Two remarkable stories emerged from China’s otherwise secretive political system last week.
First, it was announced that the Ministry of Public Security is to set up a bureau to pursue Chinese maleficents outside of China’s borders. The idea of Chinese law being applied by Chinese agents anywhere in the world is disquieting enough. But the backstory to the announcements was that the new bureau was being set up after Xi Jinping had ‘made a remark’ to that effect in some meeting. So much for collective leadership.
Collective leadership is supposed to have been a legacy of Deng Xiaoping’s reforms, but has not been the way of the People’s Republic, not under Mao, not under Deng himself, and now not under Xi. There may have been collective leadership of sorts between Deng and Xi, and even in Xi’s first year or two, but no longer.
Since he became secretary general of the party, Xi has systematically gathered the reins of power in his own hands and boosted his authority by the spreading of person-cult. He is now the supreme leader, much as Mao was, so much so that it is enough for him to make a ‘remark’ for policy to be made. The idea of careful deliberation by collective leadership is dead. The People’s Republic has reverted to its natural self: a dictatorship under one-man rule – and is now proud to show itself off as such.
Second, a book, a bland volume, appeared in bookshops, published by the party’s Central Document Press, with extracts of some of Xi’s internal speeches and essays on ‘tightening party discipline and rules.’ It was revealed that Xi had spoken of scheming within top circles ‘to wreck and split the party’ – of coup attempts in other words. Some of the plotters were named: Zhou Yongkang, Bo Xilai, Xu Caihou, Ling Jihua and Su Rong.
That should send a chill down the spines of people around him. When no. 1 chooses to reveal that there has been plotting against him, he is saying: (1) I am min control, so much so that I can speak of plots. (2) Don’t even think about it, you will be crushed.
When dictators speak of plots and name plotters, they are deliberately spreading fear. The Chinese political system is not an orderly arrangement in which the top brass elect a leader as the first among equals for everyone then to collaborate peacefully. It is a standard dictatorship: a perpetual dog-fight where those who come out on top know that they have enemies and that it is a battle to stay in power and use fear an internal terror as core instruments of control.