Xi Jinping’s Rising Dictatorship May End Up Benefiting US - The American Spectator | USA News and Politics
Xi Jinping’s Rising Dictatorship May End Up Benefiting US
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Xi Jinping addresses China’s 20th National Congress, Oct. 16, 2022 (CBS Mornings/YouTube)

China’s 20th National Congress has concluded, and it was the Xi Jinping show. The Chinese Communist Party general secretary and Chinese president — the first role is by far his most important — reigned supreme, winning a third term and the opportunity to rule for life. He loaded the leadership with his flunkies, emptied Beijing of anyone not prepared to do a full forehead-to-floor kowtow when he enters the room, and avoided promoting anyone who could be considered a rival or even successor.

Not that anyone was pushed out. For instance, Xi’s PR agents reported that Premier Li Keqiang and Vice Premier Wang Yang, associates of former President Hu Jintao and viewed as relative liberals, left before retirement age of their own accord. They “offered to retire to make room for their younger colleagues” and even rejected Xi’s entreaties that they stay on. How generous of them to sacrifice their positions so Xi could raise up even more factotums! (Despite the controversy raised by the removal of Hu from the proceedings, a longer video clip suggests that his issue was health rather than politics, though the symbolism, given the eradication of his faction from power, was extraordinarily powerful.)

Xi didn’t mention the U.S. in his endless work report, but one doesn’t need a Ph.D. in literary deconstruction to recognize that America is the overriding concern of Chinese foreign policy. Xi’s objective is not to conquer or even fight Washington. Rather, his goal is to keep the U.S. out of China’s affairs, to essentially turn East Asia, at least, into Beijing’s sphere of interest, just like the Western Hemisphere has been America’s stomping ground. (Can you say “Monroe Doctrine”?)

The biggest losers of such a policy would be the PRC’s neighbors, most importantly Taiwan, whose people would find themselves subject to reeducation to turn them into patriotic automatons, a process now underway in Hong Kong. Although the U.S. faces no direct military threat, a hostile Leninist state able to conscript the world’s largest population (though China will soon be surpassed by India) and second-largest economy would be a threatening actor, with much ill potential. Still, both sides have an imperative to avoid war, which would be disastrous for all.

Alas, Xi, son of a famed revolutionary and thus a princeling, has become the new Mao Zedong. That doesn’t mean Xi is an exact replica of the leading CCP revolutionary and dominant figure in the People’s Republic of China, who died in 1976. The latter had to consolidate power, and this was a bloody business. He was consumed by ideological fantasies and treated lives of others as useless surplusage, to be sacrificed for the slightest reason. Moreover, he thrived on chaos and catastrophe, which he used for political gain, with no consideration of the cost to others.

In contrast, Xi wants order and prefers to keep the Chinese people alive as a valuable CCP resource. But Mao and Xi share a desire for power. Xi has emerged as not only first among his contemporaries but also more powerful than his two predecessors, as well as the redoubtable Deng Xiaoping, who did more than anyone else to set the PRC on its (economic) reform course.

When Xi took over a decade ago, some believed him to be a liberal reformer likely to further relax state economic controls. Instead, he single-mindedly worked to strengthen the CCP’s and his authority. While not a Marxist, since he recognizes that productive private business is an important CCP resource, he is a peerless Leninist. Engagement with the West spurred dramatic liberalization after Mao’s death but went into reverse after the Tiananmen Square crackdown and has been almost entirely routed by Xi’s essentially totalitarian campaign. There no longer is any space to believe or act differently than as is directed by the party, which these days means Xi.

No matter how competent, intelligent, and, most important, sentient the dictator — by all accounts, Xi is no Joe Biden! — one-man rule suffers from significant weaknesses.

His rise is an obvious tragedy for the Chinese people. Do you believe in God (meaning God the transcendent, not a man spouting political slogans who believes he is omnipotent, like, well, Xi)? Were you an independent journalist? Did you represent Chinese accused of a political crime? Were you naïve enough to believe that Beijing would preserve Hong Kong’s “one country, two systems” model? Are you a Muslim Uyghur or Tibetan Buddhist? Have you worked for an nongovernmental organization, urging government reform? Do you believe you should have some say over your government’s actions? Have you posted, or simply tried to post, criticisms of the CCP, Xi, or any number of other banned topics on social media? (READ MORE from Doug Bandow: Religious Persecution in a Land Where the Supreme Ruler Is God)

If any of these cases, you’ve likely been threatened, disbarred, de-platformed, quarantined, detained, fined, reeducated, and/or imprisoned, perhaps more than once. Those guilty of the most serious crimes, such as denouncing Xi, receive lengthy prison terms. If you were able to flee, your family probably has told you not to contact them or has even disowned you; worse, PRC officials have called you to threaten them. Such is the price paid by Chinese people who do not recognize the new Red Emperor.

People outside of China also suffer, especially targets of the PRC’s territorial ambitions. Hong Kong was an inevitable tragedy, unquestionably Chinese territory “protected” by an unenforceable treaty signed by Beijing when it was weak, only recently emergent on the international stage. Policy directed toward Tibet and Xinjiang reflects brutal determination to suppress the slightest hint of separation, let alone independence. Taiwan is the main target of Chinese ire today, seen as an errant province stolen by Japan in 1895 and lost when Chiang Kai-shek’s Nationalists fled from the mainland. Americans underestimate the PRC’s determination, shared by people as well as Xi, to force unification upon a free Taiwanese people. (Don’t understand it? Consider the nationalism behind America’s Civil War, which drove the North to refuse to allow the South to go.)

Yet for all the bad that has resulted from Xi’s ascension, he might turn out to be a boon for America in the burgeoning struggle between Washington and Beijing. No matter how competent, intelligent, and, most important, sentient the dictator — by all accounts, Xi is no Joe Biden! — one-man rule suffers from significant weaknesses. Xi’s PRC is no different.

First, as Friedrich Hayek wrote, the worst typically get on top. Authoritarian politics rewards a certain type of person. The willingness to coerce, and, if necessary, imprison and kill, poisons the entire political system. China suffered the very worst under Mao. Even Deng, who did so much to free the Chinese people and delighted American audiences when he visited, ruthlessly reestablished CCP political control in 1989. Xi’s repression is calculated and deliberate, but no less harmful to those targeted.

Second, seeming political stability is merely temporary. Having destroyed the party norms established by Deng and his contemporaries, who hoped to prevent another Mao, a bitter struggle for succession to Xi will eventually be waged in the shadows. Maybe Xi will eventually designate someone, but those chosen by Mao were felled, first by one another and then by Deng and his supporters. More likely, Xi will resist naming anyone, lest they become a threat to him. And what if Xi ends up like Hu, who, at 79, looks infirm and incapable? In the early 1980s, the Soviet Union shuffled along for years under the decrepit Leonid Brezhnev and two short-lived (literally!) successors, before the rise of Mikhail Gorbachev.

Third, there is no accountability. American politicians often get reelected despite disastrous records. Democratic systems, however, allow political elders to assemble and tell a leader (think Richard Nixon) that his or her time is up. Even more important, the public can toss a failure out of office: Ronald Reagan clinched the 1980 contest when he asked if voters were better off than four years before.

Fourth, it is a rare dictatorship that does not turn almost everyone in authority into yes-men. (Also yes-women, but in Xi’s China there are no women on the Politburo and few on the Central Committee.) Important issues get kicked upwards, delegation and discretion disappear, creativity and experimentation are spurned, and sclerosis overtakes the entire decision-making process. The consequences could be dire in a nation of 1.4 billion people. Middlebury College’s Jessica Teets observed that “centralization has also resulted in reduced local discretion for policy experimentation, rigid policy implementation without local adaptation, and decreased morale among local officials.” The result has been “loss of long-term innovation and citizen engagement.”

Fifth, no one is willing to tell, let alone able to convince, the boss that he is wrong. Everyone defers to the dictator, especially those closest to him with the most to lose if they fall from favor. Sycophancy will be particularly pronounced from those hoping to succeed him. Hearing only praise cannot help but inflate Xi’s assessment of his own judgment. Bigger mistakes, combined with more determined resistance to admitting error, are likely to result. And that will manifest itself in foreign as well as domestic mistakes — such as Wolf Warrior diplomacy, which won fans at home but generated animosity overseas.

Sixth, Xi’s Leninist political agenda, which seeks to make the entire economy a CCP tool, will slow his nation’s economic growth. The problems facing China are enormous: piles of bad debts, real-estate crisis, shrinking population, and mass expenditures to monitor, control, and punish the population. Increasingly intrusive politicized regulation adds another burden. Observed author Yuen Yuen Ang: “Forty-four years ago, Deng Xiaoping kicked off the period of ‘reform and opening up’ that transformed China from a poor, autarkic nation into an emerging global power. President Xi Jinping officially ended that era last week.”

Seventh, Xi’s march toward totalitarianism, with his regime determined to indoctrinate, regulate, and manipulate down to the smallest detail, is likely to clash with a more prosperous Chinese people’s desire to make their own choices. Xi’s police state increasingly insists not just on protecting its own authority but on remolding people into the kind of commie automatons it desires them to be. Many young Chinese resigned to political controls have grown angry at the CCP’s move to limit entertainment, humor, and such activities as LARPing, or live-action role-playing. After Shanghai restricted the latter, one Weibo user objected, “If you want us to become North Koreans, just say so.”

Finally, the PRC’s Xi-dominated autocracy has been losing friends abroad. Even countries that want the benefits of Chinese trade and investment — who can blame them? — are uncomfortable with Beijing’s human rights violations, intimidation and pressure, attacks on foreign sovereignty, and economic manipulation. America, despite its manifold imperfections and problems, looks more attractive to many.

The Russo-Ukraine war understandably is Washington’s most immediate foreign-policy concern today. China, however, is a much greater problem over the long term. And America’s greatest ally in meeting the China challenge may be China itself — at least, Xi Jinping and his quest for total control of the PRC. The U.S. obviously has much to overcome. But America’s free society is still a good bet to triumph in the geopolitical struggle to come.

Doug Bandow is a Senior Fellow at the Cato Institute. A former Special Assistant to President Ronald Reagan, he is author of Foreign Follies: America’s New Global Empire.

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Doug Bandow is a Senior Fellow at the Cato Institute.
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