Platt Perspective on Business and Technology

Donald Trump, Xi Jinping, and the contrasts of leadership in the 21st century – 1

Posted in macroeconomics, social networking and business by Timothy Platt on November 9, 2017

This is my 26th installment to what has become an ongoing series of postings in which I seek to address politics in the United States as it has become, starting with the nominations process leading up to the 2016 presidential elections. See my series: Donald Trump and the Stress testing of the American System of Government, as can be found at Social Networking and Business 2, posting 244 and loosely following.

This can also be considered to represent my 55th installment to an ongoing series that I have been offering here concerning Xi Jinping and his still emerging and expanding leadership role in China. See China and Its Transition Imperatives, as it can be found at Macroeconomics and Business and its Page 2 continuation, as postings 154 and loosely following. I began writing about Xi in this series after his elevation to a position of supreme leadership in the Communist Party of China and of China’s government and military.

I began thinking and writing about Trump and his effort to achieve national prominence and power in the United States before his nomination as a Republican Party candidate, and well before his election to power, as addressed in my above cited series. And in a similar manner I began following Xi’s rising career path from before his ascension to supreme power in China too. And since Trump’s assuming power as the president of the United States I have written a few postings to each of the above cited series that in fact at least selectively discussed both of these people. But I have been thinking of the points of similarity and of contrast that they present to the world and I have been considering for months now, the possibility of writing about these two men in that vein, and in a more systematic manner than I have up to now. I at least begin doing so here, in this series-joining installment.

I fully expect to continue both of those series, each with basically their same original area of focus and each with their own separate narrative line. But here and for purposes of this posting and with our current, as of this writing context as it is, I begin to write of where those narratives of necessity have to overlap. And I begin doing so with Xi Jinping and with China, at a point in time in which Xi is beginning to fulfill what might be his ultimate political goal: that of becoming the next Great Helmsman in the all but deified image and stature of Mao Zedong himself. Then after offering this posting as a discussion of him, I will follow it with a next dual-series installment in which I will focus on Trump and will offer some thoughts comparing and contrasting the two. But first Xi and China, and I begin consideration of him with the one valid point of comparison for him in China and its history that I could turn to here: Mao Zedong.

Mao, as I have noted before in this blog, is still revered in China in a way and to a degree that overshadows any positive regard in the United States for any of that country’s founding fathers. But at the same time, and with Mao’s disastrous excesses through protracted events such as his Cultural Revolution, China’s senior Party and government leadership have actively sought to prevent any one individual from ever again rising to the level of limitlessly uncontrolled power there, that defined both Mao and his image, and Mao and his government.

A key element of that can be found in what up to now have become firmly entrenched term limits and upper age limits for positions of great power. And supreme leadership of their Communist Party, and of its centrally controlling Politburo Standing Committee, and through that of their national government and their military has been particularly controlled and time-limited in this manner. Their supreme leader cannot, according to this pattern of precedent and expectation, serve in that position for more than two five year terms, at which point they would be expected to in effect, retire from active service.

That has not meant former supreme leaders disappearing; several have in effect become behind the scenes power brokers and advisors. But it has meant their once-power being turned over to the hands of successors who in general guard their newly endowed power prerogatives jealously and who make their own decisions there. And a leader who seeks out their second term in supreme power has, since the end of the Mao era, always announced their choice of a possible (probable) successor as part of the panoply and pageantry of their being reelected to their office for their second (and last) term by the Party elite. They themselves are expected to formally begin the succession process that would replace them with this announcement.

It might be argued that I jumped to conclusions prematurely for Xi but I have already stated here and for many months now, that not only would he be reelected to that second term (which was obvious), but that he is likely to run for and serve an unheard of third term too. It is very recent news as I write this, that Xi Jinping has been reelected for that second term. But he did not in any way name or even suggest a favored successor in that, or even the possibility of such a successor for when his second term approaches its end. That omission is in fact, probably one of the two most important details to come out of this otherwise largely stereotypically scripted, staged showcase event. The second of those crucial details is one that I have seen touched upon in the news in passing but without real, at least publically discussed attention paid to its overriding significance. And I will end my at least initial discussion of Xi for purposes of this series with a discussion of that event.

The New York Times, to cite one of many possible news sources, made note of what at first glance might seem to be more of an honorific bestowed, than anything else in their October 25, 2017 news story:

China’s ‘Chairman of Everything’: Behind Xi Jinping’s Many Titles.

Mao held the title of Core Leader: an honorific that in effect designated him as representing the living heart and soul of China and of Chinese Communism incarnate. Since then, only two others have been granted that title: Deng Xiaoping and Jiang Zemin. But they were only awarded this honorific as they formally agreed to leave power and as they were doing so, making this “advancement” more of a retirement gift than anything else – like awarding a long-term employee a gold watch upon their retiring and for good from a business. But this was Mao’s title and now Xi has been awarded it when he is going to be staying on in a position of supreme power and with nothing in place that might indicate any end to that. That difference makes this honorific more than just an empty if appreciative title.

I fully expect to see Xi Jinping take on the fuller mantle of Mao with his being awarded two other titles that up to now at least, only Mao himself has achieved: Chairman of the Communist Party (which he in fact already is in practice) and State Chairman. Xi was explicitly addressed as China’s Helmsman when being reelected, in keeping with Mao’s special title of Great Helmsman. But shared special titles only constitutes a small portion of what Xi Jinping and his predecessor Mao Zedong hold in common:

• Both assiduously cultivated cults of personality to create widespread admiration and support throughout China and across its many peoples. And both have achieved dramatically greater success in this than have any other head of state since the founding of the Peoples’ Republic of China. This means building what can amount to an unassailable power base.
• Both just as assiduously and systematically have rooted out and destroyed any potential opponents in their rise to power. Mao used both mass purges and show trials that made special examples of particular enemies, and Xi has pursued a largely similar course with his anti-corruption campaigns, among other competition limiting initiatives.
• Both collected titles as suggested above, and Xi already has amassed more of them than any of his predecessors in power in China since Mao himself. But more importantly, both cultivated positions of direct power and direct influence in all potential power bases with each of those titles representing mastery over one more of them, with that including China’s Communist Party, their government, their manufacturing sectors, and for Xi their growing private sector, as well as a host of specific power centers within these larger entities.
• And both Mao and Xi proved themselves to be ruthlessly systematic and calculating in all of this. I have posed this bullet pointed list in the past tense in honor of Mao, but all that I cite here represents Xi’s still emerging present too and his likely pattern of decision and action moving forward as well.

I could cite any of a large number of recent news stories that highlight aspects of this set of claims. But I chose to limit myself to sharing one such news piece here, that reflects how Xi has taken his second term reelection as a renewed starting point for building and consolidating his power from:

China Sets Date for Major Communist Party Reshuffle.

Xi Jinping really is in the process of rebuilding the Communist Party of China of today and tomorrow in his own image, much as Mao did in his day. And this brings me to the last point that I would raise here. Xi also has Donald Trump as a perhaps unwilling asset, but nevertheless as a very real one. I have discussed the problems and challenges that China has faced for a number of years now in this blog, with their Party and government corruptions and inefficiencies and with their fractured economy. Ultimately centrally controlled command economies that are ideologically driven cannot successfully compete and endure. If Donald Trump has done nothing else in his foreign “policy” it has been to create a power vacuum that has taken a tremendous amount of pressure off of both Xi as an individual, and China as a nation. He has opened the door for China to more fully lay claim to what amounts to ownership of the South China Sea and the East China Sea and all of their resources. Trump has opened the door for China to claim strength and hegemony in many directions, with that including China more effectively glossing over its economic weaknesses and failures as Xi has sought out and pursued all possible opportunities for him to fill those power vacuum gaps that Trump has created. And in that regard I offer one more news story reference here, switching discussion from a Xi perspective to a Trump one:

Trump Heads to Asia with an Ambitious Agenda but Little to Offer.

The power vacuum from the West continues on. And with this point raised, I turn to more explicitly consider Donald Trump in this series. And in anticipation of that, I note how the Trump administration has been hamstrung by largely self-inflicted chaos since its beginning and that it is increasingly attempting to function under a cloud of possible impeachment charges. So the differences between Xi and Trump are fairly clear at least in broad outline here. But the points of similarity between these two men bear noting too.

I will turn to that set of issues in my next, here dual-series installment. Meanwhile you can find my Trump-oriented series at Social Networking and Business 2 as noted above, and my Xi-oriented series at Macroeconomics and Business and its Page 2 continuation.

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