Is President Xi really all-powerful? (part 2)
29 Jan 2016|

It hardly needs to be said that the name and mind-set of persons who might be persuaded to join some oppositional CCP grouping against President Xi remain entirely obscure. They’re unlikely to raise their heads as long as Xi’s policies appear successful. However, given the possibilities for opposition, Xi cannot avoid further cultivating his own friends and supporters, especially the men who must have served in the decision-making chain that brought him to the presidency in the first place.

It seems safe to suggest that there are at least two senior groups that Xi must be able to rely on in this way. One group will be the senior bankers and currency manipulators in, and beyond, the People’s Bank of China. They constitute, so to speak, China’s special forces not merely in the expansion of China’s global trade but in the continuing effort to increase the reach and power of the Yuan and challenges to the global dominance of the US dollar. The other is the senior officer corps of the Peoples Liberation Army (PLA), on which depends the security of a China that’s remarkably devoid of allies.

The senior people in China’s banking world are also largely obscure to the outside world, although their efforts to cope with serious interrelated problems in their field may well be decisive for Xi’s efforts to modernise the economy and, with it, China’s position in the world. One problem is the management of the large debt problems in China’s banking field without severe difficulties both for the domestic economy and for China’s external financial and trading position. That may include difficulties in achieving wide and ready international acceptance for the Yuan, especially in any kind of competition with the US Federal Reserve, whose increasing stature makes it, in effect, the world’s banker. In this field, Xi’s political fate is likely to depend squarely on the wisdom and skill of his bankers.

Equally decisive roles are played by the PLA. One is the continuing suppression of any signs of domestic unrest. That’s no small matter. The military, as well as the police and security service, have for some years sternly repressed any sign of political dissent. They’ve played an especially notable role in extending road, rail and transport facilities to Tibet, with its largely anti-Chinese population, as well as increasing the number and scope of its Tibetan military facilities. Similarly, various parts of the PLA have played a role in the control of nationalism and dissent among Uighurs in Xinjiang, in the growth of Chinese industry there, and the suppression of any links between the Uighurs and Islamic movements in neighbouring Central Asia. In neither Tibet or Xinjiang have signs of local separatism been tolerated.

Other segments of the PLA, especially the Navy and Air Force, have played vital roles in the perceived need to extend China’s border across the East and South China seas and to curtail, or end, the use of Chinese coastal and near-coastal waters by foreign navies, not least that of the US. In addition, the PLA Navy evidently has the task of asserting dominance in the Indian Ocean and other waters that feature in China’s increasing trade with (and through) the Middle East and Africa. All that in addition to the constant and continuing information, cyber and intelligence ‘war’ with the US, Japan, Germany and others, and the benefits of ‘hacking’ into other countries’ scientific efforts, technologies and procedures.

In both economic and military terms, China under President Xi is clearly determined to make up for its long inferiority to the West in the 19th and 20th centuries and to return to the position of one of the world’s leading states. In that process the old theologies of Maoism have been entirely replaced, on the one hand by the search for wealth and on the other arguably even more important hand by a nationalism that satisfies those present external claims, as well as reinforcing domestic cohesion. In that process the Generals and Admirals of the PLA must to some extent be given their heads. Xi cannot, even if he wanted to, unduly constrain their nationalist ambitions. He certainly can’t risk allowing any minor resentments to congeal into outright opposition even when, as now, the US is patently giving him considerable room for manoeuver.

Quite how the CCP as a whole, and in the longer term, will react to Xi’s efforts to promote nationalism together with wealth and power isn’t yet apparent, though continuing success is sure to garner domestic applause. That he must continue along his present path of carefully balancing the nationalist pride of the military against the need to avoid external hostilities, seems certain. But given the continuing, albeit not obvious, dangers of his position in the midst of such problems, he will in any event have to watch his back. He certainly can’t afford to see his party split or his military commanders help to send him down the same path as Mr Zhou.