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A messianic ruler, already considered the world’s most influential figure, is about to get absolute power over the planet’s most-populous state.
What happens next will be remembered for generations. Chances are, Chinese President Xi Jinping will lead China into war.
The drama begins at the Communist Party’s 20th National Congress, which starts Sunday. At the Congress’s first plenum, which convenes immediately after the Congress ends, the members of the new Politburo Standing Committee will be revealed as they walk from behind a curtain. Everyone expects Xi to lead the pack as ruler for the next five years. Moreover, most think he will be able to exercise essentially unrestrained power during this term.
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What will Xi do with such power? Among other things, he wants to redraw the map of the world, with force if necessary. During his decade-long tenure as supremo, China has stepped up efforts to take territory from neighbors, especially India, Taiwan, Japan and the Philippines.
The USS Ronald Reagan (CVN 76) and USS Nimitz (CVN 68) Carrier Strike Groups steam in formation, in the South China Sea, Monday, July 6, 2020. (US NAVY) (Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class Jason Tarleton/U.S. Navy via AP)
His ambitions extend far beyond China’s neighborhood, however. Xi is a revolutionary. He speaks in benign-sounding phrases, such as “a community of shared future for mankind.”
His words, however, cloak breathtaking ambition. As subordinates make clear, Xi has been promoting the imperial-era notion that Chinese rulers not only had the Mandate of Heaven over tianxia — “All Under Heaven” — but they also had an obligation to rule the world.
“The Chinese have always held that the world is united and all under heaven are one family,” Xi Jinping declared in his 2017 New Year’s Message.
But why stop with Planet Earth? In 2018, Chinese officials talked about the moon and Mars as sovereign Chinese territory.
At the moment, Taiwan is particularly in Xi’s crosshairs. In March, the Chinese central government, in its Work Report to the National People’s Congress, declared it was committed to “resolving the Taiwan question in the new era.” This is the first time since Xi came to power, in late 2012, that this once-a-year document included a timeframe for annexing the island republic.
“New era” is one of Xi’s favorite phrases. He started using it in November of last year and has partially explained its meaning in prior statements. “We should not allow this problem to be passed down from one generation to the next,” he said in 2019. Many interpret “new era” as his tenure at the top of the Chinese political system. In short, Xi believes he will be the one to incorporate Taiwan into the People’s Republic of China. In any event, he has made its taking a test of his legitimacy.
And he has been making preparations to absorb Taiwan. There is, of course, the fastest military buildup since the Second World War, but particularly chilling are his efforts to mobilize the civilian population.
For instance, he sponsored amendments to the National Defense Law, which were effective the first of last year. The changes, which contemplate the mass mobilization of society, transferred powers from a civilian organ, the central government’s State Council, to a military one, the Communist Party’s Central Military Commission. Xi heads the CMC, as it is called.
Taiwan’s Foreign Minister Joseph Wu, left, speaks with U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi as she prepares to leave in Taipei, Taiwan, Wednesday, Aug. 3, 2022. Pelosi left Taiwan after a visit that heightened tensions with China, saying Wednesday that she and other members of Congress in her delegation showed they will not abandon their commitment to the self-governing island. ((Taiwan Ministry of Foreign Affairs via AP))
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The amended National Defense Law “embodies the concept that everyone should be involved in national defense,” reports the Party’s Global Times, summarizing the words of an unnamed CMC official. “All national organizations, armed forces, political parties, civil groups, enterprises, social organizations, and other organizations should support and take part in the development of national defense, fulfill national defense duties, and carry out national defense missions according to the law.”
Xi is doing more than amending laws. Communist Party cadres are ordering privately owned factories to stop making products for the civilian sector so they can turn out items for the military. In fact, the party is now operating factories once owned by entrepreneurs who have fled, not wanting to be part of the war machine.
“I think this really gives the green light for him to dispatch the military on any pretext that he feels is necessary to defend his power,” Charles Burton of the Ottawa-based Macdonald-Laurier Institute told John Batchelor, the CBS radio host, referring to Xi Jinping and the National Defense Law amendments.
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If Xi emerges from the first plenum with essentially unchecked power — a safe bet according to the consensus view — there is no telling what he will do. For many, a full-scale invasion of, say, Taiwan, is unthinkable, but Russia’s grab for Ukraine at the beginning of this year was also unthinkable. The aggressive Russian President Vladimir Putin then, like Xi now, was the one man in a one-man political system.
So, watch out. Xi Jinping has told us what he will do; he is making the preparations to do it, and after the first plenum he will have the power to accomplish his dangerous aims.
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Gordon G. Chang is the author of several books including “The Coming Collapse of China.” Follow him on Twitter @GordonGChang.