China’s Xi Jinping Faces a Crisis of Confidence

A cameraman films near a screen live broadcasting Chinese President Xi Jinping opening the Second Belt and Road Forum in Beijing Friday, April 26, 2019. The event celebrating the push for China-backed road, port and rail-building projects across the developing world, President Xi Jinping’s signature foreign policy initiative, is one of Beijing’s biggest of the year. (AP Photo/Ng Han Guan) THE ASSOCIATED PRESS

Chinese scholars and Communist Party cadres have a succinct way of describing the tectonic shifts taking place here: Deng Xiaoping made us rich, now Xi Jinping is making us strong.

The phrase sums up China’s economic rise that began under Deng four decades ago, and the hopes for a similarly significant geopolitical realignment under the current president.

Xi has devoted his seven years in power to strengthening the ruling Communist Party, and by extension the country. He has relentlessly quashed dissent, sidelined rivals and demanded absolute loyalty.

After pledging to make the party “north, south, east and west,” he has ensured that it is paramount not just in policymaking but in the military, business, education and the law.

Now, Xi is facing challenges on multiple fronts and the Communist Party, riven with paranoia at the best of times, is seeing threats at every turn.

He has to contend not just with a slowing economy but also a protracted trade war with the United States, that has entered a new confrontational phase with President Donald Trump’s decision to impose more tariffs next month.

He is facing escalating Western criticism of Chinese policies toward ethnic Uighurs in Xinjiang, where as many as 3 million people have been put into reeducation camps. He is dealing with an increasingly assertive Taiwan at the same time as a pro-democracy movement swells in Hong Kong.

All of these loom as dangers to Xi’s authority as the party’s general secretary and are heightening a sense of alarm within a party long fearful of external threats.

“A strong party is the key to a successful China, in Xi’s eyes. It is also the only way to fend off enemies abroad, most notably the U.S.,” said Richard McGregor, an expert on the party and the author of a new book about Xi’s leadership.

Xi is trying to harden the party’s internal resolve to fend off these threats – most acutely, a United States that many observers say seems intent on containing China.

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SOURCE: The Washington Post, Anna Fifield