China's Venom Against U.S. Is Ominous | Opinion

"Barbaric" attacks.

That's what the official People's Daily accused the U.S. of launching against China.

The August 29 propaganda blast, contained in a landmark piece, was not a one-off. On the 21st of last month, Global Times, a high-profile tabloid controlled by People's Daily, insinuated the U.S. was working with China's "enemies."

Americans and others may be perplexed by overheated Chinese rhetoric. The Communist Party of China has always believed its struggle with the United States is existential—in May 2019, People's Daily declared a "people's war" on America—but the hostility has become far more evident in recent months.

This strident anti-Americanism suggests the Party is establishing a justification to strike America. Americans often ignore propaganda, but that is a grave mistake. The Chinese regime uses its media outlets to first warn, and then signal, its actions.

Now is an especially important time to be concerned. Beijing's hostility is accompanying a period of internal turmoil, created in large measure by Chinese leader Xi Jinping's targeting of, among others, foreigners and China's tech personalities, business leaders, celebrities and "sissy idols." This assault, which began the first week of September, occurs as Xi pushes his "common prosperity" mass campaign.

Every Communist Party program and central government plan, as a political matter, must now be linked to the concept of common prosperity. Los Angeles-based China watcher Jonathan Bass, in comments to Newsweek, sees the total-mobilization as "an effort by Xi to launch a populist cause to bludgeon his personal political enemies."

Xi could be in hot water as many of his policies are no longer seen as successes, and there is even talk that his third term as general secretary is not assured. Almost all observers had assumed that Xi would get that additional five-year term at the Communist Party's 20th National Congress, slated to be held sometime next fall.

Xi's common prosperity campaign resembles Mao Zedong's Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution, the decade-long movement beginning in 1966 that careened out of control and almost resulted in the collapse of the then-nascent Chinese communist state.

Now, many are seeing Cultural Revolution parallels, especially because the Party is allowing, and in some cases promoting, propaganda advocating radical change. For instance, an essay supporting "a profound revolution," penned by Li Guangman at the end of August, triggered fears of a complete reordering of society as it was carried by the online editions of People's Daily and the official Xinhua News Agency. The August 29 People's Daily piece, which declared a "transformation" of society away from capitalism and a return to the initial ideology of the Communist Party, is an official endorsement of revolution.

Chinese People's Liberation Army (PLA) soldiers march
Chinese People's Liberation Army (PLA) soldiers march past the entrance of the Forbidden City in Beijing on June 12, 2021. NOEL CELIS/AFP via Getty Images

Is China about to enter another horrific period? "The Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution this is not, but please recall that the opening stages of the Cultural Revolution started out very much like this," the University of Miami's June Teufel Dreyer told Newsweek. "So we should watch to see if there are further developments."

One further development is a turn inward. Communist Party propaganda pieces now reject, sometimes explicitly, all things foreign, and there has even been an official effort to deny foreign contributions to China's rise.

"The [Communist Party of China] has achieved remarkable achievements without following the Western path," wrote Fan Peng, a research fellow at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, in Global Times on August 27. Moreover, Xi Jinping's July 1 speech, marking the centennial of the founding of the Party, is filled with triumphalism bordering on xenophobia.

Xi, in pushing anti-foreign themes, is following a long line of Chinese rulers cutting links to the outside. In every instance, tragedy followed for China and the Chinese people. And there is little reason to think that China will escape disaster this time, especially because the country needs foreign support as domestic conditions—economic, environmental and agricultural, for instance—deteriorate quickly.

Perhaps most important, China's economy is stumbling. On a month-on-month basis it is contracting, in part due to the leftist campaigns Xi has initiated. In most countries, leaders adopt pro-growth policies when economies slow down. In China, however, Xi is doing the opposite, implementing strict anti-business and social-control measures. He needs foreign money, but the common prosperity rhetoric is scaring investors with neo-Maoist themes.

Moreover, devastating floods and other factors have affected the country's ability to feed itself. China is no longer self-sufficient, and the prospects suggest even greater dependency. For instance, the Foreign Agricultural Service of the U.S. Department of Agriculture forecasts China's pork production next year will drop 14 percent. China, a country of pork-eaters, needs to import increasing amounts of food and animal feed.

So China needs the help of Americans and others, but Xi is not going to get it if he continues to turn up the xenophobia.

When Mao, after his disastrous policy failures, started the Cultural Revolution to vanquish enemies in Beijing, China lacked the means to credibly threaten Chinese neighbors, the United States and the rest of the international community.

Now, unlike Mao, Xi has the power to plunge the world into war—and he apparently feels the need to have an enemy to explain away China's myriad failures. Whether they like it or not, Americans are now that enemy.

"All of humanity is at a historically critical juncture," wrote Fan Peng in the Global Times piece. Yes, it is, and that's because of Chinese leader Xi Jinping.

Gordon G. Chang is the author of The Coming Collapse of China. Follow him on Twitter: @GordonGChang.

The views expressed in this article are the writer's own.