Tuesday, February 27, 2018

Iron man Xi eyes last shreds of dissent

Two stories out of China in the past few days — one given wide international publicity, the other not so much — both aimed at stifling what little dissent remains in this increasingly autocratic and intolerant society.

First the inevitable announcement that the Communist Party will agree to President Xi Jinping remaining in office after his second five-year term expires, removing the constitutional clause that would otherwise force him to retire.

We could all see that coming. Xi has spent his first term gradually tightening his grip on the country. His much publicised war on corruption was nothing more than a planned campaign to rid him of serious rivals. In a country where corruption is endemic, he simply had to choose the right targets.

The fact he made no attempt to groom a successor as past leaders have done finally made his intentions crystal clear. The rubber-stamp Chinese Parliament will be no barrier to his ambitions.

The sycophants have been lined up to promote the decision, with the usual comments about the need for “strong leadership” and “stability”. Why these qualities cannot be found elsewhere in a country of 1.3 billion people is, of course, not canvassed.

No amount of soothing words can hide the fact this is a power grab by a man who, in the tradition of dictators such as Joseph Stalin and Robert Mugabe, has convinced himself his country cannot do without him.

Some observers believe he sees himself as the Mao Zedong for the 21st century. History tells us that Mao made a host of mistakes during his long and unfettered leadership that threw the nation into chaos on more than one occasion.

This appears to have been conveniently forgotten by the legislators apparently eager to hand over supreme power to a single individual for an indefinite period.

The second story comes out of Hong Kong with a proposal by the largest pro-Beijing Party in the Special Administrative Region’s Legislative Council that young people be allowed to serve in the mainland’s Peoples Liberation Army (PLA).

In the one area of China that still maintains some semblance of democracy, this can be seen as a convenient way of dealing with Hong Kong’s disaffected youth who regularly take to the streets to protest at what they see as the steady erosion of their freedoms.

Beijing still feels the need to move carefully here and its Hong Kong agent, the Democratic Alliance for the Betterment and Progress of Hong Kong, has been quick to emphasise that service would be voluntary — but once the concept is established that could easily change.

The PLA is no longer the peasant force of former decades and a career could have attractions to some, especially with incentives such as tuition subsidies for further education as a reward for service.

As one commentator said, it might be considered more rewarding than flipping burgers at McDonalds or selling pay television subscriptions to people on the street.

Even so, signing up would also require pledging absolute loyalty to the Chinese flag and the Communist Party and this might be too much for the city’s turbulent youth to swallow.

However, in a contest of wills between supporters of Hong Kong’s freedoms outlined in its 1996 Basic Law and the new iron man in Beijing, it is not hard to see who would win out in the end.   

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