[Viewpoint] The return of the empireThe red wave that blanketed all of China is subsiding. Nationwide celebrations for the 90th birthday of the Communist Party of China concluded with a ceremony at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing on July 1.
In the 90 years since the Communist Party seized control of China, the country has become the second-largest economy in the world. The decisions that the Communist Party of China makes now determine the fate of the world. That is why it is important for us to ask: “What is the Communist Party of China?” and “What does it mean to the country and the rest of the world?”
The Chinese Communist Party has never shared its power with any other political entity. It does not allow political dissent of any kind. Instead, the party takes care of the people as a father figure. The highest virtue of Communist Party members is to “work for the people.” Merchants thrive when they maintain a friendly relationship with government offices. Intellectuals and scholars consider it is the highest honor to serve as a government official.
China’s power structure is innately different from Western countries, where popular sovereignty was earned through revolutions of merchants and citizens.
To the 80 million members of the Communist Party of China, economic growth means a road to revival. They want to end an era of humiliation that lasted for over a century since the Opium Wars in the 1840s.
The objective is to regain the glory of the past, the “age of the emperors” as it’s known, when China accounted for 20 to 30 percent of the world’s production. “The Road to Revival” is the title of a documentary on the modern and contemporary history of China, produced by the state-run television broadcaster China Central Television. It opens with a scene on the aggression of Western countries.
The Communist Party dreams of a multipolar system. China hopes to deviate from the monopolar system led by the United States and shift to a structure where power is divided based on region. Of course, it thinks the realm of Asia should be China’s, just as China held hegemony during dynasties of centuries past.
Therefore, China is especially sensitive to the power dynamics and hegemony within Asia. They must dominate the region regardless of the means. Their intention was confirmed in its handling of territorial disputes over the Diaoyu Islands and the Spratly Islands.
The DNA that predisposes Sino-centrism, placing China at the center of the world and considering its neighbors as barbarians is replicating.
The economic body of its multipolar system is the “Yuan bloc” in East Asia. China does not hesitate in providing aid and financial assistance to Southeast Asian countries.
Beijing is even building a high speed railway connecting China to Southeast Asian nations. The first experiment of the international use of the Chinese yuan was conducted in East Asia. Beijing is urging trade partners in the region to accept payment in Chinese yuan.
Martin Jacques wrote in his book “When China Rules the World: The End of the Western World and the Birth of a New Global Order” that the old tributary system may return to the region in a modern form as the Chinese economy grows. Such a tributary system may await Asia on the other end of the road to revival.
The image of an emperor is connected with the red waves of absolute power, service for the people, road to revival, Sino-centric DNA and the tributary system. We cannot agree more that the Chinese Communist Party simply replaces the emperors of the past.
The emergence of the Communist Party meant the return of the emperor. Now that the emperor has returned, he hopes China will become an “empire” once again. The rapid rise of China has been a powerful growth engine for the economy of the Asian region.
The backward and bellicose Sino-centrism will not make China the leader of Asia. A ruler who does not deserve respect will only bring discord and trouble. The Chinese Communist Party, the 90-year-old emperor of the 21st century, will have to choose between the mutual prosperity of Asia or discord and tension in the region.
*The writer is the deputy director of the China Institute of the JoongAng Ilbo.
By Han Woo-duk