Xi wants to be his countrys unrivalled helmsman but what does this means for China and the rest of the world?

What's Xi up to ?

By moving to abolish presidential term limits this week, Xi Jinping has obliterated any lingering doubts concerning his desire to remain China's” unrivalled helmsman” for many years to come.

” Unless he's deposed, we've got this guy for the rest of our functional lives ,” predicts Orville Schell, who has been writing volumes on Chinese politics for more than four decades.

Why does Xi want to stay in power ?

The obvious explanation is his apparent conviction that he, and merely he, can build the ideologically lax, corruption-riddled Communist party- and China- great again. Xi took power in 2012 vowing to restore the Middle Kingdom to its rightful place at the centre of world affairs; last year he proclaimed the advent of” a new epoch” of global Chinese might. He seems determined to see that project through.

But Xi's resolve to remain may also is around self-preservation. He has purged, humbled and incarcerated so many powerful foes that China's best-known political prison is reportedly packed to the rafters. He may watch everlasting power as the only way to prevent vengeful competitors one day condemning him to a similar fate.

” The anxiety would be that potentially, if his reign doesn't continue, people would try to settle scores ,” says Carl Minzner, the author of a new book on China's” authoritarian revival “.

Q& A

Why is corruption such a problem in China's Communist party?

China's president, Xi Jinping, called corruption the greatest threat to the Communist party's survival in his opening speech to the week-long congress meeting on Wednesday. However, the problem is largely a product of the one-party political system he leads.

Three decades of breakneck development has made vast wealth in China – and much of this is controlled either directly or indirectly by the party. That entails there are eye-watering money-making the possibility for cadres looking to supplement their modest wages by cashing in on their positions and their contacts.

At the same time, the party's stranglehold on the media means that independent reporting that might expose high-level corruption is all but non-existent, unless authorised by the party itself. Impunity, hence, has traditionally been almost guaranteed. Xi now hopes to change that with his war on graft.

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Are there upsides to China's tack towards one-man regulation ?

Possibly, depending on how much you value freedom. Some argue Xi's supremacy will give him the authority he needs to vanquish rampant corruption and push through painful economic reforms. Others say it could benefit the rural poor, whose cause China's populist leader has championed.

With a climate sceptic occupying the White House, there are even those who hope Xi will emerge as the world's most despotic eco-warrior, a tree-hugging dictator willing to use his authoritarian powers to save countries around the world.

” If you postulate that the world requires leadership, that America is in disarray and that Europe is a dish of loose sand, then maybe Chinese leadership has some virtues, particularly in areas like nuclear proliferation, climate change[ and] pandemics ,” says Schell.” Whatever you may think of his authoritarian various kinds of leadership, at the least he can lead .”

What are the perils ?

For protesters and liberals, already smarting from the harshest political crackdown in decades, the extension of Xi's shelf-life is a nightmare. Qiao Mu, an exiled academic, said Xi's move denounced refuseniks to a life of” darkness and anxiety “.

But some also warn of calamitous repercussions for the country as a whole, with contemporary Chinese history offering a potent lesson in the perils of one-man rule. Mao's deranged push for industrialisation denounced tens of millions to their demise during the Great Famine. A decade afterward, the Cultural Revolution turned China on its head and devastated the economy.

Minzner is among those who dreads a return to an era of” purges, political turmoil, and the writ of one human over everything “. Under Mao, Chinese politics was ” like blood athletic, where you really didn't know what could happen to key people within the system from day to day”, he recalled, adding:” We had guessed China was moving away from that .”

James Palmer, the author of The Death of Mao, said he also dreaded China would pay a heavy cost for its sharp regression into” full-blown totalitarianism “.” With power now concentrated in a single human, and with nobody willing to challenge him, the likelihood of calamitous mistakes has risen ,” he advised in Foreign Policy .

So why hasn't the international community condemned Xi's power grab ?

The lack of censure is likely in part the result of the west's growing nervousness about upsetting an ever more powerful and prickly China for dread of hurting economic ties.

Minzner believes it also highlights the low regard in which most western governments already hold Beijing.” It would be different if some sort of democratic state cancelled elections[ but] China was an authoritarian nation embarking upon, so there weren't necessarily high expectations ,” he says.

A third explain, however, may be the global dominance of authoritarian regimes from Moscow to Manila.” When the high school history books are written, this is not going to be the Age of Enlightenment … it will be the Age of the Big Leader ,” says Schell.

Seen through that prism, Xi's confirmation as the strongest of the 21 st century's strongmen appears less like an aberration and more like a mode.

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