Mark Collins – Top Dragon’s Neo-Maoism and Possible Consequences

Further to this post,

Xi is Top Dragon to the “Core”

excerpts from two articles:

1) The Economist tries to strike a not too terribly pessimistic balance:

Xi Jinping’s leadership
Chairman of everything
In his exercise of power at home, Xi Jinping is often ruthless. But there are limits to his daring

Mr Xi is no Mao, a man whose whims caused the deaths of tens of millions and who revelled in the hysteria of his cult [see “Would Anyone Write Thus about A.H.?“]. But he rules in a way unlike any leader since the Great Helmsman. After Mao’s death, Deng tried to create a leadership of equals in order to push China away from Maoist caprices. Mr Xi is turning from that system back towards a more personal one. Indeed, he is more of a micromanager than Mao ever was. Mr Xi tries to maintain day-to-day control over every aspect of government. He might be compared to Philip II of Spain, on whose desk in a palace near Madrid all the problems of his 16th-century empire landed in the form of endless letters requiring response. Unlike Mao, who had a mischievous sense of humour and enjoyed sparring with ideological foes such as Richard Nixon, Mr Xi is reserved and unsmiling—despite a carefully scripted publicity campaign that depicts him as a football-supporting, moviegoing, baby-kissing family man with a glamorous wife, Peng Liyuan (Peng Mama, as fawning official media call her).

Most observers have tended to assume that, with all his power, Mr Xi can do more or less as he likes. However, important decisions he has made in recent months suggest something more complex. Concerning high politics, Mr Xi is ruthless and bold, and takes calculated risks. Dealing with society as a whole, he is willing to make changes but is more cautious. And with the economy, he lacks a sense of direction. Policy is confused and there have been numerous mistakes. Mr Xi is not an all-conquering strongman. He gets his way only in some areas…

Some optimists still argue that Mr Xi believes the time is not yet ripe for bold economic change but that, once he has cleaned up the party, he will be able to turn his attention to economic reform. In this view, a critical period will come after a party congress due late next year. At that meeting, Mr Xi will put many more of his loyalists in positions of authority. But it is just as likely that he will continue to dawdle on reform, because opposition to it will have become entrenched. It is rarely possible to change course sharply after several years in power.

Either way, the success of Mr Xi’s rule will rest not just on whether he wins the battles he has chosen to fight, but on whether he has picked the right ones. Seen from the point of view of China as a whole, it does not look as if he has. Mr Xi seems bent on strengthening his party and keeping himself in power, not on making China the wealthier and more open society that its people crave.

2) But Orville Schell takes a severely bleaker view at the New York Review of Books:

Crackdown in China: Worse and Worse

What is most striking about these new tactics is their boldness and unrepentant tone. Instead of denying or apologizing for them, the CCP seems to proudly proclaim them as part of a new Chinese model of development, albeit one that has no use for liberal values from the West. In the new world of resurgent Chinese wealth and power, what is valued is strong leadership, short-term stability, and immediate economic growth…

Moving away from the “consensus-style leadership” that came to distinguish China since Mao’s repressive rule, Xi Jinping has not only recentralized power, but just as Ming emperors abolished the position of prime minister, he has marginalized the position of the modern-day premier. Instead, he has set up a series of new “leading small groups” (lingdao xiaozu) and made himself head of the most important ones (covering such fields as military reorganization, cyberhacking, economic reform, maritime rights, etc.). More than prima inter pares, Xi has become what Party propaganda organs now grandly tout as the “core” (hexin) of the Party. As a well-known Chinese cultural figure recently complained in private, “Our leadership now has an indelibly ‘dictatorial personality’ (ducaide xingge).”..

The notion that the “Mao Zedong Thought” that had dominated the Cultural Revolution would ever make a comeback in China had long seemed as unlikely as it was unwelcome. But now that China is sliding ineluctably backward into a political climate more reminiscent of Mao Zedong in the 1970s than Deng Xiaoping in the 1980s, more and more educated Chinese are making allusions to such frightening periods of Chinese history as the Cultural Revolution and the Ming dynasty. And more and more of them are also seeking to financially anchor themselves abroad by finding ways to park assets outside their country, making it hardly surprising that China has been hemorrhaging foreign currency, with $1 trillion said to have fled the country last year alone.

When in 1978 the twice-purged Deng returned to power to lay out an ambitious reform agenda that allowed post-Mao China to enjoy greater liberalization in both its economic and political life, there was great relief. And during the relatively tolerant decade that followed, prior to Tiananmen Square in 1989, it was possible to imagine that with the passage of time China would not only become more market-oriented, politically open, and committed to the rule of law, but more in the world. Such optimism was only reinforced by such notions as China’s “peaceful rise” propounded later under Hu Jintao…

…[Xi’s] authoritarian style of leadership at home and belligerent posture abroad are ominous because they make China’s chances of being successful in reforming its own economy—on which the entire world now depends—increasingly unlikely. At the same time, because they seem bound to make the Party more dependent on nationalism and xenophobia, Xi’s policies also seem destined to prevent Beijing from being able to recast its inflamed relations with its neighbors around the South and East China seas [more here and here]. Finally, because such policies also grow out of a deeply paranoid view of the democratic world, they make it extremely difficult for China to effectively cooperate with countries like the US on crucial areas of common interests such as antiterrorism, climate change, pandemics, and nuclear proliferation.

Whatever may come, China is undergoing a retrograde change that will require every person, business, and country dealing with it to make a radical reassessment of its willingness to seek convergence with the rest of the world.

Will the new Canadian government be willing to engage in any such reassessment? Unlikely–this may be relevant:

Canadian Foreign Policy: “The Liberals and their ‘magic’ morality”, Russia Section

Mark Collins, a prolific Ottawa blogger, is a Fellow at the Canadian Global Affairs Institute; he tweets @Mark3Ds

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