China hails its President, displays new capabilities

by WILLIAM R. HAWKINS November 1, 2016

 The Sixth Plenary Session of the 18th Communist Party of China (CPC) Central Committee concluded on Oct0ber 27. For the first time "the CPC Central Committee with Comrade Xi Jinping as the core" was written into the official communiqué. As Global Times, the media voice of the CPC put it, "Xi as the core in fact has long been in the minds of the Chinese people and among public opinion." This is a clear proclamation that President Xi Jinping has amassed more personal power at the top of the dictatorship.

 A poll conducted by the People's Tribune, which surveyed 15,596 people over a six month period using a variety of methods from personal interviews to on-line questionnaires, found 79.1 percent said a "leader of integrity and ability" was vital to China's continued rise and that President Xi has those qualities. To the question of why a country needs a strong central leadership, most respondents strongly agreed that it is vital to safeguard the country's sovereignty and national security. The Guangming Daily on October 9 published a commentary by Fan Dezhi, a senior official at the Party History Research Center of the CPC Central Committee, which asserted that "A strong core leadership is needed more than ever before to achieve the great dream of the renewal of the Chinese nation." The term "dream" is often used by Xi who has declared, "In advancing the Chinese Dream the government is uniting people around a shared mission and driving change." He has also said the Dream includes "an infusion of cultural values to balance materialism." Xi fears China's new wealth will make its people soft, when they need to stay tough in a contentious world. 

An article in Global Times on Oct. 28 compared Xi to Otto von Bismarck, the "blood and iron" Chancellor of Imperial Germany and China's current government with the Japanese regime established by the Meiji Restoration of the emperor. Both of these 19th century rising powers challenged the status quo, sought to change the balance of power and engaged in aggression that led to world wars. 

Leading the praise for Xi is his "sweeping anti-corruption campaign, which is aimed at realizing clean politics, [it] has not only punished corrupt officials, but also reconstructed understandings about modern Chinese society" said Global Times. It has been reported that over a million officials have been disciplined for putting personal gain and decadence ahead of their duty to the state and the people. As Global Times noted, "Luxurious restaurants and entertainment sites that officials frequented in the past have been shut down due to poor business. Officials use domestic cars instead of [imported] Audis now." 

This is, of course, in the service of the larger Beijing propaganda line that its single-party system is actually more "democratic" than what is called democracy in the West. The Communists are empowered to govern in the national interest above the influence of special interests, winning popular support by getting things done. 

The two areas Global Times highlights are economic performance and international influence, alleging that in both areas, China is gaining as the West declines. "China is the only economy which has actively undertaken structural adjustment and industrial upgrading" since the 2008 world financial crisis claims the paper. Chinese data is always suspect and most outside economists believe that the growth rate in the world's second largest economy has slowed more than Beijing will admit. But it is still two to three times that of the United States which has experienced the slowest rate of recovery from a recession since World War II. Indeed, the fact that the 2008 crisis hit America and Europe so much harder than China (where Beijing has resisted any deep penetration of the country by Western banks), is a major factor encouraging Xi to take a bolder line in foreign affairs. It is thought that the capitalist powers are teetering and cannot afford to confront a vigorous China. 

Airshow China is about to open its six day run (November 1-6) at the China International Aviation Exhibition Center in Zhuhai. Once a sleepy resort town just down the coast from Hong Kong, Zhuhai has been rapidly developed into an industrial center. In even numbered years, it becomes the public showplace for Chinese technology and ambitions. It will be preceded by two days of closed meetings, including one between the heads of BRICS (Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa) space authorities and a sub-forum for the innovation and development of Chinese aerospace military-civilian integration. This latter meeting is important as a warning to all those western firms which flock to Zhuhai looking to sell products and "partner" with Chinese firms in the civilian aviation sector. For Beijing, there is no real line between military and civilian industry; technology and manufacturing skills provided as commercial ventures have been and will continue to be used to advance China's military capabilities. 

The Zhuhai show always has major displays devoted to China's space program, which projects much more vigor than does the U.S. On October 17, Shenzhou-11 carried two Chinese astronauts into orbit. The vessel has rendezvoused with a space lab launched September 15, where the crew will conduct experiments for a month. The mission is part of a plan to build a space station that will rival the U.S.-Russian international station. China has plans to send robotic probes to the Moon and Mars and in the long run to establish a base on the Moon and send missions to explore the asteroid belt for resources. The challenge of space has been an incubator for science and engineering; a test of human ingenuity in problem solving at the cutting edge of knowledge. Leroy Chiao, a former NASA astronaut whose four space flights included a stint as commander of the International Space Station, recently told NBC News, China is "on the rise and the U.S. is in very real danger of falling behind in the future."

The Zhuhai show will also demonstrate the application of technology to the oldest of uses; advancing military capabilities to shift the balance of power and gain greater control of this world. China's domestic-built J-20 stealth fighter will make its public debut at the air show, with pilots flying the "new-generation" warplane for the crowds to see. The J-20 made its maiden flight in 2011 and caused a stir when its existence was revealed during a visit to Beijing by then Defense Secretary Robert Gates. It was considered a calculated affront to the visiting American delegation. Shen Jinke, spokesperson of the People's Liberation Army Air Force, said at a press conference on October 28, the fighter jet will help fulfill the mission of "safeguarding national sovereignty, security and territorial integrity" all of which Beijing is pushing outward to dominate the Pacific Rim.

At the center of this expansion is the South China Sea which Beijing claims to own. The same Global Times editorial that hailed President Xi's core leadership ended with a slap at President Barack Obama. It stated "Arguments that the Asia-Pacific rebalancing strategy is falling apart as Obama's term comes to an end have been swirling among Western public opinion. No matter what the US will do in future, China's stance is firm." With national elections only days away in the United States, how many Americans can speak with the same confidence?

William R. Hawkins is a consultant specializing in international economic and national security issues. He is a former economics professor and Republican Congressional staff member.

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