China’s ‘Document No. 9’ Outlines Beijing’s Hostility to the West; Will the Biden Administration See It for What It Is?

While Western leaders triumphantly proclaimed an end to the age of ideology, China’s communists were honing their ability to extend and exploit ideas ‘with Chinese characteristics.’

AP/ Carolyn Kaster
The secretary of state, Antony Blinken, outlines the administration's policy toward China May 26, 2022. AP/ Carolyn Kaster

“Beijing — despite its rhetoric — is pursuing asymmetric decoupling, seeking to make China less dependent on the world, and the world more dependent on China,” the American secretary of state, Antony Blinken, said on Thursday. In a speech outlining President Biden’s China policy, Mr. Blinken observed that Communist China is the only country with the “intent to reshape the international order and, increasingly, the … power to do it.” 

The secretary’s speech then wavered between pinpointing ostensible areas of tension and those for cooperation. “We do not see conflict,” the secretary said. That’s too bad, because Beijing certainly does. For Beijing that conflict is not just economic and technological, as Mr. Blinken outlined, but fundamentally ideological. The sooner that American and Western leaders realize this, the sooner they might be able to contend with it. 

Since Xi Jinping assumed the presidency, he has been steadily closing off Communist China to foreign influence. A 2013 internal party document, “Communiqué on the Current State of the Ideological Sphere” — commonly known as Document No. 9 — outlines what China’s party boss and his henchmen regard as seven “noteworthy problems,” each concerned with the ostensible infiltration of Western thought into segments of Chinese society.

Each, of course, is to be resisted. Document No. 9 directs party members to “pay close attention to their work in the ideological sphere” and to “forcefully resist influence and harmful false tides of thought.” The past decade has been a steady and deliberate effort to advance these aims. New political concepts have been hatched and others refashioned to boast “Chinese characteristics” — capitalism, democracy, and, more recently, education. 

In Mr. Blinken’s remarks, he boasted of the record number of student visas that the Biden administration issued to Communist Chinese nationals last year: 100,000 in four months. Yet all the while, this month three Chinese universities — including the reputable Renmin University — withdrew from international university rankings. More institutions are likely to follow. The aim? To develop “world-class universities with Chinese characteristics.” 

China’s communists intend for China to become a global education power by 2035. This vision entails a repudiation of Western standards and metrics — both believed to be the West’s attempts at cultural and ideological colonization —  and a return to “educational sovereignty.” It is only through such sovereignty that Communist China might reclaim its culture and advance buoyantly toward its national rejuvenation. Or so the thinking goes. 

The announcements by the three universities arrived on the heels of Mr. Xi’s visit to Renmin University last month. There, the Chinese party boss stressed the importance of China’s universities in “passing down revolutionary traditions” and “following the party’s leadership”  — both, indeed, difficult to achieve when beholden to other, non-party, standards. 

China’s party boss further encouraged the expansion of ideological-political classes, and cooperation between China’s universities and its primary schools in ideological education. It is also through such cooperation that philosophy and the social sciences with “Chinese characteristics” might eventually attain widespread influence in the international academy.

It would be easy to dismiss such declarations as party gibberish — much bark and little bite. The trouble is that they are part of a wider and protracted strategy that has for too long been ignored by the West. While Western leaders triumphantly proclaimed an end to the age of ideology, China’s communists were honing their ability to extend and exploit ideas “with Chinese characteristics.” Ideology was never over, and it is not back now. For Beijing, it has always been central to its battle with the West. Only the West failed to see it.

This week, Liang Xiaobo, a professor at China’s National University of Defense Technology, a public research university administered by the party’s central military commission and the ministry of defense, described how China’s military could use cognitive tactics to subvert its enemies. “Ideas and theories that influence people’s cognition will become the most powerful weapons,” he said. A glance at Beijing’s recent efforts suggests they already are. 

For their part, Western leaders have preferred to side-step such ideological confrontations. Ideology is messy and abstract. It was in any case supposedly over. Yet in so doing, the West has ostensibly failed to realize that Beijing has not only been closing itself off to Western thought, but also steadily supplanting its core concepts with their Communist Party variants. 

The upshot is that few, if any, are prepared for such ideological  warfare and ill-prepared to stem the tide. Mr. Blinken’s remarks also suggest that the will to do so might not be there. “We can’t rely on Beijing to change its trajectory, so we will shape the strategic environment around Beijing,” he said, further noting that the West’s aim is “not to stand against China.”

Then what? Until Western leaders finally acknowledge that the battle that Beijing has waged is, fundamentally, an ideological one from which all else follows, they — and the West —  will lose. Communist China will, as Mr. Blinken suggested, rewrite the rules-based international order. It will be a rules-based order “with Chinese characteristics” — and, unlike in Mr. Blinken’s vision, it will most likely not be to the “benefit of all nations.” 

The New York Sun

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