Business Standard

China’s strongman party

- BOOK REVIEW GUNJAN SINGH The reviewer is associate professor, Jindal Law School, O P Jindal Global University

The Communist Party of China (CPC) has always been shrouded in opaqueness, which has deepened under Xi Jinping. Mr Xi, who belongs to the fifth generation of Chinese leadership, has amassed so much power that he has made himself synonymous with the CPC. His goal is the rejuvenati­on of the Chinese nation, a task he believes no one except him is capable of achieving. Since taking over as General Secretary of the CPC in 2012, he has consistent­ly changed the outlook of the party and the government. When he became President in 2013 there was some optimism that he would be leaning towards openness and reforms. However, by establishi­ng himself as a leader for life, Mr Xi has turned the narrative around CPC and China with the spotlight on him.

The Party of One: The Rise of Xi Jinping & China’s Superpower Future is a must-read for anyone interested in understand­ing Xi Jinping the leader. The book provides a look at Mr Xi’s childhood and how the Cultural Revolution impacted him. His father’s role and how he perceives this is also discussed and analysed. His commitment to become a party member even after multiple rejections underscore­s his perception of the Party.

During his early years as provincial leader, Mr Xi’s policies and decisions were not that successful, the author argues. The author cites the examples of Fuzhou’s Changle Airport and the Sanfang Qixiang developmen­t which were mired in controvers­ies. The media narrative around them changed after Mr Xi became president. Mr Xi has consistent­ly concentrat­ed power, making him one of the most powerful leaders since

Mao while raising speculatio­ns about the future of the party. “In Xi’s own words, as well as the words of those who knew him, his ambitions led him not to wealth, but to power,” Chun Han Wong writes.

He has also used the propaganda department to build his image. “He presented himself as a humble figure who earned the right to rule through his hardearned experience­s, affinity for common folk, and loyalty to the party. His elite background, once disdained by some peers, was repackaged to portray Xi’s sense of mission and filial piety,” Mr Wong adds.

Mr Xi’s first action was the anti-corruption drive. The general belief was that it was an attempt to consolidat­e power since every leader before him had resorted to this ruse to boost their position. But “… rather than a ritual bloodletti­ng, Xi unleashed a veritable bloodbath.” The major goal being weeding out all opposition to Xi Jinping thought and hitting the flies as well as the tigers. No one seems to be safe from his wrath. This coupled with China’s weak judicial system forces one to conclude that “The party can play judge, jury, or even the executione­r”.

Another major challenge for Mr Xi has been the economy. The four decades of reform and opening up had boosted the position of the private sector, but also raised questions about the credibilit­y of the state-owned enterprise­s (SOES). For Mr Xi the onus to drive the economy should be on the public sector and SOES. One could argue that the balancing of private and public enterprise­s is crucial for the Chinese economy. But under Mr Xi the private sector has been losing its advantage. “What Xi wants, some experts argue, is a hybrid system that combines central planning with market mechanisms, where state and private enterprise­s act in concert to advance the party’s economic agenda” Mr Wong suggests.

The way Jack Ma’s fate turned out set the tone of how Mr Xi was going to deal with the growing private sector and entreprene­urs. The author writes “The question of ownership wouldn’t matter as long as they sing in tune with the party. Going off key would be costly.” Mr Xi believes there is an urgent need to boost wages and create jobs and to do this “he would first put politics back in command”.

Managing the historical discourse has always been crucial for the party and its legitimacy. Every Communist leader has contribute­d towards this rewriting and Mr Xi is no different. Since taking office, Mr Wong writes, “… Xi Jinping waged battle for China’s hearts and minds: to secure the Communist Party’s future, he was exerting an iron grip on the past …. By portraying the party as an indisputab­le guarantor of China’s ascendancy over a fading West, Xi hopes to secure his own power, and entrench Communist rule for generation­s to come”.

Unsurprisi­ngly, the one core challenge the Party is facing today is succession. Mr Xi has abandoned the timely process of leadership change put in place under Deng Xiaoping. He has still not identified any probable successor. Some scholars have argued that “Strongman leaders prefer pliant successors who won’t outshine or betray them. Whomever Xi chooses as heir may well be a relatively weak ruler who struggles to assert himself ”. As the author underscore­s, “The biggest threat to an autocrat’s legacy may well be himself ”.

The author was one of the journalist­s who has been at the receiving end of Xi Jinping’s tightening control over the media. He, however, rightly argues that the reducing space for journalism is not helping Xi Jinping’s goal. The CPC’S working has always been shrouded in mystery and Mr Xi has shut the curtains even tighter. The title is apt; with reducing space for alternativ­e views and opinions, the CPC is increasing­ly becoming Mr Xi’s party. The question that looms large is whether the party will survive Xi Jinping.

 ?? ?? PARTY OF ONE: The Rise of Xi Jinping & China’ssuperpowe­r Future Author: Chun Han Wong
Publisher: Corsair Pages: 416
Price: ~899
PARTY OF ONE: The Rise of Xi Jinping & China’ssuperpowe­r Future Author: Chun Han Wong Publisher: Corsair Pages: 416 Price: ~899
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