Navigating the enigmatic twists and turns of China’s political and economic strategies feels like unraveling a Gordian knot. There’s a whirlwind of speculations about whether the decisions and trajectory are orchestrated by its current leader, Xi Jinping, or have roots in the foundational principles of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) dating back to 1949.
China, with its colossal economic ambitions, seems to be maneuvering in a direction that perplexingly undercuts its potential.
Shifting Gears or Hitting the Brakes?
The list of China’s recent economic decisions reads like a baffling script. Think about prominent entrepreneurs vanishing off the public radar, stringent espionage laws that tangle up business operations, or the stark pivot from nurturing the private sector to favoring state-owned enterprises.
These moves are undeniably putting the brakes on their economy. Massive capital flights and a discernible slowdown are becoming the day’s headlines, belying the nation’s once meteoric rise.
This departure is all the more jarring considering China’s historic trajectory. Starting from 1979, China’s embrace of economic reforms bolstered the private sector’s role, paving the way for unprecedented economic growth. This epoch witnessed almost 800 million people breaking free from the shackles of poverty.
The Man or the Party?
Let’s be blunt. Pointing fingers at Xi Jinping has become somewhat of a favored pastime for China watchers. While the global community ponders whether they’re distancing or safeguarding themselves from the Asian giant, some opine that the true maestro of this so-called “decoupling” is none other than Xi Jinping himself.
Ryan Hass, steering the China Center at Brookings, didn’t mince words. He dissected Xi’s approach, attributing China’s shifts to his “ideological rigidity and unchecked control.”
This viewpoint is starkly at odds with the pragmatic era that marked China’s period of reform. Hass, like many, feels the tremors in China’s private sector, which used to be the economic dynamo.
Kevin Rudd, once Australia’s prime minister and now their ambassador to the United States, painted a dire portrait in the Foreign Affairs news publication. Xi, in his eyes, is harking back to the tenets of “Marxism-Leninism,” a philosophy many assumed was fossilized in the annals of history.
Rudd believes that Xi’s renewed commitment to this doctrine will inevitably cap economic growth. However, not everyone’s buying this narrative. Anne Stevenson-Yang, founder of J Capital Research, believes we’re giving Xi too much credit. In her assessment, it’s the CCP that’s pulling the strings.
The growing clout of the private sector was perceived as a threat to the party’s dominance. Stevenson-Yang, a China veteran with over two decades of on-ground experience, offers an unsentimental view: the CCP’s policies, even those appearing reformative, were always a means to an end – garnering resources and power.
Drawing Parallels with the USSR’s Downfall
Many experts contend that the specter of the Soviet Union’s disintegration still looms large over China’s policymakers. The 1989 collapse of communism in USSR profoundly impacted China’s psyche.
Xi Jinping himself has expressed apprehensions about the potential erosion of ideological rigor, citing the USSR’s fate as a cautionary tale. The prevalent sentiment is clear: Xi refuses to mirror Mikhail Gorbachev’s legacy, the last leader of the Soviet Union.
Chinese officials, on their part, aren’t just bystanders in this discourse. They’ve ardently defended their economic policies and progress. According to them, almost 92% of all registered companies in China are privately owned. They emphasize ongoing efforts to buttress the private sector’s role, even establishing a bureau focused on its development.
Yet, naysayers abound. Liza Tobin, of the Special Competitive Studies Project, sounds an alarm for foreign businesses in China. According to her, once the country achieves self-reliance in technology, foreign enterprises will face the exit door.
Others, like journalist Bob Davis, rue the day they misread Xi as a modernizer, now labeling him an “orthodox Marxist.” Regardless of one’s stance on this complex narrative, one thing’s for sure: China’s recent trajectory has ruffled feathers.
For long-time observers like Schell, who witnessed China’s transformative journey from the era of Mao Zedong, these moves are deeply unsettling. The hope, however faint, is that this isn’t a prologue to a tragic denouement for China.