World View: Chinese Discontent with President Xi Jinping Continues During ‘Trade War’

Xi Jinping
AP Photo/Mark Schiefelbein

This morning’s key headlines from GenerationalDynamics.com

  • Discontent with China’s president Xi Jinping continues during ‘trade war’
  • Backlash from the U.S.-China ‘trade war’
  • China uses increasing violence to suppress criticism

Discontent with China’s president Xi Jinping continues during ‘trade war’

China is banning the new film Christopher Robin because it contains the character Winnie the Pooh, which many Chinese online compare to Xi Jinping (Getty)
China is banning the new film Christopher Robin because it contains the character Winnie the Pooh, which many Chinese online compare to Xi Jinping (Getty)

Although Xi Jinping’s power and credibility as president of China and the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) does not seem to be threatened, there are signs of growing discontent, especially under pressure from the trade war initiated by the Trump administration.

Since coming to power in 2013, Xi Jinping has claimed to be champion of the fight against corruption in the CCP. In line with that fight, Xi has purged many government officials whom he accused of corruption, but it always turned out that the purged officials were not his strongest supporters, and the people who replaced them were all indebted to Xi in some way. Thus the first against corruption for the last five years has appeared more and more to be a purge of Xi’s political enemies — which would itself be the ultimate form of corruption.

Public or online criticism of Xi is de facto a crime in China. A few months ago I told the story of how I repeatedly challenged a Chinese troll to make even the tiniest criticism of Xi, or even to reference an article in Chinese media that has any criticism of Xi. He kept changing the subject, and finally I pointed out that if he did criticize Xi, then he would be thrown into a pit, hung by his thumbs, and have his tongue removed with a pair of pliers. Well, I was being overly dramatic, but he would certainly have risked going to jail.

So it certainly was remarkable in February of this year when a leading commentator and a prominent businessman openly criticized Xi for his plan to amend the constitution so that he could run independent. Li Datong, a former editor for the state-run China Youth Daily, wrote: “If there are no term limits on a country’s highest leader, then we are returning to an imperial regime. My generation has lived through Mao. That era is over. How can we possibly go back to it?”

Indeed, I’ve written about country after country to describe what happens when a leader refuses to relinquish power. We’ve seen this in Cambodia, Syria, Iran, Cameroon, Congo, and Burundi, among others. In each case, the leader becomes increasing authoritarian and oppressive, ordering peaceful opposition protesters to be slaughtered, tortured, raped or jailed, and shutting down media outlets including newspapers and the internet.

Xi’s claim to be the hero in fighting corruption has been badly tarnished by various scandals. The piece of bad news this summer was the discovery that a pharmaceutical company with deep connections to Xi has been responsible for producing substandard vaccines for diphtheria, tetanus and whooping cough, and had faked data for its rabies vaccine. Hundreds of thousands of Chinese children nationwide have been given the faulty vaccines. Many in China are blaming Xi for this. Japan Times and CBS News and the South China Morning Post (6-Mar)

Backlash from the US-China ‘trade war’

The greatest damage to Xi’s reputation is the “trade war” initiated by the Trump administration. The US announced tariffs on Chinese products, and China retaliated with tariffs on American products. The tit for tat war has shocked many Chinese, and has triggered a major debate in China over Xi’s foreign and domestic policy leadership.

Many in China are questioning Xi’s absolute refusal to negotiate with the Americans to get the trade dispute resolved. Many fear that China will indeed be much worse off from a full-blown trade war. There’s a deeper criticism that Xi is violating the advice of 1980s leader Deng Xiaoping: “Observe calmly; secure our position; cope with affairs calmly; hide our capacities and bide our time; be good at maintaining a low profile; and never claim leadership.” Since taking power, instead of taking this advice, Xi has been increasingly arrogant foreign policy, and his policies are seen as costly, ambitious, risky and confrontational.

Many Chinese also fear that China has become too dependent on stealing American intellectual property, and can’t develop it on their own.

Xi has reacted by ordering an extensive campaign to “enhance patriotism” among intellectuals. A key aspect is to strengthen the “political guidance” of intellectuals and bring their “ideological and political identification” in line with goals set out by the party and the nation.

There are even demands that CCP members get back to basics and study Karl Marx’s 1848 Communist Manifesto, the tract that predicted the triumph of Socialism. Socialism has a 100% failure rate, and China abandoned any pretense of following the dictates of Communist Manifesto decades ago. Even Cuba in the last few years has almost completely abandoned the Marx’s tenets, since it was becoming clear that Socialism was destroying Cuba, as it has destroyed every other place it’s been tried. Most CCP members, it turns out, have never read the Communist Manifesto, so ordering them to read it now appears to be a true move of desperation. South China Morning Post and Inside Story (Australia) and Radio Free Asia and the South China Morning Post

China uses increasing violence to suppress criticism

As in the other countries I’ve listed, Cambodia, Syria, Cameroon, and so forth, the CCP in China is using violence increasingly to control groups that don’t adhere closely to the party line. Whether it’s violent reprisals in Tibet, or violent education camps in Xinjiang, or the threat of a massive military invasion of Taiwan, the CCP have shown themselves increasingly willing to use jailings, torture, rape and murder to force the public into the CCP line.

Two major events occurred about 25 years ago that are the driving forces in CCP policy today. One was the Tiananmen Square massacre on June 4, 1989, where Chinese security thugs killed thousands of peacefully demonstrating college students. The other event was the collapse, in 1991, of the Soviet Union and the Soviet Communist Party. These events put the members of the Chinese Communist Party into a high state of anxiety, from which they’ve never come down. They use massive violence by police thugs to suppress any protests before they can get out of hand and threaten the existence of the CCP. Self-preservation of the CCP is more important the China itself.

China’s government used to report the number of “mass incidents that occurred each year. These are incidents where dozens of Chinese citizens protest or get into fistfights with one another. There were hundreds of these protests each year in the 1990s. The number of mass incidents kept growing exponentially, reaching 100,000 in the year 2008. If even one of these “mass incidents” occurred in the United States, it would be international news, but China has hundreds of them every day.

After 2008, China stopped reporting them. However, there was one activist named Lu Yuyu who compiled the data himself from news reports, and published it online. He was arrested and is currently serving time in jail.

China’s CCP is frightened of social instability that could lead to a revolution that would threaten the CCP. China’s history is filled with huge, massive internal rebellions (civil wars), the most recent of which were the White Lotus Rebellion (1796-1805), the Taiping Rebellion (1850-64) and Mao’s Communist Revolution (1934-49). China is now overdue for a new massive civil war, and CCP officials fear that any small anti-government protest could spiral into a new rebellion and revolution. Guardian (London) and China Change (6-Jul-2016) and Foreign Affairs (3-Oct-2016) and Hong Kong Free Press

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KEYS: Generational Dynamics, China, Xi Jinping, Chinese Communist Party, CCP, Karl Marx, Communist Manifesto, Cuba, Cambodia, Syria, Iran, Cameroon, Congo, Burundi, Deng Xiaoping, Tiananmen Square, Soviet Communist Party, mass incidents, Lu Yuyu, White Lotus Rebellion, Taiping Rebellion, Communist Revolution
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