It took many years for Mao Zedong to dominate a party that he had literally built and led to victory. Even then, at the height of his power, he was still compelled to share authority at times with others like Liu Shaoqi and Zhou Enlai. President Xi Jinping, by contrast, appears to have managed this in a mere six years after 2013, and within just the past six months, he seems to have risen to the position of Supreme Leader of China, writes Vijay Gokhale, India’s former Ambassador to China.
A rare interview that Xi gave in August 2000 to a Chinese journal revealed three qualities: persistence, patience and a strong belief in himself. He admitted that politics was a risky business and he was playing the long game. In his words, “once you have gone into politics, it is like crossing a river. No matter how many obstacles you meet, there is only one way, and that is forward.”
He was not to be deterred by obstacles: “If you have a position on something, the thing is to stick with it and continue one’s work. Then, in the final analysis, it will give results.” What came across through the interview was his steely resolve.
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In the last seven years, President Xi has systematically neutralised his political opponents through arrests and trials; that includes Sun Zhengcai, who was the heir presumptive. The anti-corruption campaign has created a wave of “terror”, writes Gokhale.
The pandemic was a “black swan”, but Xi sensed an opportunity. In his own words, in the interview quoted above, “Only if there are battles, there are opportunities.”
After declaring victory over COVID-19 in early April, Xi has deftly moved to remove the last vestiges of opposition.
According to one media report, party members are forbidden from certain actions, including inter alia, expressing opinions or making statements that deviate from Xi as the “core”, discussing political rumours and forming cliques.
“The world is, therefore, likely dealing with a Chinese leader unlike any since Mao, driven by a sense of his own genius, and believing that he will be the shaper of the 21st century as the Chinese Century,” writes Gokhale. “It is, therefore, important to get a proper measure of the person”.
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