Platt Perspective on Business and Technology

China and its transition imperatives 38: rethinking China’s emerging trends in challenges faced and responses made, and in how each reinforces the other 7

Posted in macroeconomics by Timothy Platt on November 6, 2016

This is my 45th installment, counting supplemental additions, to this ongoing and even open-ended series on China. Basically, what I am doing here is to trace how China has changed under the rule of Xi Jinping, with this series narrative starting approximately one year after he first took leadership of their Politburo Standing Committee, and through that of their entire Communist Party of China and of China as a whole (see Part 1, as written to first go live on this blog on February 8, 2014.) And I have particularly focused in this ongoing narrative on:

• The issues and challenges that China faces in its economy,
• And in the structural systems in place in their one allowed political Party and its government,
• And in their nascent and still largely government and Party controlled, if not owned private sector.

And as a big part of that I have been discussing China’s still emerging economic collapse and how and why that has happened. And I have argued that to be an all but inevitable consequence of their widespread structural weaknesses in place – structural weaknesses that they have build their entire system of governance and social order upon.

I have in fact focused on that side to what I am addressing here, as a primary line of discussion in essentially all of my China writings. But stepping back from my overall corpus of work here regarding China as a whole, and to more specifically consider this series and why I have been writing it, this is also very much about the rise to power and the leadership of China’s current supreme leader: Xi Jinping.

I realized even before he achieved overall leadership of China’s Communist Party, and government and military, that he was going to take a very different approach to leadership than any of his predecessors in titled leadership have, since Mao Zedong himself. Xi’s track record as is publically knowable, from when he rose through the ranks in China towards a position of supreme leadership there, has strongly suggested that. And in this regard, I have recurringly stated that Xi’s goal is to in fact become a new leader of China, in the mold and image of Mao himself – a truly supreme leader with truly absolute power in his nation, and of a type and scale that no other Party or government leader has been able to approach since Mao himself.

There are other pressingly important issues that I could address here, as crucial to understanding China as it is now, and China as it is transitioning into becoming. But I at least start addressing all of that with Xi Jinping’s now very openly overt attempt to achieve true Mao status in China. The course of events that will take place in any other issue, depends on how this reach for all but godlike power in China by this one man, plays out. So I will primarily focus upon that here. And I do so by setting a more historical foundation for discussion to come.

Mao was the supreme leader who smashed and discarded the old Imperial order with the overthrow of China’s last Qing dynasty emperor Puyi. And he routed Chinese Communism’s Kuomintang Nationalist challengers for power in his country in the process, pushing what was left of them off-shore to the island of Taiwan.

It was Mao who lead during the dark days of the Communist Chinese revolution, and during the Long March. It was Mao who led as his Party and his army of followers turned the tide and began advancing towards victory. It was Mao who led Party, and now government and nation as victory was secured. And it was Mao who led, and with all but godlike power and authority through all of this new nation’s early formative years and decades. His Little Red Book of sayings was China’s bible, and he was their savior and lord and master, to be honored, revered and feared and all at once and by all.

I focused in Part 37 of this series on how Party and government seek to quash dissent and enforce uniformity in China, and both in Party and government ranks and throughout their citizenry in general, and that has been an ongoing thread throughout Communist China’s history. And I wrote about how recent events and developments in China have changed and even fundamentally eroded what is and can be possible there. And in a way, I write here of yet another threat to this order and search for order, and one that in its own way offers existential threat to the status quo system that the Communist Party of China has worked so hard to establish since Mao.

• Mao was and still is revered as the Great Leader and Great Helmsman. Mao is also dead now, and no longer a threat to China’s immediate here and now – at least insofar as his message, and claims to orthodox purity to his vision, can be shaped by China’ current leaders.
• China’s leadership has been and still is terrified of the possibility of a new ultimate leader arising in their ranks, who cannot be controlled and who would steamroll over all possible competition, and for life, as Mao did. China’s leadership has been and is terrified of the possibility of facing a new Mao: a new living Communist Chinese god in their midst who could and would do anything to retain power, and who would succeed in doing so and at the expense of all others if need be.
• And now they have Xi Jinping.
• Laws were put in place mandating upper age limits beyond which individual people cannot serve in the Politburo Standing Committee of the Communist Party of China, or even in their Politburo as a whole. Term limits were imposed for how long any one individual can serve in a position of significant leadership in their Party’s top administrative bodies. Standards of expected practice and behavior were imposed where, for example, a leader of their Politburo Standing Committee would publically announce their personal choice for their own possible successor there, as their first term of office in that role was winding down and as much as a year or more before they would run for reelection to a second and final term of office there. Every other supreme leader of their Party and government since Mao has honored these terms – until, at least by current appearance, now.
• Xi is going to run for his second term as General Secretary of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of China, which he first achieved on November 15, 2012. But he has pointedly refrained from naming or even suggesting a possible successor. And the speculation is on that he might in fact seek out a third term of office there, as well as hold onto his leadership positions in China’s government and military, beyond a second term – which he is absolutely certain to secure.

Ultimately, what is the status quo that China’s Party and government seek to maintain? It is a consensus view that supports their leadership, and the system that led to their achieving such power and authority as a collective group – where the ultimate, and ultimately dangerous dissent that they fear the most is not from average citizens, or even ones of particular power and presence. It is from within their own ranks, and particularly at the top of those ranks, and the prospect of any one leader emerging who can capture and come to hold all real power and over all others – as Mao did. Mao was a disaster and not just because of his massively scaled leadership failings for China: e.g. his Great Leap Forward of 1958 through 1961, and his Cultural Revolution of 1966 through 1976.

Xi has been maneuvering his way towards supreme leadership as Mao held it in China, and for a number of years now. He has achieved hold over the most important levers of power in China and in essentially all realms. He has worked diligently to develop a cult of personality for himself among the Chinese peoples. And now he has in effect refused to name a successor when post-Mao tradition would suggest that he would and should. Xi has been systematically positioning himself, for being able to challenge and overrule the system of collective leadership that was put in place after the excesses and challenges of Mao’s last decades in power. And this brings me to a recent news event that I offer here as a puzzle piece for understanding where China is now, and where that nation is headed:

China’s Communist Party Declares Xi Jinping ‘Core’ Leader.

Mao held this title, and so did Deng Xiaoping though he was awarded this honor in return for explicit agreement to honor China’s post-Mao system of collective leadership. Now Xi has attained this too, and in a context in which any hint of dissent or disagreement with him or his rule is harshly and rapidly responded to. And Xi has very explicitly not come to such a consensus leadership agreement.

The core leadership (of his generation) title that Xi has just been awarded does not directly give him more power, insofar as it does not expand the range in which he already holds it. And it does not extend the strength of his authority where he holds it. But his new title does give him greatly increased leverage in enforcing his will as the official will of the Party and state. And it will prove a powerful cudgel if he in fact does seek to directly challenge China’s system of collective leadership by staying in power past the currently legal and tradition-based limitations that have been put in place to prevent the emergence of a new Mao. Official news outlets in China have even been extolling the virtues of their having such a pivotally important strongman in charge, to help resolve their country’s many problems. They might not be calling for a new Mao per se, but their positioning in these matters do lend support to that.

• This event: this new title for Xi, while perhaps seemingly relatively small in nature and impact, holds tremendous potential import moving forward, and both for China and their leadership and for how their many problems and challenges are going to be identified and addressed.

I am going to continue this series with a discussion of new puzzle pieces, probably scheduling the next series installment to go live approximately one month after this. And I finish actually writing this posting on November 4, 2016 to go live in a couple of days.

Meanwhile, you can find this entire series and all of its postings at Macroeconomics and Business as 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 subsequent main sequence and supplemental installments to this. You can also find other, China-related postings and series at those directory pages, and at Ubiquitous Computing and Communications – everywhere all the time too.

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