Chinese Politics & Authoritarian Regimes | Professor Rory Truex | Talks at Google

[MUSIC PLAYING] RORY TRUEX: I study Chinese politics and I teach courses on Chinese politics, so I am grateful for this opportunity today to get to speak to you about events unfolding in China this past year So often, when we talk about China, we talk about it through the lens of China-US, the trade war, these sorts of things But actually, in mainland China in domestic politics, this has been a seminal year, in part because of this man– Xi Jinping And so today, I wanted to really just focus on giving you a briefing I thought that would be the most helpful thing I’d like to give you a sense of what’s unfolding this past year, and what we can think will happen moving forward So, I wanted to start– as I mentioned, I teach courses on Chinese politics, so I wanted to start with an exam question, which I can see, there was little enthusiasm for that But here we go Bear with me So this past fall, I taught a course on Chinese politics And for the final exam, I asked the students to identify a year, a critical year in the development of China, in particular, of China’s political development So we have this concept in political science, something called a critical juncture, which is a jargony way of saying that is a turning point, a year where certain events unfolded and certain decisions were made that changed the trajectory of history And so if we look back at the last 70 years of the rule of the Chinese Communist Party, certain years come quickly to mind, which I’m sure many of you are familiar with The first is, of course, 1949 1949 is the establishment of the People’s Republic of China This is a picture of Mao Zedong standing in Tiananmen Square declaring the establishment of the People’s Republic And for the first time in decades, the territory of mainland China is consolidated under the rule of a single government So this was a heady time for China, and signaling the beginning of Mao’s rule Another year which is, of course, very important is 1978, the beginning of so-called reform and opening-up Does anybody here speak Chinese or study Chinese? So I remember when I started taking Chinese, I took Chinese 101 And one of the first words we learned is [SPEAKING CHINESE],, which means “reform and opening-up.” And I swear, 50% of our lessons were about reform and opening-up So it’s an important year And for those of you who are less familiar with it, this signals the beginning of China’s economic miracle So Deng Xiaoping comes into power and takes a much more pragmatic stance with respect to economic policy-making, basically undoes the command part of the Chinese economy, and results in an influx of trade and foreign direct investment in the so-called 30 years of 10% economic growth This is the beginning of this era This is him visiting the US, and he’s wearing a cowboy hat This is one of the famous images of reform and opening-up Another year is, of course, 1989 1989 is the year of the Tiananmen Square movement and the Tiananmen Square Massacre And this is the year where we learned that the Communist Party was willing to do whatever it took to stay in power and was not amenable to the idea of political reform And this is the year where we saw them willing to use live ammunition on student protesters And finally, what I’m going to argue today– and I’m starting to come up with this argument It’s not fully developed But what I argue is that, potentially, 2017 and 2018 have the capacity to be one of those years So it’s difficult to know We haven’t seen history unfold quite yet We haven’t seen the trajectory moving forward But there have been a number of developments in the last 12 months that signal this might be a turning point for contemporary China In particular, this is the year where Xi Jinping, the current General Secretary of the Chinese Communist Party, has fully consolidated his power, signaled the start of a new era under his rule that could last well beyond his expected time in power So today, I want to give you a briefing as to what happened this past year, why I think this might be a critical year, and then some trends to think about moving forward, some things that might be worth paying attention to So before I get into what happened this year, I want to set the stage to talk a little bit about how we used to talk about China And when I say “how we,” I mean mostly the political scientist community And when I say “used to,” I mean not that long ago I mean only a few years ago We used to describe the Chinese Communist Party through the lens of almost an exceptionalism So most authoritarian regimes– and the Chinese Communist Party is an authoritarian regime– they don’t last very long They live short, brutish, violent existences, and they fall from a number of different threats The two most pressing threats facing any authoritarian leader are the threat from within, the threat of a coup attempt– actually, there’s some data on this from Milan Svolik, who is a political scientist at Yale And he actually shows that most authoritarian regimes die in this way

They crumble from within I think it’s roughly 60% to 70% of authoritarian regimes fall via coup, where one leader comes in and basically institutes a new authoritarian regime And then the second way they fall is through the threat of revolution This is the more romantic version of how authoritarian regimes collapse The population comes together, demands political reform, and either through some violent struggle or some brokered transition, the authoritarian regime falls and is replaced with something else– hopefully democracy So these are the two problems facing any authoritarian leader, including Xi Jinping, Hu Jintao, Jiang Zemin, and all the way on back And the way we used to describe the party was, wow, this is a regime that seems to have learned from the lessons of history and figured out how to mitigate some of these issues So in particular, the key feature of the authoritarian regime in China was institutionalization So one of the difficulties for any authoritarian regime is how to share power, how to keep elites happy, how to transfer power from one leader to another So if we look back in the 2000s, there were a set of institutions– rules and norms– that the Communist Party had developed that seemed to be solving this dilemma of threats from within So in particular, there was a norm that no leader would stay in office longer than 10 years So leaders at the very top, including Xi Jinping, were expected to stay in office for two five-year terms The successor would be anointed in advance– usually five years in advance, potentially earlier than that– thus smoothing the power transition, allowing that person to develop cache within the system and experience There would be well-established retirement ages, so people would be forced to leave office and wouldn’t hang on too long Power was exercised not by just one person, but collectively, where each leader at the top– and when I say the top, I generally am referring to what’s known as the Politburo Standing Committee, the top tier of leadership of the Chinese Communist Party, usually seven to nine leaders Each leader would be given a portfolio And while there would be one most senior leader, they would cooperate with each other They would play nice So these were the key institutions that we look back on under Jiang Zemin and Hu Jintao, the two predecessors of Xi Jinping, and we say these institutions contributed to the resilience of the Communist Party So that’s the threat from within The threat from below– revolution– the Communist Party is an authoritarian regime It uses the language of democracy and claims to be democratic, but no self-respecting political scientist would call the Chinese Communist Party democratic But nevertheless, in the 2000s, it looked like the party was starting to develop mechanisms for citizens to have a voice So these weren’t democratic They were tightly controlled by the party But nevertheless, there were channels through which citizens could voice their concerns This is everything from a petition system, village elections, a People’s Congress system, which is their legislative system, online public opinion portals, mayor’s mailboxes It’s getting increasingly online and digital But there were channels in place where citizens could funnel their grievances and the party could respond And so some of the language we used to describe the party at this time was– we used to call it responsive authoritarianism or consultative authoritarianism In general, this is a more tolerable form of authoritarian regime This wasn’t a tinpot dictatorship This was a regime that was sophisticated, and institutionalized, and seemed to be trying to mitigate these issues So that’s how we used to describe it And this argument– I should cite the author His name’s Andrew Nathan This was made in 2003 if any of you want to do further reading I’m sure you have plenty of other things to do with your time, but the article is called “Authoritarian Resilience.” So enter Xi Jinping So Xi Jinping is the current General Secretary of the Communist Party So I’m afraid I’m going to have to get in a little bit of the weeds here in terms of the Chinese leadership system, but bear with me So any top leader of China today actually has three different positions So the first is that they’re General Secretary of the Chinese Communist Party That’s the head of the party That’s the most important position They are also de facto President of the People’s Republic of China, which is the head of state, the government position The party and the government on paper are separate things In reality, they’re heavily intertwined and the party dominates the government And actually, in my experience, many Chinese citizens have trouble differentiating the party institutions and the party positions from the government positions But Xi Jinping’s party position is General Secretary His government position is the president And he also has a military position He’s chair of what’s known as the Central Military Commission So he’s head of state, head of party, head of military So he assumed these positions in 2012, and we are just finishing up his first term in office And therefore, he’s expected to retire in 2022-2023 Now prior to coming to office– I just want to emphasize a couple of things about Xi Jinping’s rise The first is, like many Chinese leaders,

you might hear of this so-called China model, this idea that China is a meritocratic system and people are promoted based on their abilities, and talents, and experience, and so forth That is a highly controversial argument to make What I would say is that Xi Jinping, like many other Chinese leaders, had a lot of governing experience upon entering his highest position So he rose up the ranks from a young age, was party secretary and mayor and governor of various different parts of China, was involved in the Central Party School He actually helped run the Beijing Olympics So by the time he became General Secretary, he was highly experienced The second feature of his rise is that he is what’s known as a princeling So in Chinese politics, a princeling is simply a leader whose father or grandfather– and I apologize for using male nouns here, but this is empirically true Almost all Chinese leaders are male A princeling is a Chinese leader whose father or grandfather was also a leader And so Xi Jinping’s father’s name is Xi Zhongxun, who actually worked with Mao Zedong before being purged during the Cultural Revolution But Xi Jinping, because of this princeling status– an American princeling would be like Chelsea Clinton and George W. Bush That’s how you can draw the connection Because of this princeling status, he potentially had a more accelerated rise, and he had a certain level of prestige within the system early on And then the third thing I would talk about about his rise is that, like many Chinese leaders, prior to him coming to power, we actually didn’t know a lot about him So one way to rise up through the Chinese system seems to be to keep your head down, to develop relationships with patrons who are higher in office than you, and not take any dramatic policy stances in either direction So prior to coming into office, we really didn’t know a lot about what Xi Jinping was all about And if you look back at some of the discourse about him in 2012 and 2013, a lot of people believed he was China’s Gorbachev So this is a democrat in waiting He’s going to be the one who finally liberalizes China and embarks on political reform And the basis for these claims was, in retrospect, fairly weak Xi Jinping spent time in Iowa This is him as a younger man He spent time in Iowa on an exchange program So he spent time in Iowa His daughter attends Harvard University Therefore, he must get it He must be a liberal As it turns out, this conjecture couldn’t have been further from the truth Xi Jinping is a reformer And I’ll talk more about that later But he is a reformer of the illiberal sort So he’s moving China in a more authoritarian direction, not a more democratic direction So what happened in 2017-2018? Why is this past 12 months such a big deal? Well, there were really three events that unfolded that really changed what we thought we knew about Chinese politics The first occurred at what’s known as the Party Congress The Party Congress occurred last fall It’s a meeting of the 2,000 most powerful members of the Chinese Communist Party It happens only once every five years And during this event, we typically see the unveiling of new leadership circles And what we were expecting to see, based on precedent, was that Xi Jinping– there would be a new group of top seven leaders– Xi Jinping would still be in power because he still has one five-year term left– but that there would be a successor So we would see two new leaders put into the top tier of the Chinese Communist Party, and it would be generally understood, potentially even announced, that these people were going to take over from Xi Jinping There would be a new successor in waiting So first thing we learned this fall is that there actually– when this new leader– this is the event, this image that I’m showing here That’s actually four out of the new seven members of the Politburo Standing Committee There was no successor announced So remember, I talked about institutions This is a big one, having a successor named in advance That one’s gone And why is this a big deal? Well, actually, basically since the Tiananmen Square Massacre, the Tiananmen Square incident, there has been a successor in place in the Chinese political system So it was known that Jiang Zemin would transfer power to Hu Jintao Xi Jinping came to office in the Politburo Standing Committee in 2007 It was known that he would take over for Hu Jintao So now, for the first time, we don’t have a successor, which means this can generate instability So if an authoritarian regime– we don’t know If something ever happened to Xi Jinping, if he had a health problem or something like this, there would be a major public power struggle So that was the event number one Event number two is a little more into the weeds, but I thought we could have some fun with it So this is event number two And I had to write it down because I have trouble remembering all of the language But I encourage you all to memorize this– “Xi Jinping Thought on Socialism with Chinese Characteristics for the New Era.” This is a mouthful I am not a native speaker of Chinese, and my Chinese is probably suspect, but [SPEAKING CHINESE]

That’s it in Chinese To me, it also sounds like a mouthful in Chinese There are native Chinese speakers in the room I heard you before, so maybe you can tell me if you agree But another feature of the Chinese political system is that any elite leader is expected to make an ideological contribution to the Communist Party doctrine So every leader has their pet phrase Mao Zedong has Mao Zedong Thought Deng Xiaoping has Deng Xiaoping Theory Jiang Zemin’s contribution is known as The Three Represents It should be said that it’s not called Jiang Zemin’s Three Represents It’s just called The Three Represents Scientific Concept of Development is Hu Jintao And so now, Xi Jinping’s contribution is known as Xi Jinping Thought on Socialism with Chinese Characteristics for the New Era This phrase was put into the Constitution, the charter of the Communist Party itself And it was done so while Xi Jinping was still in office, still in power Usually, it happens after the fact So if we dissect this phrase, a few things stand out First, Xi Jinping– his name is in it So it’s a named phrase This honor had only been reserved for Mao Zedong and Deng Xiaoping So here we have Xi Jinping placing himself on par with those two leaders The second word I want you to pay attention to is “thought,” [SPEAKING CHINESE] So remember, there’s Mao Zedong Thought and Deng Xiaoping Theory So there are some analysts who believe that a thought actually is higher than a theory Well, now, we’re getting into semantics But it’s telling that Mao Zedong had Mao Zedong Thought So now we have Xi Jinping Thought, Mao Zedong Thought So not only is he putting himself on par with Mao and Deng, he may be only putting himself on par with Mao and above Deng Socialism with Chinese characteristics is an old, tired phrase in Communist Party ideology It’s basically their way of justifying the fact that they’ve gone a market direction while still using socialist language So this is actually not a new phrase But the last thing that I think is, in some sense, the most important is the New Era So Xi Jinping is declaring that we are in a new era, and he is at the center And up until this point, we have generally thought that China was in the so-called reform period So beginning in 1978, we have the reform and opening-up That was the period we were in Xi Jinping is saying we are in the end of that period We are in a new era, and I am at the center So that was event number two Event number three occurred this past March, where we had an amendment to China’s constitution that got rid of term limits for the position of the presidency So prior to this, the position of the presidency, which, you remember, is Xi Jinping’s government position, was governed by two five-year term limits And this past spring, which, honestly, would have been unbelievable five or 10 years ago– that term limit was gotten away with So the interpretation of all of these events– so again, just to reiterate, so we have no successor, we have Xi Jinping Thought in the Constitution, and now we have no term limits The interpretation among the China studies community and the China watcher community is that this signals that Xi Jinping is potentially trying to stay on past his expected retirement in 2022, the so-called Xi for life And I titled the talk not Xi For Life, I titled it “Xi For Life?” with a question mark at the end of it because I think it’s important for us all to remember that what we know about elite politics in China is actually quite little It’s an extremely opaque system And so people that observe the system, we’re left to take these very crude signals and try to infer what’s going on between the party leaders and what’s going on in their heads And so I think it’s a bit premature to say oh, he’ll be in there for the rest of his life Although Donald Trump actually congratulated him on being– [LAUGHTER] I went 20 minutes without bringing up Donald Trump So my own interpretation– so one possibility, he is intending to stay on That’s one possibility A second possibility is he is using these moves to further consolidate power and create uncertainty So one feature of the Chinese political system is if you anoint a successor, you actually are creating a rival, and you’re creating a new base of power And instantly, that person who is the successor in waiting becomes quite powerful, and you’re a lame duck for five years And so maybe by not anointing a successor and signaling that he might want to stay, he’s just maintaining his own bargaining leverage So that’s one other interpretation that I think is important to think about Either way, my own feeling is that whether or not he stays in office or retires, it actually doesn’t matter as much as you might think because if he does install a successor, he will likely try to install a lackey of his own So he will install someone who is loyal to him, and he will rule from behind the scenes And this is also common in the Chinese system Deng Xiaoping continued to rule despite not actually having the highest level title So power in the Chinese system is in some sense about titles,

and in many others, it’s actually about personal relationships within the system So either way, I think one takeaway I want you to come away with from the talk today is that we are likely in an era where Xi Jinping is going to be at the center of the Chinese political system not just for the next five years, but likely for the next 10, 15, possibly even 20 years Of course, it’s difficult to predict So what do we know about Xi Jinping? So if we’re in his era– we’ve gotten a chance to watch him in office now for five years So what is he actually about? What does he care about? What makes him tick? If I had to describe him in three words, I would use the following I would say he’s nationalist, he is authoritarian, and he’s populist, that combination So nationalism– one of the key phrases of Xi Jinping Thought– and I encourage you to go study Xi Jinping Thought– is this idea of the so-called China Dream or Chinese Dream depending on how you see it translated– [SPEAKING CHINESE] in Chinese The Chinese Dream dates back to this idea of national rejuvenation There is a narrative in the Chinese political system that China was once a great nation That status was robbed of it by foreign imperialist powers, beginning with the Opium War There is a century of humiliation where China is repeatedly infringed upon by foreign powers And only when the Chinese Communist Party comes to power in 1949, that’s the establishment of a new China, and China has stood up And so Xi Jinping’s China Dream is an extension of that narrative And the basic dream, as it has been articulated, is that China will once again become a strong, powerful, and prosperous nation One of the most cliche things you can say about China is that it is a collectivist culture This is a pet peeve of mine It’s a very simplistic way of thinking, and it’s, in some sense, an orientalist way of describing China But in this instance, I think it’s important to emphasize that this China Dream– Americans hear this, and they think, oh, that’s the American dream That sounds pretty good It’s actually quite distinct So this is an image of one of the propaganda posters of the China Dream And you’ll see, in Chinese, it says, [SPEAKING CHINESE], China Dream And under it, [SPEAKING CHINESE],, means my dream So we literally have the individual being placed subservient to the nation And to be working under the China Dream, for an individual Chinese citizen, it’s about achieving the collective goal of national rejuvenation So this isn’t about I’m going to work hard and better myself like the American dream This is a collective dream This nationalism has been ramped up in recent years And it seems to me that increasingly, the party is relying on nationalism as a source of legitimacy So under the Mao era, the source of legitimacy was ideology and Mao himself Under the reform period, under Deng Xiaoping and his successors, the source of legitimacy was performance So we are going to deliver goods– economic growth, public good provision, and so forth Now, economic growth is slowing in China It’s down to roughly 6% And so a new source of legitimacy, it seems that nationalism will be the source of that And we see Xi Jinping being increasingly assertive on the international stage You might have heard about the South China Sea, China’s territorial claims there, his willingness to build islands and install military installations on those islands to buttress territorial claims China’s growing increasingly aggressive with respect to Taiwan and reunification with Taiwan You might have heard of the One Belt, One Road Initiative, or the Belt and Road Initiative It’s constantly rebranded But this is so-called China’s Marshall Plan It will be a multibillion dollar investment project spanning multiple countries and multiple continents So we have a nationalistic, assertive Xi Jinping The second adjective I use to describe him is authoritarian China always has these cycles If you look at the long arc of Chinese history, there are ups and downs There are periods of opening and periods of closing Mao Zedong comes to power, and we see a closing with the Great Leap Forward and the Culture Revolution Deng Xiaoping comes to power, and we see an opening, where political discourse has liberalized a little bit Then we have Tiananmen Square Massacre, a closing Then actually, if we look back at the 2000s, we didn’t maybe realize it at the time, but that was a period of relative openness in Chinese society Under Xi Jinping, we have entered into another closed period And I would argue– and I don’t think I’m alone in this– that China today is the most repressive it’s been since the period just following the Tiananmen Square Incident And this has manifested itself in a lot of ways There’s increasing control among civil society organizations One of the key tenants of Xi Jinping Thought is that party should dominate all aspects of society We also see the party willing to use good, old-fashioned repression, detentions, torture, intimidation to groups that it doesn’t like This is an image of Li Wenzu She is the wife of the man in that picture

there, Wang Quanzhang, who is what’s known as a Weiquan lawyer The Weiquan lawyers in China– Weiquan just means rights protection These are effectively public defenders They are a group of lawyers who are civic-minded, and have tried to use the principles of the Chinese constitution– which is actually quite liberal on paper– to help Chinese citizens protect themselves from the government So they take cases on everything from labor issues, environmental issues, property rights protection, so people who have had their property demolished by the Chinese government So these are people that are trying to work on behalf of the population, and to protect them from the government using the Constitution So they’re not radicals, actually They’re not advocating revolution Most of them are advocating that the government abide by constitutionalism and rule of law Today, in China, such individuals to be this type of lawyer has become a crime, and hundreds of them have been detained This particular individual, Wang Quanzhang, was detained for three years without any meeting with his lawyer There’s a certain irony in that Not allowed to meet his family We just found out last week that he is still alive, but I was at an event two weeks ago where his wife spoke, and she was unclear whether he was still alive So it’s important to keep talking about this I think a lot of us, when we go to China– myself included– you get there, and you think, oh, this isn’t so bad Really, it’s not that bad at all It seems pretty normal here And that’s on purpose And a lot of the repression hums along in the background, and it’s easy to overlook it And it doesn’t affect most of the population But for those individuals that do try to advocate things like human rights and political reform, the regime is willing to do the dirty business So Xi Jinping is authoritarian He is nationalistic And the final thing I would say is he’s populist So one of the hallmarks of his rule which you might have heard of is the anti-corruption campaign So Xi Jinping came to office, and he was quite different from his predecessors He had a little charisma Hu Jintao was known as being a bland technocrat Xi Jinping, upon coming into office, he went to a steamed bun shop in Beijing, ate with normal people He fosters this image as a man of the people And one of the key features of his rule has been cracking down on corruption And corruption in China was the main threat to the survival of the Chinese Communist Party So if you look at survey data in China, corruption was always ranked as the number one or number two issue among the Chinese population The levels of corruption were quite high This is a feature of an authoritarian system with no electoral accountability, no freedom of the press, a lack of civil society organizations, undergoing the process where business assets are being gone from public to private So this is a recipe for corruption So Xi Jinping comes to power And immediately, we see a crackdown on so-called tigers and flies Tigers are senior levels of officials within the Chinese system So he’s willing to go after the big officials And then if you’re a lower-level official in China, you’re called a fly, which is tough Maybe one day you’ll grow up to be a tiger, but for now, you’re a fly So Xi Jinping’s anti-corruption campaign signals his willingness to tackle the tough issues The interpretation about this campaign– there are really two that you’ll hear The first is that this is all just a political ploy to purge his enemies And I believe there is some truth to that If you look at the highest levels of the Chinese Communist Party, individuals who have been investigated invariably are not in Xi Jinping’s personal clique They are people who are in the rival faction or people who might be opposed to him That said, the other interpretation is that this is a genuine effort at cleaning up the party And if you go to China and you talk to individuals, there is some optimism that Xi Jinping is a strong leader, he’s a competent leader, and he’s the one that is going to clean up the party I think there’s some truth to both narratives If he’s investigated hundreds of thousands of individuals, I have trouble believing that all of this is politically motivated I do think there is some genuine anti-corruption behavior going on But it’s important not to be too rosy about this development, in the sense that actually fighting corruption is difficult, but we know the recipe for success in political science and economics How do you stop corruption? Well, you provide information to citizens on things like government contracts and assets of officials You have a free press, which is allowed to do muckraking journalism You have a civil society organization that works with them You have anti-corruption agencies that are independent and a court system that’s independent And over time, you’ll see the reduction of corruption None of those features that I just named are present in Xi Jinping’s anti-corruption campaign So this is a top-down campaign, driven by the party, kept within the party, and the party is basically trying to police itself And so that’s important to keep in mind when we talk about the anti-corruption campaign So that’s what Xi Jinping is about He’s populist, he’s authoritarian,

and he’s nationalistic In terms of his popularity, I would say, I look at it and I actually see, if he is popular, it’s for the same reasons that Donald Trump is popular I went another 10 minutes without bringing up his name So the Chinese Dream is kind of a version of Make America Great Again It’s Make China Great Again I hate to be simplistic, but there is a similarity there The authoritarianism– so Donald Trump and Xi Jinping are both willing to speak the language of law and order, and use the tools of coercion to try to repress outgroups That is a common feature in their rule And then the populism– so the anti-corruption campaign is actually a version of drain the swamp And actually, I think, in the Chinese case, it’s more authentic than what we’re seeing with Donald Trump in terms of a commitment to clean governance, of course So the question is, is Xi Jinping popular? And as a foreigner standing in New York, I am hesitant to even weigh in on this But my own sense– first of all, any time we try to assess the popularity of an authoritarian regime– this is sort of one of the classic questions in political science– it’s very difficult to do, because let’s say you could do a survey, and you ask people, do you approve of the performance of Xi Jinping in office? First of all, in China, you can’t ask that question I do surveys in China You’re not allowed to ask this sort of question In other authoritarian countries– so Putin and other authoritarian leaders have public opinion polling about them In China, you’re not allowed to ask about the performance of any individual leader But let’s say, even if we did have that question, and we see a lot of people approve, is it because they actually approve? Is it because they’ve been indoctrinated to say they approve? Or is it because they are scared, and they say they approve even though they don’t approve? So it’s very difficult to differentiate those different possibilities So we don’t really know how popular Xi Jinping is That’s an important thing to emphasize My own sense, through my conversations with students, friends in China, and other people, is that he does maintain a broad base of support So people who are intellectuals, liberals, business elites, are generally less supportive of him because of the themes I’ve just outlined But among the common population he seems to be viewed as a strong leader who is helping change China for the better He’s assertive abroad, and he’s tough at home on people who have been guilty of corruption So he does have a base of support So all that being said, what are we looking about– what should we be thinking about moving forward for China? And why was 2017-2018 a big year? I wanted to point to really three troubling trends for us to think about as a group The first is that we’re seeing an increasing cult of personality about Xi Jinping So again, another cliche or trope in the study of Chinese politics– you’ll see a lot of “Time” magazine covers or magazine covers where you’ll see an image of Mao Zedong, and then it’ll be peeled back, and there’ll be an image of Xi Jinping underneath or something like that So people keep referring to him as the next Mao, or China’s next emperor There’s just a series of phrases that are used over and over again, along with things like dragon There’s a certain way people report about China, which is a little simplistic But there is some truth to this idea that there is a cult of personality being fostered around Xi Jinping This is the cover of the “People’s Daily,” “Renmin Ribao,” which is the mouthpiece of the Chinese Communist Party In red– this is not my own analysis This was a report in “The Wall Street Journal.” But they noticed that Xi Jinping had been mentioned 11 times– the leading word in 11 titles on the front page of the “People’s Daily.” And he’s been mentioned more on the front page of the “People’s Daily” than any other leader since Mao Zedong So this is troubling in and of itself What’s particularly troubling about it is it leads to a second phenomenon which is Yes Man politics And so it seems to me that at the elite level in China today, to oppose Xi Jinping, especially publicly, is career suicide And so what we’re observing instead is a lot of sycophants, a lot of people trying to ingratiate themselves with Xi Jinping, praising Xi Jinping Thought Universities are building institutes where they study Xi Jinping Thought And we know– this is one of the basic tenets of government is that power should not be concentrated too much in the hands of one person At best, that person is benevolent But at worst, that can lead to extreme policy making, uninformed policy making This is the vote count in the National People’s Congress of that amendment that I mentioned, the constitutional amendment where they got rid of term limits for the presidency, which is one of the more controversial pieces of legislation to happen in China within the last 30 years This is in Chinese, but the National People’s Congress is huge It’s the institution I study It’s the largest parliament in the world It’s got almost 3,000 members We see 2,958 people voted for it,

two people voted against it, and three people abstained We don’t know who the people are that abstained or voted against it It’s a closed system There’s some speculation that Xi Jinping himself may have been one of those people to say, oh, yeah, people are willing to oppose me But to me, this is– the National People’s Congress– I don’t want to get too much into it, but all of the Chinese political system goes according to script The party controls everything But even within these institutions, there usually is some opposition And what we observe in China today is that a lot of people are bandwagoning around Xi And I worry about that The final trend I thought it was important to bring up here of all places is the increasingly sophisticated surveillance state we see in China So I mentioned that China is going through a repressive term What makes it particularly worrisome is that we have a highly-sophisticated authoritarian regime that is now using the fruits of technology to repress its population and monitor its population So this is an image of facial recognition software that’s currently being rolled out It’s not national yet, but it’s being rolled out in different localities in China And so we are nearing the point where the Chinese Communist Party, within the next few years, will likely have full information on its population So using closed-circuit televisions, they have– I’ve heard the estimate of 200 million, but I have heard that number is going to rise to 300 million or 400 million closed-circuit television cameras around the country within the next five to 10 years Using those in combination with AI, which can do facial recognition– and I understand that the technology is not perfect yet, but it will likely get there– that, combined with social media data– so as you all know, Chinese citizens commonly use an app called Weixin WeChat, which is sort of like a one app to rule them all Not only is it a social network, but it’s also a way for people to make purchases So the Chinese government, of course, has a backdoor to that So we have a situation where an authoritarian government has full information on the social networks, the political commentary, the purchases, and the geographic locations of all of its citizens And this is the dark side of AI, and big data, and this sort of technology And it’s something, again, we need to be talking about And you all, as technology leaders, I’m sure are aware of this But it’s something that we need to be having discussions about, and it’s an abuse of this sort of technology In China, I should say that it seems that this technology is being described as, again, a way to preserve law and order And it’s being said, oh, this is going to be used to catch jaywalkers and other petty criminals And again, it’s unclear whether or not Chinese citizens support this There might be a faction of them that does and says, oh, OK, you have nothing to worry about if you’re not doing anything wrong But it doesn’t take a genius, or a critic, or a skeptic to say that this technology will also be used to target political dissidents, protesters, petitioners, and so forth, anybody that’s causing trouble in the Chinese system I should say that as a political scientist, a lot of us do fieldwork in China And I was party to a couple of conversations in the last couple of years about– the one thing we do often with our interview subjects is we guarantee anonymity We say, OK, we can meet, and I will never use your name in anything I write, and there will never be any record of this interview out in public Now that we’re operating in China, I don’t think I could go to China and tell someone that I can assure that no one knows about this meeting because the state is everywhere I should also say that this technology is being rolled out in a part of China called Xinjiang Xinjiang province in Western China where there is a large Muslim population known as the Uyghurs I encourage you to read about Xinjiang– X-I-N-J-I-A-N-G. This is not my area of expertise But there is increasing evidence coming out of Xinjiang that these sorts of technologies are being used to basically put to a large chunk of the Muslim population into re-education camps So the level of repression that’s being used in concert with this technology is very alarming So I wanted to leave time for questions, and I wanted to close by just using this phrase “end of an era,” which is not mine There’s a book that just came out called “End of an Era,” by Carl Minzner, which does a nice job summarizing some of the trends that I just spoke about But Xi Jinping is saying we’re at the beginning of a new era, which inherently means we’re at the end of an old era And to me, it seems one of the big takeaways of the last year or the last five years, has been that the Chinese Communist Party– the success or failure of the Communist Party now lies in the hands of this person And one of the old lessons of Communist Party history– and this is the lesson of the Mao era– is that no single leader should become too powerful And it seems to me that this lesson has been forgotten So thank you, I will leave it there, and we can open it up to questions Thanks [APPLAUSE]

Yes Hi AUDIENCE: Hi One of the things that I was thinking about during the talk was, why is this happening now? I can sort of imagine maybe it’s Xi’s personality and his strong leadership, or maybe it’s a weakening of the existing institutions But why didn’t this happen with the previous leader? What kept them in check? RORY TRUEX: That’s a good question It’s difficult to answer The common narrative you would hear is that the previous leader, Hu Jintao, actually didn’t have this force of personality He wasn’t a particularly strong leader He was not anointed by his predecessor, Jiang Zemin He was actually anointed by Deng Xiaoping So Deng Xiaoping leaves office and anoints his next two successors, Jiang Zemin and Hu Jintao So Hu Jintao had a reputation as sort of a bland technocrat, a guy that knew how to make policy, but didn’t know actually how to command the party And so this, in some sense, leaves a power vacuum that Xi Jinping has been willing to step in In terms of why now, I think another thing to emphasize is that this was incremental So there were little moves that happened along the way, and they went unchecked So for example, so Xi Jinping, upon entering office, there was a dramatic purge of one of his rivals named Bo Xilai, where this person was trying to get himself on the Politburo Standing Committee, and there’s evidence that Xi Jinping engineered his very elaborate downfall This would be unusual And so that sort of thing happens Then we start seeing the anti-corruption campaign unfold And over time, he becomes so powerful, it’s like a self-fulfilling prophecy Once someone becomes this powerful, now to be opposed to him is futile So I think that’s one of the elements too is that the institutions maybe weren’t strong enough in the beginning to constrain him Thanks Here, maybe? AUDIENCE: Hi Sorry to bring up Donald Trump again, but just a curious thought experiment– RORY TRUEX: Oh, great AUDIENCE: –because when Xi Jinping decided to get rid of the term limit, I think that was the most ridiculous thing that Donald Trump said Hey, maybe we should try to do that RORY TRUEX: Maybe we should this someday Yeah That wasn’t alarming at all to hear AUDIENCE: So my question is a thought experiment So assuming– that’s given Trump’s also having a populist agenda– if, say, Trump manages to get reelected– and I know that culturally the US is very, very different entirely from China, but if you were to try to get rid of term limits in the US, based on your understanding of authoritarian regimes, what might be a path of least resistance for him to go about doing that? RORY TRUEX: Well, that took a very dark turn, this conversation And we were already in a dark place So the question is about Donald Trump, if he were also to try to similarly consolidate power and potentially erode the term limit institution It’s interesting Right when Donald Trump was elected, there was a lot of political scientists much more senior than I am– I’m junior, if you couldn’t tell People who have been in the field for a long time were sincerely alarmed about the erosion of democracy in the United States And democracy is something we take for granted here It’s been around for hundreds of years We expect it to be around the future But democracies elect themselves out of democracy They elect leaders that have authoritarian tendencies, that consolidate power So there were legitimate causes for concern among the political science community about Donald Trump’s authoritarian tendencies And I think he’s time and time again revealed that he has a certain envy, let’s call it, of authoritarian leaders He’s done so with Kim Jong Un, Putin, and Xi Jinping In terms of this specific scenario, my hope, as an American citizen, is if this ever came to pass, we would see opposition among not just the Democrats, but among the Republican Party At some point, the Republican Party needs to realize that this is unusual and unsustainable, and they need to side with democracy over the party And so I hope– we’ve said that before The Trump presidency has been a constant series of events where we’re all saying, is it this? Are they finally going to oppose him? So my hope is that we would see opposition I would also say there are major, major differences, of course, between the Chinese political system and the United States, and particularly the strength of our institutions, and the court system, and the legislative branch, and the media, and the ability to have public discourse is way above what there exists in China So I think the outcry, the public outcry, would be enough so that that scenario will never come to pass That’s my optimistic take Hi AUDIENCE: Hi Two short questions RORY TRUEX: Sure AUDIENCE: What do the Chinese people know about these constitutional changes and specifically the term limits? And also, in Xi Jinping Thought, is there any mentioning of Confucianism at all? Does it refer back to those kinds of thinking? RORY TRUEX: Yeah, so those are two good questions

So again, as a foreigner, I am hesitant to ever make claims about this is what the Chinese people know and this is what they don’t AUDIENCE: But specifically in the media, has it been– RORY TRUEX: Yeah So I would say that the depiction of this in the Chinese media has been that this wasn’t a big deal And a lot of the outcry that occurred was among people like me, foreigners who study China or write about China And the reason it was pinned as not a big deal is because actually, the position of President in the People’s Republic of China, if you actually look at the Chinese constitution, it’s basically a ceremonial position So that office is not, in and of itself, that important It’s important because the person who inhabits it is the head of the party So that’s one reason why it was deemed not that important The second reason is that there actually are no term limits on the position of General Secretary of the Communist Party So that position has never had any term limits There’s been a norm that that person only stays in power for two terms, but there was never actually anything on paper that prescribed that So the way this was positioned, and among people in China who were describing this, was that all this reform does, all this amendment does is put the position of the presidency, it syncs it up with the position of the General Secretary the Communist Party, so now nothing has term limits So that’s the way it was phrased But for those of us on the outside looking in, it seems that this is a very obvious example of an existing institution that was designed to curb excess abuses of power, accumulation of power, being eroded So my sense is that the average Chinese citizen is probably not in uproar about this, but I think it does remain a pretty significant political event In terms of Confucianism, one of the elements of Xi Jinping has been not just the nationalism in a foreign policy front, but a cultural nationalism, and the Communist Party as being the bearer of Chinese cultural traditions So Confucianism– I am no expert, but there are elements of Confucianism that are conducive to authoritarian rule, in particular the emphasis on hierarchy and the relationship between the ruled and the ruler And so we’ve seen a resurgence of Confucianism and the emphasis on Confucianism in China, especially as an alternative to foreign ideologies like Christianity and so forth So I don’t believe– I’d have to look back There’s a whole book on Xi Jinping Thought, and I couldn’t get through it, to be honest with you But I don’t believe it’s mentioned in great detail But culturally and politically, it has been an emphasis to focus on traditional Chinese culture and heritage And the Communist Party and Xi Jinping are protectors of that Thank you Yes AUDIENCE: Hi My question is about the surveillance state, but I’ll come through a detour, which is in the last question from this microphone, you mentioned the big institutional differences between this country and China, and I’d say democracies in general and China, and authoritarian regimes Now, all of the world is going into the world of new surveillance technologies together And we don’t have institutions surrounding those yet So do you think there’s a chance or a danger that democracies around the world will follow in the model that China is developing and will probably first develop to the greatest extent, and that everyone will just sort of stumble into an authoritarian machine– literally a machine? RORY TRUEX: Yeah, so I have that personality type that worries about these sort of things and the rise of the surveillance state And Google as a company, as you of all people know, is involved in the collection of information on normal citizens, which could potentially be used by a government for these sorts of purposes So I am glad you brought up the question It’s something we need to be talking about a lot And I assume you all are talking about this quite frequently I think in the US, it has a different flavor to it Again, I’m not within the CIA I don’t have much of a window as to what’s going on But it seems that it’s being used, again, for issues of national security, and information collection that can be used by the US government to monitor terrorist suspects and so forth In China, they would also argue that this is about national security So the dissidents and protesters and so forth are undermining national security So it’s always governments using the lens of national security to infringe upon people’s civil liberties And so it is something I think we should be concerned about And I think the difference in the US versus China is that in the US, there’s at least a dialogue about this And citizens have willingly given over their information because the technology is so good– Facebook, Google, Twitter, and so forth The tools are so great that we willingly give forward our information But I think we are at a point where if it falls into the wrong hands or if you have a certain type of leader, even in the US, this information could be abused Thanks I never answered that question before, but thank you for asking AUDIENCE: Could you expand a little bit on the world’s largest parliament? I know you made a point about how well it’s

orchestrated by the party But what’s it like in its daily affairs? How often does that orchestration happen? How deep does it go? RORY TRUEX: Thank you for asking this question So this was the topic of my dissertation, so this brings me back to a sad, lonely, depressing time in my life [LAUGHTER] So I’ll just give a brief answer because I could talk about this for a while But the National People’s Congress is China’s parliament And it has 3,000 members It meets only once per year for two weeks So you can imagine, such an institution is not exactly a forum for great policy discussion And they sit in a large room called the Great Hall of the People which has 3,000 people So often when you hear about the National People’s Congress, you hear the words rubber stamp And there is some truth to that So nothing ever before the parliament in the history of the institution before the full body has ever been voted down ever So if that’s not a rubber stamp, I don’t know what is That said, so one of the arguments I make– I did write a book on this It’s one of those books that I wouldn’t wish it on anybody to read it, but if you’re interested– I have a forum, I might as well self-promote– it’s called “Making Autocracy Work.” But the argument I try to make is that actually, this is one of those institutions that the Communist Party is trying to use to channel citizen grievances through their institutions So rather than have people protest on the street and potentially engage in violence, they’re trying to create political institutions that they control, but that, nevertheless, serve some conduit of information that the government can then respond to So the People’s Congress system is actually a network of these institutions There are five different levels of government, and all the way on down to what’s known as the township level in China And there are hundreds of thousands of legislators in China People’s deputies, they’re called And so what I’ve argued in this book is that these people, their task is to go out, and learn about the population, and try to convey this information to the central government But this shouldn’t be confused with democracy This shouldn’t be confused with full representation These people are handpicked by the Communist Party, and they are not allowed to cross the boundaries So you’ll never hear about a People’s Congress deputy saying, oh, maybe we should talk more about the surveillance state, or maybe we should have elections for the position of the presidency So it’s a very constrained system But thank you for that question That’s the easy one for me AUDIENCE: Hi Thank you very much This was very informative RORY TRUEX: Thank you AUDIENCE: I also wanted to ask you about the international affairs aspect of Xi Jinping’s administration You talked a little bit about nationalism and how the Xi Jinping administration is becoming more assertive internationally, especially in South Asia area, the Belt and Road Could you talk a little bit more about that? And where do you see this administration– do you see them applying the tools that they apply internally– the repression, the surveillance– outside of the borders of China through technology, and also through politics and money? RORY TRUEX: Yeah That’s a great question So it is a broad question, because China’s foreign relations are multifaceted and span everything from territorial claims and ambitions to the economy, environment, and so forth One thing I did want to mention which I haven’t yet is this idea of Chinese overseas influence And so there’s a lot of discussion going on in the US Congress right now about so-called China’s influence operations and the way that it’s increasingly using some of these tools to try to shift discourse in the US and other advanced democracies In Australia and New Zealand, this is a major issue We see this manifest itself in a lot of different ways The one trend that I’m noticing and worrying about is this– using the market, using the access to China as a way to coerce people And I’m here at Google, a company that has had its search engine throttled over the years and now no longer has the market share it should in China because of this reason So a lot of companies, journalists, academics, universities are facing this decision of do I play by the party’s rules and compromise my business or my values in order to get access to China? So this manifests itself in a lot of different ways So academics, we face pressure if we write about certain things We have a fear of potentially losing visa access In the grand scheme of things, a visa is not a huge deal We’re going to be fine But it’s a manifestation of that Firms– you might have read about a lot of US airlines now have been forced to change their websites because they can no longer have the word “Taiwan” on their website, because Taiwan is a sensitive topic, and it’s considered part of China, according to the Chinese government, and on and on and on Cambridge University Press is an example that’s close to home for us Cambridge University Press runs a journal called “The China Quarterly,” which is a China journal

At the pressure of the Chinese government, last year– or was it two years ago? I can’t remember– they removed upwards of 300 articles from their website in China And the articles were all about things like Tiananmen Square, and Xinjiang, Tibet– sensitive topics And this is alarming because then, if you’re a Chinese citizen, and you’re reading “The China Quarterly,” you’re getting a sanitized version of scholarship on China You’re getting a sanitized version of history And that’s the version that the party wants you to get So fortunately, as a result of academic pressure, we saw Cambridge University Press eventually reverse its stance But all of these individuals are facing this decision And it’s a commonality actually between firms, journalists, universities, and academics So that’s one thing that’s alarming to me Another thing that is concerning is the monitoring that we used to see reserved for China is now being extended overseas So there are a lot of Chinese students at American universities And this is something we need more research on, so I’m hesitant to make a statement But it seems, from what I’ve heard, that there are many Chinese students who feel that they are under the same level of surveillance in an American classroom than they would be at a Chinese university So I teach a course on Chinese politics, and we talk about sensitive topics A Chinese student in my course might feel reluctant to say how they really feel or what they think about the Chinese government because they’re worried that they might be being monitored, or that information might make its way back to the Communist Party So we are entering a phase where Xi Jinping’s assertiveness has now led the Communist Party to try to influence discourse and dialogue in other countries And that’s a trend that I am worried about Thank you for your question Here Yes AUDIENCE: You partially asked actually my question, but I want to extend the topic You mentioned the influences going abroad, but mainly focusing on Chinese citizens What is influence globally with other countries? And do you see a possible backfire and would other countries trying to– how do I say– interfere with China’s government issue and stuff? RORY TRUEX: So that’s a great question So for a long time, the party rhetoric about this was that China does not interfere within the sovereign affairs of other countries That was the line It’s sort of this doctrine of noninterference Leave us alone, we’ll leave you alone It’s unclear whether we should have believed that ever, but it’s increasingly obvious that they do interfere in some of the ways I just mentioned More interestingly and important to think about is this idea that the Chinese system of governance itself could increasingly become a model for other countries, particularly developing countries, to emulate This is the so-called China model And it means different things to different people But it’s basically where you have a system of authoritarian governments– soft authoritarianism, if we want to call it that, although I don’t know how soft it is– coupled with state-led capitalism And China has the record of economic performance that is potentially appealing to other countries So it remains unclear how much they’re actually trying to shift to the governance models of other countries I have a friend, Maria Repnikova, who’s a great political scientist based at Georgia State And she’s doing some work on this And she’s interviewing officials throughout Africa, who are increasingly going to China to be trained and to study governance techniques from the Chinese system as opposed to a Western system So I think it’s still too early to tell how much influence there will be, but I think it will likely increase On that, I think I’m actually out of time, so thank you all for this opportunity [APPLAUSE] Thank you