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China Expert Predicts that Nation’s Flawed Coronavirus Response Will Damage the Power of Chinese Communist Party

David Jelke

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Screenshot of Minxin Pei, professor at Claremont McKenna College

April 29, 2020—China’s response to the novel coronavirus will exact irreparable damage to the Chinese Communist Party’s power, according to Minxin Pei, professor of government and fellow of Claremont McKenna College.

Pei spoke at a webinar hosted by Center for Strategic and International Studies on Tuesday in the context of a continual drumbeat of actions against China by U.S. government agencies, inlcuding the Federal Communications Commission.

“China now finds itself in the most adverse external environment it has faced since the death of Mao,” Pei stated. China has recently been the subject of much criticism for acting slowly in addressing the outbreak of coronavirus, which originated in its city of Wuhan.

“That is really going change the trajectory of China’s future,” Pei said, adding that “many of the trends” for the CCP’s fate “are quite negative.”

Jude Blanchette, the chair of China studies at CSIS and the discussion’s moderator, lightly pushed back. Blanchette wondered if the CCP, which boasts “90 million party members” and “millions of party cells” possesses “a level of resiliency that we have underestimated” in the past.

The CCP has weathered such stressful events as the death of Mao, Tiananmen Square revolt, and the 2008 financial crisis, she noted.

Pei responded that the CCP has “systematically forgotten” four “precious lessons” from the Soviet Union’s downfall in the 80s that the party studied and implemented in the 90s:

  1. Do not “piss off” the U.S.
  2. Do not engage in an unwinnable arms race
  3. Focus on economic development
  4. Beware of imperial overreach

But perhaps the single most important factor in the CCP’s self-inflicted wounds, Pei said, was “needlessly antagonizing the U.S.”

Pei directly referenced China’s inflammatory attempts to assert authority over parts of the South China Sea which are claimed by Japan and other East Asian nations.

In addition, the CCP’s hooks in the telecommunications giant Huawei has generated considerable unease in the West, leading to the issuing of the Federal Communication Commission’s “rip and replace” order which mandates that U.S. telco companies rip out existing Huawei infrastructure and replace it with more security-safe equipment.

The U.S. continues to perceive Chinese telecommunications technology as a threat.

On Friday, the FCC issued Orders to Show Cause to four Chinese companies: China Telecom Americas, China Unicom Americas, Pacific Networks, and ComNet.

These Orders essentially place the burden on these companies “to demonstrate that they are not subject to the influence and control of the Chinese government” else they risk forfeiting their license to operate in the U.S, according to a press release by the FCC.

Pei also attributed the CCP’s shift from “collective leadership” to so-called “one-man rule” under CCP General Secretary and de facto leader of the Republic Xi Jingping. Pei said one-man rule has its advantages, but in China’s case it will spell the party’s demise. “Decisions can be made fast, including really bad decisions,” Pei said about the current party structure.

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