Xi Jinping: Waiting for Dawn??
When Xi Jinping said ‘Dawn Ahead’; it is the first ever admission by the autocrat that it is night in his country; read, China is in a mess. So far, all statements from China smacked arrogance, intimidation, and offensive; ever ready to flex its military and economic muscles to browbeat the world at large. It had unleased ‘wolf diplomats’ who had scant respect for diplomatic norms exhibiting the archetype bumptious behaviour of an nouveau riche. To know as to why China is behaving as it does, we need to look at the personality of Xi Jinping. Let there be no doubt that he is a despot and power-hungry. By extending his term by another five years with the option of ruling for life, he has broken the established rule laid out by Deng Xiaoping. The manner in which Hu Jintao, his predecessor, was bodily removed from the 20th Congress Meeting just before the voting on the amendment to the CPC constitution and Work Report of the 19th Congress, shows the power wielded by Xi; willy-nilly, also exposes his lurking insecurity. Hu ushered in the concept of ‘Harmonious Society and Scientific Development’ to contrast with the cultural revolution and unprecedented violence that had accompanied it. It was again Hu who had anointed Xi to succeed him. Just see the psychological game that is playing in Xi’s mind; when Hu Jintao was in power, he also could have denied Xi his place in history. Xi on his part, had no qualms in physically removing his benefactor unceremoniously when he was trying desperately to communicate with him. The cultural filial piety that is prided in Chinese society was absent; showing his ruthlessness and perhaps also his desperation.
Xi had also done his homework years before and was clear in his modus operandi. First, in the 19th Congress session in 2017, a young leader Sun Zhengkai, party secretary of Chongqing, a member of Politburo who was expected to be elected to its Standing Committee and possibly, one of the likely candidates to take over from Xi in 2022 was expelled from the Party. The manipulative change to rule beyond two terms for the President was made in 2021. Xi further made himself secure by reconstituting the powerful Politburo Standing Committee. The seven-member apex body was filled with four of his loyalists. Vice Premier Hu Chunhua and People’s Consultative Committee Conference Chairman Wang Yang were demoted. The former was a loyal follower of Xi and his demotion raised brows as he had still nine years to go before his retirement. He was also expected to be the next Premier. It appears that Xi is removing all his future contenders paving way for an uncontested reign for life. His long-term colleague and Premier Li Keqiang was not nominated for the 20th Central Committee of CPC heralding his retirement; probably, the latter did not play his cards well. As a precedent, the appointments of the President and PM were shared between two groups; if one is a princeling the other had his origins from Communist Youth League (CYL). It simply means the former came up due to parental connections in CPC and the latter had gone through the grind by climbing the hierarchy of CPC, from its rank and file. Xi was a princeling; Li Keqiang was from CYL. Hu Chunhua, like Li, was also from CYL. He fitted well for the post of PM as per the established equation. By retiring Li, and demoting Hu Chunhua the field remains open for the post of PM; one may have to wait and watch for further developments. It is evident that Xi has flouted all longstanding norms. Now, with no one to oppose, the field is clear for him to reign for life. The once in five- years term is only a formality with Xi strengthening his position year after year. His political consolidation appears complete.
However, it was not all hunky-dory for Xi. Even in a godless communist country, the divine hand was set to play its cards. The ‘Zero Covid Policy’ became very unpopular and unprecedented protests erupted in several parts of the country- that even leaked out to the rest of the world inspite of strict censorship; which is certainly, not normal in a totalitarian regime. It started in Zhengzhou on 22 November2022 and spread like wildfire. It also took on related issues such as non-payment of bonuses and political reforms. By the end of the month, Beijing, Shanghai, and Guangzhou were also affected. As per reports, such unprecedented protests were only second to the 1989 uprising. In Urumqi, a high-rise building caught fire and the official figures were ten dead and several injured, however, there were several more deaths which have been hidden. It has been reported that the Fire Exits were padlocked by the authorities to implement the 100 days lockdown in executing the Zero Covid Policy. These protests seemed to have shaken Xi and orders were given to soften the Covid policy. The later events prove that it was a knee-jerk reaction by a jittery Head of State. An official face-saving statement was made by Vice Premier Sun Chunlan that the virus has weakened, hence changes have been made to the lockdown policies from December 2022. Simultaneously, the National Health Commission (NHC) stopped giving details of Covid-19 figures in the country. It was giving them for the last three years and suddenly the responsibility has been handed over to the Centre for Disease Control (CDC). As it is, the figures were fudged and probably more fudging has been put in place. It harks back to the Mao era when Officials fudged figures of granaries brimming with grain but people were dying of hunger outside the gates of these “brimming granaries”. As per the Bloomberg report of 23 December 22, as many as 248 million people nearly 18 per cent of the Chinese population may have contacted the new variant in the first three weeks of December since the time the Zero Covid Policy was reviewed. As per the news report, neither the NHC nor the CDC responded to the Bloomberg news. As per its report, 37 million new cases were reported on a single day on 20 December 2022. There were also reports that crematoriums were overwhelmed in Beijing and Shanghai and corpses had been lying in homes for days as charnel houses were full and crematoriums were functioning beyond capacity and were unable to cope with the heavy rush. Vehicles and private cars carrying bodies were lined up in front of crematoriums.
Amidst the Covid explosion, a very interesting but dubious decision was taken to remove all restrictions for outward travel from 8 January 2023. What is the ulterior motive behind the step? Each planeload of passengersfrom Chinese cities will act as a biological bomb to explode Covid in countries they are destined. Visa applications to Thailand, Malaysia and Singapore, and Europe have swelled. This opening of outward air travel after a lapse of three years has caused a huge exodus of outbound travellersfed-up of the unending lockdowns. They would soon engulf the world with the dreaded disease. It is China’s overall strategy to spread the virus globally and take down the world along with it? It appears that in Europe, only Italy has learnt its lesson after the devastation that started from Milan after hordes of Chinese travellers landed up to and beyond March 2020, bringing with them infections that consumed Italy with no place to bury their dead. Other European powers have not responded positively, and probably are still weighing their options. The US, India, Japan, Israel, Canada and Malaysia among others have already announced mandatory Covid tests for all persons travelling from China to their countries. China has protested saying that such a step is discriminatory. What does China expect? A red carpet should be laid for carriers of this Chinese Virus.
Xi had to abandon the zero covid policy in order to assuage public anger: The last thing Xi wanted was to dent his image as a strong and popular mass leader. How is it that the initial start of the disease was from China and the new Omicron Variant has not only originated from China but also spread rapidly across the country? It only reveals three possibilities; firstly, unbridled research is in progress in China for arming itself with biological weapons; secondly, the vaccination program in China has not covered the whole populace leaving out vulnerable populations; thirdly, the Sinovac vaccine is not effective. It is possible that the vaccine has been pushed into the market to earn quick money without diligent research! This possibility cannot be ruled out; rather, sounds plausible. As per news coming out of China; Indian medicines are being bought on the dark web to save their near and dear ones, as hospitals across China have run out of medicine. Pfizer vaccines have also run out of stock.
I have discussed these points only to reiterate; firstly, Xi Jinping has secured his third term through his political shenanigans that have certainly made him diffident and insecure. The public protests were not to his liking and have probably eroded his standing. To prove my point, just see what happened when President Biden signed the US Defence Bill where it had allotted 10 billion dollars in arms aid and two billion dollars as Military Loans to Taiwan. 71 aircraft and seven battleships of PLA carried out 24 hours exercises around Taiwan to intimidate it. Does such behaviour behove a great power like China? Soon, thereafter the US approved the sale of the Volcano Anti-Tank Laying System costing 180 million dollars; probably, China is at a loss of how to respond? If one looks back, the same intimidatory tactics were employed during the visit of Nancy Pelosi, last August. Secondly, the internal problems for Xi have been mounting with fall in GDP, plummeting exports, rising unemployment, failing industries, crushing real estate, and rising discontent. With disaster looming over China, countries have started decoupling their supply chains out of the country. The US also has imposed a ban on the export of high-tech semiconductor microchips to China. Report as of today, reveals that China itself has cracked the Microchip technology in their own labs, and soon would be able to sever the dependency of the West. To me, it is not a surprise as Chinese engineers were employed by ASML Holding, a Dutch firm that manufactures the most advanced microchips. One of them by the name Zhongchang Yu founded DongfangJingyuan which was further linked to Xtal which was sued by ASML for Intellectual Property Rights violations. Xtal declared itself bankrupt in order to avoid paying penalties. Hence, China cracking microchip technology should not surprise anyone who has studied the country’s antecedents. Members of CPC are deliberately sent to the West to study and seek employment in high-tech firms with the precise task of stealing technology.
There are also reports that foreign companies that have established manufacturing in China are wary about the possibility of a war with Taiwan. If that happens, the world at large will impose sanctions on China as it is being done on Russia for its Ukraine Offensive. With this in the background, foreign automobile companies in China have already started the ‘Asset Light Strategy’ to slowly move out their industries. All these moves will leave millions unemployed and could be a destabilising factor for Xi.
Now, it is time for Xi to distract his country from internal troubles. How can he do it? Intimidate Taiwan, smoulder at the US, spew fumes at India, rage at Japan, browbeat the Philippines and bulldoze littoral countries of the South China Sea. With so-called looming external threats Chinese public should grin and bear their difficulties in the overall interest of their motherland ruled by less than seven per cent of its population who are members of the CPC. The very edifice of the government is on thin ice as it does not have a popular mandate of the people. This has been made more tenuous by the manipulation of rules to enable the continuation of Xi which obviously makes his position more vulnerable and accountable. The falling GDP, rising employment, plummeting exports, and rising Covid deaths do not give Xi any breathing space within the country. His venture to Saudi Arabia to boost his credentials at best is a fig leaf to cover his domestic failures.
Seeing from our eyes we should be more prepared to accept and face Xi’s erraticism on our borders and pre-empt PLA in its future misadventures. We should carry out a detailed analysis of the terrain both on our own and the Chinese side of LAC and select suitable places which can be occupied at short notice as quid pro quo to Chinese intrusions. It would require the pre-positioning of suitable forces properly trained and mission-oriented with adequate fire and logistic support to occupy tactical features on the Chinese side of the LAC. Remember, desperate men do desperate things which invariably leads to doom. India should just wait for such opportunities which would be presented to them sooner than later. When Xi waits for his dawn we should ensure that the night lingers on.