China purges based on Maoist-Stalinist ideology
NEWS AND ANALYSIS:
Officials and analysts say the recent spate of purges and disappearances among Chinese government leaders suggest there is growing instability in Zhongnanhai, the Communist Party leadership compound in Beijing.
But others say the large-scale purges, many within the highest ranks, are not the result of internal political turmoil but part of a carefully orchestrated policy of Chinese President Xi Jinping who is following ideological techniques first used by Mao Zedong and Joseph Stalin.
Ely Ratner, assistant defense secretary for Indo-Pacific security affairs, told a House Armed Services Committee on Tuesday that the Pentagon is closely watching China for several ongoing domestic concerns including potential “political instability.”
The list of recently purged officials under Mr. Xi is long, including the publicly televised ouster of former Chinese President Hu Jintao from a major party conference in October; the firing in August of Foreign Minister Qin Gang over what U.S. officials say may have been the fallout from an extramarital affair; the recent disappearance from public view of Defense Minister Li Shangfu, who is said to be under party investigation; and the removal last summer of Gen. Li Yuchao as commander of the Strategic Rocket Forces, China’s nuclear missile arsenal.
Multiple news outlets, including CNN and Epoch Times, said the removals are signs of turmoil within the upper ranks of the Xi government. Other analysts say the removals are standard fare for Mr. Xi, who has emerged as a true-believer communist with unchallenged power.
John Garnaut is an Australian journalist and China hand who worked briefly for the Canberra government in helping identify Chinese influence operations in that country. He gave an internal speech in Australia six years ago clearly explaining the ideological roots of Mr. Xi’s campaign to advance communism.
The speech was called “Engineers of the Soul” – a term first used by Stalin in describing the work writers and artists were required to carry out. Stalin wrote the “Short Course on the History of the Bolsheviks” that contains the adage, “The party becomes strong by purging itself.”
Mao adopted the same approach after splitting with Soviet successor Nikita Khrushchev after Stalin’s death in 1953. China’s Communist Party today remains one of the very few in the world that still venerates Stalin, the dictator once called “the great genius” but who has been linked to millions of deaths.
“What Stalin offered Mao was not only a manual for purging his peers but also an explanation of why it was necessary,” Mr. Garnaut said. “Purging his rivals was the only way a vanguard party could ‘purify’ itself, remain true to its revolutionary nature and prevent a capitalist restoration.”
Mr. Xi’s latest personnel moves follow a series of high-level purges carried out shortly after he came to power in 2012. Those ousted early on included rival party regional boss Bo Xilai, Politburo member and security chief Zhou Yongkang, and the two vice chairmen of the People’s Liberation Army Central Military Commission, Xu Caihou and Guo Boxiong.
Mr. Garnaut said the purges were philosophical, not personal.
“It’s dialectical. And inevitable,” he said. “It’s pushing and accelerating China’s journey along the inexorable corkscrew-shaped course of history.”
Mr. Xi in speeches has praised Marx’s theories of dialectical materialism — that all progress comes from struggle — and historical materialism — that world communism is history’s predetermined end.
Miles Yu, a former State Department China policymaker, said the recent purges within the CCP inner circle conform perfectly to the logic of communist dictatorship. That logic says that “any display, real or imagined, of insufficient absolute loyalty to the supreme leader means absolute disloyalty, which must be squelched without mercy,” said Mr. Yu, now director of the China Center at the Hudson Institute.
“The history of the Chinese Communist Party is among the bloodiest of all Marxist-Leninist parties,” he said. “What’s surprising is that we should be surprised by it at all.”
PLA required to study Xi’s ideology
In a related development, China’s military announced recently that conformity with communist ideology is being expanded within the 2.8 million troops of the People’s Liberation Army.
Sr. Col. Wu Qian told reporters Aug. 31 in Beijing that the Central Military Commission, the organ controlling the armed wing of the ruling Chinese Communist Party, published an updated version of “Study Outline of Xi Jinping Thought on Strengthening the Military,” first released in 2019. It was published Aug. 1 and distributed throughout the country’s armed forces.
Col Wu called the ideological tract “a fundamental guideline for the modernization of our national defense and military and the building of a world-class military in all respects.”
Like other Chinese communist publications, the study guide has several different elements, all labeled with jargon and catchy buzz phrases. For example, the main element of the guide is the “two establishments” — a quasi-religious recognition that “Comrade Xi Jinping” is the core of the CCP and that the “guiding role” of his ideology is the basis for all military activity.
The guide also includes “Eleven Clarities” and “Five Insistences” of what it calls “contemporary China’s Marxist military outlook.”
One of the directives says that “it is clear” the military must fight and win wars against powerful enemies. Another states that military-civilian fusion is key to modernization. The five “Insistences” include following political guidance and such slogans as “persevere and win if you dare to fight.”
Col. Wu said an ideological education campaign using the guide is now under way within all military units, especially military training groups and service academies.
“Service members are required to read, study and comprehend the book, and gain a deep understanding of the Eleven Clarifications and Marxist military views and methodology adapted to the Chinese context and the needs of our time,” he said. The campaign will include tutorials on “Xi ideology” and instructs senior military to lecture troops on its contents.
The PLA has been operating since its formation according to Mao’s 1938 dictum: “Every communist must grasp the truth: Political power grows out of the barrel of a gun.”
FBI using AI and battling Chinese cyber threats
FBI Director Christopher Wray said this week that the bureau is using artificial intelligence to boost its counterespionage efforts against Chinese hackers.
Mr. Wray told a cybersecurity conference that AI is “ripe for potential abuses” from both foreign governments and criminals who are already using the new technology.
“To stay ahead of the threat, at the FBI, we’re determining how we can ethically and legally leverage AI to do our jobs,” Mr. Wray said. “But we’re also identifying and tracking our adversaries’ and criminals’ uses of AI, while protecting American innovation in the AI arena.”
Analysts say artificial intelligence — the use of supercomputers and advanced software — can be used in counterintelligence operations to rapidly identify foreign spy operations and cyber activities.
A major problem, Mr. Wray said, is China: “We’ve been telling anyone who will listen, the Chinese government has been stealing American intellectual property and data for years, and you can be sure they’re not going to stop now and sit back and watch while American companies develop technologies that can change the world.”
“China already has a bigger hacking program than every other major nation combined,” Mr. Wray said. “In fact, if each one of the FBI’s cyber agents and intelligence analysts focused on China exclusively, Chinese hackers would still outnumber our cyber personnel by at least 50 to 1.”
“With AI, China is now in position to try to close the cycle — to use the fruits of their widespread hacking to power, with AI, even more powerful hacking efforts,” he said.
Other cyber threats include hackers from Russia, Iran and North Korea.
There are indications all four nations’ intelligence services are working with cybercriminals.
FBI investigators have observed “foreign intelligence officers moonlighting — making money on the side — through cybercrime, or hackers who are profit-minded criminals by day and state-sponsored by night, or nation-states using cybercriminal tools to conduct state-sponsored attacks because they think it gives them some plausible deniability or will hide who’s behind the attacks,” Mr. Wray said.
• Contact Bill Gertz on X @BillGertz.