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Category Archives: Politics

Chart: Taiwan’s Thinly Weaved Diplomatic Web

Source : Statista

China Sanctioning Taiwan Like Moving a Stone, Dropping it on Your Own Foot

Ralph Jennings, Ji Siqi and Luna Sun wrote . . . . . . . . .

Mainland China could target hundreds of billions of dollars worth of Taiwanese investments and two-way trade if tensions with the self-ruled island worsen after a sharp slide this week due to US House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s visit to Taipei, analysts said.

But they are targeting the ruling pro-independence Democratic Progressive Party and probably saving any moves against high-value exports or direct investments as a final move, the analysts added, as measures against Taiwan could ripple back to the mainland.

“[Taiwanese] companies are such an integral part of the Chinese value chain that it becomes difficult to put too much pressure on those trade routes,” said Zennon Kapron, the Singapore-based director of financial industry research firm Kapronasia.

The People’s Liberation Army kick-started large-scale military drills following Pelosi’s arrival on Tuesday night, while Beijing has already rolled out various economic sanctions.

Chinese customs suspended imports of Taiwanese citrus fruits, chilled white scallops and frozen mackerel from Wednesday, extending the list of banned items to more than 1,000 products as cross-Strait relations have deteriorated in recent years.

The Ministry of Commerce also suspended exports of natural sand, a raw material needed for the construction of transport infrastructure and water projects.

“China’s constant opinion has been that any unilateral economic sanctions are double-edged. However, Pelosi’s visit might well push China into restricting certain imports from Taiwan and the US, but I do think that such restrictions will be very limited,” said Tao Jingzhou, an international arbitrator who has practised in Beijing, Hong Kong and London.

“As retaliation, the US might increase export control measures for technology and also increase scrutiny of activities of Chinese companies in the US. This visit will further deteriorate the US-China relations across the board.”

Mainland China will probably strike at farming and small manufacturers in parts of southern Taiwan where President Tsai Ing-wen’s Democratic Progressive Party has its main strongholds, said Chen Yi-fan, an assistant professor of diplomacy and international relations at Tamkang University in Taiwan.

Beijing hopes to influence Taiwan’s local elections in November, Chen said, with the party that wins most seats often shaping the outcome of the presidential race two years later.

Tsai’s ruling party takes a guarded view toward China, while its main opposition prefers a more conciliatory stance.

Beijing is expected to release sanctions “bit by bit” to gauge responses in Taiwan, said Yu Xiang, an adjunct fellow at the Centre for International Security and Strategy at Tsinghua University.

Export bans can be cancelled as quickly as they are announced and some have called the existing suspensions largely symbolic because farming and fishery exports make up just a fraction of Taiwan’s US$765 billion economy.

China had already banned imports of Taiwanese confectionery, biscuits, bread and aquatic products in the lead up to Pelosi’s visit.

“Processed food is not even in the top 10 items that Taiwan exports to China, so China’s move is currently only symbolic,” said Darson Chiu, a fellow with the Taiwan Institute of Economic Research’s international affairs department in Taipei.

Taiwan’s export economy runs on shipments of semiconductors and consumer electronics, followed by machinery and petrochemicals.

But to penalise key goods would hurt numerous Taiwanese people, stoking anti-Chinese sentiment, and strike at the mainland’s own economy, some analysts said.

“Taiwanese businesses are a major component of China investors, and Taiwan is part of China,” said Hong Hao, an author and independent China economist.

“Therefore, to sanction Taiwan is just like moving a stone and dropping it on your own foot, plus it deepens divisions between the two sides.”

The US-China trade war, which has been ongoing since 2018, has shown that sanctions aimed at one country hurt both sides, said Wang Huiyao, founder of Beijing-based think tank, the Centre for China and Globalisation.

“In the end, the US consumer and companies are paying the price for that. I don’t think that the economic sanctions are going to work,” Wang said.

“In the long run, we really have to find a way not to dissolve the status quo and really keep the peace and prosperity in the region.”

Any ban on imports of Taiwanese petrochemicals, machinery, transport goods and textiles would also violate the Economic Cooperation Framework Agreement trade deal signed by the two sides in 2010 when political relations had reached a peak, Chiu added.

Taiwanese investors have put money into mainland Chinese since the 1980s, and their 4,200 enterprises employ numerous staff, while they also help to drive economies near Shanghai and in the Pearl River Delta.

Taiwan-based Foxconn Technology and Pegatron make equipment for US multinational technology company Apple at mega factories in mainland China.

Lu Xiang, a researcher on US studies with the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, said sanction will not be used as a major tool and that Beijing will refrain from escalating to a full-scale economic war.

“The mainland still aims for economic integration with the island over the long run. Companies which support pro-independence and some industries will be sanctioned or hit, but the impact will be limited. Mainland China is one of the only few trading partners that Taiwan has maintained a trade surplus with,” said Lu.

Chinese smartphone makers particularly depend on Taiwanese semiconductors, which the Boston Consulting Group said makes up 92 per cent of world’s capacity.

“I think the challenge for mainland China is the fact that it is so heavily reliant on the high-end chips and technology that’s coming out of Taiwan,” Kapron added.

Beijing views Taiwan as a breakaway part of its territory and has vowed to take back control of the island, by force if necessary, while it also resents US influence in Taiwan’s military or political space.

But Taiwanese leaders will make no policy changes in response to sanctions, according to Chen from Tamkang University, as neither side wants to look weak.

Tsai opposes China’s goal of unification with Taiwan and has courted foreign support for her cause since taking office in 2016.

“Now there is a deep distrust across the strait, so nothing Tsai does will bring comfort to the other side,” Chen said.

The Taipei government made no immediate comment in response to Wednesday’s trade bans, but Lo Ping-cheng, minister without portfolio and spokesman, said the cabinet would help business operators “respond appropriately” to any fallout from Pelosi’s visit.

Source : Yahoo!

Hong Kong: When Is a Colony Not a Colony?

John Burns wrote . . . . . . . . .

The Education Bureau, responding to a Legislative Council (LegCo) discussion, has offered an official view – the bureau’s “stance” – on whether or not Hong Kong was a colony. Views had been expressed in the LegCo, the bureau pointed out, that “Hong Kong was not a colony.”

“We must base our interpretation of history on historical facts and refer to different perspectives,” the bureau wrote. Indeed. The bureau’s stance is an official interpretation, nothing more or less. It is not in some sense “correct,” but simply an official interpretation.

The bureau’s interpretation is nothing new. The Communist Party of China and the central government have propagated this stance for many years without much traction, and now the bureau is passing it on to the people of Hong Kong as the government’s “official” position. The bureau is thus aligning itself with the central government. We should recognise this move for what it is.

There is much in the statement with which any fair-minded person could agree. The British occupied Hong Kong by force and coerced the Qing court to sign various treaties that produced colonial Hong Kong.

The bureau quite rightly points out that in 1972 Chinese authorities demanded that Hong Kong and Macau be removed from a United Nations list of “colonial territories” that should be granted independence. Removing Hong Kong and Macau from this list did not mean that they ceased to be colonies, but that they ceased to be colonies that should be granted independence.

The bureau claims that to “use the word colony to describe the status of Hong Kong is inappropriate (不恰当, bu qiadang),” shying away from saying that it is incorrect. The bureau goes on to demand that students and the people of Hong Kong must have a “correct (正确, zhengque, proper) understanding of the historical facts.”

This implies that there is only one legitimate interpretation and gives the lie to the bureau’s appeal to “different perspectives.” Perhaps the bureau meant that students and the people of Hong Kong should be aware of the official interpretation. I agree.

What to make of the official view that Hong Kong was not a colony? This interpretation is grounded in a partial understanding of Hong Kong’s legal status before 1997. We need to understand that authorities make law to protect the interests of those in power. The law has a clear political dimension, which the bureau conveniently ignores.

British law, which applied to Hong Kong, recognised Hong Kong as a crown colony. The basis of Hong Kong’s status as a colony may be found in the Letters Patent and the Royal Instructions. The bureau is saying, “Well, your (British) law is not our law.” Okay.

Still from 1841 until 1997 Chinese official entities in Hong Kong recognised and obeyed British law in Hong Kong. That is Chinese state actors in Hong Kong recognised that they were bound by this law. They settled disputes in Hong Kong based on this law.

Thus, while the Chinese government may claim that the Sino-British treaties establishing Hong Kong as a colony had “no legal effect under international law,” Chinese and foreign actors in Hong Kong behaved as if these laws had legal effect. To deny this is to fail to recognise historical fact. Hong Kong was a colony and was recognized as such by Chinese and foreign state actors.

Moreover, colonial Hong Kong was the lived experience of the people of Hong Kong before 1997. The colonial laws of Hong Kong bound them, just as they bound Chinese state actors in Hong Kong. To say that Hong Kong was not a colony is to deny this experience. Such a denial does a great disservice to those of us trying to understand the behaviour of people living in Hong Kong.

Finally, remember that the “through train” brought most of Hong Kong’s colonial political, economic, and legal institutions into the city. They are with us today. Repeating the official narrative that Hong Kong was not a colony undermines the very real need, recognised by the Communist Party, to decolonise Hong Kong, including our civil service, education system, and system of public finance. Starting from the position that the people of Hong Kong were delusional, as the bureau’s stance seems to suggest, gets us nowhere.

The legacy of colonialism in Hong Kong – a system built on racism and coercion – must be confronted and not denied. The Education Bureau fails in its mission to educate when it implies that there is only one correct interpretation of Hong Kong’s colonial history, that is, the official version.

At its most basic, by relying the 1972 UN decision to remove Hong Kong from a list of colonies that should be granted independence, and taking that action out of context, the Education Bureau teaches us that historical facts do not matter, and toeing the line is the best way forward. This is very disappointing from educators.

So, to the Education Bureau: remember your mission is to educate. This means producing citizens capable of independent and critical appraisal of various perspectives, which the bureau claims to value, including its own official stance.

Source : Hong Kong Free Press

Patriotic Fervour Erupts on Chinese Social Media Over Pelosi’s Visit

Patriotic Fervour Erupts on Chinese Social Media Over Pelosi’s Visit

Eduardo Baptista wrote . . . . . . . . .

The sight of the U.S. House of Representatives Speaker Nancy Pelosi arriving in Taiwan late on Tuesday was too much to bear for many mainland China internet users, who wanted a more muscular response from their government.

“Going to bed yesterday night, I was so angry I could not sleep,” blogger Xiaoyuantoutiao wrote on Wednesday.

“But what angers me is not the online clamours for ‘starting a fight’, ‘spare the island but not its people’…(but that) this old she-devil, she actually dares to come!”

China considers Taiwan part of its territory and has never renounced the use of force to bring the island under its control. But Taiwan rejects China’s sovereignty claims and says only its people can decide the island’s future.

Hashtags related to Pelosi’s visit, such as “the resolve to realise national reunification is rock solid”, went viral on China’s Weibo microblogging platform. By Wednesday, about a dozen of these patriotic hashtags had racked up several billion views.

Some bloggers even regarded Pelosi’s temerity as justification for an immediate invasion of Taiwan, with many users posting the term “there is only one China”.

Others said China’s military should have done more to stop her plane from landing, and thousands of users mocked a viral Weibo post published by an official People’s Liberation Army account last week that had simply read “prepare for war!”.

“In the future if you are not preparing to strike, don’t make these statements to deceive the common people,” said one user.

The highest level U.S. visit to Taiwan in 25 years has been furiously condemned by China, which has demonstrated its anger with a burst of military activity in the surrounding waters, and by summoning the U.S. ambassador in Beijing, and announcing the suspension of several agricultural imports from Taiwan. read more

Countering U.S. support for Taiwan is one of Beijing’s most important foreign policy issues, and state-controlled Chinese media has helped ensure public opinion firmly backs Beijing’s stance.

A livestream tracking the journey of Pelosi’s plane to Taipei by Chinese state media on China’s dominant chat app WeChat was watched by 22 million users on Tuesday.

But Weibo crashed before her plane landed, leaving users in the dark for about 30 minutes to an hour before and after Pelosi stepped onto the airport tarmac.

Without mentioning events in Taiwan, Weibo said on Wednesday the platform crashed because its broadband capacity was overstretched.

But the level of outrage on Weibo still hit fever pitch, with irate netizens calling for stronger military and economic countermeasures against Taiwan and the United States far outnumbering voices of moderation.

Still, there were people urging long-term patience in the face of mounting domestic challenges and unfavourable global sentiment towards China, as well as some for peace.

“If there really is a war, China will endure the suffering, currently the world powers have not really chosen team China, we would not get any help. Just like Russia, it would be a bit of a lonely war,” wrote one user.

Weibo, which censored calls for peace and criticism of Russia following the outbreak of the war in Ukraine, did not promote hashtags that criticised the outburst of nationalist fervour in response to Pelosi’s visit.

Qin Quanyao, a Beijing-based blogger, wrote an essay on Tuesday on WeChat in which he noted the current online jingoism harked back to the time of late Chairman Mao Zedong, when primary school children sang songs about the “liberation” of Taiwan.

“From Weibo, WeChat to various online platforms, the atmosphere suddenly became tense, seemingly returning to the era of ‘we must liberate Taiwan’ when we were children,” he wrote.

Source : Reuters

China Seeks to Stop UN Rights Chief from Releasing Xinjiang Report

Emma Farge wrote . . . . . . . . .

China is asking the United Nations human rights chief to bury a highly-anticipated report on human rights violations in Xinjiang, according to a Chinese letter seen by Reuters and confirmed by diplomats from three countries who received it.

United Nations High Commissioner Michelle Bachelet has faced severe criticism from civil society for being too soft on China during a May visit and has since said she will refrain from seeking a second term for personal reasons.

But before she leaves at the end of August, she has pledged to publish a report into the western Chinese region of Xinjiang. Rights groups accuse Beijing of abuses against Xinjiang’s Uyghur inhabitants, including the mass use of forced labour in internment camps. China has vigorously denied the allegations.

The letter authored by China expressed “grave concern” about the Xinjiang report and aims to halt its release, said four sources – the three diplomats and a rights expert who all spoke on condition of anonymity. They said China began circulating it among diplomatic missions in Geneva from late June and asked countries to sign it to show their support.

“The assessment (on Xinjiang), if published, will intensify politicisation and bloc confrontation in the area of human rights, undermine the credibility of the OHCHR (Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights), and harm the cooperation between OHCHR and member states,” the letter said, referring to Bachelet’s office.

“We strongly urge Madame High Commissioner not to publish such an assessment.”

Liu Yuyin, a spokesperson for China’s diplomatic mission in Geneva, did not say whether the letter had been sent or respond to questions about its contents.

Liu said that nearly 100 countries had recently expressed their support to China on Xinjiang-related issues “and their objection to interference in China’s internal affairs under the pretext of human rights”.

This support was voiced through public statements at the last U.N. Human Rights Council session, which ended on July 8, and through the “joint letter”, Liu added, using a term denoting China and the other signatories.

A Chinese foreign ministry spokesperson told Reuters that Bachelet would have witnessed a “real Xinjiang with a safe and stable society” when she visited the region during her May trip to China.

The spokesperson said attempts by some countries to “smear China’s image” using the Xinjiang issue would not succeed.

It was not clear whether Bachelet had received the letter, and an OHCHR spokesperson declined to comment on the matter.

The Xinjiang report is being finalised prior to public release, he added, saying this includes the standard practice of sharing a copy with China for its comments.

The report is set to address China’s treatment of its Uyghur minority. A team of rights experts began gathering evidence for it more than three years ago but its release has been delayed for months for unclear reasons.

Reuters was not able to establish how many signatures the letter received. One of the four sources, a Geneva-based diplomat, replied to the letter positively giving his country’s support.

Another version of the letter also seen by Reuters was more critical of Bachelet’s actions, saying that the Xinjiang report was done “without mandate and in serious breach of OHCHR duties”, and would undermine her personal credibility.

It was not clear who edited it or why. The diplomat who signed the letter said the softer version was the final one.


China, like other countries, sometimes seeks to drum up support for its political statements within the Geneva-based rights council through diplomatic memos which others are asked to support.

These can sometimes influence decisions at the 47-member Council, whose actions are not legally binding but can authorise investigations into suspected violations.

Two of the Geneva diplomats said China’s letter represents a rare example of evidence of Beijing seeking to lobby Bachelet directly. Sometimes, they say, countries find it hard to say no to China on human rights issues, given close economic ties.

The memo comes at a critical juncture for the U.N. rights body in the last few weeks of Bachelet’s term, with no successor yet nominated. Bachelet, 70, is due to leave office on Aug. 31.

Source : Reuters

Video: Saudi Foreign Minister Provides Account of Crown Prince-Biden Khashoggi Discussion

Prince Faisal bin Farhan was responding to Arab News question at conclusion of Jeddah summit.

Watch video at Arab News (3:37 minutes) . . . .

Charts: Some Notable Changes in Hong Kong Since July 1, 1997

China Has a PR Problem — and It’s Not Just Over Hong Kong. Here’s Why in Three Charts.

Lili Pike wrote . . . . . . . . .

A new survey shows more and more people in advanced economies hold unfavorable views of China.

On Friday, Chinese President Xi Jinping will preside over an elaborate celebration of the 25th anniversary of Hong Kong’s return to the Chinese mainland, a return that he has said “ended past humiliation and marked a major step forward toward the complete reunification of China.” Perhaps in an attempt to preserve that narrative, the government has warned activists not to protest and blocked several media outlets from attending. Meanwhile, on another side of the world, during this week’s G-7 and NATO summits, Western leaders are casting China as a rising challenge that must be countered.

These are just the latest examples of China’s efforts to shape and spread a positive narrative about its place in the world — and other countries’ attempts to push back. And according to a new Pew Research Center survey released Wednesday, it’s clear that — in several parts of the world — China is losing the battle of narratives. The data from more than 20,000 respondents in 19 advanced economies reveals highly critical views of China on a range of issues, as well as a shared view that China’s influence is growing.

As tensions rise between the West and China, the survey results offer insights into the depth of the division and what is driving negative views of China.

A dark view of China and President Xi

Pew has conducted this survey since 2002. This latest iteration finds that perceptions of China are at historically negative levels. Critical views of China spiked in 2020, after the outbreak of the covid pandemic, and have remained at similar levels since. Of the 19 countries surveyed, the middle-of-the-pack view was 68 percent unfavorable toward China, with Japan holding the most negative level at 87 percent. The U.S. was close behind at 82 percent. European countries and South Korea were also found to have widely negative views, while Singapore and Malaysia — countries closer to China’s orbit — had a warmer outlook.

For most countries, this level of disapproval has risen well above pre-pandemic levels. Year to year, the most pronounced increases in negative views came in the U.K., U.S. and Greece. And for 10 of the countries surveyed, including the U.S., unfavorability was at an all-time high.

Better news for China came in questions about bilateral relations. Across the board, people held more positive views about bilateral relations between China and their own countries, suggesting that these relationships are relatively well managed and offering some reasons for optimism.

The survey also probed global views of Xi’s leadership as he prepares to begin a third term. Here the survey revealed a divide in opinion. When asked about their “confidence in Xi to do the right thing regarding world affairs,” Western nations as well as Japan and South Korea had highly negative to mostly negative views, while Malaysia and Singapore maintained a much friendlier position. At the high end, 85 percent of people in Sweden had “no or not much confidence at all” in Xi, whereas 69 percent of Singaporeans expressed some to a lot of confidence.

The dim view of Xi in Western nations may owe in part to his cozy relationship with Russia. Xi met Russian President Vladimir Putin on the sidelines of the Beijing Winter Olympics just prior to the Russian invasion of Ukraine, a meeting that established a “no limits” partnership between the two countries, and China has continued to toe the Kremlin line on the war. China’s relationship with Russia was highlighted as the top concern in a separate survey Pew published in April looking in greater depth at U.S. opinions toward China.

What’s driving such critical views?

More than any other issue, China’s human rights record stood out as the highest concern for those surveyed — and these concerns were closely associated with overall negative views of China.

Laura Silver, a senior researcher at Pew who co-authored the report, told Grid that economic issues had previously been more salient for respondents, but human rights have emerged as a sharper issue in recent years. This coincides with China’s increasingly harsh repression of the Uyghurs and other minorities in Xinjiang, and the crackdown that followed the 2019 protests in Hong Kong.

In the U.S., bipartisan attention to China’s human rights violations in Xinjiang — including a sweeping new law passed last week — has raised the profile of these issues in the American public, Silver said. Notably, in the U.S. and other Western nations, respondents said that addressing human rights issues should be prioritized above building economic relations with China. This suggests that there is public support for measures like the new Xinjiang law, which may cause economic disruption between the U.S. and China.

Fears about China’s military ambitions were also reflected in the survey. Nearly three-quarters of the countries said it was a serious issue, with the sharpest concern coming from some of China’s neighbors in the Pacific — Japan, South Korea and Australia.

The consequences

Beijing has been dismissive of past Pew surveys. Zhao Lijian, a foreign ministry spokesperson said in response to a recent U.S.-specific Pew survey that “unscrupulous and despicable” attacks on China by U.S. politicians, media and think tanks were to blame for negative views of China. “These anti-China forces, driven by ideological bias and selfish political interests, flagrantly provoked confrontation and division, disseminated political viruses, and poisoned the public opinion atmosphere in both countries.”

Not surprisingly, the Pew results are unlikely to find a wider audience in China. A separate survey conducted by the Carter Center in September found that the vast majority of Chinese people believe their country is seen in a positive light abroad, which researchers attributed to the success of China’s censorship. “The public opinion bubble within China that insulates Chinese people from information about China’s image abroad could be potentially dangerous, as China’s risky and provocative diplomatic and military endeavors overseas may face relatively little domestic constraint,” wrote Jian Xu, an assistant professor of political science at Yale-National University Singapore.

Economically, China’s declining image has also come with consequences. Its human rights violations in Xinjiang led to the collapse of a major trade deal with the EU, and the recent Xinjiang import bans in the U.S. have already hit the region’s significant cotton industry.

However, across much of the Global South, China has worked to burnish its image through its increasing media influence. It’s difficult to say whether those efforts are paying off. Most of the countries eligible for this latest Pew survey were advanced economies, largely in Europe, because the pandemic has disrupted research in poorer countries where online surveys aren’t feasible. The 2019 Pew survey, the last to capture a greater set of low-income countries, showed generally more positive views of China in those nations. But Silver said those results might not be repeated today, in particular, because China’s response to the pandemic may have changed countries’ views.

Joshua Kurlantzick of the Council on Foreign Relations recently wrote that when it comes to the West, China seems set on a more aggressive approach to foreign policy despite its sinking image. The Pew survey suggests there are costs to that approach.

Source : GRID

习近平在庆祝香港回归祖国25周年大会暨香港特别行政区第六届政府就职典礼上的讲话 (全文)


























Source : 新华视点

China’s ‘Very Dangerous Trajectory’

Michael Schuman wrote . . . . . . . . .

While most countries are trying to move past the pandemic and return to normal life, the Chinese government has kept COVID at the heart of its national policy. As China’s major cities slowly emerge from weeks of economy-crushing shutdowns, the country’s leaders continue to boast about successes battling the coronavirus, even as they wrap their citizens in a web of restrictions, struggle to find them jobs, and isolate them from the world. There’s no sign this will change any time soon, either: Chinese sports authorities recently announced that, because of its COVID controls, China would not host an Asian soccer tournament scheduled to begin in a year.

Watching China’s maniacal fight against COVID, it’s easy to wonder what’s gone awry with the country’s leadership. In fact, China’s pandemic-fighting efforts are only the most obvious example of a greater shift in the way the country is governed. The Communist regime has always been brutal, but it was at least predictable and, in its own way, practical. While much of the developing world has in recent decades been mired in political tumult, China has stood out as an oasis of stability, with a leadership team that changed with clockwork regularity and a consistent policy direction. That’s been the often-understated foundation of China’s ascent on the world stage.

More and more, however, politics is beginning to trump pragmatism. The change has been percolating for some time, but it is also inseparable from the rise of Xi Jinping. He has concentrated more political power in his own hands than any other Chinese leader in decades, in the process upending the more balanced, government-by-committee approach that has predominated since the 1980s, thus leaving the most important decisions of the state—and the future of the world’s most populous country—dependent on one man and his ideas, ambitions, and political calculations. China is entering a new era in which it “begins to veer steadily more wildly based on the whims of a single individual,” Carl Minzner, a senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations, told me. “It is a very dangerous trajectory.”

The result could alter China’s position in the world, and international economics more broadly. Multinational companies, so vital to the country’s industrial juggernaut, could redirect their investment elsewhere over worries regarding the future direction of Chinese policy, reversing China’s integration into the global economy and reordering supply chains. A less predictable foreign policy might further strain Beijing’s relations with its Asian neighbors, and with the United States. And most of all, China’s 1.4 billion people, already unable to participate in their own government, will be left adrift on the unsure waves of Chinese politics—and Xi’s predilections.

All of this amounts to a flashback to an earlier, uglier period in Chinese history. The chaotic initial decades after the founding of the People’s Republic of China in 1949 were dominated by the political machinations and ideological zeal of Mao Zedong, the regime’s founder. He commanded such authority that his every utterance was Communist scripture. This unchecked power, however, caused the horrors of the Great Leap Forward (1958–61), which left an estimated 30 million dead from famine, and the Cultural Revolution (1966–76), which convulsed Chinese society in violence and disorder. When Mao died in 1976, he bequeathed his successors a government in tatters and a nation in desperate poverty.

The reform movement that followed was, to a degree, a reaction against the vicissitudes of one-man rule. China’s new leader, Deng Xiaoping, did not wish to expunge Mao’s legacy. His contributions “cannot be obliterated,” Deng once said. But he and his fellow reformers did overhaul the way China was ruled. Out went Mao’s personality cult; in came a governing system based on power sharing, with regular leadership transitions and a well-defined policy platform underpinned by Deng’s mantra of “reform and opening up.” Though the system still constrained public discourse, within the halls of power, this broader framework allowed for greater discussion of policy and an infusion of expertise. The Chinese government became known for its technocratic skill, especially in managing the complex process of economic development. Daniel Bell, the dean of the School of Political Science and Public Administration at China’s Shandong University, went so far as to suggest renaming the Communist Party the “Chinese Meritocratic Union.”

Such characterizations were exaggerated. The reformist era witnessed its fair share of fiascoes, including the 1989 massacre at Tiananmen Square and the long-term disaster of the one-child policy. But the new governing model was, in other important ways, tremendously successful. China became the workshop of the world not merely because of its cheap labor but also because international investors could be assured of something far rarer and more valuable: predictability.

Xi has undermined this governance system by capturing control over policy and sidelining what little opposition existed within the party. He “has worked hard and been successful to shape decision-making processes around his person,” Nis Grünberg, the lead analyst at the Mercator Institute for China Studies, recently noted. “Following party policy now essentially means for all party officials to follow Xi’s lead.” Loyalty to Xi has also become a primary factor in getting top-notch jobs in government agencies and other posts. “Looking at the cohort of cadres promoted,” Grunberg continued, “it becomes evident that those with personal or professional ties to Xi, and/or have shown loyalty and positive engagement with his politics, are overrepresented.”

That has completely changed how decisions are made at the upper echelons of China’s government. “As the power has begun to reconcentrate at the top and increasingly in an individual person … there is less space to debate issues,” Minzner explained. “Governance practices which people are used to being followed, the relatively more predictable technocratic path, now are starting to veer somewhat more erratically.”

The big test for China’s system of collective governance may be looming. Xi is widely expected to sweep aside the regular rotation of top leaders at a Communist Party congress later this year and remain in power for a third term, something none of his reform-era predecessors has done, and could potentially hold on to the post of president for life. Backed by a relentlessly promoted personality cult, Xi is becoming the most powerful figure in modern China since Mao himself.

These longer-term and systemic shifts have, in large part, driven Beijing’s inconsistent and confusing policies—including zero COVID. The policy, aimed at keeping COVID infections at or near zero, has saved lives, so a commitment to it is understandable. But there is clearly frustration within the highest levels of government and business over the policy’s current course. Premier Li Keqiang, officially No. 2 in the leadership hierarchy but largely marginalized by Xi, has suddenly found his voice and repeatedly warned of the damage being done to economic growth and jobs, the latter being of special sensitivity to a Communist Party terrified of social disorder. Yet Xi has consistently reaffirmed the correctness of zero COVID, and as far as he’s concerned, the case is closed. A recent meeting of China’s most senior leaders even came out against any criticism of the policy. James Liang, an influential business leader and a co-founder of the Chinese online travel agency Trip.com, was banned by a local social-media platform after he publicly questioned the zero-COVID approach.

Practical alternatives to zero-COVID, meanwhile, remain untapped. China watchers are collectively baffled by Beijing’s reluctance to vaccinate its vulnerable elderly—more than 90 million people over the age of 60 are not sufficiently jabbed—though they have upped their efforts recently. Instead, the country remains enveloped in tough restrictions. In mid-May, the government limited its citizens’ overseas travel. Purchasing ibuprofen in a Beijing pharmacy rings the alarm with local health authorities, who then require the buyer to get a COVID test. Beijing and Shanghai appear to be implementing a regime of constant monitoring: An up-to-date COVID test is necessary to go about much of your daily life—enter office buildings, dine in restaurants, or ride the subways—forcing residents to spend time and effort getting perpetually swabbed.

The head-scratchers aren’t limited to COVID rules. Even economic policy—long what the party was most respected for—has become unusually erratic. In late 2020, the government launched a sudden and haphazard crackdown on Big Tech. Regulators yanked the stock listing of the fintech powerhouse Ant Group only two days before its launch, then forced another prominent firm, the ride-hailing app Didi Chuxing, to announce its delisting from the New York Stock Exchange five months after its debut. Even the normally mild-mannered International Monetary Fund had harsh words for Beijing in its recent assessment of the Chinese economy, noting “the multitude, timing, seemingly uncoordinated, and discretionary nature of these interventions,” adding that it “has led to heightened policy uncertainty.” Now, with the economy faltering under zero-COVID lockdowns, policy makers are beating an equally hasty retreat: In mid-May, senior officials schmoozed tech executives at a conference with promises of support, including for international stock listings.

Much like Mao, Xi’s mere comments can send officials scrambling. Last August, he gave a talk about “common prosperity,” or narrowing income disparities, and the term instantaneously became all the rage, plastered across newspapers while executives rushed to open corporate wallets for poor farmers and other charitable causes. But the slogan has yet to evolve into a thought-out policy framework, creating yet more uncertainty. Bert Hofman, the director of the East Asian Institute at the National University of Singapore, told me in an email that “common prosperity” remained an “aspirational goal,” whereas “concrete measures are mostly still to be developed.”

In this way, Xi’s approach has taken on aspects of old, Maoist mass campaigns. Mao conceived the disastrous Great Leap Forward based on his conviction that China could catapult into the ranks of the advanced economies by sheer public effort alone. Workers and farmers just had to labor harder and longer, and keep the Communist faith. So, too, does Xi seem to believe that COVID can be overcome by national willpower. Having declared the battle with the virus a “people’s war,” Xi and his administration have characterized pandemic measures as an almost militaristic movement against an “invisible enemy,” which has required “tremendous sacrifice” and “solidarity and resilience” to achieve “victory.”

China may regress only so far. Xi is not Mao, nor is his agenda the same. But Xi does risk unraveling the gains made in the previous pragmatic decades. Zero COVID, for instance, is souring international companies on China. A recent survey by the American Chamber of Commerce in China found that more than half of the respondents have delayed or reduced investments in the country. The problem, says Joerg Wuttke, the president of the European Union Chamber of Commerce in Beijing, is the uncertainty the policy has created. “The predictability of the Chinese market was always one of its strengths,” he said in a recent briefing, “and that has gone out the window.”

The same could be true of China’s foreign affairs. “Xi has established a new model of the foreign-policy decision-making process that is focused on his sole authority,” Yun Sun, a senior fellow at the Stimson Center, recently explained. “Xi, his strategic personality, and his foreign-policy vision are the fundamental origin of China’s foreign-policy behavior today,” and thus “the assertiveness and coerciveness manifested are the direct result of Xi’s political beliefs and the system he has designed to enforce his vision.” That means security analysts will now have to factor Xi’s personal ambitions and political calculations into their projections of Chinese global policy. For instance, claiming Taiwan has long been a top priority for Beijing. Now a case can be made that having one man holding the levers of Chinese power, not properly constrained by an administration packed with cronies, makes war over the island more likely—akin to Vladimir Putin’s grab for Ukraine.

This is where Xi really differs from Mao—in the China he commands, and in the wider impact he has. Mao’s disasters fell mainly on the Chinese people. That’s bad enough, but in a world where China is a rising power, with greatly enhanced economic and military might, how Xi governs will affect all of us. That means the whims of one man have the potential to lift or sink the global economy, or throw the world into conflict and turmoil.

Yet from an American perspective, Xi’s concentration of power isn’t all downside. By marginalizing the technocrats and constraining policy debates, Xi may be undercutting China’s competitive edge in its contest with Washington. His insistence on zero COVID, erratic attitude toward the private sector, and hostile foreign policy are combining to sap the economy’s vitality, depress investor sentiment, alienate more countries, and isolate the Chinese from the world. None of that bodes well for China’s future as a great-power competitor.

In a sense, Xi is proving why advocates of democracy believe authoritarian regimes ultimately fail. Communist China was a basket case under one-man rule. It could be again.

Source : The Atlantic