Platt Perspective on Business and Technology

China and its transition imperatives 17: Xi Jinping’s emerging resolution to the challenge of leadership 5

Posted in macroeconomics by Timothy Platt on April 16, 2015

This is my 19th installment to a new series on China and its most recent Party and government leadership transition, looking back over the past two years 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 and for a supplemental posting: Part 12.5. And see Page 2 to that directory for a second, continuation supplement Part 12.6 and for Parts 13-16.)

I discussed in Part 16 of this series:

• How China seeks to influence and even control outside news coverage and particularly for what is said about China and its one Party system.

And at the end of that posting, I added that I would follow it here with a discussion of:

• How foreign news organizations and at least by outward appearance foreign governments see Xi Jinping as following more of a “next in standard succession” approach to attaining supreme leadership in China, missing how he in fact seeks to break and replace that seemingly cookie-cutter standardized mold.

In that context, I note that over the past year and more, I have become increasingly aware that Xi has been taking a very different approach to the assumption of supreme leadership in China than any of his predecessors have, and certainly since Mao Zedong himself rose to power. This has not been so much because of what he has done categorically, with efforts made for example to weed out and discredit possible challengers, and coordinated efforts to put his own strong supporters in positions where they could do the most for him. Every new supreme Party and government leader in China, and certainly every one of them since China’s Communist revolution has done at least some of that with show trials and similar exercises, and with publically celebrated promotions and advancements into supporting positions of power. What caught my attention from relatively early on in this process was in the quantity of all of this activity and of how it has been publicized, and particularly for Xi’s suppression of any possible voices of dissent. And his use of the power he was consolidating through this, and both within China and internationally have acted to confirm this conclusion for me. And all of this activity still continues and certainly as of this writing, as an ongoing groundswell of power consolidation and Party and policy reframing.

• I find myself writing this posting on February 16, 2015, and only a couple of weeks after returning from Vietnam and Hong Kong. While there, I had opportunity to speak with a number of Vietnamese about China and its recent activities in what Vietnam has long held to be its own sovereign territorial waters. And I saw and got to discuss large scale infrastructure development projects that Chinese enterprises had successfully bid to carry through upon and complete, but that they had not completed and that they had simply stopped working on while demanding larger fees. These, I add, were topics of discussion and concern that I did not raise; they were issues that these people brought up and wanted to tell me about.
• I also had opportunity to see how protest in Hong Kong against Beijing rule is an always ongoing and recurring event and how the specific incidents of it, that led up to my writing my two supplemental postings on Hong Kong (as noted above as Parts 12.5 and 12.6 to this series), should only be seen as reflecting instances where a same ongoing public dissatisfaction and concern became more globally publically visible, if just for a while.

I add those points here to add more context for what I have to say in response to my “to-address here” bullet point of above. And I write this posting in the context of an ever-growing series of news story examples of how piece by piece, Xi seeks to reassemble Party power, and the ideological orthodoxy that enable and sustain it in his own image. Xi seeks to supplant Mao as the great helmsman of China by becoming the one and only final arbiter as to what Mao’s teachings mean.

I begin this by noting a news story that in and of itself might seem to be more filler piece than pressingly important, as might perhaps be added in on a slow news day: a February 13, 2015 New York Times piece Chinese President Returns to Mao’s (and His) Roots in Yanan. This is the type of thing that politicians do when reaching out to show their party faithful that they can be relied upon for their political beliefs and for their beliefs and actions in general. But Xi goes much farther than most in this, in always seeking to position himself as being orthodox Communism incarnate, and as being the leading active, and even proactive defender of Party purity and prerogative.

Xi Jinping and his government have taken steps to crack down on what the colleges and universities of China can be allowed to teach in the way of Western thought, and what they can even hold in their libraries of this material. And in this, Xi has initiated an overall campaign of political purity and its enforcement that runs through China’s entire educational system, of a type and at a scale that has not occurred since Mao was in power and when he waged his own Cultural Revolution. For a recent news report on this, see China Tells Schools to Suppress Western Ideas, With One Big Exception. The one big exception to this exclusion of foreign ideas and influence that is allowed in Xi’s new educational reform initiative is the allowance of appropriately select socialist political works that come from the West, with anything that in any way might deviate from Chinese Communism now officially disallowed from school classrooms and libraries. And also see China Warns Against ‘Western Values’ in Imported Textbooks in this context.

And of course, Xi and his government have sought to identify and close off all possible gaps in their Great Firewall: their Golden Shield Project, including closing down all virtual private networks (VPN) that might operate in China by blocking use of the encrypted tunneling protocols that make these secure networks possible. This, I add, directly challenges and threatens every foreign national and transnational business that seeks to do business in China, and as such threatens one of the core underpinnings to China’s economy and to its standing in the global community. For a news story relevant to this, see for example: China’s Internet Restrictions Are Hampering Business, Foreign Companies Say.

Why would Xi Jinping and his government do this? Why would they take these, and I add a wide range of other steps that certainly collectively hold potential for limiting China as it seeks entry into global markets and into the global community as a leading nation? There can only be one possible answer to that:

• Xi sees so much possible gain for himself and for his reach for personal power and authority within China from taking these steps,
• That achieving that outweighs any possible short-term or even any possible longer-term costs that his actions might incur.

Xi knows that with China’s economic strength and with the size and strength of its consumer marketplace, no other nation can afford to take all that much offense at anything that China and its government do, and certainly within China itself. And he knows that through capture of the mantle of defining Party orthodoxy and by flexing his muscles: economic, political and yes military and that certainly in the South and East China Seas, he will personally prevail.

And having at least skimmed the surface of what Xi Jinping certainly seems to be actively doing here, I come specifically to that to-address bullet point that I repeated above: a discussion of

• How foreign news organizations and at least by outward appearance foreign governments at least seem to see Xi as following more of a “next in standard succession” approach to attaining supreme leadership in China, seemingly missing how he in fact seeks to break and replace that seemingly cookie-cutter standardized mold.

The operational words there are “seem to.” And with that I explicitly refer you to the discussion points raised in Part 16 of this series where I outlined something as to how the Chinese government seeks to reign in the foreign press as it reports on them and their policies and actions. Governments can have their own reasons to refrain from at least publically coming to explicitly stated conclusions too.

I will simply note in this regard that I would be amazed if none of the national security assessments that are developed and recurringly updated about China in the West, at least consider the possibility of what I have been proposing here in this series. And with this stated, I come to the next to-address points that I noted in Part 16, which I add have been a discussion goal for this series and for this blog for a while now:

• I said that I would reconsider how wide-ranging and far-reaching Deng Xiaoping’s reforms actually were, in opening up China and in creating a climate where private enterprise can survive and thrive – and how his short-term oriented and seemingly more superficial reforms built a foundation for long-term and system-threatening reform pressures to come.
• And in that context I raise here and will discuss in some detail, the specter of a new generation of young and upcoming entrepreneurs from throughout China who are on a collision course with the old top-down authoritarian vision of power that Xi seems to be following as a continuation of China’s past.
• And on a more macro-scale I will also discuss the unavoidable implications and consequences of China’s burgeoning economic enterprise zone cities. With these topic threads I very definitely will address the “and forward” clause of my lead-in text at the start of my installments to this series.

I will at least begin to explicitly address this list of points in my next series installment. Meanwhile, you can find this and related postings at Macroeconomics and Business and its Page 2 continuation.

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