Geopolitics Watch: Why the CCP Might Think That the US Has Gone ‘Nuclear’ with Human Rights

◎ We believe that the CCP is suspecting that the U.S. has decided to use the Falun Gong issue against the PRC.


The United States Department of State held its second Ministerial to Advance Religious Freedom from July 16 to July 18. During the proceedings, U.S. President Donald Trump, Vice President Mike Pence, and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo made several strong statements targeted at the People’s Republic of China.

On July 17, Trump met with 27 victims of religious persecution from around the world in the Oval Office. Four of the 27 were from China, including Falun Gong practitioner Yuhua Zhang; Uyghur Muslim and daughter of famed Uyghur scholar Ilham Toti; Tibetan Buddhist Nyima Lhamo; and Christian Manping Ouyang.

On July 18, Pompeo and Pence delivered remarks at the Ministerial.

Pompeo said that in China, “the Chinese Communist Party demands control over the lives of the Chinese people and their souls” and noted that “Chinese government officials have even discouraged other countries from attending this very gathering.” He added that “China is home to one of the worst human rights crises of our time. It is truly the stain of the century.” Pompeo also announced the creation of an International Religious Freedom Alliance that will “build on efforts to date and bring like-minded countries together to confront challenges of international religious freedom.”

Pence said: “The United States is engaged in ongoing negotiations and discussions over our trading relationship with China. And those will continue. But whatever comes of our negotiations with Beijing, you can be assured, the American people will always stand in solidarity with the people of all faiths in the People’s Republic of China.”

During a regular press briefing on July 18, Chinese foreign spokesman Lu Kang denied that there was religious persecution in China. “Those the U.S. invited to the so-called religious meeting include a member of the Falun Gong cult and some other people who have been smearing China’s religious policy. They were even arranged to meet with the U.S. leader. This is a sheer interference in China’s internal affairs. We deplore and strongly oppose that,” Lu said. On July 19, a reporter asked Chinese foreign spokesman Geng Shuang about Pence and Pompeo’s tough criticism of religious freedom in China. Geng responded by accusing the two senior U.S. officials of “obscuring the facts” and “inverting black and white,” according to the Chinese transcript of the press conference. Pence and Pompeo had “associated themselves with undesirable cultists and acted in collusion with them,” Geng said, making a reference to Falun Gong. “For these people, religious freedom is nothing more than an excuse and tool to smother and vilify other nations, undermine national harmony, and interfere in the internal affairs of other countries.”

That Geng Shuang and Lu Kang singled out Falun Gong when criticizing the U.S. is noteworthy. Geng’s language is also very revealing of what the CCP thinks of the U.S. government touching the taboo Falun Gong issue. We believe that political Black Swan events are imminent in the CCP regime and the Sino-U.S. trade agreement is in jeopardy.

Our take:
1. In our analysis on July 14, we noted that the “Trump administration’s recent human rights moves suggest that it is readying the ‘nuclear option’ to attack the CCP’s vital points should the current round of trade negotiations fail.” President Trump’s meeting in the Oval Office with religious persecution victims and the tough remarks by Vice President Pence and Secretary Pompeo on China confirm our earlier read of the situation. We believe that the Trump administration is merely hovering a finger over the human rights “nuclear” button. Based on our long-term research into the CCP, however, it very likely now believes with great certainty that the U.S. has already pressed the “nuclear” button.

The strong criticism of Falun Gong, and not other faiths being persecuted in China, by the two Chinese foreign ministry spokesman is a giveaway that the CCP is suspecting that the U.S. has decided to use the Falun Gong issue against the PRC. The Falun Gong issue is especially sensitive for the CCP because its crackdown campaign involves gross human rights abuses like persecution to death, for-profit live organ harvesting, mass incarceration and torture, as well as “re-education” and labor camps. The crackdown of Falun Gong also provides a blueprint for the CCP’s current persecution of Uyghur Muslims in Xinjiang Province. From the CCP’s perspective, the U.S. could be paving the way to launch a “never again” human rights campaign against the PRC with a strategic focus on the Falun Gong and Xinjiang issues, a move which would likely gain broad international support and which the CCP cannot long defend against. Such a “never again” campaign poses a legitimate existential threat to CCP rule.

The CCP could speculate two possible outcomes from the U.S. opting to play the human rights and the Falun Gong card at this point. In the CCP’s best case scenario, it would hope that the U.S. is only seeking powerful leverage to force the PRC to sign a trade agreement which largely benefits America, after which the human rights card would be discarded. In the CCP’s nightmare scenario, the U.S. is finally moving to end communist rule of China by going “nuclear” with the long-taboo Falun Gong issue.

The CCP seeks to survive and dominate above all, and is paranoid enough to suspect the worst of its political and geopolitical enemies. That means that the CCP will read broader motive into the actions of its enemies even when there is none. That is why purges were very severe during the Mao era and why Deng Xiaoping labeled the largely peaceful student protesters in Tiananmen Square as “reactionaries” and ordered a bloody massacre. Below, we examine how the CCP will suspect that the U.S. has “gone nuclear” on human rights by spotlighting the Falun Gong issue:

  • President Trump met with a Falun Gong practitioner in the Oval Office and learned from her about the persecution and the organ harvesting issue. The CCP will note that this is the first time that a sitting U.S. president met with a Falun Gong adherent in a high-profile setting and had a dialogue which touched on the most brutal aspect of its crackdown on Falun Gong. The CCP will also believe that every persecuted person who spoke to Trump was carefully selected and not happenstance.
  • When Vice President Pence was asked by a reporter from a Falun Gong-linked media on July 10 about the 20th anniversary of the CCP’s crackdown on Falun Gong and the final judgment of an independent tribunal on organ harvesting, he replied that “America is a beacon of freedom for all the world” and that “we’ll be addressing these issues in China and, frankly, all over the world.” From the CCP’s perspective, a senior U.S official has effectively signaled near the anniversary of a significant sensitive date in a year full of sensitive anniversaries for the regime that the U.S. is planning to “interfere in China’s internal affairs,” a certain cause of alarm.
  • Secretary Pompeo cited a Falun Gong case as his first example of religious persecution in the PRC. And in introducing the 2018 Report on International Religious Freedom on June 21, Pompeo said that the PRC’s “intense persecution of many faiths – Falun Gong practitioners, Christians, and Tibetan Buddhists among them – is the norm.” Typically, U.S. officials list Falun Gong last in naming the persecuted faiths in China. Pompeo might not mean anything at all in listing the persecuted faiths in the order in which he did. But in the CCP political culture, however, the order in which names appear is significant. The CCP will not think that it is happenstance that Pompeo twice listed Falun Gong “first” in the list of persecuted faiths in China, especially not when a Falun Gong practitioner met with a U.S. president during a prominent occasion at the Oval Office. If anything, CCP analysts could conceivably presume and report to their superiors that the U.S. has “upgraded” the Falun Gong issue in its human rights concerns.
  • On July 16, U.S. National Security Advisor John Bolton said at the inaugural National Conservatism Conference noted that there are “elements of Samuel Huntington’s clash of civilizations” in the U.S. “issue with China.” On July 17, White House economic advisor Larry Kudlow told Sinclair Broadcast Group that China is on the “wrong side of history” if it rejects the trade deal. “They’re not the Soviet Union; but this kind of government control, statism, never works for long,” he said. Kudlow added that the “prospect that China could collapse like the Soviet Union did has ‘always been an undercurrent in’ the talks to resolve the trade war,” according to Sinclair reporter James Rosen. The CCP would take put two and two together and think that the Trump administration is more prominently raising the Falun Gong issue, a topic which previous administrations tended to skirt around, because it is working towards the collapse of the CCP.
  • On May 31, Minghui.org, a Falun Gong-run clearinghouse for information about the CCP’s persecution of the spiritual discipline, said in a notice that “an official from the U.S. Department of State recently told various religious groups that the U.S. government is imposing stricter visa vetting and may deny visas to human rights violators and perpetrators of religious beliefs.” The official also “specifically told Falun Gong practitioners that they can submit a list of perpetrators involved in the persecution of Falun Gong.” The CCP would almost certainly connect this information with the other information listed above before concluding that it had to single out Falun Gong in officially rebuking the U.S. for calling attention to religious persecution in China.

At this juncture, we would like to stress that how we believe that the CCP would think and what the U.S. is actually thinking and doing are two separate issues. The Trump administration may very well have no plans at all to press the CCP on human rights beyond what it is currently doing. However, it is unfair for critics to say that the administration is barely pushing the PRC on human rights given what has been done thus far. In fact, we believe that the CCP would think that the Trump administration has already gone beyond the pale as compared to previous administrations based on its China-related human rights actions in the week of July 15 alone.

2. The CCP’s suspicion of U.S. intentions with regard to Falun Gong would likely force a showdown between the Jiang Zemin faction and the Xi Jinping camp sooner rather than later. The “you die, I live” factional struggles in the CCP become very intense whenever Party bosses feel that their political legacy is in danger of being overturned. And U.S. attention to Falun Gong directly threatens Jiang, who ordered the crackdown of the spiritual discipline in July 1999, and his faction by association. A threatened Jiang faction would likely mobilize all resources and networks at its disposal to prevent the Xi leadership from using the Falun Gong issue against them. Xi would either respond reactively or proactively with purges, including the arrest of “untouchable” elite cadres. (We explore the Xi-Jiang struggle at greater length in our forthcoming guide to CCP factional politics.)

Under normal circumstances, the regime could survive a serious factional clash like the Jiang-Xi struggle. However, the CCP regime currently faces a “perfect storm” of problems. We believe that the current political crisis in the CCP regime, when escalated to a critical point, could trigger a sudden and unexpected collapse of the PRC. There is a high probability of collapse should factional and personal interests override Party interests.

What’s next:
1. Xi’s political rivals and other “hardliners” could conceivably seize upon America spotlighting the Falun Gong issue and connected remarks by senior U.S. officials as unassailable “evidence” that it is pointless to continue trade negotiations with America now that its true motive of regime collapse has finally been “revealed.” Whether or not the U.S. does seek the collapse of the CCP regime is a whole other question.

We believe that the latest round of trade talks are doomed to end inconclusively. The Trump administration could move to impose additional tariffs on Chinese products within the year.

2. The CCP would likely tap into its external propaganda networks and the “Red Matrix” to discredit Falun Gong in the U.S. and abroad with the goal of turning the spiritual discipline so toxic that the Trump administration would have to abandon all associations with Falun Gong. However, we do not think that the CCP will succeed because the Trump administration does not adhere to political correctness and has shown that it will pursue strategies and tactics that are effective but unpalatable.

3. Going forward, the CCP will have lesser reservations with attacking President Trump and Trump administration officials for provoking a “clash of civilizations,” and promoting racism and xenophobia.

The U.S. wants free and fair trade with China, but this naturally disagrees with the authoritarian CCP and its subversive values. Hence, the Sino-U.S. trade war is bound to take an ideological turn. We wrote earlier that the “current Sino-U.S. conflict is not just a trade war or a tech war, but a critical battle of ideology, value systems, and morality.”

4. The fact that the Falun Gong issue has gained international prominence recently (see here and here) will force a showdown between the Xi camp and the Jiang faction. We believe that there is a good probability of political Black Swan events breaking out in the CCP regime in the second half of 2019.