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article imageOp-Ed: Where will Xi take China, and the world?

By Paul Wallis     Oct 24, 2017 in World
Beijing - The news about President Xi Jinping’s “enthronement” by the Communist party has been generating some very negative, and naïve, viewpoints. The risks of a one-man China aren’t as obvious as they seem.
The news about the Communist Party conference has been pretty monolithic in reportage. “Personality cult”, “strongman”, “greatest leader since Mao”, the terminology is kindergarten level. The default image of China is of some monster; all that’s changed is that it now has a recognizable head. Hardly sophisticated analysis.
The net actual news is easy enough to define:
Xi Jinping has been formally elevated over his Party peers. That’s a first since Mao.
Xi Jinping is a good position player, placing his people in key positions and removing others. (Why wouldn’t he?)
Xi’s economic and social vision is vast. The One Belt One Road reincarnation of the Silk Road, for example, could literally plug in the world’s economy to China.
Xi is committed to a strong military. No great surprise, given that the PRC has been basically rebuilding for 20 years. Xi has added some obvious stimulus.
The South China Sea: China is on a mission to build artificial islands.
The South China Sea: China is on a mission to build artificial islands.
The South China Sea Islands are Xi’s idea, and not negotiable. Broader strategies are obviously in play, but this is about as assertive as China has been in recent times since its’ invasion of Vietnam in the 70s.
OK, nothing to see here, eh? Xi is out-Putin-ing Putin in some ways. He’s also projecting a very different China from the more pragmatic, if “insular”, China of the initial boom. China is no longer seeing itself as a facilitator, but as a leading driver, in multiple ways. The entire perspective of China has changed under Xi, quite quickly.
Xi is obviously no trivial person in terms of this personal achievement. To rise to the top in modern China is hardly easy. At this time in history, with the US in eclipse largely thanks to itself, China is ready and obviously willing to rule by dictating the future global economy.
That’s how previous super powers ruled – Not by military force, but by economic realities. The British Empire, a global market dominator, was replaced by the US, another global market dominator. China is undeniably in an excellent position to do just that.
An artwork depicting the violence of the Cultural Revolution on display at Fan Jianchuan's muse...
An artwork depicting the violence of the Cultural Revolution on display at Fan Jianchuan's museum near Chengdu, in Sichuan province
Mark Ralston, AFP/File
It’s unlikely Xi will follow Mao’s less impressive examples, particularly in terms of disorganization. A cult of personality is a nice image, but not necessarily any sort of indicator. A strongman, if he’s any good, is decisive, but barely visible.
Xi’s personal history, in fact, seems to indicate that he knows only too well what “chaos” means in Chinese realities. After rising through the labyrinthine ranks of the Party, he’s now trying to integrate it and centralize power. That doesn’t mean he’s ignored his own experience of the Cultural Revolution, or the mindlessness of the Great Leap Forward.
Beijing 2008: China and the Olympics
China: Forbidden City
File photo
The problem with Xi is that the usual retro Cold War imagery is completely irrelevant and misleading, and not much else is emanating from the reportage. He’s already putting in motion very large, NEW, and unprecedented operations.
The One Belt One Road initiative alone could attract huge capital and simply cut the US out of the markets. The actual result will be a China/EU/Russia trade bloc, bigger than anything since well, the original Silk Road. It just so happens that the original Silk Road was one of the most profitable trade routes in history, too.
Xi is holding some very strong cards. Technologically, China’s ability to deliver massive market reaching tech is another super-weapon. In space, China is on the move, whether anyone else is or not. Militarily, the world seems surprised that a global super power would have a military to match.
Strategically, the world appears equally baffled. The effective global response to China’s South China Sea islands has been nil. China is there. They’re not leaving. Easy points scored for diplomatic realities, but really – What the hell is the world going to do about it? Not much.
A one man China?
Any Sinologist will tell you – There is nothing simple about China. There never has been. If you think anything Chinese is
Considered the founding father of modern China for his 1911 overthrow of the Qing dynasty  Sun Yat-s...
Considered the founding father of modern China for his 1911 overthrow of the Qing dynasty, Sun Yat-sen's portrait is displayed in Beijing's Tiananmen Square on important dates
Greg Baker, AFP/File
simple, the perceived degree of simplicity simply measures your ignorance.
China is always complex. There’s a problem with that, too. Chinese leadership is like a typhoon, when it’s operating at peak efficiency. The mighty winds blow, and people get blown about with them. It’s a pretty ferocious dynamic. When the typhoon has change course, the results are pretty dramatic.
There’s a problem with that, and it’s well-proven. Great and successful Chinese leaders of the past all have one thing in common – They were replaced by chaos in most cases. In some cases they created the chaos which replaced them. The Ming were a classic case.
If Xi is a one man China, prepared to take on the massive load of modern China, how far can he take it? To hell with the rhetoric and the ideologies – Where will he take the world?
I see one strong positive. He’s spoken of reintroducing and reinforcing Chinese traditional beliefs and customs. Those beliefs and customs are the bedrock of China’s true culture, the one that’s brought the nation through thousands of years of incredible situations. That culture survives. It builds and rebuilds in the face of impossibilities and adversities.
If Xi’s enough of a realist to recognise and respect that strength, the future might be equally worthy of respect.
This opinion article was written by an independent writer. The opinions and views expressed herein are those of the author and are not necessarily intended to reflect those of
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