March 10, 2018


Will China’s paramount leader Xi Jinping disprove Lord Acton’s famous maxim that all power corrupts, and absolute power corrupts absolutely? 

Are we entering an era where many of the world’s great nations are ruled by strongmen, despots or modern monarchs?  Look at America’s would-be king, Donald Trump; Russia’s Vlad Putin; and India’s Narendra Modi. 

China’s party congress appears about to change its established rules by removing the rule that party leaders may serve no more than two 5-year terms. This will open the way to life-long rule for General Secretary Xi.  This would be the third time China has granted leadership for life after Mao Zedong and Deng Xiaoping. 

Deng created the 5-year term limits in 1987 in an effort to prevent any future Chinese leader becoming another Mao, whose rule ended in civil war, famine and political chaos.   Interestingly, China’s paramount ruler, Deng, whom this writer considers China’s greatest leader, held only one official title: Chairman of the Chinese Bridge Association.  No need for titles. Everyone knew who the boss was.

Xi Jinping has made himself into the most powerful leader since Deng by relentlessly accumulating power during his last five years of rule by marginalizing or jailing opponents and democratic critics.

But who can argue with Xi’s success?  China is at peace and militarily secure.  Over the past five years, China’s economy has expanded 50% to $13.1 trillion, making it the world’s second biggest economy. While the US has spent over $2 trillion waging war in Afghanistan and the Mideast, China has been pouring the profits it has made into developing its worldwide trade and delivery systems.

In just over a generation, China went from third world status to joining the modern world – and may well soon lead it.   Sixty-eight million people have been raised from abject poverty; whole new cities created from rice paddies.

When China’s ruler is strong, China is strong.  Non-Chinese have a hard time understanding how humiliated China was in the 19th and early 20th centuries by the rapacious western colonial powers and Japan.

Xi Jinping has vowed to keep building China’s military and economic strength so that it can never again be dominated by foreign powers – namely the United States and Japan.  In 5-7 years, China and the US will likely wage a sharp, violent air and naval war in the Pacific along China’s coasts.  China and India may war over the Himalayas and Burma (see my book ‘War at the Top of the World’).   Preparations are already underway for both conflicts.  I bet my money on China.

Secretary Xi has also made clear he intends to dominate most of Asia through trade and soft power in much the same way that the US dominates Europe and Latin America.  Uprisings and independence movements in Tibet and Xinjiang will be crushed whenever they appear.  Taiwan will be kept on a very short leash; if it resists, invasion is the clear alternative.

Will Xi’s rule for life be good for China?  The answer is very likely no.  China has had over 400 emperors in its 5,000 years of usually turbulent history.  Some, like western monarchs, have been successful, others disasters.  As rulers age, they become paranoid, angry, vengeful and increasingly cruel.   Stalin and Mao offer grim examples.  Many go mad, as Shakespeare portrayed.  But today, thanks to modern medicine, rulers and despots live much longer than in the past.

History teaches that Lord Acton’s maxim is correct. 

Fallible humans must not remain in power for too long. Lower-ranking officials must be allowed the chance to rise in the ranks and elderly ones replaced.  For every splendid, sagacious, just ruler, there are at least three really bad ones.

China’s Communists have done a brilliant job – in good part by junking orthodox communism and adopting traditional Chinese ways.  Our current democratic western leaders are hardly role models for successful or enlightened leadership.  It will be hard to convince the Chinese to re-invent the wheel.  Secretary Xi will have a lot of time to think about this.

Copyright Eric S. Margolis 2018

This post is in: China

4 Responses to “CHINA’S NEW RED EMPEROR”

  1. Mike Smith says:

    Lots of countries out there have no terms limits, or a political system, or economic system different than the US… and considering all the internal problems in the US it is laughable every time I see Americans on the news and on social media hostile and trashing somebody elses system when they claim the best thing about their own is ” freedom ”
    I think the Eagles had it right all along ” Freedom, that is just some people talking. Your prison is walking through this world all alone “

  2. Some Ramblings about Kings and Such
    One would think that the Chinese had learned from the Chairman Mao episode, but, apparently not. With a limit of approximately 20 years, a politician may be in his prime for the duration. It’s difficult to establish a ‘term limit’.
    Wanting to stay in power, long beyond a politician’s prime, is endemic and comes with the type of personality politicians have. The west can look at Diefenbaker, in Canada, Churchill in the UK, Yeltsin in the USSR, and likely a bunch of others. Power and their ego forces them to stay well beyond their ‘best before’ date.
    Xi is a lesser problem in some ways… China has a single political party, and hopefully, the problem they had with Mao will not be repeated. Mind you, it didn’t stop Mao from setting China back a few decades. Diefenbaker and Churchill were not deterred. Xi, so far, has provided ‘good direction’ for China and hopefully will keep it up. He currently has a sound vision, and a sound mind.
    In Canada, we have a different problem. Voters are presented with a cast of ‘used car salesmen’, and the epitome is elevated to a position of Prime Minister. There is no long term vision, all is temporal.
    Our current PM, Junior, is just a wastrel, putting the country deeper in debt. His pop, on the other hand, nearly destroyed Canada, and, we likely will not recover. It seems to run in the family.
    Canada is floundering with no long term goal in site, and, with the political makeup we pander to every trendy event. This keeps political parties in power; they strive to obtain as many votes as possible. This may be to the detriment of the country. Not so with China. They have one party and ‘forge ahead’. Losers, in China, risk more serious outcomes than a reduced pension.
    Hopefully in China, the politicians are looking after a ‘well oiled engine’ and have a long term goal. It seems that way and they seem to have a greater view of the future.
    We will see how China develops their military. They do not have the overhead and development costs the Americans are saddled with. The feeding trough in the US is much bigger. The Chinese are shrewd and are sitting back to determine what they need and what direction to take, and are not directed by a cadre of military industrial complex ‘fat cats’. There’s a difference between what is good for the country and what is good for the pocketbook. China seems to be more interested in the former.
    The Chinese are, likely, looking at Putin for some direction. With a limited military budget, Putin has assembled a very effective deterrent. The Chinese have made some significant advances with anti-aircraft carrier missiles, etc.
    D-cubed wants his military parade to show his pomp and might. He can rattle, and, insult the Kim and take credit for the ‘improved’ relations with North Korea. The Americans are insisting that the Kim, denuke. This is not in the Kim’s best interests.
    How will the Americans address the advances of China and Russian in Africa, Pakistan, and South East Asia and the South China Sea? Why is America involved in the area? Can they avoid meddling where they are not welcome? Just like Kennedy nearly brought us to WWIII, D-cubed may do the same.
    The Chinese make for interesting times.

    • Mike Smith says:

      In Canada as well as in the US we suffer from democracy without choice… Stephen Harper was well past his best before date, and his party should have replaced him… but no. So then we had the choice between JT and the NDP…. Trouble is I don’t think Scheer is any less of a clown than JT…. why won’t anybody good run? Just look at the Ontario provincial matchup or that greaseball Jason Kenny in Alberta… the partys put trash out there and wonder why people are not happy.

  3. Steve_M. says:

    Another excellent commentary. I loved this sentence: “Our current democratic western leaders are hardly role models for successful or enlightened leadership.” But, Eric wouldn’t be referring to Trump, would he? All joking aside, there is truly a dearth of good leadership in the west, especially in North America. In Europe, Angela Merkel can be considered an enlightened leader, but she stands almost alone in that regard. What most people in the west are unable to understand is that our democratic forms of government and all the civil liberties we have can’t really work in countries like China. There is little within Chinese culture that could allow a liberal democracy to take root, let alone flourish. Any move in that direction must come from within the Chinese culture itself in order to have any hope of success and certainly cannot be something grafted on under pressure from the western powers.

Leave a Reply

You must be logged in to post a comment.