Chinese President Xi Jinping has been virtually crowned the emperor of China. China’s ‘rubber stamp’ parliament, the National People’s Congress, has removed the two-term limit of 10 years for holding the president’s post. Thus, Xi can hold the post for life. He also holds the post of General Secretary of the Communist Party of China and Chairman of the Central Military Commission, making him the most powerful person in China today. China is involved in a number of disputes with its neighbours and the question is whether China will be more aggressive now that Xi has consolidated his position?
Issues related to Hong Kong, Taiwan and the South China Sea are likely to be higher on Xi’s list compared to India. Christopher Bodeen of the Associated Press says Xi is bound to get more aggressive over Taiwan, Hong Kong and South China Sea issues.
However, it is also likely that China will put increased pressure on India. This may be to ‘persuade’ India to join China’s Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), which is Xi’s pet project.
Border transgressions by the People’s Liberation Army, which are part of the psychological war carried out against India, may increase. There could be more stand-offs of the Doklam-type with the Chinese taking advantage of there being no clear-cut border agreement.
However, Xi is unlikely to order use of military force without being sure of a clear cut victory. A war like the one in 1979, in which Vietnam used only border forces and stood up to China would not do now. In the Indian context, a lot depends on how India grows in military strength over the next few years.
China is likely to continue its encirclement of India with its ‘string of pearls’ doctrine. It may set up a military base in Maldives.
China is also likely to put economic pressure on India. With the many free trade agreements (FTAs) China signs with many countries, it is likely that these FTAs are used to push Chinese products into India through those third countries. India will have to be increasingly alert as this could affect India’s trade with other countries.
With full powers vested in him, Xi is also likely to get more authoritarian domestically. The ambitions of many second-rung leaders and those below them in the Communist Party of China have been crushed and a silent power struggle may begin. How Xi deals with dissent within the party is important. He could jail all his opponents by targeting them with his anti-corruption campaign. But a major purge could turn into a disaster like the Cultural Revolution.
Xi’s lifelong rule was criticised in China on the Internet, but the state censorship machinery swung into action to defend ‘Xi Dada’ (‘Big Uncle Xi’).
Remarkably, Chinese students in universities abroad put up posters of Xi’s photo with the slogan, ‘Not my president’ in English and Chinese. Of course, these students concealed their identity as otherwise they and their relatives would not be safe when they return to China.
Of course, things may not work out as planned by Xi. The BRI may not be such a game changer, with many countries scared of falling into Chinese debt. Thus, it may not give a big boost to the Chinese economy.
While Xi may rule lifelong, he may not realise his other ambition of going down in the history as the greatest Chinese leader.