The Chinese Government likes to keep its people under control. And the kind of control that President Xi Jinping favours is more exacting than that of his recent predecessors.
As Bethany Allen-Ebrahimian explains in an article for Foreign Policy a key instrument of that control is the Communist Party of China (CPC):
“Since assuming office in late 2012, Xi has implemented a sweeping campaign to consolidate more power in the party’s hands. A major reorganization announced in late March transferred control of key government bureaus to party organs, changes that appear to undo some elements of the party-state divide set up by party leader Deng Xiaoping in the 1980s.”
What might come as more of a surprise is that the CPC is taking a bigger role abroad as well as at home:
“Party cells have appeared in California, Ohio, New York, Connecticut, North Dakota, and West Virginia. The cells appear to be part of a strategy, now expanded under Chinese President Xi Jinping, to extend direct party control globally and to insulate students and scholars abroad from the influence of ‘harmful ideology’, sometimes by asking members to report on each other’s behaviors and beliefs.”
And it’s not just America where the CPC is organising. Other countries mentioned by Allen-Ebrahimian include France, Germany and the United Kingdom.
This isn’t happening covertly. It’s openly discussed in Chinese news outlets and social media:
“The party isn’t shy about the purpose of these new branches. ‘The rising number of overseas party branches is a new phenomenon, showing the growing influence of the [Chinese Communist Party] and China,’ according to a November 2017 report in the party-aligned Global Times newspaper. ‘Overseas party cells are also responsible for promoting party and government policies.’”
Nevertheless, should we be concerned – or, indeed, outraged?
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Well, it’s not as if we prohibit other countries from conducting their domestic politics on our soil – for instance by setting up overseas party branches or enabling expatriates to vote in elections back home at special polling stations in consulates.
There are even some cases of cross-border political parties. For instance, Sinn Fein puts up candidates in both Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland. And there is talk of Fianna Fail doing the same. In the 2014 euro-elections, the Tsipras List – Italian supporters of Greece’s hard left governing party, SYRIZA, won over a million votes and got three MEPs elected.
So, with that in mind, here’s a (not entirely serious) proposal for the Chinese Communist Party: don’t just organise among your own expatriates – stand in our elections too.
The CPC offers a unique combination of policies that could prove popular with some of our voters – i.e. an economic policy that embraces an ambitious centrally-directed industrial policy, but also the fruits of capitalism; a foreign policy that is anti-interventionist, but also highly nationalistic; and a social policy that is both egalitarian and draconian. Add in the promise of a non-homeopathic rate of economic growth and there’d definitely be takers.
Obviously, CPC candidates would be challenged on China’s appalling human rights record; but, who knows, the experience of competition in politics, and not just in trade, might just persuade them that democracy’s worth a try back home.