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Chinese Vice Premier Liu He’s address at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, was striking for its dishonesty and prevarication. It recalls novelist and political activist Mary McCarthy’s dismissal of fellow writer Lillian Hellman, when she said: “Everything she writes is a lie, including ‘and’ and ‘the.’” Liu argued, in essence, that “China is back.” He said China welcomes the return of foreign investment, and contended that investors should view China’s economy with optimism because of reforms and an end to an emphasis on ideology advanced by Xi Jinping, rather than economic prosperity.
Liu also submitted that China’s economic growth in 2023 will return to “normal,” and that China is a supporter of the international order and the environment.
In reality, China’s economy is in the tank because of anemic economic growth — about 3 percent — due to profound structural problems in the economy, demographic decline, a property downturn, U.S. pressure on its tech sector, investors concerned about Chinese Communist Party (CCP) influence, and the viability of alternatives such as India, Indonesia and Vietnam. The most significant cause of its downturn has been the COVID-19 pandemic and the end of its “zero-COVID” policy that is permitting the virus to spread among the population.
In China, business will always be under the influence of Xi and the CCP. The unfortunate case of Alibaba founder Jack Ma, who criticized the country’s financial regulators, shows that the Party will not permit even a whiff of independence from its control or a potential political rival to arise from the business or any other community. Rather than supporting the international order, Beijing is doing all it can to weaken and replace it with an order that Beijing defines and controls.
Liu’s remarks on climate change, meanwhile, were a master class of deception. He said COVID-19 revealed the “possible connection between climate change and public health crises.” An honest man would be embarrassed and ashamed after mouthing his words, since the CCP’s actions guaranteed that the virus’s outbreak turned into a pandemic through its deception to global health authorities such as the World Health Organization and public health authorities in other countries.
In sum, it’s likely that everything Liu said was a lie. His address should be considered an information operation directed at shaping a narrative to entice investment and diminish the recognition of China as a threat, no doubt because the Party acutely understands its vulnerabilities and is concerned that, if mobilized against them, elites at the World Economic Forum could offer a profound threat to their hold on power.
Liu’s speech is indicative of the CCP’s weaknesses and vulnerabilities. China’s economic downturn threatens the Party’s control. COVID’s horrible effect on China’s population and the disaster of the “zero-COVID” policy — as last fall’s “blank page” protests showed — threaten that control. The consequences of these vulnerabilities are not only that the Party sent Liu to Davos to spin a web of lies, but are also far more impactful: They indicate the regime is vulnerable and should be pressed in order to exploit these vulnerabilities.
A robust response from other states to China’s expansion will add to the pressure on the CCP with the intent of defeating it. This can be accomplished by discouraging or prohibiting investment in China in favor of other countries or domestic production. Those who invest in China, who take the CCP’s money or allow it to raise capital on their markets, should have the opportunity to explain why they support the Party’s aggression and human rights abuses.
We must call out China’s human rights record and the great abuses directed by the Party against its citizens. Chinese officials such as Liu in international forums should be called to account, rather than being embraced for China’s abominable environmental record. The host should not let pass a Chinese official’s lament that there is a connection between climate change and global health crises without requiring him to respond to China’s own responsibility for the genesis of the pandemic. Additionally, states must bring pressure to bear against the Party by addressing China’s atrocious human rights record and abuse of its religious and ethnic minorities, including in Tibet and Xinjiang.
Outside of China, domestic measures within states — for example, the new House committee on the China threat, chaired by Rep. Mike Gallagher (R-Wis.) — are necessary as well. This committee can focus attention on the CCP’s aggression; its Marxist-Leninist-Maoist ideology to which Xi adheres, which is a major source of China’s belligerence; its gross human rights violations; and China’s attacks on the American people, through fentanyl and other means, as well as through technologies and apps such as TikTok. Their investigations and testimony can combat false narratives such as Liu’s and explain to the American people why the CCP is their enemy and why all Americans should identify the regime as their foe.
Liu’s address must be considered an effort to deceive the world about the CCP and the true state of China’s economy and political stability, as well an effort to entice the international community to believe that China has returned to a period of rapid economic growth. In fact, Liu’s remarks were profoundly revealing about what China’s leadership fears.
Liu’s Davos appearance should define a turning point: The CCP’s abuses of human rights and the environment and its aggression against states and the international order — the order that made the World Economic Forum possible — no longer will be tolerated. We must show the Party that the world will not accept its mendacity.