Operating from Weakness, Not Strength – the CPC and Xi Jinping

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Xi Jinping

Chris Buckley of the NYT reopened yesterday in the main western press the question of Document No 9 (sounds like a title to a movie).  This document first identified, apparently, by the Economist is supposedly a “secret” CPC document, according to Buckley, that has “undertaken a “mass line” campaign to enforce party authority that goes beyond the party’s  periodic calls for discipline.”  The document calls on the Party to oppose the promotion of western constitutional democracy. The narrative suggests that leftists in the Party have also picked up the anti-western critique to oppose the market reforms that Xi and the leadership are pressing for.

This tension between the demand that the Party reject “constitutionalism” – as being part of capitalism – “Constitutionalism belongs only to capitalism” -according to a commentary in the overseas edition of the People’s Daily runs smack into the leadership’s efforts to press for  greater market reforms, and has been picked up by Dan Drezner at his blog at Foreign Policy.  As Dan points out this sets up quite a conundrum – insist that the CPC carry out an anti-western constitutional campaign, but at the same time urge that the Party and State support significant market reforms. As Dan argues:

… however, an attack attack on neoliberalism makes it kinda harder to do that.  So a short-term effort to boost ideological consistency and legitimacy would seem to be coming at the expense of longer-term strategies to sustain political legitimacy.


So after reading Buckley’s story, I wondered on Twitter how Xi was going to reconcile a critique of neoliberalism while pushing … er … neoliberalism-friendly reforms onto China’s economy.

The contradiction is intriguing but it also reminds us that too many experts often forget just how febrile the leadership and the Party are.  So many commentators are fascinated with the “Rise of China”.  They see China moving from strength to strength – though not dismissive of the recent “hiccup”. They also seem mesmerized  by the the continuing increase in military modernization not to mention – at least according to some – of the growing assertiveness of the Chinese positions in the South China and East China Sea disputes.

But the Document No 9 episode not to mention the soon to be initiated Bo Xilai trial, reminds us also that the Leadership and the Party are not necessarily operating from strength but from weakness.  In  fact it appears all to frequently that they are “scared of their own shadow.”  Fearful of social unrest; determined that decisions be made consensually at the highest Party levels; afraid that there will be a rising chorus of Chinese middle class demands for political reform and a demand to end the Party’s monopoly of political power; and demands that the press and the internet be freed from political censorship – all revealing the inherent fear and weakness in the Party.

Now having suggested that the Leadership and the Party are operating from weakness and not strength, the $64 question is weather the weakness leads the Leadership and the Party to take more dramatic actions.  Now the contradiction and inherent weakness could lead the Leadership to take the “pressure off” and enhance the Leadership and the Party’s legitimacy through reform of the economy and the political system.  But the latter objective does not appear to in any way correspond to the current thinking of Xi Jinping and presumably the consensus leadership.     Instead weakness here might lead to a serious Party crack down on “liberals” and reformers – an internal action that could well lead to a growing question whether the Leadership can press forward dramatically on market reform.  That would be bad news for the global economy. Or the Leadership acting on its weaknesses might cause the Party and the State to press even more vigorously on the nationalist button – an external action – that could raise tensions even further in East Asia.

All in all – this doesn’t seem like a good omen.


Image Credit: telegraph.co.uk

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