• 01 December, 2022
Geopolitics & National Security.
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Coronation Of Emperor Xi and The World Thereafter

Cdr Sandeep Dhawan (Retd) Sat, 01 Oct 2022   |  Reading Time: 7 minutes

A few days ago, news about Chinese President Xi Jinping‘s arrest took social media by storm. The rumour was that Xi, who is the General Secretary of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) and Chairman of the Central Military Commission (CMC), on return from the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO) summit in Samarkand, was taken into custody and house arrested. The atmosphere was so jubilant as if the whole world was looking forward to Xi’s exit. The rumour turned out to be fake news.

Xi Jinping is all set to snatch the historic third term in the upcoming 20th National Congress of the CCP, scheduled for 16 October 2022. So, what is happening inside the world’s most powerful but hated man’s head? How would he shape his third term?

The Domestic Goals

Richard McGregor and Jude Blanchette are veteran analysts of Chinese politics. In 2021, they published a comprehensive report that considered four possible scenarios for the next leadership succession in China. Only one scenario considered that Xi stays in power by extending his tenure. I will go with that scenario because, in my opinion, Xi Jinping is in the grip of the situation for at least one more term.

People who expect Xi to moderate his policies after the 20th National Congress of CCP are likely to get disappointed. Xi’s survivability depends on the party’s survivability; therefore, his sole aim would be to make the party supreme. Slogans like “time and momentum are on our side,” “century of humiliation,” etc. would be the vehicles to drum up nationalism and eventual support for the party’s (read Xi’s) every bizarre and dangerous action.

Party Hierarchy 2017 – Courtesy: insightful.co.in

Aim One — Chairmanship

In all probability, during the 20th Party Congress, Xi would reactivate the Party chairmanship position. Until now, only three CCP leaders have held that position, namely, Mao Zedong (1945–76), Hua Guofeng (1977–81), and Hu Yaobang (1981–82). The post was dissolved in 1982 during the eleventh National Congress of CCP.

The post of Party Chairman would allow Xi to continue to rule without any limitation since the party chairman doesn’t fall under that purview. He could also plan and execute the leadership succession process. He would undoubtedly be crowned ‘people’s leader’ by the party.

Aim Two — Opposition

The Chinese Premier Li Keqiang is a former President Hu Jintao’s protegee and a professional Communist Youth League (CYL) member. He was regarded as the heir to Hu Jintao, but he failed in competition with Xi Jinping. He would retire in March 2023 from the post of Premier due to two-term and 68 years age limitations. However, Xi Jinping would aim to remove him, if not from the politburo, then at least from the Politburo Standing Committee (PBSC). Li is no pushover and has widespread patronage and loyalist connections among the CYL cadre. Therefore, this is going to be the most exciting contest and a difficult task for Xi.

Aim Three – Positioning Protegees In Key Posts

Xi would like his protegee, current Shanghai Party Secretary, and Politburo member Li Qiang to take over the post of Premier. However, Li’s poor performance led to serious and embarrassing difficulties in containing outbreaks of COVID-19 in Shanghai and has cast a shadow over his capabilities. Even with this handicap, if Xi can bulldoze his way through and place Li Qiang as Premier, it would prove that Xi has become too powerful for anyone’s liking.

Xi would also push for one of his protegees to head the CCP’s feared internal anti-corruption force, the Central Commission for Discipline Inspection (CCDI). Ding XuexiangHuang KunmingLi Xi, and Chen Min’er could be frontrunners for this post.

If Xi cannot position his people in the key posts per his plan, then as a compromise, he might push for the expansion of PBSC from seven to nine members to maintain his edge.

Aim Four – Purges And Suppression

Xi is a control freak. In his zeal to concentrate all the power in his hands, he has decimated every opposition and hasn’t spared even the party elders. He would maintain his track record with a missionary’s zeal, regardless of what the world thinks or talks about.

Head of China’s security services Zhou Yongkang, former general who served as vice chairman of China’s Central Military Commission – Xu Caihou, vice chairman of China’s Central Military Commission – Guo Boxiong, senior aide to former Chinese President Hu Jintao – Ling Jihua, former Chinese political star, politburo member and a contender for China’s presidency – Sun Zhengcai are some of the political purges under Xi’s watch.

Xi Jinping would not just keep targeting political opponents, but the nouveau riche known as fuerdai who does not fall in line as he desires. Xiao Jianhua, Jack Ma, Pony Ma, Guo Guangchang, Zhou Chengjian, Ren Zhiqiang, etc., are some examples. It’s a long list of disappearing or disciplined billionaires under Xi’s watch.

Human rights activists are another favourite target of the CCP. Their disappearances have hastened during Xi’s regime. Dai Zhenya, Zhang Zhongshun, and Ding Jiaxi are some examples who have disappeared, charged, tried, and punished falsely behind closed doors.

The surveillance and suppression of ordinary Chinese citizens will reach new heights. Their every move is recorded and reminds us of the brilliance of George Orwell, who, in his masterpiece novel “1984,” could envisage the whole scenario 73 years ago. As if all of this monitoring wasn’t enough, in the latest suppressive move, Beijing bus drivers have been told to wear wristbands so that their emotions are monitored and recorded at all times.

Aim Five – Derive Strength From Economy 

Now, this is not a goal, instead, taken for granted phenomenon. Xi is well aware that CCP derives its power from economic growth. The CCP has also learned lessons from the erstwhile USSR’s mistakes and ultimate extinction. However, if we observe Xi’s actions in the recent past, then it appears that he doesn’t care for the economy as much as people tend to think. His recent zero COVID-19 policy, followed by lockdowns, cracking down on tech companies, and letting the banking and property bubble evolve, demonstrates that he does not consider economic performance to be his primary source of legitimacy. He believes China has accumulated enough wealth to make the show of strength worth the economic price. Therefore, if the United States or the European Union thought they could control Xi with the carrot of moolah, they would be delusional.

The International Goals

If Xi’s domestic policies would employ a carrot and stick approach, the international policy would be a combination of wolf warrior diplomacy, rewards, and punishments.

Aim One – Unification

China has repeatedly made it clear that unification with Taiwan would happen at any cost. In my understanding timeline between 2025-2027 would be most crucial. Xi Jinping would be nearing the fag end of his third term. To remain relevant, Xi would need to either stay in power or anoint his protegee. That’s not easy, and Xi would be forced to pull off something spectacular. The unification of Taiwan by any means, which Xi has been projecting as a historical task of the party, is one such event that could change Xi’s fortunes.

Aim Two – Military Might

The People’s Liberation Army (PLA) is the CCP’s instrument of legitimacy. The growth of the PLA in the international arena would play an important role in the Sinicization of the world and the great rejuvenation of the Chinese nation.

As per the U.S. department of defence, PLAA has 975,000 active-duty personnel; PLAN has 355 warships, including 145 major surface combatants; and PLAAF has 2800 warplanes, 800 of them are fourth-generation fighter jets. As per Lowy Institute, China’s military budget will cross $560 billion by 2030. Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI) estimates that China underreports its military spending by as much as 40 percent. All in all, China, which has already moved out of the first island chain, would be able to challenge the United States in the Pacific and India in the Indian Ocean by 2027.

Aim Three – Hamstring The U.S. And Indian Influence 

Xi would expand his influence groups worldwide, especially in the Middle East and Latin America. Saudi Arabia has a comprehensive strategic partnership with China and has slowly slipped out of the U.S. grip. China has deepened its economic ties with UAE, Qatar, Oman, Bahrain, and Kuwait. In South America, China has already surpassed the U.S. influence by becoming the largest trading partner.

The biggest jolt the U.S. is likely to get is when Xi is able to convince countries to replace trading in dollars with yuan. Over 100 countries are already making payments in yuan. China has also opened yuan clearance banks in 25 countries. Morgan Stanley predicts that the yuan will account for over five percent of global foreign exchange reserve assets by 2030.

As far as India is concerned, China understood this fact very early on that after the U.S., if any country could challenge them in the future, then it is India. Therefore, since the 60s, China has been damaging the Indian influence in South Asia regularly. These activities have picked up pace under Xi, and he wouldn’t relent in his third term.

Xi’s Challenges

All this is fine, but the third term would not be a walk in the park for Xi. Most Xi’s initiatives have cast a shadow over his acumen and vision.

  • Thanks to Xi’s pet Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), nearly 60% of China’s overseas loans are held by financially distressed countries compared with 5% in 2010.
  • Large number of rural banks have frozen deposits of ordinary citizens due to financial difficulties, leading to widespread demonstrations and unrest.
  • Youth joblessness rate rose 19.9 percent in July.
  • 400 million middle-class citizens affected by the property crisis.
  • Economic reforms have taken a backseat, and growth is slowest in four decades, casting a shadow over Xi’s goal of doubling per capita income by 2035.
  • Unfair trade practices and weaponization of state-backed espionage have led to tech clampdown by the USA and other Western nations.
  • Human rights abuses in Xinjiang and Tibet.
  • Alignment with Putin against the west has again put Xi’s wisdom under the spotlight.

In The End

If Mao Zedong had thrived on the idea of hostility towards the international system, then Deng Xiaoping was the one who joined the international system and changed the Chinese citizens’ life forever. But it is Xi Jinping who would not only exploit the international system to his advantage but also alter it beyond recognition.

Though most eyes focus on Taiwan, limited maritime military skirmishes between China and South Korea in the coming months are not ruled out due to the latter’s deployment of THAAD systems and cooperation with the U.S. over semiconductors. China may also create trouble in Taiwan’s local election in late 2022 and the presidential election in 2024. Love hate relationship with India would also continue since this arouses nationalism and suits Xi’s cause.

Today, China is considered the most serious long-term challenge to the international order. The time has come that organizations like Quad openly declare that they are a military organization and would come to each other’s rescue when the balloon goes up. Else, once the political drama of 16 October is over, Xi would implement his flawed vision forcefully and vehemently; and reassert the Chinese power in areas of strategic priority with impunity.

**************


Author
A veteran of the Indian Navy, Cdr Dhawan served in the Navy from 1988 to 2009. He was a Maritime Reconnaissance Pilot and a Flying Instructor. He is a geopolitical analyst and writes for various online websites and organizations.

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POST COMMENTS (12)

Rajeev Dalal

Oct 06, 2022
Cdr, as always your analysis seems sharp and incisive. Let's hope the world can throw up a worthwhile leadership which can maintain the balance of power!!!

Raghu Vir

Oct 04, 2022
Dear Sandy , great insight ! Do we have any options ?

Deovrat Pagay

Oct 03, 2022
In all probability Xi will win the third term, breaking the 10 year rule! Here is here to stay…

ST

Oct 03, 2022
My hope is the Chinese navy does not have the expertise to neither conduct nor sustain conduct combat operations. Their navy is untested in warfare as far as I know. I believe the vulnerability of China is its being a slave state as was the USSR. At some point there is almost always a slave rebellion; however, not all as slave rebellions are successful.

ST

Oct 03, 2022
Why bus drivers?

Rakesh P

Oct 02, 2022
In hindsight giving commentary on a topic is easy, but you are crystal-gazing; that is very tough, especially regarding China and Xi Jinping. Commendable job. Congratulations!

Sreenivas

Oct 02, 2022
Well researched and in great detail as always. The rise of Yuan is something which will change world economic order big time. Let's see how it pans out for India who are pushing the Rupee. Chinese economy is fragile and it will be his biggest challenge. The greatest challenge will be a revolution by the people who are oppressed. The Chinese model of Dictatorial Capitslism with a Communist tag is going to be a case study and if it succeeds will challenge Democracy.

Shamit Biswas

Oct 02, 2022
A well thought out progression of scenario after Xi Jinping consolidates his position during the third term. This century is a century of disruption and establishment of the new world order. We are but at the beginning of the great transition and how the world powers plan their moves will affect the next few decades. The world economic system will come under threat as well as the next great energy source after petroleum. China has done much to position itself favorably to control the outcome with a massive military capability build up and the results could be pretty catastrophic for World in general. Thank you Sir for this precise snapshot of the implications of re-election of Jinping, who has managed to keep a step ahead of the western intelligence agencies and think tanks.

Wendell Bruges

Oct 02, 2022
A scary peep into the future. I feel the world will be less safe in the next five years.

Ajay Vig

Oct 02, 2022
Dear Sandy A well written article. Few obsns. 1. Xi since the 2015 trief to change Chinese Economic Model from being a factory of the world, relying on technology and fund infusion to seeking markets abroad to a consumption driven economy which would be somewhat insulated from global isolation. This model is still to be tested. Another fact is that despite the Covid Lockdown policy Chinese Exports continue. Pl see the fig betn India and China during the Covid years. Removal of the Premier and putting his protege would be very unlikely moreso bcos he finishes his term in March next year. In my view the number of politburo std committee members may be reduced to 5 to cement his hold further. Reunification of Taiwan is a major Gamble. Involves an amphibious ops xg over 100 nautical miles. Moreso the Chinese offr cadre and tps are not battle hardened 1962 cannot be the bencmark, the Vietnamese gave it back. My appre at best they may resort to a blockade or carry out ltd ops on an offshore island. Unlike Russia China is energy dependant while Russia may continue to Supply through Tran Siberia Pipeline the CARs. Middle East and Africa may capitulate. Xis trying to make himself a core leader. Propounding a new model of socialism with Chinese Characteristics. Will he like to do too much spec considering that his third term and likely fourth will retire quite a few members and raise dissent in this light he will tread carefully and balance his position. There's an old saying that the State and Wars are intertwined you loose a war you loose the state, will he risk global isolation that to when he's at the cusp or will he wait

GP Singh

Oct 02, 2022
Very informative.

Cdr Deepak Singh

Oct 01, 2022
Yours is a good analysis. But XI at the moment is permanent. He has made rules that keep him permanent. Nobody is in position to move him. If this happens then China is not China. Wait for his demise to get someone replacing him. My view.

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