Xi is pursuing his dark ambitions for the world sooner than expected
Yesterday, Xi Jinping secured his precedent-breaking third term as the Communist Party’s general secretary. He was also successful in packing the Politburo Standing Committee with loyalists and removing his predecessor, Hu Jintao, in dramatic fashion on Saturday.
Xi looks, as many say, like China’s dictator for life.
The Chinese despot is pushing the region — and the world — toward war, and we are now far closer to conflict than many once thought.
Xi’s work report, which opened the party’s 20th National Congress on Oct. 16 in Beijing, revealed his dark vision of the future. There are perilous times ahead for China, he warned, even though no country threatens the Chinese state. “We must therefore be more mindful of potential dangers,” Xi said, “be prepared to deal with worst-case scenarios, and be ready to withstand high winds, choppy waters, and even dangerous storms.”
Ominously, the written version of his report mentions “security” or “safety” 89 times.
Xi Jinping is focusing on taking Taiwan. For decades, Chinese leaders repeatedly said the island republic — formally the Republic of China — must be incorporated into the People’s Republic of China.
So what’s new? In the past, Chinese leaders were merely going through the motions.
Now, however, it looks like the leader of the giant communist state is absolutely determined to absorb Taiwan.
In March, the Chinese central government, in its report to the National People’s Congress, declared it was committed to “resolving the Taiwan question in the new era.”
Xi started using “new era” last November. The phrase helps explain his attention-grabbing comments from 2019. “We should not allow this problem to be passed down from one generation to the next,” he said that year. “New era,” it appears, means the period of his rule. In short, Xi believes he will incorporate Taiwan into his People’s Republic. He has, unfortunately, made the destruction of the island’s democracy a test of his legitimacy.
“The wheels of history are rolling on toward China’s reunification and the rejuvenation of the Chinese nation,” Xi said referring to Taiwan and receiving the most applause from the nearly 2,300 delegates to the National Congress. “Complete reunification of our country must be realized, and it can, without doubt, be realized!”
In response to words like these, the Pentagon has been planning for war across the Taiwan Strait. Its brave assumption has been that war, should it come, will not occur before 2027. Many American military planners think the conflict will not happen until the middle of the next decade.
Now, American policymakers and war planners are reconsidering their projections. For instance, Chief of Naval Operations Mike Gilday, the U.S. Navy’s top admiral, on Wednesday warned that China could move on Taiwan this year. As Secretary of State Antony Blinken put it last Monday, there could be a “much faster timeline” than previously anticipated.
Xi’s timeframe matters because he has, since taking power in late 2012, changed the Chinese regime so that he can do what he wants. He has done away with the party’s institutional restraints and now is, like Mao Zedong but unlike his two immediate predecessors, a strongman.
In the early years of Xi’s tenure last decade, he out-maneuvered a complacent ruling group that was unprepared to counter a bold leader. Gone, therefore, is the consensus-style management that the party developed over three decades. Increasingly, Xi Jinping rules without interference.
There is another internal political development of great concern. Xi came to power without a political base. He became China’s top leader because, as a member of no major faction inside the Communist Party, he was acceptable to all factions as a second choice.
Once elevated to party general secretary, Xi knew that in a then faction-ridden political system he needed a faction of his own. Therefore, he made certain generals and admirals the core of his political support. That move has helped push China in a far more belligerent direction because he has empowered the most hostile and combative elements in the country.
There is also one other troubling facet of Xi’s deinstitutionalization of the Communist Party. His grabbing of power has meant that he has, at least as a practical matter, no one to blame for his mistakes but himself. Moreover, he has in his decade in power increased the cost of losing political struggles.
These two trends mean that his threshold of risk is far lower than most Americans think it is. Xi is the author of policies — economic, disease-control, social and external — that many recognize as disastrous. Therefore, he needs a win, and he has made taking Taiwan his critical test.
Xi Jinping is insecure, vulnerable, powerful and belligerent. He told the world last Sunday that the international outlook is grim. This means China has never been more dangerous.
Gordon G. Chang is the author of “The Coming Collapse of China.” Follow him on Twitter @GordonGChang.