China’s ruling Communist Party is struggling with endemic corruption, bureaucratic inertia caused by political purges, and questionable loyalty from the military and police, according to annual commission report to Congress released Thursday.
Additionally, the once-vaunted Chinese economic miracle is flagging as Communist Party (CCP) leaders grapple with a declining economy and aging population, further creating concerns of a future Soviet-style collapse within the world’s most populous state.
“The CCP faces significant internal and external challenges that constrain its ability to sustain economic growth, project power, and spread its influence globally,” the report of the U.S.-China Economic and Security Review Commission concluded. It was the first time the commission detailed internal CCP weaknesses and failings in its annual report that is derived from hearings, intelligence briefings and fact-finding missions.
The report focuses on the policies of current Chinese President Xi Jinping who since coming to power in 2013 launched a massive anti-corruption drive. The report’s authors say that drive has largely failed, leaving Mr. Xi and party leaders struggling to deal with “internal dilemmas directly threatening one-party rule.”
Mr. Xi also fears encroachment by anti-communist ideas based on Western values and democracy regarded as subversive that are said to be weakening the communist system of unchallenged control by the Party.
The arty is thus facing what the report, based on both unclassified and classified briefings, calls a “crisis of CCP legitimacy.”
‘Communizing’ the system
To counter the problem, Mr. Xi has stepped up efforts to further communize the Chinese system.
“Meanwhile, his signature anticorruption campaign has contributed to bureaucratic confusion and paralysis while failing to resolve the endemic corruption plaguing China’s governing system,” the report said.
The “campaign has failed to overcome the endemic nature of CCP corruption, and may have even worsened the functioning of China’s already cumbersome bureaucracy,” the report noted.
Between 2013 and 2018, 2.3 million Chinese officials were disciplined for corruption, including 51 of the most senior CCP leaders, including regional boss Bo Xilai and Zhou Yongkang, who was the first member of the seven-member Politburo Standing Committee to be imprisoned for corruption since the Cultural Revolution of the 1970s. The report said that despite the anti-corruption campaign, China today was judged to be just as corrupt in 2018 as it was in 2012.
The drive has created bureaucratic paralysis as officials have declined taking any actions over fears of being corrupt. Mr. Xi also has used the anti-corruption drive to consolidate his power within the Party and remove potential threats and controlling dissent.
Economically, China is struggling with a slowing economy, a struggling private sector, rising debt and a rapidly aging population, according to the report. Instead of market reforms, Mr. Xi has shifted sharply toward greater state control of the economy, a process the report called the “Party-ization” of China’s government and society.
Fear of disloyalty
The report also provided new details on fears that the People’s Liberation Army is weakening in its loyalty to the Communist Party.
According to the report, “elements within the PLA and China’s domestic security forces were resisting the authority of the CCP’s central leadership, with some even being used as a tool by provincial leaders to pursue their own political ambitions without regard for central authorities.” That was the case with military and armed police support for Mr. Bo’s bid for power, the report said.
Concerns over military control led Mr. Xi to institute a major purge within the PLA, sacking 78 generals between 2012 and 2019.
Outside China, Beijing’s plan to use its economic power to gain influence around the world also is being opposed. The “Belt and Road Initiative,” a multi-trillion dollar infrastructure investment plan, is being opposed by many developing countries, who fear the investments are a trap to gain control.
China also is struggling to develop indigenous technologies and has been hurt by a U.S. ban on exports to companies like Huawei Technologies.
“Beijing is deeply concerned about its defense industry’s capacity to independently innovate and develop the cutting-edge technologies it views as critical to what the CCP terms China’s ‘core national power,’” the report said.
To bolster its technology development efforts, China is penetrating innovation hubs such as Silicon Valley and forming research partnerships with U.S. and other foreign universities to obtain defense-related technology.