Chinese President Xi Jinping is probably the only national leader in the world who has managed to consolidate power despite facing the threat of the novel coronavirus.
Helped by the Chinese Communist party’s authoritarian one-party rule, he will continue to wield power as the country’s supreme leader over the next five years. Mr Xi’s extended reign and his ambitions could prove problematic for the incoming US president, Joe Biden.
The Chinese leader has been laying out his vision of a China-centric world since earlier this year. The speech he delivered at an early April meeting was recently published in the November 1 edition of party journal Qiushi.
He stressed the need to enhance international supply chains’ dependence on China and “develop powerful retaliation and deterrence capabilities against supply cut-offs by foreign parties”.
The Chinese leader made the remarks at a time when the US administration of President Donald Trump was stepping up criticism of China over its response to the coronavirus outbreak. There is no doubt that by “foreign parties”, he meant the US, which wants to decouple its economy from China’s.
At the same time that Mr Xi wants China to control world supply chains, he also wants the local economy to learn to provide for itself. He called this the “dual circulation” strategy when he unveiled his blueprint for the Chinese economy over the next 15 years, at the fifth plenary session of the Communist party’s 19th Central Committee in late October.
The strategy calls for making domestic consumption the main pillar of the economy and reducing reliance on external demand. It envisages a future in which China no longer needs to rely on the world but the world cannot continue to spin without China.
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In the wake of the US presidential election which Mr Biden won and Mr Trump is still contesting, Mr Xi is moving steadily toward the realisation of “dual circulation”.
Mr Xi has also been moving to fill the power vacuum in Asia as the US retreats. Several days after signing the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership trade pact, Mr Xi also expressed China’s willingness to join the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership. Mr Trump’s first commitment when he took office in January 2017 was to leave the TPP, a key policy of the previous administration under Barack Obama in his pivot to Asia.
Mr Xi is also busy preparing for his extended reign beyond the Communist party’s next quinquennial national congress in 2022.
In October, the Communist party’s Central Committee released new party regulations that named Mr Xi as its “core,” reconfirming his position as unrivalled leader. The new regulations have sparked speculation about an effort to prepare for the revival of the “party chairman” post, which Communist China’s founding father Mao Zedong held on to until his death.
When Mr Biden takes over as US president next month, he and the leaders of other democracies will continue to struggle with the difficult question of how to deal with China’s authoritarian regime.