TAIPEI (Taiwan News) – The world should take note of this moment and what is about to happen in China. Xi Jinping is more than likely about to be declared leader for life by the Chinese Communist Party.
If Xi's bid for life-long power proceeds, it is certainly bad news for Taiwan, the Indo-Pacific and the world. However, the people who should be worried about this the most are without a doubt, the Chinese themselves, none more so than members of the Chinese Communist Party.
What the world is witnessing in China is the steady contraction of capable authority, set against an ever expanding political empire and a slew of costly domestic and foreign infrastructure projects. The model of governance on display, and the increasingly authoritarian policies being enacted do not bode well for the continued existence of the Chinese state.
Recently, retired Taiwanese diplomat, Rex Wang published the book “China will collapse in 2031,” basically outlining China's reckless spending and neo-imperialist economic policies, and asserting that China's rate of economic expansion, and its cavalier speculation on economic futures, would eventually overwhelm the state's management capabilities.
To put a finer point on his prediction, Wang suggested that after Xi's two terms in office, and the near total elimination of established factions in the party, that a succession crisis would inevitably tear the inner circle of the Xi faction apart, and along with it, the party and the state.
Now, it appears that Xi and his cohorts have indeed considered the problem Wang's book presents, and in true authoritarian fashion, rather than attempting to address looming problems of governance and infrastructure, they have foolishly chosen to avoid a succession crisis for as long as possible by simply proposing that Xi Jinping should be their chairman for life.
2031 may or may not be an accurate prediction, but Xi Jinping and his inner circle, whether out of perceived pragmatism in the face of critical challenges, or out of sheer arrogance, have indeed signaled that the end of their dynasty is on the horizon.
Fear versus Pride
In recent discussions concerning cross-strait relations and China's imperious posturing towards Taiwan, there has been discussion of whether of not Chinese leadership is motivated out of hubris, or out of fear. Fear that if the state does not act quickly to annex Taiwan, then the nationalist sentiment and desire for political autonomy of the Taiwanese people may eventually preclude any effort to successfully integrate the island into the Chinese State.
On the other hand, some argue that China has achieved heights of economic and military power which are unprecedented in its modern history, and therefore China feels that the odds are in its favor in regards to acquiring political authority over Taiwan, whether by diplomatic coercion or by outright military conquest.
The logic follows that if China is motivated by hubris, then it should be more cautious in regards to Taiwan, because the communist party and Xi Jinping feel that time remains on their side. If they are worried about the rise of Taiwanese national identity, or feel that Taiwan may be approaching a point where it can achieve global diplomatic recognition, then it would be more likely to attack out of fear and to protect its own perceived interests.
The motion of the Xi Jinping clique to amend the constitution and make Xi leader for life, ultimately validates a bit of both perspectives, and contrary to the views of some scholars, this is very bad news for Taiwan.
The presumption that scrapping presidential term limits is somehow a good idea that will contribute to the long-term health and stability of a modern state absolutely smacks of arrogance. But we must ask ourselves, why would the Chinese leadership consider such a measure necessary if the future of the country was as bright as they claimed?
In the midst of a “Great Rejuvenation” and rainbows on the horizon, made visible by the esteemed leadership and governance of the vanguard communist party of China, and their unerring efforts to realize the nation's destiny, what could possibly have precipitated such a controversial motion to dismantle a rather important part of the state's foundational document?
China has a lot to worry about
The answer is fear, and not just concerning Taiwan. China is facing a veritable host of problems, some created by the Chinese state itself, and some inexorably intruding upon the Middle Kingdom from outside of its borders.
In their ideological drive to protect the empire they are building, while compelling obedience and assimilation of a massive population, Xi Jinping and his clique have convinced themselves that they act out of pragmatism, and they delude themselves that a single leader with unquestioned authority and a technocratic apparatus of control is the best approach to keep their house of cards from falling.
They feign impunity and grand motivation, because any alternative is simply not palatable to their prescribed ideological outlook. It looks like arrogance, because it is. But the actions clearly evidence an air of worry and uncertainty about the future.
In the days following the announcement of the proposal, many of China's netizens (along with the rest of the world) have voiced strident opposition to the measure. The Guardian reports that the state's online censors have been working overtime to crackdown and remove a whole slew of key words, including “Personality Cult,”(個人崇拜) “10,000 years”(萬歲) and even references to George Orwell's “1984” and “Animal Farm.”
State publications in China have accused western journalists of reacting “hysterically” to the announcement, while some commentators suggest that Beijing "underestimated the outrage its decision would cause." In terms of strategic optics, this was clearly a misstep.
Just like the chess player who misreads the board, makes a poorly calculated move, and then gives away their mistake with a barely perceptible jump of the eyes; China has just made such a move, and it portends far more than a controversy over presidential term limits.
Xi regards one of his predecessors Jiang Zemin, whose supporters are rumored to represent a dissenting faction in the CCP (Associated Press Image)
The truth is that the Chinese communist party has stretched themselves thin in terms of viable leadership, exiling and prosecuting members with any hint of divided loyalty under a guise of “anti-corruption.” They have fostered an atmosphere of distrust and uncertainty within their own party, and within the PLA.
The truth is they have threatened their neighbors, posturing as an indomitable military power across a vast region, one that is too vast for them to realistically be capable of dominating at this stage of their military's development.
The truth is that the state has been spending like mad on infrastructure projects across Southeast Asia, Central Asia, Africa, and even Central America, creating a class of indentured servant nations. The reality is that if even a few of those projects fail to deliver on anticipated gains, then China's future revenues, and their extraterritorial presence in those nations will become increasingly difficult to maintain.
The truth is that the world has never seen a system of mass citizen surveillance and a campaign to suppress free political speech as sophisticated and as massive as the one in China. As more and more effort and resources are invested in social engineering programs like Sesame Credit, and the maintenance of the Great Firewall, the likelihood that China's strategic censorship directives can keep apace with global developments in IT becomes increasingly slim.
The truth is that China is host to a plethora of separatist groups across its geographic territory. From Xinjiang, to Tibet, to Inner Mongolia, Hong Kong, and even the ethnic Koreans, there are numerous groups who do not consider themselves Chinese, and who care nothing for the “Chinese Dream” or the sentimental nationalist discourse of the communist cadres or their leadership in Beijing.
The truth is that China is sitting on a massive housing bubble, that will erupt into an economic crisis at one point or another, and the country's richest citizens have already begun investing their assets abroad to ensure their fortunes will not be lost when it happens. China's consistent manipulation of its currency value to maintain a competitive edge on international markets will prove a greater hindrance than advantage when Chinese banks are unable continue financing infrastructure projects, and at such a time those that have been completed may or may not have already stopped yielding gains when the economic crisis does occur.
Those are all problems that are completely of China's own making. It isn't even necessary to begin discussing the scope and nature of contingency plans by a host of foreign governments, both economic and military, intended to balance, hamper, or otherwise prevent the “rise of China."
Taking Taiwan: the Gamble of a Dynasty
Thus we begin to recognize the difficult and uncomfortable position, in which the Chinese leadership finds itself. In a one party state, power struggles will tend to lead to the contraction of authority into smaller and smaller circles, with capable decision makers decreasing in number, as the potential for innovation and creative problem solving also decreases.
The Chinese government appears to be a victim of its own political inertia, and with the appointment of Xi Jinping as leader for life, after a limited period of increasingly oppressive attempts to enforce political order, the state will most likely fall into disarray.
In many ways, the slide back towards autocracy evidenced by China under Xi Jinping may reflect a psychological tendency of Chinese political culture. A recent book published by Paul Midler entitled “What's wrong with China?” suggests that in the deep national psyche of the Chinese, everyone including the rulers “have internalized the dynastic cycle” and have “no faith in the permanence of their political arrangements.”
According to the book, from this mindset towards political authority stem several noticeable traits including; "the passion to get while the getting is good, the gambling instinct, and the leaders' determination to put off the inevitable day of dissolution as long as possible." As discussed above, the recent proposal to enthrone Xi does seem to echo that last point, and it may be that there is a kind of moribund resignation shared among China's leadership about the potential future straits of the party's governance.
Perhaps that is why Xi Jinping always appears so melancholy.
If Xi Jinping genuinely had the best interests of China at heart, then before the 13th National People's Congress can confirm him as emperor at the end of the dynasty, he should use this opportunity as a public relations stunt; he should denounce the measure as regressive, and thus he will appear to humbly gain face in the eyes of the world as a reasonable fellow, with a respect for constitutional government.
However, most people are pretty sure that isn't going to happen.
If Xi does ascend to the rank of supreme leader for life, then as a Son of Heaven, his presidential legacy and his life legacy will become co-terminal, and he has made it abundantly clear that Taiwan is the apple of his imperial eye.
And it is in regards to Taiwan, that the aforementioned “gambling instinct” of Xi Jinping and the communist party may be inextricably bound to the fate of their own nation building project.
The discourse of China's “Great Rejuvenation of the Motherland” explicitly regards the control of Taiwan as necessary to achieve territorial integrity and thus realize China's destiny. Realistically, this would imply the destruction of Taiwan's democratic system of governance and its open civil society.
If Xi Jinping hopes to secure his place as a legendary leader, worthy of the throne until death, then there is little to no possibility he would forego his gambling instinct. That is despite the possibility that an assault on Taiwan might trigger a regional war, and could possibly lead to the entire destabilization of the Chinese state if the venture were to fail.
It is far more likely he intends to try and deliver on his promises, exhorting the Chinese military forces as recent as January that they should "Not Fear Death.”
Regardless of the outcome of such a gamble, the “status quo” Taiwan has enjoyed until now is not likely to last much longer, despite the assurances of Taiwan's President Tsai Ing-wen. And unless Xi Jinping suddenly falls ill or finds himself the target of a political assassination attempt, then the “status quo” will certainly not survive the life long reign of Xi.
An independence referendum for Taiwan has also just been launched, that is anticipated to be voted on in April, 2019.
October 2019 will be the 70th anniversary of the founding of the current Chinese state, and the referendum could possibly be the goad that triggers Chinese military action against Taiwan. Others have suggested 2020 as a likely year ahead of the 100th anniversary of the Communist Party of China, which will occur in June, 2021.
The years ahead will be absolutely crucial for the future of Taiwan. For all who hope to protect Taiwan's free and democratic society from an irrational and ideologically driven Chinese government, grasping for the means to secure its own existence, now is the time for vigilance.
"There is still work to be done."
(Associated Press Image)