China has seen rapid economic deterioration and other financial woes owing to Xi Jinping’s policies like “zero-COVID” pandemic measures and the “three red lines” implemented to control property sector risks. The Chinese Communist Party also has to deal with declining exports, a worsening demographic crisis that is becoming more obvious, youth unemployment issues, and growing social instability as economic conditions worsen. Further, the United States and its allies are stepping up measures to “contain” China, while the international community is becoming more aware of and willing to confront the CCP threat.
The Xi leadership is increasingly calling attention to the various crises. A work plan to launch a Party-wide “investigation and research” campaign released on March 19 noted that “great changes unseen in a century in the world are accelerating, uncertain and unpredictable factors are increasing, and domestic reform, development, and stability are facing many deep-seated contradictions that cannot be avoided or circumvented.”
Particularly after this year’s Two Sessions, Xi Jinping has turned to propaganda, purges, and a softened diplomatic approach to tackle the “various risks, challenges, and difficult problems” facing the regime that are “more severe and complex than ever before.”
Preparing for crisis
In a system run by political doctrines and mass campaigns rather than rule of law or checks and balances, CCP leaders struggle to have the officialdom implement their policies as desired, leading to corruption and inefficiency.
Party Central may overlook—or even tolerate—such behavior in times of relative stability, but the seriousness of the “various risks, challenges and difficult problems” that Xi cites means that the phenomenon of “orders not leaving Zhongnanhai” (the Party headquarters in Beijing) puts the regime’s very survival at stake.
The anti-corruption campaign Xi launched after taking office in 2012 targeted his factional rivals as well as the rampant graft that had spiraled out of control since the late 1990s. Now, Xi seems to be convinced that he must take even more drastic measures to get all officials and Party members in line with his agenda and improve the CCP’s governing ability in the process.
Beijing is currently overseeing at least three campaigns to ensure that Party members and officials act in accord with Xi’s leadership and paramount position in the CCP.
The first is the decadelong anti-corruption and “self-rectification” campaign. The Xi leadership has long resorted to the anti-corruption campaign to tighten Party discipline, purge disloyal elements, and go after factional enemies in the Party elite as well as their supporters throughout the officialdom. After the 2023 Two Sessions, the CCP announced investigations into many central and state-owned enterprises, as well as furthered efforts to “educate and rectify” discipline inspection and supervision cadres. We noted in a newsletter from Nov. 7, 2022 that the Xi leadership would in its third term target parts of the regime where “power is concentrated, capital-intensive, and resource rich,” including the financial sector, the state sector, problematic industries, and Jiang Zemin faction strongholds in the provinces or government organs.
Beijing’s second campaign is the “investigation and research” effort mentioned at the start of this essay. Notably, the work plan released by the CCP General Office called for focusing on key issues related to the implementation of Party Central’s decision-making and deployments, including Xi’s instructions.
Xi’s “investigation and research” campaign could draw from one launched decades earlier by Mao Zedong. Launched at a key Party conclave in January 1961, Mao’s campaign was partly intended to reverse some of the disastrous Great Leap Forward policies and fix the economy, and partly a furthering of factional struggle efforts against those who opposed his policies. Likewise, Xi could be looking to gather more information about the regime and fix the failures of “zero-COVID” and his other policies, as well as more thoroughly “rectify” the regime of his lingering enemies and those who do not properly carry out Party Central’s plans.
Beijing’s third campaign is an effort to indoctrinate the officialdom and Party members in Xi Jinping’s political theories. The campaign to perpetuate so-called “thematic education” in “Xi Jinping Thought on Socialism with Chinese Characteristics for a New Era” is aimed at “unifying the thinking of the whole Party,” “resolving prominent problems within the Party,” always maintaining “flesh and blood ties between the people and the Party,” and promoting regime development, according to a speech by Xi on April 3. In his speech, Xi further hinted at the direness of the crises facing the regime by remarking that the “Xi Jinping Thought” study campaign is a “major matter that concerns the overall situation,” with “the time being tight, the task being heavy, and the demands are high.”
As with the “investigation and research” campaign, Xi appears to be channeling Mao in promoting political indoctrination. Mao had emphasized the studying of his “Mao Zedong Thought” as part of a “thought reform” campaign during the Yan’an Rectification Movement and at various periods after the founding of the People’s Republic of China when he needed to establish dominance and sideline challenges to his authority.
Xi’s version of “thought reform” will likely create a high-pressure environment in the regime that compels all Party members and officials to publicly pledge their allegiance to Xi and duly implement his decisions and deployments. On paper, the high-pressure environment will also make it much harder for officials and Party members to publicly mobilize against Xi and his policies, as well as “unify” the CCP behind Xi in the face of growing international pressure.
Driving wedges abroad
Xi Jinping is not just building internal unity in an effort to address the CCP regime’s external problems. Xi and his diplomats have been casting the PRC as a defender of “multilateralism” and the “sovereignty and territorial integrity” of countries as a counter to the Biden administration’s framework of a world divided into democracies and autocracies.
For example, Xi told French president Emmanuel Macron when they met in Beijing on April 6 that the PRC is a “firm advocate” of a “multi-polar world” and “greater democracy in international relations.” Xi also called for “true multilateralism for global peace, stability, and prosperity.”
Yet the CCP’s own documents indicate that it is not actually saying what it wants the world to believe. In adapting from the Marxist dialectic, Institute of Party History and Literature president Qu Qingshan noted in a lengthy essay published in July 2022 that the “main contradiction” in the “great changes unseen in the world in a century” is a clash between “reverse variables” that it tends to associate with the U.S. like “hegemonism and power politics” and “positive variables” such as the “democratization of international relations, multipolarization, and economic globalization.”
Qu’s ideological grounding of Beijing’s worldview indicates that the CCP is not truly championing multilateralism, non-alignment, and optionality, but is instead looking to co-opt countries in a global “united front” led by the CCP and drive wedges between the U.S. and its allies. Countries should be cautioned against backing the PRC’s version of “multilateralism” and “greater democracy” lest they lend legitimacy to the CCP’s Marxist-Leninist worldview and condone its ultimate agenda of world hegemony.