Premier Li Keqiang and Wang Yang have more in common than just being unceremoniously dropped from the top leadership at last week’s Chinese Communist Party Congress.
The two were cast as key figures in a fictionalized plot to overthrow Chinese leader Xi Jinping in a book by Roger Garside, a former British diplomat posted to Beijing.
Garside describes China Coup: The Great Leap to Freedom as one-quarter fiction, three-quarters analysis. In it, Li and former Vice-Premier Wang were portrayed as reform-minded figures who sought to save China from what they saw as Xi’s misguided policies.
The two men’s exit was not the outcome imagined for them in the book. But Garside told Voice of America in an interview this week that Xi was right to identify them as posing the most significant threat to his consolidation of power.
While the internal Party machinations may have strengthened Xi, Garside does not believe they strengthened China. “Is China now more likely to prevail in what [US] President [Joe] Biden calls the ‘contest for the future of our world’? My answer is emphatically no,” he said.
Garside, an associate fellow at the Henry Jackson Society in London, has predicted that the cost of Xi’s moves last week would ultimately outweigh the benefits. He pointed out that the greatest threats to the nation’s future are not inside the ruling Party but on the outside.
‘Array of problems’
What will undo the CCP’s hold on power is “the array of problems that China faces and to which Xi’s political report to the congress offered no solution,” Garside said.
Bruce J. Dickson, a political science professor and China specialist at George Washington University in the United States capital, agreed that the party leadership unveiled at the 2oth Congress ensured Xi would be surrounded only by proven loyalists.
“If there was a possibility of a coup, [Xi] seems to have put his foot on it,” Dickson said in a telephone interview, describing the power structure established by the Party during its 100-year history as essentially “coup-proof.”
But while his moves to stifle any dissenting voices may be good for him politically, Dickson stressed that “in the long run, they may be detrimental to both the Party and to [China’s] national interest.”
Most outside analysts believe that by sidelining people like Li and Wang, who favored a greater role for market forces in the Chinese economy, Xi has cleared the way for bringing more wealth creation under the direct control of the Party.
“Xi Jinping may have killed the golden goose for China because he attributes the source of China’s success to the wrong sources,” said Jacob Stokes, a senior fellow at the Center for New American Security, a Washington-based think tank.
“He thinks it’s due to Party control when actually much of the success of China is probably better attributed to the [CCP] getting out of the way of the population’s entrepreneurial spirit and hard work. That requires a degree of freedom,” Stokes added.
Apart from the centralization of the economy, Xi used the congress to signal a hardening of his administration’s policy to bring Taiwan under Beijing’s control, by force if necessary, according to China watchers.
With no one but loyalists around him, Xi “will not be deterred from completing the Great Rejuvenation of the [People’s Republic of China] by 2049,” said James Fanell, a retired US Navy captain and former director of intelligence and information operations at the US Pacific Fleet.
“[That] entails [the] total restoration of the CCP’s perceived territory,” Fanell said in an interview, adding that the first step on that list was “the total subjugation of Taiwan under the control of Beijing.”
Fanell also stressed that he believed Xi and the Communist Party “would prefer to obtain this goal via nonviolent means,” but that the timeline for an attempted military invasion of Taiwan might have advanced to “sometime before 2025.”
The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy of China Factor.