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The King of Masks

How the “Xi change” in China is causing an invisible earthquake.

Published on: April 9, 2018
Martha Bayles teaches humanities at Boston College, is author of Through a Screen Darkly: Popular Culture, Public Diplomacy, and America's Image Abroad (Yale 2014), is a visiting fellow at the Hudson Institute, and a regular columnist for TAI.
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  • KremlinKryptonite

    Xi isn’t so much making waves, but rather elements of the Party and the PLA are. The 2012-2013 leadership transition was very rough on the Party, and there’s good reason to believe that it can’t handle another transition anytime soon. This is why it’s no surprise that no successor was unveiled last fall, or why the “constitutional change” (as meaningless as it is anyway) in a single party state wasn’t a big deal. What is a big deal are the reasons why.

    Xi first visited the Pentagon when he was a very young 27 year old (apparently looked even younger than that, as I’ve been told), part of a fairly large delegation, and he was essentially the note taker. He began his political career not long after that experience. He visited the pentagon again in 2012, as VP of China, had another meeting. Only this time he wasn’t the note taker. he was the talker, or the decider, you might say.

    Xi is not an urbane, sophisticated sort of figure, as so many more recent Party figure heads have been. By contrast, he’s very much a man of the rural China, probably thinking of himself as more of a macho farmer type of guy, and you see this in his body language. He’s proud of it. Now, whether he actually did a lot of hard work or not in his first two or three decades is entirely up for debate.

    Back in 2012, the inclination was to view him entirely as a creature of the PLA, but now it’s not so clear. He is undoubtedly a creature of the PLA, but it’s still very much an open question as to whose faction he represents. Note: whose, not which. We’re dealing with someone else here, too. We know that at the end of the 2000s, as well as early this decade, the tension between elements of the PLA and Jiang Zemin’s faction of the Party were near a boiling point – hence the “anti corruption purge” that has miraculously targeted the enemies of Xi’s faction in an overwhelming way.

    Xi’s first big speech as “President” of China aka General Secretary/Chairman of the Communist Party did make some waves. He used a phrase that might sound fairly benign to the inexperienced listener when he spoke of a “strong China dream”. At the time, this phrase was presumed to mean, and with evidence we see today clearly meant, an end to the western model being used in China. That may indeed be the right direction to go if the goal is to keep certain PLA chiefs and certain Party bosses rolling around in the Bentley’s and Mercedes, but it’s clearly not the direction a great many Baidu users want go, as evidence by the spike in searches for “immigration” after the term limits change. https://uploads.disquscdn.com/images/00d5d6cb18b46d97c540034feb99748f40c19a877f14c6cfd6be6fd6e7c90254.jpg https://uploads.disquscdn.com/images/3f0627aa50fbeebf0f115c0e061d76663a93015842db6c121957650a6a196c3f.jpg

  • FriendlyGoat

    Xi is trying to “Make China Great Again”——– in his own mind’s eye. Other people’s norms, expectations, viewpoints or rights are as irrelevant to him as he can get away with. Similar things are going on with Putin, Erdogan, Trump and Iran’s Ayatollah.

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