Just as trade negotiations between China and the United States may be reaching their crescendo, an outspoken ex-conservative has made an assertion about the People’s Republic of China (PRC) likely to warm the hearts of the leaders of the ruling Chinese Communist Party (CCP).
Writing in the Washington Post on his desire for an “unapologetic atheist” to someday ascend to the White House, Max Boot says:
There are too many examples of evil committed in the name of God to assume that people act morally because they are afraid of divine punishment. More likely, people are social animals who develop moral codes so they can live at peace with their neighbors. That’s why almost all societies, whether religious or not, have similar taboos against murder, robbery, rape and other sins.
Most of China’s 1.4 billion people have no religious affiliation, and fewer than 7 percent are monotheists. Is there any reason to believe that China is a less moral place than the United States, where 70.6 percent profess to be Christians? [Emphasis mine]
Boot’s apparent attempt to draw moral equivalence between China and the United States would be news to the 1.4 billion Chinese citizens living in the world’s leading surveillance state—to the extent they are able to read his article behind the Great Firewall, and not one of the 1 to 2 million Uighurs currently imprisoned in “re-education camps” or countless others held captive for challenging the Party line.
It would be news to members of the dissenting Chinese diaspora being tracked down and targeted by the Communist regime at every corner of the Earth. And it would be news to those peoples whose sovereignty is threatened by the CCP and the People’s Liberation Army that serves it—“it” being the Party, not the country.
Beyond the Chinese people and those in China’s direct orbit, Boot’s claim would also be news to the more than 20 million U.S. federal government employees or applicants, and their families, friends, and colleagues, who had their most sensitive information stolen by China in the 2014 Office of Personnel Management hack. It would be news to the entrepreneurs who have seen hundreds of billions of dollars’ worth of intellectual property and technology pilfered by the Chinese government. And it would be news to those nations who are being crushed under the weight of Chinese debt if not foreclosed upon under the PRC’s loan-to-own Belt and Road strategy.
Boot’s comparison would stun anyone who acknowledges that under Mao Zedong and the CCP’s reign—which continues to this day—65 million people were murdered; witnessed the massacre at Tiananmen Square; or is aware of the alleged forced organ harvesting of hundreds of thousands of Chinese people being persecuted for their beliefs, or forced sterilizations, abortions, or outright infanticides contributing to the up to 400 million “averted” births under the nation’s one-child policy.
Juxtapose whether there is “any reason to believe that China is a less moral place than the United States” with the opening of the State Department’s 2018 report on human rights in China, and it becomes clear that the aforementioned issues represent merely a small portion of the plethora of PRC horribles:
The People’s Republic of China (PRC) is an authoritarian state in which the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) is the paramount authority…
During the year  the government significantly intensified its campaign of mass detention of members of Muslim minority groups in the Xinjiang Uighur Autonomous Region (Xinjiang). Authorities were reported to have arbitrarily detained 800,000 to possibly more than two million Uighurs, ethnic Kazakhs, and other Muslims in internment camps designed to erase religious and ethnic identities…International media, human rights organizations, and former detainees reported security officials in the camps abused, tortured, and killed some detainees.
Human rights issues included arbitrary or unlawful killings by the government; forced disappearances by the government; torture by the government; arbitrary detention by the government; harsh and life-threatening prison and detention conditions; political prisoners; arbitrary interference with privacy; physical attacks on and criminal prosecution of journalists, lawyers, writers, bloggers, dissidents, petitioners, and others as well as their family members; censorship and site blocking; interference with the rights of peaceful assembly and freedom of association, including overly restrictive laws that apply to foreign and domestic nongovernmental organizations (NGOs); severe restrictions of religious freedom; significant restrictions on freedom of movement(for travel within the country and overseas); refoulement of asylum seekers to North Korea, where they have a well-founded fear of persecution; the inability of citizens to choose their government; corruption; a coercive birth-limitation policy that in some cases included sterilization or abortions; trafficking in persons; and severe restrictions on labor rights, including a ban on workers organizing or joining unions of their own choosing. Official repression of the freedoms of speech, religion, movement, association, and assembly of Tibetans in the Tibet Autonomous Region (TAR) and other Tibetan areas and of Uighurs and other ethnic and religious minorities in Xinjiang worsened and was more severe than in other areas of the country.
There was one seeming bright spot, according to the State Department: “Authorities prosecuted a number of abuses of power through the court system, particularly with regard to corruption…” But alas, the report continues: “in most cases the CCP first investigated and punished officials using opaque internal party disciplinary procedures. The CCP continued to dominate the judiciary and controlled the appointment of all judges and in certain cases directly dictated the court’s ruling. Authorities harassed, detained, and arrested citizens who promoted independent efforts to combat abuses of power.”
That represents the U.S. government’s most diplomatic portrayal of China with respect to a nation’s preeminent moral concern for how its people are treated.
It is particularly surprising, since Boot was talking about morality in context of organized religion, that he fails to mention some of the reasons the majority of Chinese people have no religious affiliation under the atheist Communist Party. Presumably, one such challenge is that those who do adhere to, for example, Christianity, are increasingly being violently persecuted.
According to the State Department’s 2017 Report on International Religious Freedom, China has been designated as a “Country of Particular Concern” pursuant to the International Religious Freedom Act of 1998 for “having engaged in or tolerated particularly severe violations of religious freedom.” Beyond the chilled atmosphere for people of faith, the relative paucity of religious practitioners is also likely a legacy of the suppression of theology during Mao’s Cultural Revolution. Organized religion has been and continues to be treated as subordinate, and only useful insofar as it is complementary, to the aims of the CCP. The practical reality is that the CCP cannot abide a belief system that competes with it.
So much for morality.
Now, to be fair, the Chinese regime is not the Chinese people. But if Boot’s point was to make an argument about the relative morality of the everyday Chinese citizen versus the everyday American citizen, the claim was not substantiated, and in any event it would be an academic argument irrelevant to the core of Boot’s piece, which is about rooting for an atheist president.
Regardless, the Chinese regime is the dominant force in Chinese society, pervading every aspect of its citizens’ lives. By its most recent count, the Chinese Communist Party counts a not insignificant 90 million members. Some polling suggests that—even adjusting for falsehoods attributable to fear of consequences for criticizing the CCP—the regime remains broadly popular among the Chinese people.
Xi Jinping’s stranglehold on power continues to increase. There may well be a sizeable population that wishes to throw off the yoke of the Communist Party, but it is not reflected on the ground in the totalitarian PRC. In the final analysis, the plain fact is that totalitarian regimes are immoral because they enslave man to the state.
It goes without saying that the American system based in the Judeo-Christian, classically liberal values and principles of the West represents the antithesis of such a regime. To draw moral equivalency between the two adds insult to injury for the hundreds of millions of victims of CCP tyranny, and slaps the face of hundreds of millions of Americans smeared by such a comparison.
There is still one more point worth making with respect to morality and the state: Contra Boot’s argument, if China does ever embrace a moral government based in liberty rather than tyranny, it could very well be that the growing religiosity of the Chinese people, in spite of attempts by the Party to squelch it, will prove a vital contributing factor.
It is worth remembering what Sen. John F. Kennedy’s said about Communism and religion in his 1955 Assumption College address:
The Communist rulers do not fear the phraseology of religion, or the ceremonies and churches and denomination organizations. On the contrary, they leave no stone unturned in seeking to turn these aspects of religion to their own advantage and to use the trappings of religion in order to cement the obedience of their people. What they fear is the profound consequences of a religion that is lived and not merely acknowledged. They fear especially man’s response to spiritual and ethical stimuli, not merely material. A society which seeks to make the worship of the State the ultimate objective of life cannot permit a higher loyalty, a faith in God, a belief in a religion that elevates the individual, acknowledges his true value and teaches him devotion and responsibility to something beyond the here and the now. The communists fear Christianity more as a way of life than as a weapon. In short, there is room in a totalitarian system for churches – but there is no room for God. The claim of the State must be total, and no other loyalty, and no other philosophy of life can be tolerated.
Little could be more immoral.