Saturday, October 15, 2022


Before the 20th Party Congress in Beijing, the comments and expectations internationally are running amok.  Xi's leadership will be extended and the Great Hall of the People will show the same mass of mostly men (with black hair color if needed) applauding all there is under the Chinese sun.

Not surprisingly China continues to fascinate, deservingly so. History, culture, drama have almost no equal elsewhere. The rulers are no longer shy to reclaim the rules of Kangxi or Qianlong. The Forbidden City is no longer just a must for tourists, it is a complex which stands for a philosophical cypher.

Rulers now are as different from each other as the emperors before them. Mao, Deng Xiaoping, Xi are totally different personalities, except for their self-esteem. The apparatus is generally unappealing. Still, characters pop up at their own risk,  Bo Xilai, or by the force of their vision Hu Yaobang, Zhu Rongji, the 80's miracle prime minister. Tienanmen had its martyrs and scapegoat Zhao Ziyang, also former premier.

Historians of contemporary China can be divided into two schools.  Some were in awe in the Edgar Snow vein, some were highly critical (Simon Leys). Today's commentary is mostly cautious.

The safer route is the better choice. The Chinese excel in disorientation. They use a mix of history, pride, hurt and ambition to avoid scrutiny of vision and to conceal a closer look at intention. Chinese leaders are in realty as condescending as the Qing before them. They appear to operate in an algorithm of their own making. Contrary to the West, emotion is considered poor taste. Only in their numerous nationalistic  arsenal of frustrations do they show blatant brutality. Hence the Hong Kong syndrome,  the vicious lasting antipathy versus Japan, or the hardline policies in Tibet or Xinjang province.

A lot is being said regarding Taiwan. The Chinese consider it theirs only and they will not waver on their claim. It is clear that they prefer to strangle it rather than having to use force. They can wait but they cannot afford to lose face, given the history, and also the precedent for their un-hidden ambition regarding the South China Sea or the Sensaku reefs. The visit of Speaker Nancy Pelosi to Taipei is the thing not to do if the Straits are to remain under some form of constraint.

China has major problems. So does the world. The difference being that the world has a kind of inductive therapy to deal with crisis (Covid is the perfect example). China freaks out. The cumulative effect of economic, structural, misguided policies make it harder for Beijing to project a benign-winner profile. Many prestige projects (infrastructure, support for African countries) backlash. 

Through Confucius Institutes the Chinese try to project a positive image but in comparison South Korea fares much better internationally than China.  Foreigners are attracted by learning or business, but not as much for relaxation and the usual Asian menu of fun under the sun.

While the United States is no longer the undisputed unipolar power, it remains the preferred partner. Ukraine proves again that the American might is unparalleled. The Chinese take notice. The Kissinger triangulation strategy is no longer but the Putin/Xi romance is one of mutual interest, with an uncertain life-span. The Chinese prefer any unappealing lover to the come-back of another Gorbachev. Many lies originate in bed, few last overnight.

Xi will remain Xi, be it more of the same. Beware of abundance and take note of the restraint.

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