Fri, Feb 14, 2020 - Page 9 News List

COVID-19 and the worldview of Xi Jinping

No matter how bad the viral outbreak gets, the crisis is not going to change how Xi governs China

By Kevin Rudd

Illustration: Mountain People

No matter how bad the coronavirus epidemic gets, the crisis will not change how China is governed under Chinese President Xi Jinping (習近平).

Since coming to power in 2012, Xi has strengthened the Chinese Communist Party’s (CCP) hold on power and developed a comprehensive national agenda from which all else — including domestic crisis management — must follow.

The coronavirus crisis represents the single biggest challenge for Xi since he became CCP general secretary in 2012.

Individuals and families across China are living in fear. Multiple provinces are under virtual lockdown. The virus has brought significant parts of the economy to a grinding halt, as firms instruct their employees to work from home.

Politically, the blame game bounces between local authorities in Wuhan, the epicenter of the outbreak, and the central government in Beijing, with both sides mindful of the eternal principle of Chinese politics: When disaster strikes, someone must be seen to pay the price.

The wider world should show sympathy and express solidarity with the long-suffering Chinese people. These are ugly times, and the racism implicit (and sometimes explicit) in many responses to Chinese people around the world makes me question just how far we have really come as a human family.

Too many people beyond China’s shores seem to have forgotten another eternal principle: “No man is an island, Entire of itself.”

Xi wields near-absolute political power over China’s Marxist-Leninist state. Arguably, only an authoritarian regime could have pursued the draconian methods that China has in trying to control the virus since last month. Only time will tell how effective these measures ultimately prove to be.

However, what is certain is that the crisis, once resolved, will not change how China is governed in the future.

To understand why, one must consider the underlying worldview that guides Xi as he seeks to realize his dream of making China the global great power of the future.

When people have asked me what Xi wants, I have explained his approach in terms of 10 priorities. This may best be seen as 10 sets of concentric circles emanating from the party center, or, in the tradition of the psychologist Abraham Maslow, Xi’s “Hierarchy of Needs”

The first priority is to keep the CCP in power. Xi has never seen the party as a transition mechanism to some sort of democracy or semi-democracy.

Rather, he sees China’s unique form of authoritarian capitalism as essential for its future great-power status, and as a model that could potentially be applicable to other parts of the world.

Second, Xi believes that he must always maintain national unity, because that is central to the CCP’s internal legitimacy.

This is why there have been sustained crackdowns in Tibet and Xinjiang under his rule, as well as a consistent hardening of policy toward Taiwan.

The third task is to expand the economy. Xi understands that the economy’s size, strength and technological sophistication are central to all dimensions of national power, including military capacity.

Moreover, without long-term growth, per capita income will not rise, and China will fall into the middle-income trap.

Sustained growth is thus also central to the CCP’s legitimacy, as is the national effort to become a technological superpower, with global dominance in 5G, semiconductors, supercomputing, and artificial intelligence (AI).

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