Monday, November 12, 2012


Xi Jinping is awaiting for the supreme ointment this week.  His predecessor, the austere and grey Hu Jintao, leaves the new leader with a rather gloomy testament wherein the fight against corruption stands central. The prologue leading to this new leadership is not auspicious after the many revelations about abuse of power and dubious money manipulations at the helm.  On the other hand, the Hu Jintao/Wen Jiaobao rule has nevertheless attempted to address the inequalities which divide Chinese society and started to pay more attention to the needs of migrant workers and the provinces in the west, which sometimes look like a forgotten lot.

Hu's DNA was conditioned by his earlier responsibilities in Tibet. Xi has followed more a path of proximity in Zhiejang and abroad, where he emulated a Deng Xiaoping attitude.  This does not imply that the iron fist of the fourth generation will suddenly become a hand outstretched both internally and abroad. The P.R. of China believes that it is entitled to its monopoly power situation and that the time has come to cash in and to translate its economic might into an even political dividend. I think, by the way, that this aspiration is deserved and that any attempt to contain it is counter-productive.

Mr. Xi inherits a nucleus of problems. The cyberworld is a monster that can never be fully controlled. The Chinese are discovering an intellectual landscape which is booby trapped because of mismanagement, pollution, corruption and an ailing society structure, undermined by the one-child policy.

The paranoia regarding the American intentions in Asia is vastly exaggerated when compared with the antipathy towards China in the ASEAN.  The United States does not have to build a firewall to ring in expansionist ambitions.  They can count on China's neighbours to take care of that. The changes in Myanmar are a serious politico-economic blow for Beijing, who had in Yangon a "reliable" ally, which it depleted (and in Pyongyang, a regime which appears outwardly friendly but which remains in reality a "loose canon".)  The various hotpots in the Chinese galaxy from Taiwan to Tibet, or Xinjiang, Gansu and Qinghai remain largely unpredictable. The South China Sea disputes or the rivalry with Japan over the Diaoyutais can easily revive the spectre of militarism and the consequences of asymmetric alliances (such as the one which exists between the Philippines and the United States).

Mr. Xi knows the US (so did his father).  His ability to integrate himself with both local and foreign situations is helpful. This does not imply that he will be content
playing the second fiddle.  He can both be charming and nationalistic but he certainly shares with his predecessors the ambition to let China's rise be his ultimate priority. The challenge will stay but it is certainly better for all that Governor Romney's and the neo-con's bellicose posture have been overridden.  Intellectual property rights, trade disputes, and currency tensions are not leaving the international scene. The situation in the Straits has improved. Hong Kong and Macao continue their over-the-top saga. Tibet remains a "taboo" which will be difficult to come to terms with and I fear the worse.  The future, in case of the Dalai Lama's demise, looks bleak.  I fail to see a military/maritime threat.  The cyber war will only become more sophisticated, but we are all players in this "game" which deserves close monitoring and aggressive defense and offense from the West.

America's strategic "pivot" is the word "a la mode" but it should not be overestimated.  From Okinawa to Diego Garcia and elsewhere in the region, the various US fleets already allow for immediate intervention without having to go to transport and logistical nightmares. It should also be made clear that the US Navy is in the South China Sea, disputed by many, but not in territorial waters. The US presence in the Straits (following a defense treaty with Taiwan) can become a deterrent.  With this exception, it is more about safeguarding free trade and access to natural resources than about maritime hegemony.  The same goes for the Chinese by the way, who must find a modus vivendi with Vietnam, the Philippines and other claimants on the Paracels.

China has a long memory and the foreigner seldom plays the role of the "good guy" in a collective narrative of the destruction of the Yuan Ming Yuang,  treaty ports and numerous interventions which carved the country in de facto foreign held entities This should always be taken into account when the message which the Chinese convey in a myriad of ways says "Now, it is our turn." Some of the Chinese interventions in the Security Council often appear  to favor the villain over the victim but we should bare in mind that the non-intervention dogma may have a longer life in the Chinese psyche than any "socialist system with Chinese characteristics."  I have always been surprised by the "hard power" quality of the Chinese mind, compared to the "soft power" seduction of its civilisation.  Xi Jinping might have the magic touch to bridge the gap which exists between those forms of Yin and Yang, but let's not forget that even if this were the case, he is not alone. The PLA (People's Liberation Army) is a state within the State.  The Executive exists "for" the people rather than "of" them.  The personal rivalries behind closed doors are plentiful. The public is informed post facto and remains in the dark with regard to arguments which are played off  in camera.  The government only wants to appear as a consensual body.

Human rights and the rule of law have made inroads, thanks to the social media which the government is adept to censure, block and control. Still there is some form of democratic bottom-up discourse, but it remains weak and often ineffectual. The Bo Xilai melodrama (Macbeth redux) could not be covered up but meanwhile Ai Weiwei and the Nobel Peace Prize laureate Liu Xiabao remain invisible.  The panda bears receive better attention than the benevolent critics of a system in quarantine!

Will the fifth generation succeed in recalibrating a society which is split between caricatured rich and abysmal poor? It is going to be difficult since too many princelings are at the top and are not inclined to immolate themselves for reasons of altruism.  Structural adjustments might still be considered as long as they do not jeopardize the "Leading Hotel Culture" of the leaders and their American-educated offspring.  At least the pop-star wife of Xi Jinping might finally ad some entertainment value in this grey, sorry, uniformly black-dyed hair lot. Mr. Xi, who is relatively young, might still have the natural hair color, which might be a "first."

No comments:

Post a Comment