For Beijing, the crack is that the regime is based on lying. It isn’t just the historical lies, such as Xi’s omission in his speech of any mention of the Great Chinese Famine, the Cultural Revolution and other atrocities in which Mao killed as many as 80 million of his own citizens. Nor is it merely the political lies, such as Beijing’s aggressive propaganda campaign to hide human-rights atrocities against the Uyghurs of Xinjiang.
The real problem with the lying is that a regime that lies nonstop to others eventually lies to itself as well. As The Times’s Steven Lee Myers and Chris Buckley reported last year, local health officials in Wuhan “withheld information about cases from the national reporting system” for fear of incurring the central government’s wrath. Beijing learned of the outbreak only from whistle-blowers putting documents online. Much the same goes for other aspects of Chinese governance, from its manufactured economic data to its corrupted safety standards.
This is not a new problem. “The rulers of totalitarian countries wish, of course, to be truthfully informed, but time and again they fall prey, inevitably, to their own lies and suffer unexpected defeats,” the Polish philosopher Leszek Kolakowski wrote in 1983. “Entangled in a trap of their own making, they attempt awkward compromises between their own need for truthful information and the quasi-automatic operations of a system that produces lies for everyone, including the producers.”