US

MARK ALMOND. Why Beijing’s autocratic leader could become a sacrificial sheep

The Chinese authorities have a dim view of the protesting population – and usually try to suppress any dissent with ruthless efficiency.

But in recent days, demonstrations have taken place all over that country, unprecedented in their direct challenge to the communist regime and especially to President Xi Jinping.

Since Chairman Mao’s dreaded rule from 1949 to 1976 — during which perhaps 60 million Chinese were killed by starvation, persecution, forced labor and mass executions — few in China dared to criticize the country’s leader.

Now that has changed. The streets are ringing with the cry, “Get off, Xi Jinping! Resign, Communist Party!’

The Chinese authorities take a dim view of their people’s protests – and normally try to suppress any dissent with ruthless efficiency

Yet In Recent Days There Have Been Demonstrations All Over That Country, Unprecedented In Their Direct Challenge To The Communist Regime And President Xi Jinping In Particular.

Yet in recent days there have been demonstrations all over that country, unprecedented in their direct challenge to the communist regime and President Xi Jinping in particular.

The catalyst, as the Mail reported, was a deadly fire at an apartment building in Xinjiang city last week that left ten people burned to death. The victims were in fact buried in their building amid a draconian Covid lockdown, with fire escapes blocked under pandemic restrictions.

This completely preventable tragedy has sparked a nationwide outburst of anger. A video circulating on Chinese social media shows residents of Xinjiang sarcastically singing the verse of their national anthem, “Arise, those who refuse to be slaves!” at police.

What do these protests mean for Xi and China? Can they escalate and ultimately overthrow the tyrannical one-party state – or will they be ruthlessly crushed like the 1989 Tiananmen Square demonstrations?

To many in the West, Xi’s tenure may seem unassailable. Just two weeks ago, in Bali, his fellow G20 leaders begged like supplicants for his favour.

While Western prime ministers thronged the 69-year-old for audiences and photo opportunities, our own Prime Minister Rishi Sunak was turned down at the last minute when his scheduled meeting with Xi was canceled in the wake of a rocket explosion on the Polish border.

The Catalyst, As The Mail Reported, Was A Deadly Fire At An Apartment Building In Xinjiang City Last Week That Left Ten People Burned To Death. The Victims Were In Fact Buried In Their Building Amid A Draconian Covid Lockdown, With Fire Escapes Blocked Under Pandemic Restrictions

The catalyst, as the Mail reported, was a deadly fire at an apartment building in Xinjiang city last week that left ten people burned to death. The victims were in fact buried in their building amid a draconian Covid lockdown, with fire escapes blocked under pandemic restrictions

Perhaps Xi, too, believed himself to be more or less omnipotent. After all, the Congress of the Communist Party had recently confirmed him as effective ‘president for life’. How quickly things have changed. Xi’s longstanding ‘Zero Covid’ policy, which seeks to use lockdowns and other restrictions to stamp out the virus, has seriously weakened his authority.

Locked in their apartments for weeks — leading to reports of famine — megacities from Shanghai to Chongqing have been completely shut down, stifling economic and social activity for the past two and a half years.

Last week, one in five Chinese people (280 million) were reportedly still living under Covid restrictions. A once thriving economy is stagnating. This year, China will fall far short of its annual growth target of 5.5 percent; Reuters expects only 3.2 percent. Then there’s the effect of technology — making it easier for protesters to come together online in a way that was previously impossible.

All this puts Xi in an increasingly vulnerable position. So what can he do? Relaxing his Zero Covid policy would make him appear frail and his regime inept – and could also lead to devastating outbreaks of the virus in a country that is almost immune to it.

Many millions of Chinese people have not been vaccinated and only about 40 percent of the over-80s – the most vulnerable group to infection – have had a booster shot. While China has its own vaccine, Sinovac, it doesn’t appear to have been as effective as its Western equivalents.

If the protests intensify, a plot to turn Xi into some kind of sacrificial lamb could be brewing behind closed doors on the leaders’ compound next to the Forbidden City.

This is not as far-fetched as it sounds. In November 1989, Nicolae Ceausescu was unanimously re-elected by the Communist Party of Romania, even after the Berlin Wall fell and cracks appeared in the Iron Curtain. Barely a month later, Ceausescu was dead – executed by firing squad. If enough party bosses think that sacrificing the formerly all-powerful Xi will calm the national mood, they will not hesitate to impeach him.

After all, former President Hu Jintao was forcibly ejected from the closing session of China’s National Congress last month, no doubt led by Xi, in brutal public humiliation. Now it may be Xi’s turn to be dragged off to who knows where.

Last Week, One In Five Chinese People (280 Million) Were Reportedly Still Living Under Covid Restrictions. A Once Thriving Economy Is Stagnating. This Year, China Will Fall Far Short Of Its Annual Growth Target Of 5.5 Percent

Last week, one in five Chinese people (280 million) were reportedly still living under Covid restrictions. A once thriving economy is stagnating. This year, China will fall far short of its annual growth target of 5.5 percent

If The Protests Intensify, A Plot To Turn Xi Into Some Kind Of Sacrificial Lamb Could Be Brewing Behind Closed Doors On The Leaders' Compound Next To The Forbidden City.

If the protests intensify, a plot to turn Xi into some kind of sacrificial lamb could be brewing behind closed doors on the leaders’ compound next to the Forbidden City.

Our prime minister must have all this in the forefront. Last night Sunak addressed the Guildhall gathering of senior figures in the City of London.

An instinctive Sinophile, seeking closer ties with Beijing as chancellor, the prime minister recently backtracked from describing Beijing as a “threat” (the word favored by his blunt predecessor Liz Truss) and instead labeled Beijing’s the world’s most populous country again as a ‘systemic challenge’. ‘. While his goal of treating China with “robust pragmatism” is not in itself a mistake, he should be wary of getting too close to the dragon.

As I previously warned, our goal in the West should be to reduce our mistrust of – and dependence on – this selfish superpower. Half a century ago, Richard Nixon traveled to China in a gesture intended to mark the thawing of the Cold War. But as the former president approached the end of his life, he “feared that he had created a Frankenstein,” according to former US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo. Today, despite all the recent protests, the monster has never been powerful – even if one of its heads could soon be chopped off.

Rishi Sunak needs to realize this – and be careful who he chooses as his friends.

Mark Almond is Director of the Crisis Research Institute, Oxford.

Show More

Jacky

The author of what'snew2day.com is dedicated to keeping you up-to-date on the latest news and information.

Related Articles

Back to top button