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.

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China Diary: First Impressions

Monish Tourangbam, PhD, Assistant Professor, Department of Geopolitics and International Relations, Manipal University, Karnataka & South Asian Voices Visiting Fellow, Stimson Center, Washington D.C.

As an academic actively teaching and writing on issues of international relations and geopolitics, visiting the People’s Republic of China (PRC) has always been a priority on my bucket list. So, when an opportunity came to visit the PRC, I embraced it with an open mind, with an intention to listen, observe and learn. A trip spanning less than two weeks is hardly an adequate time to even start scratching the surface of a country that is often associated with opacity. Hence, these are mere first impressions that in no way can be seen as definitive impressions.

One is often struck by the geographical nearness of China to India, and yet the political distance, in terms of a complex adversarial and competitive relationship, and divergent political systems. Continue reading “China Diary: First Impressions”

The Doklam Standoff and After: Whither India-China Relations?

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

The standoff between China and India in the Doklam area of Bhutan has been resolved with each government putting out differing versions of the exact terms of the settlement. But it is certain that status quo before 16 June this year has been restored. The Chinese have stopped their road construction in the area, which had led to the Indian action in the first place and Indian troops have pulled back to their positions.

The Chinese government has sought to sell the deal as a case of the Indians having blinked, of having bowed to Chinese threats and coercion. It is doubtful that the line has much purchase even within China where the netizen community might have constraints on their conversations but are not stupid and not entirely without access to information from the outside world. Continue reading “The Doklam Standoff and After: Whither India-China Relations?”

Why China Cannot Replace the US

Shyam Saran, Member, ICS Governing Council and former Indian Foreign Secretary

We are currently at one of those rare inflexion points in history when an old and familiar order is passing but the emerging order is both fluid and uncertain. And yet it is this very fluidity which offers opportunities to countries like India to carve out an active role in shaping the new architecture of global governance.

The international landscape is becoming chaotic and unpredictable but this is a passing phase. Sooner or later, whether peacefully or violently, a more stable world order will be born, with a new guardian or set of guardians to uphold and maintain it. This could be a multipolar order with major powers, both old and new, putting in place an altered set of norms and rules of the game, anchored in new or modified institutions. Or, there could be a 21st century hegemon which could use its overwhelming economic and military power to construct a new international order, which others will have to acquiesce in, by choice or by compulsion. This was so with the U.S. in the post World War-II period, until its predominance began to be steadily eroded in recent decades.

As we look ahead, there are three possible scenarios which could emerge. Continue reading “Why China Cannot Replace the US”

US-Africa Relations Under Trump and What It Means for China

Veda Vaidyanathan, PhD Candidate, University of Mumbai and ICS-HYI Doctoral Fellow

Over the past few months, there has been a lot of chatter in virtual corridors that Africanists inhabit, trying to assess what the new presidency in the US means for the continent. Donald Trump’s repeated references to the region during the campaign had not struck the right chords with African scholars and leadership alike.

US President Donald Trump’s tweets on South Africa before his election

Much hyperbole criticizing aid to Africa, using labels of corruption and crime and even mispronouncing ‘Tanzania’ during a foreign policy speech in April[1] failed to project Africa as a reasonable foreign policy priority. Some analysts attributed the Trump’s lack of seriousness in addressing Africa – a region that houses some of the world’s fastest-growing economies – to his lack of substantial investments in the continent. Continue reading “US-Africa Relations Under Trump and What It Means for China”

Tsai Ing-wen’s Visit to Central America

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

Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wen’s visit to Central America from 7-15 January 2017 came amidst the tensions set off by US President-elect Donald Trump publicly tweeting about his phone conversation with her soon after his election. Over time, Trump’s tweets on China have gotten ever more provocative, and questions are now being raised about his administration’s willingness to adhere to the one-China policy, which the Chinese have called the fundamental basis of US-China relations, never mind the fact that in reality China has also never supported the one-China policy as the Americans themselves interpret it which is of Taiwan joining the PRC only with the free will of the people of Taiwan themselves. China insists on maintaining the threat of the use of force if the decision of the Taiwanese does not go its way. Continue reading “Tsai Ing-wen’s Visit to Central America”

White Papers: The Importance of Public Communication

Amb. Kishan S. Rana, Honorary Fellow & Tshering Chonzom Bhutia, PhD, Associate Fellow, Institute of Chinese Studies

Jabin T Jacob, Fellow, Institute of Chinese Studies, recently shared the ‘India Network on China and East Asia’ Google Group (also known as the ICS-Delhi Group) a White paper published on 11 January 2017 by Beijing, entitled ‘China’s Policies on Asia-Pacific Security Cooperation’. As some newspaper comments in India have noted, India is ranked in importance at number three, after the US and Russia, but ahead of Japan; the references to India are positive, with no mention of points on which the two countries differ greatly.

China issues white papers from time-to-time on subjects such as family planning, human rights, environment, trade, development, space activities, labor, ecology, non-proliferation, mineral resources, social security, minority policy, gender, intellectual property, democracy, peaceful development, corruption, and so on; it also issues such papers on its declared ‘core issues’ such as Tibet, Taiwan, Xinjiang, and ‘Diaoyu Dao’. All these reflect the views of the country’s authoritarian regime, without any semblance of two-way communication with home publics. Continue reading “White Papers: The Importance of Public Communication”