Opinion: President Xi Jinping aims to be the emperor of communist China

File photo: Chinese President Xi Jinping Photograph:( Reuters )

Noida, Uttar Pradesh, India Mar 05, 2018, 05.07 AM (IST) Surya Gangadharan

I'm sorry but I don't want to be an emperor. That's not my business. I don't want to rule or conquer anyone. I should like to help everyone! - Charlie Chaplin in the 1940 film The Great Dictator

We've heard those disclaimers from Indian politicians, seen it in Africa where at the last count, there are at least 10 presidents who have been ruling for 25 years if not more.  

China's is a different case where the national leadership decided sometime after the death of its founder leader Chairman Mao in 1976, that it did not want any more disasters like the Great Leap Forward or upheavals like the Cultural Revolution.  So one man running the country was out.  It accounted for the two-term limit set for the President and Vice-President.

At the National People's Congress which opened in Beijing today, the key item on the agenda is an amendment which will turn the clock back.  So it's not for nothing that the Internet is buzzing with many Chinese referring to President Xi Jinping as Xi Zedong, likening him to the late Chairman who while swearing by communism, behaved like an emperor.

Maybe it stems deep down from Xi Jinping's 'princeling' roots, descendants of the founders of People's China, who believe it is their destiny to rule.  But in the public mind, it is synonymous with nepotism and cronyism, reflecting the fact that the princelings have an advantage in belonging to families entrenched in the country's politics and by extension, business. 

This is not to suggest President Xi is personally corrupt: He has fostered a reputation for clean government and there's no evidence of any great personal fortune.  But here's the rub: 

A Bloomberg investigation in 2012 showed he had a daughter studying at Harvard University where tuition fees averaged around $60,000.   

Bloomberg says he had a $28 mn stake in a property investment company Shenzhen Yuanwei

The probe revealed that other investments in the same group, owned wholly by the family, amounted to 539.3 million Yuan (about $8.4 mn)

The family also had an 18% indirect stake in Jiangxi Rare Earth worth about $13.8 mn 

Investments made in the Beijing Hiconics Drive Technology Company is valued at around $200,000

The investigations included the caveat that the liabilities are unknown, so there's a lack of clarity about the family's net worth 

Add to that a villa  and six other properties in Hong Kong

Given that Chinese government salaries are not lavish, the public often wonders at the lifestyles of their leaders.  The results of a poll published by the People's Daily and carried by The Telegraph of London in 2012, showed 91% of respondents saying all rich families in China had political backgrounds.

This is the subtext to Xi Jinping's rise to power.  He holds 13 posts, including President, party General Secretary and Chairman of the Central Military Commission.  In the case of the last, he's also made himself armed forces commander, a new post which gives him the power to appoint top military officers.  

Along the way, he's made himself head of the Group for Internet Security, Leader of the Group for Finance and Economic Affairs and Leader of the Group for Deepening Reforms and so on.  Reform in the Chinese thinking means centralisation. 

Is Xi Jinping working towards a broader plan?  Some China watchers in India believe the amendments to the constitution is only a smokescreen.  They suspect Xi is trying to gauge the strength of the opposition to him in the party.  It is well known that former presidents Jiang Zemin and Hu Jintao will oppose him.  

Xi may not be sure that all the members of the Politburo Standing Committee are behind him.  But many are due to retire in 2021, so the hint being thrown that if the posts of president and vice-president can be extended, why not others.  The only requirement is loyalty to the president.

Looking ahead, he may want to drop the tenure limits to the posts of party General Secretary and Chairman of the Central Military Commission. This is where real political power in China lies.  Expect the National People's Congress to rubber stamp Xi's amendments.  But it could also galvanise and unite his opponents. 

 

(Disclaimer: The opinions expressed above are the personal views of the author and do not reflect the views of ZMCL)