China’s Positive Reforms and its Enduring Totalitarian Tendencies

China has announced its intention to “stop using” its “reeducation through labor” system of prison camps and to revise its one-child policy to expand the number of couples eligible to have two children. These changes, even if slowly and imperfectly implemented, are a positive development, but they shouldn’t obscure the overall nature of China’s brutal, repressive regime.

In recent years, China’s leaders seemed to have gained a greater reputation for respectability. Some observers have perhaps been distracted by China’s surging economy. Others may sincerely believe the rhetoric used by Chinese leaders, as they feign a commitment to human rights and international law. Some may believe that increased geopolitical power should inherently bring greater respect and legitimacy.

Yet the Chinese regime continues to restrict fundamental human rights that belong to all members of the human family, and this will continue even if these reforms are fully implemented. China certainly is no longer the totalitarian regime that it was under Mao during the Cultural Revolution. However, despite allowing increased economic freedom and opportunity in recent decades, its willingness to invade the most private spheres of the person’s existence in its assault on family life and religious practice, as well as its aggressive suppression of human rights and democracy activists, reveals its enduring totalitarian tendencies. The regime’s willingness to support the most brutal regimes on the planet in its foreign policy confirms the fundamentally immoral, vicious nature of the regime.     

The one-child policy is rife with injustice, from economically crippling fines and involuntary sterilizations to forced abortion and infanticide. It has directly resulted in gendercide—the widespread killing of girls because of their gender. This will not change with the announced revisions. The one-child policy (any use of government coercion to limit family size, really) is intrinsically incompatible with the common good and human rights.

China’s assault on the family highlights the wisdom of subsidiarity, which was articulated during a time when authoritarian and totalitarian regimes were destroying intermediary institutions in order to instrumentally use persons to achieve the goals of the state. The human lives that China’s regime is destroying are similarly mere numbers to its Legalist leaders, numbers to achieve targets the state deems desirable in its program of technocratic terror.  

China is notorious for its persecution of human rights activists. Will this change if RTL camps are shut down? Amnesty International’s Corinna-Barbara Francis warns that these camps “are just one piece in the intricate network of arbitrary detention (centers) used by the Chinese government to punish individuals who exercise their human rights in ways the authorities find threatening,” and “there is the very real risk that the Chinese authorities will abolish one system of arbitrary detention only to expand the use of others.” There is absolutely no reason to believe China will tolerate political dissent or permit the activism of those fighting on behalf of human dignity and human rights.

This is clear not only from its domestic policies, but also its support for other violent, brutal regimes, including those run by genocidaires and other perpetrators of mass atrocities. China has backed repressive regimes from North Korea to Zimbabwe and even provided key support to murderous dictators, such as Bashar Assad of Syria and Omar al-Bashir of Sudan, enabling their mass murder. Their consistent disregard for human rights abroad mirrors their indifference to human rights within China’s own borders.    

China remains a brutal authoritarian regime with totalitarian tendencies. Only an end to one-party rule will produce the change that is necessary for the Chinese people to finally enjoy their inalienable rights. So while we should acknowledge these positive developments in China, we must not let them distract us from the larger reality. No matter China’s growth rate or regional power, it remains a pathetic tyranny—an embarrassment to the international community and a disgrace to the global community in its disregard for universal human rights.