Chinese exceptionalism? Ideology rules in CCP’s new top team


Credit: Wikimedia

A number of major western news groups whose coverage has irked Beijing were excluded from Xi Jinping’s unveiling of China’s new ruling council on Wednesday – in some cases for the first time in more than two decades, The Guardian reports:

Those refused access to Xi’s statement to the media include the BBC, the Financial Times, the Economist, the New York Times and the Guardian….. The Daily Telegraph, which regularly publishes Communist party propaganda in the UK as part of a reported £800,000 annual contract with Beijing’s China Daily, is understood to have been granted an invitation to Xi’s event.

China appeared to have barred those it considered “trouble makers”, said Qiao Mu, a former journalism professor at Beijing Foreign Studies University who recently went into self-imposed exile in the United States. The move reflected the frustration of Chinese officials at Xi’s inability to “control the tone of the western media”. 

“The situation will get worse … more and more western media websites will be blocked, and journalists will be expelled or [find it] hard to get visas,” Qiao added. He said that in Xi’s “new era” there was room for only “one voice”.

The ruling Communist Party’s new dispensation could have significant international repercussions, analysts suggest.

“Globally, almost no country is directly copying the Chinese system of government. But China’s successes are one important reason that constitutional democracy no longer seems like an inevitable or necessary form of government,” notes Noah Feldman, a professor of constitutional and international law at Harvard University.

“How China fares under Xi’s new dispensation thus has major consequences for constitutional democracy around the world,” he adds. “But perhaps most important, China will no longer be able offer an alternative solution to the authoritarian transition problem — at least not until Xi steps back from power, which isn’t going to be anytime soon.”

The Congress’s “deification” of Xi and dismissal of “Western” democracy amount to a dangerous assertion of Chinese exceptionalism, says Daniel W. Drezner, a professor of international politics at the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University.

“Until now, the primary concern about Sino-American relations has been realpolitik in character: How will the United States handle a rising China?” he writes for The Washington Post. “The shift in Xi’s rhetoric, however, suggests that there is the potential for idealpolitik to be another source of tension. The more that China brags about the China model, the greater the possible zones of conflict between Beijing and Washington.”

Columbia University’s Andrew Nathan (left), a board member of the National Endowment for Democracy, the Washington-based democracy assistance group, questions the viability of the China model HERE.

‘Blue-chip ideologist’

Xi’s marathon speech inaugurating the twice-a-decade Party Congress echoed the ideas of Wang Huning — a “blue-chip ideologist” and “neoconservative” rising star in the party’s ranks, who has been described as “Karl Rove and Henry Kissinger rolled into one.” In his speech, Xi stressed the need to “better arm ourselves with theory” and “work faster to develop philosophy and social sciences with Chinese characteristics”. Wang is fervently opposed to the notion that China is fated to adopt “Western” models of liberal democracy.

Despite having served as an adviser to three Chinese presidents, remarkably little is known about the personal life of Wang (right), who as the top official in charge of ideology, propaganda and party organization is now one of the most powerful politicians in the country, The South China Morning Post notes.

In an influential article titled, “Analysis on the Ways of Political Leadership During the Modernization Process,” he advocated a “centralized” political model over a “democratic” and “decentralized” alternatives. On the grounds that centralization would deliver “rapid economic growth” and more equitable distribution of “social resources.” As China modernizes, “the scope of the policy-making by the political leadership will expand without precedent,” requiring the steadying presence of a unified leadership.

Such leadership “could prevent unnecessary conflicts among different ideas”, help the authorities “promptly react to all kinds of unexpected and urgent situations” and take “forceful action to prevent major instabilities and fragmentation during modernization,” he added.

The elevation of Wang, a trusted party theoretician who has advised three presidents from Jiang to Hu and now Xi on building their political thoughts, will also be a surprise to some analysts who widely believe the party prefers its top committee leaders to have prior hands-on experience managing one or two provinces as party chief, says The South China Morning Post. Sources familiar with the intraparty discussion said Wang’s possible ascension reflected the pressing need for Xi to have someone at the top to provide ideological backing for his ambitious reform programs.

But Xi’s efforts to enforce ideological conformity could be complicated by a surge in religious activity, with millions of Chinese citizens turning toward folk religions, Buddhism, Daoism, Christianity and other forms of spirituality, according to Ian Johnson, who won a Pulitzer Prize in 2001 for his coverage of religious suppression in China.

Print Friendly, PDF & Email