Xi Jinping’s Achilles’ Heel

Xi Jinping’s Achilles’ Heel
Chinese leader Xi Jinping (L) waves next to Li Qiang, a member of the Chinese Communist Party's new Politburo Standing Committee, the nation's top decision-making body, as they meet the media in the Great Hall of the People in Beijing on Oct. 23, 2022. (Wang Zhao/AFP via Getty Images)
Zhang Tianliang

When Xi Jinping secured an unprecedented third term as the leader of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) at the 20th National Congress in October 2022, people were surprised to find that the Politburo’s Standing Committee comprises Xi’s yes-men.

It seems that Xi has a firm grip on power and that no one can challenge it, and that he can remove or promote whoever he wants with total disregard for the CCP’s conventions. Xi has turned into a dictator as powerful as Mao Zedong.

However, Xi has already made major compromises on three issues. He abruptly ended the zero-COVID policy, abandoned nearly all of his signature economic measures, and reversed his science and technology policy.

In the CCP’s history, compromise has always meant weakened power. Even someone as tough as Mao, who compromised by acknowledging his failed economic policies after the Great Famine of 1959 to 1961, had to hand over the management of the regime to Liu Shaoqi. In 1980, Mao’s successor, Hua Guofeng, lost his post as the CCP chairman after admitting he‘d made a political mistake. In 1986, Hu Yaobang lost his post as the Party chairman after acknowledging that he’d been ineffective in opposing “bourgeois liberalization.”

Why did Xi make such compromises, and what are the consequences?

On Jan. 4, The Wall Street Journal published a report by Lingling Wei and Jonathan Cheng, citing insiders who shared why Xi ended the so-called dynamic zero-COVID policy. They gave two reasons: one is that the economy is on the verge of collapse, and the other is the white paper movement.

According to the South China Morning Post, Xi told European Council President Charles Michel that most protesters were students who grew frustrated over COVID-19 measures implemented three years ago.

The rare mass protests were sparked by a high-rise fire that killed at least 10 residents in Urumqi, in China’s Xinjiang region, in November 2022. First responders couldn’t reach the apartment fire, which was left to burn for hours due to COVID blockades throughout the residential compound.

During the protests, the people called for Xi and the CCP to “step down.”

Xi’s decision to lift the COVID-19 restrictions indicates that he isn’t as powerful as he seems. In contrast, Deng Xiaoping used force to suppress the student protesters in Tiananmen Square in 1989.

Protesters hold up white pieces of paper to protest against censorship and China’s strict zero-COVID measures, in Beijing on Nov. 27, 2022. (Kevin Frayer/Getty Images)
Protesters hold up white pieces of paper to protest against censorship and China’s strict zero-COVID measures, in Beijing on Nov. 27, 2022. (Kevin Frayer/Getty Images)

The consequence is that when the CCP compromises, the people will realize that public pressure is effective and will be more willing to fight for their rights on more issues.

One person in Xi’s circle knows that. Shortly after Xi came to power, his close ally Wang Qishan recommended a book, titled “The Old Regime and the Revolution,” to CCP cadres. Authored by Alexis de Tocqueville, the book contains a thought-provoking sentence: “The Revolution was designed to abolish the remains of the institutions of the Middle Ages: yet it did not break out in countries where those institutions were in full vitality and practically oppressive, but, on the contrary, in a country where they were hardly felt at all; whence it would follow that their yoke was the most intolerable where it was in fact lightest.”

In other words, the CCP has been responding to the people’s demands with brutality, even when it could solve the problem by punishing some low-level officials or giving the people a little compensation. The CCP would use hundreds of armed police and spend lots of money to suppress the population, which many people can’t understand.

The logic behind this is simple. The CCP believes that if its population is constantly suppressed, the people will never think justice can prevail. Despair will numb them, and they will eventually give up the struggle. This is the real goal of the CCP.

However, even the slightest compromise is tantamount to encouraging the people to resist the CCP’s rule. Because of the white paper movement, I believe protests will become more frequent. When such protests reach a point where they’re everywhere, Xi can’t suppress them. Because the CCP is a totalitarian system and its power is centralized, it’s best at dealing with a single incident at a time. For example, the regime quickly crushed the 1989 student-led pro-democracy protests because they mostly took place in one location, in Tiananmen Square.

The most important outcome of future protests is that the people will no longer fear the CCP—this is what the Party fears most! This is Xi’s Achilles’ heel.

Views expressed in this article are opinions of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of The Epoch Times.
Dr. Zhang Tianliang is a professor at Fei Tian College and the librettist for Shen Yun Performing Arts operas. He is a prolific writer, historian, film producer, screenwriter, and thinker. He co-authored several books on communism that have been translated into over 20 languages. He is the founder of NPO Tianliang Alliance. Follow him on YouTube @TianLiangTimes
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