Why 2017 Has Been The Year of Xi Jinping

The political fortunes of China's president took a particularly good turn in 2017, at a time when the influence of the United States began to decline, argues Wei Pu.

China's President Xi Jinping attends a welcoming ceremony for Gambia's President Adama Barrow (not pictured) at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing, Dec. 21, 2017.

2017 has been an extremely important year for Chinese President Xi Jinping. At home, he succeeded in consolidating power in his own hands, overcoming his political opponents and successfully changing the [ruling] Chinese Communist Party's constitution. Overseas, his global ambitions have expanded in an unprecedented manner, as he has moved, step by step, towards the center of the world stage.

This year, Communist Party rule officially entered a new era under Xi Jinping. An important feature of this new era is that Xi has established his own rules both in the Party and the military, supported by a unified ideology.

Whether or not one is loyal to Xi has been established as a political benchmark. You are either with him or against him, and the latter can't survive.

Xi has used the cult of party discipline and the anti-corruption campaign to ensure that nobody steps out of line or speaks out of turn.

The 19th party congress [in October] was an important milestone marking this new era for Xi Jinping, giving rise to the replacement of party rules and practices used by the leadership for more than three decades by Xi's own rules, the massive concentration of power in his hands, and the enshrining of Xi Jinping Thought into the party constitution.

He has abandoned the rules of succession and has laid the groundwork for designating his own successor, or for simply becoming a lifelong leader. He now dominates everywhere, further consolidating his position as the chairman of everything at the 19th party congress.

In Xi's new era, everyone sings from the same hymn-sheet, and 2017 saw some of the toughest ideological controls in 40 years. Anyone trying to improve or change [government] institutions, even in a modest way, is now pretty much excluded from public discourse.

The suppression of dissenting voices has [taken the form of] killing the chickens to scare the monkeys, in a bid to intimidate the entire dissident community by handing down tough penalties to well-known lawyers, journalists and publishers. Those not arrested have been silenced and dismissed by the government of Xi Jinping.

On a roll, for now

Xi has also made great gains in the field of diplomacy, beginning to make his own mark on global governance. As early as the beginning of 2013, Xi had begun to elaborate the idea that China has become more than just a follower of global governance; that it is now also a maker of international rules, in a bid to differentiate itself from from the diplomacy of challenging the world in the Mao era, and the Deng-era insistence on learning from global governance.

His political advocates proclaim that Xi has rewritten China's diplomatic playbook.

It should be said that Xi's political fortunes took a particularly good turn in 2017, at a time when the influence of the United States began to decline on a wave of populist politics, stepping away from the international arena in areas such as globalization, free trade and climate change.

Xi has completely abandoned China's previous tactic of keeping a low profile in the field of foreign affairs; he has laid claim to every inch of influence and pushed for still more. Examples of the ways in which China tries to directly interfere in other countries have been on the increase.

2017 has been very satisfying for Xi Jinping. His new playbook and his new era could be even more far-reaching that of Mao Zedong, and could do even more harm to the Chinese people.

Nonetheless, Xi isn't Mao; he isn't the man who 'liberated' China, and he lacks Mao's personal charisma. In the end, he may achieve less than Mao.

History shows us that there is no way forward for authoritarianism and dictatorship, both tools that Xi has used to pursue his "Chinese dream." He may be on a roll for the time being, but how far can he take it?

Wei Pu is a U.S.-based economist and a regular contributor to RFA's Cantonese Service.

Translated by Luisetta Mudie.