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September 20, 2018

Aly Khan Satchu: Xi Jinping President for Life

President Xi Jinping
President Xi Jinping

Xinhua pronounced this historical announcement; the Central Committee of the Communist Party of China “proposed to remove the expression that ‘the president and vice-president of the People’s Republic of China shall serve no more than two consecutive terms’ from the country’s constitution.”

In one fell swoop, President Xi Jinping was President for Life as this will surely be confirmed at the National People’s Congress session in Beijing.

The New Yorker Magazine wrote, ''Last year, during several trips in which I travelled across China by train, two things in particular caught my attention. First, the red hammer and sickle—Second, the only image I saw more frequently—in elementary-school classrooms, in airports and shopping malls, on billboards on highways and in rice paddies—was the face of President Xi Jinping. Each image was identical: the country’s supreme leader, with raven-black hair and a face fastidiously airbrushed to erase any hint of human blemish, smiling calmly, against a sky-blue background: an unimpeachable deity in an officially atheist state.''

It is difficult to measure push-back but The China Digital Times, reported a list of terms excised from Chinese websites by government censors includes the letter 'N', Orwell's novels Animal Farm and 1984, and the phrase 'Xi Zedong'. Search terms blocked on Sino Weibo, include “disagree”, “personality cult”, “lifelong”, “immortality”, “emigrate”, and “shameless”. Even Winnie the Pooh recently found himself subject to China’s latest internet crackdown. In July, references to the cartoon bear on Sina Weibo were removed after his image was compared to President Xi. Dissent is measured and snuffed out very quickly in China. China has unveiled a Digital Panopticon in Xinjiang where a combination of data from video surveillance, face and license plate recognition, mobile device locations, and official records to identify targets for detention. Xinjiang is surely a precursor for how the CCCP will manage dissent. The actions in Xinjiang are part of the regional authorities’ ongoing “strike-hard” campaign, and of Xi’s “stability maintenance” and “enduring peace” drive in the region. Authorities say the campaign targets “terrorist elements,” but it is in practice far broader, and encompasses anyone suspected of political disloyalty.

Xi Jinping has set out his stall. He is deploying ''sharp power'' rather than ''soft power''. I appreciate that the USS Carl Vinsson is sailing around the South China Sea but make no mistake, China has elbowed everyone aside in that Sea and is now accelerating its position in the Indian Ocean.

"It seems that we are in the middle of a base race across the Indian Ocean," David Brewster, senior research fellow at the Australian National University, wrote in a February note published on think tank The Lowy Institute. "Watch this space."

The Indian Ocean, which borders Africa, the Middle East, Asia and Australia, is home to major sea lanes and choke points that are crucial to global trade. Nearly 40 per cent of the world's offshore petroleum is produced in the Indian Ocean, which also has rich mineral deposits and fisheries. From Sri Lanka's Hambantota Port (which China has snaffled up for 99 years), to Gwadar Port in Pakistan's Baloochistan to Djibouti to the Maldives and surely soon somewhere in East Africa, China is growing its ''geopolitical'' footprint. President Obama's pivot to Asia which has metastasized into the QUAD (US, Japan, India and Australia) and was intended to contain to China is being bust wide open. Xi Jinping is making a pygmy of India's Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who is surrounded on all sides.

Pepe Escobar (Asia Times) says ''Xi has all but announced his major moves. The Chinese Dream – or China as a stable, middle-income nation. BRI as a connectivity vector integrating not only Eurasia but also Africa and Latin America. The increasing influence of the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank as well as the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation.'' I wrote last year that Xi Jinping’s One Belt One Road programme binds the world to Beijing because all the roads and railways have but one destination and that is China.

It was not very long ago that the US was pronounced a hyper power, a colossus that bestrode the world unchallenged. Fast forward and you will note that Xi Jinping and his able wing-man Vladimir Putin have chipped away at the foundations of the hyperpower.

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