Andrew Browne of the Wall Street Journal is arguably the best China-watcher on the ground and this piece of his today is deeply shocking for an old China hand such as myself. The editors placed it on a back page and may have not understood its significance. The use of forced confessions is a leftover from the era of Mao Tse-tung, as Andrew notes. It suggests that there is a very deep ideological power struggle taking place. President Xi Jinping isn’t just trying to purify the Communist Party and eliminate any possible threats to the supremacy of the party. People are getting purged and disappeared. And being forced to make confessions–just like they were during the Cultural Revolution. Here’s another piece from a semi-official Chinese publication that suggests that President Xi Jinping is taking on the People’s Liberation Army in a frontal assault.
Add it all up and I suspect that this power struggle is going to dominate China for a number of years. Xi has seven more years left in his term and whether he seeks to extend his rule remains to be seen. I’ve recently spoken with State Department people who expect the anti-corruption campaign to “blow over.” But this has the whiff of a new Cultural Revolution or perhaps the Anti-Rightist Campaign that followed Mao’s Let a 100 Flowers Bloom campaign of the late 1950s.
If it is as serious as I suspect, this means the Chinese are not going to be focused on economic growth. The go-go growth days may be over, or at least on hold. That has global implications now that China is the second largest economy in the world. These struggles deep within China did not use to matter to the rest of the world, but now they do. And we are not even close to understanding what is happening behind what we used to call the Bamboo Curtain.