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China’s Xi ‘More Powerful Than Mao,’ Seen Abandoning Market Reforms – Analysis

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By Hsia Hsiao-hwa, Gu Ting and Wang Yun

Ruling Chinese Communist Party leader Xi Jinping’s next five years will likely see more hard-line policies out of Beijing on the economy, foreign relations, human rights and public dissent, analysts told RFA.

Germany-based ethnic Mongolian rights activist Xi Haiming said the fact that Xi had packed the Politburo Standing Committee with his close allies showed that he can now act as he pleases.

“This is the last madness,” Xi Haiming told a recent political forum in Taiwan. “Xi has emerged, naked, as Emperor Xi, as a dictator.”

“Too many people in China are lining up to be his eunuchs, kowtowing to him, waiting for the emperor to ascend to the throne.”

A senior Chinese journalist who gave only the surname Geng, for fear of political reprisals, said China is now firmly back in the Mao era.

“This 20th National Congress is the beginning of the Mao era,” Geng said. “People used to say it was the 9th National Congress of the Chinese Communist Party that was bad, because it hailed Mao Zedong as the red sun.” 

Twitter commentator Cai Shenkun said Xi will now likely take China further away from Deng’s market reforms.

“The reform and opening up started by Deng Xiaoping will be totally abandoned,” Cai tweeted. “The state-owned economy will replace the market economy, and we will see an erosion of the private sector in every field under [Xi’s] common prosperity.”

“The middle class will soon disappear altogether … and freedom of speech will be further squeezed,” Cai wrote. “Even our limited freedom to travel will be gone forever.”

Overseas current affairs commentator Wen Zhigang said the old system of “collective leadership” in which power is shared among the party leader, the National People’s Congress chair and the premier, is well and truly dead.

“Collective leadership no longer exists, and the leader sits, aloof … a leader of the people who is above the party,” Wen said, adding that Xi used the word “people” 17 times in his closing speech to the party congress.

“‘People’ is used as code for political legitimacy,” he said.

Russian President Vladimir Putin sent congratulations to Xi on his re-election as Communist Pary general secretary, adding that the result confirmed Xi’s high level of political authority and the unity and cohesion of the party he leads. Putin said he was willing to continue a dialogue with Xi on the development of the bilateral “comprehensive strategic partnership.”

North Korean leader Kim Jong-un also congratulated Xi on the conclusion of the party congress, North Korean state news agency KCNA reported, describing his re-election as “an epoch-making milestone.”

“China doesn’t need North Korea but North Korea desperately needs China.  This said, North Korea is useful to China as a strategic distraction for the U.S.,” saidHarry Harris, former Ambassador to the South Korea. “China has sided with North Korea, such as vetoing additional UN sanctions against North Korea and actually defying the implementation of US sanctions against North Korea.”

Gary Samore, former White House Coordinator for Arms Control and Weapons of Mass Destruction, said that Xi is focused on China’s competition with the United States and developing China’s capabilities. “That suggests that China is likely to be less cooperative with the U.S. and the Republic of Korea in dealing with North Korea’s nuclear and missile program.”

Rockier Relations?

Meanwhile, Oriana Skylar Mastro of the Freeman Spogli Institute for International Studies at Stanford University said the next five years will likely be even rockier for U.S.-China relations, and other countries with security concerns in the region.

“Xi Jinping has been relatively clear since he took power in 2013, where his goals were in terms of promoting territorial integrity, is trying to define that and resolving a lot of these territorial issues, enhancing their position in Asia to regain their standing as a great power,” she said.

“It had already been decided that there was going to be conflict with the United States if China wanted to be number one in Asia.”

Denny Roy of the East-West Center in Hawaii said China will likely continue to push for increased global influence and standing.

“This is a continuation of a reassessment reached late in the Hu Jintao era, and which Xi Jinping has both embraced and acted upon,” Roy said.

“There is no hint of regret about Chinese policies that caused alarm and increased security cooperation among several countries both inside and outside the region, no recognition that Chinese hubris has damaged China’s international reputation within the economically developed world, and no sense that damage control is necessary due to adverse international reaction to what has happened in Xinjiang, Hong Kong, the Taiwan Strait and the South China Sea,” he said.

“Instead, Beijing seems primed to continue to oppose important aspects of international law, to resist the U.S.-sponsored liberal order, and to extol PRC-style fascism as superior to democracy.”

“Human rights crisis”

William Nee, Research and Advocacy Coordinator at China Human Rights Defenders, agreed, saying that human rights defenders will continue to be “systematically surveilled, persecuted and tortured in prison.”

“China is experiencing a human rights crisis … There are crimes against humanity underway in the Uyghur region, with millions of people being subjected to arbitrary detention, forced labor, or intrusive surveillance,” Nee told RFA.

“The cultural rights of Tibetans are not respected. And now, Xi Jinping’s ‘Zero-COVID’ policy is wreaking havoc on China’s economy, and particularly the wellbeing of disadvantaged groups, like migrant workers and the elderly.”

Meanwhile, Xi’s new leadership line-up is a stark indicator of the lack of checks and balances on his power from within party ranks, analysts said.

“The era of [former leaders] Deng, Jiang, Li and Hu is over, and [Xi Jinping] reigns supreme,” overseas current affairs commentator Zong Tao told RFA.

“The Chinese economy will now be experiencing the expansion of the state sector at the expense of the private sector,” he said. “It’s all about red genes and a red regime.”

Wu Guoguang, a senior research scholar at the Center for China Economics and Institutions at Stanford University and the author of a book on party congresses, said Xi has more say over who gets to be premier — his second-in-command Li Qiang — even that late supreme leader Mao Zedong did.

“Xi Jinping wields greater power to appoint his preferred premier than Mao Zedong did,” Wu told RFA.

“Li Qiang, as the No. 2 figure in the Communist Party, will soon be premier, which shows us that Xi Jinping wields more power from the top than Mao did,” he said.

While rival factions like former president Hu Jintao’s Youth League faction still exist, they no longer present much of an obstacle to Xi, Wu said.

However, new factions could yet form from among Xi’s trusted bureaucrats, he said.

“Factions will naturally form within the administration, because these leaders have different experiences and come from different backgrounds, and have different networks,” Wu said.

“They will keep using the people they trust, who are capable, and there are faint signs of this happening,” he said.

Translated and edited by Luisetta Mudie.

RFA

Radio Free Asia’s mission is to provide accurate and timely news and information to Asian countries whose governments prohibit access to a free press. Content used with the permission of Radio Free Asia, 2025 M St. NW, Suite 300, Washington DC 20036.

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