George Orwell´s 1984. It is not just a Leninist, it is a new totalitarian one-man dictatorship for a lifetime. Neither Kotkin nor Kaplan makes any theory about the inner centralization of power and the external expansion overseas and what it could mean that only one person is responsible for this and not a collective.
While Kotkin thinks that there could be divisions between the CCP or Xi Jinping and the PLA as the former would be interested in the interest of the party, while the latter in the interest of the nation, other sources of the internal dispute are not mentioned and be it inner-party opposition. However, both miss giving any analysis of the Chinese opposition or potential opposition. Here you have the exiled opposition, the 89 veterans, the Falungong, Guo Wengui, and then the young generation in Hongkong who make a Milk Tea alliance with the Taiwanese and Thai democratic opposition, even finding supporters in India and Japan and the rest of democrtaic Asia. Which groups in China could be a potential opposition? How to bring down the CCP´s control of the social media and media by hacker groups or support of foreign intelligence services to break the information monopoly as a precondition to topple the CCP? There are no further questions or thoughts about it, but only Hongkong and Taiwan as a role model and shining city on the hill which could bring the spark to China.
Kaplan claims that the middle class will increase in China and would be a demanding political force. But is this not the old US American neocon and middle-class ideology? That Taiwan would be the Shining City on the Hill as Iraq should be in the Greater Middle East and spread democracy everywhere. Now, look at the Arab spring which has become an Islamist hot summer. Neocon philosophy. Or that the middle class would be in itself liberal, cosmopolitical, demanding, peaceful, not nationalistic, and so on. However, this ignores that the middle classes in the German Reich before WW1 were also very nationalistic, not liberal in themselves and Lipset and Marxists also spoke of the radicalization of the middle class as the main source for fascism.
Therefore neither Kotkin nor Kaplan realizes how much they are victims of their own US neocon or middle-class ideology. The middle class as the driving force of world history which will bring world democracy and world peace is very similar to the historic materialism of Communism which perceived the working class as the driver of world history, world revolution and world peace. Therefore both statements are pure idealism and even ideological in nature and don´t give a proper analysis of the Chinese opposition. However, Kaplan claims that China is now a popular topic and not an elite issue anymore. He not only sees the danger that unforeseeable opposition forces in China could push the country to a chauvinist direction, but also that in the USA there could be such a development of which Kissinger warns in his book “On China” that a new Crowe memorandum might result.
The event seems more a discussion on how to contain China and live with it in peaceful coexistence and prevent a hot war than on regime change visions which are seen rather skeptical as this could produce even more nationalistic forces. But it is no analysis of the potential regime change forces at the moment. Weijingsheng and Hu Ping would like to have an opposition party next to a reformed CCP after a mass movement, the Falungong would like to topple the CCP and have its fundamentalist religious leader and dictator Li Hongzhi instead of Xi Jinping and a Guo Wengui would like to be the first Chinese oligarch Trump and promote China First.
But they are exiled and not in the country. What could develop inside China as opposition never has become subject of the event, but it doesn´t mean that it could not occur. However, from this discussion, we can see that the USA is more talking about how to congage or contain China and prevent a hot war than actually thinking about regime change dreams.It will be more a discussion about what Congagement means if it is more containment or less engagement.
However, the notion that business elites have „broken with China“ is exaggerated. Larry Flink (Blackrock) and Goldmann Sachs had a meeting to promote investments further into China and Kissinger and his Harvard elites and sections of the Council on Foreign Relations are even considering joining the New Silkroad and the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB) . After the engagement policy with China of the Trump predecessor governments is now heavily criticized and the discussion about congagement and containment is now under way, the China lobby around Henry Kissinger is now trying to save engagement in the form of the new concept of „coopetition“. Kissinger himself had to admit that the Sino-American relations are now „at the foothill of a 2nd Cold War ”, that engagement, Chimerica and globalization have benefited China and not the USA in particular, but he and his supporters from Big Business or Silicon Valley such as Google boss Eric Smith are now trying to prevent congagement that places more emphasis on containment instead of relying on engagement through a coopetition, i.e. a policy that emphasizes more cooperation and commitment than containment and competition.Actually old engement policyin new tubes.
At a forum on post-Covid-19 world order organized by the Kissinger Center for Global Affairs at Johns Hopkins University, a clear majority of speakers warned of the dangers of a new cold war. Eric Schmidt, the former CEO of Google, instead advocated a model of cooperative competition (“coop-etition”) based on “rivalry and partnership”, in which the two nations compete and work together at the same time – just like Samsung and Apple have practiced for years.
Harvard’s Graham Allison, author of the bestselling book, Destined for War: Can America and China Escape Thucydides’s Trap ?, agreed; As a further example he cited the „friendly enmity“ between the Song Emperor of China and the Kingdom of Liao on China’s northern border. The pandemic, Allison said, “has brought to light the impossibility of clearly identifying China as an enemy or a friend. Rivalry and partnership may sound complicated, but life is complicated. However, the CCP knows from Lenin: „The capitalists will still sell us the rope by which we hang them“.
Stephen Kotkin makes the most important point to the end: What is decisive in the Sino-American confrontation is that the USA is again aware of its own political, economic and cultural strengths and advantages, and that these are also emphasized, hard and soft power at the same time emphasizing that the USA has many friends and allies in the world with whom one can face the global challenges together. Although the question is to what extent the US has problems domestically because the Trump voters will not disappear, the tea party movement continues to exist, Biden does not have much time until 2024 and the US is also in a cycle that the Democrats always repair the foreign policy crap Republicans did, be it Bush Jr. or Trump, the financial crisis and the Coviod crisis and never get around to strengthening the position of the USA, since significant parts of these people want the next change of power and perhaps an even more nationalistic and disastrous politics.
Kotkin and Kaplan admit to Trump that he has so explicitly confronted China as the main competitor, but they want to contrast his unilateralist America First with more transatlantic multilateralism. It is possible that the Sino-American dispute will be decided more about whether the US will be united domestically and whether Trump will re-emerge in 2024 or Mike Pompeo will be elected as a alternative Republican candidate and America First 2.0 and then attack Russia more than China after Putin-Trump criticized Peking-Biden and blamed China for the last cyberattack,, while Pompeo condemend Russia.