Monday 6 March

AP News Mar 4 p.m. 2017

  • Supporters for President Donald Trump are holding rallies around the country today. Hundreds gathered and Marched for Trump demonstrations in New York, Raleigh, and Palm Beach, Florida, among other cities. Some rallies ware met with protesters against the president.
  • President Trump accused former president Barack Obama of wiretapping his telephones at Trump Tower last October without offering any prof. He made the charge in a series of tweets. A spokesman for Obama denied the claim.
  • Trails of destruction were seen in the historic city of Palmyra Saturday after Syrian troops fully recaptured the town from Islamic State group militants. It is the third time the town has changed hands in one year.
  • Cuba’s annual Cigar Festival came to a close on Friday with a gala dinner where top Cuban cigars were auctioned off. The highest bid was more than 400,000 dollars. The proceeds from the sales go to Cuba’s health care system.

Banyan

Is China’s president the new Deng Xiaoping?

Or is he more a Mao?

From the print edition | China

Mar 2nd 2017

A POPULAR song about Xi Jinping, China’s president, begins “From China comes Papa Xi”. It is a deliberate echo of an anthem of the Cultural Revolution that begins “The East is Red. The Sun is rising. From China comes Mao Zedong.”

The idea that Mr Xi has Mao-like attributes is common currency. The manifesto of America’s Republican Party, which Donald Trump professed to espouse when he was campaigning for the presidency last year, talks about China’s “return to Maoism” and its “cult of Mao revived”. The Economist has illustrated its cover with a drawing of Mr Xi in a Mao suit, albeit with the reservation that “Xi is no Mao”. Now the doyenne of American academic China-watchers, Alice Miller of Stanford University’s Hoover Institution, has proposed an alternative comparison. In an article for Hoover’s online journal, China Leadership Monitor, she argues that Xi’s model is not Mao, but rather Deng Xiaoping.

Ms Miller makes short work of claims that Mr Xi is Mao 2.0. The late chairman said he wanted to create “great disorder under heaven”. Mr Xi, by contrast, is a control freak. Mao believed that “class struggle” could lead China to a communist paradise within a matter of years. Mr Xi says that the Communist Party will turn China into a “moderately prosperous” country by 2021 — a century after the party’s founding. Mao thought Red Guard mobs were needed to discipline the party. Mr Xi says the party’s own anti-corruption body should do that.

There are, however, a number of intriguing parallels with Deng. Mr Xi’s official anthology, called “The Governance of China”, has far more references to Deng’s speeches than to Mao’s. The book mentions Deng’s appeal in 1992 for the creation of a “socialist market economy” (ie, capitalism under the party’s thumb). Mr Xi says that is what he wants, too. In 2016 Mr Xi updated one of Deng’s early reforms aimed at ending the intraparty strife of the Mao era: a set of rules telling party members how to treat one another. To Ms Miller, this is more than just posturing. She believes that Mr Xi wants a new campaign for economic reform matching in scale and importance the one that Deng brought about. It might be added that Mr Xi is ruthless in using force against perceived threats to the party, as was Deng — the reformist who ordered troops to kill pro-democracy demonstrators around Tiananmen Square in 1989.

But the differences between Mr Xi and Deng are at least as great as those between China’s current leader and Mao. Deng could be bracingly pragmatic. “It doesn’t matter whether a cat is black or white,” the party’s great survivor once said, “so long as it catches mice.” Mr Xi prefers to talk like a traditionalist. One of his first acts after taking over as party chief was to set up a National Ideology Centre to inculcate Marxist wisdom in party members. He has also endlessly lectured universities about the need to put Marxism at the centre of university life. Deng’s pragmatism was evident in his approach to corruption. He tolerated a modest amount of it among officials — a way of boosting morale after the purges and denunciations of the Mao era. Mr Xi sees corruption as an existential threat to the party: his campaign against it has resulted in about 750,000 people being charged with graft over the past three years.

The way Mr Xi wields power is distinctive, too. Deng tried to set up a system of government in which institutions were supposed to matter more than the people in them, and in which term limits ensured leaders did not stay too long in power. Mr Xi is more of an autocrat. He has gathered more formal power to himself than any of his predecessors, and has been far more reluctant than Deng was to delegate responsibility to subordinates.

It is too much of a stretch to suggest, as Ms Miller does, that Mr Xi and Deng are equally committed to economic reform. Ms Miller says that impatient observers should “take a long view”. When he unveiled his plans for economic reform in 2013, Mr Xi called for “decisive breakthroughs”, while allowing seven years for them to be achieved. Consider Banyan too fretful, but more than half that time has gone by with little to show for it. Should not more reforms be in place by now?

As Ms Miller points out, Mr Xi does not try to portray himself as something new. He prefers to be seen as the latest in an unbroken line of Communist leaders, going back to Mao. Mr Xi criticises historians who portray the party’s rule as divided into a Maoist era and a Dengist one. He clearly worries that such an idea will encourage people to see the two periods in contrast with each other, and conclude that the Mao days were distinguished by their chaos and cruelty. That would undermine Mao’s legitimacy as the founder of the People’s Republic, and therefore the legitimacy of the party itself.

Not the almighty

When Mr Xi took over, it was not as a result of a grab for power, driven by a desire to change things. He had been groomed for years for those posts. Ms Miller calls him the embodiment of a “broader elite consensus”. Many of the policies associated with him began during the latter years of his wooden predecessor, Hu Jintao. It was Mr Hu who began the crackdown on civil society that Mr Xi has expanded. Steps to reconcentrate authority in the central leadership began under Mr Hu, too.

Mr Xi is often described as the most powerful Chinese leader since Mao. Yet there are limits to his freedom of action. The broad aims of his leadership — including that of asserting China’s power abroad more robustly — were set before he took office. The decisions and arguments that have occurred under him have had more to do with the pace of change than the overall direction — with means, rather than ends. Mr Xi is a dictator, but he is a strangely inhibited one.

“What would Deng do?” by Alice L. Miller. China Leadership Monitor, Issue 52, 2017.

This article appeared in the China section of the print edition under the headline “The constrained dictator”

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