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Even if China continues to test the limits of restraint by making exaggerated territorial claims in the South China Sea, taunting Japan in the East China Sea, pushing India’s boundaries along their shared border, sending high-altitude balloons across the world to gather intelligence, supporting Russia’s cause against Ukraine, establishing unauthorised police stations abroad, pressuring Taiwan with military coercion, and meddling in foreign governments and societies, the world will continue to see China as a belligerent power.

China’s response, like that of any communist or totalitarian regime, is to implement ever-tougher regulations to control its people and ward off outside influence as Western concerns about Chairman Xi Jinping’s path to militancy and hyper-nationalism increase. So, on July 1, China changed its Counterespionage Law to expand the scope of espionage and outlaw the distribution of “national security” information.

A total of 16 broad sectors make up China’s notion of security, with political security—maintaining regime stability and CCP dominance—being the most important. Chinese security includes the following elements: societal (maintaining public security and societal control); territorial (protecting borders and territorial integrity); military (defending against military attack, winning wars); economic (protecting economic stability and development); cultural (preventing harmful ideologies and thinking);(maintain information control, defend against cyberattacks); ecological (protect ecosystems); resource (preserve access to natural reserves); nuclear (ensure normal operation and prevent accidents); biosecurity (protects against risks, including epidemics); space (maintains access to outer space); polar (maintains access to polar regions); deep sea (ensures access to the seabed); and security of overseas interests (protect citizens and assets abroad, ensure access to transit facilities).

For instance, foreign journalists working in China are very concerned about the legal changes. Accessing “documents, data, materials, or items related to national security and interests” could be considered breaking the law when gathering news there. The beauty of passing broad-based and ambiguous regulations is that the government may use them whatever it wants to quash opposition, as Hong Kong’s history shows.

There is no need to link the reporting operations of foreign journalists with the Counterespionage Law, the spokesperson for China’s foreign ministry, Mao Ning, assured. China welcomes journalists and media outlets from all nations to conduct interviews and publish stories there in conformity with the law and rules.

As Mao observed, “As long as one abides by laws and regulations, there is no need to worry.” Such a circular argument guarantees nobody. These laws are ambiguous, which effectively makes them extremely restricted because their interpretation is up to the government and its puppet courts. Even while this law was previously ambiguous, the most recent changes make it even more so. The punishments are severe, reaching even the death penalty or life in jail.

China is now ranked 179th out of 180 nations for press freedom by Reporters Without Borders. Only North Korea has a lower rating. According to a warning from the US National Counterintelligence and Security Centre, Beijing will have “expanded legal grounds for accessing and controlling data held by US firms in China” as a result of the new law. Chinese authorities have raided the consulting firm Bain and Company and the foreign-owned due diligence company Mintz Group just this year. This approach to national security that considers the entire community will have an impact on international companies doing business in China and will also lessen interactions between Chinese nationals and foreigners.

Foreigners make up less than 0.05% of China’s population. This contrasts with 2% for South Korea and Japan, both of which have populations that are very homogeneous. Comparatively, 6% of US citizens are naturalised citizens and 7.1% of residents are non-citizens. The bureaucracy, xenophobia, and omnipresent security state are to blame for China’s pitifully low level of popularity as a place to live. However, Xi is unconcerned since his purpose is to protect his country, eliminate outside influences, and transform the public into malleable putty in his hands.

Although Xi has departed from predecessors by combining development and security instead of pursuing just development, this modified law represents a tweak rather than a course change.

The Mercator Institute for China Studies (MERICS), based in Germany, released research on China’s all-encompassing national security strategy in September. “National security has been transformed by Xi Jinping into a key paradigm that permeates all facets of China’s governance,” it was underlined. Perceptions of both internal and external threats are what are driving this increased focus on maintaining China’s safety. It also acts as a plan to mitigate challenges to the CCP’s legitimacy and ensure that its rule continues to enjoy support as China moves away from a development-first paradigm.

“Xi’s search for a comprehensive national security formula has reshaped China’s policymaking,” MERICS continued. Hypervigilance as a result has a significant impact on state-society interactions, China’s economic growth model, and how the government upholds its interests abroad.

Additionally, it foresaw that the “securitization of everything” will probably quicken. “China is becoming more and more constrained by particular types of activity due to the all-encompassing national security attitude. Pragmatism has given way to ideology, increasing the possibility of overreaction and arbitrariness, by training officials and citizens to be constantly on the lookout for potential threats. Until there is a significant ideological shift, this “securitization of everything” will continue to define China’s internal and international behaviour beyond Xi’s presidency. For governments, companies, and non-state entities interacting with China, this new paradigm entails clear-cut, novel dangers and problems.

The Foreign Relations Law, a new legislation that grants Xi unrecognised power, is another new rule. Beijing has the right to utilise domestic law to respond to foreign penalties and stop further provocations. The law, which was also passed on July 1, will penalise any organisation that behaves in a manner that is “detrimental” to Chinese interests.

It was referred to as a “key step to enrich the legal toolbox against Western hegemony” by The Global Times. When interpreted, it represents yet another tool of coercion used by the Chinese government to overcome any opposition. As the government can raid and probe their enterprises, it will probably have the unintended consequence of making foreign companies rethink their participation in the Chinese market. Xi is undoubtedly aware of the detrimental effects of foreign investment, but his goal is to maintain the CCP’s and his own power. In his calculations, that is worth any price.

Many Chinese, nevertheless, are growing uneasy with the direction Xi is leading the nation in. About 10,800 high-net-worth people (millionaires and billionaires) permanently left China last year. According to advising firm Henley & Partners, China will lose 13,500 of these people this year, and the outflows are expected to be “more damaging than usual.”

The Chinese economy is seriously struggling. In the wake of COVID-19, young people are dealing with record unemployment, and the government isn’t doing much to help. They were told not to put oneself above manual labour, relocating to the country, or learning to “eat bitterness” by Xi. In a People’s Daily piece for Youth Day, on May 4, Xi actually mentioned the phrase “eat bitterness” no fewer than five times.

In China, there have been 54 million job losses in the last three years. Of these, eight million were ejected from cities by the pandemic, 21 million were laid off by businesses, and 15 million are recent college graduates who are unable to find employment. A startling 10% of Chinese small-to-medium businesses shut down in 2022. In the meantime, compared to pre-pandemic years, the average number of employees at A-share listed companies decreased 11.9%. The primary source of job development is the private sector; in contrast, the government and state-owned businesses only provided 860,000 positions, or 5% of openings for recent graduates, last year.

In 2023, a record 11.6 million college graduates will join the Chinese labour force. Youth unemployment is already at one in five, and over the next five years, it is anticipated to increase by five million yearly. By 2028, this might result in 50 million young people without jobs in China. For the CCP, this is risky because disgruntled and idle youth could pose an existential threat.

“Now I believe that on its current trajectory, China will, by the end of this decade, become the slowest-growing major economy,” said Dr. Bill Overholt, a senior research fellow at Harvard University. The geopolitical repercussions are extensive. The domestic repercussions are enormous but unknown.

There is a lot of ambiguity about Xi and his unchallenged rule. For instance, COVID-19 was a black swan event that was not on Xi’s schedule. This pandemic that paralysed the entire world started in Wuhan. Beijing vehemently denied any wrongdoing, but the CCP profited from medical diplomacy by donating vaccines and personal protective equipment.

However, the harsh limitations and lockdowns enforced by Xi were finally met with spontaneous rebellion by the Chinese people. The Chinese government abruptly changed a years-long policy and released COVID-19 on an unprepared populace. The number of people who perished in that sudden disease can never be known, although it was likely in the hundreds of thousands. The CCP completely disproved its claim that it was all-knowing and all-powerful in a masterful move.

As their only alternative in the face of mounting resentment and criticism abroad, Xi and the CCP will intensify ideological indoctrination at home. The nearly 100 million members of the CCP take the following oath when they formally join: “It is my will to join the Communist Party of China, uphold the party’s programme, observe the provisions of the Party Constitution, fulfil the obligations of a party member, carry out the party’s decisions, strictly observe party discipline, protect party secrets, be loyal to the party, work hard, fight for communism for the rest of my life, and always be prepared to give my all for.”

Keep in mind the phrase “party, party, party” In reality, the “people” are only referenced once whereas the party is cited an astounding eleven times in one phrase. It is clear that in the CCP, the “people” have no voice; the party is the only thing that matters. Although it is officially known as the People’s Republic of China, the brutal truth is that it is the China of the party.

President Joe Biden recently referred to Xi as a “dictator” in a forthright statement. Although Beijing may have taken exception at this, the designation is entirely appropriate. In actuality, the People’s Republic of China’s Constitution’s Article 1 states: “The People’s Republic of China is a socialist state under the people’s democratic dictatorship led by the working class and based on the alliance of workers and peasants.” Naturally, a lot of this is confusing since what exactly is a “democratic dictatorship”? However, it is undeniable that China’s working class does not govern the country because party elites are those who develop, exercise control over, and amass power.

The protracted and hopeless war in Ukraine being fought by ruler Vladimir Putin will also worry Xi. Putin will be regretting how he painted himself into a corner, despite the fact that it is keeping the USA and NATO busy. Score one for the West and one for democratic governments.

There were no obvious indications of China rushing to Russia’s defence, and President Xi did not show any expressions of support for Putin during the Wagner uprising, according to Ryan Hass of the Brookings Institute. Putin may or may not restore tight grip over Russia’s levers of power, but it is obvious that Russia is not the formidable force that Xi had high hopes for when Putin visited Beijing in February 2022.

No amount of censorship or propaganda will be able to mask Xi’s strategic error, Hass continued. Beijing is likely to assert greater societal control through repression and surveillance in order to avoid criticism. The CCP will step up its efforts to indoctrinate people with “Xi Jinping thought.” Beijing will also step up its efforts to prevent any new power centres from emerging within China.

As has been the case for the majority of its history, Xi is increasingly focusing China inward. He aims to wean the populace off foreign influence, control their thoughts, demand their devotion, and reduce the country’s reliance on foreigners. The Counter Espionage Law Amendments serve only to highlight Emperor Xi’s Great Wall 2.0 construction around his realm.

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