New Delhi: Political succession will be one of the biggest questions for the Chinese Community Party (CCP) going forward, according to experts who spoke during a webinar hosted by Australia-based think-tank Lowy Institute Wednesday.
Titled The Communist Party’s big birthday, the webinar came ahead of the CCP’s 100th anniversary on 1 July. It featured three experts: Steve Tsang, director of the China Institute at SOAS University of London; Chris Buckley, China correspondent for The New York Times, and Melinda Liu, Newsweek‘s Beijing bureau chief based in the Chinese capital.
According to Tsang, it is unlikely that Chinese President Xi Jinping will name a successor at the 20th Party Congress in 2022. He added that being viewed as a successor in the Politburo is a very “politically vulnerable” position, as the individual would be viewed as a threat to Xi.
“Let’s not forget that in the 19th Party Congress, Hu Chunhua was smart enough to make clear that he was quite happy staying where he was in the Politburo, and not be promoted to the Politburo standing committee. He knew perfectly well that given his background, age… he would be seen as a potential successor,” said Tsang.
Hu Chunhua retained his seat for a second term after the 19th Party Congress in 2017, remaining the youngest member of the Politburo.
According to Buckley, succession is going to be an acute “point of pressure” felt by the Chinese leadership and the elite next year and beyond.
“If Xi Jinping doesn’t offer a clear roadmap at the next party congress on potential successors… I think we’re going to see some uncertainty and points of pressure,” he added.
During the webinar, the experts also discussed ongoing preparations for the CCP’s centenary, wolf warrior diplomacy and the approach to Chinese tech titans.
Wolf warrior diplomacy is linked with domestic image
Asked about the aggressive style adopted by Chinese diplomats in the 21st century known as ‘wolf warrior diplomacy’, Liu said it has much to do with the fact that China knows how to be an “underdog” but not a “top dog”.
“They’re accustomed to being the underdog… It’s not too clear how to act if you are number one,” said Lui. “Their only models for how you act as number one is written 100-200 years ago, or they look at the US, which they see as very aggressive, assertive and exploitative or colonialist.”
She added that some “wolf warriors” in Chinese diplomacy see their aggressive tone as a means to fast promotion.
Tsang argued that wolf warrior diplomacy is a result of Xi’s party-centric nationalism.
He explained that since 1949, the de facto social contract meant the party was allowed to monopolise power in return for better living standards for the people, but Xi has “modified” it to include China’s aspirations of being a strong global power that can command respect.
“Diplomats are being incentivised to go out and behave like wolf warriors,” said Tsang, as their performance is now being assessed by domestic opinion and upper echelons of the CCP.
He added that unlike the Cold War era, China does not intend to export its political model but rather it wants to make the world “safe for authoritarianism” and ensure “democracy is not the only narrative” in world politics.