China’s ‘anxious’ core leader learned lessons from Soviet collapse, Arab Spring


china Xi_Jinping-081315_jpg_250x1257_q85Even in a moment of triumph, China’s president, Xi Jinping, exudes anxiety. Since the Communist Party gave Mr. Xi the exalted title of “core leader” last week, it has built a fervent campaign to rally the country around him. The symbolic boost has underscored Mr. Xi’s dominance of the party elite, raising the chances that he will get his way in a reshuffle of its top ranks next year, The New York Times reports:

But this victory at the top for Mr. Xi has been laced with warnings in official documents and speeches about risks facing China and the party: a slowing economy distorted by excessive debt and unneeded industrial output, worries that corruption could rebound, bureaucratic inertia frustrating central policies, and international tensions. Mr. Xi appears politically indomitable, but officials suggest he and other leaders are alarmed by broader, long-term dangers and by the party’s ability to weather them. Both considerations underpinned the leadership’s decision to go along with raising his status.

“Maintaining a sense of peril is a part of the traditions of the Communist Party,” said Wang Wen, a professor at Renmin University in Beijing who has met Mr. Xi. “But his sense of peril goes deeper than recent leaders’.”

“He’s seen the Arab Spring and the crisis of power across the Middle East and northern Africa, and he’s discussed that several times, and he’s also seen the lessons from Soviet history,” Mr. Wang said. “Establishing him as the core is to set the tune that the central leader must have authority.”

epa04424329 Chinese President Xi Jinping delivers his speech for the National Day reception in a banquet hall at the Great Hall of the People (GHOP) in Beijing, China, 30 September 2014. China celebrates its 65th founding anniversary on 01 October which marks the beginning of the Golden Week National Day holidays.  EPA/HOW HWEE YOUNG

Observers of China’s politics often speculate whether Xi might use his new authority to bend conventions at the party’s twice-a-decade congress in late 2017 and prolong the careers of aging allies. For example, Wang Qishan, who oversees Xi’s anti-corruption campaign, is 68, Bloomberg reports.

“What I’ll be looking for at the 19th Party Congress is nothing original with me,” said Columbia University’s Andrew Nathan [a board member of the National Endowment for Democracy]. “I’ll want to see whether Wang Qishan stays, breaking the seven up, eight down rule, and whether an heir-apparent emerges or not, with the lack of an heir-apparent increasing the signaling that Xi will serve a third term.”

China and other authoritarian regimes are looking on with schadenfreude at the plight of the West’s democracies as the narrative of a new Cold War is taking hold, Nathan VanderKlippe writes for The Globe and Mail.

People around the world are indicating their “preference for strongman rule,” said Shi Yinhong, director of the Center on American Studies at Renmin University of China. As challenging economic and political problems arise, “existing liberal democracies seem not to function so well to deal with these issues,” Prof. Shi said.


“Many Chinese look at this with a sense of revenge: ‘Look, you guys have been criticizing us and our model. Now, look at your model. It looks like your model is becoming worse than ours,’ ” said Xie Tao, a political scientist at the Beijing Foreign Studies University.

chia-hu-ping-maoThe Communist regime has argued that liberal democracy is somehow alien to China. But in his new book — “Why Did Mao Zedong Launch the Cultural Revolution?” (left) — Hu Ping, the editor of the pro-democracy journal Beijing Spring, argues that contemporary Chinese concepts of democracy and freedom are not imports from the West, but a response to political oppression and a growing appreciation of the need for restraints on state power, The New York Times adds:

Hu wrote an essay that would become a classic of modern Chinese liberalism. The essay, “On Freedom of Speech,” could at first be circulated only through handwritten posters on the city’s streets. In 1979 it appeared in the underground magazine Fertile Soil, and it went on to influence a generation of democracy advocates. In an interview, Mr. Hu discussed how the Cultural Revolution shaped his thinking, the unexpected course of President Xi Jinping’s career and why he rejects assertions that democracy is a foreign concept and therefore inappropriate for China. 

Inside China, too, the mocking of the U.S. election has been leavened by a potent counter-thought: Americans get to choose their leaders, even if the process is fraught with problems and occasionally risible. Everyday Chinese do not, VanderKlippe adds.

“Any sensible person in China would have second thoughts when you say our system is now beating the American system,” said Prof. Xie of the Beijing Foreign Studies University. “No sensible person would jump to that conclusion.”

“What society would root for more controls on freedoms, more inhibitions on the development of civil society, more big government intrusiveness into private lives?” said Roy Kamphausen, senior vice-president for research at the National Bureau of Asian Research in Washington, D.C.


Print Friendly, PDF & Email