The Possibility of China’s Collapse From the U.S. Perspective (The Last Part)

How do the experts who drafted the policies that led to the collapse of the Soviet Union under the Reagan administration see the future of the Chinese Communist regime? (Interviewer: Satoshi Nishihata)


John Lenczowski
The Institute of World Politics Founder

Dr. John Lenczowski

A former director of European and Soviet affairs at the National Security Council from 1983-87. He was President Reagan’s advisor on Soviet affairs, developing policies that led to the collapse of the Soviet Union; in 1990 he founded the Institute of World Politics, a graduate school of national security, intelligence, and international affairs.


――As President Reagan’s advisor to Soviet Affairs, you helped formulate the policies that led to the collapse of the Soviet Union. From your point of view, what will happen to the Xi Jinping administration in China in the future? Is there a possibility that the Xi regime for the Chinese Communist Party system will collapse and how?

I think that the Chinese Communist regime can collapse. There were several reasons why the Soviet system collapsed. There were several crises. Firstly, there was a crisis of legitimacy. I don’t know that China is suffering as badly from that crisis as the Soviet regime was, largely because they have persisted in economic policies that have lifted so many people out of poverty. It isn’t a really free enterprise system. It’s more like a fascist system which has major state corporations that are controlled by party members and People Liberation Army members.

The disposition of capital is controlled according to political privilege, and they’ve given some leeway for genuine entrepreneurship, but they try to keep that very much under control. They don’t have as grave a crisis of legitimacy today as the Soviets did when they were on the verge of collapse. So that’s one crisis that affected the Soviet Union.

Another one was a crisis of the Soviet military economy. They always had a poorly functioning consumer goods economy. But the fact that they could not develop new technologies and incorporate them quickly enough into their armed forces was the reason why Gorbachev particularly felt that it was necessary to have an opening to the West, to diminish the Soviet image as an enemy of the West, to diminish the image of the Soviet Union as a totalitarian tyranny.

They badly needed to get technology from the West in order to maintain the competitiveness of their military economy. So we exploited this by having very strong alliance-wide export controls. And what we need to do with China today is resurrect an organization that was called COCOM, which is the Coordinating Committee for Multilateral Export Controls – a committee of the allied advanced industrial nations, including Japan, that would coordinate export controls among one another so as to avoid having one nation undercut others by attempting to sell advanced technology products to countries in the Soviet bloc.

The third big crisis was the crisis of the Communist Party, which had become undisciplined and corrupt. What was happening was that the underground entrepreneurs, including the mafia in the Soviet Union, were bribing the party officials to look the other way. And those party officials were taking the money, and then even started investing in underground economic enterprises. They were developing forms of self-interest that were at variance with the party’s interest. This was something intolerable to party discipline.

There was such a breakdown of that discipline that successive Soviet regimes attempted to purge the party of corrupt officials. Andropov was the first one to make a very serious effort at this, and Gorbachev tried doing it in a very big way himself. There was a crackdown on the underground economy. There was a crackdown on corrupt government officials and party officials, and hundreds and thousands of them were arrested and prosecuted.

The Chinese Communist Party is an extremely corrupt institution itself. What is interesting about corruption is that it is a sign of humanity. It may be a sign of a bad side of humanity, but it is nevertheless humanity because being a disciplined Communist Party member is like being an ideological robot with no independent will or independent conscience.

If you become corrupt, at least you’re demonstrating some kind of independence, even if it isn’t the most admirable sort. So the corruption of the Chinese Communist Party is something that can be exploited. It’s something that will happen naturally because human beings do not want to be crammed into a mold into which they do not fit and into which they do not want to fit, which is what the Communist Party does.

Anyway, those were the three crises internally inside the Soviet Union. Then we put pressure on them with our military build-up. We had the development of very high technology, stealth technology, strategic defense technology, the application of computers, the weaponization of computers to guidance systems, smart weapons, and all of that sort of thing.

And then we put pressure on their economy. We supported anti-communist resistance movements in Afghanistan, Southern Africa, Central America, and other places. All of this put pressure on them. We communicated with them through our broadcasts, giving them the truth, alternative ideas, and their authentic history. We bore moral witness to the tyranny they were suffering and showed them that they were not alone. Ultimately, the people ended up developing enough courage because we had given them hope. We had helped eliminate despair. We helped eliminate that sense of futile resignation, which is the psychological state the Communist regimes want to put people in.

――Do you think China has similar crises in the country? What do you think will be the main crisis in China which will lead China to collapse?

I think that there are problems inside the Communist Party. I don’t know how bad they are and I don’t think that we have much analysis of this. If you were to ask the CIA or the Japanese intelligence service how much discipline is there within the Chinese Communist Party, I don’t know that you could get a good answer. Some people may know the answer to this. I feel as though I am only partially informed about this.

I think that China has other vulnerabilities. China has regional differences. They have the problem of Tibet. They have the problem of Xinjiang Province. They have the problem of rising religion. There’s a rising Christianity within China, and there is the Falun Gong movement. There are all sorts of possibilities. There were civil society movements in Russia, such as an environmental movement.

――We believe there has been a battle between the freedom and democracy camp led by the US and the totalitarian camp led by China. If the freedom Democratic camp were to win, what kind of process or form would it take, for example, war between the US and China?

I don’t think that there is going to be a kinetic war. I think there’s going to be an intensified cold war, and there is the cyber domain that’s part of this.

I think that there needs to be a much greater coordination between Japan, United States, South Korea, and Australia, and to bring in such countries as Indonesia, Thailand, the Philippines and India, as well as countries that still have some global reach such as France and Great Britain, especially in light of the new Australia-UK-US arrangement.

But I think that there needs to be an East Asian equivalent of NATO that is an active, coordinated effort to coordinate military interoperability and to coordinate political strategy and intelligence collection. This is something that needs to be done. I think that, ultimately, this is going to happen.

There’s going to have to be an internal change within China; the Chinese people are going to change the government. And then, what the complexion of that new country will be is hard to say. Maybe people will recognize that Tibet and Mongolia should have their own independence restored.

I don’t know about Xinjiang province. There’s been so much Han Chinese colonization there, particularly. Is there a sufficient Turkic population to create a kind of an independent East- Turkestan-type of a country? I’m beginning to have my doubts about that. I don’t know whether there has been as much colonization in Tibet, for example.

――The last question is, do you have any advice or warning to the Japanese government or its leaders to confront China?

I think that my single biggest piece of advice that I would give to anybody, and this is not targeted to Japan, this is targeted to anybody who wants to resist totalitarian tyranny, and that is to tell the truth. This advice is directed toward our government, for goodness sake, here in the United States.

Tell the truth. The truth is the most powerful weapon we have. Totalitarians are scared of the truth. They try to distort the truth. They try to hide the truth. They try to jam the truth with radio jamming and television jamming and the shutdown of the internet. They’re afraid of the truth.

And stand up for that which is good. Stand up for human rights. Stand up for freedom. Stand up for the dignity of the individual human person, the transcendent dignity of the individual human person.

In other words, stand up for good. This is an ideological conflict. This is not a material conflict. This is a moral-ideological conflict. As Solzhenitsyn said, “One word of truth outweighs the world.” This is a matter of seriousness of purpose.

This kind of a cold war is a war fundamentally between those who believe that there is a transcendent, objective, universal, moral order in the world. Those, in other words, who believe that there are objective standards of right and wrong that apply to all people at all times, in all places, versus those who don’t believe that there are objective standards, and those are the communists.

Look at Lenin’s speech to the Youth Leagues of 1920 where he says that there are no objective moral standards, that that is a bourgeois prejudice. Lenin said that what is good is that which helps the revolution and the party, and what is bad hinders the party and the revolution. This is not objective. This is entirely a contingent morality that is subjective.

The communists are afraid that people may recognize that there is a higher source of morality, that it comes from a higher moral intelligence that some of us call God. And that’s why they’re afraid of religion. If there is a higher source of morality through natural law, that moral law tells us that something is just, or something is unjust. But where does that come from?

Man-made law said that it was okay to kill the Jews and the Gypsies and all those other people who the Nazis considered to be less than men. So that was man-made law, and it was ideologically desirable, and it was ‘legal.’ If there are no objective moral standards, who are we to criticize the Nazis? Why should we criticize them? That was their lifestyle choice.

But killing those people was not morally right. Similarly, when the Soviets threw millions of innocent people into the Gulag Archipelago, it was not morally right. And when the Chinese communists throw millions of innocent people into the Laogai, it’s not morally right, even though it may be legal according to man-made law.

Is there a higher law than man-made law that tells you that some of these actions are unjust? I happen to believe that there is, and the American system is based fundamentally on the recognition that there is such a higher law. So, the cold war with the Chinese Communist Party is ultimately a conflict between those who believe that there is a higher law and those who hold that man-made law that serves the people in power is the highest law.

This is a matter of the existence of objective truth and objective morals. Totalitarian systems depend upon the lie and that’s why leaders of free countries have to tell the truth.

The Possibility of China’s Collapse From the U.S. Perspective (The Last Part)
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