Commentary: The Challenges Faced by Xi Jinping in Maintaining Control
In times of turmoil and uncertainty, the stability of a leader’s power base becomes paramount. Communist Party of China (CCP) leader Xi Jinping, having eliminated potential opponents within the party, is attempting to return China to its Maoist roots. However, this transition may prove difficult, especially if it involves a conflict with Taiwan, as it would risk the destruction of the CCP and mainland China’s infrastructure.
The recent removal of PLA Rocket Force Commander Gen. Li Yuchao highlights the growing uncertainty within the top ranks of the People’s Liberation Army (PLA). Xi relies heavily on the technocrats within the Rocket Force for any potential conflict, but there is little love lost between the force and Xi. This split may be genuine or the result of perception dominance operations by the US, exploiting Xi’s paranoia.
Xi has effectively cut off the younger generation of Chinese from external influences, making it difficult for them to find support from abroad. There are doubts about the loyalty of PLA commanders and the rank-and-file to obey a command to engage in full-scale war. Xi has personally urged the PLA to increase their readiness for war, implying a heightened threat to China’s sovereignty and territory.
There is a brief window of opportunity for Xi to act against Taiwan, given China’s declining economic capabilities. However, such a move could result in a rejection of his authority by the PLA or a failed military operation, bringing down the CCP/PRC structure. Xi has focused on internal security, spending more on domestic security than on the PLA. He has attempted to distance the party from China’s economic woes, but with little success.
The last remaining support for the CCP comes from the “little pinks,” young Chinese nationalists who have limited exposure to foreign media and contacts. However, it is uncertain whether Xi has lost the opportunity to condition the Chinese population, as Mao attempted in the past. Mass conditioning and psychological strategies have been used to control the population, but they have not been able to overcome the fact that the CCP is responsible for the impoverishment of the Chinese people.
Xi is faced with a dilemma. He cannot trust the PLA to distract the population from internal issues through war, and he cannot rely on internal security mechanisms to stem domestic unrest. He can, however, selectively target individuals within the PLA, security services, and wealthy entrepreneurs to maintain control, without bringing down the entire system. Xi’s response to resistance has been physical suppression, but there is a growing risk of open resistance if economic relief is not provided.
Xi’s ability to maintain control hinges on his ability to address the economic and social challenges facing China. The mass suffering being imposed on the population cannot be sustained indefinitely, and it remains to be seen how Xi will navigate these challenges without further destabilizing his rule. The future of China and Xi’s leadership will depend on his ability to find a satisfactory resolution to these pressing issues.