Monday, September 9, 2019

Understanding Chinese President Xi Jinping’s Motivation And Ambition

Apart from a brief flirtation with democracy immediately after the fall of the Qing Dynasty in 1911 and the emergence of multi-party democracy in Taiwan in 1992, autocrats have ruled China throughout its history.

China has been governed by regional nobles, national emperors, warlords, and Communist Party leaders.  The current Communist leader is Xi Jinping, author of “Xi Jinping Thought on Socialism With Chinese Characteristics For The Modern Era,” a 14-point statement that has been incorporated into the Constitution.  President Xi has eliminated the traditional limit of two five-year terms for the Chinese Communist Party paramount leader.

China’s Communist leaders have worked hard to eliminate the stain of Western imperialism that began with the Opium War in 1839 and ended on the Chinese mainland with the founding of the Peoples Republic of China in 1949.  Mao Zedong’s successor, Deng Xiaoping, formulated the doctrine of “one country, two systems,” under which Hong Kong and Macao were promised a high degree of autonomy to maintain unchanged their capitalist way of life for 50 years.  Recovering Hong Kong (1997) and Macao (1999) eliminated the remaining enclaves under Western control on the Chinese mainland.  Absorbing the Republic of China on Taiwan into the mainland is the remaining objective to complete the unification of China.

The philosophy and practice of Communist Party governance has not taken the form of a straight upward trajectory.  There have been bumps along the road.  Think in terms of “two steps forward one step backward,” “one step forward one step pause,” and other combinations of advancement, retrenchment, and holding patterns.  President Xi’s current dance with President Trump over a trade agreement may appear that Xi is making concessions to Trump to avoid risking a slowdown in China’s growth.  That would be wrong.  Any concessions Xi makes should be seen as a temporary measure along the way to fulfilling his (and China’s) domestic and foreign policy goals.

What is Xi’s ambition?  First is securing China’s dominance in economic, political, and military power throughout East Asia, pushing the West, specifically the United States, away from  China’s sphere of influence.  Second is expanding China’s influence throughout Southeast Asia, South Asia, and Central Asia, concurrent with a gradual reduction of America’s military presence in Afghanistan, Central Asia, and the Middle East.  Third is increasing Chinese influence in Europe (“one belt one road”) and enhancing China’s influence in Africa, the Caribbean, and Latin America.  President Xi can deploy the wealth generated from decades of high growth in pursuit of China’s regional and global ambitions.

Does President Xi really understand American politics?   Or is he getting mistaken advice that America can be pushed out of Asia and lacks the will to complete with China for global influence?  Perhaps Xi was poorly advised about President Trump in his early encounters with him.  Perhaps Xi believes that Trump desperately wants a trade deal to win reelection in 2020 and that Trump will make concessions.  Perhaps he believes U.S. polls showing Trump trailing several Democrat candidates and that he can wait until 2021 when a Democrat takes over the conduct of U.S. foreign policy.  Even if Xi signs what seems to be a one-sided deal in America’s favor, do not expect China to adhere to the spirit and letter of an agreement.  If you want evidence, Hong Kong people were promised that they could elect their Chief Executive by universal suffrage.  So much for that promise!

Xi is well on the way to attaining Chinese dominance in East Asia.  The U.S. cannot deploy all its military and economic resources to contain China as America also confronts problems in Europe, the Middle East, the Arctic, and Africa.  The U.S. has also entered a period of increasing racial/ethnic and other political divisions which will occupy political attention at home.  China can bide its time till it takes the net big step forward.

It would be a mistake to listen to the American doomsayers of China’s diminishing economic prospects.  They have been wrong for 40 years.

1 comment :

Brian Villanueva said...

What is your opinion of China's demographic problem? They face a population collapse -- working age population will peak in less than 10 years. Population collapse does not correlate in history with positive outcomes. Modern capitalism relies on permanent growth, which is a lot harder to attain if your population is shrinking.

Even if they could find hundreds of millions of foreigners who wanted to come and make China their permanent home, China does not assimilate well. How do you see Xi (who presumably will still be president when this happens) addressing that? Do you agree with the predictions that China will grow old before it grows rich? Or is there another way out of this one-child-fueled trap?