By Arun Srivastava
Chinese president Xi Jinping has written new political history by elevating himself above legendry Mao Zedong and making the Chinese people accept his observations as his ‘Thought’ like Mao’s postulations at the 19th Congress of the Chinese Communist. The resolution on his elevation, however, does not mention that he was superseding Mao, but by implication the resolution made it apparent.
At the closing ceremony in the Mao-era Great Hall of the People it was announced that Xi’s Thought on Socialism with Chinese Characteristics for a New Era had been written into the party charter. “The congress unanimously agrees that Xi Jinping Thought … shall constitute the guidelines to action of the party in the party constitution”.
Mao liberated China, fought a protracted struggle to transform the country and unshackle its people. He gave a new interpretation of Marxism-Leninism to the world. But Xi sought to present himself as the harbinger of economic reforms in the prevailing global scenario, as the United States retreats behind President Donald Trump’s ‘America First’ policy. However, the fact remains that foreign companies complain that his words have not been accompanied by actions. The EU Chamber of Commerce in China summed up the exasperation as ‘promise fatigue’.
By elevating Xi’s status to China’s most powerful ruler in decades and by inserting his name and dogma into the party’s constitution alongside past leaders Mao Zedong and Deng Xiaoping, the party Congress has presented Xi as the authoritarian leader who strived to tighten his grip over the country. It also makes any act of opposing him equivalent to an attack on the party itself.
There are many in China who disputed the portrayal of Xi as an almighty Mao-like figure. “We are not at the point, like in the Cultural Revolution, where mangoes that Mao Zedong touched are worshipped. But we are certainly seeing a movement towards a new type of politics one that is borrowing heavily from [the Mao era],” one quote said.
Meanwhile, human rights experts say that this development would have an adverse impact on Chinese academia and its nascent civil society. Both have found themselves in Xi’s crosshairs since he took power in November 2012 and began dismantling sources of potential opposition.
His “Chinese dream” of “new era” is a vision of a powerful party, a reinvigorated economy and an expanded military all playing a dominant role on the world stage. It was the manifesto of a president, who looks set to lead China for many more years than his recent predecessors, and who is determined to push in his approach that has not been known since the era of Mao.
The leaders before Xi drew a simple lesson from the Cultural Revolution and from preceding disasters like the Great Leap Forward: but Xi has reached a radically different conclusion: at least in this ‘new era’, stabilising China requires the concentration of power. It just needs to be concentrated in the right, incorruptible hands, which in this case is his.
Xi’s vision is grander; ideology with a capital I. It suggests that the Chinese people, relieved from desperate poverty, are looking beyond immediate material needs. Secondly, it demands greater global stature for the nation, building on his existing ‘China dream’ of national revival: “Our Chinese civilization shines with lasting splendour and glamour”.
Like the rightist parties and their leaders, Xi has been using ‘nationalism’ to consolidate his grip on China. He is abreast of the fact that to fight the contemporary rivals, he had to resort to the nationalist jargon. He might be general secretary of the communist party, but the fact remains that he firmly believes in the capitalist mode of production. Since the bloody crackdown on the Tiananmen Square protests in 1989, the party has used patriotic education as a source of legitimacy, ramming home Mao’s portrayal of the party as the saviour of China after 100 years of humiliation by foreigners. Xi has dared to break with Deng’s oft-cited maxim for foreign affairs: “hide our light, bide our time”.
It is really beyond comprehension how the world’s second largest economy, which is contemplating to become the role model for the global fraternity and wants to play a fundamental role in guiding and shaping the 21st century, could resort to a political system nearly as opaque as North Korean.
It would not be an exaggeration that incredulous talks and behavior of US President Donald Trump has been primarily responsible for elevating Xi Jinping to the “core leadership“. Through his wild policies and assertions, Trump has left a huge open space to be filled in. Xi Jinping was quick to realize it and grabbed the situation. To accomplish the task he had to project himself as the supreme leader of China.
Trump through his isolationist and protectionist politics and policies not only turned his friends into foes, he also made America look like a fellow traveller. He ceased to be taken seriously by the global fraternity. His eccentric style made him a political non entity. It was in this backdrop that Xi chalked out his strategy to make a grand entry into the global stage. Having global ambitions, Xi projected himself as a champion of internationalism and free trade. But one question continued to haunt systematically: are Xi’s values really compatible with those of the rest of the world?
It was with the desire to sell his ideas and also to project and promote himself as the global leader who has the capacity to rule and dictate the global fraternity that Xi wrote the book The governance of China, in which China’s supreme leader laid out his thinking on everything from tree planting to macro-economics; from Karl Marx to the importance of being earnest.
There is no doubt the 19th Congress of the CPC would have witnessed some fireworks if Trump had not absolved his responsibility. With America under Trump gradually abandoning its role as world leader, Xi consolidated his grip on the world. The border confrontation with India has been purely an act of China terrorisng South East nations. Once Xi came to realize that his politics of threat has served his interest, he preferred to retreat.
In a world marked by great uncertainty and volatility, there is absolutely no doubt that the international community is looking to Xi for restoring peace. In fact, German economist Klaus Schwab had told delegates at last month’s World Economic Forum in Davos that Trump’s rise has pushed China into the spotlight. “People are looking for signpost in a complex and uncertain world.”
Beneath the veneer of crusade against corruption and promise to provide clean governance, a government answerable to the people, Xi was busy preparing the ground for taking over the role of the world leader. In fact after his appearance in Davos, Xi was perceived as a champion of globalisation. To justify himself he even said: “Pursuing protectionism is like locking oneself in a dark room. While wind and rain may be kept outside, that dark room will also block light and air”.
Xi’s ascendance is a gift from Trump. A closer look at the latest CPC Congress development would make it clear that it is not XI or for that matter China, which is rushing to the front; instead the frontrunners have stepped back, making space for China. Trump has in fact put the global balance of power in a scary position. (IPA Service)