By Fábio Galão
This Tuesday, a geopolitical milestone that has already transformed the world and should continue to produce global effects, turns ten years old (14).
Xi Jinping became Chinese president on March 14, 2013, although in practice, he had been the country’s dictator since November 15 of the previous year, when he replaced Hu Jintao as the leader of the Communist Party (CCP).
He was “re-elected” in 2018 (the quotation marks here are generous because China is an autocracy), the year in which the National People’s Assembly (NPA) passed a constitutional amendment ending the limit of two consecutive five-year terms for Chinese presidents.
Last Friday (10), the ANP plenary ratified Xi’s stay in power for another five years, sanctioning the authoritarian escalation from 2012 to 2013.
Internally, under the pretext of fighting corruption and preventing coups, Xi has promoted intense persecution and purges within the CCP.
Claiming to confront radicalism and terrorism, he violently persecuted the Uighurs and other Muslim minorities in Xinjiang, a policy considered genocidal by the United States and crimes against humanity by the United Nations.
In Hong Kong, the region’s autonomy fell apart with the repression of protests and subsequent changes in legislation that served as the basis for persecution against pro-democracy politicians and activists, civil society organizations, and the independent press (which virtually no longer exists).
In foreign policy, the dictator has increased military investments and engaged in territorial disputes, of which the most prominent is his claim to invade Taiwan (which Beijing considers a rebel province, to be reincorporated by 2049), which also includes fights with India and Japan.
In addition, Xi has interfered heavily in Latin America and the Caribbean, Africa, and the Middle East, through:
- investments (such as the infrastructure investments of the New Silk Road program),
- bilateral agreements (such as the free trade agreement being stitched up with Uruguay and the security pact signed with the Solomon Islands),
- or sheer pressure: Panama, El Salvador, the Dominican Republic, and Nicaragua have cut diplomatic ties with Taiwan after Beijing’s action.
With the United States, the relationship is at its worst in decades.
The two countries are waging a tariff war and a dispute over semiconductors.
Washington has issued repeated warnings about the possibility of Beijing militarily aiding Russia in the Ukraine war and invading Taiwan, has banned imports from Xinjiang on the assumption that local products are made with forced labor, and in February, shot down a Chinese spy balloon over its Atlantic coast.
Economic exuberance, however, China’s great asset for exerting influence on the rest of the world, is slowing down.
China’s GDP grew by only 3% last year, the second worst result since 1976 – the weakest performance was a 2.2% increase in 2020, the first year of the Covid-19 pandemic.
For 2023, the growth target set by the Chinese government is only 5%, below pre-pandemic levels.
This slowdown has several explanations, such as:
- the effects of the severe lockdowns of the Covid Zero policy (which began to be abolished only in late 2022),
- the decrease in Chinese productivity, a reflection of the aging population,
- and the increased state interference in the economy since Xi Jinping came to power.
The one-child policy was abolished in 2015 when Chinese couples were allowed to have two children to contain the aging population aspect.
In 2021, up to three children became admissible, and shortly afterward, the government removed the punishments for those who disrespected this limit.
For reserve colonel, Paulo Roberto da Silva Gomes Filho, who holds a master’s degree in military sciences from the Army Command and Staff School (Eceme) and in defense and strategy studies at the National Defense University in Beijing, the big difference in China under Xi Jinping has been a more intense search for a role as an international protagonist, as an alternative leadership to that exercised by the United States.
“In this sense, actions such as the 12-point plan for peace between Russia and Ukraine, or the brokering of the agreement to restore diplomatic relations between Iran and Saudi Arabia [announced last week] should be understood. It is clear that this protagonism bothers the United States, which sees its influence diminish in several parts of the world,” Gomes Filho pointed out.
“I wouldn’t say that China took advantage of a power vacuum left by the United States, but that the country offered itself as an alternative.”
“For countries like Iran and Saudi Arabia, autocracies that face several accusations of disrespect for human rights, it seems more convenient to interact with China, a country that advocates a policy of ‘non-intervention in the internal affairs of other countries,’ not least because of the accusations against it, than with the United States, a country whose foreign policy usually demands that its partners adhere to the values of liberal democracies,” the analyst pondered.
In the first speech of his third term, Xi said on Monday (13) that the People’s Liberation Army must be transformed “into a great wall of steel that effectively protects national sovereignty, security, and development interests,” indicating that investments to increase China’s military power will be a priority for the next five years.
Gomes Filho agrees and stated that despite the economic challenges that persist in China – to which the specialist added the contraction in the real estate market – and which will require reforms already in planning, the country would seek an increase in military strength even if it imposes sacrifices on other sectors.
“I don’t believe that the economic challenges will significantly affect military investments since these are a priority for Xi Jinping. If he needs to ‘tighten the belt,’ he can do so in other areas, sparing the defense sector,” he argued.
With information from Gazeta do Povo