When a leader says something pay attention. When a leader in a position of power says something pay a lot of attention. And when a leader in a position of great power says something pay undivided attention.
This week was the 100th anniversary of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP). Under President Xi Jinping the CCP has had a rebirth and ultimately a resurgence. It is stronger now than it has been in decades, arguably since the days of Mao Zedong, certainly since the transformative but much more temperate tenure of Deng Xiaoping, in the 1980s.
Especially in recent years Xi has used the CCP as a vehicle – and as a cudgel. As a cudgel to beat the Chinese people – including now the people of Hong Kong – figuratively if not literally about the head to get them to fall obediently into line. No dissent allowed, especially no dissent that constitutes any sort of challenge to the existing regime.
In other words, in its current incarnation the CCP is less an instrument of ideology than it is of behavior. China is at least as much capitalist as it is communist. But the CCP has become nevertheless powerful as a means of control.
No surprise then that Xi used the hundredth anniversary of the Chinese Communist Party – which was this week – to give a speech. It was an important one that resonated, as it should have, around the world. For the content of his rhetoric was noteworthy for its chest-beating – and even more for its belligerence.
Of course, some of the sabre rattling was for domestic consumption. Nothing suits Xi’s purposes more than to stir up the Chinese people with incantations that smack of nationalist fervor. But not all of his speech was targeted at those at home. Some of it was targeted at those abroad, especially at those in the West, specifically the United States.
I am not suggesting that President Joe Biden’s response should be to quiver in a corner. Nor am I intimating that he should become similarly belligerent, not even rhetorically. I am simply pointing out that sometimes leaders mean exactly what they say.
When Xi says that “the Chinese people will never allow any foreign forces to bully, oppress or enslave us,” and that “anyone who dares will have their heads cracked and their blood will flow before the steel Great Wall built with the flesh and blood of 1.4 billion Chinese people,” attention must be paid. If history has taught us anything it is that when an authoritarian leader – not to speak of a totalitarian one – issues a threat it should be taken deadly seriously. For it, history, is soaked with the blood of those who failed to believe what they heard – or for that matter read. Hitler’s Mein Kampf was not a speech. It was a book. It was a book in which he meant what he wrote.