By Aadi Achint
Xi Jinping, since the beginning of his term has instilled changes within China at all levels starting from the political structures and institutions, financial, military, watchdog institutions against corruption and even influenced the thought processes of the Chinese people with his ‘Xi Thought’. China was thought to be at the cusp of being the next big power in the world, challenging the hegemony of the United States. The Chinese people were convinced that nothing can stop their growth with Xi as their leader. They dreamt of leaving the century of humiliation behind.
When one looks at China today, we already assess it to be a declining power. The Chinese people will soon have to decide on the future of the unwritten pact they had with the CCP where the people gave up, perhaps grudgingly, their freedom and the CCP ensured a high growth rate pulling millions out of poverty and providing enough purchasing power to a burgeoning middle class to run their homes and hearths at levels considered as lavishin return.
Xi Jinping’s “anointment” and his directives initiated China on a path that seemed perfect on the surface. However, the retardation in growth was not only by the pandemic but also by a string of skewed strategies. These include the BRI, over militarisation, misdirected demographic policies, reliance on coercive diplomacy and debt traps just to name a few. The policy of zero tolerance applied by Xi in handling the pandemic is also proving hugely negative for its economy. However, Xi isn’t ready to learn and course-correct. A simple recipe for the Chinese situation of isolation and decline today.
Having established that, the big question would be, why? Why would a leader bring his country to a juncture where ghost cities and pandemic lockdowns continue to cast a dark shadow on Beijing’s future?
The bizarre Chinese zero Covid policy which many in China today oppose quite openly, is still the stated policy. Xi has permitted no amendments. A lot of Chinese people wonder why this policy, especially for a viral strain that is now milder than many others, should continue to be in place.
Xi Jinping’s focus is obviously elsewhere – strengthening his position by ensuring his comrades are in important positions. A major example can be seen in the appointment of Wang Xiaohong, a close ally of Xi, in an important controlling position as the Internal Security Chief. Wang published a signed article about political discipline in the police force’s official newspaper. Wang specifically warned that two faced people who obey on the face but secretly resist would be cleaned and cleared.
This might explain the 17 other “convictions” on corruption charges of high ranking party carders in the past few days. Interestingly, one of them.
Xi’s vow of cracking down on “tigers and flies” at the beginning of the first term referring to both high ranking carders and civil servants alike has played out to convict more than 1.34 million during his terms.
We see Xi changing the style of functioning of the communist party from Deng’s beginning of ‘opening up’ to Hu Jintao’s ‘council based decision-making system’, to a single-man rule; akin to the days of Mao. Before Xi, there was even a system where party cadres could write to the leader about grouses they harbour, or suggestions on various issues. Xi, from day one, did not encourage it, and those who tried paid a high price for it when they were targeted by Xi’s infamous anti-corruption drive. This is again reminiscent of Mao’s “100 flowers campaign” where opposing thought was allowed only to be identified and crushed.
A recent article published by Cai Xia., a retired professor at the party school who was incidentally shunted out due to her opposition to Xi, states that the mindset of Xi Jinping is overpowered by an inferiority complex that prevents him from taking back decisions even if they hurt China and its interests, especially internally. As mentioned, the most prominent one would be the Zero Covid which is resulting in an economic and societal backlash that China has not seen in recent history. She refers to his poor education in comparison to his peers in the high offices of the CPC resulting in a stone wall of communication upwards towards Xi from others in the form of suggestions.
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China’s economic clout, beyond any other consideration, still serves as the foundation for the country’s vast influence. The gravitational pull of Chinese funding and shaping of political perceptions of other countries, enables China to bind poorer countries to itself. The fruits of China’s economic expansion also underwrote its power projection.
Xi has managed to change the Chinese image abroad from a country of economic opportunities for the world, to an option that only must be exercised when no other is available. It doesn’t’t help either when China rakes up territorial disputes with countries, some of them on the top of the list of China’s largest trading partners. It is quite a wonder that the world continued to put up with this behaviour till India decided to put a stop to it.
It’s not that the Chinese leader is not trying to mend the situation, though. The recent announcements of bailouts to banks and the renewed push to infrastructure projects, is an effort at stabilisation. However, these measures along the same lines have led to the current situation. Unsustainable “high speed trains” and ghost cities will perhaps be the kind of infrastructure spending that we will see in this so-called bailout.
Xi’s reputation also took a big beating. Both at home and abroad, with the huffing and puffing of his “wolves” during Nancy Pelosi’s visit to Taiwan. In fact, it resulted in an embarrassment for the Chinese people when no concrete action was taken after all the threats. Common Chinese citizens vented their frustration online. Not too often the case.
Is China headed for a situation when as the economic downfall takes shape, a situation of scarcity will arise, as China is dependent on the world for its raw materials and energy. A slowing economy means limited resources and in a country that is resource poor in certain critical areas, it would cause a dent.We thought it was Sri Lanka or Pakistan who would teach the world lessons on what not to do, but is it going to be China who will put on a show on how to have everything and lose it.
Private firms in China generate most of the country’s wealth, yet under Xi, private firms are starved of capital. Instead, inefficient state-owned enterprises receive 80 percent of government loans and subsidies. China’s boom was spearheaded by local entrepreneurs, but Xi’s anti-corruption campaign has scared local leaders from engaging in economic experimentation.
In conclusion, Xi Jinping’s China was thought to be a country of visionary thinkers, people who thought years ahead of the world. They were also sans parallel in executing tasks. The reality is China and its leadership don’t seem to have thought through much and are deciding with the overriding objective of Xi retaining power. Xi’s future would be decided in the 20th Party congress. The bottom line is that Xi would ensure his hold on power which to him is more important than China’s “Great Leap Backward”.
Author is a geopolitical and strategic analyst at DEF Talks. You can hear his thoughts and read more at www.thedeftalks.com.
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