Richard McGregor is a senior fellow on the Lowy Institute and writer of “The Social gathering: The Secret World of China’s Communist Rulers” (Penguin, 2010).
Solely a 12 months in the past, some Western commentators had been describing the coronavirus outbreak in Wuhan as “China’s Chernobyl” second, as Xi Jinping struggled to include the quickly spreading virus.
Failure to manage the scenario might have fatally broken the Chinese language president’s standing. And but, as Xi nears the top of his second five-year time period, as we speak he’s extra highly effective than ever — securely accountable for his occasion, and in control of all levers of diplomatic and army insurance policies to behave overseas.
The resurgent confidence of China’s ruling occasion and its chief is neatly encapsulated by a brand new catch-phrase that has made its manner from Politburo speeches into in style commentary: the notion that “the East is rising and the West is falling.”
The ideological fervor underpinning this concept — that the USA is in everlasting decline whereas the Chinese language party-state is unstoppably on the up and up — is what is going to gas Xi’s financial insurance policies for the following 5 years, with its give attention to high-quality progress, inexperienced power and tech spending to make the nation unbiased of international provide chains.
Xi has good causes to be feeling bullish.
In contrast to any Chinese language chief because the communist occasion took energy in 1949, Xi has no identifiable rivals and no probably successors.
He might have infuriated the political elite in 2018 when, with minimal session, he abolished the two-term restrict on the presidency, successfully making himself chief in perpetuity. However within the quick time period at the least, China’s success in suppressing the coronavirus domestically has allowed him to sidestep criticism from throughout the occasion.
Assaults launched in opposition to Beijing by former U.S. President Donald Trump helped Xi internally as properly, as they galvanized loyalty and help for his management.
In the long term, Xi could also be setting China up for a full-blown succession disaster ought to he proceed to refuse to set a timetable to step down. (He has to this point given no indication he’ll go away on the finish of 2022, when the occasion convenes its once-every-five-years congress.) The shortage of a transparent successor additionally will increase the probabilities of a nightmare situation — a break up on the high of the occasion — if he turns into incapacitated or dies in workplace.
Within the meantime, Xi’s home detractors have nowhere to go. They’ve both fallen silent, or come on board together with his program.
Overseas, Xi is trying simply as assured.
Given their tight management of home challenges, when the president and his high aides discuss concerning the “protracted battle” forward, they’re speaking about international coverage — and extra particularly, a showdown with the USA.
Xi’s technique for securing China’s rise over the falling West includes punishing nations that he sees as taking Washington’s aspect within the new geopolitical divide, and reaching out to different gamers — in Europe, Southeast Asia and South America, for instance — which have potential to behave as swing states.
Many international governments and commentators see Xi’s assertive international coverage, backed by China’s aggressive “wolf warrior” diplomats, as extremely more likely to backfire. Already, China is at odds with quite a few nations, together with the U.S., Canada, the UK, Australia, Japan, Sweden and India — to call a couple of.
However the view from Beijing is completely different. Xi and others level to current commerce offers with Europe and Asian nations, report international funding and capital inflows, the truth that China was the one main financial system to develop final 12 months, and the nation’s capability to jail Hong Kong democracy activists and Uighurs in Xinjiang with out paying any important political price.
Add within the chaos and violence that accompanied the current transition of energy within the U.S. — which noticed pro-Trump rioters vandalize the Capitol — they usually ask: Who’s actually profitable and who’s shedding?
Xi and the occasion, in fact, might have miscalculated. A number of completely different nations at the moment are speaking to at least one one other about methods to develop counter leverage in opposition to Beijing.
However for the second, the president’s confidence is palpable, as is his ambition. Xi sits on high of the communist occasion, the occasion sits on high of China, and if Xi has his manner, China might quickly sit atop the world.