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Xi Jinping's Leadership: 'The Inevitable Outcome of History'

Xi Jinping's Leadership: 'The Inevitable Outcome of History'Xi Jinping's Leadership: 'The Inevitable Outcome of History'
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Interview
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Malcolm Riddell

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Founder of CHINADebate

Malcolm Riddell

|
Founder of CHINADebate
Interview

Malcolm Riddell

|
Founder of CHINADebate

Malcolm Riddell

|
Founder of CHINADebate

Of late, the spotlight has been on Xi Jinping.

  • Mr. Xi is the hero of a Resolution on the history of the Chinese  Communist Party that painted his leadership as the inevitable outcome of history and all but gave him his third term.
  • Tony Saich of the Harvard Kennedy School did a terrific analysis on this - you'll find it below, after my take.

And Mr. Xi was one side of the first face-to-face, albeit virtual, call with President Biden.

  • Not much happened.
  • But as so many commentators about the call reminded us, 'Jaw jaw is better than war war,' quoting Winston Churchill.

Mr. Xi's jaw jaw to Mr. Biden was summed up by The Economist this way:

  • ‘China’s plan for world peace: America stops defying China.’
  • As The Economist explains and, as I've written here before, China places all the blame for the problems in the relationship on the U.S.

But as we know, in all fraught relationships there are two sides to the story.

  • And Mr. Biden did a good job in telling his.

Not that you would know that if you read only the also inevitable hits from the right.

  • Most of those can be dismissed, but John Bolton's Wall Street Journal op-ed shouldn't be. (You'll find it below after Tony Saich's analysis.)

Mr. Bolton  points out that

  • ‘America has no China strategy 10 months after President Biden’s inauguration.’
  • ‘Monday’s Zoom meeting between Mr. Biden and Xi Jinping only highlighted that void.’ Ouch.

Many before Mr. Biden though have tried to be the George Kennan (who came up with the strategy of containment that eventually ended the Cold War) of the age and failed.

  • But difficult or not, the U.S. has to articulate a coherent set of objectives for and policies in dealing with China.

And Mr. Bolton suggests a path that I fully associate myself with:

  • ‘China is not yet at the forefront of public consciousness.
  • ‘To ensure America’s eventual strategy is workable, political leaders need to debate the challenges so citizens can appreciate the implications of the choices they will have to make.’
  • ‘If Mr. Biden doesn’t use his Presidency’s bully pulpit to launch that debate, his potential opponents should.’ Amen.

That debate is long overdue.

  • But my breath is not being held waiting for America's leaders from both parties to get it started.

Anyway please have a look at my take on these issues and be sure to read Dr. Saich and Mr. Bolton's essays.

  • And send me your thoughts.

1 | And Then There Were Three

‘The historiographical equivalent of bulldozing a cemetery.’

The Resolution that shows how Xi Jinping's leadership is 'the inevitable outcome of history' is a little long, a little tedious, but a must-read or at least a must-skim to understand how the Party – and more importantly, Xi Jinping – have decided they want to be viewed.

  • ‘Huge resources are dedicated to crafting an official history to be accepted by all,’ writes Tony Saich of the Harvard Kennedy School in ‘Xi Jinping has made sure history is now officially on his side’ [read his full analysis below]. ‘Woe betide anyone who challenges the official narrative.’
  • This means you. So get with the program.

The Resolution was recently adopted at the recent Sixth Plenum of the Chinese Communist Party.

The Sixth Plenum of the cycle is the big deal.

  • ‘Chairman Mao Zedong once remarked that “The sixth plenum determines the fate of China,”’ writes MacroPolo’s Ruihan Huang.
  • ‘Indeed, the sixth plenum of the Chinese Communist Party’s (CCP) 19th Central Committee (CC) will determine the course of Chinese politics over the next five years and beyond.’
  • Many say that this year's Sixth Plenum will determine ‘the fate of China’ not for the next five years but for the next 100 years.

So what happened? Here’s Dr. Saich again:

  • ‘Ostensibly the meeting was held to review the Party's achievements of the past 100 years. In reality, it was about the future.’
  • ‘One outcome of the meeting was the publication of a resolution on past achievements, which was designed to show that Xi Jinping’s leadership today and in the future is the inevitable outcome of history.’
  • ‘The resolution will consolidate his pre-eminence within the party, empowering him to set the course for its second 100 years.’

For Mr. Xi too, the Resolution brought him closer to being seen as an equal to Mao and Deng.

  • ‘It was the party’s third historical summation, placing Xi alongside Mao Zedong and Deng Xiaoping, who oversaw the first two.’

‘The first two resolutions criticised the past to legitimise setting out on a brave new path forward.’

  • ‘For Mao in 1945, it was the last nail in the coffin of his rivals for party leadership by exposing their “leftist” mistakes, which had almost brought the party to ruin.’
  • ‘For Deng, the challenge was to break with the immediate disasters of the Great Leap Forward famine and the political turmoil of the Cultural Revolution, without discrediting Mao entirely. It enabled China to move into the reform era.’

‘Xi’s purpose is distinct.’

  • ‘He is not defining the way forward by criticising the recent past but rather by highlighting how the past plays into his hands.’

‘The spotlight was on Xi, his achievements, the wrongs he has righted, and the future direction for China.’

  • ‘The resolution described Xi as the “principal founder” of the party’s ruling ideology and the “core” of its leadership; it is intended to be the key document for all party members to unite around, eradicating challenges to his policy preferences.’

'Barring an accident of nature, Xi will be reappointed for a third term as party general secretary at the 20th party congress (to take place in November 2022).'

  • 'This will allow for policy continuity, rather than policy change as occurred after the previous two historical resolutions.'

I have written before that we could look at Mao, Deng, and Xi as three leaders who performed experiments to shape China each in his own vision.

  • History (not the Resolution's history) tells us that Mao’s experiment failed and Deng’s succeeded.
  • How Mr. Xi’s experiment will turn out will not be known for some time – he could very well fail and a new Deng appear with a new experiment to clean up after him.

For now, as Dr. Saich says,

  • ‘While there are murmurs of opposition, the historic plenary session would suggest that the future is in Xi’s hands.’

‘However, when politics is so deeply personalised and centralised, there is only one person to blame if things go wrong.’

  • ‘Unless, of course, we get a new resolution on history that tells us who led the party astray, despite Xi’s earnest attempts to keep policy on the straight and narrow.’

2 | Biden & Xi Have a Chat

The Objective Take. ‘After nearly 10 months of open hostilities between China and the United States since Joe Biden took office in January, the first face-to-face meeting between him and Chinese President Xi Jinping has brought a sigh of relief around the world,’ writes Wang Xiangwei of the South China Morning Post.

  • ‘The virtual summit, which lasted 3½ hours, may have produced no breakthroughs, but the mere fact that they met, agreed to disagree on a host of issues, and promised to ‘improve communication and avoid veering into conflict, was viewed to be a positive development in many quarters.’

The Chinese Take. According to The New York Times:

  • ‘The official Chinese summary of the call said that Mr. Xi told Mr. Biden that the U.S. government’s policies toward China had strained relations, and that it was in both countries’ interests to avoid confrontation.

‘The policies that the United States has adopted toward China for some period of time have pushed Chinese-U.S. relations into serious difficulties, and this is out of step with the fundamental interests of both countries’ peoples and the shared interests of every country in the world,” Mr. Xi said, according to a summary of the call issued online by the Chinese Foreign Ministry.'

  • ' “Whether China and the United States can properly handle mutual relations is a question for the century that concerns the fate of the world, and both countries must answer it.” ’

Or, as The Economist story’s subheading sums it up:

  • ‘China’s plan for world peace: America stops defying China.’

More from The Economist on the call that highlight the difficulty of the two sides reaching some accommodation:

  • ‘Mr Biden is presented in China as a more pragmatic president than his predecessor.’
  • ‘Alas, scholars and state media frame his willingness to talk as an admission of American failure.’

‘In China’s telling, American inflation is linked to Trump-imposed trade tariffs (though inflation is recent and tariffs have been in place for three years).’

  • ‘Chinese analysts blame another complex problem, supply-chain chaos, on a simple cause: Trump-era attempts to block exports of semiconductors and other advanced technology to China, while urging firms to move factories out of China.’

‘With the American economy now in “bleak” shape, the Biden administration “needs to ease relations with China in order to improve its political standing at home”, says Wang Yong, director of Peking University’s American studies centre.’

  • ‘Professor Wang adds that America is losing the hearts and minds of younger Chinese, who have “given up their illusions” that the West is sincere when it expresses concerns about Muslims in Xinjiang or democrats in Hong Kong.’
  • ‘China’s leaders still want investment and technology from the West, but they think it is in decadent decline and are decoupling from Western norms and ideas.’

Talk about a tough audience.

  • But the one at home is even tougher.

The U.S. (Partisan) Take. John Bolton in his Wall Street Journal op-ed [more from that below] on the call, ‘Biden Has a Summit with Xi, but No Strategy for China,’ writes:

  • ‘America has no China strategy 10 months after President Biden’s inauguration.’
  • ‘Monday’s Zoom meeting between Mr. Biden and Xi Jinping only highlighted that void.’ Ouch.

As for the call itself, I am in the camp of those many pundits who quoted over and over Winston Churchill that it is better to ‘jaw jaw than to war war.’ Not Mr. Bolton.

  • ‘Dulcet tones and torrents of presidential words are no substitute for clear policies,’ says Mr. Bolton – and he’s also right.
  • For jaw jaw to be better than war war, the jaw jaw has to come from reasonable objectives, persistently pursued. That is, from a strategy, which Mr. Bolton says Mr. Biden lacks.

China has oft-stated objectives and clear, if evolving, policies for attaining them.

  • In other words, a strategy.

The United States doesn’t have one yet.

  • Mr. Biden’s China objectives aren’t clear, and his policies also are evolving - so these have yet to congeal into a comprehensive strategy.
  • (For my part, I'm in the wait and see mode, cautiously optimistic.)

And that’s okay.

  • Because this creates an opportunity if the leaders of both parties are up to it. (Breath not being held.)

For, as Mr. Bolton so rightly points out:

  • ‘China is not yet at the forefront of public consciousness.
  • ‘To ensure America’s eventual strategy is workable, political leaders need to debate the challenges so citizens can appreciate the implications of the choices they will have to make.’
  • ‘If Mr. Biden doesn’t use his Presidency’s bully pulpit to launch that debate, his potential opponents should.’ Amen.
  • That debate is long overdue.

The problem of course is that the best strategies from the U.S. and China, no matter how well they are shaped and how clearly communicated, may be so inimical that armed conflict cannot be avoided.

  • As Mr. Xi implies, this is 'the question of the century.'