Chinese Communist Party (CCP) commentators reacting to the death of Mikhail Gorbachev blamed the former Soviet leader for the demise of the Soviet Union. Hu Xijin, former editor of the CCP's Global Times, wrote that Gorbachev garnered praise in the West "by selling out the interests of his homeland." Xiang Ligang, a hardline journalist on international relations, claimed that Gorbachev was responsible for the war in Ukraine and unspecified disasters to follow. State controlled academia echoed similar themes. Beijing-based Renmin University Political Science Professor Shi Yinhong said: "The Chinese Communist Party is very critical of [Gorbachev], believing that he betrayed the Soviet Union."
Although more than 30 years have passed since the collapse of the Soviet Union, the CCP remains deeply troubled by the sudden disappearance of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union (CPSU). Just this past July, the CCP re-issued a six part documentary detailing ideological "lessons learned" from the failure of the CPSU. The film, entitled "Silent Contest," is mandatory viewing for CCP members. Political training courses on "The Rise and Fall of the Soviet Union" are part of the curriculum in all Party schools. During President Xi Jinping's tenure as CCP leader, countless articles and Party-sponsored study groups on CPSU failures continue.
Xi, almost immediately upon his installment as CCP General Secretary in 2012, warned that "Our Party must never find itself afflicted with the poisonous mix of ideological heresy, military disloyalty, and corruption." Xi has repeatedly lectured CCP members that the Party "will never permit subversive heresies on fundamental issues." Social commentary by CCP organs continue to urge members to be vigilant against the West's strategy of "peaceful evolution," meaning the eventual adoption by the Party of reforms that might sap it of its revolutionary aggressive stance against liberal democracies. Xi seems to have expressed his personal regret at the expungement of the CPSU when he remarked, "In the end, nobody was a real man, nobody came out to resist."
CCP leaders painfully remember that Gorbachev's visit to China in 1989 coincided with about a million Chinese demonstrators protesting in the streets of China's capital, Beijing. These protests were embarrassing to the regime, as protestors forced Gorbachev's motorcade to use the back entrance of the Great Hall of the People and made Chinese leader Deng Xiaoping alter his plans for celebrating the restoration of friendly party relations between the CCP and the CPSU. Two weeks later, on June 4, 1989, CCP leaders ordered a bloody crackdown by dispatching the Peoples' Liberation Army to fire on student demonstrators in Tiananmen Square. The CCP clearly believes it made the correct decision to save both the Party and the Chinese state, an opinion echoed by China's Defense Minister Wei Fenghe during a 2019 visit to Singapore on the 30th anniversary of the crackdown.
China, in its opening to the global market in the 1980s under Deng, unlike Gorbachev's "Perestroika" (economic restructuring), continued to protect state-owned enterprises with financial support. China established an economic model that Beijing calls "Socialism with Chinese Characteristics."
Beijing demanded a high price from Western companies investing in the Chinese domestic market. Foreign firms were forced to surrender trade and technological secrets, and no Western company was permitted to own a majority of stock in a Chinese company.
Under Xi's tutelage, the CCP strengthened its role in the life of the ordinary Chinese citizen. Xi galvanized CCP bureaucrats to accelerate a mass migration of China's rural peasantry to urbanized environments. Consequently, tens of millions of Chinese were forced to learn new skills in manufacturing jobs. This transformation helped lift many out of abject poverty, thereby expanding China's middle class as well as the domestic market for Chinese goods. The urbanization process also helped the CCP to better control China's huge population by concentrating people in cities.
Xi's governing strategy gamble is that by raising the individual's standard of living and quality of life, the Chinese people will continue to permit the Party to maintain its monopoly on political affairs. The USSR had failed to improve the quality of life of the Soviet citizenry. CCP leaders possibly reasoned that, because of this failure, Soviet citizens began to challenge Communist rule. The Chinese regime blamed Gorbachev's policy of "Glasnost" (political openness) for making matters in the Soviet Union even more unstable for the government. As openness became the norm, people in the USSR quickly realized that citizens in Western countries had freer and more comfortable lives.
China's Communist regime implemented several specific measures to guarantee that the People's Republic and the CCP did not suffer a similar fate as did the Soviet Union and the CPSU. Instead of imitating Gorbachev's "Glasnost," China constructed the "Great Firewall," which filters all traffic on the Chinese internet. Chinese authorities also ban the citizenry access to Facebook and Wikipedia.
For decades, China's "Consensus policy" decision makers avoided expensive foreign adventures like Moscow's 1979-1989 occupation of Afghanistan. The Chinese also steered clear of entanglements in proxy conflicts, as opposed to the Soviet Union in Africa, Asia, and Latin America during the Cold War.
China conducts its diplomatic relations even with foreign countries strictly on a transactional business basis. The CCP did not seek to export its revolution violently, as did Iran. Beijing also refused to allow its few allies, such as Pakistan, to drain its national resources. That was another self-inflicted burden that Moscow shouldered: its burden of bankrupt colonies in Eastern Europe.
China, instead, is offering its own model of governance -- a one-party system, tight control, a controlled economy, social stability rather than individual freedoms, internet control, and "to protect the dominant role of the CPC" -- to the world as a viable alternative to the American system. The Chinese Communist Party continues to study intensely the reasons for the Soviet Union's passage to oblivion, and seems to be implementing what it evidently believes to be a foolproof surveillance system that will prevent a similar collapse. China remains resolute in its campaigns against any movement that might possess the energy to compete with the CCP, whether the Falun Gong movement or Christianity.
China's leaders apparently still worry, otherwise they would not be investing such enormous resources in domestic espionage and repressing their own people.
Dr. Lawrence A. Franklin was the Iran Desk Officer for Secretary of Defense Rumsfeld. He also served on active duty with the U.S. Army and as a Colonel in the Air Force Reserve.