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EDITORIAL: Pushback against Xi helps Taiwan

Former Chinese leader Deng Xiaoping (鄧小平) famously followed the principle of “hiding capacities and biding time.” Chinese President Xi Jinping (習近平) has clearly departed from that policy, and perhaps too soon. That might be a good thing for Taiwan.

Deng’s policy has worked well for China. This, together with his opening up of China to a more capitalist model and embrace of trade, contributed to his country’s rise.

We are now at a point where Washington Post associated editor David Ignatius, moderating a discussion on July 20 at the Aspen Security Forum in Colorado, could talk of China becoming a “genuine peer competitor” of the US, and FBI Director Christopher Wray, at the same conference, could speak of China’s intention to become a “sole dominant superpower.”

On June 26, former Australian prime minister Kevin Rudd delivered a speech in Singapore in which he laid out a cautionary assessment of how China has “a clear script for the future” and is looking to reform the changing international order to its benefit.

South African Institute of International Affairs chief executive Elizabeth Sidiropoulos has written about how China is seeking to mold the BRICS — Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa — into a geopolitical counterweight to the West, with moves such as establishing the New Development Bank and the Contingent Reserve Arrangement. This is in addition to China’s controlling stake in the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank, as well as its Belt and Road Initiative.

Xi has also broadcast that the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) is willing and more than able to “reclaim” Taiwan, by force if necessary.

With his anti-corruption purges to consolidate his domestic power base and his systematic expansion of China’s power internationally, it is possible that Xi has made two strategic errors. He has shown his hand rather early, which has ruffled the feathers of hawks in Washington and woken US security agencies to the unfamiliar, uniquely Chinese approach of Beijing’s “united front” tactics.

He has also trodden on a few too many of his compatriots’ toes on the way up, creating a generation of disgruntled senior party and military figures, including members of the cliques of former presidents Jiang Zemin (江澤民) and Hu Jintao (胡錦濤).

He has taken a sledgehammer approach to the domestic political structure and the international power balance alike, and is receiving pushback on both fronts.

On Friday, Lowy Institute senior fellow Richard McGregor published an article in the Australian Financial Review entitled “Has China’s leader Xi Jinping now passed his peak?” saying that Xi’s critics and enemies, angry at how he has accumulated power and sidelined rivals, might be finding their voice.

On July 24, Xu Zhangrun (許章潤), a law professor at Beijing’s Tsinghua University, posted a lengthy article denouncing Xi’s hardline policies and cult of personality, urging the reinstatement of the two-term limit abolished in March.

The New York Times has reported that Peking University professor Jia Qingguo (賈慶國) has called for China to adopt a lower profile in dealing with international issues, and advised against the encouragement of the almost presumptive triumphalist anticipation of China’s model replacing that of the US in the international order.

With Xi so willing to push Chinese power internationally and to ramp up pressure on Taiwan, any derailing of his leadership, or distraction to his mission, is good news for this nation.

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