As he prepares this week to be rewarded with a third term as general secretary of the Chinese Communist Party, President Xi Jinping now casts a lengthening shadow over his people, U.S.-China relations, and the world that the party that started it. in politics, experts say.
“He has the power to change the direction of the country the way he wants,” Adrian Geiges, co-author of “Xi Jinping: The Most Powerful Man in the World,” told Yahoo News.
The 20th CPC National Congress, which begins on Sunday, will break a recent informal precedent that had limited the CPC general secretary to serve more than two five-year terms. That further tightening of Xi’s control over the nation has come as a surprise to some. Before taking office in 2012, Xi was a relatively nondescript character in Chinese politics, respected for his commitment to the party but hardly seen as vocal or outspoken. “Everyone underestimated it,” Geiges noted. “No one thought it would be extraordinary.”
Xi was seen as a safe choice for leadership, a safe pair of hands to steady a ship that continued to suffer from the turbulent stresses of modernization. “He was hired to do a job,” said Ian Johnson of the Council on Foreign Relations, referring to Xi’s anti-corruption campaigns that summed up his first years as a top China official.
Instead, Xi has indelibly changed the party and the country, including escalating tensions with democratic countries and building a Mao-like cult of personality that had been carefully discouraged among his predecessors. As Johnson put it, “It’s like you bring someone in to fix a problem and before you know it, they’re running the whole thing and you’ve been kicked out.”
“I don’t know if they negotiated all this. He came in and, under the guise of anti-corruption, he arrested all the enemies of his, crushed the factions and broke the system that was established before him.” Johnson added.
Many people will look to personal characteristics to help explain Xi’s success and ability to amass power. But as Kerry Brown warned in the New York Times this week, “Mr. Xi’s remarkably muscular style isn’t just about him or his personal goals, ambitions or ego.”
Instead, Xi’s motivations can often be better understood from his longstanding relationship with the Communist Party.
Xi’s father was a top party official under Mao Zedong, the founder and head of the CCP for nearly three decades. But this privileged position did not mean that the Xi family was spared Mao’s wrath. During the Cultural Revolution, Xi’s father, like many other party officials, was caught up in purges as Mao sought to prevent any challenge to his power.
Instead of driving him away from the party, Xi saw him as indispensable to his own success. He “he decided that he didn’t want to suffer the same fate as his father. He did not want to become a victim of power; he wanted to become the power himself,” Geiges said.
But outwardly, Xi maintained a reputation as a secretive and diligent politician. He was not outspoken, which partly made him an ideal candidate for leadership in the eyes of officials within the CCP. He “he was smart to hide his own positions.” Geigs added. “Now we know that he is a hardliner, but in 2012, when he became the leader of the party, most people didn’t know that.”
Much of the world only started paying attention to Xi in 2012, when he took over the world’s second-largest economy. Suddenly, this official whom people both inside and outside of China knew little about became a crucial player on the world stage.
Xi may not be solely responsible for current tensions between the US and China, from free speech and trade disputes to sovereignty issues in places like Hong Kong and Taiwan, but he can be seen as a major driver of they.
“This competition would have grown anyway, but it’s also largely due to Xi Jinping,” Geiges said.
Many of the factors underlying the antagonistic competition between the two nations existed before Xi’s rise to power. Issues such as China’s island building in the South China Sea and military modernization efforts were already sticking points before 2012.
“He supercharged these trends,” Johnson said. “He is a more forceful leader who can turn to other channels of power than his predecessors.”
Recent months have offered rare glimpses of cracks in support for Xi and the country’s leadership, particularly in relation to the country’s zero-COVID policy and the lockdowns that have affected millions of Chinese. On October 13, banners were unfurled in Beijing with messages that read: “We want reform, not cultural revolution. We want a vote, not a leader. We want to be citizens, not slaves.”
Xi’s and the party’s desire for absolute control has become a double-edged sword. Immense administrative resources and draconian measures have largely spared China from successive waves of pandemics, but now China remains at risk of lockdown as the rest of the world opens up.
“He made this zero-COVID policy part of his ideology. And now it’s very hard for him to step back,” Geiges said. Doing so would require acknowledging a policy misstep, and massive exposure to the coronavirus among China’s massive population could have unforeseen consequences.
These and other challenges, including heightened tensions with the US over a variety of issues, ensure that Xi’s third term will be no less turbulent than his second. As for Taiwan’s independence, it appears that Xi has cornered himself, making Taiwan’s reunification with China a central tenet of the “great rejuvenation of the Chinese nation,” thus risking losing face if anything less were to come. to happen.
Last week, the Biden administration announced measures targeting semiconductors that jeopardize all of China’s technological capacity. Increasingly, one man is seen as responsible for China’s success, but he may find it difficult to distance himself from its failures.
“It would appear that Xi underestimated the challenges China faced in overcoming its reliance on foreign, mostly American, companies in key ‘core’ or ‘hard’ technologies like semiconductors,” Paul Triolo, technology analyst at advisory firm Albright Stonebridge Group, he told CNBC. “It also failed to take into account the growing US concern with semiconductors as fundamental to key technologies.”
However, as Sunday’s vote attests, Xi is far from any immediate danger of losing power. While Chinese coverage of Xi’s appointment to a new term will be designed to make him appear larger than life, it will underscore the togetherness of the party and its strong leader. And if a third term illustrates that he still has the backing of the Chinese Communist Party, it may also show that the party has become so dependent on Xi.