Sunday, 25 February 2018

Xi Jinping: ruler for life.

Today's news unveiling of plans to amend the Chinese constitution to allow Xi Jinping (and, not that it really matters, PRC VP Li Yuanchao) to serve more than two terms should not come as any kind of surprise to anyone who has been following the developments of the last seven years in China. Here's what I wrote about his assent to power,then already in process, in 2011:
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 [i.e., of Ai Weiwei and others] that Xi has betrayed in many of his public pronouncements. 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.
We are now seeing this totalitarianism taking form. The weak and nascent organs of civil society (e.g., civil rights groups like Gongmeng) that managed to grow during the early Hu years have been eliminated or co-opted in a process that began even before Xi officially took power, internal opponents within the CCP have been wiped out by an "anti-corruption" campaign the real purpose of which was the elimination of Xi's opponents within the party, Xi Jinping has been declared a "Core leader" and had his ideology enshrined in every communist party document which matters - essentially he has been declared the equivalent of a red god whilst still being early in his reign.

 It is now that the failure to implement any real political reforms during the Jiang/Hu years really begins to bite. Deng merely set aside many of the tools of Mao's dictatorship, but they remained for a later generation to pick up and use. Xi has been compared to Putin, which is a very fair comparison, but even Putin has not yet dared to actually amend the Russian constitution to allow himself more than two consecutive terms, preferring instead to use Medvedev as his puppet president for a term.

 The real question that should be on everyone's mind is: what is it that Xi plans to do with this power? Some leaders would be content merely to continue consolidation of power - gaining power for power's sake - but is Xi one of those leaders, or does he have something else in mind? If instead what Xi wants is to write his name into history, then it is time for people in Taiwan and elsewhere to sit up, take notice, and prepare themselves.


Ji Xiang said...

I'm sure Xi isn't just "accumulating power for power's sake". What would be the point in that? This isn't Mobutu or Idi Amin. He clearly has a plan for China, and is convinced that only he can deliver it, and go down in history as well. The eventual re-taking of Taiwan has to be part of his vision for China's future. On the other hand, no Chinese leader can afford to start a war and lose it.

justrecently said...

@Foarp: I think the way he was groomed six years ago was a strong indicator already. I think we agree about the nature of his rule, but I'm more inclined to believe this unnamed special correspondent's version, saying that the collective leadership endorsed it, for a number of fears about the outside world, and a domestic potential for rebellion.

The demand that there be checks and balances is deeply ingrained in some Western democracies, but not so in China. One may say that the country had "learned from the past", i. e. the "cultural revolution", but the cultural revolution has been spruced up for decades - first at the grassroots, as far as I can tell, and Xi's faction picked that up rather recently.

In short, I don't think that China is becoming totalitarian - it has been totalitarian "since ancient times", as they say. It's a default system in times of (Chinese) crisis, and the "totalitarian skeleton" was always handy.

Half off-topic: I think the EU is disproportionately preoccupied with Russia. I do think that imposing sanctions was essential, and it has helped to show Putin that breaking the rules is costly. But Russia's influence is minor, compared to China's. China seems to offer much better business opportunities, and besides, many people within our "elites" are charmed by China's alledged "meritocracy" model.

They are charmed, because it is exactly the narrative they like to spread about their own societies - only more brazenly told, and therefore a narrative with great potential.

justrecently said...

@Ji Xiang: I think the story is simpler. Yes, Xi probably has a plan for his country, but above all, he can't afford to step down, because then, he could be eaten by his own machine.

Ji Xiang said...

Yes, it is probably true. Now that the understanding that retired officials are not to be struck down in anti-corruption campaigns has evaporated, stepping down might be risky for him personally.

Let's just say that the consensus-based model of Chinese rule lasted for two decades and saw two peaceful leadership transitions, but now it is unravelling. Not a bad run for a modern model of "enlightened authoritarianism", but I guess a system where everything is based on unwritten understandings, rather than on proper rules and institutions to enforce them, is always liable to being captured by a strong man. Also, what is happening in China under Xi cannot be unrelated to the rise of Putin, Erdogan, Modi, Orban etc... Democracy is in retreat worldwide, and this is the Chinese version. Not that China was exactly democratic to begin with, but you know what I mean.

Anonymous said...

Xi for life? You've taken this father hysterically. And incorrectly. The CPC have allowed the President and Vice-President unlimited terms. But that doesn't mean he'll necessarily take them up. Although I suspect he will, at least one or two additional terms. But life? No. And btw what about Angela Merkel being chancellor of Germany for the past ten years? We don't hear you moaning about that. Or is it different for them because they're Europeans so that's ok?

Gilman Grundy said...

@anonymous - you are joking, right? Merkel has to go through regular democratic elections. And just why would Xi stay an extra decade or two and then simply give up?

@Ji Xiang - What concerns me is Xi's obvious heavy-handedness and tolerance for risk-taking. Observe Hong Kong. Observe Liu Xiaobo (curiously, Li Baiguang, civil rights lawyer, also recently died in custody from the same cause that Liu Xiaobo did - liver disease). Observe the every-tightening restrictions and ever-more-present propaganda. Here is someone who might not worry so much about his own skin before launching a war he was not certain to win. There is more than a little of the Kaiser Bill about him.

@Justrecently - I think you're right about the attitudes of some here in Europe and elsewhere: they like the idea that there is some answer in Chinese autocracy for the complications of democracy. We're distracted - with possibly awful consequences - by Putin, Brexit, and Trump.

justrecently said...

Been back to your 2011 post you linked to on Sunday, Foarp. I don't really think that the coercion at the time were the strongest indicators of where China would turn. A much stronger indicator, in my view, was the "Decision concerning deepening cultural structural reform", taken both by representatives of the Hu/Wen and the Xi/Li generation. It expresses restauration more comprehensively than other documents I got to read at the time.

And I think that a struggle preceded it, if I read the signs correctly at the time. It's probably the "Arab Spring" and the Bo Xilai affair that helped Xi to switch the CCP from collective to individual dictatorship (see link to "Foreign Policy" in my first post).

But either way, struggles were palpable at the time. It strikes me that I wrote my post about Wen's "endgame" only nine days after you wrote yours about the 2011 crackdowns.

Anonymous said...

@Foarp: You are joking right? Merkel just got "re-elected" for a fourth time. How likely is that in a true democracy? She also killed off all her political enemies. Go back to basics and read up on contemporary German politics before you comment on things you clearly do not understand.
As for Xi, it's you and many of the other sheep who presume he'll remain in power until the day he dies. That's a different thing than changing the legislation. You don't know that will happen so do not assume. That has always been your analytical problem, you assume too much and understand too little. You are a knee-jerk and that's always been your problem.

@Just Recently: Russia is hugely influential and always has been upon Europe. They defeated the Nazis in WWII for goodness sakes. Without them we'd all be Goosestepping, plus China needs them to build Eurasia, Russia, unpopular as it may seem, is very much on the rise. Just as an immediately post-Tianenmen China proved to be. However I agree about Bo. If he'd have hung around China would be much better. Yet he was derided at the time in the West, proving no-one in the US or EU knows what the fuck they want. Except things to bitch about, which feeds little blogs like this.

Anonymous said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Gilman Grundy said...

"Merkel just got "re-elected" for a fourth time."

No need for the quotation marks:she leads the biggest party.

"She also killed off all her political enemies"

You mean killed in the figurative sense, right? Well, that's what able politicians do.

"s for Xi, it's you and many of the other sheep who presume he'll remain in power until the day he dies."

Its a fair assumption given that there is now no other check on his continued rule. As for "sheep", well, as you can see from my post, I was saying that Xi would introduce an outright dictatorship back in 2011, when the consensus was that he might be a reformer.

"Without them we'd all be Goosestepping"

Just FYI, the Russian army's parade-step is the goose-step, as is the Chinese army's.

Anonymous said...

@FOARP: Er, no the Goosestep is NOT the Russian Army's Parade-Step. Watch:

Again, you know little of what you speak. It is purely your assumption that Xi will rule for life, and that is not a fair assumption. Based on what? Mao? That was over 40 years ago. Or do you take your assumptions about China from the 1960's and 1970's and apply them as relevant today? Because that's what it seems like. Your views were relevant - back in 1976.

Ho hum. You are such a tedious bore in your antiquated Chinese rhetoric.

Gilman Grundy said...

@anonymous - Yeah, watched the video, and yes, those guys are goose-stepping.

Maybe you want to back off on the "tedious bore" rhetoric, since it sounds like some of the rubbish I get from an obsessive troll that gets caught in this blog's spam-filter.

Anonymous said...

@Gilman Groany, me old mosher;

You're wrong, THIS is a Goose-step (from 1:42):

In comparison the Russians were off to a fancy day parade. Totally different. Nice to know you use Wikipedia to back up your arguments though. That's deep research dude. As for tedious, no you're a lovely cuddly bunny-wunny-daddy-waddy. See you darn the pub later. We can josh about it then, if yo' missus let's you out, homeboy. Pint of Fullers as usual?

justrecently said...

Oh! It's Baron Undone-Himself of Ham again, I presume?

Anonymous said...

Can someone make a decision on what a fucking Goose-Step is?
The two videos are different marching styles but both Our Leader and Anonymous are claiming them as Goosesteps. They can't both be. So who is right?
My money is on the Nazis rather than the Russians.

Gilman Grundy said...

Google is your friend, anonymous:

"The marching mode proved so effective that it became a prime feature of German and Prussian parades well into the 20th century. It was also adopted by the Russian army and later, after the Bolshevik Revolution in 1917, by the Red Army. Even after the Soviet Union's collapse in 1991, honor guards could still be seen goose-stepping around Lenin's tomb in Moscow. But for many people the step is most closely associated with the Nazis. Hitler believed that tighter bonds of solidarity could be achieved through gestures that demonstrated loyalty in a physical sense (the stiff-armed salute falls into this category, too)."

( )

@Just Recently - Yeah, I've got my complaints about the blogger spam-blocker, but it really is just sending all his comments straight to spam. I don't even have to look at the headers any more.