Recently, The Communist Party of China announced it would remove term limits on the presidency, allowing current President Xi Jinping to rule for life, if he wants. This was, in some ways, inevitable. Xi’s rise to power was many years in the making and there were hints right from the start. During Xi Jinping’s first term he was named the core leader of the Communist party and, more recently, in October 2017 a new body of political thought bearing his name was added to the party’s constitution.
And, as the Communist Party is concerned, the party is the state. Their ideology says the state is the country and, therefore, if the Communist Party is in trouble, the country is in trouble. The issue of creating an ‘identity’ is crucial. They’ve been trying to instil an identity in the mindset of the Chinese people since 1949 and have a genuine fear of chaos in the minds of the Chinese people. On the other hand, people in China today are, in a sense, much more open to outside influence.
Reports from several Australian colleges and universities say that in recent years Australian Universities have been experiencing patriotic education among Chinese students on campus (Sydney Morning Herald, Oct 7, 2016). For example, Chinese students have strict ideas about the position of Taiwan with regard to China. In Australia, Taiwanese nationals who identify as Taiwanese instead of Chinese have been fired from jobs by Chinese managers (The Straits Times, Feb 20, 2018). There is a strong sense that Xi Jinping is tapping into this very strong sense of ‘Han nationalism’. Xi argues that the Chinese people can strengthen themselves through him by giving the party a strong central core led by a single person and that the party will strengthen the state. The world has seen the Colour revolution that took place in the Eastern Europe and the Arab Spring that swept the Middle East. For this reason there is fear that an organised effort is underway from outside to weaken the Communist Party and weaken Communist rule, which lays the groundwork for this kind of centralisation.
The new Mao?
What we see here is the upending of 30 years of practice in the Chinese system and the overturning of the legacy of Deng Xaioping. In a sense it seems China is headed back to Mao Ze Dong’s line of thinking. As one can remember, Mao had a very assertive policy regarding China. But the reformist Deng Xiaoping, who was China’s de-facto leader from 1978 to 1989, had a very conciliatory policy regarding China. Deng always spoke very softly and tried to ensure that Chinese were not seen as an aggressive power after 1979. China also did not involve itself in any kind of war. Mao, in contrast, was very aggressive and aggressively promoted Chinese interests and was unafraid to go to war where necessary. Xi Jinping’s tendency towards that Maoist mode of thinking has obvious implications for the rest of the world. Much of this tendency has been confirmed over the last five years. Xi Jinging is a strong man like Mao and position his friends and close allies around him. He has implemented an ongoing anti-corruption movement which has generated sown within the Party – fear of being investigated, fear of being denunciated by colleagues or other party cadres. And today, he is promoting a new ideological framework, which can be said to be inspired by the Mao era itself, as a close reading of his recent communications published by the state Xinhua news agency can tell us. China “need[s] to build a great modern Socialist Country and also need to promote people’s democratic dictatorship’’ he says in one such piece (Xinhua, Oct 18, 2017) . The terms used in the article sound strange to us, but were also used Mao. In these ways, there may be a continuity of rule, not between Deng Xiaoping and Xi Jinping, but rather Xi and Mao.
The Chinese psyche
Despite widespread famine and massive problems with industrialisation, Mao remained hugely popular during his reign. The Chinese people clustered around him out of fear that his fall could leave the door open to warlord-ism or a state once again subservient to outside powers. The Chinese are a very proud people and after about a century and a half of subservience to foreign powers they seem to be willing to forgive lapses in a leader, provided they believe that leader is ensuring that China exists in its Middle Kingdom sense – the core of the world. This is the vision Xi Jinping is selling. The One Belt One Road project is a frank effort to say: we are the centre of the world once again, we are the core of the world economy. And the facts bear him out.
What we are going to see is an ascendant China, a China with a strong leader who is single-minded in his determination to make China the most important country in the world by 2050.