Teaching Comparative Government and Politics

Wednesday, April 06, 2016

And in conclusion

The editors of The Economist attempt to sum up the rule of Xi Jinping.

Chairman of everything
When he became the party’s leader in 2012, more was known about Mr Xi’s family and personal qualities than about his politics. He was a princeling, as many in China describe the offspring of the first generation of Communist leaders (Mr Xi’s late father served as a deputy prime minister under Mao). This helped him get the top job: the veterans who picked him thought that princelings were more committed than anyone else to Communist rule. Mr Xi himself was regarded by his associates as ambitious and incorruptible…

Like his two predecessors, Hu Jintao and Jiang Zemin, Mr Xi is head of the party, commander-in-chief of the armed forces and head of state. But he has also acquired a series of other titles which they did not have, such as head of a committee that he set up to steer “comprehensive reform”, and of another one he established to oversee the country’s security agencies…

He wants the country to know it, too. Mr Xi has encouraged the revival of a term that was invented by Deng to describe strong leaders such as himself and Mao: the “core”, or hexin
Mr Xi is no Mao, a man whose whims caused the deaths of tens of millions and who revelled in the hysteria of his cult. But he rules in a way unlike any leader since the Great Helmsman. After Mao’s death, Deng tried to create a leadership of equals in order to push China away from Maoist caprices. Mr Xi is turning from that system back towards a more personal one…

Most observers have tended to assume that, with all his power, Mr Xi can do more or less as he likes. However, important decisions he has made in recent months suggest something more complex. Concerning high politics, Mr Xi is ruthless and bold, and takes calculated risks. Dealing with society as a whole, he is willing to make changes but is more cautious. And with the economy, he lacks a sense of direction…

Both in his reforms of the PLA and in his fight against corruption, Mr Xi’s actions aim first and foremost at tightening control: both the party’s over the army and his own over the party. It is similar in other areas of politics. Mr Xi has presided over the biggest crackdown on dissent since the bloody suppression of the Tiananmen Square protests in 1989…

In short, Mr Xi understands power, is not afraid to use it and is willing to take risks. He understands less about the new complexities of a changing society and worries about social unrest, so plays safe. He does not understand the economy well, is not sure what to do and does not trust others to act for him.

The way Mr Xi rules has three broad implications. The first is that problems common to all dictatorships will grow. In such systems, if the man in charge makes mistakes, they are likely to be all the more damaging because they are less likely to be reversed…

Another implication is that it is no longer reasonable to argue that China is a model of an authoritarian country opening up economically without doing so politically. Mr Xi has increased control over the political system, but economic liberalisation has stalled… The third is that Deng’s policy of putting “economic construction at the centre” is no longer the country’s most hallowed guiding principle. For Mr Xi, politics comes first every time…

[T]he success of Mr Xi’s rule will rest not just on whether he wins the battles he has chosen to fight, but on whether he has picked the right ones. Seen from the point of view of China as a whole, it does not look as if he has. Mr Xi seems bent on strengthening his party and keeping himself in power, not on making China the wealthier and more open society that its people crave.

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