Xi Jinping takes a confident stance as he seeks to ensure China’s prosperity and might in a post-Covid world, saying the country is entering a period of opportunity in which “the East is on the rise and the ‘West is in decline’.
Behind closed doors, however, the leader of the Chinese Communist Party directly warned the Chinese leadership: do not dismiss our competitors, especially the United States.
“The biggest source of chaos in the world today is the United States,” Xi said, a northwest China’s county official reported in a speech released last week on a government website. Xi said he said: “The United States is the greatest threat to the development and security of our country.”
Repeated in recent public statements by senior officials close to Xi, the warning strengthens the balance between confidence and caution Xi seeks to achieve as China moves forward as other countries continue to fight the pandemic .
Xi’s ambiguous statements reflect an effort to keep China on its toes – for, despite its success at home, the country continues to be viewed with deep suspicion from Washington and other Western capitals.
Chinese officials said in speeches recently posted on the local Communist Party’s websites that, according to Xi, although the country is getting stronger, “the West is still strong and the East is still weak” in many ways.
Xi will announce a new long-term plan for the country to orient itself in this new global environment. The announcement will be made at the meeting of the National People’s Congress, a legislature controlled by the Communist Party, which will begin this Friday (5) and should last a week.
“Xi Jinping seems tireless, but cautious in his efforts to build a lasting personal legacy,” commented synologist Dimitar Gueorguiev, assistant professor of political science at Syracuse University.
Xi and other Chinese leaders recently described short-term and long-term challenges that may prevent them from achieving their ambitions. The Biden administration has said it wants to pressure China on human rights issues and compete with it on technological advancements and regional influence in Asia.
At home, China faces an aging population and tries to overhaul an engine of economic growth that uses too much investment and energy to make little gain and cause a lot of pollution.
Beijing also sees a threat in Hong Kong, where in 2019 resistance to increased Communist Party control sparked anti-government protests that continued for months. Highlighting Xi’s hard line against political opposition, the Chinese lawmaker appears to be positioning himself to support plans to drastically rewrite Hong Kong’s electoral rules, ending the last vestiges of local democracy in the former British colony.
China is also considering its next major change of leadership in 2022. It seems likely that Xi, 67, will claim a third five-year term in power, overcoming the term limits put in place to retain the country’s leadership after Mao Tsetung and Deng Xiaoping.
Chinese leaders are using the country’s success in eliminating coronavirus infections as an argument to justify Xi Jinping’s top-down government. Emerging triumphant from the pandemic, Xi will want to further centralize his power, said Lynette H. Ong, a political scientist at the University of Toronto.
Xi said that each year, China moves closer to regaining its historic status as a great power. Meanwhile, he says, the established powers are divided and dysfunctional.
Late last year, he urged Chinese leaders to “clearly grasp the broad trend that the East is on the rise while the West is on the decline,” party official Zhou Ye said recently. during a meeting at Shanghai Fudan University, according to an online report. . “There is a stark contrast between the order of China and the chaos of the West.”
For years, Xi and other Chinese leaders have at times used aggressive rhetoric, pitting the East against the West. But these phrases have been used much more frequently in recent months, underscoring the confidence – or, critics say, arrogance – emanating from the Chinese government.
The health of the economy will be crucial for the survival of this confidence. Government advisers suggest that, if all goes well, the average growth of the economy could reach 5% or more over the next five years.
But, say economic advisers in Beijing, the country may not be able to maintain this level of growth if it does not become more innovative and reduce its dependence on investments in infrastructure and heavy industry.
China also faces serious demographic challenges. The country has benefited for decades from a young workforce that has filled its factories and cities. But the aging of the population will increase the pressure on pensions, the health sector and accumulated savings.
These economic pressures could eventually erode public support for the Communist Party in the years to come, said Andrew G. Walder, a professor at Stanford University who contributed to a book, “Fateful Decisions,” on the tough decisions to be made. the country is facing. “We must not be fooled by the stability of public approval of the actions of the Communist Party,” he said.
Beijing’s rulers appear to be paying much more attention to the United States, which they say remains determined to curb China’s rise, regardless of who occupies the White House.
Chinese lawmakers were alarmed when the Trump administration revoked Chinese companies’ access to American technology. Many say the United States will continue to try to restrict China, limiting its access to technologies such as advanced semiconductors and the machines to produce them.
“The containment and oppression of the United States is a significant danger,” said Chen Yixin, a security official who was the executor of Xi’s policy in Wuhan, where the coronavirus emerged. In January, when he spoke to government officials about Xi Jinping’s ideas, Chen used military language to point out the dangers: “This is an unforeseen confrontation and also a protracted war.”
In 2018, Xi forced the passage of a constitutional amendment abolishing presidential term limits. With this, he paved the way for his stay in power for more than a decade as president and also party leader. Chinese political and economic elites are likely to increasingly fear when and how Xi promotes a potential successor or group of successors.
He may continue to dominate for years to come, which will make his decisions, or bad judgments, even more meaningful.
“Today there are few or no sources of internal opposition,” said Shanghai historian Xiao Gongqin. “This is why it is important that the leader can remain stable and well balanced.”