A Maoist-like China under Xi Jinping

THE CORNER ORACLE - Andrew J. Masigan - The Philippine Star

Deng Xiaoping, China’s paramount leader from 1978-1989, was the country’s chief economic architect and political reformist. Deng led China away from a centrally planned economy with Maoist ideologies to one that embraced free enterprise and capitalism. He leveraged on China’s enormous labor force to transform the country into a manufacturing powerhouse. On the back of Deng’s reforms, China became the second largest global economy.

On the political front, Deng enacted sweeping reforms to democratize power and to undo Chairman Mao’s autocratic rule. Among his reforms were to outlaw a single official from assuming multiple governmental posts; to establish term limits; to establish a system of political succession and to separate the communist party from the state.

Deng’s reforms caused China to be a successful capital state, albeit with unique socialist characteristics. The iron grip of the government over people’s lives was relaxed as the Chinese people grew in confidence and wealth. The Chinese people were relatively content and China gained the respect of the global community.

Richard McGregor, a senior fellow of Australia’s Lowy Institute, was a recent guest of the Stratbase Institute. McGregor succinctly described how China is evolving under Xi Jinping’s leadership. Since rising to power in 2012, Xi systematically reversed the reforms instituted by Deng to the extent that China is now looking more like a Maoist state all over again rather than a capitalist-socialist state it had already become. Incidentally, Xi is the only supreme leader not handpicked by Deng.

Proof of the reversal? Instead of collective leadership, China now operates under a one-man rule. Instead of term limits and a designated successor, Xi has made himself president for life. Instead of meritocracy, loyalty to Xi is what determines advancements in governmental institutions. Instead of the private sector driving the economy, it is now the state. Instead of embracing globalization and technology sharing, China seeks technology independence. Instead of peaceful co-existence with its neighbors, China has turned to bullying tactics and corruption to advance its expansionist ambitions.

The power hierarchy

During the leaderships of Deng Xiaoping, Jiang Zemin and Hu Jintao (from 1978 to 2012), the National People’s Congress sat on top of the pecking order of power. Beneath it were the State Council and Executive Cabinet, respectively. This has changed. Today, the Chinese Community Party (CCP) sits on top of the hierarchy, accountable only to itself. The CCP is above the law, with no one regulating the party but Xi himself.

How is the CCP structured? There are four core power tiers.

The first is the People’s Liberation Army (PLA). The PLA is the principal military force of the People’s Republic of China and the armed wing of the CCP. Its loyalty lies with the CCP, first and foremost, before the state.

The second is the Central Committee. Comprised of 370 members, the central committee is made up of judges, trade unions and special interest groups. Cut off age of members is 63 years old.

The third is the Political Bureau. Composed of 24 members mostly consisting of military officials, foreign policy experts and leaders of big cities. Cut off age of members is 67 years old.

Fourth is the Standing Committee. This is the apex of power. Composed of seven ministers, including Xi.

During the presidencies of Deng Xiaoping, Jiang Zemin and Hu Jintao, many of the members of the Standing Committee had identifiable political rivals to serve as check and balance. This is not the case today. All seven members are Xi loyalists.

More interestingly, all the members of the Standing Committee will turn 68 in the next five years. This leaves no one eligible to replace Xi during elections in the Party Congress of 2027. With no apparent successor, Xi is assured of a fourth term.

Is a military coup d’etat an option? Not likely. Xi is the chairman of the Central Military Commission. He replaced 100 generals with those loyal to him. His first vice chairman, Zhang Youxia, is a Xi loyalist and a personal friend of Xi’s father. His second vice chairman, He Weidong, is also a Xi appointee.

So you see, Xi Jinping controls the CCP, the state and the military. Xi has an iron grip on power.

Whereas capitalism, economic development and greater liberties for civil society were the thrust during the 1980’s to the 2010’s, Xi has brought back the oppressive rule of autocracy. This was best exemplified in Xi’s Zero-COVID policy. Xi has also made a commitment to military build-up. China has become bolder and more belligerent against rule based treaties. It does what it wants simply because it has the military might to do so.

Although China has ambitions of replacing the United States as the global fulcrum of power, we do not see this happening in the foreseeable future. China has too many enemies. While the United States has no territorial disputes with any sovereign nation, China has disputes with Japan, South Korea, Vietnam, Brunei, Malaysia, Indonesia and, of course, the Philippines. Plus, it has intentions of “reclaiming” Taiwan. More countries distrust China than there are those who trust it. Without trust, a country can never become a regional power fulcrum, no matter its political clout.

How does this affect the Philippines? We must come to terms with the fact that under Xi’s leadership, China’s expansionist policy will continue with ever increasing force – and this includes annexing our West Philippine Sea. Thus, we must prioritize four courses of action. Strengthen our discourse with like-minded nations, not the least of which are ASEAN, Japan, South Korea and Australia. Intensify defense cooperation with the United States and Japan. Adopt a coherent and well-considered defense policy. And, most important of all, build our own defense capabilities to credibly defend our borders and people.

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Email: [email protected]. Follow him on Twitter @aj_masigan

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