Welcome to the fourth edition of Between The Lines. This week we look at the cult of Xi Jinping and the lack of a successor waiting in the wings. “Heavy is the head that wears the crown,” but not for Comrade Xi. Also, relations are so bad between Beijing and Washington that they cannot even be called “frenemies.”
President Xi Jinping holds all the levers of power. He controls the ruling Communist Party and is the commander-in-chief of the armed forces of the military wing, the People’s Liberation Army or PLA.
His Thought on Socialism with Chinese Characteristics for a New Era is compulsory reading across Chinese society and the upper echelons of government. He is the ultimate control freak.
Yet the de facto dictator has also created “a succession crisis” that could rip China apart. On June 15, he will be 70 years old and there are no bright young things on the horizon to fill his red shoes. Instead, there is just a political minefield as Axios pointed out on June 6:
Xi’s erosion of established guidelines for succession creates uncertainty and puts China at risk for high-level power struggles in the future.
“No leader since Mao Zedong has enjoyed the level of exposure in the Party-state media that we’ve seen for Xi since 2017 … Even the Party’s view of history has been reshaped to support the cult of Xi,” David Bandurski, the director of the China Media Project, told Axios.
But that “cult” ultimately “needs the military to guarantee his rule and, by extension, his own personal safety.” Still, one thing is certain, Xi will not be tuning into the American drama Succession any time soon.
Forget ‘frenemies’ at the gates
Frenemies? Forget it. Beijing is simply not interested in changing its hardline Washington strategy as the narrative fits into China’s overall domestic and foreign policies.
Dig deeper and you will find the rocky relationship “makes a convenient scapegoat” for “Chairman of Everything” Xi. After all, “it’s useful to have somebody to blame” as the world’s second-largest economy flatlines.
Foreign Policy’s China Brief captured the mood perfectly earlier this week:
Xi seems to sincerely believe that the United States is out to get China. During his decade in power, anti-American rhetoric seems to have grown blunter with every passing year. Beijing also casts any US promotion of democracy as part of so-called color revolution plots.
The list does not stop there. Foreign Policy again:
“China wants to be able to control a diaspora it perceives as a domestic security threat. It perceives US alliances with Chinese neighbors such as South Korea and Japan as essentially illegitimate.”
Friendship or fireworks? The fuse has already been lit.
Pilots and that AI fly on the wall
Oh to have been an AI fly on the wall during German Defense Minister Boris Pistorius’ informal chat with his new Chinese counterpart Li Shangfu.
The pair met on the sidelines of the Shangri-La Dialogue forum in Singapore last week.
Whispers suggest that Pistorius told General Li that China must stop recruiting former German military pilots to train the crews of the PLA Air Force. His comments referred to “new findings” revealed by Spiegel, the German magazine.
Picking up the story, Politico in its China Watcher newsletter reported that Pistorius said:
I made it clear that I expect this policy to be stopped immediately.
Naturally, Chinese Defense Minister Li “played down its significance.” But he did not deny that Beijing has been “hiring former German military pilots.”
For now, that is Kaputt.