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Communist Party secrecy hampers China's trust-building efforts

New members pledge 'omerta' to the organization

Medical workers from outside Wuhan pose for pictures with a Chinese Communist Party flag at the Wuhan Railway Station, in Hubei province, China.   © Reuters

TOKYO -- I recently had an occasion to have a two-hour discussion with a young bureaucrat in the Chinese government about the situation in Hong Kong and U.S.-China relations.

I cannot disclose the name of the bureaucrat but maybe the conversation was not even a "discussion." He kept talking about the "righteousness" of the Chinese Communist Party like a monologue.

"The CCP has continued to reform itself and fought for the purpose of serving the people for 99 years since it was founded in 1921. That is the history of the CCP," he said.

Dwelling upon why the CCP has won support from people, he said, "I can proudly state that the CCP is the sole political party in the world that represents the people."

The bureaucrat showed no sign whatsoever of being forced to make these statements. Through his serious demeanor, I could recognize that he wholeheartedly trusted the party.

The CCP, headed by Xi Jinping, general secretary of the party and president of China, is the world's biggest political party, having 92 million members as of the end of 2019. The number far exceeds the population of Germany but accounts for only about 6% of China's 1.4 billion people. Members of the party are elites in the country.

So how are CCP members, who monopolize politics in China, selected?

The details are written in the party constitution and other related documents.

The process goes like this:

A person who wishes to become a member of the CCP needs to find two existing members who will introduce him or her. The membership application is then received, and the screening begins.

An applicant's first big challenge comes six months to one year later when they are examined as to whether they are truly willing to join the CCP. One of every two applicants is screened out at this point.

Those who pass engage in activities such as studying the party platform for a year; if they score high, they become preliminary members. To be officially accepted as a party member, they will need to wait another year.

There were 19 million applicants as of the end of 2019. As membership increased by 2.34 million that year, roughly one of every eight applicants were allowed to join the party.

Xi, who took the helm of the CCP in 2012, has kept stressing that the quality of members should be raised. As a result, screening procedures have been toughened and fewer new members are allowed in. Anyone with even a tiny flash of skepticism about the party cannot enter.

The most important event for a person pledging their loyalty to the CCP is the promotion ceremony, when he or she becomes a preliminary member. Standing before the party flag and raising their right fist, they recite the oath from the party constitution. It starts, "I have volunteered and joined the CCP." And ends, "I will never betray the party forever."

"To keep secrets of the party" is a worrisome expression in the oath. It calls to mind the case of Li Wenliang, the medical doctor in Wuhan, Hubei Province, who was punished by public security for issuing emergency warnings about the coronavirus on social media.

Li contracted the virus himself and died in February. Was he punished for revealing a "secret of the party?"

Today, people in Japan view the CCP with caution more than ever. Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga in mid-August voiced the Japanese government's "grave concern" over the situation in Hong Kong. Within the ruling Liberal Democratic Party, a number of lawmakers are calling for canceling Xi's postponed visit to Japan.

The tide of relations between Japan and China is starting to change. One reason distrust of the CCP in Japan has become so deep is because of the party's secretive style in rejecting freedom of speech and of the press.

The wall between Japan, a democratic nation, and the CCP seems as high as ever.

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