Cai Xia, a retired professor of the Central Party School of the Chinese Communist Party, was expelled from the party and had her pension stripped on August 17 for “serious violations of political discipline of the Party” following her criticism of the increasingly authoritarian policies of Xi Jinping, party chief and state president. The dissident in-house scholar called the CCP a political zombie and likened Xi to a “gang boss”. Widely known as one of the “Hereditary [Second Generation] Red,” descendants of founding members or important figures of the CCP, the 68-year-old spoke to Vienna Tang of RFA’s Mandarin Service recently about the international ramifications of Xi’s consolidation of power and authoritarian style. Cai has been under surveillance by Chinese authorities since 2011, her lectures have been banned since 2013 and she has been censored and blocked on the Chinese internet since 2016.
RFA: In your opinion, eventually what forces will facilitate change in China?
Cai: I cannot tell you whether an external force would eventually play that decisive and fundamental role, because there is no other country in the world whose political changes are as complicated as that of China. Nevertheless, I feel what would bring about change within China may come from cooperation among domestic and international forces.
RFA: What is your view on the outlook for U.S.-China relations?
Cai: It is hard to say whether the Cold War between U.S. and China will evolve into a hot war. It depends on whether the Chinese Communist Party has the guts to fight this war. If the CCP indeed wants to engage in a hot war, one does not have to worry about who wins and who loses, because the CCP will lose for sure. Once this war is lost, the collapse of the CCP regime will follow.
RFA: Do you think Xi Jinping has the ambition to “recover“ Taiwan?
Cai: I believe so. He does have this intention.
RFA: The ancient Greek Historian Thucydides believed that when facing challenges from an emerging power, the current great power would most likely resort to war to resolve the competition for international dominance. Harvard University professor Graham T. Allison coined the term “Thucydides Trap” to depict the dangers that current U.S.-China relations face. Nevertheless, Professor Cai, you considered it a false statement?
Cai: The Thucydides Trap theory has twisted the nature of the contradictions and conflicts in U.S.-China relations. The nature of the U.S.-China relations is not a “number one and number two” relationship. Firstly, let’s talk about the national power. This number two is nowhere near a real number two. There is an expression “the nation is wealthy and its people are strong.” However, if the people are not wealthy and if the people are not strong, the country is just a bluff. So, this is my first point. Secondly, let’s look at the GDP. The GDP number looks good, but behind the number it is hollow. The structure that is. Have the wealth and the quality of the people truly improved? No. Why have U.S.-China ties become the intense confrontation that we face now? It is because the fundamental systems and the fundamental concepts are not the same. On this side there is the new totalitarian system, while on the other side there is a free and democratic system. This situation shares similarities with the 1930s, when appeasement policies gave Adolf Hitler room to expand across Europe. Eventually, the entire world’s peace and order were threatened, thus (igniting) World War II. This is what Xi is doing now. His goal is a “community of a shared future for mankind.” Follow this concept and look at Wuhan and Hong Kong, you see that he has ruined the civic order, the rule of law, and the freedom of Hong Kong. So, it is not a Thucydides Trap in which number one and number two fight for dominance. It is in fact a confrontation between two systems. Therefore, we call it a false statement.
RFA: A while ago, Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi’s performance made people think that Xi has softened his stance towards the United States. However, we later saw that Xi unveiled his “Five Musts” and the “Five Never Allows.” What is your interpretation of the signals behind these recent moves?
Cai: Western countries, the U.S. included, only began to understand the nature of the CCP in recent years. More specifically, as the COVID-19 spread to many parts of the world, the CCP was exposed of concealment, deception, and extortion in its handling of (the early onset of) the pandemic. Only until then did people realize the gangster nature of the CCP. Therefore, at this point, it is crucial to contemplate how to deal with China. In the past, people used to talk about “China,” but now people realize that China and the CCP are not the same, right? It (the Chinese government) intentionally mixes the CCP and China together. Why? By doing so, he holds the 1.4 billion Chinese people hostage. He would say you are anti-Chinese; you are against the people of China. However, once you separate the two, as it turns out, the CCP has been bullying and fooling the Chinese people. Once you make this distinction, you essentially peel away the CCP’s skin and expose its true nature to everyone. Not only can the people outside of China see the message and the way of thinking, but the people inside China can also see it clearly once this perspective is shared to mainland China. I think this is something the CCP is particularly afraid of.
RFA: So, his stance has not softened.
Cai: No, it has not.
RFA: Is he afraid?
Cai: He is afraid. What lies behind that fear is mania. He is struggling. Externally, he cheats with lies. Now that he knows he can no longer hide it from you and deceive you, he turns inward to suppress the people in China and party members. Why? When the pressure from abroad is mounting, he must stabilize his own backyard. This is what he really is about. He is not softening.
RFA: Speaking of which, I would like to hear your take on this: When Xi talked about the “Five Never Allows,” Wang Qishan, who has been away from the public eye, also reemerged. We all know that Wang used to be his right-hand man when Xi was getting rid of his political foes. There is various speculation about his relationship with Xi. I wonder what your observation on this is.
Cai: The relationship between Wang and Xi is quite delicate, very delicate. The reason being that Wang’s reputation, qualifications, and capabilities are all better than Xi’s. This is something everyone knows for sure. What is the sentiment about Wang in the Party? People hate him; people are afraid of him; people cave to him; people are cautious about him. The logic in authoritarian totalitarianism is that I will eliminate anyone who may possibly threaten my ruling status. Following this logic, Xi will never collaborate with Wang again. Nevertheless, Xi will not let Wang go either. Why? If Wang leaves, there may be complications that Xi cannot handle himself. So Xi’s mindset is that “I want to use you (Wang), but I also must make sure that you will not go against me.”
RFA: When Ren Zhiqiang was arrested, Wang stayed silent. Do you think he couldn’t or wouldn’t say anything?
Cai: It’s not that Wang wouldn’t; he couldn’t. He could not say anything, because he must be cautious. At a time like to Ren Zhiqiang, or it would look as if Ren was the front man, and he was backing Ren. You may ask whether Ren Zhiqiang and Wang Qishan are a duo, with one being vocal upfront while the other backing him from behind. I do not think so. It is truly Ren Zhiqiang’s goals and objectives that the whole country moves towards a democratic political system.
RFA: So Ren truly hopes to change the system? I am asking because some say that the “Heredity Reds” like Ren Zhiqiang never talk about changing the system.
Cai: In fact, Ren does want to change the system. His view has been evolving. Back in 1989 during the Tiananmen pro-democracy protests he might not have had a clear view on the issue. However, over the years he has been learning and reflecting based on the concept of a democratic political system, and he continued to identify with constitutional democracy and liberal democracy. He does want to promote reform and development of this country. Therefore, I think his views differ from Wang Qishan’s fundamental political objectives and choices.
RFA: So Ren not only wishes to give up the privileges of the Heredity Reds, but he also wants to change the system?
Cai: I believe the group of people around me all hope for the change of the system. We hope that constitutional democracy and liberal democracy can truly be realized. In fact, sometimes when we were discussing these issues, their language was stronger and more intense than mine.
RFA: One issue is that very few have dared to come forward like you and Ren Zhiqiang did to express their opinions. You also mentioned earlier that there are many “helpless ones” within the CCP and that they are the majority in the Party. Meanwhile, some have said that ever since the Jiang (Zemin)/Hu (Jintao) era, the CCP has been gradually eliminating dissent in the society. Those who were able to make their voices heard but chose to remain silent, they pretty much supported such oppression with their inaction. That was also why when Xi took office, there was no countervaling power of checks and balances. As a result, he was able to amend the constitution and to pass the “National Security Law” for Hong Kong almost unanimously. What do you think?
Cai: There is a problem with this view. That is, the “helpless ones,” or what we called the “silent majority” are those who follow the party’s lead. Often, they would become what we called “sandwich biscuits,” meaning that they sustain pressures from both above and below. There is another expression that calls them “the mice in the wind box,” meaning that they take anger from both ends. The oppression back in the Jiang/Hu era was not as bad as what they sustain now, but what they had experienced in the Jiang/Hu days already made them realize that such oppression was not acceptable. Therefore, we have witnessed some democratic changes in the party at the local levels. While it could not have fundamentally changed the political system, it has allowed the general public to participate in some specific matters related to their livelihood. Hence, there was a time when democracy and reforms at the local level were taking place. However, it regressed after 2008, 2009. Why was that? It was because moving forward would inevitably involve the shifting of the entire power structure. This is something that the entire system and top leaders would not allow. That is why changes at the local levels were well received, but as they progressed, they would hit a wall. This is an unbreakable wall because superiors’ power is now being challenged. That is why you are helpless. That is why I feel that there is no hope in pushing for reforms within the system. You must crush the entire power structure. That is why we propose “change.”
RFA: Some also said that Xi chose the path of authoritarian totalitarianism after he took office because he was trying to protect the “Heredity Reds” and the CCP members. He knows very well that should China become a democracy, the Chinese Communist Party will collapse, and very likely the CCP may be purged. The “Heredity Reds” like you may be purged too. What is your observation?
Cai: If we are to discuss this matter, we should look at it from various aspects. One, where is the term “Heredity Reds” derived from? It has something to do with the parents of the Heredity Reds. Some of them were hoping to become an elite class by gaining political power, and as a result, they (and their children) may strive to maintain this regime. This is one type of mindset. Are there people like this? I think there are. Meanwhile, there are some others whose parents had sincerely considered, sacrificed, and fought for the future of the people. They had taught their children the same ideals. Now these children, fully grown, do not care who is in power. They believe that if the people truly realize democracy, if China can progress towards modern civilization, the power will belong to the people. I believe not all Heredity Reds are out to preserve their political power. Quite a few of us are trying to push the country forward.
Translated by Min Eu.