Xi Jinping’s formidable bid for global leadership
Xi Jinping, China’s paramount leader for another five years, is a formidably capable heir to Mao Zedong both as a tactician and strategist.
China is now well on the way to becoming an irresistible global great power by the time the Communist Party of China (CPC) celebrates its centenary in 2049.
Xi will deliver that historic triumph by empowering the 90-million strong CPC to rule longer than any imperial dynasty of the past.
Like Mao, he is likely to run circles around Washington, especially now that it is led by President Donald Trump who seems to lack long-term strategic thought and is a hasty tactician.
More importantly, the inward turn of America’s electorate might continue after Trump’s departure giving enough time for China to reshape the world order in its image.
Confidently, Xi has put his neck on the line. Many domestic knives will be out if he cannot sustain inner party discipline to ensure implementation of his plans for China’s “great rejuvenation”.
He would also invite mockery from the US, Europe and other countries, which may try to thwart him anyway at each step.
The US and Europe will have to make difficult adjustments caused by erosion of their global influence, which was unchallenged since the Soviet Union’s collapse 26 years ago.
Western critics complain that Xi is setting the bases for his own authoritarian rule until 2030, thus breaking the CPC’s internal practices limiting presidents to two terms.
He can hardly be blamed when Trump and others are shattering decades-old democratic conventions in America, France, Britain, Germany, Spain, Russia and elsewhere.
Regardless, there is no cause to doubt that Xi’s intentions are pacific because peace and global prosperity are the best enabling factors for China’s surge further forward.
Mao restored the first slivers of Chinese pride by defeating armies allied to the US and other nations that caused its “century of humiliation” in the 1800s.
He then enticed President Richard Nixon to visit Beijing in 1972 although the US had refused to recognize communist China’s existence.
Nixon gave Mao’s China a veto-bearing seat in the UN Security Council and withdrew recognition from Taiwan as China’s legitimate government.
In a sense, Mao inflicted memorable reverses on the US, the super power that has shaped the world since 1945.
In return, Nixon got more trade with China but that has turned it into a global dragon with bite.
Xi is preparing China to deliver a new reversal by forcing Washington to share global leadership. If successful, historians might later place him above Mao.
The main reasons for this mighty dragon’s rise were a string of competent leaders in Beijing after Mao’s death in 1976, who firmly imposed directions implemented by the entire CPC.
Those disciplines, often criticized in liberal democracies, have brought China to the edge of standing tall as a credible great power rival of the US.
Xi is a modern leader very different from Mao or China’s Emperors who were always inward-looking and kept foreign influences out while conducting trade.
Now the paramount leader is saying that China should go out to build a “global community of common destiny for all humankind”.
This is a historical change for China, especially if its wealth and power are used to compete peacefully with the US.
Still better if they bring good to people in developing countries without demanding subservience in return.
That deserves encouragement, but liberal democracies should worry if Xi tries to impose China’s one-party system as an alternative.
Because of economic successes, Xi wants to highlight China’s governance as a model for most developing countries.
The title of Xi’s speech to last week’s CPC Congress was, “Secure a Decisive Victory in Building a Moderately Prosperous Society in All Respects and Strive for the Great Success of Socialism with Chinese Characteristics for a New Era.”
Those words summarize the central tenets he has set for the CPC and China. Seeking only to be “moderately prosperous” helps China to allay Western and Russian apprehensions about its growing economic clout in developing countries.
The reference to a New Era is very important because it signifies that after securing territorial control, under Mao, and starting economic reforms, under Deng Xiaoping, the CPC can now move forward rapidly to secure China’s prestige as a global power.
Mao and Deng were enshrined as transformative leaders with their tenets recorded in the CPC’s constitution. Xi was similarly honored with his “Thought on Socialism with Chinese Characteristics for a New Era”.
In the new era, China will lean into world affairs pro-actively to help shape the emerging world order. Xi’s thoughts do not necessarily contradict respect for universal democratic values, but he may seek changes reflecting “the great success of socialism with Chinese characteristics”.
Thus far, China had been very low key to “bide its time and hide its strength”. But Xi now insists that China should have self-confidence in its culture, development path, political system and theory.
This assertiveness will mark China’s soft power push in coming years, partly through numerous Confucius Institutes in cities and university campuses around the globe.
Remarkably for communists, the CPC is underlining historical continuity by tracing ancient thinkers like Confucius to the cultural ethos of Xi’s Thought.
Thus, it underplays communism’s atheism and spotlights China as a beacon of ancestral secularity at a time when religion-based wars and intolerance are bleeding the world.
Using Confucius as a spearhead of Chinese soft power is an astute tactic. It draws attention away from communism and opens a back door to enter the hearts and minds of anti-Trump Americans and all those in the West and elsewhere who are alarmed by intolerant nationalist populism in their democracies.
It might make “socialism with Chinese characteristics” look like an alternative involving limited consultative democracy more suitable for developing countries than fractious Western-style liberal democracy.
The reference to “great success” suggests similar economic success for poor countries that adopt the Chinese model modified for their own needs.
Thus, the West’s thought leadership would face formidable challenges since many developing countries have long grumbled about its inequities.
Xi will advance in two patient steps. China will become a moderately prosperous economy and society from 2020-2035, followed by 15 years to 2050 when it fully modernizes and assumes great power status.
Xi’s speech confirms that Chinese socialism is no longer revolutionary. It now traces origins not just to Marx but to millennia-old indigenous principles that place taking care of people above anything else for rulers.
Harmony must exist between heaven and earth and the heavens are surely smiling on China judging from the opportunities that have fallen into Xi’s lap because of disarray in the West, after Trump’s election as US president.
An important Chinese goal is to unite its 80 million-strong diasporas behind Xi’s thought. That is easier now because he has laid down a coherent long-term strategy with clear tactical markers for instilling pride in all Chinese.
Apparently, Xi wants to demonstrate to any takers that the Chinese governance system takes better care of people than the mostly unfettered capitalism of America and Western Europe.
Acceptance of this assertion by developing countries could change the world as structured by the US after World War II.