October 28, 2017

‘Guard against arrogance. For anyone in a leading position, this is a matter of principle and an important condition for maintaining unity. Even those who have made no serious mistakes and have achieved very great success in their work should not be arrogant.’

Chairman Mao Zedong’s Little Red Book


China was blessed by two great leaders in the 20th century. Mao Zedong created modern China out of the wreckage of a nation devastated by war, western and Japanese imperialism, ferocious poverty and lack of national spirit.  ‘Great Helmsman’ Mao made catastrophic mistakes that killed millions and was dotty at the end, but he put modern China on the path to greatness.

Clever, crafty, deeply wise Deng Xiaoping took the inchoate mass of China and laid the groundwork from 1978-1989 for his nation’s miraculous transformation from dire poverty into the world’s second largest economy and newest great power.  The only title the great Deng held was Chairman of the Chinese Bridge Association.  He didn’t need titles or fanfare: everyone knew he was the boss.  Deng urged China to discreetly grow rich and strong while keeping its head down so as not to alarm the outside world.

I saw much of this happen from the mid-1970’s when I began exploring China, which was then still in the final stages of the crazy Cultural Revolution.  To my wonder, I saw the new city of Shenzhen rise from rice patties into a booming metropolis of 11 million, one of the world’s fastest growing cities.  The magical transformation of China continues to leave me awestruck.

After Mao and Deng, China’s collective Communist leadership imposed rules limiting party leaders to two five-year terms.  The Communist Party heeded philosopher Vilfredo Pareto’s warnings in his ‘circulation of elites’ that to preserve itself, an elite group had to allow new members from below to join.  Collective leadership was intended to end or at least lessen the murderous power struggles that, with regionalism and separatism, had cursed China for centuries.

China’s last two leaders, Ziang Zemin and Hu Jintao, both chosen by Deng, followed Pareto’s maxim.  But China’s new supreme leader, Xi Jinping, did not.  Using his power base in the Central Military commission, the most powerful organ of government and party, Xi steadily eliminated his powerful rivals over a decade and put his men into key positions. Xi’s sleepy demeanor belied his startling ability to wage political siege warfare and his ruthless elimination of opponents.

This past week in Beijing, China’s 19th Party Congress not only re-appointed Xi as party leader but enshrined him in the Communist pantheon right next to Chairman Mao.  In effect, Xi has become China.  Paraphrasing France’s Louis XIV, Xi was saying, ‘I am the state.’  Which means that anyone opposing Xi Jinping will become an enemy of China.

Xi now appears poised to become as all-powerful as Chairman Mao, though he does not yet command the Great Helmsman’s near-divine status or adulation.  If recent years are any guide, under Xi a severe crackdown will continue against dissenters, religious groups, and would-be westernizers.   In Xi’s view, the west has little to offer China besides decadent behavior, racial mixing, loud music, and social rot.   The United States, Japan and India are seen as dangerous, determined enemies bent on destroying united China.

The major problems facing Xi and his men will continue to be the deep unrest and resistance by the persecuted Muslim Uighurs of China’s western Xinjiang province (once Eastern Turkestan), Tibet’s equally restive people, ‘rogue province’ Taiwan, and the irksome North Koreans.  Further on, China is girding for a Pacific war with the US, and a mighty struggle with southern neighbor India over control of the eastern Himalayas and Burma (see my book ‘War at the Top of the World).

At the same time, Xi has said that he will press ahead with plans to continue advancing China’s soft power around the globe through trade, culture, medicine, foreign aid and investments.   His eventual plan is to divert the primary flow of trade between the US and Europe eastwards to China.  The People’s Republic will also continue to buy up key foreign industries and export Chinese abroad.   While the US bleeds itself through small but expensive wars in Asia and Africa, China is using its huge trade surplus to buy key assets and influence around the globe.

China is doing all this at a time when its ruler, Xi Jinping, commands absolute authority and has a clear strategic vision, backed by a mighty economy and some of the world’s most intelligent people.  The same cannot be said for Washington which is floundering.

But before you put all your bets on China, recall Lord Acton’s famous dictum about absolute power corrupting absolutely.  Even the great Mao went off the deep end later in his rule, sending millions to their deaths due to starvation and terrorized all China with his demented Red Guards.  No one dared challenge Mao’s later-life follies.  Xi Jinping is a voracious reader of history like predecessor Mao.  Let’s hope the lessons from Mao’s days are noted.


Copyright Eric S. Margolis 2017

This post is in: China

5 Responses to “WELCOME CHAIRMAN XI”

  1. The expression, regarding the Americans, of the Keystone GOP’s comes to mind…

  2. I remember, in first year engineering, my classmates chiding the Chinese for their mass chanting of Chairman Mao’s ‘Little Red Book’ and how they were being automatons and quoting nonsensical gibberish… My observation at the time was ‘at least they are reading’, and, that’s a good start. It was sort of a ‘Gutenberg Bible’ moment; it wasn’t ‘what’ they were reading, but ‘that’ they were reading. This would help carry them to current times. I don’t know if that was his intent, but, it certainly was an end result.
    Chairman Mao caused some problems, but, he abruptly brought the Chinese ‘out of the caves’. In his later years, with his mind failing, he caused some problems that it will take decades to cure. The brutal manner in which he acted will likely cause generations of anguish. It’s like the students of Tiananmen Square with their ‘well wishing’ saying, “Tanks a lot”. The Chinese government, being autocratic, can be brutal… and this brutality could flare up in a heartbeat.
    The Muslim Uighurs of Xinjiang province have caused a few problems with their massacring a few infidels has been a fairly remote occurrence and has been dealt with rather quickly; if this becomes a more frequent event, I can see the Chinese army move in and neutralise the problem very quickly and brutally. This could lead to indiscriminate bloodshed and abuse. The general Chinese dictum appears to be one of conformity, and, it will be enforced as required. I’m a bit surprised that hasn’t happened since the Uighurs are a readily identifiable group. Maybe they are not that big a problem, or, that they are somewhat remote.
    Chairman Xi will have his hands full with bringing China to the forefront of world powers. The Chinese have the ambition or drive, the size, and the knowledge base to accomplish this. The new Chairman has a few items to address and it will be interesting to see how this is approached.
    North Korea, that errant child, has to be accommodated somehow. It concerns me that the US with all newspapers blaming the Kim for all the world’s problems, or possibly all the American’s problems. North Korea is a readily identifiable ‘Enemy’ and one that has not ‘fallen off’ the American radar. The Kim is alive and well as opposed to Hussein and Gaddafi (sp?) who had no means of ‘fighting back’. If it weren’t for the Kim’s nuclear arsenal, he would have long since gone a similar fate. That may not save him, but, it isn’t hurting him; he has to work on his personality a tad.
    China has a vested interest in the South China Sea, and, it will be interesting to see how the new Chairman deals with that and with the Americans who also have a vested interest.
    The Chinese are spending a fraction of their Gross Domestic Product on the military, compared to the Americans, but they are building new. They are not trying to maintain an aging war machine. They also have not had to invent/develop anew… they have had the opportunity to copy others, and have done so, improving it in the process. This leads to a faster development time and a greatly reduced cost. In general, with their economy, the Chinese have hired Western consultants to undertake Work in China, and have learned valuable information from these consultants. The lessons allow the Chinese to undertake future Work on their own.
    I wish Chairman Xi all the best, and, hope he brings China to their rightful position in history. He has the intelligence and drive to achieve this. I hope he has the foresight to make way for others to follow. We had a Liberal Prime Minister, in Canada, that didn’t want a second opinion and, I think intentionally, surrounded himself with ‘non-visionaries or incapable people’ and Canada is still suffering from this short sighted approach.
    I hope Xi does not make the same mistake.

  3. While travelling in SE Asia this Spring, I was shocked to learn that China bought a seaport in Cambodia and that Cambodia agreed to treat as extraterritorial. This was the first time in history (as far as I know) a state has willingly surrendered it territory in exchange for money (and bribes) to be sure. Cambodians are too thrilled by the Chinese presence but are so poor there is little choice, China soft power basically rules Cambodia and Laos. At Halong Bay in Vietnam, the Chinese yuan is accepted – no need for these generally obnoxious tourists to buy Vietnamese dong. I saw Chinese a pushy, arrogant, loud, insensitive, thus acquiring an appreciation of those resisting their expanding influence.

  4. Another excellent article. The second to last paragraph is of particular note: “China is doing all this at a time when its ruler, Xi Jinping, commands absolute authority and has a clear strategic vision, backed by a mighty economy and some of the world’s most intelligent people. The same cannot be said for Washington which is floundering.” So true. Also, the US is a deeply divided nation, unlike China. The current US political leadership is certainly not too bright and is also more interested in a divide and conquer strategy rather than making a real effort to unite the American people.

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