China: government and governance September 2022-

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30 November-1 December
No Exit From Zero COVID for Xi Jinping
The death of a former leader, Jiang Zemin, is inconvenient for the Chinese Communist regime but unlikely to deter its crackdown on dissent.
By Isabel Hilton
(The Atlantic) The death of China’s former leader Jiang Zemin after a week of countrywide demonstrations of popular discontent with Xi Jinping’s signature zero-COVID policy, adds one more potentially potent factor to a volatile political situation. Xi has built a cult of personality around himself that resembles that of Mao Zedong. Jiang, who ruled as the party’s general secretary from 1989 to 2002, may not have had that stature, but his tenure casts an unflattering light on today’s flagging economy and harsh social controls.
Xi Jinping in His Own Words – What China’s Leader Wants—and How to Stop Him From Getting It
The Soviet collapse haunts Xi and functions as a fundamental guide to his actions.
By Matt Pottinger, Matthew Johnson, and David Feith
(Foreign Affairs) … “A few people tried to save the Soviet Union,” Xi said. “They seized Gorbachev, but within days it was turned around again, because they didn’t have the tools of dictatorship. Nobody was man enough to stand up and resist.” The phrase “the tools of dictatorship”—the idea that it is essential for the party and especially its top leader to control the military, the security apparatus, propaganda, government data, ideology, and the economy—would recur again and again in Xi’s speeches and official guidance over the next decade. …
Xi Versus the Street
The Protests in China Could Herald a Turbulent New Era
(Foreign Affairs) Over the past week, as more than a dozen cities have been engulfed by large protests, China has seemed more unsettled than at any previous point in Xi Jinping’s ten-year reign. By November 29, after a weekend in which people sometimes openly directed their ire at the country’s leadership, authorities had sent out a small army of police in Beijing, Shanghai, and other cities to restore order, arrest protesters, and try to put the movement to rest. But as the government reasserts control, it must also now contend with the reality that large swaths of the general public have begun to question the wisdom not just of local officials but of Xi’s leadership in Beijing. That raises a once unimaginable question: Has Xi, newly installed for an unprecedented third term in office, lost the Chinese street?
Two Chinese cities ease COVID curbs after protests spread,  (with video)
(Reuters) The giant Chinese cities of Guangzhou and Chongqing announced an easing of COVID curbs on Wednesday, a day after demonstrators in southern Guangzhou clashed with police amid a string of protests against the world’s toughest coronavirus restrictions.
Andrei Lungu: China needs a timeline for ending zero-Covid to regain public trust
(SCMP) Beijing’s Covid-19 containment strategy relies heavily on public cooperation, but after almost three years of lockdowns, frustrations are mounting
While China is in no position to safely open up right away, it can admit to mistakes, ask for patience and provide a timeline for ending restrictions

Alibaba co-founder Jack Ma has been living quietly in Japan with visits to the U.S. and Israel after China’s crack down on him
Chinese entrepreneur Jack Ma has been living in Tokyo for nearly six months, after Beijing’s crackdown on the technology sector, the Financial Times reported Tuesday.
Once China’s wealthiest and most prominent tech leader, Ma retreated from the spotlight in recent years after his criticism of government regulation landed him in trouble with Beijing, derailing the initial public offering of fintech giant Ant Group Co.
That was followed by an expansive crackdown on the private sector in China, particularly aimed at reining in the power of internet firms. His rare public appearances since then have been closely watched.

27 November
Clashes in Shanghai as COVID protests flare across China
By Casey Hall, Josh Horwitz and Martin Quin Pollard
Wave of civil disobedience unprecedented under President Xi
Rising frustration over Xi’s zero-COVID policy
Deadly apartment fire in Urumqi sparked demonstrations
Beijing, Chengdu, Lanzhou, Wuhan among cities with protests
(Reuters) – Hundreds of demonstrators and police clashed in Shanghai on Sunday night as protests over China’s stringent COVID restrictions flared for a third day and spread to several cities in the wake of a deadly fire in the country’s far west.
The wave of civil disobedience is unprecedented in mainland China since President Xi Jinping assumed power a decade ago, as frustration mounts over his signature zero-COVID policy nearly three years into the pandemic. The COVID measures are also exacting a heavy toll on the world’s second-largest economy.
Protesters call for Xi to resign amid unprecedented unrest over China’s COVID-19 measures
Wave of civil unrest unprecedented in mainland China since Xi Jinping assumed power
(CBC) Demonstrators have been arrested in Shanghai after calling for President Xi Jinping to resign

21 November
Xi Jinping and the Paradox of Power
What Mao’s Failures Reveal About Centralizing Control
By Minxin Pei
(Foreign Affairs) Far from guaranteeing another decade of success as China’s dominant leader, however, Xi’s triumph is likely to usher in a period of political rivalry among his own loyalists who are eager to seek his favor and gain an edge in the inevitable struggle for succession. Nor will Xi’s political dominance guarantee the success of policies urgently needed to meet the needs of the population and U.S.-Chinese strategic competition. Xi has amassed coercive power that may make him all but invulnerable inside the regime, but this power is of limited use when seeking to reinvigorate economic growth, promote technological self-sufficiency, and address the looming demographic catastrophe.

10 November
The Weakness Behind China’s Strong Façade
Xi’s Reach Exceeds His Military’s Grasp
(Foreign Affairs) In a move that was widely expected, Xi extended his own rule. But he surprised even the closest China watchers by unveiling a roster of leaders in which his confidants now occupy all the top positions within the party and state apparatus. Using direct and forceful language, Xi consolidated his hold on power and projected a strong and ambitious China to the world.
But the façade of a confident and robust Xi masked deep anxiety. Xi sees China hemmed in on all sides and facing intensifying security threats. This anxiety is driven by Beijing’s perception of a hostile Washington, its problematic relations with its neighbors, and the fact that the Chinese People’s Liberation Army still has a long way to go to become a force capable of fighting and winning local wars—never mind larger conflicts. Such a bleak outlook motivated Xi’s selection of new military leaders, underscored the urgency with which he has pressed the PLA to modernize, and resulted in a daunting list of tasks that the PLA must meet in the years ahead. Indeed, Xi’s insistence on Chinese military strength at the party congress was in truth an admission of weakness: China cannot yet defeat its rivals, and Beijing knows it. …
PLA strategists have long been concerned about the potential for “chain reaction warfare,” or the possibility that conflict in one theater could trigger fighting with other countries that seek to press their territorial claims while Beijing is preoccupied elsewhere. Planning for a war over Taiwan likely requires the PLA to prepare for other contingencies, including possible Indian opportunism to reclaim territory along the contested border, and to clamp down on any domestic turmoil if the public grows disenchanted. But the Chinese military is just not ready for that yet. Beijing does not trust its ability to successfully use large-scale force against Taiwan and likely has even less confidence that it can simultaneously manage both a war with Taiwan and any subsequent chain reaction conflicts.

27 October
What Happened to Hu Jintao?
The former Chinese leader was abruptly escorted out of a highly choreographed meeting of the Communist Party elite. Here’s what the videos show.
By Agnes Chang, Vivian Wang, Isabelle Qian and Ang Li
(NYT) It was the lone disruption in one of the most closely choreographed events in China: The country’s former top leader, Hu Jintao, was suddenly led out of the closing ceremony of the Chinese Communist Party’s twice-a-decade congress.
Regardless of what happened, the symbolism was unmistakable. A former paramount leader, historically the only person with the stature to challenge a current one, was led offstage.
That left only one man in the spotlight: Mr. Xi, about to glide to his third term, the most powerful Chinese leader in decades.

24-25 October
Around the Halls: The outcomes of China’s 20th Party Congress
Richard C. Bush, Diana Fu, Ryan Hass, Patricia M. Kim, and Cheng L
Brookings experts reflect on the elite political gathering and what its outcomes mean for China and the rest of the world.
…under the Xi system, power is highly concentrated, the flow of information to the top is tightly constricted, and the risks of anyone challenging Xi’s view of reality based on objective information are high. The likely consequence is that Xi & Co. will become even more prone to “group think” than they already are; they will misperceive the reasons that the regime is facing difficulties and never blame its own policies; and miscalculate how China should respond.
China’s strongman is here to stay. And weaker than he looks.
By Phelim Kine
Xi is facing slowing growth and implementing politicized economic policies that could become his Achilles’ heel.
(Politico) On Sunday, Xi walked onto a Beijing stage to confirm his appointment to a third term, followed by a new top leadership team purged of rival factions and packed with loyalists — a procession that telegraphed party cohesion and strength.
Yet, for all its reputation as an economic juggernaut, China is struggling. Its economic growth is slowing, due to factors ranging from Xi’s zero-Covid strategy to inflation related to the war in Ukraine, according to the World Bank. China’s youth joblessness rate stood at about 19 percent in August. That’s dangerously high for a party that trumpets rising living standards as proof of wise governance.
But Xi has refused to renounce his “no limits” partnership with Russian President Vladimir Putin and is maintaining zero-Covid despite the costs. In addition, his ideologically driven economic policy prescriptions — which lean toward a strong-armed interventionist approach rather than support for the country’s burgeoning private sector — could stunt growth further.
Xi’s third term clearly spooked markets in Hong Kong and the United States. Investors on Monday were dumping Chinese tech sector stocks due to concern that Xi will maintain policies that have wiped billions off the balance sheets of once booming technology firms over the past year.
China is struggling under “Xi Jinping’s disastrous economic policies and a series of dangerous structural imbalances, including a declining birth rate, an inadequate social safety net, and the CCP’s long ago decision to correlate its political legitimacy with China’s economic growth rate,” said Alex Gray, former chief of staff at the National Security Council and a senior fellow with the American Foreign Policy Council.

UK court to hear Uyghur demands to ban Xinjiang cotton
(AP) A Uyghur organization and a human rights group are taking the U.K. government to court to challenge Britain’s failure to block the import of cotton products associated with forced labor and other abuses in China’s far western Xinjiang region.
Tuesday’s hearing at the High Court in London is believed the first time a foreign court hears legal arguments from the Uyghurs over the issue of forced labor in Xinjiang.

23 October
Xi Jinping chooses ‘yes’ men over economic growth in politburo purge
Helen Davidson and Verna Yu
China’s president doubles down on ruling for life, excluding potential future leaders or factional rivals
Xi Jinping has stacked the senior Chinese Communist party ranks with loyalists, showing China’s ever more powerful leader favours loyalty over merit – and wants rule insulated from criticism or questioning.
The appointments, which were revealed on Sunday, have raised concerns that Xi has surrounded himself with “yes men” as he leads China through what he called the “choppy waters” of the future, some of which are of his own making. The country is facing domestic economic troubles and worsening global tensions as Xi doubles down on threats to annex Taiwan.
At the conclusion of the party’s twice-a-decade congress on Sunday, the new members of the most powerful political bodies were revealed to include Xi acolytes in the most senior positions, with factional rivals swept away.
The already poor female representation at the top was also erased. For the first time in 25 years there was no woman on the politburo; there has never been a woman on the highest seat of power the politburo standing committee.
As expected, Xi was reappointed for a precedent-breaking third term as head of the party, and chair of the military, having abolished term limits in 2018. A decade of political purges, increased surveillance and tightened social control has resulted in the 69-year-old leader consolidating personal power to a level not seen since Mao Zedong.
Sharp fall in China’s global standing as poll shows backing for Taiwan defence
Survey finds pro-China sentiment has collapsed in many nations while positive opinion of US has rebounded
Tracking the biggest takeaways from China’s Communist Party Congress
By Atlantic Council experts
What Xi ignored on the economy will cost him
Jeremy Mark, nonresident senior fellow at the GeoEconomics Center, former International Monetary Fund official, and Asian Wall Street Journal correspondent.
While Xi’s speech declared economic development to be his “top priority,” there was no sign that he was concerned about—let alone prepared to ameliorate—the deep problems that have undermined China’s economy over the past two years. He gave no ground on the zero-COVID policies that have squelched domestic consumption and destroyed small businesses. There was no mention of soaring youth unemployment, which hovers near 20 percent in China’s cities. And he offered no hint of concerted policies that could ease the country’s deep property downturn and prevent that crisis from damaging the banking system.
China’s Xi further cements power as party congress closes
By Yew Lun Tian and Eduardo Baptista
(Reuters) – China’s ruling Communist Party wrapped up its twice-a-decade congress on Saturday, cementing Xi Jinping’s iron grip on power and revealing a new Central Committee missing two key officials lacking close ties to the leader.
Li Keqiang, Wang Yang not elected to party Central Committee
Omissions of Li, Wang seen as laying ground to promote Xi allies
Ex-leader Hu Jintao escorted from stage at closing ceremony
Party charter amendments further enshrine Xi’s grip on power
Former China leader Hu Jintao escorted out of party congress
No explanation was given for the former president’s departure from the Communist party meeting.

16 October
Reading between the lines of Xi’s party congress speech
He’s staying the course. Chinese leader Xi Jinping kicked off the Twentieth Chinese Communist Party Congress with a nearly two-hour speech that emphasized security above other issues facing the country. Xi doubled down on his zero-COVID policy and held out the prospect of forceful “reunification” with Taiwan. How should the world interpret his rhetoric about the island? Is a course correction coming on the economy? What was conspicuously absent from the speech? The Atlantic Council’s China watchers read between the lines for the answers.
Shirley Martey Hargis (@ShirleyMHargis): Nonresident fellow at the Global China Hub and Digital Forensic Research Lab
Kit Conklin: Nonresident senior fellow at the GeoTech Center and former US national-security official
Dexter Tiff Roberts (@dtiffroberts): Senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center’s Asia Security Initiative and former China bureau chief for Bloomberg Businessweek
Jeremy Mark (@jedmark888): Nonresident senior fellow at the GeoEconomics Center and former IMF official and Asian Wall Street Journal correspondent
China expected to grant Xi 5 more years, no major changes
(AP) — China on Sunday opens a twice-a-decade party conference at which leader Xi Jinping is expected to receive a third five-year term that breaks with recent precedent and establishes him as arguably the most powerful Chinese politician since Mao Zedong.
As with most Chinese political events, little information has been released beforehand and the congress’ outcome will only be announced after several days of closed-door sessions. How much has been decided in advance and how much is still to be hashed out in face-to-face meetings also remains unknown.

10-15 October
China’s economy is ‘in deep trouble’ as Xi heads for next decade in power
(CNN Business) Until recently, some economists were predicting that China would become the world’s biggest economy by 2030, unseating the United States. Now, the situation looks much less promising.
As Xi prepares for his second decade in power, he faces mounting economic challenges, including an unhappy middle-class. If he is not able to bring the economy back on track, China faces slowing innovation and productivity, along with rising social discontent.
Party of OneThe CCP Congress and Xi Jinping’s Quest to Control China
By Jude Blanchette
What one could previously hope for—the installation of a new leadership coterie and with it, the prospect of serious change—will not occur. Rather than a moment of course correction, the 20th Party Congress sees the CCP—a regime that has long enjoyed a reputation of competence, pragmatism, and predictability—cross a threshold into outright dictatorship and, with it, a likely future of political ossification, policy uncertainty, and the ruinous effects of one-man rule.
(Foreign Affairs) At the upcoming 20th Party Congress, the CCP will reshuffle personnel, issue reports, and project an image of Spartan unity and discipline. But the meeting will be more elegy than transformation. Despite the pomp that will surround the congress, it will mark a disquieting moment for the party. Chinese President Xi Jinping’s unprecedented third term as general secretary will drag the CCP back to the pathologies of the Mao era and simultaneously push it toward a future of low growth, heightened geopolitical tension, and profound uncertainty.
The continuation of Xi’s rule means that on the big questions of China’s future, Beijing is unlikely to shift its policies dramatically: after a decade in power, Xi’s impulses, assumptions, and judgment are already clear. … The meeting is designed not as a showcase for some dramatic new approach to governance or policy but rather as pure political theater meant to reassure the Chinese citizenry and convince global audiences that the party remains steadfast and unified under Xi as he pursues the goal of transforming China into a socialist great power.
Xi’s grip on China’s political, economic, and security institutions is formidable, and his stated plans for China’s future are many and detailed. Yet his ability to steer complex ecosystems and the forces that shape them is, as all rulers eventually learn, fixed and limited. What is more, the reactive, shortsighted, and often incoherent set of policies that Xi has promoted over the past five years intended to achieve his global ambitions and confront the country’s innumerable challenges have placed China on a worrying path of anemic economic growth, declining global prestige, and rising domestic repression. The congress will not change these realities either.
Who will succeed Xi Jinping as China’s leader? It’s complicated.
(WaPo) All eyes are on Xi Jinping at the Chinese Communist Party’s 20th National Congress that begins in Beijing on Sunday. Barring a major upset, the most powerful Chinese leader in decades will extend his rule, undoing the previous convention of top leaders serving two five-year terms before stepping aside.
With authority tightly held in one man’s hands, it’s easy to forget the remaining 2,295 delegates attending the conclave in Beijing. But it is among these jockeying cadres that experts in Chinese politics search for clues about just how much power Xi has — and how long he is liable to hold it.
The primary focus will be on the Politburo’s Standing Committee, the seven-member body at the pinnacle of decision-making power. If Xi is able to stack the committee with loyalists, then there will be few signs of checks on his personal control.
… New positions for the current and former party bosses of Xinjiang, Ma Xingrui and Chen Quanguo respectively, will be closely watched by those concerned about a harsh security clampdown in the region under Xi. If Chen receives a promotion, that would be an official stamp of approval on his hard-line approach.
Analysts also debate whether China will appoint a new foreign minister to replace Wang Yi, who will be 69 by the time the meeting ends. Some argue that Wang is likely to stay on as an influential Politburo member even if he steps aside from the ministry role.
Expert Guide to Congress
(Atlantic Council) From navigating geopolitical tensions to tackling the country’s property crisis, the outcomes of the congress could have significant implications for China’s political and economic landscape.
Beijing takes aim at the Global South
Beijing’s Global Development Initiative (GDI) and Global Security Initiative (GSI) will likely feature prominently as foreign-policy priorities during the Twentieth Party Congress, specifically in the Congress Work Report. These initiatives currently appear to be lacking in detail, but they build on existing efforts underpinning Xi’s strategic vision for China’s global reach, in particular the Belt and Road Initiative and the “community of common destiny” concept. As such, we can view GDI and GSI as the next stage in Beijing’s attempt to shape an international system that is more conducive to China’s expanding global interests.

29 September
How to make sense of Xi Jinping, China’s enigmatic ruler
His project to restore the Communist Party’s overbearing role has grim implications for China and the world
(The Economist) Far from being a reformer, Mr Xi sees himself as a restorer—of the party and its central role in society, and of China and its role in the world. He has amassed more power and wielded it more ruthlessly than any Chinese leader since Mao Zedong. As his power has grown, so has China’s ambition. At the party’s five-yearly congress, starting on October 16th, Mr Xi will almost certainly be given another term as supreme leader, possibly setting him up as ruler for life. Understanding his origins and his beliefs has never been more important. …
Rather than reject the party after Mao’s purges, he dedicated himself to restoring it. The party, to his mind, was the only institution able to prevent such chaos from recurring. So it made sense for its leaders to turn to him in 2012, when many thought the party had again lost its way. To save it, they believed, it needed discipline and a renewed sense of purpose.
China’s president has given it that in spades. His anti-corruption campaign set a new tone—and doubled as a purge of his rivals. He has since reinjected the party into all aspects of life. Party committees have been set up in private firms and reinvigorated at the neighbourhood level, where grassroots members help enforce his “zero-covid” policy. Mr Xi has created party bodies with new powers to oversee government ministries.
When Mr Xi took over in 2012, China was changing fast. The middle class was growing, private firms were booming and citizens were connecting on social media. A different leader might have seen these as opportunities. Mr Xi saw only threats. At home he is assembling a high-tech apparatus of incentives and coercion designed to restore party control. Abroad, he is posing a challenge to the American-led order that the world should resist.

9 September
The Weakness of Xi Jinping
How Hubris and Paranoia Threaten China’s Future
By Cai Xia, former Professor at the Central Party School of the Chinese Communist Party (1998-2012)
(Foreign Affairs September/October 2022) Outwardly, Xi still projects confidence. In a speech in January 2021, he declared China “invincible.” But behind the scenes, his power is being questioned as never before. By discarding China’s long tradition of collective rule and creating a cult of personality reminiscent of the one that surrounded Mao, Xi has rankled party insiders. A series of policy missteps, meanwhile, have disappointed even supporters. Xi’s reversal of economic reforms and his inept response to the COVID-19 pandemic have shattered his image as a hero of everyday people. In the shadows, resentment among CCP elites is rising.
At the CCP’s 20th National Party Congress this fall, Xi expects that he will be given a third five-year term. And even if the growing irritation among some party elites means that his bid will not go entirely uncontested, he will probably succeed. But that success will bring more turbulence down the road. Emboldened by the unprecedented additional term, Xi will likely tighten his grip even further domestically and raise his ambitions internationally. As Xi’s rule becomes more extreme, the infighting and resentment he has already triggered will only grow stronger. The competition between various factions within the party will get more intense, complicated, and brutal than ever before.

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