Article by Rowan Callick -- an industry fellow with Griffith University’s Asia Institute.
China is now struggling on many fronts, let alone rising. But it has magic on its side.
At the core of its discourse – whose control it seeks under Xi Jinping to extend globally – lies what magicians call misdirection.
Misdirection guides an audience to look over there, distracting them, while conducting the real business of trickery covertly, here.
The Chinese Communist Party has conjured many great survival skills in its century of existence, and among them it has become especially adept at misdirecting, including about the inevitability – based on Marxist determinism – of its rise.
Australia should take President Xi Jinping's own rhetoric on establishing Chinese dominance "seriously", Sydney Morning Herald International Editor Peter Hartcher says. Mr Hartcher said President Xi has shown he is capable of playing a long-term game of expansionism but is also capable of taking quick opportunistic action.
Continued success with such wizardry is crucial during the coming months as plans are finalised covertly for the watershed five-yearly party congress, probably in November.
This event – whose dates are held secret – is intended to cement Xi in his core position as general secretary until at least 2027, to appoint new Xi loyalist leaders across the board in key jobs, and to reinforce the present abrasive policy paths at home and internationally.
But the party will seek to divert attention and interest away from these plans – as ever, away from itself and its vulnerabilities.
The oath that members take on joining the CCP includes a vow to “guard party secrets”. Xi’s hero Mao Zedong listed China’s three “magic weapons” as comprising the armed struggle, party building, and the united front – a secretive political strategy to neutralise or co-opt sources of potential opposition, at home and abroad.
The party’s cadres are rarely if ever prepared even to discuss the CCP’s pervasive role – or to acknowledge its unaccountable power – to people outside China. Just as magicians never divulge the secrets of their acts.
Misdirection is especially important right now since Beijing needs to conceal that it is struggling on many fronts, pushing on pieces of string in the hope they will move under the sheer force of its determination. Yet the vital pull factor – the desire to help the CCP achieve its ambitions – is widely missing, not only abroad but also to a degree at home.
Despite this, the dominant “fact” assumed in much Australian discussion about China remains that it is rising inexorably and, as a result, we must adapt to this supposedly unstoppable economic, military and thus also strategic rise, constantly trumpeted by Xi: “The East is rising, the West declining”.
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Rowan Callick is a double Walkley Award winner and a Graham Perkin Australian Journalist of the Year. He has worked and lived in Papua New Guinea, Hong Kong and Beijing.
China’s President Xi Jinping waves following his speech at a ceremony to inaugurate Hong Kong’s new leader on July 1, the 25th anniversary of the city’s handover from Britain to China. Picture: AFP