Xi Jinping’s exciting Emperor-for-Life initiative unleashes the biggest frenzy of China-watching analysis and punditry since they all hailed him as the Great Reformer.
According to one pithy comment here, the aim is to neutralize…
…unresolved tensions between China’s modern, informed, globalized society and its pre-modern, secretive, parochial political system … The CCP … hopes to overcome complexity through the brute application of political force.
The term-limit thing is not so much a sudden major game-changer as evidence that confirms what was already becoming clear. In 10 years’ time, it will seem obvious looking back.
As anyone should already realize, Xi is putting preservation of the Communist Party’s monopoly of power over continued economic reform. It’s an either-or. Instead of ceding power to the market forces and rules-based systems needed to move onto a higher-productivity economy, he must go with the state controls and planning needed to maintain the supremacy of the Faith. Forget freer allocation of capital or internationalization of the Yuan, or the dream of escaping the middle-income trap.
Concentration of power increases the likelihood of leadership mistakes in domestic and foreign affairs, paranoia at the top and resentment among sidelined factions. This means greater repression and further smothering of what remains of civil society. Overseas, it means China’s image will shift from the cuddly-panda soft-power ‘Beijing Consensus’ thing to a more overtly obnoxious sinister dictatorship.
If a USSR/Cold War déjà vu scenario plays out, the Chinese leadership will probably divert more resources into bolstering its own position – more for poverty alleviation, internal security and the military, at the expense of raucous deal-making and bourgeois consumption by the tycoons and middle-class urban elites.
‘Reforming opening-up liberalizing’ China jumps the shark, and the Western world’s crappy-looking old liberal democracy lives to fight another day.
For Hong Kong, there could – conceivably – be a relatively semi-bright side. The city’s advantage lies in the gap between the Mainland’s restrictions and controls, and its own freedoms and independent institutions. Assuming that Beijing spares Hong Kong the full Mainland clampdown treatment as impractical or undesirable, that gap should widen by default. Possible downside: Carrie Lam becomes Chief Executive-for-Life.