As the second half of 2021 dawned, market participants were greeted with more headlines documenting the world’s efforts to contain the “Delta” coronavirus variant as well as soundbites out of Beijing, where Xi Jinping delivered a somewhat unnerving address to mark the 100th anniversary of the Communist Party.
Speaking to a multitudinous, handpicked crowd, Xi pledged never to “bully, oppress or enslave the peoples of other countries.” China has never done that, isn’t doing it now and won’t do it in the future, he said, dressed in a Mao suit.
Then came a rather stark warning. “At the same time, the Chinese people will never allow foreign forces to bully, oppress or enslave us,” Xi said. “Whoever nurses delusions of doing that will crack their heads and spill blood on the Great Wall of steel built from the flesh and blood of 1.4 billion Chinese people.” (Well, since you put it that way.)
“Xi has warned that foreign powers will ‘get their heads bashed’ if they attempt to influence the country,” the BBC wrote, flatly.
The choreographed ceremony made for an ironically pretentious spectacle. Tens of thousands gathered in rows to hear Xi in person. Everyday Chinese used their cell phones to take videos of the speech as it was broadcast on giant screens across Beijing. The festivities included a 100-gun salute and thousands of performers chanting “Listen to the party, be grateful to the party, and follow the party,” as Xi looked on.
“The streams of Communist Party youth groups in color-coordinated uniforms had filed onto the square from all directions at the beginning of the ceremony as dawn rose,” The New York Times wrote, recapping the pageantry and adding that,
They mostly wore polo shirts in lime green, pale orange or bright red. Most wore black or white pants, but some of the young women were in matching poodle skirts that would not have looked out of place in the 1950s. A military brass band in dress blues filed into the back of the Great Hall of the People.
Taiwan featured heavily. Xi described the Party’s “unshakable commitment” to unification and warned that China would take “resolute action to utterly defeat” efforts aimed at promoting Taiwan independence.
“Nobody should underestimate the staunch determination, firm will and powerful capacity of the Chinese people to defend national sovereignty and territorial integrity,” he warned.
Xi alluded to the “people” nearly 90 times in the space of an hour, describing the nation’s “tenacious struggle.” “Gone forever” are the days of the country being “abused by others,” he said.
The Sydney Morning Herald declared the world “on notice.” “The message was clear,” the paper wrote. “Having wiped out any opposition at home over a century of building power, the great struggle of Xi’s CCP is no longer against counter-revolutionaries, it is against those outside China’s borders who would seek to contain its rise.”
Xi left little room for “analysis.” There was no equivocation. Only the Party is capable of securing long-term gains for the people and ensuring the nation’s rise. And only he can lead the Party.
There’s no chance of communism (in the Cold War sense of the term) making a comeback as a totalitarian ideology capable of getting significant buy-in around the world. That’s not the issue. This isn’t about capitalism versus communism. Implemented strictly, communism simply doesn’t work from an economic management perspective. And, as we’ve seen in the US, capitalism unconstrained can produce objectively absurd outcomes.
If there’s such a thing as an “optimal” model, it’s almost surely capitalism with guardrails. That may seem like a rather glib assessment, but as obvious as it sounds, you’ll note that the world’s largest economy still hasn’t come to terms with the need for those guardrails.
If it’s not about communism versus capitalism, what’s it about? Well, it’s about autocracy and, increasingly, whether it’s possible for a superpower to thrive under one-man rule in modernity.
As one expert told Bloomberg on Thursday, “Since the death of Mao, we’ve never had the Communist Party run by essentially an autocrat unconstrained by elite politics.”