For decades there has been a strong voice among some Washington policymakers that are of the school of thought that believes if the United States approaches its relationship with China in a way that does not intend to shake the current political and social status quo within that country, that China would inevitably find itself embracing the lure of Western democracy, and the capitalist economic system and basic tenets of social freedoms that come with it. While the notion is admirable in its intentions, the reality is that the leadership of Chinese Communist Party (CCP) sees these same ideals as threats to its grip on power, and has given the notion of interacting with China with "kid gloves" perhaps a mortal blow in the form of Document Number 9 .
Before focusing on the mentioned document, a quick reflection back into recent Chinese history. Former Chinese President Deng Xiaoping stated that it was wise to "hide your strength and bide your time". During his time as leader of the PRC (which lasted in various forms from 1976 to 1989), China was just waking up from a Mao-induced economic coma that lasted nearly thirty years. Additionally, Chinese society was in tatters from the Cultural Revolution that wasted a decade of potential economic growth, as well as sorely needed economic and society building that was essential for stabilizing the country. Deng realized this and toned town China's hostile tone towards Western states in general, as well as laying the foundation that was soon to become an economic boom within China. The idea seemed to be for China to be patient, adopt specific aspects from the West that were needed in order to revitalize China, and to lie dormant until China had the strength politically, economically, and militarily to pursue its goals of once again placing China atop the global pecking order of the international system. Success was to be measured in decades; not in election cycles. China could afford to be patient, as there was no electorate to answer to, and no opposition party to fear.
Many countries, including the United States, saw the potential for a consumer market of one billion people, and a cheap labor force in which to manufacture their goods. For many countries, the opportunity was too good to pass up. It was naively believed by many in the West that if China were to "become exposed" to Western capitalism, as well as its liberal social values that coincide with it, it would eventually itself liberalize and happily join hands and walk into the sunset with the rest of the liberal international order. This mindset was fraught with problems with the outset. It did not take into account that a liberalization would likely spell the end of one party rule in China, that China was not one of the states who helped form the new international order following World War II and did not want to be subject to its restraints, and that many within Chinese society feel that their country was shamed by Western encroachment in the past century, and there are scores that have yet to be settled properly.
Yet Beijing was content to play the Western game as long as it needed to. During this patient phase, the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1989 was of grave concern to the CCP leadership, as it saw its future if it did not take steps to ensure its own security within China. Even today, mandatory classes are given to CCP members about the lessons from the downfall of the Soviet Union--and how they can be avoided. From the portions of Document Number 9 that were released, it appears that Xi Jinping has taken these lessons to heart, and the West should take note, as perhaps Beijing feels that its long period of slumber is now over.
Portions of the document, obtained by the New York Times, appears to run counter to Xi Jinping's statements about a desire to come to an agreement with the United States on a new "Great Power" Consensus, and instead views many aspects of Western society as threats to the Communist Party in China.
"Communist Party cadres have filled meeting halls around China to hear a somber, secretive warning issued by senior leaders. Power could escape their grip, they have been told, unless the party eradicates seven subversive currents coursing through Chinese society.
These seven perils were enumerated in a memo, referred to as Document No. 9, that bears the unmistakable imprimatur of Xi Jinping, China’s new top leader. The first was “Western constitutional democracy”; others included promoting “universal values” of human rights, Western-inspired notions of media independence and civic participation, ardently pro-market “neo-liberalism,” and “nihilist” criticisms of the party’s traumatic past."
While Xi has used Maoist themes in a number of his speeches and decrees since coming to power, it has been widely assumed that it was done in order to placate the leftist factions within the CCP in order to consolidate his power base, as well as an attempt to appease supporters of the ousted Bo Xilai, the once popular Central politburo member now on trial for corruption. Document Number 9 seemingly shows that the hope of liberalizing China through means of engagement and liberal economics will not work, and that the CCP will continue to play by their own rules. Potential American concessions to China in the areas of human rights, economics, Taiwan, and other issues should not be given simply because there has been little or no reciprocation from China regarding American interests elsewhere in the world. Memo Number 9 makes clear that Western values and norms are not welcome in the eyes of the CCP in China. The era of American concessions to China in the hope that liberalization would occur should cease. The ruling party appears to feel confident enough in its abilities to rise from its slumber. It will take an equally strong resolve from the United States to maintain its place of supremacy globally, and no amount of goodwill shipped from Washington to Beijing will alter the CCP's stance of feeling threatened by Western liberal values.