(From The National Interest)
Two ideas have been tirelessly hawked by commentators about the Asia-Pacific in recent weeks. The first is that President Xi Jinping is the second coming of Mao Zedong for the unmatched power he wields over both the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) and his country.
The second idea, often accompanied by island-spotted satellite images, is that right now is the moment for U.S. forces to rush headlong into the South China Sea to stop Beijing’s island building and maritime claims, and damn the consequences. Both ideas, however, are wrong. If permitted to percolate through U.S. policy, each could lead to misunderstanding and perhaps to war.
Xi is not Mao
In its April 2 issue, the Economist cautioned, “Beware the cult of Xi,” fretting that the Chinese leader “has acquired more power than any Chinese leader since Mao Zedong.”
In case the point was lost on any reader, a video posted on the Economist’s Twitter account morphed the cover image of Xi into Mao and back. Articles making similar points have appeared in other major publications.
Megalomania à la Mao is often given in these articles as the root cause of Xi’s power grab. For these China watchers, Xi’s strategy is a consequence of temperament. “[Xi] has shown a taste for audacious decisions and a loathing for dissent,” the New York Times explained of the leader, who is on a “steely quest for dominance.”
A purple description, but also a wrong one.
China’s current president has of course consolidated power since 2012, but the reasoning behind his strategy is the opposite of what drove Mao. Even comparing the two on the simple point of having built up power in the CCP muddles the opposing logic animating each leader’s strategy. Above all, Xi seeks to be a guardian of stability and continuity, whereas Mao was a provocateur of disorder. Read More