Xi Jinping holds the three highest positions in the Chinese Communist Party, wielding more power than any of his predecessors, and he might be here to say.
By Geonha Lim
Art by Rhea Da Costa, Resident Artist
Read this article and more in our 2023 winter edition, on campus now!
Chinese President Xi Jinping’s reelection last October, which gave him another five years to his already ten-year long presidency and ultimate control over the government, is raising concerns for the ongoing China-Taiwan and China-US relations. Though certain experts worry that China will adopt more transgressive diplomatic policies, others argue that Xi’s reelection is not as concerning as people think.
China has a unique political power structure with which some American readers may be unfamiliar. It traditionally does not operate on one-leader totalitarianism (as many people assume) but rather operates as a one-party autocracy. The Chinese Communist Party (CCP) is the supreme authority of the People’s Republic of China and controls almost all branches of government. The party and the state are ultimately tied together, and differentiation is nearly impossible. The top branches of the Chinese government consist of the National People’s Congress (the legislative branch), State Council (the executive branch), Supreme People’s Court (the judicial branch), National Supervisory Commission (law enforcement, anti-corruption agency), and the Supreme People’s Procuratorate (the prosecution). Within the Chinese Communist Party are the General Secretary, Politburo Standing Committee, Politburo, Central Committee, and the National Party Congress (Maizland 2022).
Conventionally, the supreme authority of the Chinese government has been shared by three positions: the General Secretary of the Communist Party, the President, and the Chairman of the Central Military Commission. Even during the era of Mao Zedong, China’s national hero and first president, the three top positions were not held by one leader at the same time. From 1982 until Xi changed the constitution in 2018, presidency in China was limited to two five-year terms. However, through his reelection, Xi Jinping has consolidated his power by taking all three leadership roles, removing the two-term presidential limit, filling members of almost all government and party roles with his supporters, and ending traditionally sectarian characteristics of the Chinese Communist Party. Therefore, he has gained practically absolute decision-making powers.
China and Xi have continuously tried to expand their influence in the Asia-Pacific region through One-China Policy and the Belt and Road Initiative, which has caused inevitable clashes with Taiwan and the US. Xi’s goal is to progress China into a fully developed country by 2049 with the great power status it used to have, which includes reunification with Taiwan. Xi’s ambitions have challenged both American and Chinese authorities, as well as military analysts, who are concerned that with Putin’s transgression in Ukraine, China might accelerate its plan to take Taiwan by force. Since October 2021, the Chinese military has operated occasional incursions by sending warplanes to fly near Taiwan and concentrating land forces near the Taiwan Strait. Experts warn that the clock is ticking for Chinese reunification with Taiwan, and military invasion is inevitable and imminent (Lo 2022).
A primary concern of American and Western political and military analysts before Xi’s reelection was that after the election, Xi would no longer have domestic concerns about power consolidation and use his entire force on foreign policy. It is true that in China today, Xi has no political opponent to inhibit his ambitions. However, Xi and the CCP face severe internal and external struggles. In 2020, Avery Goldstein, a political scientist at the University of Pennsylvania, analyzed that China has gained worldwide hostility in its rapid and self-interested approach and has created hurdles to continuing its deep economic engagement with the world’s biggest economies. In response to Chinese transgressions, Western countries now hesitate to depend on or deepen their economic ties with China, which has isolated China. Thus, unless China adjusts to the challenge with reforms, it will struggle to achieve further growth and may face an economic decline (Goldstein 2020). In 2022, Goldstein’s analysis has somewhat come true. Recently, China has faced unprecedented protests against the zero-Covid policy. Also, the Chinese economy has faced severe struggles in exports and investment. The interest rate lift-off of the US Federal Reserve has further hindered the power of the Chinese Yuan and the real estate market (Wong 2022). Regardless of Xi’s ambition to reunite with Taiwan, China may have to deal with its struggles before seeking outward expansion. Conversely, Xi and the CCP may accelerate their invasion plan to divert internal struggles to external war and legitimate state security.
After his reelection, Xi met President Biden last November at the G20 gathering in Bali, Indonesia. Though the meeting did not drive any mutual agreements or consensus, it provided room for conversation and symbolized that leaders of two rival states were not entirely closed to negotiation. During the meeting, the leaders discussed three significant issues: Taiwan, Ukraine, and North Korea. In the matter of Taiwan, the US readout noted that the US was against any aggressive actions toward Taiwan, while the Chinese readout emphasized that Taiwan was China’s core interest and the first red line that should not be crossed (Sacks 2022). In regard to Ukraine, China said that it was concerned about the war and did not want any nuclear conflict to occur, while the US declared it wanted peace in Ukraine. Turning to North Korea, the US hoped China would put leverage and stop North Korea’s nuclear transgressions, but China did not reply on that issue. Though the meeting did not engender fruitful outcomes, it implied that both states left room for future negotiations (Sacks 2022).
Xi Jinping’s reelection has not provoked immediate worrisome consequences. Though political and military analysts believed that domestic stabilization through reelection would motivate Xi to seek more aggressive foreign policies, Xi has faced severe domestic issues such as economic decline and nationwide protests against the zero-Covid policy. While Xi’s moves following his reelection have been relatively peaceful, such as the Biden-Xi meeting at the G20 Summit, Chinese military operations near the China-Taiwan border have continuously intensified. War clouds hanging over the Taiwan Strait, Xi’s next moves are the center of attention.
Geonha Lim is a sophomore from South Korea, majoring in political science and business administration with a minor in genocide and mass atrocity prevention. Interested in global humanitarian issues, he wishes to extend his high school model UN experience and be a real UN diplomat one day. In addition to writing for Happy Medium, Geonha is a participant in Binghamton University’s PwC Scholars Program and the American Parliamentary Debate Association. Geonha is interested in foreign affairs and likes to read and talk with his friends in his free time.
Goldstein, Avery. 2020. “China’s Grand Strategy under Xi Jinping: Reassurance, Reform, and Resistance.” International Security, 45 (1): 164–201. doi.org/10.1162/isec_a_00383.
Lo, Catherine. 2020. “‘Taiwan Flashpoint In the Indo-Pacific Region:’ Russian Lessons for Xi Jinping?” Atlantisch Perspectief 2, 32-37.
Maizland, Lindsay. 2022. “The Chinese Communist Party.” Council on Foreign Relations, October 6. www.cfr.org/backgrounder/chinese-communist-party?gclid=Cj0KCQiAtbqdBhDv.
Sacks, David. 2022. “What the Biden-Xi Meeting Means for U.S.-China Relations.” Council on Foreign Relations, November 15. www.cfr.org/blog/what-biden-xi-meeting-means-us-china-relations.
Wong, Kandy. 2022. “US Interest Rates Pledge Spells ‘Bad News’ China.” South China Morning Post, August 29. www.scmp.com/economy/china-economy/article/3190420/us-federal-reserves-interest-rates-pledge-leaves-china-less.
You must be logged in to post a comment.