Xi Jinping’s tenure as the President of the People’s Republic of China is turning out to be rather eventful with an array of disputes- the pro-Democracy protests in Hong Kong, rise of pro-Independence sentiment in, and support for Taiwan, the Pandemic, its mishandling and the eventual coverup, and of course China’s expansionism in the present COVID context.
All in all, the People’s Republic of China finds itself in a quagmire over a broad range of issues ever since Xi Jinping came at the helm of affairs in the year 2013. Till not very long ago, China was really the country that was leading in terms of world growth. And now suddenly that enthusiasm is suddenly dissipating.
Having been established in the year 1949, the People’s Republic of China remained a closed Communist State till 1976 under Mao’s leadership. The Chinese growth story however kicked off after Deng Xiaoping, the pragmatic leader who wanted entry of foreign capital, got hold of the Communist Party of China (CCP) that owns the country and became the paramount leader.
After the opening up in 1978, the Chinese economy and brand Made in China never looked back. China soon became the “world’s factory”, because the Western world found an ideal manufacturing destination in China.
The West was running short of labour, and rising labour costs escalated the manufacturing costs. Chinese Communist government brought a slew of land, labour and capital reforms in its market to allow easy access of foreign companies in the country.
In the 1990s, China aligned strongly with the Western world, allowing foreign companies to invest heavily in the country. The economic growth rate hit double digits, which was the highest for any country in the world.
Since 1978, when Deng Xiaoping took over, China grew at a break neck speed without any abrupt roadblocks. By 2012, it became the second largest economy of the world, but then Xi Jinping happened.
China found a lot of bad press with Jinping at the helm of affairs. Media freedom and human rights were never at the top of China’s agenda, but Xi Jinping has taken censorship and human rights violations to a whole new level. Uyghur human rights abuse, police brutalities against the pro-Democracy protesters in Hong Kong and attempts to suppress the pro-Independence sentiment in Taiwan have unleashed Jinping’s despotism.
Then other ideas like the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) have clearly spelled out China’s agenda of “debt trap diplomacy”. Initially, these ideas did not affect China’s economic prowess but the Coronavirus Pandemic has proven to be the last straw.
With Xi Jinping, the narrative started shifting from the ‘Made in China’ brand and economic growth to cult-building. It was clear that Xi Jinping wanted to take China back to the days of Mao Zedong when in 2017 the CCP Central Committee decided to make Xi Jinping’s policies dubbed “Xi Jinping Thought”, a part of the Party’s Constitution.
A year later, he carried changes to the constitution, ending the Presidential two-term limits to become a ‘leader for life’, like Mao Zedong.
All this while, Beijing’s foreign relations have been under severe stress. The Belt and Road Initiative (BRI)– an ambitious 1 trillion US Dollars project through which the Dragon wants to achieve inter-Continental connectivity has drawn flak from several quarters.
Beijing has been looking at a prolific space of developing economies and Least Developed Countries (LDCs) to kick off ambitious infrastructure projects. These projects usually entail heavy debts. Reeling under huge debt crises, these countries then usually have to give in to Beijing’s will. Xi Jinping’s brainchild has thus made the country infamous for “debt trap diplomacy”.
Then China got embroiled in a trade war with the United States, and as the US President Donald Trump started enacting trade barriers and imposing tariffs on Chinese products that created a debilitating effect on China’s export-based economy.
In terms of soft power, China has kept losing anyway with the Xi Jinping regime committing human rights violations on Uyghur Muslims in concentration camps, the extradition law in Hong Kong last year that led to vocal pro-Democracy protests and the new Security Law that is likely to incite even stronger protests in the Semi-autonomous region of China.
In this context, the Coronavirus Pandemic is the last thing that the country needed, and Xi Jinping regime’s rogue behaviour made matters worse for Beijing. To start with, the Pandemic was clearly a result of China’s gross negligence. Secondly, China did not reveal the imminent threat that the world was facing and today millions across the world are suffering because of the cover-up.
Xi Jinping did not deal with a calm head, and started blaming the United States instead. The state-run media even tried to insinuate that the US Army had spread the Wuhan virus. The “propaganda war”, the disinformation campaign and the “mask diplomacy” faltered as China started exporting trash in medical supplies. The ‘Made in China’ brand itself has taken a beating in Xi Jinping’s attempts to establish himself as the saviour of the world.
Not just the US, China started looking at predatory investments in other countries at a time when the world economy has taken a hit due to the Chinese virus, forcing European countries like Germany and Spain to tighten FDI norms. Within Asia, India tightened its FDI norms in order to avert the possibility of hostile takeovers from China.
The result is that Japanese, South Korean and American companies are planning to exit China and shift production elsewhere. This literally means that epithets like the “world’s factory” and the ‘Made in China’ brand might become a thing of the past. Xi Jinping has destroyed the bedrock on which China’s unprecedented rise was based.
China continues with its attempts to strong-arm other players in its vicinity. It is harassing other stakeholders in the South China Sea, by illegally claiming the entire strategic waterways and its geographical features. Irked by New Delhi’s attempts to stimulate the ongoing exodus of companies from China, the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) is escalating tensions along the Line of Actual Control (LAC) in eastern Ladakh. This is again bad PR for China at a time when it is desperate to restore its image after the extensive damage that Coronavirus has caused to the global image of China.
Thus, Xi Jinping might very well go down as the man who destroyed the People’s Republic of China.