Cai Xia, a retired professor of the Central Party School of the Chinese Communist Party, was expelled from the party and had her pension stripped on August 17 for “serious violations of political discipline of the Party” following her criticism of the increasingly authoritarian policies of Xi Jinping, party chief and state president. The dissident in-house scholar called the CCP a political zombie and likened Xi to a “gang boss”. Widely known as one of the “Hereditary [Second Generation] Red,” descendants of founding members or important figures of the CCP, the 68-year-old spoke to Vienna Tang of RFA’s Mandarin Service recently about the international ramifications of Xi’s consolidation of power and authoritarian style. Cai has been under surveillance by Chinese authorities since 2011, her lectures have been banned since 2013 and she has been censored and blocked on the Chinese internet since 2016.

RFA: You mentioned earlier that it is a good thing that the U.S. is separating the CCP and the Chinese people. As a former scholar from within the party, what other suggestions do you have for the United States’ China policy?

Cai: I think the U.S. has to separate Xi and “Xi’s gang” from the 90 million party members so as to strip Xi off the ability to hold the 90 million members hostages in the name of the party center. This is an important issue. When you say “eliminate the Communist Party,” can you physically eliminate the 90 million party members? If you really do so, it will be another catastrophe for the Chinese people. Can you believe 90 million people being killed for the sake of changing the political system? That will be a bloody massacre. That is why we said we should get rid of the shell, abolish the system, and change the political system. Nevertheless, we, everyone’s fate and rights, should be respected and protected. So, what should happen in the future?

I personally believe that the leader of the Chinese Communist Party and top officials should be held liable for the party. This liability is determined in accordance with the country’s constitution made by the people, with social equality and justice, and with transitional justice. They should bear  historical responsibility. I think this is an important issue.

Second, I think there needs to be… Of course, the (US) government is only addressing it from the policy aspect. However, I feel that the government could work on exposing the CCP system and revealing the nature of the authoritarian system, rather than focusing on a particular person. In the past, we thought Fascism had come to an end with the demise of Adolf Hitler. Or when the USSR collapsed the system in the Soviet Eastern Europe also ended. Some had said that China has reformed because it adopted a socialism system with Chinese characteristics. While some others thought China was moving forward and no longer a totalitarian regime because it allowed a market economy. Quite the contrary. The current totalitarian rule in China is more ferocious than that of the USSR or Adolf Hitler. It is also more deceptive than before.

RFA: You have shared quite a lot about the changes in China from the aspect of political theory. What collaborative forces do you think there will be to accomplish the changes in China? It seems that some are of the view that constitutional democracy in China cannot be achieved from within and that eventually it is external forces, particularly forces of the U.S., that could ultimately lead to such changes. What is your take on this?

Cai: This question reminded me of the time when I read “The Third Wave” written by (Samuel P.) Huntington. In “The Third Wave,” Huntington said that there are five factors that affect a country’s democratic transition and political transformation. One of the factors is external influence. At that time, I did not believe in this theory, because I feel this might be achievable in the case of a small country, but it is unattainable in such a large country as China. However, my view has changed since. I believe the external forces may sometimes play an important role. I cannot tell you whether an external force will eventually play that decisive and fundamental role, because there is no other country in the world whose political changes are as complicated as that of China.  Nevertheless, I feel what would bring about changes within China may come from cooperation between domestic and international forces. We can see that should the CCP become internally divided, then Xi could step down, and if the CCP is willing to, it can shed the shell of the party and discard the system. Then we can discuss about a peaceful transformation. By then the external forces can help us systematically because we don’t have to fumble forward.

Mankind has accumulated tremendous experience in political transformation. I believe no countries in the world, and the U.S. included, would want to see Chinese society lose control on a large scale, because that would be catastrophic. Not only would it be devastating for the people in China, but it would also be disastrous for the entire world. What other country has a population of 1.4 billion people? Think the Islamic refugees from the Middle East and North Africa already overwhelmed the European countries? International organizations would strive to avoid such a catastrophic outcome. Should it happen, it would be a disaster for China, and it will be a disaster globally. Therefore, at a time like this, the international society will strive to foster communication and collaboration within and outside of the system. It will be the medium to bring all players to the table for peaceful negotiations. I think this is a possible approach. Yet it would be impossible to rely solely on external forces.

RFA: A few years ago, no one had imagined that Hong Kong would become what it is today. Additionally, we have seen the announcement by the Taiwan government about changing its passport design. Do you think there will be a “last straw” incident that triggers a domino effect and eventually brings down the CCP regime?

Cai: It is hard to say at this point. I think the biggest issue still lies domestically. Currently in China the economy and people’s livelihood are suffering. With the crackdowns, it is hard to say what would become a trigger. We had thought that maybe the Hong Kong issue could bring on a domino effect, but instead, we now see heavy-handed suppression and strict blocking of information. So, the effect that Hong Kong issue has created is non-existent. As of now, I cannot see a series of events that would create a domino effect, because the impact of that event must be quite significant. If China were to attack Taiwan with military force, then it might be possible. Military moves as well trouble in hotspots in the South China Sea could likely backfire and trigger a coup. This is a possible scenario.

RFA: Do you think Xi has the ambition to “recover “Taiwan?

Cai: I believe so. He does have the intention. After Xi took office, everyone was talking about the historical legacy he might leave as the leader of a great party. Deng Xiaoping created the path of market economy, which may bring Deng a spot in history. If you could realize liberal democracy and accomplish political transformation, you could also earn a spot in the history. This is the first perspective. As for the second perspective, it is a fact that China and Taiwan have been separated for decades. If you could unite the two sides while you are in office, then you could also earn a spot in history. So, he may want to earn that spot through unification. Therefore, I believe that he does have that intention. Moreover, “unification” is a traditional concept in an imperial system. He may feel that he wants to achieve this goal, even with the use of force, to conquer Taiwan. He may think “If I succeed, I will become a modern emperor who accomplished national unification.” So, I do believe that he has the intention to do so.

RFA: The American China Expert Michael Pillsbury has mentioned in his “The Hundred-Year Marathon” that the Chinese government has a “secret strategy to replace America as the superpower” and dominate the world in the one hundred years between 1949 and 2049. What is your view on this theory?

Cai: According to the slogan proposed by the Chinese Communist Party, it does depict a vision by the year 2049 (with several milestones). Starting from Deng Xiaoping, he said that by the year 2000, China should enter the initial phase of escaping from poverty. Then he said by the time of around 2010, the GDP should double. We should by then achieve the initial phase of moderate prosperity. By 2049, our system will be more well-rounded, and our national power will have caught up with moderately developed countries. The entire system is relatively sound. This was based on the initial idea that the country could be reformed.  If you give up totalitarian rule, you could realize political transformation through reforms, then by 2049, it could be a process in which everyone could peacefully coexist. If (the party) insists on a system of totalitarian rule, then by 2049, it will want to take over the world and pursue global dominance. Objectively, whether you admit it or not, it would be using 100 years to annex countries in the world. Meanwhile, I do not believe that the Chinese Communist Party has, from the beginning, considered ruling China with totalitarianism for 100 years and to take over the world after 2049. I truly do not think so. However, it is true that Mao and his comrades believed in the liberation of mankind. It is possible, then, to apply a kind of communist concept of liberating mankind to this.

RFA: What is your view on the outlook for U.S.-China relations?

Cai: With regards to the outlook of the U.S.-China relations, I believe that as long as Xi remains in power and as long as the political system in China does not change, confrontation will only worsen and intensify. Whether the Cold War will evolve into a hot war is hard to say, because it depends on whether the CCP has the guts to enter a war with the U.S.. There is no need to guess who would win because China will lose for sure.  Once this war is lost, the collapse of the (CCP) regime will follow.  Frankly speaking, the Cold War has already begun. However, should a change occur domestically in China – say Xi steps down – then the progressive forces in the party could take the lead and initiate the changes; that is, to shed the party shell, to abandon the fundamental system, and to pursue the political progress of all of China. I believe there will be external forces to facilitate such changes when that time comes. By that time, the U.S. and China can repair their relationship, which will then move in a positive direction.

RFA: You were born into a “Red Family.” You have experienced the Cultural Revolution and you were a Red Guard. As someone who has been within the system for many years – in your words, a former Communist Party member who just recently “returned” to the ranks of the people. In terms of your academic research and your experiences, what do you think you can offer as an example for today’s young people in China?

Cai: This is hard to say, as everyone’s experiences and reflections are different. However, I do believe in the trends of history. There is an expression that says, “the trends of history are mighty”. That means the history will move towards whichever direction people’s hearts desire. I believe everyone hopes to lead a life that is fairer and freer. Every generation has its own process and experience. We, too, have gone through such living experiences to come to today’s realization. I was not like this. When I was in graduate school, my classmates called me the “Mrs. Old Marxism.”

RFA: Mrs. Old Marxism?

Cai: Yes, that was my nickname. “Mrs. Old Marxism.” Because I faithfully believed…… we truly believed in what they had used to fool people.  But when you witnessed that what he said was different from the reality, and when you truly believed we should move towards equality and justice, you would think like me. I believe future generations would be like this too. They will have a lot of reflections on the current situation. And I personally believe that they may move at a faster pace than we did.

Translated by Min Eu.