The Chinese Communist Party (CCP) has announced its intention to curtail “excessive” incomes and redistribute wealth within society. This follows a clampdown on tech companies within the country.
Observers have been quick to make two primary conclusions: First, that Chinese President Xi Jinping (習近平) and the CCP are keeping the wealthy in check while ensuring that wealth is subservient to political power; and second, that Xi and the party are proving their true colors as communists. These conclusions are not wrong, but they are part of the grander strategy behind the actions of Xi and the party.
Ever since coming to power, Xi has worked tirelessly to cement his position at the helm of the People’s Republic of China. He has purged opponents in the name of “anti-corruption campaigns,” and cracked down on separatism and dissent in Xinjiang and Hong Kong, but most importantly he has placed his ideology among the pantheon of communist thinkers. Over the years, we have grown familiar with the term “Xi Jinping thought,” which encapsulates Xi’s vision for China and its road to “socialism with Chinese characteristics.”
On the surface, his contributions to the party’s ideology seem to be a mere formality. His predecessors also offered their own flavor to “socialism with Chinese characteristics.” Hu Jintao (胡錦濤) championed the “scientific outlook on development,” while Jiang Zemin (江澤民) marked his leadership with the “three represents.” These guiding theories, by and large, followed the line of Deng Xiaoping’s (鄧小平) theory of reforming China and opening up to the world.
However, “Xi Jinping thought” is a break from its predecessors and recent developments in China demonstrate that.
China under Xi has broken many norms of the past. He abolished term limits, instilled greater party discipline, and openly furthered and defended China’s interests domestically and abroad through coercive means.
All of this has been done in the name of “national rejuvenation” and to achieve “the Chinese dream.” His bold claims for his vision of the country were once easy to shrug off as propaganda and empty words. Today, we must recognize that Xi means what he says.
In the latest edition of Foreign Affairs magazine, Jude Blanchette wrote that, unlike Xi, “Deng Xiaoping demonstrated strategic patience in asserting China’s interests on the global stage.”
Indeed, Deng called for the country and its successive leadership to “bide its time.” Xi’s critics argue that he has sinned for pursuing policies contrary to Deng’s advice.
However, pointing out Xi’s demonstration of impatience as hubris or a mistake misses the point. China today is stronger than it was 20 years ago, and it is undeniably more economically and militarily capable since Xi took power. China has bided its time and is ready to carry out the next phase of its revolution.
When we look at what is happening in China today, we must apply all the lenses available to us, including the ideological one. It is most certain that the party’s clampdown on tech companies and the wealthy is its way to assert authority; it is just as likely that it was done to reach the next phase of building “socialism with Chinese characteristics,” just as when Josef Stalin ended the New Economic Policy (a period of liberalization for the peasantry within the Soviet Union) and radically shifted to agricultural collectivization.
Xi is a man on a revolutionary mission. He has sought to recreate China in his image and he has so far succeeded. The personality cult surrounding him reminds many of Mao Zedong (毛澤東); he has brought Hong Kong to its knees and has maintained economic growth, despite the COVID-19 pandemic.
Deng famously said that it does not matter if a cat is black or white, so long as it catches mice. Xi and the party are out to achieve their goals by any means necessary, and that goal is making China an unchallengeable great power. Everything it does now is another brick in the road to realizing “Xi Jinping thought.”
Nigel Li is a student at the Moscow State Institute of International Relations.
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