Xi continues to astound China watchers with the speed, audacity, and reach of what is shaping up to be the biggest party purge since the fall of the Gang of Four. Writing in The Diplomat, China scholar Bo Zhiyue states what is becoming more and more obvious: that today in China, “No one is safe.” He observes:
The old norm of Chinese politics is that a politician would be considered safe if he (or she) has appeared in a political function or published an article in a major official outlet or has been present along with the paramount leader. But this old norm no longer works under the leadership of Xi Jinping. […]The new norm of Chinese politics is no rules. It does not matter whether one is from Jiang Zemin’s camp (such as Xu Caihou and Zhou Yongkang) or from Hu Jintao’s camp (such as Ling Jihua). Nor does it matter whether these individuals are willing to be loyal subjects of the new emperor. No one is exempt from punishment.
Xi may well end up as the most powerful leader of china since Mao himself. For foreigners, the big question is: What does he want to do with that power? Putin used his control in Russia to push the country toward confrontation with the West; will Xi follow suit?One hopes not; Putin is driven by fears that Russia faces the loss of its great power status if he doesn’t try to stir things up—and he needs foreign enemies to justify the increasingly draconian nature of his reign. Xi has a different calculus, and it’s not clear that greater power for President Xi means greater conflict between china and its neighbors—with the U.S. looming in the background.One thing is worth reflecting on; instead of liberalizing, both China and Russia are moving toward more authoritarianism 25 years after the fall of the Berlin Wall. That doesn’t bode particularly well for relations between these countries and those, like the U.S., who believe they have a duty to advance human rights and democratic governance.