As president of China, Xi Jinping as helped the country become an economic and military superpower. He has used his ever-increasing authority to squash dissent, influence governments abroad, and even artificially expand the country’s territory.
Xi has been great for the ruling elite in China. He’s helped make millions for some Chinese, even billions for a select few. He’s helped build giant, LED-lit, techno-marvel-filled cities that Hollywood and corporate America love to cater to. Of course, in the process he’s thrown other Chinese by the wayside—those who dare speak out against his highly surveilled, ultra-sanitized, free from dissent, no room for democracy future have disappeared from view.
History that contradicts his version of China is scrubbed from memory, and people who stand in Xi’s way get swept up in a graft investigation or otherwise disposed of in his China. This is now Xi Jinping’s China, and he has begun the process of making that official.
Over the weekend, his ruling Communist Party took steps to remove a clause from the country’s constitution that limits the president to two terms, much like in the United States. Without that limit, Xi will be able to remain China’s “president” indefinitely.
Without limits on his rule, Xi will cease to fit the modern definition of a “president” and more properly fit that of an emperor. That is not good for news for the rest of us. With an unchecked Xi Jinping in China, the Red Dragon will go on the march.
China Has Already Been on the March
Since 2013, China has begun expanding their territorial claims by building seven artificial islands in the South China Sea, putting military landing strips and other facilities on them, and seeking to control the waters and airspace of the entire area, which happens to lie in some of the most crucial shipping lanes on the entire planet. More than half of the world’s merchant ships carrying all those latest and greatest phones, fancy shoes, newest gaming consoles, beautiful 4k TVs, and all the other gadgets, gizmos, and goods we can’t live without pass through these waters. Think of the influence China would have if it could control those waterways.
This is a bold, brilliant, and dangerous move. By building more than 3,200 acres of artificial land, China is mounting a serious effort to exert more control over its neighbors, and just as importantly wrest influence from the United States, which has long played a key role in keeping peace in the Pacific.
With Xi Jinping only in his mid-60s, and with his command and control society that makes even the boldest of sci-fi authors shudder, he could rule China for at least another 20 years. By that point they could build an entire Chinese archipelago off the coast of the Philippines, or an island chain halfway to Hawaii. Taiwan could go the way of Crimea, with the world shaking its finger, saying “No, no,” then moving on.
Why Global Businesses Will Comply
Emperor Xi could act largely unchecked, just as Vladimir Putin has in Russia. The world will in turn lob a stern word or two, then move on to business as usual. That will be the exactly the case with China because business is business and Xi knows it.
China is an economic powerhouse, bested only by the United States, and they may one day pry that title away from us. That means modern worldwide corporations need China. They need their markets. They need their consumers, which means they need their government’s approval. That means they need to kiss Xi’s ring to stay in his good graces.
So Hollywood, the tech industry, even big box stores and fast food meccas will look past whatever authoritarian-communist abuses Xi’s China will make over the coming generations and just count their coins, because if they don’t their competitors sure will. That’s the advantage Xi has over Putin, Turkey’s Erdogan, North Korea’s Kim, and the other dictators throughout the world. He not only has a military at his beck and call and a secret police at his disposal, he also has a powerful economic super-weapon that they do not.
So how do we stop Xi? Make no mistake, this twenty-first-century Communism must fall, just as its Soviet forbearer did. But this generation has no Ronald Reagan, no Margaret Thatcher, no Pope John Paul II. No one at the United Nations has the temerity to stand up to Russia or China. Europe can’t even decide who’s actually European these days, so they surely can’t fight the growing threat of dictators in the world even as they knock on Europe’s doorstep. Even upon our own shores, no matter what you may think of him, President Trump isn’t the kind of once-in-a lifetime leader who will inspire the fall of the Great Wall or collapse of the Kremlin.
Can the clandestine services of the intelligence community planting and nourishing the seeds of democracy among the children of China and Russia turn this tide? Can capitalism or education bring down communism? Technology, perhaps?
None of those options sound promising. Xi and Putin have no checks and balances within their own borders, and with little willpower in the international community for strong leadership against their growing influence, I fear for the world my children will inherit.