The personalization of power in China

…Xi is different from Mao in important ways. He has more accurate information than Mao did, thanks to extensive, organized, and professional systems of intelligence and analysis, and thanks to what he has gathered during his travel at home and abroad. He uses inner-Party star chambers and charges of corruption rather than screaming Red Guards and accusations of revisionism to purge rivals, and the political police rather than a mass movement to repress dissidents. Mao was a thinker and literary stylist; Xi has banal ideas but is more deliberate and consistent in decision-making. His personal habits appear to be orderly, compared to Mao’s chaotic ways of spending time.

That is my colleague Andy Nathan on China’s leader, Xi Jinping, in NYRB. I’m rather ashamed at how little I know about Xi.

Something that makes a place like China or Ethiopia relatively stable is that power is dispersed in a party. In a Uganda or Rwanda or Turkmenistan, or even Russia, power is concentrated in a President, and I fear for stability. The most treacherous step in a dictatorship is managing transitions of power.

Nathan argues that Xi is heading in the less stable direction.

…once Xi acceded to top office he was widely expected to pursue political liberalization and market reform. Instead he has reinstated many of the most dangerous features of Mao’s rule: personal dictatorship, enforced ideological conformity, and arbitrary persecution.

…Xi has made himself in some ways more powerful than Deng or even Mao. Deng had the final word on difficult policy issues, but he strove to avoid involvement in day-to-day policy, and when forced to make big decisions he first sought consensus among a small group of senior leaders. Mao was able to take any decision he wanted regardless of the will of his senior colleagues, but he paid attention to only a few issues at a time. Xi appears to be running the whole span of important policies on a daily basis, without needing to consult senior colleagues or retired elders.

…He may go even further. There are hints that he will seek to break the recently established norm of two five-year terms in office and serve one or even more extra terms. He has had himself designated as the “core” of the leadership, a status that his immediate predecessor, Hu Jintao, did not take for himself. At this point in a leader’s first term we would expect to see one or two younger politicians emerging as potential heirs apparent, to be anointed at next year’s nineteenth Party Congress, but such signs are absent.

Well worth reading in full.