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Xi Jinping, the president of China, is no ordinary politician. Even by the standards of authoritarian China, where leaders are worshiped and feted by a fawning body politic, Xi has broken new ground in his attempts to fashion himself along the lines of Mao Zedong and Deng Xiaoping, the legendary Chinese statesmen, who had a larger than life impact on China and by extension, on the world. Indeed, as the Sixth Plenum of the CCP or the Chinese Communist Party concludes today, it would mark a significant inflection point for Xi as he attempts to consolidate power and continue in office for a record third term.
Moreover, the Plenum is expected to adopt what is known as a historic resolution, only two of such having been passed in the history of China, with Mao and Deng, being the predecessors of Xi, under whose watch such resolutions have been passed earlier. This resolution is expected to be the closest to a vision statement for Xi Jinping’s record third term, with the key questions being on how to sustain the Chinese growth story and Xi’s role in it. As the Bloomberg reported, the resolution is likely to ask, “Why were we successful in the past? How can we continue to succeed in the future?” No prizes for guessing that the answer to the latter is Xi himself.
Xi’s consolidation of power comes at a time when China fancies itself as a superpower and an equal rival to the United States, in everything from tech to manufacturing and considers itself as a military power that can challenge American hegemony. Moreover, under Xi, China has embarked on a “stealth” empire building project itself, under the guise of the Belt and Road Initiative and its funding of infrastructure projects in several Asian and African countries, ostensibly to develop a network of client states. With a third term, the US can expect more confrontation and geopolitical challenges from an assertive China.
Having said that, Xi’s third term comes at a time when China is itself beset with several internal fissures and fault-lines threatening its domestic economic and social stability. Whether it is the rampant corruption or the over-leveraged Chinese economy, or more pertinently, the COVID outbreak with a notorious reluctance to answer persistent questions about its origins, Xi faces severe challenges in maintaining peace and social harmony at home. Both Mao and Deng ruled at a time when China faced existential challenges and perhaps, this is the reason why Xi has pushed for a third term, to ensure that the Chinese story does not fade away.
However, Xi Jinping has had notable successes in both domestic and external fronts, with his crackdown on corruption at home and his attempts to project Chinese power externally. Of course, critics allege that his anti corruption crusade was a euphemism for sidelining key rivals to his power. On the other hand, his latest slogan of Common Prosperity where the focus is on equitable growth and a lesser concentration of wealth are winning him admirers both within and outside the Chinese state.
As Xi Jinping prepares to rewrite the history books, all eyes are on how well he can take the country forward and cement his legacy alongside Mao and Deng. With the announcement of a virtual summit with Joe Biden, Xi has accepted a longstanding invite from the former and this summit would be closely watched for how he sets the tone for US-China relations in the years to come. While the Chinese incessantly proclaim a ‘peaceful rise’, their actions run to the contrary and hence, a weary world is keenly watching how Xi would govern with his historic mandate.
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