The Chinese Communist Party (CCP) yesterday wrapped up its annual party conference-cum-national decision-making forums in Beijing: the National People’s Congress (NPC) and National Committee of the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference (CPPCC), known colloquially as the “two meetings.”
They are normally tightly choreographed affairs, designed to project an image of stability and unassailable strength, but several events leading up this month’s sessions provided strong indications that all is not well in the state of Denmark.
The first sign of major discontent came in March, at the height of the COVID-19 crisis in China, when an article by real-estate tycoon Ren Zhiqiang (任志強) began circulating on social media under the headline: “An official call to arms against Xi: The clown who insists on wearing the emperor’s new clothes.” It was a sharply worded excoriation of Chinese President Xi Jinping’s (習近平) cover-up of the outbreak.
As the son of one of the CCP’s revolutionary leaders, Ren is a well-connected “princeling,” but he has voiced criticism of Xi’s ruling style and policies in the past, earning him the nickname “big cannon.” However, his latest letter appears to have broken the dam of discontent against Xi’s leadership.
Not long afterwards, a second condemnatory missive, purportedly written by Deng Pufang (鄧樸方) — son of former paramount leader Deng Xiaoping (鄧小平) — began circulating online. It set out 15 questions for Xi, such as: “China’s international image has plummeted and the nation’s trust is in tatters — who should bear responsibility for this calamity?”
China watchers believe that irrespective of who actually wrote the letter, it represented a call to arms within the party to topple Xi.
Former Qinghai Province CPPCC delegate Wang Ruiqin (王瑞琴) also released an open letter addressed to all members of the two meetings, calling on them to oust Xi and listing a catalogue of failures during Xi’s eight years in power.
Meanwhile, eyewitnesses reported an unprecedented buildup of military vehicles and equipment in Beijing ahead of the two meetings, which opened last week, with video footage circulating online showing a Beijing-bound train packed with artillery and other military vehicles. China observers in Taiwan believe Xi, who also chairs the Central Military Commission, called the army into the city as a warning to opposing factions against staging a coup.
That there has been such an extraordinary level of criticism of Xi this year should not be surprising. Under his leadership US-China relations have deteriorated to such an extent that the two nations are on the brink of a new Cold War, while the nation’s economy is in tatters from the COVID-19 pandemic and Taiwan has drifted further away from Beijing’s orbit, with a Democratic Progressive Party government elected for a second term and riding high in the polls.
To top it off, Xi appears intent on opening up a new front in Hong Kong, which threatens to damage the financial interests of the CCP’s top ranks, many of whom have money and investments stashed in the territory. To no one’s surprise, the NPC yesterday voted in favor of extending China’s legislation to Hong Kong. Xi appears to be betting that fear of the pandemic will prevent more mass protests in the territory like last year’s. It is a high-stakes gamble and the move has further entrenched hostile sentiment toward China around the world.
Washington on Wednesday moved to revoke Hong Kong’s special trade status, saying it was no longer autonomous from Beijing. US sanctions against Beijing and the removal of Hong Kong’s trading privileges are likely to follow.
China is at a crossroads. Next year will mark the centenary of the CCP’s founding, but if Xi is still in power, the future for China, and the rest of the world, looks increasingly bleak.
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