China: Xi positions himself as the new Mao
Xi Jinping is now officially China’s supreme leader, said Nectar Gan in the South China Morning Post (China). At the Communist Party Congress in Beijing this week, party officials vied with one another to praise the Chinese president, “glorifying his achievements with gushing superlatives” and even calling him lingxiu, a term for absolute leader rarely used since the time of Chairman Mao. That such accolades were bestowed at the congress, which takes place every five years, shows the party’s elite have agreed to hand Xi total and possibly indefinite authority over ideology, politics, and the military. The party’s constitution was even rewritten to include “Xi Jinping Thought on Socialism With Chinese Characteristics for a New Era.” By labeling Xi’s political philosophy “thought,” the congress gave it the same standing as “Mao Zedong Thought,” written into the constitution in 1945, and placed it above “Deng Xiaoping Theory,” the doctrine added in after Deng’s 1997 death.
Alas, Xi seems to have more in common with the “economically and socially disastrous Mao” than with the “overachieving pragmatist” Deng, said Sudarshan Ramabadran in The Economic Times (India). His acquisition of absolute power “has come from a series of purges dressed up as anti-corruption drives.” Other party bigwigs fear him, because any of them could easily be brought down by a graft allegation—after all, self-dealing was a byproduct of the rapid economic growth set in motion by Deng’s reforms in the late 1970s. Xi, though, learned from Deng’s mistake: He won’t allow the emergence of any non–state-dependent bourgeoisie that might demand political power or try to protest in Tiananmen Square. Instead, he is putting the party at the center of every aspect of Chinese life. “Government, military, society, and schools,” Xi said at the congress, “north, south, east, and west—the party is leader of all.”
Xi has announced a “paradigmatic shift” in China’s focus, said Yao Yang in China Daily (China). During “40 years of spectacular growth,” the party lifted millions out of poverty and the skylines of many Chinese coastal cities have grown to “dwarf those in Europe.” China now has onethird of the world’s billionaires. But the affluence has not been shared equally, and rapid industrialization has come at a high cost to the environment. A better life for most Chinese people now means not just a higher income, but also “a more equitable distribution of wealth, a just society, and a cleaner environment.” Those are the domestic challenges Xi vows to overcome.
But it’s Xi’s foreign policy that’s most troubling, said Merriden Varrall in the Australian Financial Review (Australia). His speech to the congress “was liberally peppered with not-so-subtle references to the declining role of the U.S. and its unpredictable president.” As America withdraws from the world, China is moving to fill the void. Xi differs from his Chinese predecessors in his willingness to assume leadership on a world stage. And he’s made it clear that “China will be increasingly disinclined to accept international norms or rules” it did not create. It’s Xi’s world now. ■