'He killed a party and a country': a Chinese insider hits out at Xi Jinping

An edited transcript of an interview with Cai Xia, who was expelled from the Communist party on Monday. For years, Cai Xia, a former professor at China’s elite Central Party School, has watched the ruling Communist party decay from the inside. Now she is out. On Monday she was expelled from the party, two months after an audio recording of her describing the country’s leader, Xi Jinping, as a “mafia boss” was leaked online. In an interview with the Guardian in June, Cai went even further in her denunciation of Xi, discussing what she considered to be his mistakes as a leader and why she believed a democratic transition would take place one day. Then she asked that her comments not be published because of threats that she and her family had received.

Now that she has been expelled and is outside of China, Cai says she is free to speak. “My speech is free from any constraints. Now I am responsible only for my own conscience and principles,” she told the Guardian on Tuesday. The following is an edited transcript of the June interview, Cai’s first after the audio recording was published.

Q: In your speech you said Xi forced through the amendment of China’s constitution to abolish term limits in 2018, giving him the ability to stay in power indefinitely. Why was that such a turning point? He forced the third plenum of the national congress to swallow it like dog shit. He first completed it and then forced everyone to accept it. This is obviously going backwards politically. Even with these two major issues, no one came forward to oppose it. That shows that the Communist party of China has become a political zombie. The party has no ability to correct errors. So he singlehandedly killed a party and a country, showing that even when confronted with such a major question of altering the constitution, the party has no power to stop him.

Q: What do you mean he killed a party and a country?
When no one can oppose him, that means that his power is unchecked. Under the Chinese system, starting with Mao, no one can restrict or limit the power of the highest leader. That is why you had disasters like the Cultural Revolution.

Q: Do you think a disaster like the Cultural Revolution could happen again?
Not just something like the Cultural Revolution. You can see the confrontation between China and the United States. He has made the world an enemy. At home, all these big issues are left to him to decide. Whether it is a domestic or international issue, it is very difficult for others to restrict him. It is inevitable that his judgment and decisions will be mistaken.

Q: What benefit is there to making China an enemy of the world? Why would he do that? There are several factors. Among them is that he wants to consolidate his own position and authority. Considering domestic economic and social tensions, as well as those in the party of the last few years, he will think of ways to divert the attention of the Chinese public, provoking conflict with other countries, for example encouraging anti-American sentiment and the recent clash between China and India.

Q: Why is it inevitable that he would make mistakes?
Because of the power he holds, he can punish whoever he wants so no one dares to give him different opinions and no one dares to report the real situation to him. Since people don’t tell him the truth or hide it from him, he doesn’t necessarily know the truth. So it is inevitable that he will make wrong decisions. It is a vicious cycle. After a wrong decision is made, the result is not good. But those below are too afraid to tell him and wrong decisions continue to be made until the situation is out of control. In this vicious cycle, there is no way to stop the country from sliding toward disaster.

Q: In what ways is the country moving toward disaster?
Because people cannot speak the truth, Wuhan’s epidemic spread across the country and the whole world and everyone has been harmed. Chinese citizens have borne the brunt and among Chinese people, people in Wuhan suffered the most. We have so many people dead, including people like Li Wenliang who should not have died. About the number of deaths, up to now China has not even said a real death number. Actually, the disaster for Chinese people has already begun. There is large-scale unemployment, soaring commodity prices, and the people at the bottom cannot survive.

Q: So you think the epidemic started because Xi did not receive the real information? At the beginning he did not get the real news, but he said in a meeting on 7 January that the situation was under his personal command. If he knew on 7 January, why did it take until 20 January to announce the outbreak? Officials at all levels hide the truth and report only when they cannot cover up any more. But when he knew the situation on 7 January, he did not make it public or mobilise resources. So shouldn’t he bear responsibility?

Q: Why do you think the party has no power to stop Xi?
The system itself has meant that many party members and cadres have corruption issues. Therefore if you are not clean, you don’t dare object. Secondly, even if you are not corrupt, he will make up corruption charges. If he says you are corrupt, you are corrupt.

Third, the disciplinary code for party members [adopted in 2016] contains a measure that says you cannot distort the policies of the party. As long as you express a different opinion, you are in violation of party discipline, and he can use that to deal with you. Before, you could still speak out and you would be subjected to enormous pressure, but they couldn’t prevent you from speaking.

Q: You said in your remarks that many people in the party “know what is going on in their hearts” and that there must be reform. How common is this view?
I think within the CCP 70%, and among middle- and high-level officials the proportion may be even higher. For many of these cadres, their thinking was most deeply affected by the reform era under Deng Xiaoping. When China joined the World Trade Organization [in 2001], we fully entered the global economy. Those within the party have experienced the last 20, 30 years and they understand in which direction is right and which is a dead end. We are among a group of cadres who took up our positions after reform and opening. So that is why I say everyone is very clear about what is happening.

Q: You said that after changing the constitution to abolish term limits, the Chinese Communist party (CCP) would die a death without a burial. What do you mean by that? China is bound to go through political transformation, toward democracy, political freedom, rule of law and constitutionalism. This is the inevitable trend of modern human political civilisation. China will enter this stage sooner or later. Because the CCP has been in power since 1949, they have made many mistakes and even crimes. Between 1959 to 1961, nearly 40 million people starved to death. The anti-rightist movement of 1957 and the Cultural Revolution hurt almost all Chinese elites and intellectuals. Also the Tiananmen protests in 1989 when the CCP used its army to shoot the people. No matter what, this is unacceptable to Chinese people. It is the People’s Liberation Army, right? It is the people’s country. Yet we see corruption within the party and the growing gap between the rich and the poor. In the future when China transitions to a democracy, all of these will be seen as the major mistakes or the sin of the CCP.

Q: Why are you so sure China will go through this democratic transition?
Sooner or later we must go in this direction. Democracy, freedom and the rule of law, are the most basic values and expectations of human. People yearn for freedom and freedom is only possible when people’s rights are protected, right? To protect these rights you need a system based on democracy and rule of law. Only when human rights are protected, can people be free, and freedom is human nature.

Q: When do you think this could happen?
I am not a fortune teller. I can only say that this trend is inevitable. History is long and within that five, 10 years is nothing, even 100 years is short, passing by almost in a flash.

Q: You say that civil society in China has been destroyed. What can people who want to push for change do? Now it is completely impossible for people to organise. WeChat groups are shut down every day. The CCP is using epidemic prevention as an excuse to increase high-tech surveillance of people. They can imprison you for any little thing. So the first is to knock down the Great Fire Wall and topple the information blockade. Once more people know what is really going on, you can’t stop them and everyone will want to speak out. Actually, I think the international community can do more to fight China’s authoritarian system in terms of human rights by pushing for the first and most basic human right – freedom of speech.

Q: What about on an individual basis? What can people do?
Everyone should work to get real news and information. Do not let yourselves be deceived and do not lie to yourselves. This is very important. As long as there is real information, people will begin thinking. Secondly, everyone must defend their right to speak and use whatever ways possible to express their opinions. If everyone can defend their own rights, if every person can speak for themselves, overcome fear, defend their rights and express themselves – when each of us can be human beings and not slaves to compromise – then social change will happen as quickly as is possible.

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