Major General S B Asthana, SM, VSM (Retd)
Xi Jinping, the ‘core’ leader, has unveiled his new Politburo Standing Committee inducting four new loyalists, retiring Li Keqiang and Wang Yang, in his unprecedented third term.
The elimination of four Politburo Standing Committee members, the highest decision-making body in China, from the list of members of the new Central Committee, which oversees the party’s 97 million members, indicates Xi Jinping’s complete overhaul of the top hierarchy.
The Central Committee, with around 200 full members, reports to the 25-member Politburo (now reduced to 24 members), headed by the Politburo Standing Committee. All these bodies have most of Xi Jinping’s men (no women).
Historically, whenever a dictator’s ambition exceeded the bounds of worldwide toleration, it resulted in catastrophe for the nation and its people, who had encouraged him through their mute tolerance.
Xi Jinping maintains tight control despite China’s economy performing relatively poorly compared to its last three predecessors, the unpopular “zero covid” policy, the failing BRI, infrastructure failures, the unfavorable international environment, and some discernible protests.
He also disproves those who advocated the implosion theory for China and even imagined a coup against him. He would have naturally made some shrewd decisions in his favor to acquire the level that no one other than Chairman Mao Zedong did in China. Xi Jinping has risen, but the question remains- Is China rising?
Xi: An Overambitious Dictator?
Reminding China of a century of humiliation, Xi began his tenure by selling dreams to lift the Chinese out of poverty and toward a developed society with Chinese characteristics and set timetables.
In that, he pushed through Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) as a crusader to lead global infrastructure development, with the recent offer to build an ‘open global economy.’
It has increased China’s international footprints/investments, hoping it serves as a growth engine for his country to fulfill the Chinese dream of building a “moderately prosperous society and realize national rejuvenation.”
Internationally he tried to project himself as the crusader for new and just international order, to check the hegemony of the West, especially the US (Despite junking the ruling of PCA and violating UNCLOS), and now declared a ‘new choice for humanity’ based on ‘scientific socialism’ and ‘Chinese wisdom.‘
He did everything possible to make himself great under the banner of ‘Making China Great.’ He now promises ‘incomparable glory‘ to China and assumes that Chinese people will accept him without worthwhile checks and balances.
After the 19th Congress of CPC, China enshrined “Xi Jinping Thought on Socialism with Chinese Characteristics for a New Era” and ideas like BRI in the Chinese constitution. 20th Congress of CPC has added “new achievements” under Xi’s leadership as “new developments” in the past five years to it.
He continues to hold all levers of power through several crucial appointments, including Chairman of the reorganized CMC, Politburo Standing Committee, and the President (to be formally endorsed on March 23 in the Annual Legislative Session), with his loyalists holding top hierarchy, to rein PLA for him.
His anti-corruption drive was most popular amongst the masses seeing influential people in jail, besides systematically eliminating the entire dissenting elements and possible competitors.
Is The Pot Really Boiling?
Proponents of the ‘Implosion Theory’ for China will like to believe that the disgruntlement stoked by an economic slowdown, Zero Covid policy pressures at the grassroots level, banking failures, the bankruptcy of infrastructure giants triggering housing scams, coupled with the strictest possible personal surveillance measures have created a pressure cooker kind of situation with a solid lid on top.
The legal system stands hostage to the party leadership to strengthen the boiling pot theory.
After assuming power in 2012 with a GDP growth of 7.9%, Xi oversaw China’s subsequent economic decline. His detractors in the CPC believe that his actual accomplishments do not merit his ascension to the rank of Mao.
Still, the unsatisfied elements and lobby groups are controlled by his extensive surveillance because questioning Xi ‘The Core’ is anti-national and results in imprisonment. Dissent has no place in “Socialism with Chinese Characteristics for a New Era,” according to Xi, who has made this clear by establishing the watchdog body “National Supervisory Commission” and putting the National Security Law into effect.
Xi Jinping is aware of the internal difficulties mentioned above and that China has a highly educated society, with many of its citizens touring other democratic nations who increasingly understand the realities of freedom.
Significant internal concerns surround some of his actions, such as imposing restrictions on religious practices and forcing abortions on Uyghurs in Xinjiang, requiring Christians to replace images of Jesus Christ with those of Xi Jinping to receive government benefits, engaging in social engineering and mental profiling, and using force to try to suppress democratic ideas.
Smart Management Of Boiling Pot!
To quell internal dissent, Xi has deftly constructed a narrative of himself as a crusader against Western hegemony, reminding everyone of centuries of humiliation, igniting nationalism within the country by playing the victim card in response to his aggressive actions in the Taiwan Strait, South and East China Seas, and the Himalayas, and the need to unite under his strong leadership as the national need, overriding all other concerns.
In his opening statement to the 20th Congress, his overemphasis on “security” and “struggle” supports the notion that China is the victim of external aggression. It is possible to interpret Xi’s actions, forcing students to read Xi’s thoughts (the equivalent of Mao’s Red Book), as an attempt to brainwash people into blindly believing in him.
His propaganda machinery has built a narrative that, despite certain pitfalls, the Chinese system of governance is better than more chaotic democracies, which remain embroiled in protests, recording slower growth in the last few decades.
Dealing with Uyghurs with an iron hand, he has also built a narrative to the majority of Han Chinese staying in the Southeastern half of the country that he has been able to give them a secure environment with hardly any terrorist activities, unlike most democratic countries.
The strict censorship of media and the internet, mental profiling, electronic isolation of thoughts, and the fear of harsh crackdown on dissenters have helped him minimize unrest/disagreements. Xi has managed to ensure that the ‘Hate America’ sentiments echo more strongly than ‘anti-Xi’ sentiments in China.
His military expansion and build-up have also been projected as ‘Making China strongest ever’ as a lead over other predecessors since Mao’s era. Xi has pushed his country to a state where there is only one leader, and the rest of everyone else is a worker.
Future Of China Under Over-Ambitious Xi
CPC’s 20th Congress applauding Hong Kong’s transition from “chaos to governance” and adding “opposing and containing Taiwan independence” to its constitution convinces Xi that his aggressive posture has paid him well and might continue to serve his interest well.
His reiteration that PLA would be a world-class army by centenary 2027 with a robust system of strategic deterrence and new domain forces indicates the growth of strategic arsenal to improve deterrence against the US-led West.
The Chinese dream of “rejuvenation” and Xi Jinping’s goal of a “prosperous developed society” with a “war-winning modern PLA” by 2049 could have been achieved if he had not gone into overdrive with his aggressiveness, opening multiple fronts to oust the US as the world’s superpower by unfairly exploiting pandemic.
Per Xi’s plan for ‘Making China Great Again,’ China accelerated its incremental encroachment strategy in its peripheral regions. This gave him the confidence to aggressively use the pandemic to accomplish all his goals ahead of schedule without having the means to defend its international shipping outside its eastern seaboard.
Although the US did not respond to his firepower demonstration around Taiwan during Nancy Pelosi’s visit, China is still affected by restrictions on semiconductor chips, microprocessors, and other trade restrictions.
With the kind of global anger he has generated against his regime in the last few years, the world has realized the need for diversification of global factories and economic distancing from China.
Xi realizes it, as is evident from his statement, “China cannot develop without the world, and the world also needs China,” Xi appears to be advocating for capacity building to fight against the economic coercion of the West and desire for an alternate financial system.
Notwithstanding the above, Xi has done well for himself but pushed his country on a collision path with democracies, which might lead to its decline unless Chinese people wake up and shake up CPC to protect their dreams.
How Does It Affect India?
In CPC’s 20th Congress, “Xi Jinping Thought on Strengthening the Military” was added to the party’s constitution, making it the only leader with a military term named after him. Xi Jinping’s pitch for shaping security posture deterring and managing conflicts, and winning local wars impacted India and Taiwan directly.
His attempt to stir nationalism out of the Ladakh standoff was confirmed by the film about the Galwan episode being shown to all delegates, which appears to have helped him calm down the domestic rage. The overplaying of the Taiwan problem follows the same logic. He will be inspired to maintain a rigid posture on both fronts.
From the Indian perspective, notwithstanding Xi Jinping’s rhetoric, this is the time when Beijing has been under maximum external and internal pressure for the last few decades. If Beijing continues with its arrogance, it will invite further pressure.
India should push for border settlement or demarcation of LAC now, as the political cost of resolving the border/LAC may be lesser than maintaining an active front with India for China.
India should not settle down with token disengagement because the standoffs will continue unless the LAC is demarcated. For the time being, India should not blink at the borders and continue capacity building.
- Major General SB Asthana is a veteran Infantry General with 45 years of experience in national and varied international fields. Connect on Twitter at asthana_shashi or email shashiasthana29 (at) gmail.com
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