China enters uncharted territory as Xi Jinping tightens his grip

Taipei, Dec 27 (IANS) As the year closes and 2023 begins, China is entering uncharted territory, the Guardian reported.
In the last 12 months there have been significant housing and economic issues, the Taiwan strait crisis in August, western sanctions on China’s human rights abuses and US curbs on its burgeoning chips industry, and a messy friendship with Russia.
Xi took his third term, but weeks later protests swept the country, featuring astonishingly brave acts of dissent and appearing to herald the abrupt end of the zero-Covid policy, the Guardian reported.
Politically, 2022 was supposed to be a year of glory for the Chinese President, but instead it “gave Xi much more to worry about than to gloat over”, says the veteran China expert Jerome Cohen.
“His country is in turmoil, and he has suffered a lot of damage in the eyes of the masses.”
At the 20th party congress in October, Xi secured a third five-year term, becoming China’s most powerful leader since Mao Zedong, the Guardian reported.
It upended what his predecessors had established specifically to prevent power centralising around an individual.
He enshrined “Xi Jinping thought” as the core of the party’s platform, and purged members of a rival faction, symbolised by the bizarre removal of the faction’s leader, the former president Hu Jintao, from the Congress hall.
Xi’s now unchecked political power has provoked fears over what decisions he may make while surrounded by yes-people, The Guardian reported.
“Xi securing a third term is, in my view, the biggest thing for China in 2022,” says Prof Steve Tsang, director of the Soas China Institute.
“Xi may think that he has a good chart (Xi Jinping Thought) to guide China moving forward, but he is effectively taking China into uncharted territory.”
The most alarming of Xi’s plans is to annex Taiwan, but analysts do not foresee any attempt to take it in the near future.
The past year had a record-breaking increase in Chinese military activity towards the self-ruled democracy.
The government will still be reckoning with the economic fallout of zero-Covid and the coming waves of outbreaks now the policy has gone, the Guardian reported.
A faltering economy could further provoke domestic frustrations, which peaked in 2022 over the impact of Xi’s signature hardline zero-Covid policy.
For two years, China ran the strategy that allowed most people to live a largely normal life, and kept deaths low. But then the highly-transmissible Omicron overwhelmed the policy, wreaking economic and social chaos, the Guardian reported.

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