Puppets on a String

Some 2,980 puppets have gathered in Beijing to applaud President Xi Jinping in an annual choreographed ritual that goes by the name of National People’s Congress (NPC) – a misnomer on at least two counts. Over the course of ten days, President Jinping and his close associates pull the strings and have their initiatives duly rubberstamped by adoring acolytes. It is, arguably, the world’s greatest non-event and showcases, if anything, China’s continued subjugation to a tiny clique of potentates.

Although it is all about people’s this or that in China, no actual people other than the aforementioned 2,980 puppets are allowed to partake in the NPC’s farcical proceedings. The scene at the Great Hall of the People is straight out of a Orwellian book or movie: hordes of identically dressed automatons, bursting into applause at just the right moment whilst the powers that be torture them mercilessly with vacuous speeches about their past, present, and future accomplishments – fictitious or otherwise.

If this is how the country that wishes to lead the world is ruled, the global outlook is grim indeed. This year, the puppets showed excitement at President Jinping’s ruthless suppression of civil liberties in Hong Kong, the last vestiges of which have now been swept aside. The ‘one nation, two systems’ myth has been exposed for what it always was: a farce.

Earlier this week, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau expressed his frustration with China’s inability to understand the meaning of both democracy and the rule of law – concepts alien to the Middle Kingdom. China has amped up the pressure on Mr Trudeau to release Meng Wanzhou, the chief financial officer of telecom giant Huawei arrested at Vancouver International Airport in December 2018 on suspicion defrauding multiple banks to hide her company’s busting of US sanctions against Iran.

To solve this potentially embarrassing issue, the Chinese government promptly arrested two Canadians and proposed a swap. To his credit, Prime Minister Trudeau has refused to reward this thuggish behaviour and insists that the courts deal with Ms Wanzhou. He has tried to explain the principle of separation of power between the legislative, judicial, and executive branches of democratic government to the Chinese – without any discernible effect. His words, repeated ad nauseam, simply do not register in Beijing where only the executive counts and all else is subordinated to it.

China attempts at convincing the world that it is right, and everybody else got it wrong, are becoming tiresome. The country bungled its response to the novel corona virus and covered up its mistakes with lies and a clampdown on what really transpired during the lockdown.

China may be a large and increasingly powerful country; it also sorely lacks the self-confidence that is required for any form of government other than an authoritarian one. China is scared of booksellers, artists, students, and thinkers in general. Its government doesn’t want people to use their brain: they should merely consume, be grateful, and shut up. That, by the way, also goes for those 2,980 string puppets assembled in Beijing.