How must India deal with an all-powerful Xi Jinping?

Prof. Alka Acharya, Honorary Fellow, ICS & Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi

The question that had been the cause of much speculation and discussion since the 19th Communist Party Congress last October — ‘After Xi Jinping, Who?’ — has now seemingly been answered. Xi Jinping himself!

In fact, Xi’s continuation in power beyond two terms was widely anticipated when, as had been the practice since the political and administrative reforms had been introduced by Deng Xiaoping in the 1980s, no successor was announced at the end of the 19th Chinese Communist Party congress.

Xi now proposes to overturn the practice, which had limited the top leader to two consecutive terms in office — and this will now be enshrined in the state constitution of the People’s Republic of China. Continue reading “How must India deal with an all-powerful Xi Jinping?”

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Xi Jinping Has Feet of Clay

Jabin T. Jacob, PhD, Fellow, Institute of Chinese Studies

The Central Committee of the Communist Party of China has suggested removing term limits for the President and Vice-President of the People’s Republic of China. The immediate implication is that President Xi Jinping could conceivably continue for a third term or more in office.

However, the more important one is that this sets a precedent for doing away with the norm of a two-term limit developed over the past couple of decades for the CPC General Secretary – the most powerful position Xi holds.

This development then appears to confirm long-standing speculation that Xi was aiming to carry on in power at the next CPC National Congress in 2022.

Other amendments to the PRC constitution being mooted by the CPC also confirm the possibility. One such is the addition of ‘Xi Jinping Thought on Socialism with Chinese Characteristics for a New Era’ in the PRC Constitution. In this case, this is a foregone conclusion since Xi Jinping Thought was already included in the CPC constitution at the 19th Party National Congress last October.

To understand what exactly has happened and how, Indians need only remember how their own bureaucrats bend the rules or create new ones at will, if necessary – to push their own aggrandizement while in office or to comfortable post-retirement sinecures.

Like the Indian babu – and CPC cadre are essentially bureaucrat-politicians – Xi and the CPC justify these moves in the name of ‘efficiency’, ‘expertise’, ‘capability’, even ‘merit’ and ‘respect for the Constitution’.

Note, for instance, that the state-run Xinhua News Agency had quoted Xi – only a few hours before news of the proposed changes to the PRC Constitution was announced – as saying that ‘No organization or individual has the power to overstep the Constitution or the law’.

Driving home this point even more sharply is a Global Times editorial that declares brazenly, ‘We are living in a changing and sophisticated era where individuals have limited horizon and capability’. Somehow the point about one individual being empowered at the expense of 1.3 billion others has been missed.

In fact, there is a clear provision in one of the proposed amendments that the director of the national supervisory commission – a new state organ that is coming into being in the PRC – shall serve no more than two consecutive terms. Why are there term limits for one state official and not the Chinese President and Vice-President?

This blindness to irony or hypocrisy and fundamentally paternalist and non-democratic attitude is unsurprising in societies and polities, which are essentially feudal in nature and/or are used to strong-man/centralised rule such as China or India.

Weakness not Strength

Where once, the CPC thought it could learn from the outside world and control the consequences at the same time or at least that the consequences would not threaten fundamentally threaten its own existence, today the measures undertaken by Xi suggest that such confidence no longer exists.

From the heavy-handed anti-corruption campaign to the ever increasing number of directives and instructions to universities, the media and Party cadre about ideological red lines and the constant drumbeat of state-driven propaganda and adulation of Xi to the extreme surveillance measures used against its own citizens, the Party looks less like the ruling party that it is and more like it is trying to stave off some imminent crisis.

Despite the restrictions on their freedom of expression meanwhile, Chinese citizens have found ways and means to work around censorship using technology as well as their own sarcasm and wit and the extraordinary malleability of the Chinese language itself to make their point.

For instance one image that has gone viral on Chinese social media is of Winnie the Pooh hugging a huge pot of honey and saying in Chinese, ‘Find the thing you love and stick with it’. References to Winnie the Pooh were banned on Chinese social media in the run-up to the 19th Party Congress because it was used to refer to Xi obliquely and the implication of the latest image too is clear.

The very fact that the CPC under Xi finds it necessary to declare the infallibility of the Party and to enshrine it in the PRC constitution – another proposed amendment is the inclusion of the statement ‘the leadership of the Communist Party of China is the defining feature of socialism with Chinese characteristics’ – suggests a lack of confidence within the Party about both its role and capability in holding both itself and the country together.

This is not to say that China is falling apart as many Indian strategic analysts appear to hope for but that China’s internal political dynamics deserve greater attention in India for more objective assessments of China’s foreign policy goals and intentions.

The proposed amendments to the PRC constitution and the apparent centralization of power in Xi’s hands point to a fundamental weakness of institutions in China. No rising power can afford to hollow out its own institutions and hand over power to one single individual howsoever brilliant or capable.

The more China sees a centralization of power in an individual or even a coterie of individuals, the less likely it will have the required flexibility to deal with either its internal problems or its external challenges.This, by the way, is as true of democracies as it is of authoritarian states. Indeed, India’s own experiences since Independence should be instructive.

 

This article was originally published as ‘The “Emperor” Has Feet of Clay: Decoding the Xi Jinping Era’, News18, 27 February 2018.

Book Review: Xi Jinping’s China

Jabin T. Jacob, PhD, Fellow, Institute of Chinese Studies

Jayadev Ranade. 2018. Xi Jinping’s China (New Delhi: Knowledge World Publishers). pp. xi+394. Rs. 1,400. ISBN: 978-93-86288-90-5

This work is a collection of pieces written by the author in various online platforms and as part of other edited volumes. The reader does not have the benefit of an introduction that ties in all the chapters together but the fact that the book releases right after the conclusion of 19th Congress of the Communist Party of China (CPC) in Beijing in October certainly helps provide context.

All the big issues are covered here – from Xi Jinping’s rise to power as General Secretary of the CPC and his consolidation of power over the past five years, the murky details of the fall of Xi’s rival Bo Xilai, and China’s military reforms and reorganization. Alongside, a host of relatively arcane issues such as China’s annual sessions of its equivalent of a national parliament and Xi’s new rules for propaganda, media control – thought control, no less (the infamous Document No. 9) – are also examined. Continue reading “Book Review: Xi Jinping’s China”

A Secret Visit, Sino-Tibetan dialogue and Related concerns

Tshering Chonzom, PhD, Associate  Fellow, Institute of Chinese Studies

Credible sources have confirmed that Samdhong Rinpoche, a prominent Tibetan leader, recently visited Gyalthang (redubbed as Shangri La recently), his hometown in Yunnan province of China. According to the source, the purpose of the visit was to meet his family. In all likelihood, the visit took place sometime in November; specifically mid-November, according to the article in The Wire that first broke the news about the visit. Earlier, on November 6, the Dalai Lama appointed Samdhong Rinpoche, along with Sikyong Lobsang Sangay (the current president of the Central Tibetan Administration, or CTA, in Dharamsala) as his trusted “representative” or “personal emissary” for an indefinite period.

Samdhong Rinpoche preceded Lobsang Sangay as head of the CTA and played an instrumental role in pushing for the Dalai Lama’s middle way approach (MWA) during his tenure as president. It was during his leadership of the CTA that Sino-Tibetan talks resumed in 2002, after almost a decade of impasse. He also has a close bond with the Dalai Lama; Samdhong Rinpoche’s residential quarters are located within the premises of the Dalai Lama’s residence in Dharamsala.

So, given Samdhong Rinpoche’s recent trip to China, is a formal Sino-Tibetan meeting in the offing? Is it possible for China to take up the Tibet issue so promptly just after the 19th National Congress of the Chinese Communist Party? Continue reading “A Secret Visit, Sino-Tibetan dialogue and Related concerns”

Book Review: Cadres of Tibet

Jabin T. Jacob, PhD, Fellow, Institute of Chinese Studies

Jayadev Ranade. 2018. Cadres of Tibet (New Delhi: Knowledge World Publishers). pp. xi+199. Rs.1,120. ISBN: 978-93-86288-92-9.

As the blurb of this book says, while information about the Tibet Autonomous Region is plentiful in China’s official media, there is comparatively little about the people who actually govern the province in China. This book tries to fill this important gap in knowledge and the author is to be commended for taking on an onerous task.

The importance and significance of the work can be understood when one considers that the best-known international repository of information on Chinese leaders, China Vitae run by the American think-tank, Carnegie Endowment for International Peace has no data on a significant number of the officials that this book includes.  Members of the Standing Committee of provincial Communist Party Committee are not insignificant political leaders, even if there is an informal hierarchy among Chinese provinces based on GDP, history, ethnic composition and so on. However, China Vitae does not have entries for many members of the TAR Standing Committee and even if a name were available, the data is not up to date, including even for the Party Secretary Wu Yingjie who took up his post in August 2016. Ranade, by contrast, goes into granular detail on Wu’s career in Tibet and his public statements (pp.19-23) as he does also for at least a few previous Party Secretaries, including former Communist Party of China (CPC) General Secretary and PRC President, Hu Jintao who served in Tibet from 1988-1992. Continue reading “Book Review: Cadres of Tibet”

Work and Workplaces in the ‘New Era’: Labour Issues at the 19th Party Congress

P. K. Anand, PhD, Research Associate, ICS

In the week preceding the beginning of the 19th Party Congress of the Communist Party of China (CPC), state-run media trumpeted the increase in minimum wage levels in 17 regions & cities in China in 2017. Out of these, four major cities namely, Beijing, Shanghai, Shenzhen and Tianjin, have set the minimum wage levels at 2,000 RMB per month. The increase in the minimum wage levels does not carry a linear narrative, however. Some provinces have expressed reluctance to implement minimum wages, wages are also not commensurate with rising house rents, increasing costs of travel from home to the workplace, etc. On the other hand, the increase in wages also adds to the rising labour costs for investors and enterprise managements. In this scenario, the Party-state has the task of striking a fine balance between maintaining economic growth and encouraging investments, while also increasing the material wealth and ensuring the well-being of the workforce.

Xi Jinping’s political report to the 19th Party Congress is reflective of the apprehensions and disquiet of the Party-state in the need to undertake this balancing act Continue reading “Work and Workplaces in the ‘New Era’: Labour Issues at the 19th Party Congress”

Tibet, the 19th Party Congress and China’s United Front Work

Tshering Chonzom, PhD, Associate  Fellow, Institute of Chinese Studies

What does a powerful Xi Jinping as General Secretary of the Communist Party of China mean for the People’s Republic of China’s (PRC) various minority nationalities, especially the Tibetans? The nature and extent of authority accorded to the United Front Works Department (UFWD) that handles nationality, religious and overseas Chinese affairs, during Xi’s second term is an important starting point for analysis.

The UFWD organized a press conference on 21 October 2017 on the sidelines of the 19th Party Congress, in which its leadership saw the organization as an important player in Xi’s new formulation of ‘new era’. For instance, the various conferences held under its aegis in the past five years – such as the Second Central Xinjiang Work Conference (May 2014), Central Nationalities Work Conference (September 2014), 6th Tibet Work Forum (August 2015), National Religious Work Conference (April 2016) – are retroactively characterised as work convened ‘under the guidance of the new era of socialism with Chinese characteristics’. Indeed, at the national religious work conference that was held from 22-23 April 2016, Xi called upon the UFWD to take the lead in coordinating responsibilities with various organisations. In his report to the 19th Party Congress, he likens United Front work to a ‘magic weapon’ that will ‘ensure the success of the party’. Continue reading “Tibet, the 19th Party Congress and China’s United Front Work”