The Communist Party of China turned 100 years old this month. A century is a major benchmark, clearly even for communists. 

China’s rulers in Beijing marked the centennial with grand celebrations and displays. Ceremonies and speeches have exalted the party, the regime and — above all — President Xi Jinping.

Xi became general secretary of China’s Communist Party and chairman of the Central Military Commission in 2012, and president of the People’s Republic of China in 2013. Over the years since, now approaching a decade, he has been centralizing and expanding the power and control of China’s harsh and brutal government. Above all, he works relentlessly to promote himself. Undeniably, an increasingly extreme cult of personality is now established.

True disciples of Karl Marx focus on grand theories of economic determinism, not the difficult realities of actual life. Living day to day underscores the importance of the passage of time, and other ultimately uncontrollable aspects of our human existence. 

Unavoidably, communists are also human, just like the rest of us. The most dedicated disciples of Marx indulge themselves in the belief that they are in effect history’s elite, personifying the inevitable evolution of economy and society, superior to others. This in turn rationalizes brutal oppression and exploitation of others, especially working people, for the benefit of those at the top. This was true of the most powerful and frightening dictatorships of the 20th century, notably the Germany of Adolf Hitler and the Soviet Union of Josef Stalin and successors. 

Nazism and varieties of fascism emphasize militarism and exalt the state; communism emphasizes economics and exalts the working class — though not in practice. However, these extremes of the political spectrum come together in a reality of oppression, exploitation and at times dangerous expansionism.

The centennial of the CCP included the massive public displays and trappings of tyrants typical of dictatorships. “All About Xi” is how the American journal Foreign Policy has described the extravaganza. Beyond the orchestrated, controlled events in China, the centennial of communist rule sparked intense substantial protests elsewhere. In the former British colony of Hong Kong, where expressions of freedom and independence are now strictly illegal and harshly suppressed, there was violence. Protests in India, Japan and elsewhere highlighted the brutal occupation of Tibet and continuing persecution of the Uyghur Muslim minority in China.

Review of the text of Xi’s actual speech is revealing. He emphasizes China’s economic transformation, which is truly extraordinary. Since reformist leader Deng Xiaoping declared “People’s Socialism” in 1992, opening the communist system to market economics, hundreds of millions of people have moved from extreme poverty into genuine prosperity.

Indeed, significant portions of Xi’s speech read like a report to a board of directors. At one point, he stated China would not be “bullied.” This word was not previously part of the often-fiery communist lexicon. Xi’s speech contrasts with traditional extreme communist rhetoric. North Korea provides the principal such example today.

Make no mistake: China is our rival. Enormous military buildup facilitates efforts at expansion. However, China is cautious about employing military force beyond national boundaries. Intervention in the Korean War occurred only after United Nations forces approached China’s border. 

Beijing tolerated over 500,000 U.S. troops in South Vietnam without intervening with military forces. The government did provide enormous amounts of aid to a fraternal communist ideological as well as military ally. However, there was no movement of China’s army directly into the fighting. 

Today, decades after that war, visitors to Vietnam note historic hostility to China is present but there is no comparable sentiment toward the U.S.

As in Europe and elsewhere during the Cold War, careful calculated containment should guide our approach to China.

Learn more: Henry Kissinger “On China.”

Arthur I. Cyr is Clausen Distinguished Professor at Carthage College and author of “After the Cold War.”

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