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Jan. 4, 2024
Notes from the Pentagon

Xi advocates world communism in speech marking Mao’s birth

By Bill Gertz
Chinese President Xi Jinping announced recently that the ruling Communist Party’s ideology of socialism with Chinese characteristics can serve as a global alternative to the West’s U.S.-led capitalist system.

In a speech Dec. 26, the Chinese leader invoked the late dictator Mao Zedong in outlining his plan for replacing Western capitalism with Chinese-style Marxism-Leninism. Mr. Xi said in the speech that Mao was a “great Marxist and a great proletarian revolutionary, strategist and theorist.”

“He was a great patriot and national hero in modern Chinese history, and the core of the party’s first generation of central leadership,” Mr. Xi said. “He was a great man who led the Chinese people to change their destiny and the nation as a whole, and a great internationalist who made significant contributions to the liberation of oppressed nations and the cause of human progress worldwide.”

The Chinese president, who is also general secretary of the Chinese Communist Party, used that address and another speech on New Year’s Eve to underscore China’s determination to one day take over the democratic-ruled island of Taiwan.

“The motherland must and is bound to be reunified,” Mr. Xi said in the first speech. China, he added, must “deepen cross-strait integration and development in all areas, and promote the peaceful development of cross-Strait relations.”

The comments come as Taiwan is set for presidential elections later this month that polls say will return the pro-independence Democratic Progressive Party to power. Renewed veneration for Mao marks a shift in official Beijing policy. In the past, “the Great Helmsman” was seen as only partially successful as a leader because of the disastrous results of many of his policies.

Western academics say Mao is responsible for the deaths of an estimated 60 million Chinese through attempted forced modernization programs such the Great Leap Forward, which produced a famine in the 1950s, and the politically charged Cultural Revolution.

The decade-long Cultural Revolution that began in 1966 unleashed Red Guard zealots against both party and non-party elements of Chinese society and set back the entire country economically until a team of reform-minded communists took over in the 1980s.

Mr. Xi’s own policies have sparked analyses that he is trying to create his own Mao-like personality cult. The Communist Party eliminated term limits for Mr. Xi in 2018, opening the way for him to secure an unprecedented third five-year term as president last year. He argues that the prime mission of the Chinese Communist Party is to “build China into a stronger country and rejuvenate the Chinese nation on all fronts by pursuing Chinese modernization.”

Rejuvenation and modernization are seen as code words for promoting Chinese socialism as a replacement for the system of democracy and free markets in the West.

Mr. Xi said modernization is a “cause passed down from veteran revolutionaries, including Mao Zedong” that represents “the solemn historical responsibility of today’s Chinese communists.”

Chinese propaganda outlets have stepped up promoting Mao. A Communist Party research institute last month stated that Mao should be remembered for “high achievements and strong morals” — concepts that clash with historical accounts of Mao’s debauched lifestyle, as revealed in the 1996 book by his personal doctor, Li Zhisui.

Since taking power in 2012, Mr. Xi has launched a constant stream of political purges of perceived rivals in both the party and the military, another feature of Mao’s rule. Hundreds of senior officials have been arrested and jailed under the campaign, including several members of the party’s Standing Committee of the Politburo, the seven-member collective leadership headed by Mr. Xi.

Most recently, Chinese Foreign Minister Qin Gang and Defense Minister Li Shangfu both abruptly disappeared from public view and were later fired. Mr. Xi named Adm. Dong Jun, a former chief of the People’s Liberation Army navy, as defense minister on Dec. 29.

Three days after the Mao speech, Mr. Xi gave another speech on foreign policy declaring that Beijing’s communist policies abroad will become more aggressive, including seizing strategic opportunities to advance global “influence, appeal and power” and strengthening Communist Party control of foreign affairs.

Party officials were also urged by Mr. Xi to resist what he termed “bullying” and “hegemonism” by the West.

Mr. Xi then warned of “high winds and choppy waters” in the coming months as the world enters a time of “turbulence and transformation” — a veiled reference to confrontation with the United States and Western allies over both ideological and geopolitical differences.

The Biden administration has sought to shrug off China’s undeclared ideological war as geopolitical competition. Secretary of State Antony Blinken and other senior administration leaders have said publicly the United States will not seek to overthrow the Chinese communist system.

As for China, it has accused the CIA of seeking to foment a democratic “color revolution” in the country.

Pentagon’s decisive year in Asia
The Pentagon says its policies in the Asia-Pacific region are producing a critical year in confronting growing Chinese aggression, leading state media in Beijing to accuse the Defense Department of hyping the threat from China.

Last week, the Pentagon issued a fact sheet outlining how the United States, along with allies and partners, delivered “groundbreaking achievements for peace, stability and deterrence in support of a free and open Indo-Pacific region.”

“In this decisive decade, 2023 will be remembered as a decisive year for implementing U.S. defense strategy in Asia,” Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin declared.

U.S. efforts last year strengthened the military and defense posture in Asia by producing what the Pentagon statement said was a “more mobile, distributed, resilient and lethal” force.

The list of actions included deploying key military units to Japan, including an advanced Marine Corps force called a littoral regiment, and an Army watercraft unit. Both were said to “significantly enhance combat-credible deterrence.”

Together with Australia, the U.S. military pursued initiatives including extended visits Down Under by submarines, bombers and fighters, stepped-up naval and ground forces cooperation, and enhanced space and logistics efforts. The Australians also upgraded key bases and moved toward setting up a submarine rotational force by 2027.

In the Philippines, four new defense sites were designated to bolster U.S.-Philippine military ties in confronting what the statement said were “shared challenges in the Indo-Pacific region” — a reference to increased Chinese military pressure on the Philippines.

“The United States is deploying cutting-edge military capabilities right now, developing the capabilities needed to maintain deterrence in the Indo-Pacific in the future, and supporting allies and partners as they invest in their own capabilities,” the statement said.

The capabilities will be funded by $170 billion to procure advanced air, sea and land weapons; $145 billion in weapons research and development; and $9.1 billion for the Pacific Deterrence Initiative, a spending program for regional power.

While China was not mentioned as a motivating force, Chinese state media sharply criticized the Pentagon claims.

“These aggressive moves are reflections of the U.S.’ Cold War mentality and its pursuit of military hegemony through bloc confrontation, which will only harm peace and stability in the region and the world,” the Chinese Communist Party-affiliated Global Times stated.

Beijing shows off newest aircraft carrier
Chinese state media on Wednesday revealed new images of the country’s most advanced aircraft carrier, the Fujian. The carrier is the first domestically produced warplane-carrying ship using electromagnetic catapults and arresting devices.

The warship, first launched in June 2022, is estimated to have an 80,000-ton displacement and is considered more advanced than two other Chinese carriers: the Liaoning, which was built from a scrap Ukrainian carrier purchased in 1988, and the Shandong, which was commissioned in 2019.

Chinese state television on Tuesday showed video of the Fujian being towed by a small vessel. The video revealed all three tracks of the electromagnetic catapult system.

“In the new year, we will seize every minute, work with determination, and strive for combat readiness as soon as possible,” an officer aboard the Fujian officer said in the video, Reuters reported.

“China’s carriers are no match for U.S. carriers, but they offer China the kind of power-projection capabilities that its neighbors in Asia lack,” said Andrew Erickson, a China naval expert and professor of strategy at the Naval War College. “It is a symbol of power.”

The United States deploys 11 aircraft carriers. The value of carriers, however, is being diminished with the deployment of long-range precision-guided anti-ship missiles, such as China’s DF-21D and DF-26 anti-ship ballistic missiles.

Like the Fujian, the Navy’s Ford-class aircraft carriers, a new class of nuclear-powered warship, will use the advanced Electromagnetic Aircraft Launch System, known as EMALS.

The Chinese version of the catapult will be able to launch more types of aircraft than just jet fighters, including electronic warfare aircraft, unmanned aircraft and reconnaissance aircraft.

  • Contact Bill Gertz on Twitter via @BillGertz.

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