I am returning to the subject if China, yet again, as US President Donald Trump begins a 12 day trip to Asia that will include some one-on-one time with Xi Jinping.
A few article caught my attention:
- In Foreign Affairs, Professor Salvatore Babones comments on the meaning of Xi Jinping’s Thoughts. He says that it’s “Party First, Army Second,” specifically: “Although the clear first principle of Xi Jinping Thought is Party First, Xi himself is better known for his Chinese Dream of building “a moderately prosperous society” amid a program of “national rejuvenation.” Put “Party First” ahead of the “Chinese Dream” and you get an authoritarian version of a prosperity gospel that might be called America First with Chinese Characteristics. Xi may be the supreme leader of a dictatorship, but that doesn’t mean that he is immune to politics. And as China’s growth slows, nationalism is a ready substitute for economic performance in maintaining public confidence in the CPC’s leadership … [and] … When it comes to stoking nationalist fervor, spending on the military is worth every yuan. Deng was willing to use tanks to impose his vision for China’s future, most notoriously in the June 4, 1989, Tiananmen Square massacre. Xi is equally concerned about keeping the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) under the control of the CPC, but these days the PLA is more likely to be engaged in the Himalayas or the South China Sea than in the streets of Beijing. For Xi, the PLA is more useful as a tool for fostering jingoistic populism than for direct political repression … [further] … although Xi is careful to publicly insist on the primacy of political over military authority, that almost goes without saying in today’s China. The PLA no longer poses an immediate threat to the Chinese people; its new planes and aircraft carriers are much more of a menace to China’s neighbors than to its civilian population. And all the indications are that muscular militarism is just as popular in China as it is in the United States, if not more so. The first major element of Xi Jinping Thought is thus the transformation of the PLA from a reserve force for internal repression into a combat force capable of projecting Chinese power in the world;”
- Also in Foreign Affairs, Professor Minxin Pei says that China is returning to strongman rule. He says that “A new era has begun in Chinese politics. On October 24, as the curtain fell on the Chinese Communist Party’s 19th National Congress, party officials revised their organization’s charter to enshrine a new guiding ideological principle: “Xi Jinping Thought.” Few observers know exactly what this doctrine entails—it is an amorphous collection of ideas about maintaining China’s one-party state and transforming the country into a global power—but most immediately grasped the political symbolism of its introduction. The party has elevated the Chinese ruler’s ideological contributions to the same level as those of Mao Zedong and Deng Xiaoping, the only other CCP leaders whose ideas have been so canonized … [but] … This was only the first inkling that Xi had scored a major political victory at the party congress. The real extent of his triumph became clear the next day, when party officials selected the new members of the Politburo Standing Committee, China’s top decision-making body. Xi stacked the seven-member committee with loyalists, all of whom will be too old to stand a chance of taking his place at the next party congress, in 2022. As a result, Xi’s rule is now set to last for the next 15 years and perhaps beyond;”
- But not everyone is so glum and, in the South China Morning Post William Zheng Wei, former Chief Editor of that newspaper, opines that Xi Jinping has put China on a right course: “Xi’s vision of China’s renaissance is more ambitious than that of Deng Xiaoping, who orchestrated the open-door policy and kick-started the great reform. In Deng’s “three-step development strategy” of the 1980s, the first step was to double the size of the economy and ensure enough food and clothing for all. That goal was achieved by the end of the ’80s. The second step was to quadruple the economy by the end of the 20th century. That goal was achieved in 1995, five years early … [and] … The third step was to increase per capita gross domestic product to the level of moderately developed countries by the mid-21st century, that is 2050 … [but] … Xi has shown great confidence in surpassing Deng’s target. As he proclaimed in his address to the congress: “We should work hard for the next 15 years [to 2035] to … realise socialist modernisation.”
So, which is it?
It’s all of them, actually.
- First, and of paramount important, Xi Jinping will not “go gentle into that good night” when his more or less traditional or established term expires in 2022. He does, I believe, see himself as a transformative leader and, I suspect, he sees himself as “needed” by China for quite some time;
- Second, he is committed to his vision of a more prosperous, more powerful, much more respected China that will have a full share of the perquisites global leadership;
- Third, his economic plans, while ambitious, are achievable if, and it’s a Big IF, he can deal with some systemic problems like corruption. I believe that his anti-corruption campaign is two-pronged ~
- It aims to clear many of Xi’s enemies or mere potential rivals out of the leadership ranks; and
- It aims to make China a more productive society ~ corruption robs a society at large of a HUGE share of its productivity;
- Fourth, while he wants (will have) a more efficient and more powerful (militarily effective) Peoples’ Liberation Army, he wants to lead a peaceful state. He knows, I think, that war is wasteful and I believe he intends to follow one of Sun Tzu’s more famous maxims and win his “wars” without fighting …… because Xi Jinping wants the world to kowtow before him not because they are subject peoples, conquered by Chinese armies, but, rather, because they are in awe of China’s greatness.
Should we be afraid?
Yes and no … China is a rising power and intends to rise further. It is, currently, not challenged by much of anyone ~ America is deeply divided and unwilling or unable to provide leadership, Europe is a eunuch, and India is still trying to grow itself. But, China is not threatening Canada or world peace … it is bullying its neighbours and trying to buy friends. China has a long, almost cultural, affinity for the strategic defence … beginning with the Great Wall. It is unlikely to start or even to want a war with anyone.
We need to be cautious, not fearful.
Canada wants, as it should, to expand trade and commerce with China, but we, simultaneously, need to strengthen our trade, political, diplomatic and military ties with e.g. Australia, India, Malaysia, New Zealand the Philippines and Singapore.
Xi Jinping will, I think, be China’s paramount leader for a long time; Donald Trump’s days are limited by law. China’s rise will continue but, eventually, it will be slowed by poor leadership ~ as happens everywhere, including in Canada. America will shake off it’s current bout of political immaturity and resume a leading role in the world; America is “resting” not declining. Canada must adapt to both China’s rise and America’s current temper tantrum … that probably means that we need some political maturity, too, and that certainly means a new prime minister and government.