The Chinese president, Xi Jinping, appears prepared to defy the Communist Party’s established script for transferring power and delay the designation of his successor until after a party congress next year, unsettling the party elite and stirring speculation that he wants to prolong his tenure, The New York Times reports:
The delay would buy Mr. Xi more time to promote and test favored candidates and prevent his influence from ebbing away to a leader-in-waiting, experts and political insiders said. But the price could be years of friction while a pack of aspiring cadres vie for the top job, as well as unnerving uncertainty over whether Mr. Xi wants to stay in power beyond the usual two terms as party leader.
“Xi Jinping has unleashed forces that open up a wide range of political futures, and each has its dangers,” David M. Lampton, a professor at the Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies, said by email. “The central policy reality is that the United States, and the next president, must be prepared to deal with a wider range of possibilities in China.”
Xi’s blistering anticorruption campaign and amassing of power have shaken the idea that Chinese elite politics has settled into a stolid routine under collective control. If China’s party leaders function like a corporate board, Mr. Xi is akin to the celebrity chairman who may have the power to stare down opposition to his succession plan, The Times adds.
“Having played the strongman politics since coming to power, Xi would be the least likely person to feel constrained by these unspoken rules” of succession, said Warren Sun, a researcher on Chinese Communist Party history at Monash University in Australia.
“Even the amount of consolidation of power so far may have raised hackles,” said Susan Shirk, the chairwoman of the 21st Century China Program at the University of California, San Diego. “I don’t think Xi will want to further raise alarms about Putinesque intentions.”
In the west, Mao Zedong is understood chiefly as China’s “Red Emperor” — a vicious dictator who fostered an extreme personality cult, launched the disastrous Cultural Revolution and masterminded a “Great Leap Forward” that resulted in the worst famine in history, notes the FT’s Jamil Anderlini:
Experts estimate that Mao was responsible for between 40 million and 70 million deaths in peacetime — more than Hitler and Stalin combined. However, while Hitler, Stalin and most of the other totalitarian dictators of the 20th century were repudiated after their deaths, Mao remains a central figure in modern China. The Communist party he helped found in 1921 and the authoritarian Leninist political system he established in 1949 still run the country. “Mao Zedong Thought” is enshrined in the party’s constitution and, since 1999, his face has adorned most banknotes (something he refused to allow during his lifetime).
But this whitewashing of Mao’s legacy is a risky strategy. Thanks to the party’s tight control over education, media and all public discourse, most people in China know very little of Mao’s terrible mistakes, he writes in a must-read analysis of China’s neo-Maoist resurgence:
Xi himself has also done possibly more than anyone to foster the current neo-Maoist movement which could upend China’s stability. Since he became president in late 2012, he has often seemed to channel Mao — quoting him extensively and even echoing some of his ideas. Xi has made numerous televised pilgrimages to important revolutionary sites, including the mausoleum in Tiananmen Square, and commanded party officials to “forever hold high the banner of Mao Zedong Thought”. He has also railed against “hostile foreign forces” with a vehemence not seen since Mao’s time, when China fought several wars with its neighbors and the west.
“Xi Jinping has once again made Mao Zedong Thought a matter of fundamental importance; he uses a great number of Mao’s comments in his speeches and comments,” says Zhang Hongliang, an economics professor at the Central University for Minorities in Beijing and one of the most prominent leaders of the neo-Maoist movement. “You can see he is very familiar with Mao’s work and Mao’s thought and he worships it very much,” he adds approvingly. RTWT: