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Opinion | Xi's China: From A Dream to A Nightmare

By: Vas Shenoy


Last Updated: December 01, 2022, 20:18 IST


Xi Jinping wanted to meet with top European leaders in November but his invitations to them were left unanswered. (Representational image/Reuters)

Xi Jinping wanted to meet with top European leaders in November but his invitations to them were left unanswered. (Representational image/Reuters)

Xi Jinping is much more ruthless than his father was, using mass repression and genocide in Tibet, Xinjiang and Mongolia while spreading his influence globally with an iron fist and unscrupulous deals

In October this year, at the 20th congress of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP), princeling Xi Jinping was crowned the modern equivalent of the Chinese Emperor. The CCP elected him as supreme leader for an unprecedented third mandate. His father, Xi Zhongxun was known for his commitment to political solutions. It is said that he had pastoralists from Xinjiang released and befriended the 14th Dalai Lama during his visit to Beijing. Impressed by the senior Xi’s diplomacy and tact, the Dalai Lama gifted him his Omega watch, a gift that Xi Zhongxun wore until his death. While the father did reach senior leadership positions in the CCP, the son has eclipsed his father several times over with the absolute power he wields over the country and its institutions. Xi Jinping, emperor Xi, is also much more ruthless than his father was, using mass repression and genocide in Tibet, Xinjiang and Mongolia while spreading his influence globally with an iron fist and unscrupulous deals.

“The ecological transition as interpreted by China, with the senseless exploitation of African mineral resources, contributes to inhuman working conditions contrary to international conventions, to the depopulation of agricultural areas and in general to the impoverishment of vast territories. These are factors which in the last ten years have contributed to an increase in migratory flows towards Europe”. Interviewed by Italian magazine Verità, Senator Giulio Terzi di Sant’Agata, Senator of the Italian Republic and President of the European Affairs Commission of the Italian senate, emphasised an aspect of the migratory exodus from Africa that has not been explored much: the Chinese expansion strategy in Africa. To what extent does Beijing’s policy affect immigration to Europe? “China’s presence in Africa, implemented more intensely by President Xi, takes place through a type of development cooperation that combines economic, logistic and military purposes. The civilian presence is always accompanied by a military presence which conditions local governments. This is what is happening in Djibouti, for example. Furthermore, development programmes do not have guarantees of respect for human and workers’ rights. The partnership contracts have conditions that remain secret and the loans disbursed do not follow the rules of international institutions," said Terzi in his interview.

Xi’s second international public appearance was at the G20 Heads of State Summit in Bali, Indonesia. A three-hour marathon meeting with US President Joe Biden followed meetings with almost every other head of state, including an off-mic complaint with Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau. Xi at Bali was benign, he declared it unacceptable that nuclear weapons were used in any conflict, the Chinese establishment let it slip that Russian leader Vladimir Putin had not informed China of his bellicose plans during his visit to Beijing in February where Xi and Putin swore “no-limits” friendship. This new face of Xi was after almost two years of not leaving China, purging most of the entrepreneurs and any opposition inside the CCP. Covid and the pandemic provided him with the perfect excuse to further restrict any liberties of his citizens and conduct his purges. This also gave him the reason to “lockdown” China from the rest of the world and control any foreign citizens who needed to visit. After these two years and the coronation at the CCP’s congress, Xi is now the most powerful man on earth, at the head of the world’s most populous country.

Laura Harth, a noted human rights activist and political analyst expressed her deep disappointment that European leaders still wait to be summoned to President Xi’s court and the pacification of Xi follows the same path as the pacification of Russian President Putin a decade ago, something that Europe is currently paying a heavy price with the Russian invasion of Ukraine.

Harth and her colleagues have been recently involved in exposing a large network of illegal Chinese police stations in European and other Western countries. Set up under the guise of “coordination” centres, these “Chinese police stations” spy on dissidents as well as foreign nationals critical of China, and intimidate the Chinese diaspora among other forbidden activities.

Writing in Italian current affairs platform Formiche, Harth also mentioned the “sports-washing” of Chinese companies at the Qatar 2022 FIFA world cup. While Chinese news celebrates the success of Chinese contractor China Railway Construction Company (CRCC), a significant builder of stadiums in Qatar, Harth points out in her article how CRCC is a military-civilian giant in China which is extensively involved in human rights abuses of the Uyghur population. From using prisoners as slave labour to constructing prisons, CRCC is a primary actor in China’s repressive policies. In a globalised world where we are all interconnected, a Chinese-led autocratic political grouping with allies such as Russia and Iran is trying to promote a new form of governance which limits human rights and civil liberties, said Harth at the Dialogue on Democracy: The Future of the Indo-Pacific, in Rome, Italy.

While Xi’s China is ruled with an iron fist, he is trying to extend his absolute rule throughout the Indo-Pacific which accounts for over 70% of the world’s trade. While Kissinger’s China policy still has champions in Washington DC, it is no longer acceptable to have a US-sphere and a Sino-sphere. “When Speaker Pelosi visited Taiwan and China stepped up its rhetoric and war games, all ASEAN democracies supported Taiwan and spoke against Chinese aggression,” Senator Terzi stated at the Dialogue on Democracy in Rome.

While Xi’s power is absolute, the cracks are beginning to show. International media reports that protests have started at universities as well as in Shanghai with protestors chanting “Step down, Xi Jinping! Step down, Communist Party!”, unprecedented until recently. Mass anti-lockdown protests started in the most repressed part of China, Urumqi, the capital of Xinjiang where a deadly fire Thursday caused innocent deaths due to lockdown protocols slowing down first responders. It seems the rest of China is now grieving with the Uyghurs and have made common cause with the protests against harsh COVID lockdown laws.

Very few expect these protests to last or gather steam nationally. However a spark has been lit and no matter how much time it will take, this spark will light the fire of the revolution against Xi Jinping.

China’s perception globally is also changing. The Italian government under Giuseppe Conte, breaking from its strong US alliance, was the first G7 country to sign the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) agreement. While the new Italian government, led by Italy’s first female Prime Minister, Giorgia Meloni is unlikely to renew the BRI, it is also expected to be tough on China regarding human rights and global aggression, especially its designs in the South China Sea.

The world’s democracies must come together to jointly support one another against autocratic governments. Only then autocratic dictators such as Xi will be held to account by their own people. For now, it would be a big step if Italy can lead the European Union in creating a united front to hold Xi’s China accountable for the human rights abuses in Xinjiang, Hong Kong, Tibet and the repression that is bound to follow with these protests in all of China.

Vas Shenoy, an Indo-Italian entrepreneur and writer, has worked closely and continues to advise various governments in Europe, Middle East and Africa. He is the founder of the Dialogue on Democracy. The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not represent the stand of this publication.

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first published:December 01, 2022, 20:17 IST
last updated:December 01, 2022, 20:18 IST
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