Having arrived at the end of his first of two five-year terms as Chinese president, Xi Jinping and the chinese government have moved to alter the constitution to allow him to stay in power. The change will not only abolish term limits for the office but it will also add Xi’s “socialism with chinese characteristics” to the preamble of the chinese constitution. Aside form the policy implications, this will further cement Xi Jinping’s legacy as this policy is colloquially referred to as “Xi Jinping thought.”
While uncharacteristic of what many assume to be a continuously liberalizing country, the chinese people seem to overwhelmly support the move and the president. Critics have argued that the actual amount of support has been inflated by the government, and say that organized protest would be almost impossible. Regardless, Xi Jinping has the full support of the party and is party general secretary and the country’s military chief. Dissenting voices have argued that this leaves no room for checks and balances, and that if Xi wanted to make more radical changes in the future, there would be little in his way.
Xi Jinping has accomplished all of this due to the widespread corruption in the chinese government and general dissatisfaction with policy in the decades following the cold war. Xi used this state of anxiety to arouse mass support from the general public and has promised to route out corruption at all levels of the government. For the most part, he has followed through on his promises, but it remains to be seen if China is not trading one problem for a much larger one. U.S. president Donald Trump recently praised the move stating, “maybe I’ll give that a try.” While this is unsettling, many point out Trump’s over-the-top nature and say that this was not meant seriously (a conversation we really shouldn’t have to have).
What is happening in China is not happening in isolation. Many political commentators have compared Xi Jinping to Russian president Vladimir Putin who was recently elected to his fourth term. Putin has been positioning Russia to compete as a world power for some time now, most notably with the annexation of the crimean peninsula and Russia’s intervention in Syria. Judging Xi Jinping’s “socialism with chinese characteristics for a new era” at a glance reveals a similar goal for China to step forward as a world power. Smaller regional bids for power have been made by more extreme cases such as Turkey’s Erdogan, and the Philippines’ Rodrigo Duterte. Both cases exhibit extreme authoritarian regimes in formerly moderate nations. Turkey, which is a member of NATO and has long prided itself in being a secular democracy has seemingly devolved into a theocracy. Notbaly, Russia and China both former members of the communist east during the cold war, do not seem interested in the far-left internationalism of the past. Instead they have opted for a more nationalistic approach, with China incorporating market reforms and Russia embracing the Eastern Orthodox church since the collapse of the USSR. Both Putin and Jinping have ridden nationalism into their respective positions.
While not nearly as severe as the aforementioned states, in the west far-right populism and nationalism has given rise to several brands of authoritarian politics. Brexit saw the divorce of the United kingdom form the European Union and the French presidential elections saw a surge of support for the national front. In the United States there was popular support on both the left and the right in the 2016 election, with Donald Trump becoming our 45th president. While Trump does not have nearly the same political control as these other leaders he has expressed approval and has cozied up to both Vladimir Putin and now Xi Jinping.
When the Cold War ended, many saw it as the end of the modern era. With the U.S. assuming hegemonic control of the world, and the “war of ideas” seemingly over with, it appeared that we might be headed into a cosmopolitan new age of peace and prosperity. I’m still optimistic. There are numerous movements of social change across the world, and while the situation in the middle-east is dire, the frequency and scale of warfare has declined dramatically. I am not saying that the sky is falling, but quite the opposite. We are headed into a different kind of world, but nothing is set in stone. The rise of nationalistic leadership, these “strongmen” as it were, threatens the trend of global cooperation and incremental social progress that we have enjoyed for many years. My hope is that we will recognize these brutes for what they are and turn back the tide in the name of democracy and peace.
Sources: NYtimes, People’s Daily.