ChinaDiction was founded by Chris Taylor, a long-time observer of China, Taiwan, and cross-strait affairs. Below is an edited extract of the ChinaDiction newsletter from October 24. Click here for the original version on the ChinaDiction website.
It’s a wrap on the big Beijing conclave for another five years, and everyone can finally stop speculating that Xi will “inevitably” get a third term.
He got it.
He got everything he wanted, apparently. The apex of the Party pyramid is now crowned by a tiny clique of “protégés and allies,” as various media sources describe them – a “sect of Xicophants,” men in suits with dyed jet-black hair. There was one exception, Cai Qi, a Hokkien-accented, hoarse-voiced, proudly-gray Xi loyalist.
A brotherhood, perhaps, committed to Xi’s so-called Marxist-informed new world order.
And no women were represented among 24 Politburo members and there were just five in the 204 Central Committee members:
The standing committee has a couple of surprises for those who’d neglected to polish their crystal balls, but they’re not really all that surprising given Xi clearly prioritizes loyalty over merit.
They are Li Qiang, who many thought would be ushered into the sidelines for his mismanagement of the Shanghai lockdown earlier this year, and Wang Huning – prophet, seer, Xi’s intellectual mentor – whom some media sources claimed was on the way out.
Both survived and are in.
Yale historian Taisu Zhang tweeted ahead of the announced new lineup: “I’m trying to think of the last time I waited for a political outcome with this level of anxiety and barely suppressed dread. American elections don’t have this effect on me, and past Chinese power shuffles didn’t quite measure up.”
After the announcement:
Craig Singleton, a senior China fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, writing for Foreign Policy, describes these developments – a complete mop up by Xi – as a blessing in disguise “by taking the guesswork out of China’s path forward.”
It won’t. Everyone’s guessing what really happened to Hu Jintao and we’ll be on tenterhooks about China’s next moves on Taiwan.
Xi’s black box is more impervious to light and scrutiny than anything that preceded it.
The formal extension of Xi’s tenure locks in China’s current policy orientation – one that is unabashedly hostile to political pluralism and free market forces. Indeed, for the last few years, Xi has outlined, often in excruciating detail, his desire not only to deepen the Party-state’s influence over China’s economy and 1.4 billion citizens but also to extend that influence far beyond China’s borders. Rarely has a geopolitical rival so unambiguously telegraphed his plans. Yet the Western world remains woefully unprepared for the coming “decisive decade” in its rivalry with China, as US President Joe Biden described it last week.
This is perhaps so – it’s a spin at least – but what’s now official is that by empowering China, we’ve created a monster that some reasonable folk will argue we need to engage with in the form of dialogue so no one gets burned. Others will argue we need to “engage and cage” before everything gets burned.
The Hu Jintao – Xi’s predecessor and elder – incident? Bad health or otherwise: “This way off the stage, sir” was probably meant for foreign consumption, taking place just as the foreign press entered the Great Hall of the People, even though Chinese TV viewers got to see Hu’s empty seat on evening TV.
It sends a message – obliquely, but it delivers all the same:
Xi, am in charge; and you’ll never entirely divine what I’m thinking and plotting behind closed doors.
It’s the age-old power trip of sowing confusion: You have no idea what I’m about to do next.
In this case, the removal of Hu might be seen as the final full stop on factionalism and consensus building and the beginning of a new chapter involving a purpose-driven China headed by a single nationally adored helmsman.
Now we can all start preparing for what’s next. Xi has eradicated all enemies at home. Troublesome elements abroad are next on the agenda.
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The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy of China Factor.