China’s National People’s Congress (NPC) took place for a week from 5 -11 March. It snuffed out any prospect of democracy in Hong Kong and sounded the death knell for ‘One Country Two Systems’. Any potential for a non-violent unification with Taiwan was all but taken off the table. Domestically, the so-called `parliament’ ended with no effective remedies for the unemployed and underemployed of China. The government accepts (rather than sets) a figure of 5.5% as an urban unemployment rate, and this in a country with almost no social safety net for the unemployed.
The NPC is China’s national ‘parliament’. Its 2,896 delegates meet for a week or so once a year in a show of loyalty to the so-called Communist Party. It is preceded by a meeting of the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference (CPPCC) – an advisory body to the parliament and party. Only 441 (21%) of this body’s 2,100 members are women, so it is hardly representative of the people, as a whole. Both organs are symbolic only; they wield no real authority, do not draw up legislation or engage in any meaningful debate.
Real legislative power in China lies in the hands of the NPC’s Standing Committee which is selected from amongst senior party members who have been “elected” to the NPC – a body that is not itself open to free elections. Whilst the people of China get to “elect” the delegates, they are all pre-selected by local party committees in each province. Thus, no choice is offered to the electorate and citizens cannot just stand for election of their own volition. This is to make sure that no voices can get heard of workers in struggle or of victims of party corruption or of the environmental damage haunting large swathes of the country.
The Consultative Conference itself is a fig-leaf aimed at conveying legitimacy for one-party rule. Its members are selected from amongst academics, model workers, company bosses, artists and other ‘worthies’. Whilst many are non-party members, they serve the ruling party’s need to show a united front of the Chinese people supporting it. Likewise, no dissenting voices are allowed on this body. Like the NPC, it too is a toothless body. Whilst nominally “free”, its raison d’etre is to comment on issues in society and speak to the party. The party then proceeds to make all the decisions, which are decided in advance in any case.
The March 11th vote on Hong Kong was as free and open to debate as the summary imposition last year of the National Security Law. The 2,895 delegates who voted unanimously for it, with only one abstention, did not even get to see the text of the proposed bill. According to Bloomberg News, it was only placed on the agenda a week before being voted on. This was just the same as, last year, the Hong Kong government, let alone Hong Kong People, did not get to see the National Security Law until after it was promulgated.
The ‘Communist’ Party, now in its 100th year, leads the second strongest power in the world, after the United States. With its growing strength, economically and militarily, the Chinese regime is now throwing its weight around the East and South-East Asian regions. This is no attempt to build good relations between the ‘communists’ and the working class of Japan, Korea, Vietnam, Indonesia, Malaysia and so on; it is to further the interests of the ruling caste in China. It is to project the further ‘imperialisation’ of CP rule.
The Beijing regime’s policy is now openly based on the premise that all the territory of previous Chinese empires is the natural home of China and that all Chinese peoples come under the rule of the so-called Communist Party. The CP conveniently forgets that the two largest “Chinese” empires – that of the Mongol Yuan dynasty (1271-1368) and the Manchurian Qing dynasty (1644-1912) actually defeated the Han Chinese Song and Ming empires and incorporated them into their new empires. The Han domains were the most populated, richest and advanced in agriculture and technology; but they were still non-native dynasties. The Han Chinese were basically subjects of foreign empires.
Today’s China – Zhongguo or the Middle Country, as it is known in Han Chinese (Mandarin) – is made up of 96 other recognised nationalities, all in the borderlands, which combined add up to about half of the territory of China, though they only make up 8% of the population. The latest edition of Socialism Today (Issue 246, March 2021) carries a book review by Clare Doyle outlining the measures the Chinese ruling party is carrying out against the Uighur and other Muslim minority peoples in Xinjiang. This is now regarded by the United Nations Human Rights Council as “genocide”. This is in addition to the horrendous rule in Tibet for over 70 years and recent clamp-downs on the language and culture of Mongolians and Koreans.
Why? Fear! The so-called Communist Party, not representing the working class of China, is afraid of the people. The party needs to control everything in China and what it cannot control, it destroys.
Until recently, Xinjiang was the main source of oil for China. However, the economy’s massive growth has meant domestic supplies are insufficient. Xinjiang is also home to large deposits of uranium, necessary for China’s power plants and also its expanding nuclear armaments. The vast western province is of considerable agricultural importance to China as well as the testing ground for its nuclear missiles. It also acted as a buffer against the former ‘Soviet Union’.
The current multiple border conflicts between China and India are due to China’s invasion of, and subsequent occupation of, Tibet – an independent (if reactionary Buddhist theocracy) in 1950, the year after the establishment of the People’s Republic. Tibet was never part of any Han Chinese empire. (Indeed, the Tibetans defeated the earlier Han Tang dynasty in the 9th century) It had, through the Dalai Lamas, established a patron-client (priest-king) relationship with the Qing, without being part of the Qing Empire.
The so-called Communist Party claims to be the representative of the working class, yet bases its territorial claims on feudalistic history. It would be like Britain claiming Brittany and other parts of France as part of Britain because they once belonged to the English crown. Tibet is also the source of all the great rivers in China and South Asia, the control of which means power (electrically as well as politically) within China. This can be used to threaten downstream countries economically and militarily as the massive Chinese dam-building upriver is currently doing.
As the NPC opened the BBC online news quoted a senior Chinese official as saying it will be thirty years before China matches the productive and innovation levels of the US. However, as China’s confidence in its military and economic prowess grows, along with growing conflict within China itself, the country’s neighbours see a conflict with China as more likely than not.
The potential for armed conflict undoubtedly exists in one of several areas where China is currently facing off “weaker” neighbours. It could happen again on the Indian border. It could happen in the South China Sea against any one of Vietnam, the Philipines, Malaysia, Indonesia and even tiny Brunei. It could happen in the East China Sea against Japan and more especially against the so-called ‘renegade’ province – now an independent country in all but name – Taiwan. The latter three disputes could bring in the US to see an escalation of a conflict, with unimaginable consequences of the two foes fighting it out. Certainly, the working class of all these countries will be the ones who suffer and who have nothing to gain.
The recent National People’s Congress approved the latest Five Year Plan (2021-25) which calls for annual increases in the publicly disclosed military budget of an average 6.5% a year. In 2021 it is Y1,355 trillion – equivalent to US$220bn. The undisclosed military budget is called expenditure on “defence”, but it is hard to see any of China’s neighbours being a military threat, even if they combined forces. It is in fact for “offence”.
It is the Chinese people, Han or of otherwise, who are the greatest potential opponents of the ‘Communist’ party. Expenditure on internal policing and surveillance (estimated at 1.39 trillion yuan in 2019) is greater than the official military budget. China is developing one of the most sophisticated surveillance states in the world, supported by technology sold by capitalist companies in Europe and North America.
At the NPC’s meeting, the spotlight was very much on the possibility of a military conflict with the US although the issue of Hong Kong dominated the western news media coverage. China’s defence minister, Wei Fenghe, is quoted, however, in Blomberg News as saying, “Containment and counter-containment will be the main tone of bilateral ties between China and the US and China must comprehensively strengthen training and preparedness for war and improve our strategic capabilities”.
The defence minister is, however, outranked by the Vice-Chair of the Central Military Commission, Xu Qiliang, who was quoted as saying China must not fall into the Thucydides trap – a current power (US) blocking the rise of a new power (China). This follows on from a US national security strategy document of this February labelling China “a strategic competitor”. In respect to China, the Biden administration will undoubtedly largely continue where the Trump one left off. Already both countries are looking to develop their own international trade chains that decouple from the others’ to preserve strategic interests – the interests of the respective ruling classes of each country above those of the working class. The working and poor people internationally will be so much collateral in their struggle for supremacy.
At the just-concluded NPC, the western media reports concentrated mostly on the situation in Hong Kong. This small but strategically very important province only had the first democratic elections of any sort in early 1997, just as the British were packing their Louis Vuitton suitcases.
In the November 2019 elections for local district councils, the opposition to the Hong Kong government’s ‘yes’ men and women took 85% of the seats on a record turnout. This had resulted from the magnificent, if unled, pro-democracy demonstrations that continued heroically throughout 2019, carrying on the traditions of the 2014 ‘Umbrella Movement’.
However, the lack of a working-class party with a revolutionary outlook and programme for real socialism meant the movement was unable to build into one that could overthrow the local capitalist class that was, and is, in hock to the Communist Party (CP).
The Chinese state bided its time and, with the Coronavirus pandemic offering cover, it has imposed new formidable barriers to any organised opposition in Hong Kong. Any activist wanting to protest against ‘Communist’ Party and capitalist misrule in what is now, to all intents and purposes, a police-state, faces prison or exile. It is possible to ignore politics and pretend the problems that led to the demonstrations don’t exist – massive overcrowding in poor and expensive housing stock, a downturn in employment prospects, massive corruption by the political and economic elite, massive economic inequality in society and not least no right to choose your own legislators and government leaders. You can keep your head in the sand for now, but once you raise it, for any reason, the police state will be there with its truncheons and worse.
The CP now says who can be elected and how they can be removed and puts itself as the final arbiter with no recourse to the courts, which at best are now mere appendages of the party, if with the imprimatur of the state. But there is little distinction between party and state in China. Only ‘patriots’ are allowed to stand in elections. Hong Kong’s Secretary for Mainland and Constitutional Affairs, Eric Tsang, said on March 5th that a patriot is someone who has a “holistic love for China, including for the leadership of the Chinese Communist Party”.
Elections for the Legislative Council (LegCo) were supposed to be held last September but were postponed until this year. Now they have been put off until at least 2022. Initially, the pandemic was cited as the need to delay the election. Following on from the local elections in 2019, however, the party and HK elite knew they would be trounced in the LegCo elections, where only half the seats were actually elected.
Now, non-pro-party candidates are simply banned with the argument that “only patriots can stand”. More appointed legislators have been added in case even pro-Beijing elected members might vote the wrong way one day. The committee that elects the Chief Executive of Hong Kong has also had its composition changed. Local councillors have been removed from the process and will have no chance of proposing a candidate for the position of Chief Executive. There will now be no chance for opposition voices to be heard or those of the working class of Hong Kong.
Prospects for China
No improvement in the lives of the workers and farmers of mainland China will be coming out of the recent National People’s Congress. The government report given to the ‘delegates’ predicts inflation at 3% for this year, but it is very likely to be higher.
The Congress Report also said (as it says every year) that China will aim to create 11 million jobs in the coming year for new workforce entrants. But this belies the fact that the Coronavirus has had a massive effect on employment, with many workers being made unemployed or being kept underemployed. With an officially sanctioned expectation of 5.5% urban unemployment, we are looking at over 20 million young people being jobless and living on the breadline.
In its 100th anniversary year, the ruling ‘Communist’ Party has proclaimed the eradication of poverty in China. However, this is using the figure of $1.90 a day as the poverty threshold when the UN says $5.50 is more realistic as a minimum in an economy such as China’s. In reality, everywhere in China, poverty continues.
The ruling party in China calls itself “communist” but has never allowed workers’ democracy or control over the economy, even when it was fully state-owned. Under a party that welcomes oligarchs into membership, the economy and society is decidedly capitalist but with very special forms of state control over society and the economy. The National People’s Congress is indeed a totally bogus affair that leaves dictatorial rule intact.
A challenge from below by workers and youth will undoubtedly gather momentum. A fearsome battle for basic democratic rights will be engaged. A movement that aims to throw off the bogus Communist Party, re-nationalise all major companies and banks and establish genuine workers’ democracy becomes more vital by the day.