An array of autocratic policies has accompanied the growth and perpetuation of Xi’s personal authority. The government’s Orwellian “social-credit” system is used to restrict the travel and other rights of actual or potential critics. Prominent liberal economists, who once enjoyed Beijing’s favor or at least toleration, are now targets of growing campaigns of harassment. Only incurable optimists or the willfully blind would argue that today’s China is more tolerant and open than it was a decade ago. The trend is toward greater repression and regimentation, not greater liberalization.
Beijing’s foreign policy is exhibiting a similar worrisome pattern. As its military power has expanded, China’s behavior has become noticeably less accommodating, if not outright aggressive, in such locales as the East China Sea, the Taiwan Strait, and the South China Sea. In the East China Sea, Beijing is contesting Japan’s control of the Senkaku islands and pressing its own claim to that territory. In addition to national pride, China’s pressure reflects a desire to control extensive fishing resources and probable oil and mineral wealth in the waters surrounding the uninhabited Senkakus.
Beijing’s belligerence is even more evident in the Taiwan Strait. A senior Chinese official, Liu Junchuan, boasted that “the contrast in power across the Taiwan Strait will become wider and wider, and we will have a full, overwhelming strategic advantage over Taiwan.” Speaking on June 1, 2019, at the Shangri-La Dialogue, the annual multilateral conference on Pacific security issues, Defense Minister Wei Fenghe warned against efforts either in Taiwan or foreign countries to thwart China’s goal of reunification. Wei added ominously, “If anyone dares to split Taiwan from China, the Chinese military will have no choice but to fight at all costs, for national unity.”