Xi Jinping is pursuing personal power at the expense of China’s economic prosperity. By Lee Kok Leong, executive editor, Maritime Fairtrade
Deng Xiaoping, the late paramount leader, is widely credited with opening up the economy to foreign investment and implementing a series of far-reaching reforms that built China into an economic powerhouse. He famously said, “To get rich is glorious.” However, Xi Jinping, current general secretary of the CCP, is putting this economic growth at risk with a series of confrontations both within China and against the rest of the world, in a bid to consolidate his personal position and authority.
Deng Xiaoping had never held top positions within the CCP. He was neither general secretary nor president. And yet, during his time, he was acknowledged as China’s most powerful person. His experience, status and wide network of personal contacts throughout the top levels of the military, party and government bureaucracy, all contributed to his power.
Importantly, his power also came from his pragmatism in creating a stable and conducive environment to drive economic growth, including the creation of special economic zones and promoting entrepreneurship, which greatly benefited the general public as well as those in the party and government. This pragmatism generated a lot of popular support.
The chairman of everything
Unlike Deng, Xi Jinping has a dozen titles. Breaking from tradition, he did not name a successor and had changed the constitution so that he can rule for life, instead of a two-term limit. Rather than following the protocol of a collective leadership, he has amassed near absolute personal power. In the process, he has ruthlessly purged his enemies and critics, and created turmoil in the country, to the detriment of the economy.
With the enactment of the Hong Kong Security Law, Xi has figuratively killed the goose that laid golden eggs. He has also been accused of not acting sooner to prevent the spread of COVID-19 to other countries, which first started in the Chinese city of Wuhan, and of muzzling the news initially. Externally, Xi’s hardline policies and wolf warrior diplomacy also created confrontations with the US, UK, India, Japan, Australia, Canada and Europe, among others.
Xi is creating these conflicts, provocations, and confrontations to coerce CCP elites into submission and brainwash the Chinese public into believing that he is a strong leader capable of standing up to the world and taking China to becoming a superpower. However, the cost to the economy is high. As recent as June, Li Keqiang, China’s premier, said that there are still 600 million people, which is 40 percent of the population, struggling in poverty, earning less than US$140 a month.
Xi is turning his back on the rule of law, free press, free flow of information, civil society and political accountability, all of which are fundamental for business and private sector confidence. Simply put, Xi is in fact taking away China’s dream of prosperity.
Ren Zhiqiang, property tycoon, CCP elite and outspoken critic, called Xi a “clown”, and is sentenced to 18 years in prison. Another prominent critic, Cai Xia, party insider and a former professor at the elite Central Party School, described Xi as a “mafia boss” that had “killed a party and a country” by making the world an enemy. As punishment, she is expelled from the CCP and has her retirement benefits revoked.
A global deficit of trust
During the recent 75th session of the United Nations General Assembly, the president of the United States blamed China for unleashing the COVID-19 virus to the world. He said China must be held accountable. “In the earliest days of the virus, China locked down travel domestically while allowing flights to leave China and infect the world,” he said.
Global perceptions of China have turned increasingly negative in recent months, according to a new survey released by Pew Research in October. The majority of countries polled said that Beijing has done a bad job of handling the pandemic. And in a sign that there is a deficit of trust in Xi as a leader, Pew Research found that 78 percent of those surveyed said they have no confidence in him to “do the right thing” regarding international affairs.