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Can China’s Xi be Overthrown?

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Over the past decade, Xi Jinping has emerged as one of the most powerful leaders in modern Chinese history, but questions about the security of his rule are increasingly surfacing. Since the 2013 Third Plenum, Xi has not only consolidated power but also reshaped the People’s Republic of China’s foreign policy and internal politics, growing increasingly nationalist and opaque. This consolidation, however, may not equate to unshakeable stability.

Experts have varied perspectives on Xi’s grip on power. Geremie Barmé from China Heritage notes that despite Xi’s control over the party-state and his suppression of opposition, he faces the risk of internal dissent and covert infighting. Xi’s rule, likened to Mao Zedong’s, grapples with a delicate balance between revolutionary zeal and political stability. The mounting evidence suggests Xi may be losing “mínxīn” (the hearts-and-minds of the people), as economic and social realities challenge his narrative.

An ACZ insider source has presented logic that Xi is on shaky ground is in danger of losing his reign from from people around him. We have seen Xi purge many of those in his inner circle, so we know he is aware. The same source has also noted that China’s armies are regionally based, and the Chinese regional generals hate each other. The likely outcome of a Xi overthrow is a balkanization of China perhaps into a dozen countries. It is almost certain the West has studied such a scenario and is poised to either support the individual countries or perhaps pit them against each other to deepen the divide. This view is rarely scene in mainstream media.

Olivia Cheung from SOAS China Institute points out that while Xi has removed term limits and surrounded himself with loyalists, his rule isn’t entirely secure. Economic challenges, like high youth unemployment and hesitancy in foreign investment, test his performance legitimacy. Xi’s governance thus hinges on not just coercion and indoctrination but also on solving China’s pressing problems.

Roger Garside, a former British diplomat, argues that Xi’s leadership has exacerbated China’s domestic and international challenges. The stagnation of economic reforms and heightened rivalry with the United States and its allies are contributing to growing discontent within China. Garside predicts that the impending economic crisis, especially in the real estate sector, could lead to mass unrest and eventually challenge Xi’s leadership.

Sari Arho Havrén, from Business Finland and RUSI, emphasizes the internal and external contradictions facing Xi. Domestically, the faltering social contract under Xi’s rule, characterized by flattened prosperity and increased nationalism, doesn’t align with the public’s economic expectations. Internally, Xi’s tactics of maintaining loyalty within the CCP could be creating instability within the party.

Willy Lam from the Jamestown Foundation observes that despite Xi’s control over the party and security apparatus, his popularity is declining due to economic difficulties and his authoritarian policies. Lam suggests that Xi’s power may be less solid than it appears, given the public discontent and sympathy for leaders who oppose Xi’s hardline policies.

George Magnus from Oxford University’s China Centre highlights that Xi’s economic policies face significant headwinds. The need for liberal economic reforms and boosting household income clashes with the CCP’s political priorities, posing risks to China’s economic stability and, by extension, Xi’s rule.

Charles Parton from the Council on Geostrategy argues that while Xi’s health and the CCP’s desire for stability favor his continued rule, a major economic collapse or widespread discontent could lead to a split in the party’s leadership and potential political reform.

Scott Singer from the University of Oxford notes that domestic economic policies alone are unlikely to destabilize Xi’s rule. Instead, external factors, such as actions by the US and its allies, could compound China’s economic challenges and drive domestic instability.

Neil Thomas from the Asia Society underscores that Xi’s control over the CCP’s key power levers makes overt opposition unlikely. However, a severe economic downturn or military misadventure could spark enough social unrest to pressure the party elite to seek change.

In conclusion, while Xi Jinping has solidified his power within the CCP and China, his rule faces significant challenges. Economic turbulence, international pressures, and growing domestic discontent pose threats to his leadership. The future of Xi’s rule, therefore, hinges on his ability to navigate these complex challenges while maintaining the loyalty and support of both the CCP and the Chinese populace.

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