Xi lays out his China doctrine - Hindustan Times
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Xi lays out his China doctrine

ByHT Editorial
Oct 17, 2022 08:19 PM IST

In doubling down on controversial policies, Xi Jinping’s speech marks worrying signs for India, world

In Maoist politics, “self-criticism” occupies a central place. Authoritarian despots in communist regimes often use it to engineer purges, but, occasionally, it is a productive exercise used to make a departure from a set of policies. No one expected the most ideologically Maoist leader after Mao Zedong to engage in any self-criticism. But as Xi Jinping set himself up for an unprecedented third term as China’s leader with a two-hour speech, what was most striking was the absence of an introspective assessment of what Beijing is confronting. Instead, the incumbent, some rhetorical tweaks notwithstanding, doubled down on the path in the past decade of his rule. And, this should be a cause of worry for the rest of the world.

China's President Xi Jinping waves as he arrives for the opening session of the 20th Chinese Communist Party's Congress at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing on October 16, 2022 (AFP) PREMIUM
China's President Xi Jinping waves as he arrives for the opening session of the 20th Chinese Communist Party's Congress at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing on October 16, 2022 (AFP)

In Maoist politics, “self-criticism” occupies a central place. Authoritarian despots in communist regimes often use it to engineer purges, but, occasionally, it is a productive exercise used to make a departure from a set of policies. No one expected the most ideologically Maoist leader after Mao Zedong to engage in any self-criticism. But as Xi Jinping set himself up for an unprecedented third term as China’s leader with a two-hour speech, what was most striking was the absence of an introspective assessment of what Beijing is confronting. Instead, the incumbent, some rhetorical tweaks notwithstanding, doubled down on the path in the past decade of his rule. And, this should be a cause of worry for the rest of the world.

Take four of the most significant features. Domestically, Xi Jinping declared the unscientific zero-Covid policy, which has set back both the Chinese economy and left Beijing with limited instruments to transition to a post-pandemic normal, a successful “all-out people’s war” — leaving himself with limited room, and offering citizens no public blueprint on the next step in the battle against the pandemic. Economically, he referred to market reforms just thrice in his speech and all indications suggested that the State grip across economic sectors will continue — the period of relative openness that existed in the 1990s and 2000s is decisively over. But as Mr Xi uses all segments of the economy to deepen political control and mobilise them for China’s technology wars, there will be an inevitable impact on the animal spirits that marked Beijing’s rise.

Regionally, Mr Xi made it clear that Taiwan was a top priority, reiterating that China will not hesitate to use force for reunification. There is no timeline, but it is widely believed that Mr Xi considers this to be an unfinished element of his legacy. Any Chinese push will potentially spark the most serious military conflict in Asia for decades. But the fourth element is perhaps most worrying and underpins all the other ingredients — his way of looking at the world. In his telling, it is a dark world out there and China is under siege. It is time to be “mindful of dangers” and prepare for “stormy seas”. When an oppressive regime paints itself as the victim, there is trouble ahead. To deal with Mr Xi’s China, India must redouble its efforts to boost domestic economic strength, remain socially cohesive, ramp up its security preparedness and cement strategic partnerships.

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