China Intensifies Its Propaganda Apparatus

In September 2023, the National People’s Congress of China proposed the Public Security Administration Punishment Law, which will ban certain clothing, speech, and symbols. According to VOA news, the law aims to eradicate anything that is “detrimental” to the Chinese spirit. Violators of the bill are subject to 5-10 days of detention or a fine up to 687 dollars, which is a significant amount considering China’s GDP per capita is 13,700 dollars. Although there have been regulations on speech and attire since the CCP’s inception, this is the first change to the public security laws in decades. Zhao Hong, a professor at the Chinese University of Political Science and Law, has voiced his concern about the law and its potential to undermine personal rights. He notes that the law is very vague in its language, which could be utilized by Chinese law enforcement to further their own interests and arbitrarily target people. 

It is clear that President Xi Jinping has consolidated substantial power in the last decade, exemplified by his ability to secure an unprecedented third term in 2022. According to Human Rights Watch, Xi utilized his harsh “Zero Covid” lockdowns to tighten his grip over public affairs and eliminate political rivals. The latest public security law further concentrates Xi’s power as any type of party dissent will not be tolerated. Furthermore, the new law will likely be utilized to promote Xi’s domestic and foreign policy vision. The BBC reported that last year a Chinese woman was arrested for wearing a Kimono, a traditional Japanese garment, because it supposedly undermined the regime and provoked trouble. Such arrests will dramatically increase following the implementation of the proposed law, which will further undermine people’s right to self expression. 

While people expected China’s economy to boom after the Covid lockdows, retail sales and industrial output slowed down according to NPR. China’s faltering economy and housing bubble coupled with Xi consolidation of power led to an abundance of public outrage. In late 2022 and early 2023, China experienced unprecedented protests which rallied against the lockdowns, censorship, human rights abuses, and the failing economy. This novel wave of political activism is extremely worrisome to the CCP, which is why they are proposing new laws to further control public affairs. It is extremely important to the CCP that Chinese citizens remain obedient and supportive of the regime’s domestic and foreign policy goals.

Another terrifying reality is that regimes often utilize crises to divert the public’s attention from domestic failures. John Mueller coined the “Rally around the Flag” effect, in which Presidential popularity increases in times of war or crisis. According to the Guardian, George Bush gained popularity following his decision to invade Iraq in 2003. This precedent allows for the troubling possibility that the CCP could invade Taiwan to distract the public from the economic downturn. The “reunification” of Taiwan has been a primary objective of the CCP since its inception and many speculate that action will be taken within the next decade. For such a huge operation to be successful, the support of the people is necessary. This is why the new law will likely be utilized to undermine any rhetoric critical of the CCP’s objectives. 

While these new developments are worrisome, there is little the international community could do to reverse any domestic policies. While sanctions are an option, the Chinese economy is so important to global trade that it is unlikely any state will take a stand against the CCP. Furthermore, sanctions are often ineffective and disproportionately hurt everyday citizens. The best option for now is for states to become less reliant on Chinese manufacturing and imports. This will better position the international community to counter the CCP should the regime decide to invade Taiwan or pursue other disastrous policies in the future.