Xi’s Consolidation of Power Signals a More Aggressive China: Analysts 

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The United States is “not seeking a new Cold War” with either the Chinese regime or Russia, declared President Joe Biden at the United Nations in September.

Yet Chinese leader Xi Jinping’s consolidation of power during a twice-a-decade political reshuffle will inevitably intensify competition between the two nations, and increase risks of a cold war, according to Chinese analysts.

Xi on Oct. 23 secured an unprecedented third five-year team in power after the close of the Chinese Communist Party’s (CCP) 20th National Congress, and installed allies in the Party’s top decision-making bodies.

The result of this is the United States and the West face the prospect of an even more aggressive China, analysts say. This is partly because Xi, the regime’s most powerful leader since Mao Zedong, now prioritizes ideology over pragmatism.

“When politics and ideology completely trump the economy, the space for cooperation [between Beijing and Washington] shrinks,” said Shen Jung-chin, associate professor at the School of Administrative Studies at Canada’s York University.

“It means there will be fierce confrontation and competition instead,” he told The Epoch Times.

Epoch Times Photo
A woman uses her mobile phone as she walks in front of a large screen showing a news broadcast about China’s military exercises encircling Taiwan, in Beijing on Aug. 4, 2022. (Noel Celis/AFP via Getty Images)

Security Over Economy

The frequent use of the words “security” and “socialism” in the report of the 20th Party Congress reveals that national security takes center stage, according to Shen. The report featured a separate section with a focus on national security for the first time ever. According to an analysis by the Center for Strategic and International Studies think tank, the report mentioned the word “security” 91 times, up from 54 times in the 19th Congress report.

While the 20th Party Congress report pledged that market reforms is still “basic state policy,” Shen said references to “reform,” “market,” and “economy” were given less emphasis in the landmark document compared with the one five years ago.

Shen also noted that there was no mention of an easing of the regime’s “zero-COVID” policy during an oral version of the report delivered by Xi at the congress’s opening ceremony on Oct. 16, even though the strict pandemic-handling approach has damaged China’s economy.

China’s gross domestic product (GDP) expanded 3.9 percent year on year in the third quarter, which is better than expected but still far below Beijing’s official full-year target of “around 5.5 percent”—its lowest goal in nearly three decades. This weak economic performance, Shen said, came as the country grapples with a property crisis, renewed lockdowns and COVID curbs, along with risks of a global recession.

Pessimism towards China’s economy was reflected in the Chinese stock market’s performance following the announcement of Xi’s third term. Hong Kong’s Hang Seng Index fell by 6.3 percent on Oct. 24, its lowest level since April 2009. The Hang Seng Tech Index plunged by more than 9 percent. The Hang Seng China Enterprises Index, a gauge of Chinese stocks that are listed in Hong Kong, declined 7.3 percent, which is its worst performance after a CCP Congress since 1994. This was the worst day for stocks in Hong Kong since the global financial crisis of 2008, while the onshore yuan fell to its weakest level since January 2008.

Despite the country’s sluggish economy, Xi’s remarks “reveals that the CCP now puts economic development in second place, “Shen said. Instead, “ideology, especially the confrontation with the West, is given more prominence in the [policy] framework.”

“Such a trend is worrying,” Shen added.

In the congress report, the communist regime alluded to Western nations taking increased actions to counter Beijing’s aggressions by warning of challenges from “a grim and complex international situation.” Without mentioning the United States or other countries by name, the report stated that “external attempts to suppress and contain China may escalate at any time.”

During Xi’s tenure, Sino-U.S. relations have deteriorated over a series of issues, including the Chinese regime’s human rights abuses in Xinjiang and Hong Kong, its aggression against Taiwan, and rampant technology theft. But such tensions are still different from that during the Cold War-era, when the United States was estranged from the Soviet Union, Shen noted. In contrast, Washington and Beijing have deep commercial ties that largely arose from the regime’s economic reform policies implemented from the 1980s.

“However, now, it seems Xi is walking towards a different direction,” said Shen.

Epoch Times Photo
China’s leader Xi Jinping (front) walks with members of the Chinese Communist Party’s new Politburo Standing Committee, the nation’s top decision-making body as they meet the media in the Great Hall of the People in Beijing on October 23, 2022. (Noel Celis / AFP via Getty Images)

One-man Rule

Waving his hands and smiling, Xi led six dark-suited men onto the red-carpeted stage at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing on Oct. 23, sending a message of his tightening grip over the Party and country.

Xi and the six men form the Politburo Standing Committee, the Party’s pinnacle decision-making body, a group that is now stacked with Xi loyalists.

Following the week-long congress, Xi confirmed his third five-year term as the CCP’s secretary general, a feat that none of his predecessors have claimed since Mao, who ruled the country for 27 years until his death in 1976. Additionally, the lack of a possible successor to the 69-year-old leader suggests he may intend to further extend his term, which ends in 2027.

Xi’s precedent-breaking new term was widely expected. But even veteran analysts were surprised that the Party’s new generation of ruling elites was dominated by the 69-year-old leader’s allies and protégés.

“Xi has now completely controlled the Politburo Standing Committee,” said Li Yuanhua, an Australia-based Chinese expert and a former associate professor at the Capital Normal University College of Education in Beijing.

Except for the two senior officials who retained their positions in the standing committee, Li highlighted that all four newly-appointed members are Xi allies.

According to Li, these senior officials were promoted to the Party’s highest positions due to their faithful execution of Xi’s decisions, regardless of their merits.

The analyst cited Li Qiang, Xi’s former right-hand man, as an example. As Shanghai Party chief, Li’s strict implementation of the draconian zero-COVID policy left the city’s residents and economy struggling to cope amid a two-month lockdown. Confined in their homes or quarantine centres, the city’s 25 million residents struggled to obtain food and health care, fueling public anger and provoking small-scale protests. The heavy restrictions in the country’s financial hub also inflicted pain on the country’s economy and ravaged global supply chains.

Speculation had since swirled that Li’s political career was doomed. But Li now takes over the Party’s number two position and is believed to become the next premier.

“Xi Jinping’s criteria [for promoting officials] is their connection to him, absolute loyalty to him, and obedience to him,” said Feng Chongyi, a professor of China studies at the University of Technology Sydney.

Thus the political prospects of officials relies on Xi’s continued support.

“Now, the power is all in the hands of Xi,” said Lu Yeh-chung, a professor and chair of the diplomacy department at National Cheng-chi University in Taiwan.

Yi Ru, Lin Cenxin, Luo Ya, and Naveen Athrappully contributed to this report.

Dorothy Li

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Dorothy Li is a reporter for The Epoch Times based in Europe.



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