Chinese President Xi Jinping became the first party leader since Mao to have term limits abolished for his government. If his health, will and political prowess permit, the 64-year-old’s last day in office may well be his last day on earth.
This historic development comes only weeks after his written political philosophy became an official part of the Chinese constitution, another first since Mao. And like that infamous dictator, an aura of semi-religious devotion is mounting behind Xi. It has all the makings of a movement centered around the greatness of a single man, elevated to a position of unrivaled authority, and deemed nearly irreproachable by his fellow government leaders. In other words, it's beginning to look like a personality cult.
Xi’s relatively calm rise to unfettered authority places him in sole possession not of the impoverished China that Mao once ruled, but of the most populous nation on the planet, a nuclear-armed military with increasingly global reach, and an economy that is second only to the United States. Modern China projects billions of dollars around the globe in aid packages, creating a system of financial reliance with a variety of developing nations.
Xi’s newly minted lifelong tenure means that the study of Chinese policy and future global aspirations can largely become the examination of one man’s personal vision and longevity. His job security will permit him to act in ways democratic leaders cannot afford. In democracies, the cycle of elections create a rhythm of policy formulation that is actively braked by the ballot. Xi faces no impediment to pushing forward his vision, which he calls “China Dream,” and will now likely double his efforts to pursue his signature policies.
Inside China, expect a renewed increase in “anti-corruption” purges, which often have the convenience of eliminating rising opponents. Censorship and surveillance, already rigorous across the Chinese internet, will increase even more dramatically. Internationally, he will likely feel freed to begin challenging the United States more frequently, combining the smile of U.N. diplomacy with the fists of trade policy and military provocation.
He will offer incentives to those who are seeking a global partner for international cooperation, presenting China as a willing economic development alternative and a new military supplier to American enemies and allies alike.
He will continue to push for his multi-nation, trillion-dollar trade network he calls “One Belt, One Road,” a series of massive infrastructure projects in Asia and stretching to Europe that will make China the center of a modern-day Silk Road. In other words, he will attempt to make China — and by extension himself — a truly indispensable global leader, one that may not be ready to supplant America, but one that is ready to apply pressure to the international system America has built.
In response to these developments, the United States must first continue to focus on fostering domestic economic strength. To be strong abroad, we must first be strong at home. The new tax plan made our corporate tax rate more competitive, but more is needed. Our nation must invest heavily in infrastructure upgrades and repairs to permit for future economic development and growth.
Second, America should refine its diplomatic focus in Asia to prioritize democracy stabilization and promotion through economic partnerships and military alliances. We must never forget that America still remains the foremost example of democratic principles, and those dreaming of freedom from Communist censorship within China, and in threatened regions such as Taiwan and Hong Kong, need to know that America still desires and actively supports a free and democratic Asian continent.
Finally, America must pursue guarded cooperation. The fact is the United States cannot afford to avoid working with Xi on global affairs. Whether it is in the world financial system or at the U.N. Security Council, China must be acknowledged and cooperated with. However, we must never assume that Xi’s calmness implies benign motives. A sense of destiny is rising inside the Chinese government. Xi has a dream to fulfill for China, and now, he has a lifetime to accomplish it.
Garrison Moratto is a junior at CSUB, double majoring in political science (concentration: international relations) and public policy/administration.