The trade war with the US, followed by the bad press China got from the global coronavirus pandemic and, finally, the PLA’s skirmish with the Indian Army in Ladakh has affected the clout President Xi Jinping enjoyed not very long ago in the Communist Party of China (CCP). Experts of Chinese affairs say that the political and diplomatic hold of President Xi is weakening and that he has suffered a major setback. India’s retaliatory strike, the impact of which Beijing has tried desperately to keep from the world, has but moved the confidence of Xi’s comrades.
There is no indication that Xi Jinping still has effective control over the CCP. Not only is the condition of China getting worse but the time to act and reverse the trend also seems to be slipping out of the president’s hands like grains of sand. The 2015-16 slowdown had no effect on the Chinese president’s image, but a military drubbing from a country the Chinese believed was inferior has changed the scenario.
Facing a recession, China is also facing opposition from western countries, which had previously stood with Xi in many cases. COVID-19 has led to China’s loss of face. The elite in China, who were used to travelling to the West for studies and tourism, are now facing hostile societies in the US and European countries.
Xi unable to push BRI
China’s ambitious Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) has seen setbacks in the recent past. Through this project, Xi wanted to further his political goals. China is accused of hiding the dreaded coronavirus and spreading it throughout the world — in fact, at least five intelligence agencies of as many countries have evidence China created the coronavirus and unleashed it on the world to devastate it and then emerge as the topmost economy. Now countries are demanding rescheduling of debt for the BRI.
About a fifth of the projects under the BRI, which aims to boost trade and investment across Asia, Africa, and Europe to further China’s global influence, had been “seriously affected” by the pandemic, according to Wang Xiaolong, director-general of the foreign ministry’s international economic affairs department.
About 40% of the projects were “adversely affected”, and a further 30-40% were “somewhat affected”, Hong Kong-based South China Morning Post quoted Wang as saying.
Hegemony in South China Sea challenged
Meanwhile, as China does not refrain from muscle-flexing in the South China Sea, not only a strong Japan has shooed it away but even a Vietnam, the Chinese did not make much of, is not taking it lying down. Nor is the Philippines.
Xi Jinping is facing criticism at home for the restrictions imposed on Hong Kong as well. For a short time, a tide of Chinese nationalism may be able to save him, but the revolutionaries in the island cannot be ruled for long. The big challenge for Xi Jinping at the moment is to make it appear he is still in control.
But with large companies from across the advanced economies withdrawing their investments in China, money matters worry Xi too.
Despite many bitter experiences, Xi Jinping has been considered a loyalist of the Communist Party since the time of the Culture Revolution. He is credited in the CCP for the revival of the party with his efforts.
Xi carried out a brutal campaign against corruption in his country and severely punished opponents. It is clear that China wanted to threaten the neighbours to submission with an unseemly exhibition of its military might, but India showed the PLA it was a hyped force that lacked what it took to be an imperial power of enough heft.