Platt Perspective on Business and Technology

China and its transition imperatives 13: Xi Jinping’s emerging resolution to the challenge of leadership 1

Posted in macroeconomics by Timothy Platt on December 7, 2014

This is my 15th installment to a new series on China and its recent Party and government leadership transition, looking back over the past year and more since that formally and officially took place and to now and China’s current situation, and forward (see Macroeconomics and Business, postings 154 and loosely following for Parts 1-12, plus two breaking news supplemental postings: Part 12.5 and Part 12.6. Part 12.6 appears in Page 2 to that directory.)

I add here, to be more precise, I began posting to this series approximately one year after Xi Jinping was formally elevated to a position of supreme leadership of China’s Communist Party with that at least publically, formally beginning at their November, 2012 18th National Congress. So I write this for posting relatively soon after the second anniversary of his taking that first big public step towards overall leadership of all of China.

I have, in a fundamental sense been writing of the challenges that Xi and his country face for as long as I have been writing about China at all in this blog. And I have been writing about the challenges that he personally faces, if he is to attempt to take any meaningful action in corrective response to them as China’s leader. I turn here to more explicitly consider what he has been doing and both in consolidating power and in responding to China’s challenges.

I begin this posting’s discussion with a conclusion, and it is a one that I am sure Xi Jinping would vehemently deny if he were to somehow hear of it – noting that this is a conclusion that would be personally dangerous to express in China.

• Xi does not just seek to modify or reinterpret Mao Zedong’s legacy and he is not even content to simply trim back certain of its excesses and inefficiencies as was for notable example, attempted by Deng Xiaoping and his school of reformers.
• Xi Jinping seeks to supplant Mao as China’s ultimate arbiter and definer of right and wrong and of good for his country. He seeks to become a new Mao Zedong: a new Great Leader and Great Helmsman, in his case leading China out of and away from the original Mao and his teachings just as Mao himself led China away from its imperial past and into his vision of Communism.

Xi seeks to in effect rebuild China in his own image and according to his own vision and as an instrument of his own personal will, just as Mao did in his day. And my goal for this posting is to at least begin to explain how and why I have arrived at that conclusion: a conclusion that I have only slowly come to acknowledge as I have seen Xi’s rule come into focus.

When Xi first publically accepted the position of head of the Communist Party of China, that advancement was first arrived at privately and through confidential discussions of members of the Party’s Politburo Standing Committee and select others. And then, once this decision was agreed to by China’s most senor Party leaders, his advancement to Party leadership was officially, publically agreed to and announced through a formal public vote taken at the 18th National Congress of the Communist Party of China and with all attending delegates voting. And with that formality in place Xi immediately began to present several distinct images and messages to the Party, and to China as a whole and to the world as he set out to establish and consolidate his new position.

He reached out to the Party faithful and to its leadership at all levels to proclaim his wholehearted support for and faith in Chinese Communism and in its one true Party system. And he publically pledged to support and defend its status quo. At the same time he just as actively began reaching out to the masses within China as a visionary reformer who listened and heard, and who would bring China more fully into its rightful place of world leadership, bringing the people of his country along with him into this bright new future.

Xi used a combination of direct face to face events and televised and online communications outreach campaigns in all of this, as well as print media. He reached out through all of the channels and media at hand in this support building effort. And at the same time he began to carefully, selectively pursue legal action against anyone who might oppose him, and with show trials where they would serve his purpose – and all in the name of rooting out corruption and of protecting Party purity. He began with a few select clear-cut cases that he could pursue as proof that he looks out for Party and for People. And he expanded this out from there and at all levels in the Party hierarchy and machinery.

This, on the face of it at least began as business as usual for anyone assuming supreme Party leadership in China, and could be viewed as such even if he were just one more new Party leader seeking to gain fuller and more secure power and authority in that system, but as one who would never dream of challenging or changing anything of significance in it. And in this, the only real difference from the early leadership paths that most of his predecessors in power have pursued, has been in how Xi has tapped into new online social media as a rich source of his channels for reaching out and connecting, and for building personal support. But Xi has pursued all of this with a vigor and intensity that is quantitatively different enough from that familiar pattern to qualify as being qualitatively different too. And this up to here only represents two threads in what amounts to a new weave.

• This new and still emerging pattern only really comes into focus when you consider how Xi Jinping has shaped and pursued his business and economic agenda and both within China and in dealing with international businesses and markets,
• Coupled with the way that he has decided to project military strength and both regionally and globally, in claiming wider hegemony over the South and East China Seas and in presenting his country as a globally reaching military power.
• In this, under Xi’s rule elements of the People’s Liberation Army Navy have begun actively engaging with countries such as Iran through joint military exercises as a show of their increasingly global reach and influence. And more locally I would cite how China’s growing naval capabilities have been deployed as a direct challenge to neighboring countries (e.g. by sending military vessels into disputed waters in the South and East China Seas to reinforce China’s claim to hegemony over them.)

I am going to continue this discussion in a next series installment where I will discuss those issues. I will also discuss how Xi’s new government has both more actively sought to develop and deploy cyber-surveillance and cyber-espionage capabilities, globally, and how his government has sought to strengthen their Golden Shield Project – their Great Firewall of China to more fully control the internal conversation within China. And I will also discuss how a newly emerging Xi doctrine would seek to influence at the very least, the external-to-China conversation too, and certainly insofar as it is about China. Meanwhile, you can find this and related postings at Macroeconomics and Business and its Page 2 continuation.

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