Will China ever become democratic?
The Hong Kong protests are ruining the Chinese government's birthday party this week. Beijing wants to demonstrate its power to the world in a national holiday parade. The fact that Hong Kong's citizens take to the streets against the regime at the same time is a loss of face for Beijing. The protests there escalated on Tuesday and created images that Beijing shouldn't like. According to media reports, a protester was shot by police with live ammunition. 70 years after Mao Zedong proclaimed the People's Republic, the protests reveal the basic dilemma of the Communist Party with its absolute claim to power in the country.
The state media defame the protests as a success of the West and its "modern colonialism". The people of the Chinese Special Administrative Region let themselves be bought, bribed and seduced. It should come as no surprise that Beijing claims that. In China, since it came to power 70 years ago, the party has inextricably linked the country's future with its own rule. She describes her undivided claim to power as a Chinese special path. Human rights are not universal and democracy is a purely Western model. The narrative is not particularly original. It is a common tool for regimes that, regardless of their cultural background, need an explanation as to why they are depriving citizens of their fundamental freedoms.
Anyone born in China must support the CP
The strengthening of Han Chinese ethno-nationalism under President Xi Jinping is more dangerous. He says the party is lucky for China. So anyone who was born in China or comes from there must support the CP if he has the good of China in mind. That makes any dissident who demonstrates against the regime a traitor to the people. China's state media are already calling the Hong Kong people "traitors". They are not for the CP, so they are against the Chinese people. This is by no means limited to the conflict in Hong Kong.
This year not only marks the 70th anniversary of the founding day of the People's Republic under the rule of the party. 100 years ago people took to the streets during the May 4th Movement for Democracy and Science. Thirty years ago, students and workers across the country demonstrated for political reform. These are movements that have been erased from the collective memory in China today. In Beijing's historiography, the Chinese people were humiliated by foreign powers in the 19th century and only liberated by Mao Zedong and the party in 1949. Something else is true. The time of the founding of the republic at the beginning of the 20th century was an era of openness. In Europe at that time, China was a role model in many areas - for example in human rights.
Beijing is afraid that movements like those in Hong Kong might remind people of this tradition. The aggressions against Taiwan have the same origins. The democracy on their doorstep questions the narrative anew every day that one-party rule is a kind of normal state for China. And the undivided power of the party is the best way for the country.
The desire for political participation will grow
70 years after it was founded, millions of people in the country have freed themselves from economic hardship and live in prosperity. The richer the country gets, the more pressing the desire for political participation becomes. For the KP this will one day be decisive for fate. The question is not if, but when. The party knows this. The surveillance state, the repression of civil society and the media are symptoms of their fear.
The party has therefore been using a second strategy since President Xi Jinping took office. In order to weaken criticism from outside, the party speaks of foreign resistance to China's rise. Not only is she wrong about that. The growing influence of China is causing unrest in other countries. The trade dispute with the USA reinforces the impression in China. Above all, US President Donald Trump's failures in the direction of China play into the hands of the party: We are somebody again, the party made it possible and abroad are not allowing you to do it. This is a dangerous story that will make relations with China difficult in the years to come.
70 years after the founding of the People's Republic, you have to be clear abroad: China is not the party and the Chinese are not the regime. At the same time, Germany must not underestimate the development of nationalism and the growing resentment in the country. The stronger the pressure on the party, the more unpredictable the country becomes as a partner. Germany also has to adjust to this.
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