Tuesday, April 12, 2016
The Lonely Man of China
It is perhaps what happens when one reaches the top alone.
To add to the Chinese President’s woes, the ‘Panama Papers’ named his brother-in-law, who is said to have established some offshore firms. Though these companies went dormant before Xi came into power, the damage was done: for the International Consortium of Investigative Journaliste (ICIJ) who investigated into the Panama-based law firm Mossack Fonseca, Xi’s name is indirectly linked.
Already in June 2012, The New Your Times and Bloomberg had exposed Xi’s family: “As Xi climbed the Communist Party ranks, his extended family expanded their business interests to include minerals, real estate and mobile-phone equipment,” wrote Bloomberg.
Probably more worrisome for Xi, the Middle Kingdom is sailing through rough weather and in the months to come, we may witness fireworks in the Party.
The Nikkei in Japan reported a verbal ‘jab’ between President Xi Jinping and Yu Zhengsheng, the Chairman of the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference (CPPCC) during the recently-concluded Two Sessions at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing.
During the 19th Congress to be held in November next year, five of the seven members of the Politburo Standing Committee, are expected to retire.
The Nikkei quoted an old China hand: “Signs of discord within the Politburo Standing Committee have now emerged. The rift may come to the surface over the committee seats.”
Does it mean that everything is not harmonious in the Land of Confucius?
On March 14 during the concluding session of the CPPCC, Yu Zhengsheng, also a member of the Politburo’s Standing Committee, had apparently fired the first shots at Xi.
During his concluding remarks, Yu dared to deviate from the official line: the Communist leadership had agreed to uphold ‘Four Consciousnesses’ related to “politics, the bigger picture, the core and consistency”.
Yu spoke of only three: i.e. the need to further enhance the consciousness of politics, the consciousness of the bigger picture and the consciousness of responsibility.
What about the ‘consciousness of the ‘core’ and the consciousness of ‘consistency’ (in following ‘the core leader’)?
Observers believe that Yu showed his disagreement with Xi when he brought up a ‘new consciousness’, that of ‘responsibility’ and omitted ‘the core’.
In his opening speech on March 3, Yu spoke of the differences of views and perceptions which can arise over specific issues and he had stressed the need to seek ‘consistency’, while respecting ‘diversity’. What ‘diversity’ mean? He left it undefined.
Incidentally, Yu also looks after the United Front Department, whose role is to ‘unite’ the Party; he is also in charge of Tibet and Xinjiang affairs.
This comes after an open letter attacking Xi Jinping and asking for his resignation was published in a website Wujie News. The letter was entitled: ‘A Request for Comrade Xi Jinping to Resign from Leadership Positions in the Party and the State.’
It blamed Xi Jinping for many negative events in China and asked him to step down. It was of course quickly removed from the Wujie website.
Wujie claimed that the article had been posted by a hacker.
Wujie is a joint venture of the SEEC Media Group Limited (the parent company of Caixing magazine), the Xinjiang Government and Jack Ma’s Alibaba Group.
Was it an act of a hacker?
With Alibaba hosting the site, it is considered the safest hosting service in China. So what happened?
Could Wujie have published the letter on its own? Difficult to say, but the website was subsequently shut down for several days.
Obviously, Xi Jinping does not have only friends and comrades in the Party.
According to The Digital Times, on March 29, while Xi was attending the Nuclear Summit in Washington D.C., a second letter calling for Xi’s impeachment started circulating on the Net; the letter was titled “An Open Letter to the Entire Party, the Army, and the People, Calling for the Immediate Impeachment of Xi Jinping and His Removal from All Posts Inside and Outside of the Party.”
For the Mingjing, a weekly magazine, some 171 CPC members had signed the letter which was later removed from the Mingjing’s website, though it continued to be on some Chinese blogs. The petition alleged that Xi had committed five categories of crimes and demanded his immediate dismissal. Party members were asked to vote for a new Party leader at the 19th CCP Congress in November 2017.
Should all this be taken seriously?
The speed with which the letters were removed seems to indicate that Beijing takes it seriously.
The reputed China watcher, Orville Schell commented on the present state of affairs in the Middle Kingdom: “As different leaders have come and gone, China specialists overseas have become accustomed to reading CPC tea leaves as oscillating cycles of political ‘relaxation’ and ‘tightening’. …But what has been happening lately in Beijing under the leadership of Xi Jinping is no such simple fluctuation. It is a fundamental shift in ideological and organizational direction that is beginning to influence both China’s reform agenda and its foreign relations.”
Schell’s reading is that: “At the center of this retrograde trend is Xi’s enormously ambitious initiative to purge the Chinese Communist Party of what he calls ‘tigers and flies’ namely corrupt officials and businessmen both high and low.”
One could add: his over-ambitious plan to reform the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) has made many unhappy. Whatever it may be, Xi has created (or still creates) a lot of resentment in the ranks and files of the Party (and the PLA); with the concentration all the powers with him, he has become the focus of all the attacks, creating a great instability.
Very few observers are however ready to criticize him; most of them want to protect their own interests or their opportunity to work in China.
Last year, another renowned American ‘China hand’, David Shambaugh had published an article The Coming Chinese Crackup in The Wall Street Journal, in which the scholar mentioned his worries for Xi Jinping’s regime.
On March 1, he backtracked in The Global Times.
Shambaugh now explains: "In the past year, because of that article, many Chinese friends no longer treated me as an 'old friend.' Many Chinese media criticized me. No one invited me to visit China. All of these things upset me.”
Beijing knows how to twist its friends’ arms.
Today, Shambaugh conveniently blames the editor of The Wall Street Journal: “[the title] was not from me. …They wanted to attract more readers' eyeballs and create more profit for the newspaper.”
Now, the US scholar is defending Xi again: “I have stated clearly that anti-corruption is good. I am all for it. It is the right thing to do and the public has received it very well. I give a thumbs up to Xi Jinping and Wang Qishan's anti-corruption fight. Corruption is the cancer that erodes the Party, the government, the economy, and society. It must be taken care of; otherwise it will lead to the downfall of the CPC."
Many ‘watchers’ will follow Shambaugh’s footsteps, but the point remains that China is nervous and shaky.
Just take the historical interpretation of the Cultural Revolution; a Global Times editorial, ahead of the 50th anniversary of the political upheaval, warned: “Reflections are normal ... but they should not add or change the official political verdict.” The Editor insisted that “the profoundness of the official verdict on history could not be paralleled by sporadic ideas by individuals.”
A few weeks ago, a former culture minister Wang Meng, 81 had argued that the party and Chinese intellectuals had a responsibility to ‘further explain’ the campaign.
Now The Global Times says: “If China brings up a wave of reflections and discussions on the Cultural Revolution] as wished by some, the established political consensus will be jeopardised and turbulence in ideas may occur. “ It seriously warned those using the Cultural Revolution by linking it to current issues and those who predict that the Cultural Revolution can return.
Another worrying sign is that China is installing a nationwide system of social control known as ‘grid management’. The Financial Times noted that it is: “a revival of State presence in residential life that had receded as society liberalised during recent decades.”
The newspaper explains: “From smog-blanketed towns on the North China Plain to the politically sensitive Tibetan capital of Lhasa, small police booths and networks of citizens have been set up block by block to reduce neighbourhood disputes, enforce sanitation, reduce crime — and keep an eye on anyone deemed a troublemaker.”
If you don’t agree with Mr Xi, you may be labeled a ‘troublemaker’. Be ready to pay the consequences.