Xi’s Backward Odyssey
Important changes cast a shadow over China. The country’s political system will soon undergo profound reform, pending final approval (a quasi-formality) at next year’s Congress of the Communist Party of China (CCP). President Xi Jinping, Party Chairman and “Navigator”Of the country, decided on a new course, abandoning the principle of collective leadership. Xi is leading China away from the path taken by Deng Xiaoping after the terror of the Cultural Revolution, and towards an absolute system of government by one person with no term limit, as under Mao Zedong.
From a Western perspective, these changes may seem insignificant. After all, the CCP’s political monopoly remains intact, leaving no room for genuine democratization. But for China, which will soon be the the largest economy in the world and one of the two superpowers of this century (along with the United States) – recent developments signal a return to a dire past. Xi’s formal elevation to the same stature as Mao implies a transition from authoritarianism to personal dictatorship. Given the enormous increase in China’s power and strategic importance since Mao’s reign, this change will have far-reaching implications for the rest of the world.
So far, the CCP seems to have succeeded in combining its one-party system with Western-style consumerism. Communist ideology was pushed to the background by mass prosperity and individual wealth, resulting in a successful hybrid system combining elements of both a market economy and a state economy, all under the exclusive and absolute control of the CCP.
To be sure, China’s rapid rise from a developing nation to the 21st century’s premier economy has had its drawbacks, including widespread official corruption and a growing gap between rich and poor. But as long as the CCP maintains its commitment to pursuing large-scale social progress, “core interests” such as unchallenged control over Hong Kong and Taiwan, and increased international influence, there will be no real risk to its power at the level. national.
Moreover, the CCP leadership has already recognized that something needs to be done about corrosive corruption, outrageous distribution of wealth, the confrontation with America that began under Donald Trump’s presidency, and the growing power of the private sector. from the country. Successful entrepreneurs like Jack Ma, co-founder of the Alibaba Group, were gaining too much influence (from a CPC perspective) and becoming too dependent on the US capital market.
When some personalities from the Chinese private sector even dared express their opposition openly to domestic politics, they obviously crossed a red line and became a threat to state (and therefore Party) control over the financial sector and the economy in general. For the CPC, a change of course was clearly necessary. According to Xi, the Chinese hybrid model that has developed since Deng now needs a fundamental readjustment and social reorientation to take into account the escalating political confrontation with the United States and the declining rate of growth of the economy.
But it remains to be seen how the Chinese hybrid model will fare with a politically weakened private sector and a public sector (state-owned enterprises) struggling for some time. China still shows impressive growth figures (especially compared to Western economies), and it has managed to recover very quickly from the Covid-19 crisis. The question, however, is whether its growth trajectory, which will continue to weaken due to demographic trends, is sufficient to meet the country’s objectives and ambitions.
Will Xi’s course correction consolidate CCP control without sacrificing the country’s economic dynamism, or will it derail China’s global rise? If that was successful, the West’s own internal debates over regulation and redistribution would surely intensify.
In this context, Xi is betting everything on a transition from collective leadership to indefinite individual absolutism, despite the disastrous results of this approach under Mao. For China, now an economic giant, resuscitating it testifies to the weakness of the country’s political system. Mao used the Cultural Revolution to attack the Chinese political elite, with the aim of destroying them and then renewing them on his own terms. But that was in the 1960s, when China was still miserably poor, not a global superpower. Its internal power structure and national ambitions are increasingly incompatible, and this is where the great risk of instability lies.
At first glance, dictatorships seem more decisive and assertive than democracies, with their cumbersome processes of deliberation and consent. But this is an illusion, because most authoritarian regimes are in fact consumed by the fear of their leaders of losing power. The more a dictatorship acts on this fear by centralizing power, the more the whole structure becomes fragile and unstable.
True systemic stability would require the exact opposite approach: a broadening of the government’s support base. This is the principle that China is abandoning under Xi. This will make Xi’s China a less predictable partner.