Xi’s boasts are proving premature - Rowan Callick for The Australian - 23.04.22

This was going to be the time of Xi Jinping’s crowning triumphs. The auspicious Tiger Year of 2022 was promising to become the Year of Xi’s Glorious Re-Coronation as Paramount Leader, the Year of Chinese Supremacy Over Western Covid Incompetence, the Year of the Resurgent Chinese Economy, and the Year of New Era Interdependence for the Twin World Powers of Russia and China.


Oh dear. It already has turned into Xi’s annus horribilis, smitten by triple trouble: pandemic, economic and geopolitical.


He pronounced proudly during his Tiananmen Square speech for the Chinese Communist Party’s centenary on July 1 last year: “In today’s world, if you want to say which political party, which country and which nation can be con­fident, then the Communist Party of China, the People’s Republic of China and the Chinese nation have the most reason to be con­fident!”


All he needed was stability to frame the dominant event in China in 2022: the Chinese Communist Party’s 20th five-yearly national congress, due in early November. Its core preordained outcomes comprise a further five-year term for Xi as party general secretary, and unanimous backing for the ambitious new platform for China’s future that Xi will deliver in his three-hour keynote speech.


Xi, enforcing stability at home while anticipating it abroad, envisaged that these targets were well within reach, elevating him above his predecessors in China’s communist dynasty – except Mao Zedong, whose legacy he might then look on as an equal.


Only four months ago, the politburo stated it would “place the word ‘stability’ as the top priority” for 2022. The word appeared 25 times in the economic report for the politburo’s meeting in December last year.


Xi – who has not left China for more than two years – gave his usual keynote address, virtually, to the World Economic Forum in Davos in January. “We need to move forward by following the logic of historical progress,” he said, adding: “The practices of hegemony and bullying run counter to the tide of history” – news, now, to Ukraine.


Today, however:


● The country’s finance centre and manufacturing hub, Shanghai, is simmering with resistance to the government’s unyielding “zero Covid” policy that is confining most of its 24 million inhabitants in their homes as the Omicron variant strikes, many families anxious about where to find food, and with cases well exceeding those in Wuhan two years ago.

● China’s vaunted supply chains are being disrupted severely as the cities accounting for half of its economic production are locked down, also risking the present scattered examples of food short­ages becoming more widespread, exacerbating the effect of a poor grain harvest.

● The economy is slowing rapidly, the first quarter’s growth rate of 4.8 per cent making the annual official target of about 5.5 per cent already appear unrealistic.

● Beijing’s refusal to criticise Russia’s invasion of Ukraine is underlining its alienation from liberal democracies and highlighting the possible vulnerability to secondary sanctions of some of its own companies that continue to trade with Russia.

● Taiwan is learning rapidly from Ukraine’s resistance how to protect itself more plausibly from potential invasion from China.


After the initial Covid setbacks in Wuhan two years ago, when the party was widely blamed for responding too slowly, for keeping information about the pandemic secret and for punishing whistle-blowers, Xi was recast as the People’s Leader winning the People’s War against the pathogen.


He boasted in honouring Winter Olympics workers: “As some foreign athletes have said, if there was a gold medal for responding to the pandemic, then China deserves it.”

The core policy is zero Covid. Cities are closed down with a single case. Officials are blamed for any cases within their jurisdictions. Thus reporting, especially of Covid-related deaths, has become highly politicised and fraught.


All he needed was stability to frame the dominant event in China in 2022: the Chinese Communist Party’s 20th five-yearly national congress, due in early November. Its core preordained outcomes comprise a further five-year term for Xi as party general secretary, and unanimous backing for the ambitious new platform for China’s future that Xi will deliver in his three-hour keynote speech.


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Xi’s boasts are proving premature - article by Rowan Callick for The Australian - 23.04
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Chinese President Xi Jinping delivers a keynote speech at the opening ceremony of the Boao Forum for Asia.

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