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Xi Jinping Consolidates Power In China

Xi Jinping

While Donald Trump continues to create chaos in the United States with every utterance and Tweet, Chinese President Xi Jinping is consolidating his power:

 China’s Communist Party formally elevated President Xi Jinping to the same status as party legends Mao Zedong and Deng Xiaoping on Tuesday, writing his name into its constitution and setting the nation’s leader up for an extended stay in power.

The move will make Xi the most powerful Chinese leader in decades, with ambitions to tighten party control over society and make his country a superpower on the world stage.

The unanimous vote to enshrine “Xi Jinping Thought on Socialism with Chinese Characteristics in a New Era” in the constitution came on the final day of the week-long 19th Party Congress, a gathering of the party elite held once every five years in the imposing and cavernous Great Hall of the People on the western side of Beijing’s iconic Tiananmen Square.

The meeting effectively marks the start of Xi’s second five-year-term as party general secretary, but the chances are now higher that this will not be his last – although in the opaque world of Chinese party politics, nothing is certain.

“The amendment of the party constitution effectively confirms Xi Jinping’s aspiration to be the Mao Zedong of the 21st century — that means a top leader with no constraints on tenure or retirement age,” said Willy Wo-Lap Lam, a political expert at the Chinese University of Hong Kong.

“The fact that he has become the new helmsman of the ship of state, providing guiding principles for party, state and military, provides the perfect justification for him to stay number one well beyond the normal 10 years,”

The inclusion of Xi’s name in the party’s document makes him only the third Chinese leader to be so honored, with his ideology joining Marxism-Leninism, Mao Zedong Thought and Deng Xiaoping Theory as a “guide to action.” It will now become compulsory learning for Chinese students from primary schools through to universities.

China’s Communist Party imposed a system of collective leadership after the death of Mao, scarred by the madness, cruelty and famine one man had imposed through the disasters of the Great Leap Forward and the Cultural Revolution.

As a result, Xi’s two predecessors Jiang Zemin and Hu Jintao ruled through consensus — as the “first among equals” at the top of the ladder — and were limited to two terms in power.

Now the party is moving back in the other direction.

Xi’s power is not unlimited, and many of his key policy measures reflect ideas adopted by the party before he took power. Yet the past week has seen an explosion of sycophancy toward China’s leader, after his mammoth three-and-a-half-hour speech kicked off proceedings last Wednesday. This is a personal style of rule, much like Vladi­mir Putin’s in Russia.

Throughout the week, senior officials lined up, one after the other, to abase themselves, lauding Xi’s profound, courageous, thrilling, insightful masterpiece of a speech, that shone “the light of Marxist Truth” and moved some of them from the bottom of their hearts.

 

(…)”The introduction of Xi Thought makes the question of succession while Xi is alive a moot issue,” said Bill Bishop, publisher of the Sinocism newsletter. ”So long as Xi has not met Marx, he is the man with an eponymous theory in the party constitution, so no one will have more authority than him,” — no matter what title Xi holds.

Xi Jinping Thought embodies two important principles, experts say: first that the party is in control of every aspect of life in China, from the economy to the Internet, from politics to culture and religion. The party must be more disciplined, and more responsive to people’s needs, but its leadership must not be questioned.

The second is that China is on a path to become a true global superpower — very much on its own terms.

“Under his reign, there is no more hope of convergence,” said Godement, referring to the idea that China would become more open, more ruled by law and more democratic, as it became wealthier, that its interests and political system with ultimately converge with those of the West.

The idea of political reform in a Western sense is now firmly out of the window.

Xi’s message is one of a nationalist, assertive China, one that he says will not threaten the world, but will resolutely defend its interests.

“By the middle of this century or before, China aims to close the gap economically and militarily with the United States, and become the ultimate arbiter in the Asia-Pacific region,” Lam said.

While the two nations political systems, are relatively power in the world, are vastly different, the moves to consolidate Xi’s position in China is in many respects not very different from the moves that Vladimir Putin has made in Russia to consolidate his own power and make it clear that his agenda and the direction that Russia will take are one and the same. Like Putin, Xi is a long-time loyalist who climbed his way to the top of the political heap thanks in no small part to political cunning that most of his potential competitors for power appear to lack. Additionally, both men share a rather obvious desire to enhance the position of their respective nations at the expense of the West in general and the United States in particular in both the economic sense and the extent of influence they have in other parts of the world.

This isn’t to say that the situations in Russia and China are identical, of course, Domestically, Putin and his ruling party at least attempt to maintain the illusion that Russia is some kind of democratic regime via elections and a supposedly free press that, even with the state controls that exist, is far more open than anything that exists in China outside of Hong Kong. Internationally, the main difference between the two, of course, is that Russia has shown itself to be far more willing to use its military as part of its plan to advance that goal than China has, as events in Ukraine and Syria over the past several years have shown quite apparently. China, meanwhile, has used its economic power to expand its influence into areas where Russia is barely even a factor, such as Africa, which it is quickly becoming a competitor to the United States in the quest for the raw materials necessary to make everything from nuclear weapons to smartphones. The main reason for this difference, of course, is that Russia lacks the ability to have the kind of economic impact that China does and that, from an economic point of view, Russia ranks well below its southern neighbor in both economic performance and its ability to use that economic power to advance national interests.

As I noted above, all of this is occurring in Russia and China while the United States is being led by someone who has no idea what he’s doing and whose only demonstrated ability seems to be the ability throw the nation’s political system into chaos, undercut his own agenda, and wreck relationships between the United States and its most important allies. The contrast couldn’t be any more apparent, and one has to believe that Xi and Putin are well aware of it and prepared to exploit the Trumpidian chaos in the years to come. What that means for the United States and the rest of the West down the road is something only time will reveal, but it likely won’t be good news.

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About Doug Mataconis
Doug holds a B.A. in Political Science from Rutgers University and J.D. from George Mason University School of Law. He joined the staff of OTB in May, 2010 and also writes at Below The Beltway. Follow Doug on Twitter | Facebook

Comments

  1. Gustopher says:

    The contrast couldn’t be any more apparent, and one has to believe that Xi and Putin are well aware of it and prepared to exploit the Trumpidian chaos in the years to come. What that means for the United States and the rest of the West down the road is something only time will reveal, but it likely won’t be good news.

    I’m not sure that it will be terrible news. The US has been attempting to shape the world for the past 70 years, and there are a lot of awkward unstable spots. If the US is no longer the unquestioned top dog, and ends up being first among equals with China and Russia, we might end up with a more stable structure, where compromise and balancing interests leads to better outcomes — greater local autonomy.

    Or it will be an unmitigated disaster. But I’m an optimist at heart.

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  2. MarkedMan says:

    Xi’s increasing authoritarianism makes me wonder how it will compare to Russia’s brief era of Perestroika followed by Putin’s crushing of entrepreneurship and steady creation of a kleptocracy.

    Right now, there are many, many wealthy and powerful Chinese who built up their own businesses. They accept as part of the deal that they will have a “partner”, some family member of a government or military official, who will make sure they can continue to operate as they wish. No doubt some of these partners contribute more and help expand the business, but I believe the norm is that it is essentially just part of a complex protection racket.

    The way Xi is moving seems to indicate that he wants to change the power dynamic, so that the partner is the dominant role in the company, and more explicitly recognized as a Party official. He wants the Party to be seen as essential to, say, Jack Ma’s success*. This is bad for China on many levels, but possibly the most significant is that successful entrepreneurs have big egos and they will not agree to play second fiddle for long, especially to the spoiled brat of a party official. If this is what happens, expect to see more and more of them execute their exit plans. And they all have exit plans. One of the reasons so many children of the wealthy Chinese study abroad is the hope that they will attain residency or citizenship in the West and their parents can follow them there if it becomes too hot in China.

    And no doubt one of the reason US T-Bills still sell at effectively a 0% return is that Chinese and Russians continue to move as much capital as they can out of the country. These moves by Xi will only exacerbate that. I expect to see more regulations aimed at retaining capital as well as some high profile trials to set examples.

    * Jack Ma is an incredibly successful and visionary Chinese businessman on the scale of Bill Gates or Steve Jobs during their high growth years

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  3. Daryl's other brother Darryl says:

    46% of this nation voted to cede our position of lone Super-power to Putin and to China.
    That 46% are getting what they wanted.

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  4. Daryl's other brother Darryl says:

    This guy polled worse than Draft Dodging Donnie…right up until N. Korea started flying ICBM’s and popping off nukes.
    An International crisis could get the Comb-Over the authoritarian dictator title he so longs for.

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  5. mike shupp says:

    Hmmm … 1400 million people in China right now. 1325 million in India but still growing. 1225 million in Africa, with projections of 5000 million by century’s end.

    Got to wonder how long Xi Jinping’s memory will be revered, and the state he served remain on top of the world’s heap.

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  6. MarkedMan says:

    @mike shupp: sorry, a pet peeve. Africa is not a country. They a disparate collection of 54 countries, many of which have very little in the way of economic, social or cultural ties. 2t years ago China could be “China for the world” I.e. offer immense pools of low cost labor embedded in a highly regimented social and political matrix, ideal for repetitive manufacturing tasks. Africa is as far away from that as any geographical entity on earth, and there isn’t even a single African country that fits the bill. In the meantime China’s wages are no longer incredibly low. They have immense capabilities in manufacturing and civil engineering. They are roboticizing their factories at an incredible pace, while simultaneously outsourcing jobs to lower wage Asian countries. And they are simultaneously extracting resources and building markets for their goods in 25-30 African countries. China does not need to worry about being displaced by any African country, or even by all of them together. Europe and the US need to worry about losing virtually all the African countries as a market.

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  7. pylon says:

    Apparently the President of China is called a “president”. Trump just informed me.

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  8. mike shupp says:

    @MarkedMan:

    Well, I had my bare shin out there and you kicked me in it. Good on you! I had it coming,

    That said. I think there’s sort of an entity out there that we might address as “Africa” just as we speak today of “Latin America” or “Islam” or “the British Commonwealth.” I.e.,, a whole bunch of nations with many distinctions might choose to present themselves as being a single thing.

    Let’s consider. A house down the street just was sold to a black couple. Somalians perhaps? Maybe Bantus? A guy with Kenyan grandparents and a woman three generations from Liberia? Who the hell knows? Does this really matter? Do you care? Do you insist that any level of government you can influence should distinguish?

    I don’t think so. I think you say — and think and feel — that “Black Americans are Americans, who happened to have come from Africa.” And that’s what you say and feel even if you absolutely loathe every single Black American you’ve encountered and want them all locked up or deported. It’s Blacks you hate, npt just a tiny subset of Blacks, And trying to tell the difference between Nigerians and Malians and Ivory Coasters really doesn’t seem that important to most of us.

    And if these ethnic distinctions don’t much matter to run of the mill Americans and to French, and Brits, and Icelanders and Poles, and Thais and South Koreans and Brazilians, why should people from Africa insist on their differences? Consider — nobody goes to the Supreme Court insisting that the right of male Nigerians to marry females of Irish descent should be recognized. Instead they ask that racial and ethnic categories should be ignored (Loving vs Virginia, 1967).

    So my guess is, come 2075 or or so, people from different African countries will be accustomed to referring to each other as Afiricans, just as people from Alabama and New Mexico and Oklahoma have gotten used to calling each other Americans. Sure there are big differences between Californians and Mississippians, but who really gives a damn?

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  9. mike shupp says:

    Marked Man —

    Moving on, England in say 1945 was not what it had been in 1939, and even today Britain doesn’t have the international “heft” that it once did. For that matter, Donald Trump’s America doesn’t seem to dominate the world as much as the America of George Bush thirty years ago.

    So my thought is, though powerful and rich, China’s time at “TheTop” of history may be limited. India is a contender for replacement. So is a unified Africa. And after that … I don’t have enough imagination to guess what might be plausible in another century.

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