Everyman’s Strategic Survey: Xi Jinping’s world view

Australian+Prime+Minister+Kevin+Rudd+Calls+ErP9Ex6Ph4IlThere is a very useful article in Foreign Affairs by former Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd entitled “How Xi Jinping Views the World: The Core Interests That Shape China’s Behavior.”

Much has been written,” Prime Minister Kevin Rudd says, “on Chinese President Xi Jinping’s remarkable consolidation of political power since he took office five years ago. But an equally important question for the international community to consider is how Xi views the world—and what that means for how China will approach it. Because of the opacity of the Chinese political system, this is hard to answer with real certainty. But clear patterns are beginning to emerge … [one can see that] … Xi’s worldview places greater emphasis on the centrality of the Chinese Communist Party over the professional apparatus of the state and of communist ideology over policy pragmatism. It is one of Chinese nationalism suffused with a cocktail of economic achievement, political nostalgia, and national grievance together with a new culture of political self-confidence that represents a clear departure from Deng Xiaoping’s orthodoxy of “hide your strength, bide your time, never take the lead” … [and] … This new approach can be best understood as a set of seven concentric circles of interests, starting with the centrality of the party and expanding out to the unity of the country; the importance of sustainable economic growth balanced against environmental concerns; keeping China’s 14 border states under benign control; projecting its regional maritime power; leveraging its economic power across its continental periphery; and slowly reforming parts, but by no means all, of the postwar international rules-based order over time to better suit its interests. Whether Xi succeeds, in whole or in part, with his grand strategy is an open question.

I have tried to put these seven concentric circles into graphical form:

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I think that’s (let’s call them Xis seven circles of interests ~ pace TE Lawrence) a useful analog, and I suspect, further that we need to understand that the walls between each “priority” get higher and stronger as we approach the centre …

img-china-walledcity_big

… there will be gates to allow Chinese, and only selected Chinese, to enter the inner circles and influence policy there. Xi is determined that the misnamed Chinese Communist Party will remain in power, looking very much like a classical Chinese dynasty which, based on its own, internal structures and teachings, produces a new Paramount Leader (emperor) from within every few years. But the outer walls will be weaker and even porous …

supercategorylatticemasthead

… allowing foreigners and neighbours and trading partners to respond to and influence Chinese policy in the “outer” (less critical) rings. The Chinese have, for almost 70 years now, said that they would not interfere in the internal affairs of others and they would, equally, not tolerate any foreign influence in their internal affairs … I think that goes some way to explaining to many foreigners, including e.g. Canadian prime ministers of all parties, why the Chinese react with disdain bordering on hostility when foreigners, often spurred on by expatriate Chinese busybodies, insist on publicly criticizing China’s record on human rights … as seen through a Western, liberal lens.

Kevin Rudd goes on to discuss each “circle” and I will not quote most of it, now, but I will return to this article in the coming weeks and months, but it is instructive to read his views on the first one, the most central one: “The first and most immediate circle is the Chinese Communist Party itself and its overriding interest to remain in power. There has been a tacit assumption, at least across much of the collective West over the last 40 years, that China would slowly embrace the global liberal capitalist project. In making this assumption, many scholars failed to pay attention to the internal debates within the party in the late 1990s, which concluded early in the first decade of this century with the decision that there would be no systemic change, and that China would continue to be a one-party state. In addition to wanting to ensure the party’s long-term survival for its own sake, the leadership also believed that China could never become a global great power in the absence of the party’s strong central leadership. Although these internal debates were concluded a decade before Xi’s rise to power, Xi has completed the process of turning in China into a state capitalist society with the party at the center.” I think that the important idea here is that the continuing “leadership,” following after Deng Xiaoping have been (relatively) consistent in believing that only a strong, even authoritarian government can manage China. This may be Leninist but I can see little if any Marxism in Chinese socio-economic practice and I dislike using the terms “Marxist-Leninist” and “Chinese Communist Party” in the same breath. I believe that Xi Jinping and his colleagues are, personally, closer to the ancient Chinese notion of the “mandate of heaven” (天命) which says that “heaven” (which embodies the natural order and will of the universe) bestows the mandate to rule China on a just person and if that person rules 1200px-Xinhua_Gatewell then (s)he may pass the mandate to another but if the ruler proves unworthy (s)he will lose the mandate and be overthrown. I think that the men (they are all men right now) in the Zhongnanhai ~ the palace, just adjacent to the old Forbidden City in Beijing, which serves as headquarters of both the Chinese Communist Party and the State Council (inner cabinet) ~ believe that the Party, through which they rose to power and which they use to groom their own successors, has that “mandate” and that they, individually and collectively, are best suited to lead China.

Both the second (inner) circle (national units) and a couple of the more porous outer circles (border states and maritime power projection) are tied together through Taiwan, as Prime Minister Rudd explains: “Taiwan, long seen as the equivalent of a large American aircraft carrier in the Pacific, represents in the Chinese strategic mind a grand blocking device against China’s national aspirations for a more controlled, and therefore more secure, maritime frontier, as well as an impediment to national reunification. Hence deep Chinese neuralgia over the recent passage of the Taiwan Travel Act, authorizing the resumption of official-level contact between all levels of the U.S. administration and their Taiwanese counterparts. These internal security challenges will always remain China’s core security challenges, apart, of course, from the security of the party itself.” As we come to grips with e.g. The Donald Trump – Kim Jong-un negotiations and China’s aggressive tactics in the South China Seas we need to keep in mind that, in my experience, for most Chinese, Taiwan is a “settled issue” … Taiwan is, the minds of almost all Chinese I know, a province of China just as Arizona is an American state … that’s a core, central issue for Xi Jinping and, as far as I can tell, for most Chinese people. How Taiwan is reunified with China is open for discussion … that it is Chinese is not.

I believe that is just as important for Canadians to try to understand Xi Jinping’s world view as it is to try to understand President Trump’s. Prime Minister Kevin Rudd has given us a good, thoughtful and fairly complete analysis. It is very worth the read, especially for politicians. He concludes by saying that Xi Jinping’s China will not be a status quo power … the challenge for the world is figure how how to engage an assertive, powerful and self confident China …

 

 

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