Monday, 8 February 2016

Power of Xi: For Better Or For Worse?

by Philippa Noble

Xi Jinping is slowly becoming the most powerful Chinese President since Mao, as well as the most popular, allowing him to make dramatic changes. This certainly has been the cause of many great things for China, but can it last or will we see a dictatorship return to the republic?

Xi Jinping has used his personal power to change things faster than his direct predecessors ever could. His policy of ridding corruption has been indiscriminate, as he vowed to crack down on both “the tigers and the flies”. Mr Xi has also relaxed the one-child policy (implemented to control overpopulation, which has resulted in a distortion of gender balance and lack of people at working age to support the elderly dependants). However, it isn’t all good news; with the dramatic tightening of media and Internet censoring, as well as continuing to curb human rights, Mr Xi has tainted his record somewhat. Also, although out of his control, Chinese economic growth is slowing, potentially causing social unrest and in turn some problems for the Communist Party.

Looking into the history, however, Xi’s actions could appear ill intended. Since Mao, China has been ruled through collective presidency – removing the power from one person and placing it in the hands of a team of men. This policy was successful in preventing another dictator like Mao Zedong emerging, yet Xi Jinping is slowly tearing it apart. The bureaucracy in collective presidency meant that any significant changes took a long time to come to fruition. However, that is what made it so effective; with no immediate changes being made, China could avoid any sudden rise to power from a potential dictator in a single party state. Xi has gained popularity with the people, enabling him to continue without any threat from the other Chinese factions. So for all the frustration caused by slow changes in collective presidency, there could be far greater risks from Xi Jinping removing all the safeguards for Chinese politics.

David Cameron hosting Xi Jinping
on a recent visit to the UK
 Xi Jinping’s aggregation of power is worrying. So far he has been seen to be changing China for the better. Nevertheless, if his actions are scrutinised, numerous parallels can be drawn to the rule of Mao and previous Chinese emperors. His revolution against corruption could be construed as just a thinly veiled purge of his detractors. His high profile opponents (Bo Xilai and Zhou Yongkang) have speedily been removed with convictions for corruption – since 2013, the number of anti-corruption prosecutions has increased to over 200,000 with 99% being convicted. Mr Xi has also reinstated practices common in Mao’s era such as self-criticism sessions for officials played out on television. Whilst he is trying to portray has himself as the next Deng Xiaoping, leading China through a second economic revolution, he is developing a cult of personality that is common in most modern dictators (Hitler, Mao, Stalin). Whether his intentions are good or not, Xi is reflecting old procedure in his new policies.

As the state visit of Xi Jinping to the UK drew to a close last year, he disclosed that we would be the western country most open to China. Both leaders wish for better relations between the countries – which could potentially benefit all. China’s economy is slowing and transforming from an investment-led economy to one that is looking to invest outside of China (possibly the UK). There was no mention of censorship or human rights on this visit, however, as Britain sees China as a potential investor into key UK infrastructure projects (including our nuclear power industry). But how long is this sustainable if Xi begins to transform into a dictator?

Now, with us entering the Year of the Monkey, as collective presidency continues to fade and with Xi Jinping not concluding the purge of his enemies, will he make a monkey of us all?

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