What the Chinese Communist Party’s Response to COVID Tells Us About the Party

What the Chinese Communist Party’s Response to COVID Tells Us About the Party
(Dr. Miles Yu, January 30, 2023)

Transcript available below

About the Speaker

Miles Yu is a senior fellow and director of the China Center at Hudson Institute. He is also a professor of East Asia and military and naval history at the United States Naval Academy in Annapolis, Maryland. Dr. Yu specializes in Chinese military and strategic culture, US and Chinese military and diplomatic history, and US policy toward China.

Dr. Yu joined the Trump administration and served as the China policy adviser to Secretary of State Mike Pompeo. In that capacity, he advised the secretary on all China-related issues, helped overhaul US policy toward China, and participated in key US government interagency deliberations on major policy and government actions with regard to China and other East Asian countries, including Japan, South Korea and Taiwan. He is a visiting fellow at the Hoover Institution as a member of the Military History/Contemporary Conflict Working Group. From 2011 to 2016, he wrote the weekly column “Inside China” for the Washington Times. Since 1996, he has been an editorial consultant to Radio Free Asia, and a contributor to various media outlets including the Wall Street Journal and PBS News Hour.

Dr. Yu has published widely on topics in his field. His books include OSS in China: Prelude to Cold War (Yale University Press, 1997) and The Dragon’s War: Allied Operations and the Fate of China, 1937–1947 (Naval Institute Press, 2006). He is the author of many scholarly articles on China, military and intelligence history, and newspaper columns about contemporary Chinese political and military affairs. His numerous awards include the US Naval Academy’s top researcher award, US Navy Special Action Awards, and US Navy Meritorious Service Award.

Dr. Yu received a doctorate in history from the University of California, Berkeley, a master’s degree from Swarthmore College, and a bachelor’s degree from Nankai University.



Robert R. Reilly:

Hello and welcome to the Westminster Institute. I am Robert Reilly, its director. Today, we are privileged to welcome as our speaker and discussant Dr. Miles Yu. He is a senior fellow and director of the China Center at Hudson Institute here in Washington, D.C. He is also a professor of East Asia and military and naval history at the United States Naval Academy in Annapolis. Dr. Yu specializes in Chinese military and strategic culture, US and Chinese military and diplomatic history, and US policy toward China.

Dr. Yu joined the Trump administration and served as the China policy adviser to Secretary of State Mike Pompeo. In that capacity, he advised the secretary on all China-related issues, helped overhaul US policy toward China, and participated in key US government interagency deliberations on major policy and government actions with regard to China and other East Asian countries, including Japan, South Korea and Taiwan.

I do not think I could give a better introduction than did Mike Pompeo himself in his recently released autobiography, Never Give An Inch, so I am going to read this paragraph about Miles Yu, who is spoken about in a number of places in this book. Here is what former Secretary of State Mike Pompeo says about Miles:

“Another powerful asset was a patriot named Miles Yu. Born in China during the Mao years, he grew up seeing firsthand the brutality of party rule. As a young man, Miles was intrigued by the words of President Reagan, and came to the United States to study. He fell in love with the American ideals of liberty and got involved with the Chinese dissident community. He eventually became a U.S. citizen and a professor of Chinese studies and military history at the U.S. Naval Academy in Annapolis.

“In 2018, as a supporter of the Trump administration, he accepted a temporary assignment to work on China policy at the State Department. He was invaluable to me time and again by providing historical context on China policy, insights into the CCP’s thought process, and bold policy recommendations. Miles also held the all-important China portfolio in the Office of Policy Planning. If Miles didn’t sign off on a policy recommendation, it wouldn’t move ahead for my approval.”

Well, Miles, that is a high recommendation indeed. You are also the author of several books on China. But let us move right into our topic: “What the Communist Party’s approach to the COVID Outbreak Tells Us about the Party.”

Dr. Miles Yu:

Well, the party is a Marxist-Leninist party. Like all such parties they have an incredible sense of a historical mission. Their mission is to liberate the rest of the world from a capitalist misery, so you might say the Chinese Communist Party is a party with a millenarian vision. And when they say China is carrying out something called “socialism with Chinese characteristics,” that does not necessarily mean that it is Chinese nationalist characteristics. It always means socialism with the Chinese Communist Party characteristics because they always believe that the Chinese Communist Party is better than all other communist parties, which have failed, particularly the Soviet Marxist revisionism.

They have believed since Khrushchev that the Soviet the way of communism is wrong, revisionist, and a socialist imperialism. And you know in Cuba and North Korea there are communists, but they are a little bit more feudal. When the father dies, they pass the power to the son. The son passes power to the grandson. And when the brother steps down, the power was given to the younger brother like in the case of Cuba.

So China believed it is the most authentic Communist Party. As such, China believed that it could do a lot of things with enormous control and with control of enormous resources, so when COVID hit China, China decided it had the power and capability to basically eradicate every single COVID infection, against science, against expert advice, just like in 1950s when Mao Zedong believed the Chinese Communist Party was so awesome that it could eradicate all the sparrows in China, which ended up in disaster.

So this is the theoretical and ideological origin of the COVID zero national lockdown, which has caused immeasurable misery to the Chinese people. So once [it became clear that] this policy was not going to work, the Chinese Communist Party realized the infection was out of control, so it suddenly lifted the national lockdown. The infection just spread like a wildfire, if you will.

Just last week, the Chinese CDC’s chief epidemiologist admitted that 80 percent of the Chinese population has been infected with COVID. That is 80 percent of 1.4 billion people, which translates into the actual number of 1.1 billion. That is 1100 million Chinese people infected with COVID without any adequate preparation at all for relief. That is why the Chinese health system is totally, totally in chaos, in shambles right now. So this is just like another humanitarian disaster, if not downright crime.

Robert R. Reilly:

Miles, what is extraordinary is the repeated assertions by President Xi that China’s policy was following the science. And he said this so many times it was echoed in the West and in other areas of the world that spoke almost with envy at the amount of control China could exercise to control this outbreak because of the apparatus of social control that China had instituted basically to control its population. But there were some medical voices, some virologists and doctors at the time, who said there is no way this can work, this is not the science, this is in defiance of the science.

Tell us if people in China at the beginning of the drastic lockdowns did express themselves in this way, questioning the pseudoscience by which the CCP was pursuing this.

Dr. Miles Yu:

The Chinese Communist Party never believed in science. As a matter of fact, the moment – the moment – the outbreak occurred, the Chinese Communist Party got very excited. They looked at this [as an] opportunity to showcase the extraordinary awesomeness of the Party, the power, the power of the Party, so the very first order Xi Jinping gave to the nation was to unleash any kind of positive energy to showcase the Communist Party’s pioneer role in this pandemic.

Therefore, by positive energy it means any negative news about this virus, its mortality, human to human transmission, and all of those [facts] should be sort of, you know, eliminated, silenced. So at the beginning of the pandemic, you saw China launched a national crackdown on the scientists, on the doctors, on the journalists who like to expose the truth. And the most famous one, of course, was Dr. Li Wenliang, who was an eye doctor in Wuhan. And he basically was the first guy to say, hey, listen, there is a new thing, it is very dangerous, watch out. And for that he was basically detained by police, lectured on, and forced to sign a confession.

You can see a lot of doctors in China are not allowed to publish in any scientific journal by national order, so this is nothing short of a man-made a disaster. Science is not on their mind. What is on their mind is the Communist Party’s longevity and glory.

Robert R. Reilly:

I know that Secretary Pompeo said a number of times that the possibility that the virus may have been released from the virology lab in Wuhan had to be looked at, and nothing was more virulently opposed by the CCP and by President Xi than exactly that possibility. You must have been close to this issue at that time. What can you tell us about it?

Dr. Miles Yu:

Secretary Pompeo as he related in his memoir actually gave me a marching order to investigate this in the early months of 2020, so I did a preliminary investigation, and I submitted the report to him. That report contained two parts. One is the open source one. Another one contains intelligence reports. I can only talk about the open source one, which basically goes like this.

The first thing the Chinese Communist Party did was to issue an order to destroy the initial samples of the first patients. This order was issued on January 1, and then the written order was circulated to all the labs, including Wuhan Institute of Virology on January 2, 2020. This is basically, you know, what they are trying to do. Subsequently, in the Chinese internet – by this time the Chinese government was still denying anything. They kept silent. There was nothing there except Xi Jinping going around in circles, talking about the glory and the power of the Communist Party and the advanced nature of socialism and Marxism.

But Chinese cyberspace exploded with all kinds of rumors, accusations about what was going on in the Wuhan lab. The funny thing is when the Chinese government finally came out to admit there was such a case, and that indeed it could be transmitted through human to human [contact], there was a mention of a lot of hospitals and medical research facilities in Wuhan, where the outbreak took place, except the one place that should be at the center of all this turmoil. That is the Wuhan Institute of Virology. But nothing was mentioned of that, so that caught my attention initially.

So I began to search for that, and basically it was a treasure trove. Boy, I mean that Wuhan Institute of Virology has done a lot of work in this, collecting, and analyzing, and gain of function research of this virus. Of course, the world basically paid attention to a lot of it. There was no smoking gun at the time because the Chinese government does not really cooperate at all and they colluded with the WHO by spreading disinformation, saying this is nothing to worry about, condemning the Western countries’ travel restrictions as discriminatory.

We dug deeper, and I think we discovered a lot of circumstantial evidence, not only by Western sources but also by a lot of Chinese sources as well. Citizens began to disclose a lot of shocking details about labs’ habit of, for example, selling lab animals to the local markets either as pets or as meat. So of course, those accusations cannot be verified because the Wuhan Institute of Virology would not make any comments, would not come out to clarify, to clear itself. The absolute silence of that lab, which is China’s premier, highest biosafety lab, is very suspicious. And of course, later on we discovered a lot more evidence about the unique role that lab played, particularly with the Chinese military’s biological weapons program.

Robert R. Reilly:

Now, I do not believe that former Secretary of State Mike Pompeo at that time or even now would assert that China deliberately spread the virus overseas. However, it must have known (that is the CCP must have known) that late in the year, before this became public with the World Health Organization, before the United States could take any steps against it, that this was a very dangerous virus, and yet they allowed international travel to take place from Wuhan, and those travelers from Wuhan brought the virus to Europe and the United States, according to some accounts.

And even later when travel restrictions were placed, as you just pointed out, Chinese authorities protested vehemently, but they must have known by that time the enormous dangers that they had let loose on the world. Is that an exaggeration, Miles, or do you think that is a reasonable suspicion?

Dr. Miles Yu:

Well, it is not an exaggeration, but I will take it from a different perspective. I do not have evidence to show the Chinese deliberately unleashed this virus as a bioweapon against the entire world. I do know the Chinese biological weapon experts admitted they were working on some very dangerous weapons, one of which is something called population specific genetic marking biological weapons. That means they designed biological weapons targeting specific ethnic demographic groups, so these are bioweapons. The Chinese in the military admitted this. They are doing this.

But I do know one thing I want to say. I will take this from a different perspective.

Secretary Pompeo and I published an op-ed in the Wall Street Journal in, I believe, last year in which we stressed the issue of biosafety. Whether this virus came from the lab or from the wild is a matter of scientific inquiry. Unless China fully cooperated, we would not know the answer, but I do know China’s biosafety has been a consistent concern. This is a concern, not only by the international organizations, it is also particularly concerning to the Chinese scientists themselves.

The leading expert, leading authority, on China’s lax and substandard biosafety issue is none other than the director of Wuhan’s P4 lab. Let me just put a few numbers into perspective so you can see why this is a concern. This is a big concern for the Chinese scientists as well.

[In] 2003, China had the SARS outbreak. The SARS outbreak to the Chinese was a total mystery. They could not figure out what the heck was going on, so the Chinese Communist Party gave an order. [They said], hey, listen, let us just find out, you know, what went on and let us develop a vaccine on it. Let us do it in a sort of Great Leap Forward campaign style. This was a typical Chinese Communist move, right?

So all of a sudden, the Chinese biological, virological research institutes mushroomed in China. So in the following 12 years, the Chinese scientists by their own admission gathered close to 2000 new viruses unknown to mankind. It took the entire world over 200 years to discover that many viruses, so in other words, you have this many newly discovered viruses all concentrated in the country with such a substandard [facility] safety measure and standard, and it is very dangerous.

The Chinese government knew this. Chinese scientists knew this. There were articles, even books about this terrible issue, so the outbreak in Wuhan was an accident waiting to happen. It should never have happened in a normal country, with a normal transparency standard and normal biosafety standard. So from that point of view, I can establish intentionality from the different perspective, that is the Chinese government knew this could happen but did not take any action against it.

Robert R. Reilly:

For close to three years, the Communist Party of China enforced their draconian lockdown program to supposedly restrain COVID infections. And then after President Xi was ‘elected’ to a third term as president, he switched dramatically, lifted the lockdowns, removed all restraints to international travel. And of course, you just mentioned the tremendous statistic of the number of Chinese people who have been infected by COVID-19. And the newspapers have been full of photographs of a very distressing nature of the emergency rooms in Chinese hospitals, the inadequate wards in which the victims of this virus are being treated. It looks like a real nightmare, and one can only speculate on the number of deaths that have been caused by this.

Then we know a spontaneous reaction set in from the Chinese people, and there were extraordinary demonstrations around the country of people holding white sheets of paper. Somehow or another the message got through the Politburo or to President Xi that this must have presented a danger and that he better end the lockdowns. Do you think that is how it happened?

Dr. Miles Yu:

Probably, but I will add a little more shades of Xi Jinping’s mindset. It is true that he basically steamrolled himself into the longer term against the wishes of a lot of people inside the Party inner sanctum, so when he steamrolled himself into that the new position, he had virtually no allies in China’s upper echelon. Of course, the dissent was always oblique. There is nothing really there in the open, but he was pretty isolated, in other words.

So there is an opportunity from within, so he knew that his political enemies must be looking for any kind of opportunity to do him in. This COVID zero lockdown has been nothing but a disaster, a catastrophe, so this could be his undoing. But most importantly, you mentioned the nationwide protests.

Do not underestimate the power of that. China is a totalitarian regime. They will not tolerate any sign of protest. This protest is not just peasants from the periphery. This protest is actually led by the elite, by the intelligentsia, by the doctors, and so this is the middle class. This is China’s upper middle class [protesting] because the zero COVID lockdown means that everybody is staying in, so you are talking about locking down millions of property owners, well off people. They cannot travel. They cannot even get out of their neighborhood.

In some unique cases, you know, if they try [to leave], they are welded in [to their own homes], so it is very draconian. So this gets a lot of people really, really mad. And not only that, [but] the way that the Communist Party handled this, through sheer lies, the mendacity is just beyond belief, so Chinese people could not take it anymore. So he knew that the country was going to be out of control, so we have the telltale sign of a French Revolution once again.

So you have that, and another thing is that most importantly he had to change the course because the Chinese economy was in shambles, and his sort of absolutely asinine COVID zero lockdowns has forced millions of businesses to close down. The unemployment was sky high, and they youth unemployment by the Chinese Statistics Bureau’s own admission was reaching 20 percent. That number runs the risk of underestimating [the scale of youth unemployment].

Basically, you know, the Chinese economy is in big trouble, so you had so many people unemployed that it created a political problem. That is social instability, and Xi would have been the only person to blame, so I think he had no choice but to change this. I mean, from outside maybe this was a Machiavellian power play, but I think, you know, he really had no other choice but to change his policy.

Robert R. Reilly:

Yeah, let us talk about the costs of his COVID policy on the Chinese economy. He seemed because of his crackdown on some large Chinese corporations, particularly those focused on internet and communications, that the greatest interest of the Party was not a growing economy but the control of the people.

And the disciplinary measures he took against some of the leading corporate figures was a lesson that the Party will exert control, that members of the Communist Party were placed on the boards of corporations to both carry out the Party directives and report on any deviations from those [directives]. That must have an effect on the Chinese economy.

And of course, we know the growth figures [are not reliable]. Who knows how accurate they are because it is the Chinese government that issues them. Nonetheless, [the figures] are the lowest reported in almost the last two decades. So what are your comments about those two things, the cost of COVID on the economy, and the costs on the economy of the control measures that the Party has instituted on the economy?

Dr. Miles Yu:

First of all, the Chinese economic numbers were a joke. The other day, I forget which day, they [released] two sets of statistics. One is on China’s population, demography. Another one is on China’s economy. On population, from the Chinese authority it says that, oh, for the first time we have a negative birthrate, but also in the meantime in the last year, facing a national lockdown and no international travel, the statistics still says there are 240,000 immigrants [moving] into China, which is totally unbelievable. It is incredible! I do not know how they do that.

On the economic figures this said, oh, the Chinese economy’s [growth] is slower. It only grew 3 percent. China said it is only 3 percent, but it is better than the U.S., right, better than other countries. But it is still fake! I mean, it is unimaginable that China with that kind of economic condition that I just mentioned earlier could even grow into the positive zone.

So let us go back to the first part of your question. The zero COVID national lockdown is implemented by different provinces in China. There are about 31 provinces and equivalent in China. Each one of them was responsible for hiring a lot of the cops and also extra enforcement forces. And also, they are responsible for forcing people to take a vaccine. That costs a lot of money, so last year every single provincial government, 31 of them, ran a huge deficit. They ran out of money, so the Chinese government was running out of money.

So what did they do?

Well, this is where Xi Jinping heightened his pitch for something he called common prosperity, right, 共同富裕 gòngtóng fùyù. That means, you know, to rob Peter to pay Paul. So that is why he went after private entrepreneurs, the billionaires who speak [out] like the CEO of Alibaba, like the CEO of Tencent, so all the super-rich, non-state – or actually, there is no such thing as purely private enterprise. Everything is controlled by the Communist Party. Let us just say non-state enterprises. So that is why he went after this, and he threatened them with a lot of arbitrary orders.

So they forced them to donate an enormous amount of money to the state. So that is where basically, you know, the economy is right now. On top of that, because of China’s lack of transparency and draconian lockdown, the Christmas orders sent to the Chinese factories dropped by 40 percent this year. So you can see the impact of the zero COVID lockdown. While every major country in the world is recovering, going back to the to the ball games and lifting travel restrictions, China was the only country that is still wrapped up into the paranoia and this draconian zero COVID lockdown, and that is really, really important.

So what they do is they will resort to absolute lies and censorship. For example, during the height of the national lockdowns, there was a World Cup in Dakar. Chinese television would show thousands of people in the audience without masks. They were cheering, having fun, and yet Chinese official propaganda had been portraying the outside world as absolute hell, as everybody is suffering, everybody is dying. And so that would not wash. The Chinese did some kind of very creative censorship on that kind of a message, so it is very, very tricky.

The impact on the economy is tremendous, but the impact on the credibility and the trust of the Chinese Communist Party is even more devastating.

Robert R. Reilly:

That last remark invites a question because a senior party representative went to Davos at that meeting, and tried to convey a very positive message, saying, China is open for business once again, welcome Western entrepreneurs, return to China. Will that message do you think be trusted by Western businessmen and entrepreneurs, or have they learned a lesson that investments in China can be a risky, risky proposition?

[That is] number one, and the number two lesson was that the chain of supplies was broken in so many ways due to China’s policies and also, for instance, domestic U.S. policies in some misconceived COVID programs by the CDC and others, so best to move some critical manufacturing, such as for medicines back to the United States or at least into Allied countries so that we will have a reliable supply chain? So is that damage permanent?

Dr. Miles Yu:

Yeah, okay, so the bad thing about the COVID crisis with regard to China is not just the vicissitude and precariousness of the government policies. It is also about the resistance itself. It is unpredictable. The Party can say one thing one day. They can say [something] totally different then another day, so because of that kind of lack of credibility, international capital does not like it.

So that is why you can see the voluntary decoupling many Western corporations have taken. Apple, for example, right, has all moved up part of its manufacturing capabilities outside of China to go to other countries with more transparency and predictability.

I doubt that China can reverse that kind of trend because one of the bitter lessons that the United States and many Western countries learned during the COVID crisis is that China is not really into solving international crisis by its generosity. China wants to exercise its leverage, control, to enhance [others’] dependency.

So that is why during the crisis, during and after the crisis, I believe many countries are creating their own economic and health facility independence to lessen their dependency on China. You can see that clearly, clearly in the case of the U.S. I mean, when we were in the government, it was painful to see that China controlled all the PPEs. They hoarded it before the outbreak, so when this outbreak did take place and we finally found that we had to beg China for a decent supply of like masks, right, so that is basically the major lesson.

I think since then we have all known that you cannot really trust the Chinese Communist government. You have to develop your own independent supply chain.

Robert R. Reilly:

What will the impact of that be on Chinese economic growth, which it still badly needs because as you know even though this is now the second largest economy in the world, the standard of living in China, particularly in rural areas, is still very, very low.

Many people describe a supposed bargain within China between the Chinese people and the Communist Party. They say there really are not any Communists left in China, but the Party wishes to perpetuate its control, and so long as the economy is growing and people’s standard of living is increasing, they will say okay, you go ahead and control the state and other aspects of our lives so long as our lives are improving. But if they do not improve, you, the Communist Party, are going to have a problem perpetuating your control.

Is there some kind of implicit bargain of that kind between the Chinese people and the Party?

Dr. Miles Yu:

I think there are a lot of fallacies in that statement. The Chinese economy, obviously, has grown tremendously in the last several decades, but that is primarily due to Chinese people’s own diligence, hard work, and also due to the fact that China enjoys unprecedented access to the Western international free trade system.

And by the way, China became enriched, but who benefited from the wealth? Not necessarily Chinese people, but the Chinese state. The Chinese state is becoming enormously wealthy. The Chinese people’s living standard obviously increased, but not nearly as much as rich [people with] status have right now.

Now, Chinese Premier Li Keqiang two years ago said something very, very interesting. When Xi Jinping said, oh, the Chinese Communist Party is so great, so glorious, we have lifted 800 million people in China out of poverty, Li Keqiang said, well, not really. I mean, over 601 million Chinese are still living on under 1000 Yuan a month. That is under five dollars a day. That is abject to poverty. This claim was also immediately backed by the Chinese State Statistics Bureau.

So you do the math, right? You have like nearly 40 percent of the Chinese population living [on less than] five dollars a day while the elite, the Chinese Communist Party elites, live in luxury, fancy cars skyscrapers. I mean, that is the sheer disparity of economic reality in China. I do not buy the [idea] that the Chinese Communist Party’s stability, longevity, stems solely from this kind of a tacit, hunky-dory agreement.

The Chinese Communist Party’s stay in power lies in sheer repressive measures.

The Chinese Communist Party fears its people the most.

The Chinese Communist Party spent more money on what they call the dictatorship of the proletariat, in other words, all the control mechanisms, all the repressive tools, than on its national defense each year. That is pretty telling. China is building this world-class, modern, Orwellian, even beyond Orwellian surveillance system. Every single move, every single speech the Chinese citizen utters is subject to monitored surveillance. So in other words, [for] every citizen in China it is made known that whatever you do, whatever you say, sometimes whatever you think, may be subjected to state persecution.

So that is something that I can see, the willing cooperation between Chinese people and the Chinese Communist Party. I mean, there is nothing that frightens the Chinese Communist Party more than the Western leader telling them the reality, that the Chinese Communist Party does not represent the Chinese people. When Secretary Pompeo made that statement, he drove the Chinese Communist Party to the wall. I mean they violently reacted to that, so we knew that hit a nerve.

Robert R. Reilly:

Miles, in mentioning Secretary Pompeo I had a thought. Early in the Biden administration when Secretary of State Anthony Blinken went to meet senior Communist Party officials in Alaska, they dressed the Secretary of State down, and he gave a very meek response. I immediately thought, I do not think they would have dared tried that when Mike Pompeo was Secretary of State because he would have wiped the floor with them. Do you think I am right?

Dr. Miles Yu:

You are absolutely right, and I think you know, this is in the context of Chinese having this intense expectation that the new administration would change the Trump administration’s China policy. So they wanted the new administration to denounce us, to have a 180-degree reversal. This did not happen even though there was an enormous party disagreement. This country is also very divided on virtually everything else, but on China policy the parties pretty much agree on fundamental points. So I think when China realized that [fact], they went berserk.

So they went to Alaska to meet Secretary of State Anthony Blinken along with National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan, and so they did not avoid the issue of specific policies. Instead, they lectured American counterparts on the virtue of democracy, on the superiority of the socialist system over capitalist democracy.

It is actually a pretty clever tactic because they mostly use the rhetoric of the American left to make this point, and they attack American democracy as basically based on racism. They attack the American democracy as being manipulated by big money. So they do not really care about this context of American politics, that this is a democracy, you have different points of view, different interest groups interact with each other. So take one side to denounce the entire system in which those debates take place.

Secretary Blinken and Mr. Sullivan perhaps belong to the part of the debate that the Chinese government was targeted on, so that is why they tried to muffle them.

Robert R. Reilly:

That reminds me of a meeting. I was part of a small delegation meeting with Alexander Yakovlev, who was number two to Gorbachev in the Politburo. This meeting with him was in Moscow. We made some critical remarks about the Soviet Union, and he lashed back by saying, oh yeah? Look at how you treat your blacks.

So I took the opportunity to respond to that, but as you pointed out, this is a typical tactic of communist regimes because to Anthony Blinken and Jake Sullivan, they had temerity to mention black lives matter as a problem indicative of, you know, racial injustice in the United States. Because they were giving the straight Marxist-Leninist critique, let us get back to that significance in China today.

I mentioned earlier [that] so many will say, well, there are no Communists left, but President Xi Jinping has been particularly adamant in enforcing party doctrine and ensuring that Communist Party officials are fully up to speed in Marxist Leninist doctrine. Do they believe this? Is this just an attempt to maintain their control, and they need some doctrine through which to do it, so it is a cynical ploy on the Party leadership’s part, or is there serious residual belief in this?

Dr. Miles Yu:

Communism as a state ideology, as a popular belief, has died. Very few people in China on a popular level believe in communist ideology. It is basically a bankrupt ideology. The Chinese Communist Party cannot even export communist ideology overseas overtly because nobody wants to buy expired goods.

However, the Chinese Communist Party inner core are, without a doubt, true believers in Marxist Leninism. They are the true believers. They carry the mission of liberating others from the misery of international capitalism. When I say the Chinese Communist Party does not represent the Chinese people, this is a very important part of that. Most of the people in China do not believe in communism, except the Party elites, right, the very people at the top.

Robert R. Reilly:

What do they believe in?

Dr. Miles Yu:

They believe in basically all this bourgeois lifestyle, the pursuit of status symbols, just like you and me, right, like a lot of Americans do. They were able to basically maintain – the engagement with China by the West provided Chinese people a window of opportunity to engage with the other lifestyle.

So I think Xi Jinping’s ability to restore the rigid and strident Marxist Leninism education indoctrination is quite remarkable because this is at every level. He even ordered the Communist Party cell to be at every level of the major corporations, state-owned [or] ‘private’ [corporations]. So the Party must exert total control.

You mentioned, Bob, Liu He, Vice Premier Liu He went to Davos.

He [said] we are opening up, you know, China is welcoming you again. The irony is that this is the first year in the history of Davos where no Chinese billionaires, entrepreneurs were allowed to go except the government officials. Jack Ma was there all the time, but he is now in exile, so it is very ironic. So that is the difference between the Chinese Community Party and the Chinese people.

So I will say COVID was actually quite educational because people just realized the absurdity of the communist ideology. Anybody who believes that communist ideology does not matter at all in China is not qualified to talk about China because they are ignoring the biggest reality in China. The Party is driven by a few very simple Marxist Leninist tenets, and they carry that through with dogged rigidity and devotion. There should be no question about that.

Robert R. Reilly:

One aspect, Miles, of life in China that confirms your statement about the seriousness with which the senior party officials take Marxist-Leninist doctrine is their crackdown on religion, of which many people are unaware. There are a few cases highlighted, but there are so many reports I have read of churches in which the crosses have been knocked off the buildings, in which the crucifix is removed and pictures of Xi Jinping are put in, that the churches are severely constrained, increasingly so. Within usual communist doctrine, that is simply because religion is feared as a competitor in providing a deeper meaning to life because of the transcendent message that man’s destiny is oriented to heaven, and in Christianity through Christ.

There are also rumors that Christianity has spread like wildfire in China and that underground churches still exist, through which this kind of a proselytization takes place. So can you talk about the effort to repress and control religion, and what might be happening despite it?

Dr. Miles Yu:

There are many ideological consistencies of the Chinese Communist Party. In other words, it carries through an essence of the Party’s model of governance. It will not change regardless of who is in charge. Persecution against religion, all religions, is one of them, so the Chinese Communist Party’s repression of religion, as you mentioned rightly so, has everything to do with the Communist Party’s communist ideology, because it is not only a threat organizationally, but it is also ideologically a threat.

Let us talk about the organizational threat. Organizationally, if a religious group recognizes one leader outside of the Communist Party, that is not allowed in China. For example, if you are a Catholic in China, your ultimate authority is the Pope, who is not under Chinese Communist Party control. That is the reason why Chinese Catholics have been systematically persecuted, because their loyalty is to somebody other than the Party itself.

And of course, just look at this other issue, the Uyghurs. We know the Chinese Communist Party has locked up Uyghurs in concentration camps by the millions, not necessary to physically eliminate [them] but mostly to brainwash them, to get rid of their Muslim religion, the Islamic religion, to wipe out their cultural identity, to make them into socialist new men or new people, and to be indoctrinated with Marxism Leninism and the characteristic thoughts of Chinese leaders, Mao and Xi, for example.

So this is basically an ideological war, and China has been conducting this ideological war against religion for decades. It never stopped. I mean, of course, part of religious practice is that it does provide brotherhood for those who are oppressed, so the result is that you have a lot of underground churches. China has spent a lot of energy banning, persecuting the underground churches, churches not recognized by the state.

The state has phony puppet churches, of course. One of the major issues in Catholicism, for example, in China is, as you said, it spread like wildfire. There are a lot of them. It is something like 10 to 12 million underground church members. That is a lot of people, but China does not want the Pope in Rome to appoint Bishops, so this is sort of the biggest issue between China and the Vatican. China wants to have a say in that, and unfortunately, the current Pope seems to give in to the Chinese bullying, and that is very unfortunate.

Robert R. Reilly:

Yes, let us, as we approach the end of our conversation here, touch upon how all of this influences Chinese foreign policy today. Supposedly, they are toning down their wolf warrior conduct, which was on exhibit in the Alaska meeting, which you described. But do you think that the profile that they give the Taiwan issue is to inspire allegiance from the Chinese people to the Party as the defender of Chinese sovereignty?

In other words, was President Xi’s claim of sovereignty over practically the entire South China Sea during President Obama’s administration, which did absolutely nothing about that audacious claim, or the way it reacts militarily to any sign of support for [Taiwan] through incursions by Chinese fighter planes and ships into Taiwan’s space, does that resonate in the mainland? Does that strengthen support for Xi?

Dr. Miles Yu:

I mean, that is a 50/50 question, right? I mean, in the country where information is totally censored and controlled, it is possible that it can sort of rile up the nation for your political purpose, but I doubt that will be 100 percent sure it is going to happen because people in China are so upset with the Chinese Communist Party. I mean, anything in Taiwan is going to be very, very unpredictable, I should say.

Now, you mentioned the Chinese claim of Taiwan as a sovereignty issue. That is also bogus. Modern China was born out of the thousand-year legacy of the tributary system. In other words, China considered itself as the Middle Kingdom, as the sort of paradise around which all the other states in the periphery are supposed to kowtow, to pay a tribute to China in exchange for China’s protection. In other words, when modern nation-states emerged along China’s periphery, China had border disputes with virtually every one of them, so that is just history, so the Chinese Communist Party inherited that kind of mess.

This gives the Chinese Communist Party an opportunity to deal with this, and so the way the CCP regime has been doing this is completely opportunistic. In other words, to those countries around China’s periphery that China considers friendly, socialists, in particular communists, China has no problem negotiating away territories several dozen times bigger than Taiwan. For instance, the Soviet Union, Mongolia, and in the 50s one country that is in the southwest of China, Burma

Burma has been socialist. They are very pro-China, so they negotiated away with that, so this has nothing to do with sovereignty. Sovereignty is just an excuse. The reason Taiwan become a sticking point in China’s crusade is not Taiwan, it is the United States, because the United States has always backed Taiwan.

Since the late 1990s, the urgency to take over Taiwan has become more urgent because Taiwan is going through this profound and very exciting, exhilarating transformation from dictatorship to democracy. Taiwan is a beacon of freedom and democracy into this world. It is a really amazing place.

The transformation of Taiwan into a democracy has enormous inspirational power over the Chinese people. Many people identify with Taiwanese culture and Taiwanese democracy, and that is what the Chinese government fears the most. That is why they keep trying to drag this Taiwan issue into a sovereignty issue, as if Taiwan, how the government formed, how the nationhood was formed, and how the political system is different from mainland China does not matter at all. That is basically pretty desperate in that regard.

So I do not think essentially this is going to happen. Of course, it is also incumbent upon the Taiwanese government to educate its own population of 23 million free and loving people, that they should be proud of what they have achieved. For the first time in human history, a Chinese community could form a true democracy. They should be proud of it. And I think in the West and in democracies along around the Indo-pacific, Taiwan has more allies.

And I think people look at Taiwan as an epic struggle between freedom and tyranny, freedom and dictatorship. More people look at Taiwan from that point of view, particularly in light of what is going on in Ukraine, so this is particularly inspirational to freedom-loving people in the world, so I would not think that the Chinese Communist Party would actually do such silly things.

Speaking of Ukraine, I mean, the lessons should be very profound for the Chinese Communist Party. If they venture something militarily, the chance of winning is not 100 percent. If it reaches a stalemate, China could not last nearly as long as Russia has in Ukraine because the enormous domestic problem is the economic problem, [not to mention] predicted, severe, international sanctions [in the wake of an attempted invasion of Taiwan by China].

Now, the impact of sanctions will be much, much more severe than Russia has endured. That is because unlike Russia, China has been so integrated into the global free trade system. That credit dependency of China on the rest of the world, too, [makes them much more susceptible to international sanctions]. The Chinese government knows this.

Robert R. Reilly:

Well, I first of all would like to remark that I completely share your admiration and enthusiasm for Taiwan. I was privileged to spend a summer there many years ago through National Chengshi University and admired what I saw there greatly. And I was deeply impressed by the preservation of traditional Chinese culture, something that it has maintained while at the same time it made the achievements of economic growth and democratic government.

My experience on the mainland is very limited, but I was deeply disappointed in the lack of that traditional Chinese culture, which I was hoping to see there. But in, again, my very limited experience, was absent.

Now, I just would like to say that even though the repercussions for China if they invade Taiwan would be economically horrendous for the country, the strategic significance of Taiwan is great. Because of the sea routes it abuts, whoever holds Taiwan is in a powerful position. Japan was obviously aware of its significance, which is why it occupied the island for 50 years or more, and I believe China is aware of its strategic significance to the point that, quite remarkably, the government of Japan is undertaking a serious re-armament effort.

Speaking more explicitly of the dangers it faces from China, its southern Senkaku Islands are under threat from China as well. If the Chinese Communist Party were to gain control of Taiwan, the situation of Japan would be seriously compromised. Is that an accurate assessment, do you think?

Dr. Miles Yu:

One of the major shifts of the Taiwan issue in the last five or six years is that the international community increasingly looks at Taiwan not as a regional issue, not as just between China and Taiwan, but as the beginning of the chain of aggression by the Chinese Communist Party. In other words, China wants to start with Taiwan, and then take on many other countries.

China has grievances against many countries; Japan, you mentioned, right, in particular, [but also] Vietnam, and India, and the Philippines, even South Korea. So you have a lot of issues over there, so Taiwan is China’s Sudetenland. It will not stop at Taiwan, just like Hitler would not stop at the Sudetenland in 1938, so this is why defending Taiwan has international significance, and this is why the defense of Taiwan is not just for ideological and value reasons, defending democracy and freedom. It is also strategically a very necessary thing to do.

Robert R. Reilly:

So other actions that have been taken in light of that assessment, which seems to be shared by many countries in Southeast Asia.

Dr. Miles Yu:

You are absolutely right. I mean, Japan has come officially out of the shadow of World War II. Japan has been very shy in terms of playing a major role in its own security, defense in particular. Japan just a few weeks ago announced that it is going to spend up to 2 percent of its national GDP on defense by 2027. Japan is going to basically change its defense posture completely from defense-oriented to also develop preemptive and counter-strike capabilities. I mean, that is pretty amazing.

And Japan also, for the first time ever, named China as its primary challenge, over North Korea and over Russia, so this is quite extraordinary. I mean, you look at Vietnam. Vietnam is a country that has fought a war with China for several decades now. You might say that is a Communist internecine fight. Yes, that is true, but it is a fight, nevertheless.

So India obviously has a really huge conflict with China. I mean, India and China have reached the brink of war several times in the last several years, so you can see the intensity of a dislike of China. It is just around the periphery of China. It is very, very unfortunate. I hope for the sake of world peace, we should all realize the degree to which the Chinese Communist Party is a threat, and not the Chinese people. They should be our allies. We should work with them.

Robert R. Reilly:

Yes, and I just think we ought to add Australia into the mix because it certainly has expressed its concern about the China threat and is taking some measures to defend itself in alliance with the United States and other countries. But I have to say, when you look at the Chinese military buildup compared to the militaries of the adjoining countries and the timeline, for instance, that it will take Japan to undertake that military buildup, it is forecast pretty far into the future.

[This] puts China in the position of thinking, well, I am in the cat’s bird seat now, but if I wait 10 years, I may be facing greater problems from these states on my periphery, so it would be to my advantage to move now rather than later. [It is] somewhat like the assessment that [Japan] made when the oil embargo was put on it by the United States and Great Britain and the Netherlands. It had enough oil to last for a couple of years, but it would be weaker later, so hit now. Is that danger present in this situation, do you think?

Dr. Miles Yu:

I doubt that is going to be the case. Yes, it increases China’s calculation to risk more aggressively. On the other hand, China also understands that even though in a democracy it takes longer to get the budget approved, that is how it works, but do not under underestimate the engineering, engineering and the innovativeness, of the Western countries.

Japan, for example, is a sleeping giant. It has an enormous potential for engineering excellence and designing excellence. Japanese weapons are first rate, right, so I think it would be foolish to think that way. The United States is never a country that builds permanent sort of force per se, even though we are the number one force in the world, but we constantly try in the absence of a war to sort of downgrade the degree to which our military force is powerful.

But now we are facing the China challenge. I think that many countries are already mobilized, and we have already reoriented our economy, and we have restructured our defense and intelligence communities. And I think, again, it would be foolish for China to think otherwise.

Robert R. Reilly:

On the other hand, our industrial base is nothing compared to what it was back in, say, 1940-41 in terms of shipyards, our ability to build the ships we need, and the other implements necessary for our defense, so that is that is going to take some time.

However, you mentioned the analogy of Ukraine several times. It was a surprise to a lot of people, because of President Vladimir Putin’s much vaunted military reforms in Russia, that these conventional forces performed so badly in the field against Ukraine, that the military equipment the trucks and tanks were in a such a poor state of maintenance that they broke down, and that they could not continue on the route that they were supposed to take, and that the command and control structure, the communications, everything was very poor, leading to great losses on the part of Russia.

China also undertook a military reform. It was rather well known for the state of corruption, particularly in the upper ranks, how much it would cost to buy the position of an admiral or a senior general who could then collect funds through the corrupt military system to make up for those payments, but that under Xi that has changed. Of course, he is much vaunted for his anti-corruption campaigns, which I think any intelligent observer sees was used to enhance his political position and to get rid of his political enemies.

However, has the Chinese military improved substantially under those efforts of reform undertaken by Xi and has corruption in the Chinese military been corrected to the extent that if it does go into action, we will not see the kind of failures represented by the Russian military in Ukraine?

Dr. Miles Yu:

China’s military obviously has made very impressive progress in these fighting capabilities, there is no doubt about that, but in the meantime, China also has enormous weaknesses and vulnerabilities that we could explore in the time of war. China’s strategic rear is so huge it not only becomes a base but also a target, right, so it is hard to miss.

Unlike the West, which is more or less involved in a very big alliance system, the U.S. has a very big alliance system, China has no allies. The Russo-Chinese alliance is just in name only. Russia does not want to play the game by the Chinese playbook. And the biggest worry, of course, is that China, also, once a war starts, whether the population can go along with the Party. That is a big if, so if the Chinese population does not want to play along, then the war is doomed.

Now, you mentioned the anti-corruption [campaign carried out under Xi Jinping]. [The pretext of fighting] corruption is just another way of [justifying a] political purge. It is pervasive. I mean, virtually the entire PLA leadership team under Xi Jinping’s predecessor have been purged by him. We are talking about close to 100 senior generals and admirals who were purged.

Now, that is not just individuals because the Chinese system has a very elaborate patronage system. Each one of them also has his patrons down the chain of command, so by the thousands, you might say, they were all purged.

Xi Jinping is very ideologically intoxicated. He tends to promote senior military officers, not necessarily for the military merit, but mostly for their ideological loyalty and purity, and the degree to which they are loyal to him, so I do not know how powerful a fighting force China is. I cannot elaborate on classified information. But if you penetrate it on some of the Chinese military morale, I mean, the dislike and the hatred towards Xi is enormous, the dislike of Xi Jinping as a leader.

Robert R. Reilly:

Oh, really, in the military?

Dr. Miles Yu:

Yeah, so those are the vulnerabilities that we could explore, and I think we will.

Robert R. Reilly:

How could you do that? How can we take advantage of that?

Dr. Miles Yu:

That is a topic for another day.

Robert R. Reilly:

Alright, well, I am going to close. This will be the last question. There has been a lot of discussion in the media and among scholars on China’s demography because for the first time there has been recorded a decline in the Chinese population, and the demographic trends are that China will quickly age. And supposedly, it will get old before it gets rich, meaning with a large number of old people it will not have enough young people behind them to support the care and other needs [that]old people have. How much of a worry do you think this is for the Party, and how big a problem?

Dr. Miles Yu:

It is a big problem. You talk about old people. It is not just the old people. China’s Communist Party’s worry is actually more about the young people, young couples in their most productive age and with the highest earning power. That is because this generation of Chinese young couples in the 30s and 40s were all born in the one child policy. They are all from one child families.

The one child policy was implemented for nearly 40 years until a couple years ago. If you were born in, say, 1980, that is when the government started to implement the one child policy nationwide, by 2005, you will be 25 years old, you are getting married, and then a few years later, you have your own one child. You are only allowed to have one child. And then your parents retire. So because of China’s terrible bankrupt social security system, the elderly care is entirely the burden of the children.

So say you have your own child, one child, as a young couple in your 30s. Then you have to take care of four parents, yours and your spouse’s, so that is an enormous burden and old people tends to have, unfortunately, more illnesses [and] health problems. And the child healthcare system is just a total joke. It is very expensive and unreasonably cruel, so that is why the pressure on the most productive age group is enormous.

And then, plus, you have to make sure your own child gets the best education, [so you] send them to the most expensive school. And you would also work hard to get an apartment. China’s real estate is also totally speculated to be very expensive.

And then you would also have to keep up with the Jones’s. The social pressure is very big. I mean, if your neighbor has a car, you have a car, you never have a nicer car, you must have a nicer car. I am not saying this is always the case, but there is a lot of pressure to get ahead of everybody.

So in other words, the people who are most subdued, who are most unhappy, are those young couples who are in their full reproductive age, so they have no desire to have more children. That is why when the Chinese Communist Party discovered this problem, they lifted the one child policy, reluctantly, two years ago. It was too late. Nobody would have the wherewithal to actually have more than one child, so this is basically a double whammy on the Chinese Communist Party.


Robert R. Reilly:

Well, thank you very much, Miles. I am afraid that is all the time we have, and I would like to thank Dr. Miles Yu, a senior fellow at the Hudson Institute and the director of its China program, for joining us today to discuss what the handling of the COVID crisis in China tells U.S. about the CCP, and of course, the many other topics that we were able to include in today’s program.

I thank you for joining us and invite you to go to the Westminster Institute webpage or to our YouTube channel to see the many other offerings we have, videos and lectures on China, Japan, Taiwan, but also the Russia-Ukraine conflict and the Middle East. Thank you for joining us today. I am Robert Reilly.