There does not seem to be many other options as China starts to flex its muscles on the world stage, and there’s no going back. It helps them enormously that there is a cretin in the White House – a cretin who thinks he is a world- class thinker and strategist but actually, is a three-year old in long trousers. China will outthink him before breakfast and no wonder China is keen for him to remain in office. It could be compared to Bobby Fisher playing chess with a monkey.
China has always been an enigma and we have little chance to understand what makes them tick, what the ‘new China’ culture is based on and what they actually want, and their leader epitomises the dilemma. This kindly grandfather figure who looks as if butter wouldn’t melt in his mouth is, in fact, a ruthless leader who stamps out decent within, is launching harsh intrusions into other countries, is changing the face of the South China Sea and does not give a damn what we think.
Xi Jinping became president of China in 2012, ushering in an era of increased assertiveness and authoritarianism. He has been front and centre of China’s push to cement its position as a superpower, while also launching crackdowns on corruption and dissent.
A consummate political chess player who has cultivated an enigmatic strongman image, the leader of the ruling Chinese Communist Party has rapidly consolidated power, having his ideas mentioned by name in the constitution – an honour that had been reserved only to Mao Zedong until now.
The “Xi Jinping Thought” means that any challenge to the president will now be seen as a threat to Communist Party rule. A seven-man leadership committee unveiled in October 2017, included no obvious heir and the Communist Party has now confirmed that aim, with a proposal to remove a clause in the constitution that limits the presidency to two terms. Xi will now be President for life.
PRINCELING TO PRESIDENT
Born in Beijing in 1953, Xi Jinping is the son of revolutionary veteran Xi Zhongxun, one of the Communist Party’s founding fathers and a vice-premier. Because of his illustrious roots, Mr Xi is seen as a “princeling” – a child of elite senior officials who has risen up the ranks. But his family’s fortunes took a drastic turn when his father was purged in 1962 prior to the Cultural Revolution, and imprisoned.
At the age of 15, the younger Xi was sent to the countryside for “re-education” and hard labour in the remote and poor village of Liangjiahe for seven years – an experience that would later figure largely in his official story.
Far from turning against the Communist Party, Mr Xi embraced it. He tried to join it several times, but was rebuffed because of who his father was. Once he was finally accepted in 1974, he worked hard to rise to the top–first as a local party secretary in Hebei province, before moving on to more senior roles in other places including party chief of Shanghai, China’s second city and financial hub.
His increasing profile in the party propelled him to its top decision making body, the Politburo Standing Committee, and in 2012 he was picked as president. The Tsinghua University chemical engineering graduate is married to the glamorous singer Peng Liyuan, and the two have been heavily featured in state media as China’s First Couple. It’s a contrast from previous presidential couples, where the first lady has traditionally kept a lower profile.
They have one daughter, Xi Mingze, but not much is known about her apart from the fact that she studied at Harvard University. Other family members and their overseas business dealings has been a subject of scrutiny in the international press.
Mr Xi has vigorously pursued what he has called a “great rejuvenation of the Chinese nation” with his China Dream vision.
Under him, China has enacted economic reform to combat slowing growth, such as cutting down bloated state-owned industries and reducing pollution, as well as its One Belt One Road trade project.
The country has become more assertive on the global stage, from its continued dominance in the South China Sea despite international protestations, to its exercise of soft power by pumping billions of dollars into Asian and African investments.
This has been accompanied by a resurgence in patriotic nationalism whipped up by state media, with a particular focus on Mr Xi as China’s strongman leader, leading some to accuse him of developing a personality cult like that of former leader Mao Zedong. At home, Mr Xi has waged a ruthless war on corruption which has punished more than a million “tigers and flies” – a reference to both high and low-ranking party officials.
Some observers believe that the campaign is aimed at rooting out opponents, and is part of a series of political manoeuvres by Mr Xi aimed at consolidating his power.
Meanwhile China has seen increasing clampdowns on freedoms, from rising online censorship to arrests of dissidents and human rights lawyers, leading some to describe Mr Xi as “the most authoritarian leader since Chairman Mao”.
Despite this, Mr Xi is still thought to enjoy reasonably widespread support among ordinary Chinese citizens – and is expected to keep shaping the country for many years to come.
Chinese leaders have traditionally hinted at one or more possible heirs to the leadership body, the Standing Committee, at the beginning of their final term. But in October 2017, Mr Xi did not do so. The leaders unveiled were all in their 60’s and likely to retire at the end of this term. And in a clear sign of his influence, the Communist Party voted, in 2017, to write his philosophy, called “Xi Jinping Thoughts on Socialism with Chinese Characteristics for the New Era”, in its constitution. Only founder Mao and Deng Xiaoping, who introduced economic reforms in the 1980s, have made it into the all-important fundamental law of the land.
In 2015 George Osborne, the then Chancellor, promised a ‘golden decade’ for Chinese-British relations as he drummed up support for new trade opportunities and inward investment. Oh how they must have laughed. That has all changed now after China imposed draconian new security laws on Hong Kong and the UK government having backtracked on an agreement to use Chinese firm Huawei in its 5G infrastructure. Oddly, they have given them until 2027 to remove their equipment therefore they have six years to do what ever they want.
This new page in relations is going to be difficult for the UK. Last month, Beijing’s ambassador to London, Liu Xiaoming ominously warned: ‘China wants to be the UK’s friend and partner. But if you treat China as a hostile country, you will have to bear the consequences.’ This comes as pressure mounts on China internationally to be open about the origins of the coronavirus, first seen in Wuhan at the end of last year, and increasing outrage at the treatment of Uighur Muslims.
Then there were skirmishes on the border with India, resulting in the deaths of many Indian soldiers, Tibet is all but lost to China, Taiwan is shown on every Chinese map as being a part of China and there is little doubt that they intend to have it back, and then the outrageous violation of every international law with the building of huge manmade islands in the South China Sea, intended to totally dominate the area hence the building of huge naval bases there and the permanent deployment of two Chinese aircraft carriers and missile batteries.
All of this breaks international law and just shows that Jinping does not care a hoot about such ‘law’, and is aware that there is nothing anyone can do about it due to their overwhelming military power and financial might, and seems fully intent on rewriting international law and, in time, dominating the entire region.
The west are pretty terrified about this as we just do not understand the Chinese, what they think, how they think and why they do what they do. Perhaps this is due to the fact that Western politicians hold office for four years or so
and therefore they tend to have a pretty short term view on things. The Chinese think in hundreds of years and are the masters of the long game. They have also been quietly listening and learning from the West for decades and now feel ready to act.
For example, Beijing is accelerating its bid for global leadership in key technologies, planning to pump more than a trillion dollars into the economy through the rollout of everything from wireless networks to artificial intelligence.
In the masterplan, backed by President Jinping himself, China will invest an estimated $1.4 trillion over six years to 2025, calling on urban governments and private tech giants like Huawei Technologies Co. to lay fifth generation wireless networks, install cameras and sensors, and develop AI software that will underpin autonomous driving to automated factories and mass surveillance – all at the expense of US companies. Such initiatives have already drawn fierce criticism from the Trump administration, resulting in moves to block the rise of Chinese tech companies such as Huawei. Recently, Trump ordered the Chinese Consulate in Houston closed with US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo stating the decision was taken because China was “stealing” intellectual property.
“Nothing like this has happened before, this is China’s gambit to win the global tech race,” said Digital China Holdings Chief Operating Officer, Maria Kwok as she sat in a Hong Kong office surrounded by facial recognition cameras and sensors. “Starting this year, we are really beginning to see the money flow through.”
Jinping is now flexing his muscles over Taiwan in the heartfelt belief that it is part of China. He has said it would impose sanctions on Lockheed Martin Corp. in response to US approval of a possible deal for Taiwan to buy parts to refurbish defensive missiles built by the company. Foreign Ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian made the announcement at a briefing in Beijing last month, adding that the US should cut military ties with Taiwan “so that it doesn’t do further harm to bilateral relations and damage peace and stability in the Taiwan Strait.”
“China firmly opposes US arms sales to Taiwan,” Zhao said, adding: “China decides to take measures to protect national interests. We will impose sanctions on the main contractor of this arms sale, Lockheed Martin.”
The US State Department recently approved a $620 million foreign military deal for the island to buy parts to refurbish previously sold Patriot Advanced Capability-3 (PAC-3) missiles so that they can last 30 years.
China’s move comes as tensions grow with the US on a number of fronts, from the trade war and territorial claims in the South China Sea to the new security law Beijing recently imposed on Hong Kong. The Trump administration has also gone after Huawei Technologies Co., seeking to have the Chinese telecom giant barred from advanced 5G wireless trials in countries from the U.K. to India. China has previously threatened to sanction US companies, including General Dynamics Corp. and Honeywell International Inc., on numerous occasions over arms sales to Taiwan. It has also long- threatened to release a broader “unreliable entities” list in response to various actions by the Trump administration over the past year.
The next part of Jinping’s plan seems to be the targeting of Chinese nationals living in the US. FBI Director, Christopher Wray has urged people born in China and living in the United States to contact the FBI if Beijing officials tried to force them to return to the country, under a programme of coercion that he said is led by the Chinese President. Wray issued the unusual appeal in an address to the Hudson Institute think-tank in which he reiterated US charges that China is using espionage, cyber theft, blackmail and all other means as part of a strategy to replace the US as the world’s dominant superpower.
Wray said that almost half of nearly 5,000 active FBI counterintelligence cases now underway are related to China. “We’ve now reached a point where the FBI is opening a new China-related counterintelligence case about every 10 hours,” Wray said.
The FBI director said Jinping has “spearheaded” a programme called Fox Hunt aimed at strong-arming people born in China living outside of the country who are regarded as threats, to return home in order to silence criticism of Beijing’s political and human rights policies. The families of those who refuse to return are threatened and some have been arrested in China “for leverage”, Wray said.
China will be the next world superpower and no one can stop them. So do we engage with them or do we fight them?
Engaging is full of risk as we have absolutely no understanding of what they have planned and they are always thinking ten steps ahead. Fighting will lead to a new world war and anyone who wishes to take on China will, inevitably, lose. This is made worse by the fact that Trump looks likely to win another four years, much to the horror of 99% of the world’s population and, and as the US is the only country with a vague chance of stopping them, here we are back at the ‘monkey playing chess’ scenario.
But there has always been one superpower in the world, from the Romans and British to the Mongols and Soviets but there was a Western thought process behind most of them. The Chinese are very different and they scare the bejesus out of most Western politicians as they have no idea what their true intentions are, what they think or what they will actually do once they reach the top spot.
This is the great geopolitical issue that the European chancelleries will be facing for the next thirty years.
In 2049, the Chinese will celebrate the 100th anniversary of the Communist Party’s takeover. Its leader, who is also the country’s president for life, said that by that time China would become the world’s leading power.
Once it had got rid of the obstacles to its development constructed by foreign interference and then by collectivist ideology, the Chinese population, so numerous and so industrious, was almost certain to go all the way to the top of the world. The question now is to know what the Chinese will do with their power.
Xi Jinping wants to make the 21st century the rebirth of Chinese naval power. It is building a considerable military fleet, with the aim of eventually matching America’s, at least in Asia. A cautious man, he does not plan, for the moment, to take military possession of the island of Formosa, whose population, supported by the United States, is determined to fight if it is attacked.
But it has already won a strategic victory in the South China Sea, by seizing islands so far uninhabited, the Paracells and Spartleys. Contrary to the promises he made publicly during his trip to the United States in September 2015, he militarised these reefs, installing missiles and building airfields for strategic bombers.
This grabbing of a large maritime area the size of the Mediterranean makes the other Asian naval powers very uneasy.
France, which sold fighter- bombers to India and submarines to Australia, encourages the emergence of an Indo-Pacific coalition of democracies against China.
In terms of business strategy, Xi Jinping launched his Pharaonic Silk Road Project, also known as the BRI (Belt and Road Initiative). It involves developing and securing the land and sea routes for exporting Chinese manufactured goods to Europe and importing raw materials from Africa and the Middle East.
Encouraged by Westerners, China has dramatically imitated their models of industry and innovation. Can we morally blame the student for wanting to go beyond his masters? No. But we will have the China we deserve. The stronger the balance of power we have with her, the better our relationship.
It is not China we must fear, but our own weaknesses, be that political (disintegration of the EU), social (lowering the level of education) or strategic (deindustrialization).
The new Chinese Superpower is coming and there is not a thing we can do about it.