Emperor Xi ‘snatches’ his crown for a record third term as modern China’s head of state. With this ‘singular’ feat, Xi Jinping, the 69- year-old president, becomes China’s longest-serving president. Plus, he has been named commander of the two-million strong People’s Liberation Army. The ‘unopposed’ power grab confirms Mr Xi’s consolidation of power in the People’s Republic of China.

The precedent-defying third term makes Mr Xi the most feared Chinese leader in Asia. Mr Xi’s re-election on 10 March and his pledge in the Great Hall of the People in Beijing was beamed live by China’s state television. In the meticulously-managed National People’s Congress (NPC) event, ironically, Mr Xi swore by the constitution. More ironic was his vow, before the 3,000-strong Congress, to “build a prosperous, strong, democratic, civilised, harmonious and great modern socialist country.” The Asian minnows were aghast. https://www.reuters.com/world/china/chinas- parliament-elects-xi-jinping-chinas-president-2023-03-10/

Video Courtesy: YouTube/CGTN

Will Go Ahead Full Throttle

Mr Xi’s presidency was just a formality and thus ceremonial, a foregone conclusion for long. He did cement his top-dog position in October 2022 when he was anointed for five more years as general secretary of the all-potent Central Committee of the Communist Party and chief of the armed forces. Democracy and civility are alien to Mr Xi’s tyrannical scheme of things. So much for democracy, Mr Xi’s eyebrows-raising third term is a product of China’s rubber-stamping parliament.

Mr Xi’s re-election now cements his position as China’s most powerful head of state since Mao Zedong, aka Chairman Mao, the founder of the People’s Republic of China. Expect the power-thirsting Xi, who assumed power in 2012, to go ahead full throttle now at leveraging his status as China’s undisputed autocratic leader. After all, Mr Xi has used every moment in his political life to confirm his quest for eternal leadership. https://www.forbes.com/profile/xi- jinping/?sh=c099fe1601bf

Engineered Show of Energy

Sure, there were anxious moments in his political march, but Mr Xi was adept at projecting them as minor distractions and pushing them to the background. Widespread protests over his zero-covid policy and the numerous deaths on its abandonment are unforgettable instances. The Congress event, wherein Mr Xi was crowned for the third time, carefully skirted these issues and went on to project a future of peace and prosperity in China.

The Congress event, all in all, was a total Xi affair, an engineered show of his boundless energy and Machiavellian brilliance. Soon after the event, in a nuanced muscle-flexing, Mr Xi got the Congress appoint his ally and yes-man Li Qiang as China’s premier, the second-highest authority after Mr Xi. Mr Qiang will now manage the Chinese economy as Mr Xi’s agent and will be responsible for translating Mr Xi’s economic dreams into reality. https://www.bbc.com/news/world-asia-china-64924440

Motives to Add More Heft

As Mr Xi’s Man Friday, Mr Qiang will not disappoint his boss. The Congress had four other tasks on hand: reforming State institutions to enhance Mr Xi’s might, overhauling the Ministry of Science and Technology, putting in place a financial regulator and creating a national data bureau. The ulterior motives behind these tasks were to add more heft to Mr Xi’s political power. Plus, there were two other appointments important for Mr Xi’s political durability.

The 68-year-old former vice premier Han Zheng was appointed as the vice president. The 66-year-old Zhao Leji, former chief of the party’s anti-corruption commission, aka Central Commission for Discipline Inspection, was appointed as parliamentary chair. As these two men are members of China’s topmost political decision-making politburo standing committee, their inductions, in positions junior to Mr Xi, will certainly add to Mr Xi’s political power. https://www.npr.org/2023/03/13/1162906932/xi- jinpings-show-whos-who-in-chinas-new-government

Desire to Arm Bosom Pals

As is his wont, Mr Xi used his spectacularly showy moments in the Congress to flex his economic muscles too. He stated his growth goal for China is pegged at five per cent. This is low by Chinese standards, nevertheless. Plus, he announced a modest increase in defence spending. This increase is a grim indicator of the conflicts Mr Xi has in mind, Taiwan and Arunachal Pradesh included, and his desire to arm bosom pals in Russia and Iran. https://poliphoon.com/deception-masquerades-as-diplomacy/

Sure, Mr Xi is no longer the lowly party apparatchik he was a decade ago. Today, he is the undisputed authority of an aspiring superpower, an expansionist. He is an autocrat, shades worse than Mao Zedong, China’s eternal guiding light, and the omnipotent Communist Party. Worse because, as an expansionist, Mr Xi loves to pick up fights with neighbours. Mr Xi’s regime is embroiled in territorial disputes with 23 of them. https://www.washingtonpost.com/politics/2020/02/21/mike- pompeo-criticized-china-not-respecting-its-neighbors-territorial- integrity-whats-story/

Rules-Tearing Manipulation

These are all signs of Mr Xi degrading China’s post-Mao abandonment of one-man rule into an irrelevant anachronism. As a further confirmation of his autocratic proclivities, Mr Xi succeeded in tearing the term-limit rules and throwing them out of the window in 2018. These rules had ensured former presidents Jiang Zemin and Hu Jintao relinquished their posts after 10 years in office. Mr Xi ringing down the curtain on term limits was clearly with an eye on stretching his reign indefinitely and making him indispensable. https://www.brookings.edu/blog/order-from- chaos/2018/02/27/7-things-you-need-to-know-about-lifting- term-limits-for-xi-jinping/

If Mr Xi could bag a record third term on 10 March, it was because of this ‘successful’ rules-tearing manipulation. A third term means he will continue to be the president well into his seventies, perhaps even longer, his health permitting. However, such ill-gotten political endurance does not guarantee Mr Xi smooth sailing in the turbulent years ahead. The sea looks stormier and the world’s second-largest consumer economy is convulsing and contracting.

Through the Storm with Torn Sails

China’s economy continues to struggle to recover from its suicidal zero-covid policy. Economic growth is slowing down. In 2022, the growth was just about 3 per cent. The figure for 2023 has been set at a disheartening 5 per cent. The real estate sector, the Chinese economy’s growth engine, is sputtering, more so after the horrendous Evergrande crisis. China’s cup of woes is truly overflowing. https://www.focus- economics.com/countries/china

Declining birth rate is becoming a major cause for economic concern meanwhile. Relations with America is at its nadir, threatening to hit the Chinese economy in multiple ways. Global ties are straining at the seams. With Mr Xi backing his strategic no-limits partnership with Russia and refusing to condemn its illegal war in Ukraine, China is tying itself in more intricate knots. Mr Xi is finding it hard to renew China’s strained European ties too. Into his third term, Mr Xi will be forced to ride through the storm with torn sails.

On a Defence-Spending Spree

Yet, Mr Xi looks unflustered about his future. Confident of a huge support on the home turf, largely garnered under psychological duress and party fiats, Mr Xi looks upbeat on his re-election. He may be in for a major disappointment. As he wants to send arms and ammunition to Russia for its war in Ukraine, China will face a series of economic sanctions from Europe and the far West, once the consignment of weapons begins. https://poliphoon.com/the-rise-of-the-new-fascist-axis/

The war in Ukraine apart, China is planning to invade Taiwan soon. Recently, China’s Ministry of Finance declared a bigger defence budget of 1.55 trillion yuan (USD 224 billion), marking a 7.2 per cent increase over previous year’s. China’s defence budget is the world’s second highest after the United States. As Mr Xi is on unlimited defence-spending spree, his re-election is turning the stomachs of Asian nations long-bullied by China. https://www.globalsecurity.org/military/world/china/budget.h tm

In Conclusion

Mr Xi’s third term thus promises to be more eventful. He does not agonise over negative global opinion. In his recent speech in the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference, he slammed America for its policy of “containment, encirclement and suppression of China”. Stepping forward, he let out a rallying war cry, rousing his countrymen to muster “the courage to fight.” This is a sure indication of China planning to invade Taiwan soon. https://www.nytimes.com/2023/03/07/world/asia/china-us- xi-jinping.html

Mr Xi has been hinting at reunification with Taiwan as a priority item on his expansionist agenda. As China backs Russia’s Ukraine War and North Korea’s nefarious schemes, they are sure to stand by Mr Xi. Plus, other autocratic regimes like Iran too are likely to extend their support to Mr Xi’s Taiwan plans. With a record three-year term in his bag, Mr Xi may be tempted to drive recklessly, despite failed brakes. He is heading for an inevitable crash.