China: Xi consolidates power with crackdown


“After Xi Jinping took over as head of China’s Communist Party in December, some liberals dared to hope that change was in store for the world’s most populous nation,” Simon Denyer reports for The Washington Post:

But now, six months later, Xi appears to be more of a Putin than a Mikhail Gorbachev, behaving like a leader more interested in consolidating his power and ensuring the survival of an authoritarian system than in adopting significant political reforms…..Complicating matters, Xi has sent different messages as he has sought to unify the party behind him. He has promised economic reforms but urged his party colleagues to promote the ideology of Marx and Mao. He has cast himself as a nationalist, determined to restore China to its ancient glories, but his “Chinese dream” seems mostly about achieving middle-class comfort.

“The fundamental priority for him is to guarantee the ruling position of the party,” said historian Zhang Lifan. “From the bottom of his heart, Xi Jinping wants to be a strong man. But I am not optimistic. In my understanding, a strong man should be creative. I don’t see any new thoughts.”

A profile in a regional newspaper last month seemed designed to cast Xi as the true successor of Mao, a man connected with the “masses,” Denyer notes:

In reality, Xi’s family has been able to accumulate assets worth hundreds of millions of dollars, according to a Bloomberg News report. But he is clearly aware that the party’s image has been tarnished by lavish displays of wealth.

“There is a pretty hard and deep and wide attempt to look at everybody’s books,” said Jeremy Goldkorn, the founder of a media research firm in Beijing. “But what will inevitably happen is, one, it will be used to pursue vendettas, and two, because they won’t give up press control, because they won’t open up the party to outside scrutiny — because they are not able to address the systemic problems — it won’t be effective.”

But it is Xi’s crackdown on dissent and the limited freedoms of speech afforded by social media that has done the most to unsettle liberals, Denyer adds:

Popular bloggers and businessmen have been arrested, and humiliating televised confessions extracted, in ways that carried faint echoes of Mao-era justice. Instructions have reportedly also been distributed in recent months to officials throughout China banning discussion of “dangerous Western influences” such as universal values, freedom of speech and civil rights.

“Some commentators are inclined to give Xi the benefit of the doubt, arguing that the clampdown on social media might not be his idea but instead the work of a hard-line faction running the powerful Propaganda Department. Others, such as Zhang Ming, a political science professor at Renmin University of China, say Xi’s actions are simply tactics,” Denyer notes:

“There are problems in the party, and Xi wants to concentrate on handling that,” he said. “Cracking down on street protests and the Internet are just showing he doesn’t want more external chaos while he is trying to unify his authority from within.”

Similarly, Robert Lawrence Kuhn, a corporate strategist and adviser to the Chinese government, believes that Xi is merely protecting his left flank as he prepares to undertake significant economic reforms.

“The way to stop reform is to appeal to a nationalistic view, to accuse reformers of bowing down to the West,” he said. “Knowing that, Xi gets out in front of that. Nobody can accuse him of being soft. He has totally buttoned up the entire left.”

The twin traumas of the Tiananmen Square protests and the Soviet Union’s collapse produced a collective determination among Communist leaders in China to maintain the party’s monopoly on political power, analysts say.

“The main, single, ferocious idea of the party is that there is not going to be a Chinese Gorbachev,” said James Mann, author of “The China Fantasy,” a book that aims to explode the assumption that economic progress inexorably leads to democracy.

“They are committed to a collective leadership, where nobody can get too far out in front of the others,” he said. “They are not open to restraints on the power of the party.” There was no reason to think Xi wanted to relax the party’s hold on power, Mann added. “And if he did, he wouldn’t be allowed to.”

Democracy Digest

One Comment on “China: Xi consolidates power with crackdown”

  1. […] The Butcher “After Xi Jinping took over as head of China’s Communist Party in December, some […]

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