One would expect that if an overseas emissary of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) were asked if he were a communist, the answer would be simple and rather clear: Of course I am.
Liu Xiaoming, the CCP’s ambassador to the United Kingdom, made things more complicated recently. When asked, “Are you a communist?” by Jeremy Paxman, a BBC host, Liu faltered.
“Uh, no, we think in China, the ruling party is the Communist Party,” he said on BBC 2’s “Newsnight” program, on Jan. 23. “Now we have 70 million party members. But you have to remember China is a country with 1.3 billion people. So I don’t think you can call China … a communist country.”
The mistake was handily purged in the official transcript, however. “Well, in China …” the transcript on the website of the Chinese Embassy in the U.K. says. The awkward, “Uh, no” is all gone.
Liu’s 70 million Party members was also helpfully updated to 80 million.
Liu continued: “China is a socialist country. We call China a socialist country with Chinese characteristics.” He faltered a few times on the last word.
The unusual statement made by a high-ranking diplomat—that he is not a communist, and that China is not a communist country—set of a round of debate and discussion online.
Liu’s statement was ridiculed by Chinese netizens. Encapsulating the atmosphere, one blogger wrote: “Why wouldn’t Ambassador Liu admit he is a communist? Was he ashamed to admit it?”
Some saw in the remarks a glimpse of the Party’s evolving PR strategy: playing down those elements of its ideology that are distasteful to the West, while emphasizing the similarities. “Liu was being opportunistic and self-serving when dealing with democratic countries and the West,” dissident writer Zhu Xinxin from Hebei Province told New Tang Dynasty Television, a New York-based broadcaster. “He tried to conceal the CCP’s ideological differences and antagonism,” he added.
Others took it as a sign that his remarks suggest that Party apparatchiks have lost faith in the CCP.
“The ideology of the mainstream Chinese probably no longer embraces communism. Nowadays, they only believe in power and wealth. … That’s why he came up with a new explanation,” Beijing constitutional scholar Chen Yongmiao told NTD.
The CCP has become a privileged class that monopolizes power and wealth in China, said the dissident writer Zhu. Becoming a Party member is simply a quick way to access that wealth and power in contemporary Chinese society, he said.
Zhu’s prognosis was grim: China is not a communist country, nor at all a socialist country, but a primitive crony capitalist country economically, and a totalitarian dictatorship politically.
Chen Yongmiao said that people in the upper echelons of society, and people in the Party system, like Ambassador Liu, don’t really understand how people at the bottom feel.
“Because in the core of the system, they won’t know what it is like to live under totalitarian rule. If you ask anyone in the lower rungs of society, they would definitely say China is a communist country,” he said. “Because the Communist Party’s persecution and economic exploitation of them absolutely exists.”