A New Rise of Totalitarianism in China
China’s 20th National Congress of the Communist Party concluded on 22 October. They could have established a new leader to replace Chinese President Xi Jinping at the end of what should have been his second and final term. Instead, they eliminated term limits, and he will now begin the third term. The 69-year-old president will probably be in power for life. Xi spoke of his goals for the next five years. He wants China to achieve its destined greatness, a goal that will only be achieved with the firm top-down rule. He believes that democratic principles cause destructive chaos.
The third term was expected, but it sets a precedent for absolute rule by one person. The Chinese Communist Party (CCP) tried to set limits after Mao ruled from 1949-1976. Some journalists say Xi could never achieve the kind of power gained by Mao, an absolute despot who radically transformed Chinese society and was responsible for tens of millions of needless deaths. Other journalists and China watchers are not so sure.
Consider the sharp increase of unprecedented surveillance during Xi’s reign. Dissenters are serving long jail terms. Now those closest to Xi are staunch loyalists chosen based on their personal loyalty. Potential rivals have been removed through questionable corruption purges. There is nothing stopping Xi, and he has no heir apparent.
Carl Minzner, author of “End of an Era: How China’s Authoritarian Revival Is Undermining Its Rise,” gives a chilling view of how such “personalistic rule” operates. It seriously compromises good decision-making when those around the supreme leader tell him what he wants to hear rather than sound, fact-based advice. Eliminating potential rivals only exacerbates in-house fighting, as everyone accuses others to protect themselves. The leader, who is already making decisions based solely on self-interest, is given a steady stream of faulty information. Whims, not facts, determine the supreme leader’s decisions.
China is at a crossroads. The level of totalitarianism is increasing. The question is, how far will it go?
Council on Foreign Relations. Xi Jinping Exposed. October 23, 2022
The Guardian. The most powerful man in China since Mao: Xi Jinping is on the prink of total power. October 15, 2022
East Asia Forum. The 20th Party Congress and the crowning of Xi Jinping. October 17, 2022.
New York Times. ‘Uncle Xi’ to Exalted Ruler: China’s Leader Embodies His Authoritarian Era. October 14, 2022