On the opening day of China’s 19th Party Congress, North Korea sent a letter congratulating the Communist Party of China for its “correct guidance” in making “great progress in accomplishing the cause of building socialism with Chinese characteristics.”
If Kim Jong-un and Xi Jinping haven’t agreed on much lately, they certainly agree on that. Xi Jinping has made it unmistakably clear at the Party Congress that China will uphold Marxism, Leninism and Maoism. To show he is shoulder to shoulder with Mao, Xi had his name and ideology, so-called “Xi Jinping Thought,” written into the Party’s constitution. In addition, Xi didn’t appoint a successor – a common practice of the Party since 2002 to ensure a smooth power transition. This reinforces the speculation that Xi will continue to be in power, possibly indefinitely, after his term is up in 2022.
All this sounds too familiar. People in China are whispering: it’s like the Cultural Revolution all over again. Now, intellectuals are silenced, private business people are scared, the press is only allowed to sing the Party’s praises. Civil society, which was minimal before, is being crushed to non-existence.
While Xi Jinping announced that a new era has begun, many are concerned that China is entering a dark age.
Xi Jinping, who is amicable, confident, and popular even among world leaders, may present more danger to the free world than Kim Jong-un.
In the late 1980s, young Xi was the mayor of Xiamen, a city in southern China. Xi’s family suffered tremendously during the Cultural Revolution. His father, Xi Zhongxun, a revolutionary who fought at the side of Mao during the Communist Party’s early years, was severely persecuted. Xi himself was sent to the countryside for “reeducation.”
Unlike others who reflected on what went so wrong, Xi Jinping seemed to draw a different conclusion. “Mao is a great political leader,” he said to a friend. At the time, China was on the verge of economic bankruptcy with a burden of 1 billion people living in poverty. But Xi believed that China should have 5 billion people. This way, he said, we can rule the world. As Mao said before, more people, more strength.
Back then, as a lowly official, Xi Jinping wanted to rule the world, not through moral strength, nor economic competitiveness, nor a fair, transparent political system that serves all, nor even military power, but through a vast un-empowered and un-educated populace. How absurd.
Thirty years later, Xi Jinping is the most powerful man in China. “Xi Jinping Thought,” according to the Party memorandum, really comes down to one sentence: “socialism with Chinese characteristics in the new era.” But Xi is not the first to use this phrase; Deng Xiaoping invented it to justify his reforms and policies using market mechanisms to grow the economy.
The result of that was a miraculous success of the Chinese economy. For a while, private enterprises were thriving, accounting for almost 70% of China’s GDP. Hundreds of millions of people were lifted out of poverty and transformed into the middle class. In the meantime, however, corruption became rampant. Officials used their unchecked powers to grant favors to businesses in exchange for kickbacks worth billions of dollars.
In reality, Deng Xiaoping’s “socialism with Chinese characteristics” has become crony capitalism.
When Xi Jinping came to power five years ago, he realized that corruption had severely undermined the credibility of the Communist Party. His anti-corruption campaign has put hundreds of thousands of officials in jail, including some high ranking ones. Xi also hit two birds with one stone: the anti-corruption campaign was a perfect tool for him to root out rivals and consolidate power.
Now with omnipotent power firmly in his hands, Xi Jinping wants to do something neither Mao nor Deng has done – he wants the combination of Mao’s totalitarianism and Deng’s crony capitalism.
This may be a new era for Xi Jinping, but for the Chinese people, it means more political control, more censorship of media, more crackdowns on any activities that are not inline with the Communist Party’s agenda.
Under such a situation, crony capitalism will be cronier and corruption will continue. The Party will penetrate more into all parts of Chinese society. Xi Jinping has required every members of the Communist Party to study Mao’s two essays: On Contradiction and On Practice, both are based on Marx’s theory of class struggle.
The government will want to have a direct hand in business. Recently, the Party has pushed to acquire a stake in big technology firms such as Tencent, Weibo, and Alibaba. Moving forward, we can expect more private businesses to get acquired or merged with state companies.
Foreign owned firms and joint ventures are required by law to establish a party organization. Some are leaving China, citing uncertainties in the political situation, unfavorable regulations, rising labor costs and lower profitability.
All this begs one question: where is Xi Jinping leading China? It doesn’t appear that there is a path in front of him, yet, he aspires to lead, not just China, but also the world. As President Trump withdraw America from international leadership, President Xi is wasting no time to step into the spotlight and position himself as the leader of the world.
While Kim Jong-un is dangerous, there is no ambiguity about the danger. Xi Jinping, however, is different. He talks about win-wins and humanity’s’ common future — everything that makes perfect sense. But how can he be win-win and have a common future with the free world?