Donald Bishop, 'Quotable: Blackwill and Tellis on PRC views of democracy," publicdiplomacycouncil.org
Wednesday, July 27th 2016
Looking back at the March, 2015, report issued by the Council on Foreign Relations, “Revising U.S. Grand Strategy Toward China,” there was no mention of Public Diplomacy. The report’s authors, Robert D. Blackwill and Ashley J. Tellis, did mention a role for military exchanges – but as measures to strengthen U.S. relations with nations on China’s periphery. Nonetheless, Public Diplomacy specialists should be interested in the section of the report that touches on social control, perceptions of threat from American democracy and rule of law programs, and domestic propaganda.
Despite China’s meteoric economic success, its leadership does not possess easy solutions to the current challenges of governance and legitimacy. Surrendering power in favor of genuine democracy is unthinkable for the Communist regime, and the palliatives offered by anticorruption campaigns, the incorporation of rule by law (as opposed to rule of law), the increased invocation of classical texts in an effort to seek validation in tradition, the growing ideological emphasis on promoting “Chinese values,” the promotion of a new “Chinese Dream” centered on “national rejuvenation, improvement of people’s livelihoods, prosperity, construction of a better society, and military strengthening,” and the stimulation of nationalism have not yet resolved the crisis of legitimacy that now engulfs the CCP.
China’s Communist rulers remain threatened by U.S. campaigns in support of democracy, the rule of law, and the protection of minorities, all of which are viewed in Beijing as thinly veiled attempts at either fomenting secession or engineering regime change. In an effort to ensure that American democratic values and policies do not undermine the CCP’s hold on power, Chinese rulers have prosecuted a multipronged ideological campaign that includes a strident defense of sovereignty and a concerted rejection of all foreign interest in the nation’s internal affairs, intense surveillance of suspect domestic groups and nongovernmental organizations operating in China, and focused propaganda efforts to amplify Chinese nationalism and mobilize public support in defense of the regime and the state.
Beneath these ideational efforts, however, lies the iron fist. Given the CCP’s deep-seated fears for its own survival amid the current economic and social ferment in China, the party has continually expanded its capabilities for domestic coercion, to the point where its internal security budget, exemplified by the People’s Armed Police (PAP), is larger than that of the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) itself. Clearly, internal security competes with, and could even trump, external security. Further complicating matters, the party’s army fears finding itself in the awkward position of having to defend the purported representatives of the people against the people’s own wrath—a conundrum that may prove to be explosive if events like Tiananmen Square were to recur in the future.