Regime change dreams- What comes after the Communist Party in China? Maybe an even more nationalistic China

Regime change dreams- What comes after the Communist Party in China? Maybe an even more nationalistic 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.

What Comes After the Communist Party in China?

You can access the video of the event here:

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“ and  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.

However, the main thesis of the Foreign Policy Resaerch Institute´s event on regime change in China  is that the naïve idea of democratization of China has to be questioned. The old democratization 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 condemed Russia.

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