Chairman Xi Jinping’s office. Member # 7 sits across.
Chairman – It took a lot of guts to say what you said.
Member # 7 – This is a historic moment. President Biden has seized the day in the West with his support of Ukraine and you can seize the day in the East. I believe you’re willing to accept that the stimulus from the West has been critical to our tremendous economic and military growth.
Xi nods slowly.
Member # 7 – We have seen how strong our people are, how creative… we do not need to steal anything from the West… by just trading with them fairly we’ll gradually become better at competing with them. If we create better products they will buy our better products… If we create better chips they will buy our better chips… If we create better batteries and solar panels they will buy them too… And it will be them trying to imitate us… They now make better planes than we do… but that can change… What I wish to emphasize is that we just need to compete… and do so fairly… and trust that we have the capacity to create things that not only America, but the whole world will want. We have the capacity to continue to rise without getting paranoid that the West will try to obstruct us… or without us making them paranoid that we’re in to harm them. If we were to prove that we’re better, then they will accept that we’re better… And it will motivate them to improve themselves… not to want to harm us.
Chairman – It’s a very rosy way of seeing things… but you may have a point.
Member # 7 – Chairman… by stirring paranoia in our people about the West, we end up harming ourselves. It may help you stay in power but in the end, history will not be kind to you.
Chairman – How so?
Member # 7 – As we develop we yearn for political freedom… and if the party, as it now stands, will not allow for it… we incur in a basic contradiction that hampers our progress and should be exposed.
Chairman Xi smiles.
Member # 7 – You disagree…?
Chairman – I wonder how it is that you were able to hide all those beliefs to the point of becoming a member of the central committee.
Member # 7 (smiles) – It hasn’t been easy. If I may be allowed to continue…
Chairman – Please do.
Member # 7 – What we have accomplished shows that if we put our minds to it, we can outcompete America and the West. We are more disciplined socially and politically…
Chairman – But don’t you think that we are more disciplined precisely because it is being imposed by the communist party?
Member # 7 – True… but it should not go on much longer and I think we’re reaching our limit. We have to trust that we have learned the importance of political discipline and not do as America where their people have become so polarized that a group of dissenters tried to overturn their free election results. Of course, any government transition ought to be done in stages.
Chairman Xi pushes back slightly from his desk. He clasps his hands on his lap.
Chairman – What do you think of our assisting companies in their development?
Member # 7 – It has helped… but it has also created inefficiencies and corruption… which is why it would be best to allow more freedom in the markets… with less interference from the party. We now stand at a very critical moment… America is not a threat to us militarily… modern history shows they are not trying to take over countries… and if another nation outperforms them in the production of goods, then they will try to compete with that other nation, not threaten them with harm. Of course, a strong military is always important… I’m all for it… but we need to let go of our paranoia. Are we making a demon of America to keep the party in power?
Chairman Xi stirs in his seat.
Member # 7 – Putin has done great harm to the world with his invasion of Ukraine but he is a limited man, who has restricted wealth creation to a selected few. We did not to that. Millions of Chinese have opened businesses and continue to do so. What we need now is political freedom. And you, Chairman Xi, can make a huge difference by holding free elections. I am sure you would become the nation’s first freely elected president.
Chairman (leaning forward slightly) – You realize that I would have to convince a lot of people in the central committee and in the communist party to make that happen. There would be much resistance… same as what happened to Gorbachev.
Member # 7 – Yes, but you’d be surprised at how many people already are thinking that way…
Chairman (interested) – Like who, for instance?
Member # 7 (smiling slyly) – They should speak for themselves… in case I misunderstood what they shared with me.
Chairman – I appreciate your honesty… and I am sure you mean well. Dissent is difficult to manage if not stopped early. We have the example of Hong Kong… the Uyghurs in Xinjiang… and yet, while I don’t share your enthusiasm, I see your point. What do you think was Gorbachev’s mistake?
Member # 7 – Resigning. I say that with the benefit of hindsight… I wasn’t there and I am sure the difficulties he faced were many. Boris Yeltsin had stopped the coup against him, there was much dissatisfaction in the people and he was preoccupied with the health of his wife who’d had a stroke. Still, I think he should have stayed on and called for free elections in a couple of years, for instance.
Chairman – Good point. I promise you I will consider carefully what you’ve told me and address the matter in one of our upcoming sessions. Meanwhile, I ask that you not continue to speak to others about your ideas. It would be best for all of us.
Member # 7 – Chairman Xi, I am honored that you have given me this opportunity to speak my mind. I have spoken in the hope that our nation will continue to prosper and become the star we are destined to be. Thank you.
Chairman – You may leave now.
Member # 7 bows, rises and starts to leave but stops at the door and turns around.
Member # 7 – It is my belief that America is afraid we’ll become better than them… not only economically but politically, too. The race between our nations is the contest of the century.
Chairman Xi pulls up to his desk, picks up the phone and dials National Security.
National Security Official – Yes, Chairman.
Chairman – I need a report on all contacts, phone, internet and personal, that Member # 7 has had in the last year, including places he’s travelled to.
National Security Official – As you know, he’s been under observation, so it won’t take long. We’ll have it in your office tomorrow, by early afternoon. Anything else?
Chairman – That’s all.
He hangs up, then swivels in his chair to look out the window and take in a grand view of Beijing.
Chairman – First freely elected president of China? Interesting… and appealing. Possible?