Hong Kong (CNN)Cai Xia is no stranger to defying expectations. During her years at the Chinese Communist Party's top training center and think tank, the outspoken professor had surprised many with her liberal ideas and support for democratic reform.
China's Communist Party is a threat to the world, says former elite insider
More recently, she caused a stir with a spate of scathing denunciations of China's ruling elite and the country's leader Xi Jinping -- a rare rebuke from a longtime insider that led to her expulsion from the Party earlier this week.
In an interview with CNN from the United States, where she has lived since last year, Cai went a step further by calling on the US government to double down on its hardline approach towards Beijing. She said she supported the Trump administration's ban on telecommunications giant Huawei, which Washington claims is a national security risk due to its alleged connection to the Chinese government -- an allegation Huawei has repeatedly denied.
Cai also called for sanctions on top Chinese officials and appealed to the international community to join hands in stopping the Communist Party from "infiltrating" global institutions and spreading Xi's "totalitarian" ideals.
"The relationship between China and the United States is not a conflict between the two peoples, but a contest and confrontation between two systems and two ideologies," Cai told CNN.
Cai said she had been stranded by the coronavirus pandemic after arriving in the US last year as a tourist. She declined to disclose more details about her current situation or plans for the future, citing fears over her personal safety.
Since coming to power in late 2012, Xi has consolidated his position and authority over the Party, which ranks among the world's largest political organizations with 90 million members. He has unleashed a sweeping crackdown on political dissent, civil society and the mostly Muslim Uyghur minority in the Xinjiang region, and tightened control over Hong Kong, a former British colony that was promised a high degree of autonomy when it was returned to Chinese rule in 1997.
Now, according to Cai, the Communist Party aims "to replace the free and democratic system of modern mankind represented by the United States, and the values and order of peace, democracy, freedom and justice," with its own model of governance.
Cai's comments come as relations between the US and China deteriorate to their lowest point in decades. The world's two largest economies have sparred in nearly every aspect of their bilateral relationship, including on trade, technology, human rights, and financial flows.
The Trump administration has moved to decouple the two economies, including most recently issuing executive orders that would ban popular Chinese mobile apps from operating in the US. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has portrayed China as an existential threat to the US, giving a speech in July that called for "the free world to triumph over this new tyranny ... the old paradigm of blind engagement with China simply won't get it done. We must not continue it."
The Chinese government has repeatedly rejected similar accusations. "We have no intention of becoming another United States. China does not export ideology, and never interferes in other countries' internal affairs," Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi said earlier this month.
Criticism from overseas is of course easier to deflect than criticism at home. Cai, 67, is one of a small but growing number of prominent insider voices who have spoken out against the Party and its authoritarian turn under Xi. But her decades-long career as a Communist Party scholar and adviser has given her criticism a special weight -- and dealt an embarrassing blow to the Party.
On Wednesday, the Global Times, a Chinese government-run tabloid, called Cai's recent public remarks a "blatant betrayal" to China that is "totally indefensible," and accused her of colluding "with external forces to hurt the interests of the motherland."
The Central Party School, where Cai taught for 14 years before retiring in 2012, announced on Monday that she had been expelled from the Party for "making remarks that have serious political problems and damaged the country's reputation." It also cut off her pension and other retirement benefits.
The announcement offered scant details, but Cai said the school's internal statement listed three things that led to her removal: a short essay she wrote in May that decried Beijing's national security law on Hong Kong as "brutalizing the Hong Kong people," a leaked audio recording in which she labeled the Party a "political zombie" and referred to Xi as acting like a "mafia boss," and an online petition she signed in February calling for freedom of speech following the death of Li Wenliang, the Wuhan doctor who was reprimanded by police for attempting to raise the alarm about the country's coronavirus outbreak. Li later died after catching the virus.
Cai said she shared the essay and speech with friends in private and had not expected her words to make waves online. Both were swiftly censored in China but circulated widely overseas. But now that she no longer belongs to the Party, she said she felt obliged to speak out publicly.
For more than three decades, Cai had closely dissected the Party from within. Throughout her academic career, she examined its internal workings and ideologies. She taught class after class of officials, first at a local Party school in her home province of Jiangsu and later at the Central Pa