Chinese President Xi Jinping shook off the democratic shackles of term limits two years ago. Now, the presumptive president-for-life is moving to secure that reality by rooting out any party insiders who may foil his plans, according to a recent New York Times report by Chris Buckley.

Emulating Mao Zedong

In casting aside workers – from party officials to police officers – for perceived disloyalty or corruption, Xi is not only looking to cement his place atop Beijing politics, but also secure his legacy as former Chairman Mao Zedong’s spiritual successor. He makes no attempt to obfuscate the notion as one of his deputy’s, Chen Yin, quoted the former dictator to broadcast Xi’s intentions.

“Root out the harmful members of the herd,” said Yixin, a leader of Xi’s aggressive crackdown campaign. “Root out ‘two-faced people’ who are disloyal and dishonest to the party.”

The quote was one of Mao’s maxims for seizing and holding power and he used the tactic to rule China for decades, even as his people starved during the Great Leap Forward. Mimicking Mao, Xi has long-term plans for his state, too.

Unlike Mao, however, Xi’s designs for his people’s future will enable Chinese to become more prosperous, even if less free. But to accomplish this, to ensure internal revolts against his plans, outside protests, and foreign interference are kept at arm’s length, Xi must first wipe clean the Communist Party of China from any weakness that could threaten Xi’s complete and unquestionable control.

Leveraging Fear to Grip Power

In the movement to shake out weak links in the chain of command, which is tightly controlled from top-to-bottom, Xi ordered his deputies to evaluate every aspect of the party, and by extension, the government and China’s society itself. The CCP is the government and Chinese literally live and breath by the party’s permission.

Last year in the Xinjiang region, the party began its indisputable genocidal campaign against Uyghur Muslims that it continues until today. More broadly, the party has carried out decades of severe population control in the form of the One Child policy, which predates Xi.

Snatching a new infant from their mother’s arms and killing it before her and decades of female infanticide, without any repercussions for the CCP because one child is the law, requires a massive buy-in for the general public. That level of minute control is only afforded to Beijing because the general population is dependent on the party, believes in it, lives in fear of punishment should it step out of line, and lacks the means to form a resistance.

Machiavelli famously concluded in The Prince that it is better to be feared than loved in order for a ruler to control their subjects and the same is true for internal party politics, as evidenced by Xi’s campaign against disloyalty. 

“The core goal of cleaning up the political and legal system is also to obey Xi in everything,” said Deng Yuwen, former Chinese editor for a CCP newspaper. Cleaning house in Beijing is not new to Xi, Buckley noted his article; Xi undertook a similar campaign shortly after taking power in 2012.

Closing Gaps in the Armor

However, internal problems persist, such as inter-agency squabbles.

“Despite [Xi’s initial] efforts, experts and recent Chinese studies said the party leadership has still struggled to manage its hydra-headed bureaucracy of police forces, security agencies, courts, prosecutors and prisons,” Buckley wrote. 

Xi’s problems were compounded and on full display for a global audience during last year’s protests in Hong Kong. With the world’s spotlight on Beijing, Xi gained unwanted attention that now threatens to hinder his imperial ambitions. The US, Australia, and the UK suddenly decided to ratchet up pressure against Xi. The West and its allies have finally resolved itself to act and although efforts to resist China are in their infancy, the CCP must prepare for a new future of confrontation.

Prior to the failed Hong Kong demonstrations, Xi predominantly only had to worry about China’s economic relations with the trade partners, namely America. Tariffs notwithstanding, Xi has and continues to navigate the US–China trade war dexterously. However, the international community is no longer eyeing Beijing with a focus on trade, but on Xi’s overarching mission to achieve what Mao could not: radically reshape China with positive, long-term results.

Preparing For the Upcoming Party Vote

Under Xi’s direction, the party is systematically purging any worker with even a hint of disloyalty or corruption. Xi is keen “to push his authority downward throughout the lower levels of the political-legal system,” said Sheena Chestnut Greitens, associate professor at the LBJ School of Public Affairs at the University of Texas at Austin.

He is rushing to complete the purge before the scheduled 2022 party congress, she added. It is then that Xi will face reelection, which will be a massive confirmation or rejection of a few turbulent years tainted by international controversy on issues ranging from trade disputes to genocide. 

China and the CCP live and breath by Xi’s direction and he is rooting out anyone who may threaten that status quo.

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