Chinese leaders extend Spring Festival greetings

Chinese leaders extend Spring Festival greetings
China is running out of prison space to jail govt officials caught in Xi Jinping’s anti-corruption drive
nXi Jinping delivers the closing speech at the National Congress of the Communist Party of China in October 2017.

By Hiroyuki Sugiyama / Yomiuri Shimbun Senior WriterBEIJING — Chinese President and Communist Party General Secretary Xi Jinping continues to tighten his grip on power. In addition to his anticorruption campaign, he is putting effort into a new political struggle to compel the entire party to oppress “hidden enemies.” Xi’s footsteps can be clearly heard as he marches along the path to absolute leadership.

The jail being talked about is the Qincheng maximum security prison, which is generally reserved for errants from the country’s ruling Communist party. However, not just any errant can get in there. That jail is reserved for only those who are above the rank of vice-marshal — also known as “tigers”.  Hence, the prison is also called “tiger cage.”

“No one is able to stop him anymore,” an elderly party member said. According to the member, officials in key party and military posts have merely been currying favor with Xi, and the influence of elders, including former general secretaries Jiang Zemin and Hu Jintao, continues to diminish.

Some Qincheng inmates were also allowed to meed their families on the occasion. “The prison used to allow inmates over 60 to have a meal in jail with a limited number of their immediate family members ahead of the Lunar New Year. Some of them will have a hotpot, others bring dumplings, whatever they like,” the SCMP report quoted a source as saying.
China is running out of prison space to jail govt officials caught in Xi Jinping's anti-corruption drive
China is running out of prison space to jail govt officials caught in Xi Jinping’s anti-corruption drive

At a plenary session of the Communist Party of China Central Committee in January, party leaders decided on a plan to write Xi’s guiding principle into the Constitution at the National People’s Congress (the equivalent of parliament) scheduled for March.

The principle, titled the “Xi Jinping Thought on Socialism with Chinese Characteristics for a New Era” (see below),was added to the party’s constitution last year.

China's Xi: We Will Eradicate the 'Ghosts' of Poverty
China’s Xi: We Will Eradicate the ‘Ghosts’ of Poverty

Xi will become China’s first incumbent leader to have their guiding principle enshrined in the Constitution since Mao Zedong, who ruled China at will as its founding leader.

The “theory” of Deng Xiaoping, who opened the door for reform and open-door policies, was added to the Constitution after he died, while Jiang’s principle was added after he resigned as general secretary.

Is This the Year China Gets Serious About Ending Rural Poverty?
Is This the Year China Gets Serious About Ending Rural Poverty?

The authority and power of Xi, who has only been in power for five years during a time of peace, have on the surface already begun to surpass those of Deng.

In addition, its Belt and Road Initiative, called “the largest single infrastructure program in human history,” currently involves 68 countries and 1,700 development projects all over the world.
Is This the Year China Gets Serious About Ending Rural Poverty?
Is This the Year China Gets Serious About Ending Rural Poverty?

However, many are said to secretly resent Xi. According to one person connected with the party, he “has monopolized power through the fear created by his anticorruption campaign.”

Xi has emphasized that his anticorruption campaign will “continue forever” and shown no sign of relaxing his fear-based hold on power. His decision may be intended to contain counterattacks from the people opposed to him who are in hiding.

Among the constitutional amendments set to be approved at the National People’s Congress is a provision for establishing a national supervisory commission that will cast Xi’s anticorruption net over organizations outside the party.

The commission will no doubt serve as Xi’s eyes and ears for maintaining surveillance.

Xi’s visit to Sichuan, and the resulting emphasis on “people-centered development” and poverty reduction, is in line with a major rhetorical shift in Xi’s remarks at the 19th National Congress of the Chinese Communist Party in October 2017. In his work report, Xi said that the “principal contradiction facing Chinese society” had evolved, from a contradiction between “the ever-growing material and cultural needs of the people and backward social production” to today’s “contradiction between unbalanced and inadequate development and the people’s ever-growing needs for a better life.”

“Those above have policies, those below have countermeasures” — this well-known expression explains the reality of Chinese politics. Bureaucrats water down directives from above and protect their own interests.

After the Xi administration was inaugurated, one “countermeasure” in particular spread nationwide within party, government and regional organizations still full of senior officials who took office in the Jiang and Hu administrations — sabotage.

One party member said, “We don’t do anything that’s unnecessary. There’s no benefit. If we stand out unnecessarily, we’re more likely to become an anticorruption target.” The Xi administration has been struggling with how to address this kind of unspoken resistance.

China could join these countries’ ranks by 2049 if its economy grows by at least 1.7 percentage points more than the US economy every year, starting now. Assuming that the US economy maintains its long-term growth rate of 2 per cent, China would have to grow by 3.7 per cent annually. That’s a lot lower than China’s current rate of nearly 7 per cent. Even if China’s GDP growth decelerated steadily to 2 per cent by 2049, the average rate would amount to at least 4 per cent.

However, even these holdouts have become afraid of Xi’s power. At the end of last year, Xi emphasized that “it is useless to simply shout slogans without taking action.” In January, he ordered the entire party to “continue the social revolution,” saying: “We are revolutionaries. Do not lose the revolutionary spirit.”

To the extent that it raises living standards, the “China model” fulfils some requirements of political legitimacy. But, once those living standards reach a certain level, the Chinese people will almost certainly demand more personal freedom and political accountability. The most fundamental challenge facing China’s leaders, then, is to find a governance model that fulfils these demands while continuing to exclude electoral democracy.

These are fierce words meant to inspire party members to revolution, that is, a change in the status quo. According to one Chinese newspaper, it is a “mobilization order.” It evokes Mao, who mobilized the masses to take part in a power struggle under the name of “continuous revolution.”

One key obstacle lies in the Chinese political system. It is widely believed that democracy is indispensable for a dynamic civil society. Yet the Chinese authorities are determined not to introduce electoral democracy in any way, shape or form. Recent political developments in advanced democracies – in particular, the rise of right-wing populist movements and leaders, including US President Donald Trump – have reinforced their resolve.

“We have to carry out any work that’s related to Xi. Sabotage will be punished. Senior party officials are in a desperate situation,” an official related to the party organization said.

Whether such work is really necessary is secondary. For a person to gain promotion or remain protected, it is essential that they demonstrate loyalty to Xi through their actions. Those who have carried grudges against Xi and engaged in sabotage have no choice but to take such actions.

Party leaders traditionally tour China’s poor hinterlands on the eve of the New Year break, which begins on Thursday and will see hundreds of millions of migrant workers flock home as part of what some call the world’s greatest annual human migration. This year, Xi’s “inspection” has taken on extra significance after he made eradicating extreme poverty one of three top priorities for 2018, alongside pollution and economic risks.

Even the private airing of grievances is difficult, as officials cannot gather even for small dinner parties for fear of being turned in under a ban on luxuries.

In a recent interview Mark Wang, a University of Melbourne academic, said he believed Xi was personally committed to the poor but suspected the relentless focus was also about politics. “How can you make sure a billion people trust you, and say, ‘This is our strong leader’? If I were him I would do the same thing.”

Inevitably, enterprises and activities connected to Xi have proliferated. Institutions for the study of Xi Jinping Thought have been established throughout China, and local groups hold study sessions on the ideology.

Projects advocated by Xi, such as the massive “Belt and Road” economic zone initiative, have progressed at a rapid pace.

After Xi called for the development of a new cultural industry, 24-hour bookstores opened in succession, even though the contents of the books — the most important aspect — remain strictly monitored.

Xi was in the village to see their achievement in using the Internet to help sell local products. An elderly woman wanted to give a pair of her hand-made shoes to Xi as a gift, but the president smiled and insisted on paying for them.

This bizarre spectacle in which an entire society bends to the will of a supreme leader resembles a smaller scale version of the Great Leap Forward (see below).

In the economic realm, a hardening of the tendency to regard Xi’s guidance as absolute could undermine China’s transition to a market economy, which has been the basis of its development.

Chinese newspapers and TV channels nonetheless praise Xi as if there were no such worries. Xi is portrayed by the media as near perfect, and his ideas are regarded as an elixir for all ills. Newscasters practically glow with joy when reading manuscripts about him.

As his power has evolved, the aim of Xi’s political struggles has expanded from defeating his opponents to realizing a reign like Mao’s.

This year, days before the country celebrates Spring Festival, he visited the homes of impoverished villagers of the Yi ethnic group in the Daliang Mountains of southwest Sichuan province. Specifically, he asked the villagers about their lives and discussed poverty alleviation with local officials and villagers. His vision was straightforward, even on this symbolical occasion. Instead of ignorance, backwardness and poverty he is focusing on culture, knowledge and hygiene. Flaws of the past can be exorcized, according to Xi's words.

Behind the scenes, some say that Xi may revive the party chairman system before long in a bid to attain absolute power. Mao previously ruled as party chairman until his death.

From an international perspective, China is acting in line with the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development proposed by the U.N. In April 2016 China released its position paper on the implementation of the 2030 Agenda. The National Plan consists of five parts: achievements and experience, opportunities and challenges, guiding thoughts and general principles, overall approaches as well as the implementation plan for the 17 sustainable development goals. On that basis, China is also strengthening its presence at the U.N. level. 

“I don’t know what Xi’s ultimate objective is,” said an official related to the party.

Western media tend to acknowledge China's success in fighting poverty despite their traditional suspicion. This January, for instance, The Guardian, published an extensive story on Beijing's objective to help 50 million people rise above its official poverty line by 2020. On the same wavelength, reporting on Xi's visit in the Daliang Mountains, Reuters news agency illustrated poverty alleviation as "one of his signature policy issues."

In contrast to Jiang Zemin and Hu Jintao, who Deng Xiaoping named as his successors, Xi’s ascent to the pinnacle of power was characterized by struggle and good fortune.

At the 15th National Congress of the Communist Party of China in 1997, 151 alternate members to the Central Committee were selected. Xi, then a 44-year-old senior party official in Fujian Province, slipped in with the fewest votes.

During one of the Spring Festival inspections, Xi bought festival gifts before visiting old acquaintances in the village where he worked as an “educated youth.” During other trips, he went to farmers’ barns and kitchens, calculated revenues and expenses with villagers and offered advice on increasing income.

Xi was elected to the Central Committee at the 16th party congress in 2002.

When he presented the new CPC central leadership to the press on Oct. 25, 2017, Xi said that the Party must remain committed to a people-centered philosophy of development and make steady progress toward enhancing the people’s sense of fulfillment and realizing common prosperity for everyone.

Amid a growing conflict between Hu, who was elected general secretary at the congress, and Jiang, who remained chairman of the party’s Central Military Committee, Xi was conveniently regarded as “a son of a former vice premier distant from factionalism.”

He received a double promotion at the 2007 party congress, earning a seat on the Politburo Standing Committee. Xi’s aim at the time was likely to be someone who could be recommended by anyone.

Xi changed considerably after he became general secretary at the 18th party congress in 2012.

He has since vanquished his competitors from the Jiang and Hu factions, among other rivals, through his anticorruption campaign, and effectively destroyed the collective leadership system during his first five-year term.

■Xi Jinping Thought on Socialism with Chinese Characteristics for a New Era

Xi Jinping Thought was added to the Communist Party constitution at the party congress last fall. As the leader of a “new era” aiming to make China a strong nation, Xi compiled the principles underlying his domestic, foreign, and party development into a “thought.” Regardless of the content, the designation of “thought” is crucially important, as thoughts are ranked second in importance to “-isms.” Xi is only the second Chinese leader, aside from Mao Zedong, to have his name attached to a thought. As was the case during the Mao era, entire party organs are forced to obey Xi’s individual will.

A massive campaign from 1958 to 1960 initiated by Mao Zedong to boost production. As a result of ignoring science and existing conditions, China’s agriculture and industry were left in ruins, and tens of millions of people are said to have starved to deathSpeech

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