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Can “good emperor” Xi ride over factional fights into a third term?

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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.   

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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’.”    

Hemant Adlakha is professor of Chinese, Jawaharlal Nehru University in New Delhi. He is also vice chairperson and an Honorary Fellow, Institute of Chinese Studies (ICS), Delhi.

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Chinese Communist Party and the path of “high-quality development” at Guangdong Province

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A night view of Shenzhen, Guangdong province, on March 10, 2018. (PHOTO / VCG)

During the meeting of “Huang Kunming”, Secretary of Guangdong Provincial Party Committee mentioned that it is significant for Guangdong embark on a path of high-quality development fit for its own situation. According to my highly understand of China’s high-quality development and analysis to the nature of the Chinese society and the polices of the Communist Party of China regarding the development is meaning (all-round building a strong modern socialist country) and all-round rejuvenation of the Chinese nation still need to rely on development.

 With the continuous development of the Chinese economy and the deepening of reforms, China put forward a new expression of “high-quality development” for the first time at the 19th National Congress of the Communist Party of China in 2017, which indicates that China’s economy has moved from a stage of rapid growth to a stage of high-quality development.

 Changing China’s economic development strategy is an inevitable choice in line with the law of development and the demands of its development. Now, China is seeking to change its previous development pattern of relying on a large number of factors of production to focus more on quality and efficiency.  It has begun to adhere to the implementation of the new development philosophy that emphasizes innovative, coordinated, green and open development for all, and to build a new development pattern that relies on domestic trade and promotes integration between domestic and foreign trade to enable the Chinese society to complete the building of a strong modern socialist country in an all-round way, Chinese side should stick to advancing high-quality development as the top priority, as President Comrade “Xi Jinping” stressed in the report.

 High-quality development mainly depends on the economy’s vitality, innovation and competitiveness.  In order to improve these capabilities, China is accelerating the implementation of the innovation-driven development strategy, intensifying its efforts to achieve a high level of self-reliance in scientific and technological research, mobilizing forces and focusing on solving intractable problems in original and pioneering science and technology research to achieve breakthroughs in some crucial and pivotal technologies, which are guided by these strategies, China has achieved good results in manned space industry, lunar and Mars sounding, deep-sea and land exploration, supercomputers, satellite navigation, quantum information, electro-nuclear technologies, large-scale passenger aircraft, medicine, biopharmaceuticals and other fields over the past years, and joined the ranks of innovative countries in the world.

 Green development is an important symbol of the transition of China’s economy from the stage of rapid growth to the stage of high-quality development. In recent years, China has pushed the green transition to a development mode, implemented the comprehensive rationalization strategy, developed green and low-carbon industries, and advocated green consumption.

  The bright future of China’s economy stems from more flexible and high-quality development. In 2021, China calmly responded to changes in the world as well as the COVID-19 epidemic, took new steps to build a new development pattern, achieve new results in high-quality development, and achieve a good start for the 14th Five-Year Plan. China has maintained a leading position in the world in economic development and in epidemic prevention and control, accelerated the growth of national strategic scientific and technological forces, improved the flexibility of the industrial chain, continued to deepen supply-side structural reforms, and made solid progress in the green transformation of the low-carbon economy and prosperity subscriber.

  Here, with the strong leadership of the Communist Party of China, the significant advantages of the socialist system with Chinese characteristics, the technological foundation accumulated since reform and opening up, the extremely large market advantage and domestic demand potential, and with huge human capital and human resources, the Chinese economy will continue to grow steadily on the path of high-quality development, enabling China to contribute in achieving a steady and stable progress in the recovery of the global economy.

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China’s Deflating Population: The Economic Marvel in Eclipse?

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So China’s population shrank last year. I admit my first instinct was … well, isn’t this a good thing? I mean, during the entire 1960s and 1970s, global discourse misted around how the world population kept growing beyond the finite resources of this world. And how food scarcity and poverty would create a social depression. China, with a population of roughly 1.4 billion people, was specifically a focal point of population reduction strategies. After the widespread catastrophe of the Great Leap Forward, a debilitating social program orchestrated by Mao Zedong in the late 50s, China’s population was on the up and up in the following decade, to the point that the infamous ‘One-Child Policy’ was introduced in the late 70s to inhibit the burden of a growing population – and concomitant poverty. Since then, however, China has dynamically transformed into an economic powerhouse – a factory floor for global manufacturing. And here lies the answer to this population conundrum: Shrinking population in China is a problem now!

According to the data released by the Chinese government last week, China’s population contracted by circa 850,000 people in 2022; with 9.56 million births against 10.41 million deaths, it was the first time in more than half a century that deaths outnumbered births in China. The initial thought would be to blame it on the pandemic. But that would be a blinkered assumption without gauging the stunted birth rate. It was the sixth consecutive year that the number of births fell, down from 10.6 million in 2021, according to the National Bureau of Statistics. Many demographers and statisticians warned for years about a population decline on the cards, albeit much later in this decade. This presage was why the government reposed its one-child policy in 2016 and extended the limit to three children in 2021. Local governments offered tax rebates and outright cash handouts to couples having children. The source of anxiety was partly social and partly economic – or maybe socioeconomic is the correct juxtaposition.

China is a rising economic power, the world’s second-largest economy, and the strongest contender to dethrone American supremacy. But in listing all the superlatives, we sometimes forget that China is still a developing economy. Despite its phenomenal evolution from endemic poverty, its average population still earns less than the average earnings in advanced economies. And the shrinking population is a two-pronged issue that could constrict China, like other leading developing economies, into a middle-income trap.

Just by simple inference, we can judge that a declining population is also an aging population. Impressive modernity in China’s healthcare system has led to an increase in life expectancy. Meanwhile, a decades-long hiatus in birth-conducive policies and changed mores of young Chinese couples, often antipathetic to having children altogether, have led to a sharp decline in births. A combination of these factors has invited a conspicuous outcome: Shrinkage in China’s working-age population. In fact, China’s working-age population has been in decline since 2015; according to a government spokesman, it could fall to roughly 700 million (approximately 23%) by 2050. This factor would be particularly problematic for China, which has long been a competitive labor market for manufacturing heavyweights like Apple and Microsoft. But moreover, a bulging elderly population amidst falling tax receipts would pose a challenge to government finances, especially given the comparably underdeveloped social safety net programs in China. Therefore, either taxes ought to be raised sharply or state pensions to old-age dependents would hit the skids – a spartan policy dilemma either way.

We can draw apt comparisons from Japan – the world’s third largest economy – which has notoriously suffered from a lopsided aging population and accompanying anemic economic growth since the asset bubble burst of the 1990s. I mean, China’s real estate market does look like a financial crisis just waiting to happen. But post-boom Japan has tried virtually every bizarre economic strategy – from negative interest rates to yield curve control – yet has failed to spark demand-led inflation. Strangely, however, China has sustained its bustling economy on prohibitive rates of investment rather than consumer demand, which has remained relatively lukewarm due to policymakers’ reluctance to pass the complete scope of economic growth to households. Nonetheless, a contracting labor force would perhaps accelerate the exodus of manufacturing from China unless the government finds alternatives to sustain China’s unrivaled productivity levels.

We could blame China’s ‘zero Covid’ policy for strangling economic growth. It is no surprise that China’s economy grew by a modest 3% in 2022, its slowest rate in nearly four decades, barring 2020. Intermittent lockdowns and pedantic mass testing regimes cast a pall over economic activities. And higher interest rates imposed by the Federal Reserve and other central banks have dampened global demand and diluted appetite for Chinese imports. According to government officials, year-on-year Chinese exports fell by 9.9% in December. While an economic turnaround is widely expected later this year, a falling working-age population; a skyward old-age dependency ratio; and the ongoing trade tussle with the United States could cost China many more decades to supersede the American edge. However, China has been an iridescent success story, an economic miracle of sorts. And therefore, if the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) could somehow prioritize economy over national security; social reforms over governmental control; and collaboration over confrontation, I reckon China can again defy the odds and achieve its dream.

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Nepal-China Relations and Belt and Road Initiative

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Image source: xinhua

China appears to be more “functional” in Nepal recently. A new administration led by leader Pushpa Kamal Dahal has acted on the same pitch initially also. The Rasuwagadhi border crossing, which had been blocked for three years, has been reopened for two-way trade, and the much-anticipated Gyorong-Kathmandu train project’s final survey has also begun as of January 1, 2023. The second phase of the 10-lane ring road project from Kalanki to Chabhil is anticipated to start soon as well. All these accumulatively demonstrate the current nature of friendship between them and the profound Belt and Road Initiative is the key rostrum for the current complexion of the relationship between them. Hence, the trends are indicating a greater form of cooperation even in the regional domain as well.

Meanwhile, China and Nepal have inked a six-point agreement to strengthen bilateral collaboration and exchanges on governance, legislation, and supervisory practices, in line with Beijing’s Belt and Road Initiative (BRI). On September 12, 2022, in Kathmandu’s federal parliament building, Agni Prasad Sapkota, Speaker of the Parliament, and Li Zhanshu, Chairman of the Standing Committee of the Chinese National People’s Congress, signed the agreement. According to the agreement, the nations would exchange information about each other’s legislative, oversight, and governance activities. Five years after BRI’s founding, on May 12, 2017, Nepal formally joined the process. Nine projects – the upgrading of the Rasuwagadhi-Kathmandu road, the construction of the Kimathanka-Hile road, the construction of the road from Dipayal to the Chinese border, the Tokha-Bidur Road, the Galchhi-Rasuwagadhi-Kerung400kv transmission line, the Kerung-Kathmandu rail, the 762MW Tamor Hydroelectricity Project, the 426MW Phuket Karnali were on the to do list. However, more than any other nation, China invested US$188 million in Nepal during the 2020–21 fiscal year. During KP Sharma Oli’s visit to Beijing in 2016, Nepal and China also ratified a transit transport agreement for commerce with other parties.

However, amidst the current global tension and the changing rapport of international politics, China remains as a key investor in Nepal. Besides, the recent activities from the Nepal administration showed a shift in policy domain from the previous regime which in some cases was rigid to Chinese projects. Meanwhile, the BRI becomes more eminent in the strategic, political and economic domain of the status quo. Against such backdrop, the next sections will discuss current trends of the BRI in Nepal.

Nine Projects: Token of Continuation of the Initiative

Nepal put forward nine potential projects to be undertaken under the BRI at the beginning of 2019. These included setting up a technical institution in Nepal, building new highways, tunnels, and hydroelectricity dams, as well as conducting a feasibility assessment for a trans-Himalayan railway that would connect Jilong/Keyrung, a Chinese port of entry, with Kathmandu. This enhanced the significance of the project which will direct to more prosperous China- Nepal relations.

Nepal, the “Pillar”

Hou Yanqi, the Chinese ambassador to Nepal, stated in April 2022 that Nepal was one of the BRI’s most significant pillars and that projects were still moving forward despite the “speed of pragmatic collaboration” slowing down because of the coronavirus pandemic and Nepal’s changing political climate.

Transit Through China: Better Connectivity and Trade

Kathmandu protocol agreement with Beijing, Nepal will import and export goods from a third country through China through Tianjin, Shenzhen, Lianyungang and Zhanjiang seaports and land ports of Lanzhou, Lhasa and Shigatse. They will also get the facility of transporting goods through six dedicated transit points of the two countries. It will boost the trade for improved connectivity.

Extended Cooperation in Domains Except for BRI

In addition to the BRI projects, China is currently making significant investments in Nepal’s infrastructure, including ring road expansion, dry ports at the border crossings of Larcha and Syabrubesi, the establishment of China Study Centers, a new international airport in Pokhara, and optical fiber cable connectivity from Kathmandu to the Chinese border.

Energy Exploration: New Domain of Cooperation

China is also looking into the prospect of discovering gas and oil deposits in Nepal and is building a border river crossing at Hilsa, Humla. It will open a new domain of cooperation based on mutual interest.

Poverty Reduction and Generating Newer Income Sources

Currently, roughly six Chinese airlines offer regular flights to Nepal. Nepal has the fastest-growing Chinese tourist industry. Nepal granted China access to choose 16 Himalayan regions that border China to develop as part of a program to fight poverty.

Security: Bringing Peace

Joint military drills between China and Nepal are also a new development in security cooperation. It will bring peace in the region since the image of Nepal is very clean.

Increased Diplomatic Connectivity

The BRI appears to be one of the three priority pillars for the Chinese government’s organizing principles of foreign policy, along with the Global Development Initiatives and the Global Security Initiatives, in terms of developing successful international relations rather than just an economic endeavor. It will bring a fresh start in the diplomatic domain of both countries and the future prospects of ties in the diplomatic arena can be discussed robustly.

No More Landlockedness

Under BRI and the Trans-Himalayan Multi-dimensional Connectivity Network, which will transform Nepal from a landlocked country to a land-linked one, there are multiple road, sea, and corridor networks throughout the world. It will boost the relationship to a great extent while there will be a surge in the arena of export and import.

Regional Connectivity

The extension of the Qingzang railway from Tibet to Nepal and the border with India is among the most significant BRI projects. Three routes are being considered for this railway. The first would connect Shigatse to Kathmandu via Kerung and continue on to Pokhara and Lumbini before reaching the Indian border. The second would run from Shigatse to the Burang border and connect Humla and Darchula districts in Nepal with Pithoragdh, Uttarakhand, while the third would link Shigatse to the Yandong border of Sikkim, India.

As China and India have no trade disputes with one another, India would gain from this project as well after trading through this route. In comparison to other industrialized parts of the world, South Asia could see an increase in commerce and investment if this project is carried out on a win-win basis between China and Nepal.

Challenges

Additionally, loans are typically provided on commercial terms through the Silk Road Fund and the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB), both of which are led by China (SRF). Due to project site clearance delays and the nation’s political instability, along with its comparatively short repayment time, Nepal’s big projects have raised concerns that they may not get off the ground.

Besides, three primary issues with China are of particular concern to the Nepalese government. First, instead of commercial loans, the nation favors grants and lenient loans from China. Second, it wants the interest rate and repayment period to be comparable to those of multilateral funding organizations like the Asian Development Bank and the World Bank. Thirdly, it thinks that bid competitions ought to be allowed for the BRI projects. But the Chinese authorities are not responding on the same page.

The Inception of a Recommenced Cooperation

Pradeep Gawali, Foreign Minister in the KP Sharma Oli’s government, said that from the perspective of Nepal, the BRI projects were the way to be connected to the trans-Himalayan multipurpose connectivity network. Nepal had been able to select the nine projects included in the BRI with great success. However, Chinese authority said on December 26 that it looks forward to cooperating with the new government to advance projects under the ambitious Belt and Road Initiative, a day after the Maoist party chairman Pushpa Kamal Dahal alias Prachanda was named as Nepal’s new prime minister (BRI). China aims to develop initiatives under the Belt and Road collaboration, according to Mao Ning, the official spokesperson for the Chinese foreign ministry, who congratulated Prachanda on his appointment. Beijing claims that as a longtime ally and neighbor of Nepal, China cherishes Nepali relations very highly. China is prepared to collaborate with the new Nepalese administration to broaden and deepen friendly relations and cooperation on all fronts, pursue high-quality Belt and Road cooperation, strategic cooperative alliance marked by enduring friendship for growth and prosperity new impetus, and bring more benefits to peoples from both sides.

Hence, it is evident that China’s policy toward Nepal is generally stable and uncomplicated, and the two countries’ bilateral relations have been cordial and shaped by Nepal’s strategy of balancing the divergent impact of China and its southern neighbor. Through BRI projects, Nepal could gain better connectivity relations with its northern neighbors, but in order to do so, Nepal must enhance its negotiations with China.

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