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Xi Jinping's demise rumors have been greatly overstated

Xi Jinping's demise rumors have been greatly overstated
Xi Jinping

In recent weeks, as the exorbitant cost of "zero-Covid" lockdowns has highlighted China's rising economic vulnerability, a swarm of stories has appeared speculating on Chinese President Xi Jinping's potential political weakness.

For several months, The Wall Street Journal has argued that there are "widening grievances within the party over Mr. Xi's policies," and that where once "Xi Jinping seemed all but invincible," "his push to steer China away from capitalism and the West" has "exposed faint cracks in his hold on power." Similarly, the Financial Times has depicted China's leadership as deeply split on economic and Covid policy. Others have spread even more obscene rumors about Xi's impending departure.

It's possible that Beijing has sharp internal policy splits, which is interesting and worth exploring. But, if taken too far, such obsessive analysis may reveal more about ourselves than about Chinese political realities.

Xi Jinping is not in any danger of losing his power. Since 2012, his entire political strategy has been to grab control of the three primary "levers of power" within the "Chinese 'Deep State,'" according to Christopher Johnson, a former lead China analyst at the CIA. Using a relentless "anti-corruption" drive as a knife, he was able to quickly wrest control of the military, security services, and party bureaucracy (basically the HR department) from his opponents, and consolidate control in his own hands — where it is today. This means that little protests or financial hardship among the elite will have little impact on Xi's influence. Furthermore, in times of actual crisis, he may rely on the great force of popular Chinese nationalism.

True, China's current self-inflicted economic troubles could cost Xi face time in the party's internal politics. However, this is likely to manifest itself in his failure to promote as many factional supporters as he would like at the approaching 20th Party Congress in November. The career of Shanghai Party Secretary and committed Xi loyalist Li Qiang for example may or may not be in jeopardy – this is of interest to Chinese politics nerds like myself, but it would hardly signify the Xi regime's catastrophic collapse.

One can't help but think that something else is fueling the current frenzy over Xi's potential political woes: the residual Cold War atmosphere created by Vladimir Putin's invasion of Ukraine and the West's economic isolation of Russia. Not only are hopeful rumors of impending Kremlin coups now routinely broadcast in Western news outlets, but the somewhat ambitious objective of deposing Putin appears to be de facto US government policy.

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