Some of the Communist Party's darker currents are bubbling to the surface.
THIS week China became the last major power to recognise Libya's National Transitional Council. Last week it admitted government-controlled companies had touted $200 million in weapons to Colonel Muammar Gaddafi, despite China signing up to a United Nations arms embargo five months earlier.
China's foreign policy is famously pragmatic, but even Beijing is having trouble reconciling how it "respects the choice of the Libyan people" with the fact that only weeks ago its companies were spruiking vast quantities of guns, rocket launchers and missiles to be used against them.
For China's leadership there is much more at stake than Libya's oil. The rolling ''jasmine revolution'', the NATO military intervention in Libya and the fall of Gaddafi each go to the core of the Communist Party's conceits and insecurities.
The conceit is that the US-led West is programmed for militaristic global domination and "containing" China's rise but is now in crisis, perhaps even terminal decline. There is no moral quality to American power - "power comes from the barrel of the gun," as Chairman Mao put it - and the US has a record of waging war wherever it does not face credible resistance.
In this narrative NATO's bombing of Libya belongs in the Iraq family of military misadventure, another step of amoral overreach, and is the overt expression of subversive American interference that was seen or imagined in Egypt, China and elsewhere. Whether it is North Korea, Iran, Pakistan or Gaddafi's Libya, the enemy's enemy is naturally a friend.
The insecurity is that "the people are unsatisfied", as a senior security officer plainly put it to me, and each apparently successful revolution leaves China's dictatorship a little more exposed. Chinese people might see unhelpful parallels between the authoritarian conditions that triggered uprisings in Tunisia, Egypt, Syria and Libya and what they experience at home.
"When are we going to respect the choice of the Chinese people?" asked Yang Hengjun, a Chinese Australian writer who has millions of online followers, using the Chinese Foreign Ministry's words against it after its U-turn in support of the rebels.
Some of the Communist Party's darker undercurrents have been bubbling to the surface recently as it wrestles with its future in the lead-up to next year's leadership transition.
One man to watch is General Liu Yuan, the son of former president Liu Shaoqi. Many pundits say he is on his way to being the most powerful officer in the People's Liberation Army.
General Liu writes of a world where "history is written by blood and slaughter" and he identifies with those who have resisted Western military-imperialism dating back to China's Boxer rebellion. "Plane strikes skyscraper, flesh bomb on the roadside & It's hard to judge good and evil, general and gangster," he writes, before going on to reject Western values and Western democracy.
"Look before you, everything except for chopsticks has been westernised. Is there anything we stand against?"
The general's essay was published this year as the preface to a book by his friend Zhang Musheng. Zhang, an intellectual and princeling in his own right, is also a man to watch. I asked him whether Liu was as belligerent and hostile towards the West as he seemed.
He spoke of 46 American expeditionary wars while lingering on Kosovo, Afghanistan, Libya and the two wars in Iraq.
"None of these wars are justified," said Zhang. "The US regards all international affairs as its domestic issue, and vice versa. Now it's making a claim for returning to Asia and having a core interest in our East Sea. If China wants to avoid war it must possess the capacity for combat and not go begging for 'no war'."
Zhang continued to echo and expand on the themes of Liu's essay: "War is the extension of politics. Peace is the extension of war. If you don't have mass destructive weapons, you will be attacked by them. Liu Yuan is not hawkish at all, but realistic & Don't you now say he is really a peace advocate?"
Zhang said Gaddafi was defeated because he paid compensation to the Lockerbie victims and generally compromised with the West. The lesson from Libya was not about modes of governance, or morality, but that Gaddafi showed weakness and was repaid with war.
The Zhang-Liu world-view has implications for how the Communist Party instinctively views its interests wherever America is involved in conflict around the world, including Libya. It suggests China's rapid military build-up may be just beginning.
The Chinese government says it didn't know its weapons companies were negotiating one of the country's biggest arms deals with Gaddafi representatives in Beijing and planning to disguise any sales through third countries. But the government owns those companies, it hires and fires their executives and it routinely uses them as tools of foreign policy.
Last year Zhang Guoqing, the general manager of the biggest of the arms companies, Norinco, told party and military luminaries that his corporate group had done much to ''safeguard core interests of the country and to promote the implementation of the national diplomatic strategies''. He also added an aspiration "to keep a low profile".
He might have achieved all three if Gaddafi's security officials hadn't left a Norinco shopping list on a street-side rubbish pile as they fled Tripoli.
John Garnaut is China correspondent.
17 comments so far
Someone ought to remind General Liu Yuan that Communism is a Western idea.PK | Central Victoria - September 16, 2011, 8:22AM
Despite the rise of China's economic and military power the greatest threat to the Communist Party will always be the aspirations and resentments of the Chinese people themselves. Whatever happens the CCP will never willingly concede any degree of power to a domestic political rival. Long standing tensions with China's neighbours will offer the leadership the temptation of creating national unity by engaging in overt territorial disputation.SteveH. - September 16, 2011, 8:20AM
Ones cannot be too suspicious of the Chinese. For decades, they have been lecturing (rightly so) the Japanese about the sufferings and pain caused to their country. However, when it suites them, they use phrases like "War is the extension of politics. Peace is the extension of war, bla bla" to further their advancement. If a weaker country opposes their advancement, they will use their "EXTENSION OF POLITICS".
The world needs China to be contained.Dan - September 16, 2011, 7:53AM
"The Chinese government says it didn't know its weapons companies were negotiating..."
The humour, the double dealing, the bullshit..as the articles states earlier "China's foreign policy is famously pragmatic.."
We should treat China with respect but, like Tony Abbott, question everything they say.denisPC9 | New England - September 16, 2011, 7:47AM
The uncomfortable reality for the West is that there is much truth in this Chinese narrative.
The USA, with its allies tagging along, has interfered in states which it considers 'rogue' but which also do not possess military might. In it's arrogance it was not imagined that its own technology would be used against it, as happened in the Twin Towers attack.
Doesn't this make sense of the notion that if "China wants to avoid war it must possess the capacity for combat". Elementary, really.Yes - September 16, 2011, 8:33AM
The West knows everything! All hail the mighty West Way of Life! When a single nation in the West can feed, clothe, house and educate 1 billion of its citizens we will understand the magnitude of the task, and will be able to have an opinion. As it is, Australia can't cope with a few hundred refugees entering its borders, and is incapable of providing affordable housing for a generation ( a couple of million) of its citizens. Look at the fanatastic job we've done in Iraq and Afghanistan once we overthrew their governments. Tell the majority of Iraqi's and Afghani's how much better their lives are after Western invasion.Johnson - September 16, 2011, 8:37AM
Chinese communism, like Russian communism was just an opportunity for another group of chinese to tyrannise over the Chinese people. The only difference between the current leaders and those from the various dynasties is that the West provided a theoretical justification - marxism; and of course the reliance on Western designed weapons. The Chinese communists like the Russian communists are liars and dissemblers.David | Brisbane - September 16, 2011, 8:51AM
Nothing in politics is believable these days. Every government around the world only thinks for themselves, the old days of true alliances are dead, or perhaps never even existed to begin with.
Everything the governments said is basically a lie to cover up other intentions. U.S. does not even have to right to have a go about China if we look at them a little closer, their whole war on terror is a war of terror, practically using terrorism as an excuse for resource control. It doesn't really matter matter whether 911 is a setup or not, the truth is the incident has become an awfully convenient excuse to do what they need to do. China... well problems are mainly on the surface- people are reaching a boiling point due to various circumstances, they are only covering everything up through the use of media (like the rest of the world) and boosting their economy in order to divert attention.
The above are my personal opinions only, I apologise in advance if I offended anyone in the process.Pomato - September 16, 2011, 8:49AM
The problem for China is that it is trying to walk on both sides of the street. They want the benefits of an "open" economy, but seek to retain the total control of the communist state. They have made some progress in giving thier population more freedom, and this should be acknowledged, but world events are moving faster than the needed reforms. With communications technology moving at the speed it is it is difficult not to see internal tensions building if change does not keep pace. A younger generation of leadership is needed that is not stuck with the prejudice of old. The Chinese are fantastic and enterprising people, the polititians just need to let the population throw off the shackles and get on with it.... peacefully !Stuart | Melbourne - September 16, 2011, 8:57AM
The real threat to the "Communist" Party in China is the working class - the biggest in the world. Strike statistics in recent years have been breaking all records and the Party has given up trying to suppress all of them. Instead, it only steps in with the heavy hand if the struggle starts to organise over wider areas.
Until now, workers in China have mostly lost their struggles, primarily because of the rapid inflow of under-employed peasants from the countryside. Soon, however, the countryside will run out of surplus peasants and the flow of new workers into the cities will dry up. The economic leverage of the working class will then increase massively. They will start winning a lot more struggles, they will form independent democratic trade unions which will fight their way through to legality, they will overthrow their dictatorship and they will win big wage rises all round.
In the course of this, the governments of Western countries will be in a quandary. Because the liars running China describe themselves as a "Communist" Party, Western rulers will feel like crowing about their ideological victory. On the other hand, the rise of the Chinese workers will put a floor under wages around the world and spark off major workers' struggles elsewhere, including the West. Further, Western countries which have subsidiaries or contractors in China will object strenuously to paying Chinese workers a living wage. After all, that's exactly what they were trying to avoid by going to China in the first place.Greg Platt | Brunswick - September 16, 2011, 8:58AM
Excelllent rant.SteveH. - September 16, 2011, 8:58AM
The Chinese are not as naive as the Arabs, and will never trust the Americans enough to allow them to subvert the country - and create another messy Middle East situation in the Far East.winkwink | Sydney - September 16, 2011, 9:01AM
Yeah, those damn evil commies. Of course they'd be in bed with dictators like Gadaffi.
Not like the freedom loving neo-liberal governments of the US and Great Britain. No way. In free enterprise systems we value the liberty and rights of every individual. Torture and other repressive tools are solely the domain of socialism, as every good Tea Partier, Alan Jones listener and crackpot libertarian knows
.jingelic | tumut - September 16, 2011, 9:11AM
I guess the ultimate irony is that this Chinese general is preaching Regan foreign policy.
Does anyone remember the famous quote from Ragan, "We must arm to disarm!"
@SteveH, a Christian proverb teaches us not to look at the splinter in their eye, but the rock in ours. In other words, before you judge the Chinese on bulling its neighbors for domestic politics, have a look closer to home. Couple of examples, Monica Lewinsky scandal (followed by a war), Tech Bubble Crash (followed by wars, some justified (Afganistan) some not (Iraq)), Boat Arrivals in OZ and linking foreign aid by the Howard government to exception of detention centres.
To be pragmatic is to realize that your government has gone to war mainly on self interest where we as citizens have benefited (read cheap petrol), or in the case of the US, corporations benefited. Now we are leaving the phase in history where mono-polar world exists.
Multi-polar world sux for the West but gives the oppressed hope, just like the USSR gave hope to the Africans to liberate themselves from foreign Empires. China just like the former USSR is nothing to aspire to, but any help against oppression is welcomed.Alex | SYD - September 16, 2011, 9:12AM
The Chinese Communist Party abandoned communism long ago and now engages in a government controlled capitalism. It's a classic authoritarian state where the amount of capitalism you're allowed to engage in is determined by how much homage (and kickbacks) you pay to govt officials. Their moral fibre is decaying as fast as the US. I just hope the both self implode, but what's more likely is that they both engage in nationalist imperial wars against each other to halt the decline in two countries with large munitions manufacturing sectors. Pray we don't get caught in the middle.Dean | Qld - September 16, 2011, 9:17AM
Johnson, just because the papers say there is a housing affordability shortage or that there is a refugee 'crisis' doesn't make it true. Those dbates are all political hot air. If we really couldn't handle the number of refugees we would have established refugee camps like everywhere else in the world.
'"The Chinese government says it didn't know its weapons companies were negotiating..."
We should treat China with respect but, like Tony Abbott, question everything they say.'
What Tony Abbott says and what he does are completely unrelated.
The last time Tony Abbott was in government, his instrumentality, the Australian Wheat Board, paid bribed to Saddam Hussein in direct contravention of Austrlian and UN bans.
Their support, no no small part, played a role in forcing Australia to take part in a military conflict costing billions of dollars and risking the lives of Australia's defence personel.
Why were the directors not charged with what amounted to treason, why was the minister not sacked, why did the government not resign in disgrace?Goresh | Brisbane - September 16, 2011, 9:18AM
Whatever a political leader says, whether Chinese , American or Australian, should be taken with a pinch of salt, (or a bucket -load in some cases), especially when they are discussing their vital interests.derek5491 | Melbourne - September 16, 2011, 9:18AM
But one set of facts cannot be explained away and that is that the USA has indulged in a large number of foreign wars in the last 50 years, which has resulted in a huge number of deaths in those countries. In Iraq alone the total death toll is around 100,000.At the 9/11 terrorist attack 3000 people died and for that atrocity 100,000 Iraqis had to die in some misplaced sense of revenge. Saddam Hussein, nasty as he was , had absolutely nothing to do with 9/11.
What foreign wars has China actively engaged in? Korea, and Vietnam, both of which were on its doorstep and concerned its vital interests. The Chinese repression of its own people is the business of the Chinese people.
The facts speak for themselves, the USA is a war-mongering nation that has bought untold suffering to the world.
When is Australia going to get the guts to break with the American alliance and opt out of that country's downward spiral and at the same time save future Australian lives and billions of our hard-earned cash,