The G-20 Summit 2018 will be remembered for extraordinary large number of bilateral and trilateral meetings, which seem to be even more significant than the main purpose of the meet. There are some high profile bilateral meetings like US – China and US – Russia (Scheduling of which has seen many flip-flops) which are very significant in context of Trade-War or Ukraine crisis. The two trilateral meetings involving US-Japan-India and China-Russia-India are also seen to be very significant because of centrality of Indian position in both the meetings. One of the reasons for this phenomenon is that the world is that the world has got interlinked so much as never before, hence even bilateral relations between global powers impact the world directly or indirectly.
When a large number of countries including US allies, strategic and trade partners joined AIIB, against the wishes of US, it was quite evident that a time has come that many countries will like to have alternate sources of funding other than west dominated IMF or Japan dominated ADB and will follow their own national interest. Similarly when China exhibited aggressive design of converting feature and atolls to artificial islands, with a view to have South China Sea as ‘Chinese lake’ based on unilateral interpretation of history ignoring international laws, UNCLOS and decision of ICJ, a group of democratic countries huddled together to form QUAD with a potential to counter balance such moves, which have possibility of obstructing global trade and exploitation of global commons. The Russian aggression westwards post Crimea, brought many western countries together resulting heavy sanctions on Russia, (followed by the recent standoff with Ukraine, Martial Law in some parts of Ukraine and the criticality continues. The Western opposition and sanctions was instrumental in pushing Russia nearer to Beijing. The international relationships and strategic interests of most countries in the interlinked world of today are so interwoven, that it is difficult to count countries only in one grouping; hence many new issue based groupings have emerged in last few decades.
Are Global Powers pushing everyone to Strategic Balancing?
In the exuberance of pursuing ‘America First’ policy, in last few years US has been highly critical of some of its allies, strategic and trade partners, whenever they did not follow a course which was of interest to America. In some cases it used threatening gestures, while some others were put under sanctions. The policy got a major jolt, when they threatened everyone to support their decision of shifting embassy to Jerusalem, but many countries junked the threat and voted as per their own perception. A similar issue came up earlier, when the last US President got all Head of States of ASEAN countries together to discuss South China Sea issue and wanted a joint statement, condemning Chinese actions, but those countries did oblige. Pulling out of Paris accord for climate change, Iran Nuclear deal, TPP are some more examples when all the ‘Friends of US’ are not on the same page, and decided to continue with it even without US. Pulling out of nuclear deal with Russia is under global criticism, as it could trigger fresh arms race and a dangerous one, although US has some strategic logic to do so in American interest. The last G-7 Summit was not a pleasant experience for US allies due to alleged self centered economic approach of US. The NATO allies are also relatively lesser confident of US backing and keep waiting for next surprise from US Administration. Under these circumstances, Is US Concept of ‘With US’ or ‘Against US’ is outdated in Interlinked World?
On the other hand Chinese after announcing Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) in 2013, with elevation of President Xi Jinping from ‘Chairman of everything’ to ‘Core’ and ‘Leader for life’, exhibited its expeditionary design starting from South China Sea to land grabbing in Indian Ocean. With its fast growth it tried to showcase its methodology of governance better than democratic model. Its ‘Incremental Encroachment Strategy’ in Doklam as well as South China Sea exhibited its ambitions exceeding beyond peaceful growth to the arena of global strategic dominance; hence it started facing opposition from a group of democratic countries in various forms like formulation of QUAD and other groupings. Interestingly most of Chinese neighbors did not buy its method of governance and some of them went democratic in recent past, while maintaining good relations with it. In case of Russia also, we find Germany, a US ally drawing gas from them. Russia and China helping out North Korea with fuel and essentialities immediately after Singapore Summit between President Trump and Kim. Russia a strategic partner of India supplying military hardware to Pakistan and many other countries. A cross pollination of relations is therefore quite evident.
Analysing the cases of three global powers above, a time has come when most countries want to manage their international relations as per their own national interest, and do not want their strategic choices to be dictated by others. The strategic autonomy is quite dear to every sovereign country. It is also a fact that the world today is much more interlinked; hence issue based relationships is increasing. In context of the above let me analyze few cases justifying the ‘Compulsion of Strategic Balancing’ in international dynamics.
Japan’s Insecurity and Prime Minister Abe’s visit to China followed by meeting Indian Counterpart
During Prime Minister Abe’s visit to China on the 40th anniversary of the ‘Treaty of Peace and Friendship between Japan and China’ hardly any issues of divergences was discussed. It was looked as an effort to ‘Fostering Mutual Political Trust’ and ‘Cooperation and Confidence Building in Maritime and Security Affairs’. Beyond good optics, It can be seen as an effort to balance out/reset relations with China, and a messaging to Uncle Sam, about independence in foreign policy formulation of Japan. Immediately after this first visit to Beijing since 2012, Prime Minister Abe hosted Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, in a resort near Mount Fuji for a luncheon Sunday, just a day after returning from talks with the leader of China. While the leaders may call India-Japan partnership having been strengthened as a ‘special strategic and global partnership,’ but beyond the optics, it can be termed as an effort to balance relations between China and India as well. India would perhaps be looking to move forward in convergences, and need not be concerned of Sino -Japan engagement because India and Japan have hardly any issues of divergences. The balancing/resetting by Japan in international relations was again exhibited, by the fact that Japanese PM seems to be “determined” to wrap up talks toward peace treaty based on 1956 declaration with Putin, stipulating the return of two of four northern islands by Russia to Japan, while retaining claim on all four. The self confidence of Japan in balancing act between US, China, Russia and India is noticeable.
South Korean bonhomie with North Korea
South Korea despite being apprehensive of dangerous arsenal of North Korea, continues to be an ally of US. Deployment of THAAD, military exercises with US forces, have caused great anxiety not only in North Korea, but in China and Russia as well. Despite heavy sanctions on North Korea, it continued with its nuclear and missile tests. When President Trump started giving confusing signals of ‘America First’ and asking allies to pay for their security, South Korea was inclined to attempt peace in Korean Peninsula and making it nuclear free. It was successful in seemingly impossible diplomatic exercise of getting together Kim and President Trump together for a summit. As an analyst, I do not count the summit anything beyond optics, as nothing worthwhile has changed in nuclear and long range missiles capabilities of North Korea as well as UN sanctions, but South Korea has improved its relations with North considerably applying the theory of strategic balance. North and South Korea had Summits, exhibiting lot of bonhomie, decided to field one sports team under single flag, started people to people contact, and South Korea started helping North Korea with essential humanitarian needs, where China and Russia joined in to start business as usual with North Korea, immediately after Singapore Summit. The optics of keeping missiles and nukes away from North Korean parade does not mean that it will really destroy the only leverage it has, which is making US talk to him, and condemning Rouhani and Assad, looking for regime change there. Some symbolic destruction of few testing sites by North Korea and destruction of few posts along demilitarized zone does not mean that South has full confidence over North Korea but it clearly indicates that South Korea is balancing/resetting relations between them.
India’s Strategic behavior: Is it different than Balancing/Resetting International relations?
Post Wuhan visit of Prime Minister Modi to China it is being alleged by western media that India has perhaps drifted towards China. In my opinion there is hardly any worthwhile change in Indian strategic behavior. India has a set of convergences and divergences of interests with major global players namely China, USA and Russia. India has so far been able to keep these relations exclusive of each other; hence has been able to successfully manage an independent foreign relationship without any bias. In the turbulent complex environment of today, our convergences and divergences have started impacting each other. India’s differences with China on certain aspects of Sino-Pak nexus, use of global commons in South China Sea, its adventurism in Indian Ocean, and obstruction to Indian entry in NSG can also be viewed as convergence of interests with US. India’s differences with US on trade, tariff, and CAATSA in context of Russia can be seen as convergence of interests with China The silver lining is that US being our strategic partner will like to have well equipped Indian Forces to balance China and Indian connectivity to Afghanistan, in case Pakistan does not serve its strategic interest. The US waiver on Chabahar port and connectivity to Afghanistan, as well import of Iranian oil for next six month is a welcome step by US towards its strategic partner India.
After Indian expression to expand the scope and dimension of QUAD, opening it up to other affected countries, there is a general feeling amongst other QUAD members that India is perhaps getting softer towards China in progressing QUAD agenda. The reality is that India has an independent foreign policy. In Indo-Pacific, it stands with US, Japan and Australia in checking Chinese encroachment of global common like South China Sea, stands for seamless movement in international water and rule based order. Interestingly none of the QUAD members have common unsettled land borders with China. In land frontier and combating proxy war, India has to fight its own battle with some help from friendly countries including equipment from Russia, Israel, France to name a few, besides Indian friends from QUAD, hence it has to tackle relationship with China in a different manner than other members of QUAD. India therefore has to maintain harmonious relations with all its friends and neighbors to pursue its national interest. Despite such complexities, the silver lining is that the US, as well as China want better relations with India and vice versa. Russia also will not like to give up the largest purchaser of military hardware and a strategic partnership which stood the test of time even in ‘Heated Cold War’ era, hence, with smart diplomacy, India should be able to manage an independent foreign policy in current global environment. The number of bilateral and trilateral meetings attended by India clearly explains the balancing diplomatic exercises carried out by India, as per its National interest. Indian participation in two significant trilateral meetings namely US-Japan-India and China-Russia-India signifies the centrality of India. It clearly indicates the efforts required to balance out relations with two separate groupings which have wide gap in perceptions.
Unilateralism is Outdated/Impractical Concept
There is a growing opinion that US needs to revise its policy of sanctions and CAATSA. The analysis suggests that President Trump’s reintroduction of sanctions on Iran,(with many of its allies still honoring Iran Nuclear Deal), as well as further push on CAATSA (without modification) on countries trading with Russia might edge US towards its own diplomatic/ strategic and economic isolation in the long run . The ICJ decision on 03 October 2018 ordering US to remove any restrictions on the export of humanitarian goods and services to Iran to some extent shows that the world may not always buy US narrative on sanctions. Similarly Chinese aggressive stance in South China Sea will continue to bring resistance in different forms by collective efforts of affected parties, and its purse diplomacy will not work everywhere. Ongoing Trade War, strengthening of Taiwan and military posturing in South China Sea are indicators which will discomfort China. In interlinked world interactions with all countries wherever their interests converge is the order of the day. Japanese trade with China, visit of Prime Minister Abe to China followed by visit of Prime Minister Modi and Countries pursuing relations with Saudi Arabia despite CIA revelations are some examples of this new normal in future. It is also expected that in a multilateral world of today, no one country will be able to dictate the strategic choices of others or force any country not to act in its national interest in future. It also proves a point that any country, which thinks that it can rule the world all by itself, is sadly mistaken in the future world, which is overly interlinked.
The global role of CPC and Xi Jinping in promoting a dialogue among civilizations
The ruling Communist Party of China has hosted a “Dialogue on Exchange and Common Learning among Civilizations” on January 10, 2022, which was held in its second session, was attended by Vice Chairman of the Chinese Parliament “Ji Bingchuan”, Foreign Minister of the Communist Party of China “Song Tao”, and a number of among the senior leaders and officials of the Chinese state, with the participation of many political elites from former heads of government and officials of international and national organizations and bodies concerned with dialogue among civilizations and spreading the culture of coexistence, including the former Director-General of “UNESCO”. The ruling Communist Party of China and Chinese President “Xi Jinping” play a prominent role in promoting dialogue among civilizations in the world with an open Chinese vision to all, in accordance with the principle of “the common future of mankind”.
So, according to my area of expertise and especialising in Chinese political affairs, and my PhD thesis dissertation has already been focused several years ago on all policies related to the comrades of the Communist Party of China and its political elites, the Egyptian researcher will analyze the Chinese vision to the dialogue among the, as follows:
The Communist Party of China “CPC” and President “Xi Jinping’s rapprochement” with all friends around the world: The CPC seeks to open up to more friends around the world. Therefore, the “CPC” maintains regular communications with more than (400 parties and political organizations in more than 160 countries in the world), and its circle of friends is constantly expanding. Looking to the future, the “CPC” is keenly to strengthen communications with all of the parties of the world, share Party-building and state-rule experiences, conduct exchange and dialogue among civilizations, enhance strategic mutual trust, and work with the peoples of the world to advance the “building of a community with a shared future for mankind and the building of a better world hand in hand”.
The Communist Party of China and President “Xi Jinping” set a unique principle for the global vision of learning and benefiting from the civilizational achievements: This vision is based on respecting of peoples and nations, and giving the rights of differences among all, according to the actual conditions of every country and its internal circumstances.
The theory of the Chinese Communist Party known as “civilizational innovations” to open up to the peoples and civilizations of the world and support the policy of difference: The theory of “civilizational innovations” is based on respect for peoples and their differences with openness to all the features of progress achieved by the peoples of the countries of the world, through keenness on dialogue, exchange and cooperation with peoples and parties from all over the world, with the Communist Party of China “CPC”, declaring its full support for those peoples in promoting cultural exchange and people-to-people friendship between them and China.
Develop a plan for the Communist Party of China “CPC” to share its experiences globally with countries and political parties around the world: The leaders and officials of the Communist Party in China affirmed their keenness to support global dialogue between China and all countries and peoples during the next five years, with the Communist Party of China “CPC” pledging to provide an opportunity for 15,000 people from the political parties that are representing all of the different countries of the world to conduct the exchange in China. The most prominent here, is the call of Chinese President “Xi Jinping” for the establishment of a (clear institutional mechanism) aimed at the regular holding of the “High-level Dialogue Conference between the Communist Party of China and World Parties”, so that it becomes a high-level political platform with wide representation and global influence.
All the speeches of the Chinese President, Comrade “Xi Jinping”, affirmed China’s theory of “common global development contributions”: This theory becomes clear after the Corona pandemic, by providing medical and health assistance to all countries and peoples to get rid of the negative effects of the global epidemic, and here China also provided a huge amount of (free aid, preferential loans, technical, human and intellectual support to all developing countries), with the focus of Chinese state leaders and officials within the framework of the “Chinese Belt and Road Initiative” on building a large number of projects in order to advance its economic and social development and improve the livelihood of its people.
The role of Chinese workers and citizens around the world in enhancing China’s image in the civilized dialogue between China and the world, especially in developing and African countries: Perhaps what surprised me personally as a specialist in Chinese affairs specifically is the presence of thousands of Chinese scientists, engineers, businessmen, technicians, doctors, teachers, workers and volunteers who work. Now virtually in a large number of developing countries, working with local people to change their destiny hand in hand and side by side, according to Comrade “Xi Jinping’s clear principle of China’s support for the common destiny of mankind”.
The declaration of the Nineteenth National Congress of the Communist Party of China to implement the “Plan for a Prosperous Society of the Chinese People and All Peoples of the World” by the year 2050: According to the planning issued by the (Nineteenth National Congress of the Communist Party of China), it was affirmed that by 2020, China will achieve building a moderately prosperous society in all respects, by 2035 it will basically achieve socialist modernization, and by 2050, China will achieve the construction of a strong, prosperous, democratic, civilized and harmonious modern socialist country for the well-being of the Chinese people and the rest of the world alike. This was confirmed by the leaders of the Communist Party of China in calling on the parties in the world to participate in China in creating more opportunities for cooperation and working to advance a (joint development and prosperity) among the various countries of the world.
China’s role in maintaining global peace: The Chinese state participates in all international forums to promote global stability and peace, and at the present time, China contributes externally to the (payment of more than 36,000 Chinese peacekeeping forces internationally), China has also become a major contributor of forces and funds in the UN peacekeeping operations globally. We find that China has a major role in “maintaining international peace and security and managing conflicts globally”, through the presence of more than (2,500 Chinese officers and soldiers to maintain peace and security in 8 regions for peacekeeping missions), despite the difficulties and dangers they face.
Chinese President “Xi Jinping’s call” to reform and build the global governance system: Comrade Xi Jinping’s call to advance the development of the international political and economic system in a more justice and rational direction, President “Xi Jinping” emphasized in all his political speeches on “China never seeks hegemony, and does not harm others or expand abroad”, and focusing all China’s efforts on achieving development at the international level among all partners and friends.
The Communist Party of China’s call for all political parties around the world to develop “a new theory and foundations for building world peace and joint contribution to global development and protection of the international order: In confirmation of that call from the comrades in the ruling Communist Party in China, their call came to work with all countries of the world, most notably I have the serious emphasis on “China not importing the foreign style from abroad, and not exporting the Chinese style also abroad”, and thus China’s clarity in not forcing all other countries to copy and imitate the way China works.
Chinese President Comrade “Xi Jinping” and the leaders of the Communist Party of China (CPC) called to “narrow the gap between the North and the South”: The Chinese view is to achieve economic globalization based on (openness, inclusiveness, public benefit, balance and mutual gain), and to create conducive conditions to the common development of all mankind and work together to advance development and prosperity for the countries of the world, and to eradicate poverty and underdevelopment, from which many peoples around the world still suffer.
The speeches of the Chinese President, Comrade “Xi Jinping”, affirmed the application of the principle of “building a community with a shared future for mankind” by introducing the “Chinese Belt and Road” initiative: that is why the Chinese keenness on modernization and construction globally and helping everyone without exception achieve (the Joint Construction of the Belt and the Road), as a global platform for activating cooperation between the countries concerned to achieve common development.
China’s global affirmation to respect the right of countries and peoples to choose and differ and build a common community for humanity: This principle is rooted in all principles and documents advocated by the Communist Party of China and its companions, with their affirmation of respecting differences between different countries of the world, and avoiding any differences, contradictions or frictions. It impedes the civilized dialogue between everyone, and raised the Chinese civilizational principle that “all people are belonging to one family”, as they live under “one sky and one planet on Earth”. Therefore, all the peoples of the world should adhere to the idea of “all under heaven from one family”, and search for common ground while leaving aside differences and making joint efforts for (building a community with a shared future for humanity).
In conclusion, the essence of the idea of Chinese dialogue, which is meaningful to all countries, peoples and civilizations around the world, is the belief of the Chinese communist leaders and Chinese comrade “Xi Jinping”, and the affirmation of the belief of the Chinese nation in the principle of “all under heaven from one family”, by reference to the Chinese civilizational heritage, which calls for “loving of all people and creatures, make all nations live together in peace and a world of greater harmony”. This was translated by the political discourses of the Communist Party of China and its General Secretary, President “Xi Jinping”, and their affirmation of the Chinese nation’s aspiration to live in a better world, and everyone’s pursuit of justice for the public interest.
Japan’s Rohingya Policy: Deviation From Long-held Distinction
The story of Japan long pervasive in Bangladesh even across the world consists of two distinct aspects. One is the horrific nuclear bomb attack on Hiroshima and Nagasaki in 1945 and other is the Japanese people’s modesty, magnanimity and their national standing for the cause of humanity. Disproportionate response to Japan’s pre-war action with nuclear weapons and subsequent death of millions mostly civilian are still recalled with awful astonishment. Even as a testimony of suffering by the millions of ‘Hibakusha’, the post-war irradiated victims, the heart wrenching story of Sadako Sasaki and her arduous efforts to survive still haunts the people across the world. Similarly victimized for varied reasons, Bangali and Bangladeshi people always stood in solidarity with Japan. The legendary Bangali Jurist Radhabinod Pal and his prudential standing in ‘Tokyo Trial’ to defend Japan from wholesale allegation of committing war crime symbolize that solidarity. And Bangladesh is among the forefront countries to set up peace stone in Okinawa Peace Memorial Park.
The story of Japanese people’s modesty, charity and national standing for the just cause of humanity especially at the time of our independence struggle and post-war reconstruction effort is quite prevalent in Bangladesh. Japan was the first country to send delegation to newly independent Bangladesh in a bid to aid economic and infrastructural reconstruction. The name like ‘Shapla Neer’, a well renowned Japanese NGO, or JICA, Japan International Cooperation Agency, resonates Japanese largesse and support to Bangladesh. Half of a century old Bilateral relation between Bangladesh and Japan is characterized with reciprocity and the reverence of Bangladeshi people to Japan. And this relational reverence to Japan is more to do with Japan’s long-standing stance for just and humanitarian cause than its formidable economic position.
But given the Japan’s inertia, in some cases defiance, in response to the one of the greatest injustices in 21st century- Rohingya refugee crisis, it seems that Japan has substantially drifted away over the time from its position of long-held soft power strength- reputation of being benign to humanitarian cause. In the name of policy of non-interference, Japan has constantly defied the brutality unleashed by Myanmar military junta. Even as a blow to the very cause of humanity, in many cases they had cozied up to perpetrators. Let alone rendering any support to global initiatives to the cause, Japan stood in defiance to the collective steps of targeted sanctions or bringing perpetrators to the justice for parochial geopolitical and economical interests. Japan’s parochialism in Myanmar policy regarding Rohingya crisis has brought her to the same footing of It’s geopolitical rival, China. Both countries have been upholding their geostrategic interests above the greater humanitarian conviction even the crisis took the genocidal turn in August, 2017. Constantly blurring policy line between China and Japan questions the very strength of distinct Japanese way to the world.
Japan’s policy of non-interference regarding Rohingya crisis stands on the naive notion that over the time, through the economic development, Myanmar would go through the continuous democratic evolution and eventually embrace the inclusive governance values. But blow to this very notion, the recent coup at nascent stage of democracy has made it clear that the Myanmar military machine is impossible to be extricated from state mechanism. And state-sponsored apartheid policies against the Rohingya minority will surely follow the past precedents if not halted with harsh responses.
Again Japan’s Rohingya policy doesn’t reflect very standing of its own people. Officially Japan never recognise Rohingya people as separate ethnic minority native for long in Myanmar. They use ‘Muslim’, ‘Rakhine Muslim’ even ‘Bangali’, a derogatory term used in Myanmar to indicate Rohingya as illegal Bangladeshi immigrants, in their Official statements. But clear contrast to the official line, Japanese media and civil societies use the term ‘Rohingya’ to denote the ethnic entity. This contrasting line, given the high degree of reflection and integration between Japanese media and people, demonstrates the dearth of democratic principle in Japan’s foreign policy position.
Another deviation in Japan’s foreign policy orientation toward Rohingya crisis is its conspicuous apathy to mobilise its position of strength, economic one in Myanmar and political in global platforms like United Nations, to contribute to the resolution of crisis. Historically Japan has considerable economic footings in Myanmar, given its position of being 6th largest foreign direct investor, 3rd largest importer and 7th largest exporter to Myanmar. But rather than mechanizing the economic might to tame Myanmar’s policy line toward the resolution of crisis, it has been showing clear apathy to that end and has continuously been toeing the line demarcated with geopolitical and geo-economical colour.
Over 1 million Rohingya in Bangladesh along with hundreds of thousands across the world have been lingering to return to their birth land and loitering for Justice to the brutality unleashed to them. Bangladesh with limited resources stood by the them and has been voicing for their justice in international platforms. But if that voice from tiny country like Bangladesh for broader cause of humanity is not heard and responded by powerful ones like Japan, Justice will continue to cry in seclusion. As famous maxim tells us,” Justice delayed is Justice denied”, how much delay does it necessitate to awaken the world to stand for Rohingya cause?
Can “good emperor” Xi ride over factional fights into a third term?
As 2022 begins to unfold, mainstream global media – including the “gossipy” Chinese language Asian press, are agog with news commentaries and op-ed pieces speculating how difficult it is going to be for Xi Jinping to “win” a third term. However, people often forget the thumb rule for leadership succession in communist China. Which is, the consensus on the next leader is arrived at within the central committee much before the party Congress.
Though Xi Jinping is expected to continue his third term of leadership, the world press and China watchers have not stopped using “ifs” and “buts” on his chances to succeed. As Washington-based founder president of Citizen Power Initiatives for China, Jianli Yang, has recently observed in an opinion piece in thehill.com, “the year 2022 will be a big year for Xi but he must fix China’s economic slide.” In its advanced publicity flier for online panel discussion on the theme ‘Towards Xi’s Third Term: China’s 20th Congress and Beyond,’ scheduled on January 20, Washington-based Brookings Institution speculated “Xi has led the country for almost a decade,” but the big question is “what lies ahead of his anticipated third term?”
Likewise, last week, Singapore’s Epoch Times seasoned commentator on mainland Chinese politics, Wang Youqun wrote in his widely read column: “CPC General Secretary Xi Jinping has not stepped a foot outside China in the past 23 not due to Covid-19 but because Xi fears that if he goes abroad, there will be a “coup” in his country.” A month ago, popular Canadian Chinese language news website creaders.net had asked: “Is Xi Jinping’s winning a third term really ironclad? Is there no suspense in his re-appointment?” Earlier in November 2021, commenting on the 19th Central Committee’s four-day 6th Plenum elevating Xi to a stature alongside Mao Zedong, the New York Times wrote: The decision to place Xi among the country’s historical giants will bolster the view that only Xi is capable of steering China toward superpower status. But can this glorifying help fireproof Xi against challenges to his third term succession?
Interestingly, these past months of uncertainty and speculation on whether President Xi will really enjoy a third term or longer, actually began in March 2018 at the “Two Sessions” when it was announced that the two-term restriction on presidency had been abolished. Moreover, clouds of uncertainty and speculation regarding Xi’s third term had much to do with the suspense over whether it was Xi Jinping himself who got the CPC to abolish two-term limit or whether it was the CPC which enshrined Xi in the position as it (the party) needs him at the top in order to overcome both internal and external challenges. Apparently, the 6th Plenum seems to have settled the succession suspense for once and all. The CPC communique released at the end of the plenum has not only reinforced the centrality of the CPC in the rejuvenation of the Chinese nation – the signature theme of Xi Jinping since he became the party general secretary a decade ago, but the communique also clearly indicated to everyone (including the rival ‘Iron Cap Princes’ factions within the party) that “Xi is now the Party and the Party is Xi.”
However, as mentioned, many China watchers are still not ready to grant Xi a complete victory over his rivals. Well-known Chinese political affairs analyst Zhang Jie refuses to accept the message from the historic 3rd Resolution adopted at the 6th Plenum, i.e. Xi has been ensured he will remain at the helm of the party for a third term. Zhang was blunt in challenging such a view in his Chinese language column, and wrote: “The CPC Third Historic Revolution intended to designate Xi Jinping as the highest authority or ding yu yi zun, but judging from the information state media disclosed later, it was a compromise document that was far from Xi’s expectations.” [Italics added]
Besides conflicting interpretations of the Third historic resolution, overseas Chinese language critics have also pointed out that no specific mention of Xi’s third term in the 6th Plenum CPC Communique is a reflection of further intensification of internal factionalism. The Epoch Times political affairs analyst Wang Youqun (mentioned above) too has been writing about the mounting political pressure on Xi to quit by combined efforts of Jiang Zemin (Deng’s compromise choice, now 95, who led the Party and the country following the Tiananmen Upheaval up to 2002/3) and Zeng Qinghong (82, a former Chinese vice president, 2002-2007 who is believed to be leading the anti-Xi faction and a long-time key figure in factional power struggles, is backed by his former boss Jiang Zemin). Both Jiang-Zeng are known as Iron Cap Princes (or Tie mao zi wang – a Qing dynasty term meaning “hereditary and irreplaceable king and who enjoys more privileges and favorable treatment than ordinary princes).
But then there are those China watchers in Hong Kong and in Singapore who have spent long years studying China’s political “tea leaves”, and who claim Xi has actually spun a “political coup” and has emerged as the CPC ‘New Helmsman’ over the past few years. In the words of widely respected seasoned China analyst David Bandurski, director of the Hong Kong based China Media Project, “the 6th Plenum Communique very clearly lays down the foundation for Xi’s elevation next year and his continued leadership of the Party.”
Yan Danxu, Beijing correspondent of Singapore-based Chinese language newspaper Lianhe Zaobao, in her remarkable article last December unraveled the inner political intricacies of Xi Jinping’s decade-long “overhauling” of the Party’s provincial leadership. According to Danxu, Xi has successfully engineered toning down of two major rival factions – children of first generation CPC leaders, “second generation reds” or Hongerdai (also known as “party princelings”) and the Communist Youth League or Gongqingtuan. Up until the 19th Party Congress held in October 2017, the two “warring” factions were represented by Jiang Zemin/Zeng Qinghong and Xi’s predecessor Hu Jintao, respectively. But in the ensuing years, the CPC has often emphasized ‘Two Upholds” – upholding Comrade Xi Jinping’s core position on the Party Central Committee and upholding the Central Committee’s authority and its centralized, unified leadership, she further noted.
Echoing Yan Danxu’s viewpoint, Peking University political science professor Yang Zhaohui recently observed: “Under the current Chinese political landscape, if officials are unable to adhere to the ‘Two Upholds’ and fail to establish ‘Four Consciousness’, that would be the end of their political career.” It is precisely with this aim, Xi Jinping has been picking up young and talented post-70s generation provincial leaders. As Yan Danxu wrote: “In majority of provinces that have recently had a leadership change, there are 26 post-70s generation (province-level) standing committee members, of which over two dozen are new faces.” Of these new faces, some successfully made it to the 19th Central Committee in 2017, and several more are destined to enter – even at the level of the 25-member political bureau standing committee – into the 20th Congress.
To conclude, what generally remains unnoticed in the world media is most of the post-70s generation province-level leaders being promoted into the Central Committee are expert-type officials. These provincial-level leaders have been personally picked up by Xi based on their experience and merit. Analysts too agree more expert-type officials entering politics not only helps reduce the bureaucratic tone of the cadre team and broadens their horizon, but reduces factionalism in the political arena. Also, do not forget 11 standing committee members in the current 25-member political bureau will step down due to age-limit at this year’s 20th Congress. To many younger expert-type officials, Xi Jinping is a model leader to look up to. As Eric Li, a Shanghai-based venture capitalist and political columnist recently wrote in Foreign Policy: “Xi is a strong leader. Xi certainly has had his share of detractors. Western media and governments have attacked his regime for crushing political dissent in Hong Kong and for controversial policies towards Uighur Muslims in Xinjiang. But his stewardship during this once-in-a-generation-crisis has raised Xi’s popularity and his government’s credibility. China is fortunate to have the right leader at the right time. Xi is now being seen in China as ‘a good emperor’.”
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