How Xi Jinping Is Reshaping China and What It Means for the West

Xi Jinping

has brought more change to China than any leader since Deng Xiaoping. Beijing officials believe his autocratic leadership approach is superior to Western-style democracy.

Last year, The Wall Street Journal explored how Mr. Xi’s political model is reshaping China, and why it has set him on a collision course with the West. Here are some of the key findings.

1. The West Got Xi Jinping Wrong

Before Mr. Xi became China’s leader, U.S. officials thought he would favor closer integration with the U.S.-led global order. His background, though, showed a more chauvinistic worldview, grander ambitions to restore China and more tolerance for risk.

Those tendencies led to greater military mobilization, mass internment of ethnic Uighur Muslims in northwestern China and a decision to scrap presidential terms that signaled his intention to stay in power indefinitely.

2. Some Supporters Worry Mr. Xi’s Nationalist Vision Lacks Safeguards

Mr. Xi’s guiding ideology, which includes his views on various aspects of governance that share the label “Xi Jinping Thought,” is a fusion of anti-liberal ideas designed primarily to legitimize his continued rule and his quest for national renewal.

It retains much of the state capitalist model that powered China’s economic rise, but revives Maoist methods of mass mobilization, uses digital surveillance to replicate Stalin’s totalitarian social controls and makes fewer allowances for minorities or residents of Taiwan and Hong Kong.

“His goal is to make the whole world see China as a great power, and him as a key figure in making it great,” said Xiao Gongqin, a scholar who advocates so-called enlightened autocracy in China. “At heart, he’s a nationalist.”

Although a supporter of Mr. Xi, like many in China’s elite Mr. Xiao said he worries Mr. Xi “lacks a spirit of compromise,” and that “there is no mechanism to correct him.”

3. Mr. Xi Personally Intervened to Block What Would Have Been the Largest IPO Ever

Central to Mr. Xi’s vision is a greater state role in guiding the economy, including asserting control over private entrepreneurs.

In November, the Journal reported exclusively that Mr. Xi personally halted the $34.4 billion initial public offering of Ant Group, a financial technology behemoth. Ant’s controlling shareholder,

Jack Ma,

had infuriated Mr. Xi and other leaders with a speech in which he criticized regulators for stifling financial and technological innovation. In addition, there was growing unease over Ant’s complex ownership structure—and the people who stood to gain most from it.

Exercising more control over the economy also gives Beijing more power to achieve goals such as eradicating extreme poverty, a project Mr. Xi considers critical to his rule.

4. Mr. Xi’s Government Is Stoking Hypernationalism and Silencing Critics

Mr. Xi’s government has fueled nationalism through a patriotic education campaign that includes changes to textbooks and slick pro-China videos targeting young people through social media.

Online, mobs often harass and silence anyone perceived as critical of China or its leadership in what some see as an echo of the 1966-76 Cultural Revolution.

And Beijing has stepped up its crackdowns on dissidents, including women planning protests against sexual harassment and human-rights lawyers.

“Their goal is to make you feel helpless, hopeless, devoid of any support, and break you down so you begin to see activism as something foolish that doesn’t benefit anyone, and gives pain to everyone around you,” said Yaxue Cao, a Washington-based activist who runs China Change, a news and commentary website. “In so many cases, they are successful.”

5. China Is Working to Influence International Groups to Shield Beijing From Scrutiny, but It Faces a Potential Backlash

Journal reporting showed that China has lobbied to get its candidates elected to key roles at the United Nations, in one case using telephoto lenses to observe a vote and videotape what was supposed to be a secret ballot. Last summer, after China curbed political freedoms in Hong Kong, a U.K.-drafted declaration of concern was backed by 27 countries, but another commending Beijing, and issued by Cuba, won 53 supporters.

Countries in places like Europe, which previously were afraid to stand up to Beijing, now are under internal pressure to take a harder line, with some barring Chinese investment and approving sanctions.

How China’s President Xi Jinping is Transforming China at Home and Abroad

Write to Patrick Barta at [email protected]

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