I read a very interesting piece over at the Peking Review on Xi's apparent rejection of Deng's low-profile foreign policy, in contrast to the assertive policy of the Mao era:
A phrase that is making the rounds among China watchers is “tao guang yang hui.” I will not attempt to explain the concept: any brief explanation would hide too many nuances, and nuances are important here. I just watched an online debate amongst some of my more scholarly friends, and the battle was about different interpreteations of of the phrase.The piece echos a sentiment also expressed in response to the PRC government's announcement that Hong Kong was to be denied meaningful democracy: that the modern-day PRC government under the leadership of Xi Jinping had rejected the pragmatism of the Deng era.
One interpretation of the phrase is captured in Deng Xiaoping’s maxim “keep a low profile and bide your time, while also getting something accomplished.” Given the noises China has been making in the South China Sea, the East China Sea, the Indian frontier, and Hong Kong, it appears to some that China has abandoned the tao guang yang hui strategy altogether.
Distrust of the Chinese Communist Party runs deep in Hong Kong, a city built largely by refugees from famine and party-sponsored political violence in mainland China. Deng Xiaoping understood this, and deftly worked around it.For anyone who cared to look, the signs that Xi Jinping would strike a much more strident tone than the technocratic Hu/Wen team, or the mildly reformist governing style of Jiang Zemin, were there even before he assumed power. The turning point for me was the crack-down of 2011, when controversial Chinese artist Ai Weiwei was arrested, as well as many others. Back then I wrote:
His formula for recovering Hong Kong from Britain in 1997—One Country, Two Systems—was an acknowledgment that the party's credibility in Hong Kong was low and that if it simply moved in and took over it would destroy public confidence and likely wreck the economy. Hence, Hong Kong was allowed to keep its British-style law courts and administration. And it was promised democratic elections for its future leaders.
Today's Chinese leadership shows far less willingness to embrace such political pragmatism, or to employ subtlety and compromise in its dealings with the territory.
It is easy to see where the impetus for this crack-down is coming from. We may be more than a year away from the beginning of Xi Jinping's reign, but it is hard not to see the same crude artlessness in these arrests that Xi has betrayed in many of his public pronouncements.Everything we've seen this year, both internally in the "anti-corruption" campaign that seems to only find corruption amongst Xi Jinping's political enemies, and externally in the assertive tone of China's new foreign policy, supports this analysis.
I hope I'm wrong, but I cannot rid myself of the idea that Xi's rule is going to be disastrous for both the CCP and China. It is hard not to think that we are seeing the end of the balancing act that the CCP has so successfully conducted these past 32 years, and the beginning of an unashamed totalitarianism which few in the CCP ranks want, even if their new leader apparently does. The relatively subtle touch introduced by Deng in 1979 risks being undone, if not the economic reforms of that year and later.