Xi Jinping’s Balancing Art

In my previous article on Xi Jinping fighting corruption “Xi Jinping’s huge surprises”, I promised that I will elaborate in my next article Xi’s way to make officials go through the purgatory he set for them.

I have mentioned that for a sovereign the most important skill is the art for being an emperor, of which the most important is the balancing art.

Now, the large number of corrupt officials is a very strong group of vested interests in power, Xi must have some strength at least as powerful and preferably more powerful than it. Where is the balancing strength?

In my article “The Conundrum of Xi Jinping’s Chinese Dream” on April 16, I said that Bo Xilai exploited Hu Jintao’s omission of Mao Zedong Thought to rally all conservatives around him to form a large and powerful conservative faction in order to challenge the reformists. Bo began a fierce power struggle over the evaluation of Mao with his real goal to grab from Xi Jinping the right of succession to Hu Jintao. Xi lobbied Jiang to punish Bo severely and has thus deprived the conservatives of their very shrewd leader.

Jiang held an expanded Politburo meeting and made the decision to punish Bo severely, but he did not deal with the fierce struggle between conservatives and reformists over the evaluation of Mao. It was Xi Jinping who exploited conservatives’ popular slogan “Chinese dream” to put an end to the power struggle and bring back unity to a deeply split nation.

Bo exploited the conservative faction in order to grab from Xi the right of succession to Hu Jintao and to oppose further reform that Xi wanted to carry out. Xi should have regarded the conservatives as his enemy, but Xi’s mastery of the art for being an emperor has enabled him to turn his enemy into his ally in fighting corruption.

The conservatives have not been benefited from the reform capitalist in nature. Most of them are honest and adhere to the old communist values of economic equality. They hate corruption bitterly. There, on the contrary, were quite a few corrupt officials in the reformist faction as the reform makes the country rich so that there is wealth in the state for them to steal.

Hu Jintao, the reformists’ leader, fell into the trap mentioned in my previous article of forming and relying on his own CYL (Communist Youth League) faction as his powerbase. Just like Emperor Qianlong, he employed a very corrupt official Ling Jihua to be in charge of CCP’s daily affairs. Ling corrupted China’s official system and gave rise to rampant corruption.

Has Hu gained supreme power through his very large and powerful CYL faction? No, he appointed some talented officials but also quite a few officials who either were corrupt or pursued hefty economic growth for promotion resulting in serious pollution, over investment and excessive production capacity.

He did not obtain the status of CCP core leader though he was CCP top leader for a decade.

Xi’s use of Mao’s words about mass line pleased the conservative faction who had lost their leader Bo Xilai, but now Xi can lead them to be pioneers in fighting corruption.

A sovereign has real power because he has power in himself for others to rely on him instead of his relying on certain factions or powerful officials for power.

Now, the conservatives rely on Xi’s power to fight corruption while the reformists rely on him for further reform so that Xi has the support of both conservatives and reformists.

Xi knew that the greatest strength lies in the masses of people but it was very difficult to mobilize them as they had been oppressed by officials for a long time and thus had their traditional fear of officials, especially powerful corrupt officials. When corrupt officials have deprived them of their means of survival, they will rise up to overthrow the corrupt officials along with CCP those officials belong to. Xi certainly could not wait for that to happen.

Xi had first to rely on the strength of the conservatives to balance the strength of the group of officials with vested interests. As conservatives cherish nostalgic love for Mao, Xi used Mao’s mass line to give them the impression that he himself was a conservative and shared conservatives’ hatred of officials’ malpractices and corruption.

That worked wonderfully. Due to his wording quite a few China watchers outside China regarded Xi as a conservative and even a Maoist at that time. By so doing, Xi Jinping succeeded in using conservatives to be the vanguards in opposing the malpractices of being divorced from the masses of people. The number of conservatives is large and they are supported by lots of retired high officials. They have long been indignant at officials’ misconducts. Now, they have the opportunities to attack officials for their irregularities. They have thus given rise to some heat in the mass line campaign and make officials conduct self-criticism humbly. Officials had thus lost their prestige and dignity. As a result, the masses of people no longer feared them and became bold to join the conservatives to denounce official despotism.

By making officials undergo the purgatory of the conservatives and masses of people, Xi Jinping gained overwhelming strength over corrupt officials and subdued the entire corrupt official system to ensure that there will be no united strong resistance to his anti-corruption campaign.

You may wonder that Xi could have first launch an anti-corruption campaign with the support of conservatives and mobilization of the masses of people. Why did Xi put his second priority dealing with the malpractice of being divorced from the masses of people above his first priority dealing with corruption?

Xi had his secret goal in doing so, which will be elaborated in my next article.

Article by Chan Kai Yee


One Comment on “Xi Jinping’s Balancing Art”

  1. Steve says:

    Good Commentary.