In this episode of High Noon with Inez Stepman, Helen Raleigh joins the podcast to offer her firsthand account of living under the Chinese Communist system before immigrating to America. Author of Confucius Never Said and Backlash: How Communist China’s Aggression Has Backfired, Helen mingles lessons learned from her unique background with research and strategy to chart a possible course to maintain American dominance in the world, and liberty at home.
In addition to authoring several books, Helen’s work has been published in The Federalist, The Wall Street Journal, and many other outlets.
High Noon is an intellectual download featuring conversations that make possible a free society. Inviting interesting thinkers from all parts of the political spectrum to discuss the most controversial subjects of the day in a way that hopes to advance our common American future. Hosted by Inez Stepman of Independent Women’s Forum.
Welcome to High Noon, where we discuss controversial subjects with interesting people. My guest today is Helen Raleigh. Who’s a writer and a speaker, as well as the author of several books, including a memoir called Confucius Never Said, and more recently Backlash: How Communist China’s Aggression Has Backfired. She’s a senior contributor to the Federalist and her articles have been published in the Wall Street Journal and Fox News, National Review, and a lot of other outlets, and she comes to this with a very unique perspective. I think of having grown up in China and then immigrated to the United States later in life. So she’s really lived under both systems. So welcome, Helen. It’s really great to have you here on High Noon.
Thank you for having me.
So let’s just start with more the subject of your memoir or autobiography. Why don’t you tell us a little bit about how you grew up, what your family’s experience was living under the Communist Party in China?
Right. So my book actually started from my great grandfather. So let me give you… Because our family’s story really began with him. He was a successful wheat farmer. He accumulated acres of land, even though he was not the richest person in the village, but he was successful and after the communists took over China in 1949, they immediately implemented land reform. So basically they took land ownership from all the rightful owners, like my great-grandfather, and distributed it to the poor farmers. The idea was okay, so now everybody can have land. So my great grandfather lost everything and there were about two million landowners, like my great-grandfather in China back then, and they lost everything overnight. So my great grandfather changed from someone who was able to provide for his family into destitute farmers with absolutely nothing.
But the irony was if you think of the poor farmers, at least, or better off that didn’t last very long. In a few years, the Communist Party basically abolished all land ownership, private land ownership, and nationalized land ownership. So now the Communist Party, even today still controls land. In China today nobody owns land. When you buy a house, you actually buy rental rights for 75 years. Nobody said what happens after 75 years, but you do not own anything. So that just shows you one way of how the Communist Party aimed to redistribute wealth. So starting from my great-grandfather, my family lived in poverty. It was pretty much everybody else, except the party members, pretty much everybody else was living in poverty, and everything our life relied on the government. We all lived on food ration systems.
The food ration is strictly controlled. So basically how much rice each person can have each month, how much cooking oil, just all the basic life supplies were determined by the government. So each one of us would get food stamps. Unlike the United States, food stamps are for poor people. In China, everybody has food stamps. It was used by the government to help distribute a limited amount of food. So a story I mentioned in my book was the way the food rationing system, the way how that works is that the food was distributed based on age group and the gender. So for the same age, boys and girls, a boy would have about four more pounds of rice, each month than a girl. It so happens my name in Chinese was a boy’s name. So for a while, I received the food ration meant for a boy, but even with this extra amount of rice each month, I was still hungry.
I dreamed about the food all the time because there was never enough to eat and one day the Chinese police came to our house to inspect randomly. They can do that anytime in China without a warrant and he realized the government had made a mistake that I received the food ration that was meant for a boy. So instead of admitting, the government made a mistake, he ordered my family to pay the government back. So my entire family had to go on a further diet in order to save enough food stamps to pay the government back and that story just showed you that if we couldn’t even have the basic right to decide how much we get to eat, how we want to live then forget about any other type kind of political freedom.
Yeah. How did your family end up in the United States? Because you’ve been here what, for several decades now, 25 years or more, right?
Yeah. About 25 years. So not all my families are here. I came here in 1996 as a student to pursue a graduate degree and after I got the two master’s degrees, I got a job offer by Citibank. So I started working here and so basically I moved through all the legal immigration hoops. So eventually I became a naturalized American citizen here.
So you’ve really lived under these two systems, which is why I think your perspective is so valuable, especially as we move into what looks to be a cold war with China, or at least with the Chinese Communist Party. The premise of your book your more recent book Backlash is that we’re kind of finally getting it. That the West or liberal democracies are finally starting to understand that the Chinese Communist Party is not an up and up player on the global scene that they’re not beholden for example, to a lot of their international promises and that they are going to be aggressively asserting power in a way that perhaps liberal democracies thought wasn’t going to happen if we engage with them economically. That kind of nineties theory, where if we would just engage with China economically, then the Chinese Party would essentially start to adopt the norms of the globalized West and that didn’t happen, obviously. So if the premise of your book and like the title, is that this response is finally maybe belatedly, but finally coming together. I guess I’d like to ask you why you think that’s the case because that sounds very optimistic and I would like to think that the West is getting together its response to China.
Right. Oh, by the way, the book was finished before the November election last year. So I didn’t know Biden was going to become the president and right now I’m a little more pessimistic compared to when I finished the book. But I still think there are green shoots of like you mentioned this realization of the true nature of the Communist Party, who we are really dealing with. So in my book, I mentioned a couple of the wake-up calls that we have experienced recently definitely the pandemic is one and what’s happening in Hong Kong is one. And also with all the news come out of Guangzhou about how the Communist Party treated the Uighur Muslims. I think those three events are really have become wake-up calls to people around the world. When I talk about backlash, I think people for the rest of the world, have waking up more than the politicians and then the elite class.
The elite class is still, many of them are tied because there is a financial tie, economic interests involved with China that they refuse to see the light. They refuse to recognize the true nature of the party but I think those three events I mentioned has really waken up a lot of the electorate especially in Western democracies. It’s not even, some governments are taking actions too, for example, last year, even as late as January last year, the United Kingdom, which was such our ally of the United States, United Kingdom, still at that time still insist they would use Huawei, China’s telecom giant to build the 5G network, despite the Trump administration word. The UK repeatedly said if you do that, we’re going to stop share intelligence with you because the Huawei internet is not very or the Huawei 5G networks it’s not secure.
They share information with the Chinese government. They’re snooping your conversations, but Johnson’s government with that said, they’re going to use Huawei because it’s cheap, whatever, as late as January. So then the pandemic happened. After the pandemic happened after news started to come out about how the Chinese Communist Party suppressed dissent, suppressed doctors who voiced the concern, hid information from the world, refused to share information, or delay in sharing information. When those things started trickling out when countries are starting to experience economic lockdowns and economic downturns, as a result of the pandemic, the Boris Johnson administration announced in May, that they actually were going to drop Huawei from the 5G network. So I see examples like that.
Another example was back in, again, going back to the next year or last year that Australia led a proposal at the WHO basically demand the investigation of the origin of the COVID-19, even though China basically has the power control, the leadership of WHO but China wasn’t able to stop the petition. So actually over a hundred countries signed up to support Australia’s petition. So eventually as we know that the WHO did do some kind of investigation, they didn’t really find anything, but the fact that over a hundred countries, despite China’s threat of retaliation signed up to Australia’s petition for investigation. That just shows you, I do believe that there is a backlash, and the tides start turning. Unfortunately, it hasn’t turned fast enough and I’m really worried about the current direction that our country is going. Is it going to be effective to stop China, the Communist Party, from dominating the world and imposing their illiberal system on the rest of us?
So you point to the South China Sea in this book as a potential site for perhaps if there is going to be a hot war between the United States and China, that it’s likely to come out from the South China Sea, could you lay out like you do in the book for those of my listeners who haven’t read the book yet, which you should, you should go buy it.
Could you lay out essentially under three successive administrations, right? You had the Obama administration, you had the Trump administration, and now you have the Biden administration. How that sort of progression of Chinese, I guess the word would be aggression in the South China Sea has proceeded under different administrations, and then hopefully you can finish up with what would an administration that is serious about countering that threat? What kind of moves would you look for?
Right. Yeah. So I think that we all need to get educated about the South China Sea. It’s so overlooked in today’s discussion. It’s very alarming. So the South China Sea is this strategical body of water in East Asia. It’s rich with minerals, with oil, and gas, and it’s also one of the most important trade routes for the countries nearby including China. So what China is doing, what the Communist Party is doing in the South China Sea was they turned the South China Sea into a testing ground for their so-called green zone operation. So what is green zone operation? As you know in the past when one country wants to expand their territory in the past there was only one way. They have to send the military to invade somebody to do it.
But what the Communist Party discovered in the South China Sea they turn that into a testing ground for green zone operation, basically, instead of sending the military to occupy the land they created land out of nowhere. They start aggressively building an island, an artificial island in the middle of the South China Sea based on those reefs. And they started doing this during the Obama administration and first they build one to test the Obama administration’s reaction. At the time, the Obama administration was really eager to get China to support the Paris Climate Agreement. So even though President Obama was talking about a pivot to Asia, like the United States shift attention more to Asia than to Europe, but he really didn’t do anything. He basically stood by. So China took advantage of that window of opportunity. Within three years, they built over 3000 acres of artificial land in the South China Sea. Once they built it, that’s where the green zone operation comes from. Once China built it, then the claim, those islands, as well as all the waters nearby have always been China’s territory.
Okay. By doing that, they expanded their controls to the South China Sea. So China now controls 90% of the South China Sea. So, the South China Sea, basically from an international body of water before 2015 now, to China’s backwater. Why did China build those islands? China didn’t send the military to build those islands, but once China builds those islands, now those islands have been militarized. They have radars, they have runways, they have soldiers, and China established administrative district. Basically, they expand their territory peacefully without having to send a true fire and shots. But right now those islands are militarized. So what’s the consequence of a militarized in the South China Sea? Well, there are economical consequences in countries like the Philippines, Vietnam, and Malaysia countries who used to be able to fish in those areas or try to discover, extract the minerals or oil or gas from those areas.
Now they cannot do it because China would send its Navy, as well as a militarized fishing boat to prevent them from doing that. So it’s really hurting because China claims it’s their territory. So that’s hurting the economic well-being of those smaller countries and making them more economically dependent on China, which allows China to further use economical origin to compel those countries to do what they want. So that there’s economical cost. There are military costs too because China militarized all those islands. As you know, China has always had this ambition to reunite with Taiwan, if Taiwan refuses to reunite with Beijing, Beijing said it will militarily overtake Taiwan. And of course, the United States has never… so far has not openly said the United States is going to intervene, but of course there’s always a concern. The United States may militarily intervene, but a military intervening in the event of China invading Taiwan has become increasingly difficult because the United States is not near Asia.
We have to send our navies over there. So those islands, China built enable China to basically build layers and layers of barriers to prevent, or at least to slow down the US Navy’s intervention in the event of any possible invasion of Taiwan. So there’s a military cost too and the reason I said, it’s a very dangerous body of water because since the Obama administration in the later stage of the Obama administration and continued into the Trump administration that a United States Navy insists that we have the right of freedom of navigation. So we can send our ships through what we consider international water, and the Chinese Navy has been aggressively sending their airplanes as well as Navy ships to try to stop the United States from the freedom of navigation.
And sometimes that prevention from the Chinese Navy had become really aggressive. So there was one incident back in 2018 that the Chinese Navy and the US Navy’s ships getting really close. So if some kind of accident happened, we are going to be in a hot war. So what should we do? What we can do is very limited militarily because again, this island has already been built. It would be nice had we stopped it after China built the first island. But now it’s very difficult to militarize. From a military standpoint, it’s a challenge. So the positive was started in the Trump administration. There were several positives. One was the Trump administration openly supported the Hague decision. So what happened in Hague was the Philippines had filed a lawsuit to the Hague International Quarter because they said, “Hey, what China was doing in the South China Sea was illegal. They took our territory.”
The Hague basically decided in 2016, yes, what China was doing in the South China Sea was illegal, but the Obama administration never came out to support the Philippines openly. So what the Trump administration did was toward the end of the Trump administration, they came out to support the Philippines directly and openly say, “We support the Hague decision, what China is doing is illegal.” So that gave the Philippines more boost and really strengthened the relationship between the Philippines and the United States. Another thing the US government did in the Trump administration was to strengthen the ties to build this quad. So the Quad is a loose organization between the United States, Australia, India, and Japan. So they basically organized together to try to say, well, in the event, they have a military exercise together, basically as a counterweight to the Chinese Navy. When we come to the Biden administration, the Biden administration mostly recently announced that they’re going to help Australia build submarines. Nuclear submarines-
This is what made France very angry and recall their ambassador, but I actually think it’s one of the better decisions of the Biden administration.
Yeah. One of the very few better decisions. So, yeah, so from a military standpoint at this point what we can do is I think two things. One is continuously strengthening our relationship, especially the military corporations with our allies in our region. And secondly, to make it clear that we will defend Taiwan because we had this strategic ambiguity for the last, I don’t know many decades since the Second World War that we never come out and say, we will do that. Even though the Taiwan Act obligates us to do that, but no other administration has ever been able to say it. So I think that if anything now is a good time to say it. So basically either will force the Communist Party to reevaluate how much costs they’re willing to bear if they’re going to invade Taiwan militarily. So I think a clear announcing our clear motive, clear intention, as well as strengthen our cooperation with our allies in our region really are the only two things I think we can do at this point.
So many of us have some connection to technology, right? Big tech companies in particular and the advancements that they’re making. So even within Taiwan, which I didn’t know until recently, Taiwan is apparently the largest creator of semiconductor materials, which are very important in all of the ways in which tech uses all the products that tech builds are reliant on this kind of raw semi-conductor material, or they build the chips. I’m very unclear if somebody is going to Tweet me, somebody in the crypto space probably is going to Tweet me and tell me I’m an idiot but there’s something very critical, some critical resources in Taiwan. You mentioned that the UK made the decision to back away from a contract with Huawei. There are, however, a lot like Huawei has made pretty big inroads in the 5G space in Europe is my understanding but there are a lot of countries.
I saw a lot of advertisements, the last time I visited Poland for Huawei 5G phones. So much of this has to do with the advancement of technology. What is it like as a Chinese person living now and I think you still have ties there, living now where the CCP is using a lot of that technology, not only to launch cyberattacks against its enemies, not only to build new islands in the South China Sea, and not only to try to expand its leverage into foreign countries but also to surveil its own people in a way that… I mean, we’re familiar with authoritarianism and of course, there’ve been many different forms of authoritarianism, but this one truly is a 21st-century form of authoritarianism. What is it like actually to live under the CCP now? What kind of surveillance do they do of their own people?
Well, so the CCP basically extended their long arms of censorship and control way beyond their borders. For example, I mean, I do not use WeChat, which is a messaging app, but many overseas Chinese uses it to keep in touch with their families. So all the conversations on WeChat are monitored and the data are shared with the Communist Party. Also, the Communist Party either uses threats or intimidations to compel some Chinese overseas to monitor other Chinese. This actually happens. It’s actually frightening on college campuses. So one Chinese student told me that he said something in the class talk about the 1989 Tiananmen Square, which is a highly forbidden subject in mainland China. He got out of the classroom, a few minutes later he got a phone call from his family, his family said, what did you say in your classroom because we got a call from our party committee here.
So that’s really frightening because they have spies everywhere to monitor and snitch and they report you and another thing they’ve been doing is this so-called fox hunt, which basically is the Chinese government sends undercover police to foreign countries, including the United States and sometimes it will bring even family members basically stationed outside of Chinese dissident’s house and basically say, “Hey, we got your brother here or we have your dad here. You need to come back to China with us.” The Chinese government claims, they have successfully repatriated over 4,000 people that way, and even though they claim the people they repatriated mostly committed economic crimes, you can’t take their word at face value. It’s very likely they arrested dissidents who they disagree with. So yes, that’s the challenge for being a Chinese living in other countries because to the Chinese party, it doesn’t matter if you have a foreign passport. To them they always owned you.
They always controlled you. They want you to be afraid so you are constantly on the lookout that somehow they’re going to come to get you. So it is a very frightening state. So I would encourage your listeners to be more understanding and patient when they’re dealing with Chinese people in their life. I mean, again, not everybody’s the same. So just be patient and willing to listen and willing to understand where they’re coming from. Obviously, not everybody’s going to agree and think like us, which is fine. That’s part of the diversity that we cherish, but also at the same time, understand the challenges they’re facing, especially if they still have close ties back in China, they may be limited in what they can or allowed to say or do even in places that are far, far away from mainland China.
Yeah. They’re reaching, they’re attempting, of course, to use their market power, even for people who are not of Chinese descent. Famously with the NBA, right they essentially implemented Chinese censorship standards to be followed by American basketball players and by an American basketball league. Could you talk a little bit more though about the social credit system in China? Because I feel like we throw around that phrase a lot in the United States and we have some vague idea of what the social credit system is, but could you explain how that actually works and how sort of granular and invasive it really is?
Right. So it’s basically a giant database and it records everybody’s behavior, and everybody’s total points are about a thousand. So it’s not just about a financial credit or whether you pay your bill on time or not like what we understand here. The credit bureau, like Equifax or TransUnion, has gone way beyond that. So the Chinese government collected data from traffic lights, traffic cameras, as well as facial recognition cameras, as well as from big tech, all the social media companies, video game companies as well as financial institutions. So the social credit system is this giant aggregation of everything about you and it’s really focused on behaviors and it’s a behavior that whether the Chinese government sanctioned as good behavior versus bad behavior.
So some of them seem very innocent on the surface. For example, they will pilot your points. Everybody gets points. So your points will be deducted if you didn’t leave your trash out in the right place, or you ran a red light at the traffic section. So those seem innocent on the surface, but there are also other things for example if you criticize the Chinese government online, your points will be deducted. So there’s also well-developed reward as well as punishment that goes along with the social credit system, which makes it even scarier. So if you behave as the government wants you to behave you can get a better rate when you get your mortgage, you will be eligible for promotion, your kids may be able to go to a better school.
But if you misbehave, you’re not going to get a good rate on your mortgage. You’re going to be denied a promotion. Your kids will not go to a good school and you may not even be able to buy a train ticket or airplane ticket to go anywhere. So basically, you’re stuck and what’s even scarier is China is now talking about you should use digital currencies. So we’re talking about technology. So this digital currency in China is a blueprint vision, China can send the digital currency directly to every Chinese citizen’s bank account. When you misbehave, when your social credit points get deducted the government can directly, instead of you writing a check to pay a fine, they can directly go into a bank account extract the fine without you having to do anything.
They can also in terms of when they need to implement the economic stimulus program, they can just set an expiration date. Money is in your bank account to force you to spend money before a certain day. It is just a massive, massive surveillance tool and all Chinese technology companies participate, provide the government data. That’s why I can’t stop warning enough to Americans to not use Tik Tok, do not use WeChat, do not use… Try to use as little Chinese tech as possible, because there is no private independent tech company in China. They all have to by law submit everything they collect to the government. So you are not safe. So as Americans, at least we have a choice not to use your technology. So stay away from those technology companies.
Yeah. The scary thing is listening to you talk about this is that, although it’s obviously way, way beyond what we experience in the United States, it doesn’t sound as completely foreign or unimaginable as I think it would have sounded even three, five years ago. We certainly, the nexus with the government is much weaker here. So it’s not that we’re at the point where tech companies are going to be feeding your information, say to the FBI, although even some of those things I sometimes worry about or wonder about now. But we do have massive tech companies collecting exactly this kind of data that can tell a lot about a person and they have this kind of monoculture between them. I could see it very easily and we already have seen it, it always starts with people nobody wants to defend.
So with people who are white nationalists or Nazis, and we’ve already seen that it’s starting to jump from not just losing your Twitter account or not just losing your ability to post to Facebook, but your bank account. You can’t hold money in certain banks if you are engaged in wrong things in some other part of your life, or there’s some debate over whether some of these white nationalists guys were put on no-fly lists where they can’t travel freely in the country. When you see stuff like that and you also see some of the rhetoric from the so-called woke left about dividing people and I think in this country is very much focused on race in a traditional communist society is focused on class and money and as you said, with your great-grandfather being a landowner, what do you think when you hear this kind of stuff in the United States? Does it remind you of what your family went through? I mean, how do you think about it?
Well, absolutely. It’s very frightening because I see so many similarities. I keep telling people that’s one of my motivations for writing so much is to warn people because living in socialism once, as I said, it sucks but I don’t know the English word for twice as suck to live in socialism twice. But definitely in terms of directional country United States, because I’m naturalized as a citizen. So when I say all countries, I’m talking about the United States, I definitely see the United States now is moving towards proletarianism that I’m very familiar with. So today’s United States is going in the direction that’s more similar to what’s happening in China than many of us care to recognize or willing to admit, but you and I have this experience, we see it, but I think that the prosperity and relatively peace that the Americans have enjoyed for so long make it difficult for people to recognize those trends, but definitely in terms of big tech censorship.
So the big tech is basically doing things the Chinese government is doing to its citizens, but now we just carry it out by a big tech. At the same time, the left is demanding the big tech to do more in the name of control misinformation or control certain narratives. So definitely I see a converging on what’s happening in the United States versus what’s happening in China. It’s very frightening because the United States is like Lincoln said, this last and best hope for humanity because of the freedom and the liberty that has been recognized and protected by our constitution and so beautifully described by the Declaration of Independence. So we have this tremendous heritage as Americans from our founders, and we’re throwing it away and we’re throwing it away fast and furious. Another thing I want to say is socialism is really a process.
Totalitarianism is a process. I mean, socialism and totalitarianism is really the same thing, but what is socialism with totalitarian is a process. We are as Americans…. America is already in that process we need to be aware of that. We need to see, we are already gradually losing our freedom through governmental control, expansion of government roles, as well as the big tech, big corporations. We all have a responsibility to do something about it otherwise, unfortunately, I can totally see that very likely we’re going to lose everything we cherish within our lifetime and that is a very, very scary thought.
Yeah, I think it’s particularly terrifying for people so I’m a child of immigrants, but my parents also see some parallels. Obviously, they came from communist Poland it’s a slightly different system, but it’s amazing how many similarities there can be in these wildly different cultures and peoples. It does say something about the ideas and as you say, the process of socialism and communism that brings some of the similar problems and similar types of experiences in wildly different parts of the globe especially when you were referencing the WHO investigation into the origin of the coronavirus earlier. I was thinking how much of the Chinese Communist Party response to this and you lay it out. You have a great timeline in your book of this. It is almost like a Chernobyl that affected more out than obviously… So Chernobyl, there were limitations, but the same kind of mistakes, because nobody was willing to accurately tell the truth because the politics and the saving face of the regime had to come first at so many different levels. It turned into a disaster that it really didn’t have to be, and it is really remarkable how these incentives combined with human nature, almost any culture, any people all over the globe end up with very similar results really.
Yeah. Yeah. I mean, socialism slash totalitarianism is really just beautiful lies. They will tell you, everybody will get everything. They will appeal to your decency, they’ll appeal to your guilt. They exploit your insecurities as well as loneliness in the modern days and try to sell you this beautiful lie, this beautiful dream of, hey, all you have to do is just break a few eggs, give up a few things, and then we’re all going to live happily ever after in this utopia. And as you said, there’s no socialist utopia. It didn’t happen in Poland. It didn’t happen in China. It didn’t happen in Cuba. It didn’t happen in Venezuela. It’s because this ideology is so evil and harmful, and now we’re seeing this unfolding right in front of our eyes. The United States, and I always say the left has no imagination because everything they’re doing now… I mean, they may use some new words.
They may use some new concept, but the tactic is always the same. They will create lies and they will create alternative realities and they use the same tactics to suppress descent. So I hope, I sincerely hope more Americans will really wake up, become a student of history. Know everything we experienced now happened before. I mean, it’s not a carbon copy, what we experienced now compared to what happened before but there are so many similarities because the tactics are so similar. We all need to become students of history, learn about what happened in the past and prepare ourselves and stand up to push it back. I feel like it’s already kind of late, but if we don’t do anything we’re just going to be in this fast descent to hell that I don’t want to be.
Yeah, I completely agree with you. It’s kind of the premise of this podcast has been that the hour is late. Sometimes I get super pessimistic and say it’s passed, but for sure it’s very late. So we really do try to focus on that concept, that these freedoms are precious. What we have both in terms of stability and prosperity and in terms of liberty is extremely rare in human history and is precious and can easily dissipate Reagan always said. The famous Reagan quote is freedom’s never more than one generation away from extinction and that quote seems so real in a way that it was rhetoric I think before, at least to me when I was growing up in the nineties. But I want to close out this podcast by asking you a sort of duo question, a two-part question because you’ve always been very careful and sometimes instructing the rest of us in being very careful to separate the Chinese people from the CCP.
As you laid out for us, it’s really difficult to know how much support the government has because they surveil everybody’s life so completely and punish and reward whether behavior that they want or dissident behavior, they punish very harshly. So it’s really difficult to tell how much support the CCP has, but what do you think Westerners or Americans, in particular, fail to understand first about the Chinese Communist Party itself and the government of China and their goals. Then also, what do we need to understand better about the Chinese people on the other hand?
Right. So regarding your first question about what do we need to understand about the Chinese Communist Party? We need to recognize that the Chinese Party is not a normal political party like, what we think about the Democrats or Republicans. No, the Chinese Communist Party is not like that. It’s not a normal political party. It’s a party driven by an ideology as I mentioned in my book about a sole ideology of power. It wants to get power and it will do whatever it takes to get power. It will do whatever it takes to maintain power. So anyone who think that they can economic engagement or trading the political Communist Party of the normal political power that somehow through diplomatic negotiation, we can reach some kind of mutually beneficial result. That’s an illusion.
That illusion has driven the West its policies toward China for the last four decades and it’s time to wake up from that illusion. So it’s not a normal political party and its sole objective is to maintain and to stay in power and it’s not just regional power. It’s not just power in China. Now is the prosperity that created in the last four decades since the market reform that they are… The Communist Party thinks it’s ready to gain this award of power. Also, you see an interesting trend in China, what’s happening is after four decades of opening operatively. Now under the leadership of Xi Jinping, the Communist Party is actually going back inward saying now we need to reign in private businesses. Now we need to reign in market reforms because they used to say socialism was Chinese characteristics, and now they say socialism is China’s characteristic but is still socialism. We need to go back to our socialist route.
These four decades of economic reform was as a transition period to become a better socialist country. So we have to recognize that the party it’s never changed. It never will, and it has never strayed away from its socialist ideology. So that’s what we need to recognize and with that clear recommendation that should shape our policies and attitude towards the Communist Party. Yes, we should separate the Communist Party from the Chinese people because there are 1.4 billion Chinese people in China. There are about 92 million Communist Party members. So it’s not like China has elections. People say, “Oh, we want these 92 million people representing us.” That never happened. So Chinese people are forced into this situation and I think one thing we cherish about what’s happening in Taiwan and what’s happening in Hong Kong before 2019, was that Hong Kong, as well as Taiwan, both showed you that Chinese people like all people around the world deserve democracy, deserve to have their voices heard. Deserve to take charge of their own destiny, elect their own representatives because when they have that kind of freedom, they’re thriving in democracy, look at what’s happening in Taiwan? So, for a billion Chinese though, over a billion Chinese as of now, they do not have that choice.
So how should we treat them? Well, we need to separate them from the party that they didn’t have a choice. They stuck with the party, but also, we have to recognize because there are so many people, there is a wide variety of political beliefs. So, the party does have nationalists supporting the party, especially for younger generations who grew up all they knew, all they have known in their entire life was this is prosperity. This is a successful economic model, it’s all they know. What happened the famine, what happened in those early years of Chinese people suffering, that history is never taught in China, not even 1989 Tiananmen Square is taught in China. So many people grew up with no knowledge of what happened. So we have to be patient, recognize there are going to be people who support a party just like here, they’re going to be people, Americans who condemn the founding of the United States, diversity of ideas.
But on the other hand, we also have to recognize that Chinese people there’s… So take a step back. So there is a social contract, an unwritten social contract between Chinese people and the communist party. So after the economic disasters in the first 30 years of founding Communist China surely economic reform, basically, the party and the people reached an unwritten agreement. As long as the party continues to provide jobs, continues to keep China’s economy growing that the people, many of them are willingly accepting limited political freedom, as long as they can continue to have economic prosperity. Many of us probably think, well, that’s not a fair trade. You should never do that. There’s a famous Ben Franklin quote about that, but for Chinese people, because you think about Chinese history it’s a rather long history.
There have been so many disasters that happened on this beautiful land. People are hungry for certain types of stability even if that stability means they have to give up certain political rights. So there are many people that think many Chinese people belong in our camp where they say, okay, I’m willing not to be able to vote for representatives. I’m willing not to say whatever I want on the internet as long as my family’s well-fed. I can provide a roof over our heads, still enjoy economic prosperity. So there’s that camp and then there’s another camp of people who, what we call dissidents people who reject this kind of trade. People who say, this is not a fair trade. Look at Taiwan, look at Hong Kong. We can, we have the ability, and we deserve to thrive to make our decisions in a democracy and that they are the ones who have been suppressed brutally. So there’s a great diversity among the Chinese people in terms of their beliefs and desires. So I think the best way for us to approach is, again, to separate the party from the people, always criticize the party, do not condemn the people and with the people, especially the people coming into our interactions. It doesn’t matter whether you meet them overseas or here in the United States I encourage understanding, I encourage your patience. I encourage open dialogue.
Many Chinese people told me one thing when they come to visit the United States, one thing they find is a little bit offensive is people just jump on them to say, oh, you are so brainwashed. You don’t know what’s going on. Let me tell you. Okay. Okay. So no one, Dale Carnegie basically said, you cannot convince anyone by condemning and criticizing them. So we have to have the grace to allow an open conversation with patience, with love, and to say, “Hey, let’s talk about what’s happening in China. Are you aware of what’s happening with the Uighurs and how do you feel about it?” Let’s talk. I think with this kind of conversation, it will build more understanding rather than just put everybody in one basket. Black and white basket. I think that’s something as Americans, we can do a better job of not just treating all Chinese people we encountered with the same approach or same idea. They either have to be one way or another, just like the United States. Americans are very diverse in their political beliefs too. So we have to just have that grace to treat them with such grace too.
I think that’s a great note to close on. A juxtaposition between being clear-eyed about the Chinese Communist Party and its goals and its global ambitions, but being open to a more nuanced conversation and open to more open cultural dialogue, I guess not to overuse the word open, but a genuine dual cultural dialogue between the Chinese people and the American people. So, and you sit right in the intersection there. We’re glad to count you on our team, on team America here, Helen, thank you so much for coming on High Noon.
Thank you for having me.
You can find more of Helen’s work over at the Federalist where she’s a senior contributor, as I mentioned. You can buy her books, Confucius Never Said, which is her autobiography and her memoirs, and her family’s experiences in China, then her more recent book Backlash: How Communist China’s Aggression Has Backfired. And thank you to our listeners. High Noon with Inez Stepman is a production of the Independent Women’s Forum. As always, you can send comments and questions to [email protected] Please help us out by hitting the subscribe button and leaving us a comment or review on Apple Podcasts, Acast, Google Play, YouTube, or iwf.org. Be brave, and we’ll see you next time on High Noon.