The writing on the Chinese Great Wall suggests that Xi Jinping will continue to remain at the helm of affairs even as the next scheduled term of the government comes up for “renewal” in 2017. That notwithstanding, the rumblings within the corridors of power in Beijing are becoming increasingly audible. Since 2012, when Xi took over the reins of power, he has managed to establish, perhaps, China’s most roughshod phase of socio-political rule and control. Even the People’s Liberation Army noticeably owes open allegiance to Xi, with state-run and controlled newspapers carrying full-page expressions of absolute loyalty by military commanders across regions. The primary aim is also to quell any form of rift between the Party and the PLA, as has been suspected frequently.
Similar to the era of Mao Zedong, the Communist Party of China is back to being associated and identified singularly with the face of its paramount leader—Xi Jinping. However, a factor that Xi and his coterie might consider taking cognisance of is that contemporary China is not “peasant-dominated” like 1940s and 1950s. The model of attempting at a larger-than-life personality cult like Chairman Mao in present-day China might well be rendered archaic in the long run. While China is “rising”, so would the thinking, aspirations, and ambitions of its people who possess greater acuity now.
Xi evidently pursues a quest for blind compliance and reverence, which apparently is not going down too well within members of the CCP. Xi’s move to strengthen his grip on power is astute, put to execution by placing effective checks on China’s power elite. However, this is manifestly coming to being challenged at multiple fronts. In what could be termed as near brutal consolidation of power, merged simultaneously with stifling dissent, Xi is carrying out a massive anti-corruption campaign, often interpreted as a tool to target select challengers. Unlike his predecessor Hu Jintao, Xi is sparing no political elite when it comes to charges of corruption, and by doing so, in effect, is neutralising all potential political rivalry. The crackdown on corruption is unprecedented, with more than 200,000 being identified and rounded up by Party investigators in 31 provincial regions of the Mainland.
Given the almost absolute and unqualified control over information dissemination in China, two striking documents, which hold significant portends for Xi Jinping’s future, have emerged from Beijing in the past few weeks. The first document is an essay titled “A Thousand Yes-Men Cannot Equal One Honest Advisor”, released online by the Central Commission for Discipline Inspection (CCDI).
The CCDI essay cautions China’s existing leadership to take lessons from history, where leaders blundered, given the lack of dependable advisors who could offer constructive criticism. The essay seemingly intends to warrant longing internal stability within the Party, thereby indicating the present state of affairs. Was the essay uploaded publicly without the approval of Wang Qishan, who is the head of the CCDI (the Party’s own enforcement arm)? In case it did receive Wang’s nod, then it amounts to being read as a reproachful gripe from within Xi’s clique.
The second document released is an open letter, publicly calling for Xi Jinping’s resignation, authored by a group who proclaim their “allegiance to the Party”—the estimated strength of the CCP being around 85 million.
The letter condemns Xi’s direct decision-making, which is causing “unprecedented problems and crises in all political, economic, ideological, and cultural spheres”. The group highlights that in the political sphere, Xi has “abandoned an important Party tradition”—that of collective leadership of the Standing Committee. While strengthening the power of the Party Committees within the National People’s Congress, Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference, and the State Council, Xi Jinping finds himself being accused of weakening independent power of all state organs, including that of Premier Li Keqiang.
Notwithstanding that Xi’s political standing and control at present pronounce him as China’s most powerful ruler since Deng Xiaoping, and possibly even since Mao, it simultaneously brings to light the nation’s tempestuous political past when Chairman Mao’s reign was notoriously reminiscent of the turbulences of a brutal dictatorship. It needs to be recalled that over-centralisation of power, by Mao and Deng, came at the expense of their elite. Although Xi Jinping is attempting to add a rather awkward dash of populism to his rule, the concurrent tightening of control on online social networks and brute crackdown against political dissent/activism shall blemish the idea of Xi’s “China dream”—a dream that already is marred with serious discontinuities stretching from a slowing growth trajectory, growing debt projection, continuing political instability in restive regions and a larger economic slowdown, all of which, Xi will be forced to effectively grapple with.