BY BRADLEY A. THAYER AND LIANCHAO HAN
In international politics, declarations of aggressive intent are rare. They are typically masked and are sure to blame the other side for hostility. Crystalline expressions of enmity are uncommon for communist governments, but Chinese leader Xi Jinping’s speech this month at the Chinese Community Party’s centenary actually appeared to be a “war cry,” akin to the declarations of conflict made by Joseph Stalin and Mao Zedong.
In Moscow, in early February 1946, Soviet leader Joseph Stalin delivered the first volley of the Cold War in a bold address. He made three major points: Marxism-Leninism is a fundamentally superior ideology and economic system to democratic capitalism; World War II was a test of political systems and one that provided the viability of the Soviet system; and that war was inevitable as long as monopolistic capitalism existed. Capitalism had caused both world wars and it certainly would cause a third world war, he warned. Accordingly, the Soviet people had to prepare themselves for war, devote themselves to achieving the goals of new Five-Year Plans.
Following Stalin’s speech, Washington’s request for an understanding of Soviet motives and global ambitions prompted George Kennan’s famous “Long Telegram,” and informed Winston Churchill’s “Iron Curtain Speech” at Fulton, Mo., on March 5, 1946.
Mao Zedong made numerous speeches, echoing Stalin’s themes, mutatis mutandis for the Chinese Communist system — that Maoism is superior to Western ideologies, and even to the Soviet Union’s interpretation of communism; and that war with the West is inevitable. The sacrifices Mao demanded of the Chinese people exceeded even those that Stalin made of Soviet citizens — with equally disastrous results for their peoples and the world.
Viewed in this lens, Xi’s address comes across as a dangerous declaration of impending conflict. His remarks are as definitive, and just as brusque, as Stalin’s. Under the Chinese Communist Party (CCP), only the party can govern China and permit the country to achieve the return of its greatness. In Xi’s account, the CCP has governed the country well and will continue to do so, as there is no alternative to its rule. The speech served notice that the party’s ambitions are to remain in power — its permanence cannot be questioned — and those ambitions include global hegemony.
As China has done in its long history, and as the party has in its more truncated past, the CCP will not hesitate to resort to war to defeat foreign hostile forces such as the United States in the pursuit of its goals. These objectives would be accomplished by a unified, rejuvenated China. One of the most significant implications of Xi’s speech is that China, and its ruling communist party, can be led only by a great leader — as Xi does and as Mao did in the past.
The Chinese started their Cold War with the U.S. under Deng Xiaoping, after the collapse of the Soviet Union, but the CCP now is sufficiently confident to state remarks about war openly. That is a momentous change. In Xi’s speech, the centrality, infallibility and permanence of the party is underscored. While the CCP has many weaknesses — the absence of legitimacy is its greatest — the clarity of intent and determination to rule are not among them. The path identified by Xi almost ensures the inevitability of a hot war against the West.
The Ukrainian-Russian Marxist revolutionary Leon Trotsky purportedly said: “You might not be interested in war, but war might be interested in you.” While the U.S. and its allies may hope to avoid even a Cold War, the West will be in one with China as long as the CCP is in power.
Six months after the formal end of World War II, Stalin informed the West it was in a confrontation. After an imperfect initial response, in 1947 the Truman administration acted forcefully with the Truman Doctrine and the Marshall Plan. Today Xi Jinping has informed the U.S. that it is in a confrontation, and Washington’s reaction remains inchoate.
This article first appeared in The Hill on 07/14/21 11:30 AM ET