Xi Jinping’s mortality

BREAKTHROUGH - Elfren S. Cruz - The Philippine Star

When he addressed the Southeast Asian nations, Xi Jinping denied that he had any desire to impose hegemony upon any of China’s neighbors. However, recent actions by China vis-à-vis its neighboring countries show the complete opposite. The recent provocative attacks on Filipino supply boats in Philippine waters is a clear example of China’s belief it can impose its will on its weaker neighbors. Only counter threats from the United States and other powers forced China to back down.

I expect these Chinese provocations in view of its more aggressive foreign policy which it has termed the “wolf warrior” diplomacy. History should teach Xi that eventually, imperialistic methods simply increase resentment and hostility.

While most political observers view these actions with legitimate concerns, many geopolitical experts are more concerned with Xi Jinping’s rhetoric that has consistently set a timeline of 10 to 15 years for achieving superpower status. Normally nations rise to power based on certain forces – economic, political, social. The nations that have tried to set their own timelines have eventually failed. In modern times these include Germany, Russia and Japan.

Other highly respected former leaders of China, like Deng Xiaoping, believed China should bide its time and expand its international influence through increased economic growth and integration into the existing world order.

Xi Jinping seems to have a different mindset. He is impatient with the present world order and China’s position in the world today. In his pronouncements, there is a sense of urgency not only in challenging the present global status quo, but even reshaping the current global order and establish a China-led power structure.

In fact, he has said time and again that he believes this new global order will happen in 10 to 15 years.

Before I go further, I just want to reiterate that my criticism of Xi Jinping and the Chinese Communist Party is separate from my respect for the Chinese people and its culture. I have always been an admirer of Chinese culture.

Unfortunately these days, Chinese propagandists have tried to make it appear that any critic of Xi and the Communist Party automatically means that it is the whole Chinese people that are being criticized.

Even some of my Filipino Chinese friends have adopted this attitude. I have privately criticized some leaders of Filipino Chinese organizations that they should be careful when they endorse Xi Jinping and Communist Party policies. This has been misinterpreted by some as condemning the whole Chinese people. This is not correct. I want to reiterate again that I respected the policies of Deng Xiaoping. This included his foreign policy direction.

Actually, the Chinese Communist Party has just followed the direction of its leadership. In this case this seeming urgency is due to Xi Jinping. What is the cause?

I believe, like most persons who follow geopolitics, that there could be several causes. A China observer, Jude Blanchett, sees at least three possibilities. The first is one that I mentioned. He believes he can remake the global order based on terms dictated by him and the Communist Party. This, to me, is impossible. The global order is dictated eventually by economic, political, social and other forces. Many times, these are unforeseen forces like the pandemic. For example, even in the Philippines, the pandemic changed the trajectory of Philippine politics. Even in Western countries, the major political and social issues are rapidly being dictated by pandemic-based issues like the necessity for lockdowns, vaccinations and even face masks.

Xi has talked of “profound changes unseen in a century” especially in technology and economic power. Even if this was true, the pace of these changes must still follow a certain timeline that cannot be dictated by one person. Furthermore, these historical developments must reckon with the possibilities of major events, like the pandemic, that could alter expectations.

Blanchett has added another possibility, which is that the Chinese Communist Party is worried that the Leninist political system they are trying to impose, or re-impose, is endangered by the rapid progress of capitalism in China. This poses a danger to their struggle for the Party to maintain total power.

I have also wondered whether one cause for this 10- to 15-year timeline is the fear of mortality. Xi is almost 70 years old and has not shown any real interest in preparing for his succession. He may actually believe that he can change the international order and make China the superpower of the world within his lifetime.

The danger here is that as he nears the end of his reign, he may launch steps that he feels are needed to fulfill his dreams while he is still alive and in power.

The single most dangerous threat to the world is that Xi might be tempted to take Taiwan by force. If the Chinese military and the Communist Party are ever completely united in this mission and Xi miscalculates that the United States will not have the determination to defend Taiwan, this dangerous provocation could actually happen. This is an event that many observers are afraid could happen. This is a political miscalculation that could spark a third world war.

Xi will be 82 in 2035. His concerns about his own mortality and desire to see his dreams of a paramount China in his lifetime might make him unwilling to wait for the eventual decline of the West that he has projected. He might decide to change the world order by himself.

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Email: elfrencruz@gmail.com

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