In the fall, the Chinese Communist Party will meet for the 20th party congress, primarily to proclaim its General Secretary Xi Jinping (68) President of the People’s Republic for the third time. But Xi is in trouble. The endeavor to head China for another five years is risky. The rules only allow two terms, a maximum of ten years. Most recently, Mao ruled the country longer – the man under whom at least 45 million people died. Xi Jinping loves Mao. He had himself immortalized alongside him as the nation’s teacher, and his politics were written into the country’s constitution as a guideline.
Xi has used the past ten years to bring the country into line. Today it is a dictatorship where the government controls everything from haircuts to the time young people spend in front of computers. In return, Xi has promised the people a safe life and increased prosperity. But it is slowly dawning on people and some party officials that Xi has steered the country down an unfortunate course. The Covid pandemic is getting out of control. The country is in lockdown, the economy is faltering, and the vital port of Shanghai is malfunctioning as Xi locks people up at home.
Breaking Out of Quarantine: Grosi (95) takes on officials in Shanghai(01:18)
President Xi’s facade is crumbling for the first time
A lockdown only makes sense if it gives you time to vaccinate people. However, since Xi rejects Western vaccines that help against the omicron variant of the coronavirus for ideological reasons, and the Chinese vaccines themselves do not work, the leadership has no recipe for how to get the pandemic under control. At the same time, people see the power Beijing has over them: millions upon millions are locked up, don’t have enough to eat, no medicine. Anyone who dares to go out on the streets is beaten up by government thugs. Given the omnipotence of the Chinese surveillance state, one can only speculate whether people’s displeasure will lead to a revolt. But it is safe to say that people will not easily forget the collective experience of injustice. And the economy is suffering massively, which is why Xi will not be able to present any great growth figures in the fall.
Finally, there is Xi Jinping’s patronage of Russia. In February he signed a communiqué with dictator Putin in Beijing, in which they praise their friendship and agree on all kinds of cooperation. The aim is a phalanx against the democratic world under the leadership of the USA. Then came the invasion of Ukraine, and China sided with Putin. Despite war crimes and violations of international law, Beijing is staying put. Xi’s critics find this devastating. For example, respected professors abroad were allowed to publish articles in which criticism of Xi’s line is recognizable. That should send a clear signal: Not everyone shares the opinion of those in power. Until recently, it would have been inconceivable that voices deviating from the government line would be published, even abroad.
War propaganda works for the most part
In a representative online survey, the Chinese themselves were recently asked what they think of their country’s positioning alongside Russia. An overwhelming majority of around 75 percent approve of Beijing’s current course. Many also believe the propaganda of the government agencies, according to which the main fight in Ukraine is against the USA as China’s adversary. An alarming number of people also say they have heard that the Russian army has tracked down American biological laboratories in Ukraine. This closes the propaganda circle for Beijing, according to which the corona pandemic comes from a US laboratory.
In fact, the pandemic started in a market in Wuhan, China. Even then, the authorities did everything they could to prevent clarification and help. Li Wenliang, a doctor from Wuhan who spoke to colleagues about the new virus, was therefore interrogated and disciplined by the police. He shouldn’t cause trouble. He later died of Covid himself while performing his medical duty and has been something of a saint ever since. His death had turned the internet masses against Beijing. A little later, the protest notes were deleted by the censorship authorities. To date, Beijing continues its line of refusing to cooperate with United Nations scientists who want to study the cause of the pandemic in order to detect new pandemics in the world before they get out of control.
Chinese demand mediator role in war
In said poll, a majority said their government should act as mediator in the war against Ukraine. On this point, the people contradict their government, which has so far refused to play the role of mediator. The background is that China itself is planning an invasion: that of the neighboring democratic island nation of Taiwan. Here the Russian even supports the Chinese army in its modernization, which should be completed in 2027. Then the “People’s Liberation Army” should be able to win a house-to-house and guerrilla war on Taiwan.
Xi’s critics point to the sanctions against Russia, which could hit China at any time should the country actively intervene in the war against Ukraine or, in the near future, become an aggressor itself and attack a neighboring country. It is to be expected that Xi will not allow a showdown in the fall, but will take all possible measures beforehand, including drastic ones, to nip criticism of him in the bud. For him, a third term means nothing other than being able to rule without restrictions until the end of his life, like Mao. That would not be good news for China and the world.
* Alexander Görlach is a Senior Fellow at the Carnegie Council for Ethics in International Affairs in New York. His new book “Red Alert: Why Beijing’s aggressive foreign policy in the western Pacific is leading to a global war” (Hoffmann & Campe) has just been published.