Editorials

The Chinese Communist Party at 100: rising propaganda, declining reputation

China
© EPA-EFE/ROMAN PILIPEY   |   Members of the Chinese military orchestra march on Tiananmen Square before a celebration marking the 100th founding anniversary of the Chinese Communist Party, in Beijing, China, 01 July 2021.

Holzstock Festival

Legend has it that the Chinese Communist Party was founded on July 23, 1921, but because President Mao kept forgetting the date, it was decided that it would be July 1, to make it easier to remember. The poor Eastern European dictators did not get to see how a communist centenary is really celebrated with great pomp and unlimited resources: in our country, August 23rd or May 1st were mere village fairs compared to today’s huge propaganda and events staged to feed the personality cult of the supreme leader, Xi Jinping. In 2021, China says it has achieved the centennial goals announced by Xi when it took power nearly ten years ago: eradicating poverty; implementing a sovereign type of domesticated internet, used for social regimentation; the space program; strengthening the role of party offices in the economy, including in European multinationals; re-ideologizing education and consolidating a kind of nationalist Maoism; eliminating democracy in Hong Kong.

The paradox is that the more triumphalist it becomes at home, reporting to the people one success after another, the less powerful the image of the state-party based in Beijing gets at global level. A Pew Research poll published yesterday shows that China's reputation has reached historic lows in most countries, due to the aggressiveness of its foreign policy and blatant violations of its citizens' rights. With the exception of Italy, all other societies perceive China worse than five years ago; and many of them much worse. The median of the 17 countries surveyed is a negative score of 69%.

Majorities of over 80% in 15 states say that the Beijing regime does not respect human rights, and that percentage has risen sharply since 2018, including in Italy (+ 18%) or Greece (+ 12%), the EU's traditional Sinophile members. In other words, the answers in these countries are rather cynical, not idealistic: “we know very well that the party is trampling on its citizens, but for us it is more important to maintain the relationship and the businesses that we have with the regime”.

But even in this respect, the big picture includes dramatic changes: more than half of the companies surveyed prefer to have economic ties with the US rather than with China, and to a much greater extent than years ago; see figure. Compared to 2015, the change is radical, especially among traditional trading partners of China, such as Australia or South Korea. The “disenchantment” of the business environment with the advantages of doing business with Chinese partners came quickly when it became clear how politicized the links were and how easy the regime used them for blackmail. And, as pundits note, Europeans have become much more homogeneous in their skepticism towards China than they did seven or eight years ago; as for the rest of the samples, opinions are more divergent.

There is only one question about which opinions are even more negative than the one regarding China- the one about President Xi Jinping. The majorities in 16 of the 17 states polled say they do not trust the way Xi Jinping relates to the global agenda, which is a big problem for a self-proclaimed leader, with an unlimited term, who has just called on his own diplomacy, which had turned rather abrasive lately, to change its tone and start projecting the image of a People’s China that “can be loved”. This is hard to achieve over night by a party apparatus which has always used fear and pressure, not persuasion, to reach its goals. Or by a leader who has no sense of ridicule and bans Winnie-the-Pooh online just because some cartoonists have compared him to the character.

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  • In 2021, China says it has achieved the centennial goals announced by Xi when it took power nearly ten years ago: eradicating poverty; implementing a sovereign type of domesticated internet, used for social regimentation; the space program; strengthening the role of party offices in the economy, including in European multinationals; re-ideologizing education and consolidating a kind of nationalist Maoism; eliminating democracy in Hong Kong. The paradox is that the more triumphalist it becomes at home, reporting to the people one success after another, the less powerful the image of the state-party based in Beijing gets at global level.
  • Majorities of over 80% in 15 states say that the Beijing regime does not respect human rights, and that percentage has risen sharply since 2018, including in Italy (+ 18%) or Greece (+ 12%), the EU's traditional Sinophile members. In other words, the answers in these countries are rather cynical, not idealistic: “we know very well that the party is trampling on its citizens, but for us it is more important to maintain the relationship and the businesses that we have with the regime”.
  • There is only one question about which opinions are even more negative than the one regarding China- the one about President Xi Jinping. The majorities in 16 of the 17 states polled say they do not trust the way Xi Jinping relates to the global agenda, which is a big problem for a self-proclaimed leader, with an unlimited term, who has just called on his own diplomacy, which had turned rather abrasive lately, to change its tone and start projecting the image of a People’s China that “can be loved”.
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