Take a realistic view of China

Secretary of State John Kerry looks over his notes during a news conference at US China Strategic and Economic Dialogue (S&ED) at the US State Department in Washington, Wednesday, June 24, 2015.(AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais)

For this year’s annual high-level meeting between the U.S. and Chinese governments, China sent a 400-member delegation — unprecedented in size — to Washington. If the FBI’s suspicions are right — China denies them — the Chinese delegates were well briefed on the backgrounds of their American counterparts, including their previous jobs, home addresses, Social Security numbers, spouses, children, parents, travel and possibly even bank accounts. That would be thanks to the massive theft of background security files on millions of Americans kept by the Office of Personnel Management.

The meeting, which is a prelude to the September visit of China’s president Xi Jinping to the United States, ended with a meeting at the White House with President Obama, who complained about Chinese data theft and military activities in the South China Sea, and asked China to take “concrete steps” to ease tensions. The Chinese response was framed by the delegation leader, State Councillor Yang Jiechi, who said it was time for Washington to “respect the facts” in its criticisms.

Certainly, there are plenty of facts about recent events in China that deserve this nation’s attention.

For more than a decade the optimistic view of China’s amazingly rapid economic growth was that by spreading the wealth and creating a large middle class it would create a demand for greater personal and political liberty.

Instead, as China faces the first real slowdown in growth in 30 years its government has moved to suppress dissent and stir up jingoistic feelings by asserting claims to disputed territories. It is doing so from an enhanced military posture made possible by two decades of growing national wealth and an aggressive cyber warfare capability. That will pose a tough problem for the United States and its Asian allies for the foreseeable future.

Behind China’s aggressive moves lies a determined campaign by President Xi to institute tougher controls on internal dissent and distract the Chinese public from its worries about a slowing economy by asserting a more dominant world role.

To do so and weather anticipated protests, President Xi has seized control of China’s security services and military through a campaign to remove rival leaders who could be convicted of corruption. The president’s harsh moves against corrupt top members of the Chinese hierarchy have made him very popular with the Chinese people.

The two latest to fall, among hundreds, are Zhou Yongkang, China’s former top cop, and Gen. Xu Caihou, China’s top general. Many subordinates of both have also been jailed.

Mr. Zhou was not only a member of the ruling Politburo nine-man Standing Committee, he was China’s head of law enforcement with power over courts as well as all prosecutors, police, paramilitary forces and intelligence agencies. He was sentenced to life in prison on June 11 for bribery, abuse of power and disclosure of state secrets following a secret trial.

Gen. Xu was vice chairman of the Central Military Committee, the top decision-making body for military affairs, under President Xi as chairman. He was removed last year on charges of corruption but died before he could be brought to trial.

The elimination of Mr. Zhu and Gen. Xu has given President Xi more uncontested power than any of his recent predecessors.

So far he has shown that he will use this power aggressively at home and abroad. His challenge to world order can’t be taken lightly.

And that’s a fact.