Exactly a week ago it was Hong Kong Chief Executive Carrie Lam’s snooze-inducing Policy Address. And today it’s Xi Jinping’s coronation as Core Chairman-for-Life of Everything. We are about to be hit by a non-stop wall-to-wall avalanche of coverage and punditry about the tightly choreographed, turgid 19th Party Congress ritual. Who is seated next to whom? Will Xi have a theory named after himself, or a whole ‘thought’? How long does the overwhelming spontaneous applause last? How many seconds does the camera linger on each aging black-hair-dye recipient? There is no escape.
The purpose is to make you think that China under the New Great Helmsman is just starting its ascent to might, glory, prosperity and global supremacy (as, conveniently, the West, Japan, the international-dollar-rules-based-order, freedom, democracy and apple pie fade away). Perhaps as they accumulate more and power in fewer and fewer hands, the Chinese Communist Party’s elite believe it themselves.
Yet just as China is apparently resuming its rightful place as the centre of the civilized world, its rulers are acting as if the whole thing is in danger of crashing down around them. As academic Andrew Nathan puts it:
“This crackdown has been going on for a long time and seems to really represent a vision of how society should be – that it should fall into line and should be unified”…
Nathan said Xi’s crackdown was driven by a sense among party leaders that they were under siege from a disparate coalition of political foes including Tibetans, Hong Kongers, Xinjiang Uighurs, Taiwanese and Americans.
The offensive would continue in the medium term, he predicted. But in the long run it was a perilous tactic: “Why is [Xi] cracking down so hard? What is he afraid of? … It leaves me feeling as though this level of social crackdown is not sustainable…”
The paranoids’ reaction to paranoia is to become more paranoid. We see this close to home. Beijing’s attitude is that Hong Kong is becoming less stable and more rebellious, therefore the CCP must rely more on the support base of parasites and cronies whose privileges caused the instability and rebellion in the first place.
And now back to the action in the Great Hall of the Hubris…