China's interactions with the rest of the world have always been problematic. During its past days of glory, the Middle Kingdom expected the rest of the world to offer tribute in recognition of its undeniably superior cultural, political and technological achievements. Unfortunately, China - like France - has never really come to grips with its waning influence and inability to be a true global player.
For the past several centuries, China has suffered from a succession of leaders who have failed to provide a combination of sustained peace and prosperity. As always, China's current leaders seek to blame their own failures on outsiders. And so it is when faced with questions about its behavior, officials in Beijing insist that certain enemies are victimizing the Chinese people.
One claim to this effect was issued by the Chinese parliament that claimed that events leading up to the Tiananmen Square massacre were incited and funded by the US. When this accusation was made, Li Peng was the head of the Chinese parliament. When Prime Minister, martial law was imposed and the military actions were taken against the demonstrators. Doubtless, he had ulterior motives in trying to divert attention from his role in this sad and sordid affair.
Such assertions by China's leadership provide an opportunity to examine the source of the greatest threats to the long-term well being of the Chinese people. Judged by results rather than intentions or propaganda, it appears that the worst enemy of China's masses is the leadership structure of the Chinese Communist Party.
As another anniversary of the Tiananmen massacre passes, the world is reminded that Beijing knows no limits when seeking to preserve its "less-than-heavenly" mandate. In using the People's Liberation Army to suppress legitimate grievances of its own people on Tiananmen Square constituted a de facto coup d'etat.
As such, there is no illusion that the principle motivation of the Communist Party is to maintain power. Mao's adage, "power comes from the barrel of a gun," took on new meaning when those guns were pointed at the heart of the Chinese people and triggers were pulled.
While the actions of June 4, 1989 were brought into sharp relief through a TV lens, greater tragedies have been recorded under the watch of the Communist Party. Ill-conceived agricultural and industrial policies during the Great Leap Forward led to the death of tens of millions by starvation. Although the Cultural Revolution did not cause so many fatalities, it certainly ruined the lives of many millions of Chinese citizens. By any calculus, this is a terrible and unbalanced price to pay for an experiment that now relies on slogans like "socialism with Chinese characteristics".
Outrages against the Chinese people continue. Corruption and mismanagement by Party cadres are sapping the life out of China's deeply-conflicted "socialist market" economy. Those parts of the modernization process that delivered remedy from suffering are now at risk of being undone.
The reversal of the irrational economic policies allowed the Chinese people to direct their boundless energies and impressive skills towards enriching themselves. Yet now in a cruel twist of fate, those who trusted their hard-earned savings to the state-managed banks are in for a most unpleasant surprise. Somewhere between 25 and 40 percent of their assets were squandered on supporting failed state-run enterprises.
Support for state-owned enterprises has always been directed principally toward urban industrial workers. This is quite ironic since the Communist Party gained power through a peasant-based revolution. Nonetheless, there has been a consistent policy of neglect of the interests of the peasantry. Under collective farming, farm prices were purposely kept low to provide cheap food for urban workers. As such, Communist-inspired agricultural polices assured that farmers would remain poor.
And so once again, the peasants have been forced to suffer and will bear a disproportionate burden. The reason, then as now, was based upon the fact that dissention in the countryside is less dangerous to Beijing's grip on power. Although more numerous, peasants are less of a threat because they are widely dispersed and less susceptible to mobilization. Restiveness among high concentrations of workers in industrial towns remains the greatest fear among the Communist Party leadership.
To date the Communist Party pursued a schizophrenic and cynical mistreatment of China's glorious past. While Confucianism was once denounced as a form of impure thought, it was rehabilitated when found useful as a possible substitute credo for waning faith in Marxism. Similarly, the importance of guanxi as venerable form of establishing secure relations among people has been corrupted into the basis for a massive web of crony capitalism.
Even the classical myths of Chinese nationalism have been subverted. By asserting its right to speak on behalf on the entire population, Beijing's propaganda arms often suggest that actions or statements by foreigners "hurt the feelings of the Chinese people". Nowhere in the world is there a more dubious claim. On the one hand, it is nonsense on stilts to assert that any criticisms of the current government of China should be seen as an assault on the dignity of the Chinese people. At best, this vague claim could only be valid if China had something like a true democracy.
On the other hand, the regime often uses such claims to deflect foreign criticisms of their human rights abuses or suppression of pro-democracy groups or religious and ethnic minorities. It is clear that Beijing does not consider members of those groups to be part of the great Chinese people.
Deng's reforms and opening to the global economy offered a means to reveal the costs of misrule. As time progresses, these costs will impose an increasingly heavy burden. These costs can only be avoided by introducing measures such as private property rights and the rule of law. However, such steps ultimately weaken the grip of the Communist Party. Unfortunately, its determination to remain in power means that no sacrifice on the part of the masses is too great.
Yes, there are enemies of the Chinese people at work who are undermining the progress of that great nation. However, the most serious tormentors are not foreign agents or blackhands. Events reveal that citizens of China must decide to demand accountability from their leaders. They only have their chains to lose.
Christopher Lingle is Senior Fellow at the Centre for Civil Society in New Delhi a visiting scholar at The Institute of International Studies, Ramkhamhaeng University, Bangkok.