Risks & Trends

2 | Blame It on Xi

Foreign Policy

Sulmaan Wasif Khan | The Fletcher School of Law & Diplomcy, Tufts University and the author of Haunted by Chaos: China’s Grand Strategy from Mao Zedong to Xi Jinping
2 | Blame It on Xi
2 | Blame It on Xi
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China's Grand Strategy

2

June 3, 2021
BIG IDEA | ‘In China’s case, the Xi era has seen the accumulation of somewhat counterproductive policies that catalyzed a breakdown.’

‘A decades-long grand strategy doesn’t die suddenly. Its death is a process, with warning signs along the way.’

  • ‘In China’s case, the Xi era has seen the accumulation of somewhat counterproductive policies that catalyzed a breakdown.’

‘Xinjiang was probably the first.’

  • ‘Jiang Zemin had championed a policy of living with the religious and ethnic differences that marked that distant territory; it would create the occasional problem, but it was part of what being an empire meant.’
  • ‘Xi saw difference as something that could be eradicated, brought under complete control.’
  • ‘This meant policies that eventually hardened into genocide.’
  • ‘Xinjiang may be under tight control, but the long-term costs, in terms of China’s reputational damage among Muslims abroad and the resentment among China’s faithful at home, however, have yet to be added up.’

‘Then came Hong Kong.’

  • ‘Deng seems to have been perfectly sincere about “one country, two systems”; there was no need to bring Hong Kong into synchrony with the rest of China because Hong Kong worked.’
  • ‘And Hong Kong working was good for China, a country big enough to contain multiple ways of doing business.’
  • ‘For Xi, though, Hong Kong had to look like all of China—and that meant a flurry of attempts to undercut the autonomy that territory had enjoyed.’
  • ‘The result was an eminently avoidable surge of anger and protest in Hong Kong, one that shows no sign of abating.’
  • ‘It also killed any lingering possibility of convincing Taiwan that union with China was in its long-term interests.’

‘These missteps could still be seen as bad grand strategy.’

  • ‘It wasn’t that Xi didn’t want to make Xinjiang as secure as possible or Hong Kong as quiescent so as to keep China secure by weaving in the peripheries more tightly; it was just that he didn’t have the best grasp of how to do so.’
  • ‘It wasn’t that he didn’t want to win Taiwan over peacefully; it was just that he thought throwing China’s weight around would terrify those benighted islanders into submission.’

‘And in dealing with other matters—relations with Australia or Japan, say, or winning hearts and minds in Africa—his government was doing reasonably well, if not perfectly.’

  • ‘His was a more assertive brand of Chinese grand strategy, and the assertiveness had its successes and failures.’

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