History does not repeat itself, but it does rhyme. In the 1980s, the gravest threat to America’s freedoms came from the Soviet Union, which President Ronald Reagan called the Evil Empire. That rhymes with today’s equally serious threat from Communist China, the New Evil Empire.
Xi Jinping rules China with absolute power, like an emperor. He has complete control over China’s sole political party, the CCP, the government, the economy, the military, the police, the judiciary, and the media. Even over religion: Christian churches must display Xi quotes instead of the Ten Commandments.
The CCP has an abhorrent domestic policy rooted in the belief that people’s lives are subordinate to state interests — after all, it still venerates Mao and Stalin, dictators who killed millions of people. Its disregard for human life is apparent in its genocide against the Uyghurs and its coverup of the Covid pandemic’s origin.
Chinese citizens live in an Orwellian techno-surveillance state with police cameras everywhere and complete government censorship of the internet. They must use their mobile phones to study and take exams on the thought of Xi Jinping. They have to follow CCP rules to maintain their social credit scores so that they can be allowed to travel by plane or own pets. Dissidents are persecuted, imprisoned, or killed.
The CCP’s foreign policy is just as reprehensible. Its imperialist, might-is-right ideology was summarized in July 2010 by its then-foreign minister when he demanded that dignitaries at a conference of Asian nations obey China because “China is a big country and other countries are small countries, and that’s just a fact.”
Under this worldview, Xi’s China feels justified to coerce its neighbors. It has had conflicts with almost all of them, and has used its military, economic, and diplomatic power to force compliance.
And Beijing’s aim is to have the entire world do its bidding. Countries as far away as Germany and Sweden have been threatened when they’ve stood up for human rights in China. American companies and individuals, afraid to lose business in China, have had to offer abject apologies for not toeing the CCP line.
There is a disturbing global trend of self-censorship of support for freedom in China so as to not to become a target of the Xi regime’s reprisals.
In global commerce, Xi’s China gives its companies unfair government support and a free hand to use shady practices. Too often, Chinese companies lie, cheat, and steal to win business.
These lawless actions are not mistakes or accidents. They are part of a CCP worldview under which people obey the government, small countries obey big countries, and the whole world obeys the Beijing emperor.
The CCP worldview stands in sharp contrast to the rules-based system that America and the West created at the end of World War II. This system has at its core the inalienable rights of all people to life, liberty and security of person as codified in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the sovereign equality of all nations enshrined in the UN Charter.
Communist China’s policies are an existential challenge to the United States and the free world. This is different from the challenge posed by 1980s Japan, which was then trying to become a major economic power. Or the European Union’s more recent challenge to be recognized as an independent power center in a multipolar world.
The US-China confrontation is about two mutually exclusive visions of world order. Living in the world conceived by the CCP would be intolerable to Americans and free people everywhere.
Just as in the Cold War, moral clarity is the critical first step in winning this contest. We must recognize that Communist China is the New Evil Empire, and we must be resolute in deterring its malign actions.
We can be optimistic, though, about the outcome because we already know that China’s imperial policies are self-destructive. They are not just morally repugnant. They are impractical since they undermine the very basis of Beijing’s power: its economy.
China’s economic success is the result of Deng Xiaoping’s reforms in the 1980s, which freed up the private sector, encouraged foreign investment, and established collective leadership in the CCP. To increase his dictatorial power, however, Xi Jinping has been reversing these reforms. He favors inefficient state enterprises that he can better control. He is discouraging foreign investment because it comes with requests for transparency and the rule of law. These counter-reforms are causing massive inefficiencies and much slower economic growth.
1.4 billion people cannot be successfully led by a single dictator for life. How did that turn out in the Soviet Union?
Dan Negrea is a senior fellow at the Atlantic Council’s Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security. Between 2018 and 2021, he served at the Department of State in the Secretary’s Policy Planning Office and as the Special Representative for Commercial and Business Affairs.
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