The Berlin Wall fell when I was just in primary school. Later in life, as I was beginning to develop my convictions about life and politics, I was taught that the West had faced down this threat to history, that institutions such as the Catholic Church and major Western business interests had brought down the dreadful and wicked Communists in the name of political, religious, and economic freedom.
At the time, it stood to reason that the Western religious and business establishments had played such a big part in winning the Cold War. The Soviet Union tried to crush and humiliate Christian institutions wherever it went; indeed, many radicals became Communists precisely because of Communism’s inherent and fanatical anti-clericalism. Free enterprise was suppressed under the Communist regimes of the 20th century.
The hostility of the Catholic Church and western titans of industry to Communism could be taken for granted then. But it can’t be anymore — not in the era of President Xi Jinping.
I was reminded of this just today, when PBS’s revival of Firing Line released a preview of host Margaret Hoover’s interview with Michael Bloomberg, the Wall Street tycoon and former mayor of New York who has repeatedly flirted with running for president over the past decade. Hoover was talking to Bloomberg about China’s record on pollution, and she pointed out that its growth and coal-burning were, by Bloomberg’s standards, a threat to the global environment so great that it could not be overcome by any carbon-reduction strategy the United States might adopt.
“So, the United States currently accounts for about 15 percent of global greenhouse-gas emissions. China accounts for roughly 30 percent of greenhouse-gas emissions. How do we — even if we get to net-zero [emissions], how do you get China, India, and the other countries to be good partners?” Hoover asks.
“China is doing a lot,” Bloomberg responds. “Yes, they’re still building a bunch of coal-fired power plants. . . . But they are now moving [coal-burning] plants away from the cities. The Communist party wants to stay in power in China, and they listen to the public. When the public says, ‘I can’t breathe the air’ — Xi Jinping is not a dictator. He has to satisfy his constituents or he’s not going to survive.”
“Xi Jinping is not a dictator?” a clearly stunned Hoover asks.
“No, he has a constituency to answer to,” Bloomberg replies.
This is true as far as it goes: Xi Jinping still needs to please those in the inner sanctum of the Chinese Communist Party. But when Hoover goes on to express her incredulity at the idea that “the Chinese government is responsive,” Bloomberg cuts her off with great conviction. “Of course they are!” he says, adding, in total ignorance of history and political theory, “No government survives without the will of the majority of its people. He has to deliver services!”
Ladies and gentlemen, you’ve heard it here first: Tyranny does not — and, in fact, cannot — exist!
I don’t mean to pick on Bloomberg, however bad he’s made himself look here. What concerns me is that the attitude he expressed to Hoover has come to predominate among the American business elite. Tim Cook is happy to announce retaliatory measures against U.S. states that are on the wrong side of the culture war. But you won’t hear a peep about the anti-suicide nets that Apple’s Chinese contractor Foxxconn installed to deal with the public-relations problem of iPhone-assembly workers throwing themselves to their deaths. Nor about concentration camps for Muslims in Jinjiang province, or the ructions in Hong Kong. In an article on the trade war, James McGregor, the chairman of the greater China region for the consultancy APCO Worldwide, was quoted admitting the awful truth: “For many American tech companies, Xi Jinping is more important than Donald Trump, because China is often their largest and fastest-growing market.”
The Church might even be even worse in this respect. “Right now, those who are best implementing the social doctrine of the Church are the Chinese,” Bishop Marcelo Sánchez Sorondo, the chancellor of the Pontifical Academy of Social Sciences, said last year as the Vatican was buttering up the Chinese ahead of a historic deal meant to solve long-standing conflicts between the Church and the Chinese Communist Party. Like Bloomberg, Sorondo burbled credulously about a fictive regime that does not exist, praising China’s “positive national conscience.” “You do not have shantytowns, you do not have drugs, young people do not take drugs,” in China, he said. Even better, “the economy does not dominate politics, as happens in the United States, something Americans themselves would say.”
Last year’s deal aimed to unify China’s underground Catholic Church with the Chinese Patriotic Catholic Association (CPCA), the Communist Party body meant to regulate Catholicism in the country. The Vatican secretary of state, who oversaw its negotiation, has had to admit in retrospect that it is “not a good agreement.” But it was the only agreement they could get. The day after it was signed, Xi humiliated the Vatican by having the bishops of the CPCA sign a statement affirming their “independence” from Rome, and their determination to pursue the “sinicization” of their religion. Prelates who remained underground, like Bishop Peter Shao Zhumin, were rounded up and detained.
This, whether any outsiders care to admit it in public or not, is just what the Chinese Communist Party does: It co-opts the businesses and religious institutions that it can, and swallows those that it can’t whole. That the West’s anti-Communist coalition now seems quite a bit smaller than it once was is a sign of the Chinese regime’s success.