Even New York Times sees that Chinese leadership is divided and wavering

One of the standard criticisms of President Trump’s trade war with China is that China has the upper hand because it is not a democracy. Meanwhile, President Trump faces voters in 14 months, so therefore it was a mistake to challenge the status quo that allows China to steal intellectual property and pay for its economic and military growth via unending half-trillion-dollars-a-year trade surpluses with the United States. Foolish Trump!

The problem with this view is that it greatly underestimates the vulnerability of Xi Jinping -- or any other Chinese Communist Party head.  The Politburo and its Central Committee can and have deposed previous leaders who lost their confidence. And with serious economic pain and the ongoing rebellion against China’s attempt to step-by-step exert absolute authority over Hong Kong, there is serious discontent in leadership circles of the Chinese Communist Party that may be constraining Xi and could end up rewarding Trump.

DoD photo by Erin A. Kirk-Cuomo

Today, the New York Times finally acknowledges that China’s leadership is being divided and that Xi’s rule may not last forever if pressures continue to build. Of course, being loath to acknowledge any possibility that Trump might be effective in his pressure, the article is almost completely focused on the Hong Kong crisis, but many paragraphs deep into the piece, it does acknowledge that trade issues also are dividing the leadership. If you can get past the paywall, it is worth a read in its entirety. But here are a few highlights within the fair use copyright restrictions. The article is titled, “Is Xi Mishandling Hong Kong Crisis? Hints of Unease in China’s Leadership” and is bylined by Steven Lee MyersChris Buckley and Keith Bradsher.

Mr. Xi himself and his government [are] facing criticism that they are mishandling China’s biggest political crisis in years…. (snip)

And although few in Beijing would dare blame Mr. Xi openly for the government’s handling of the turmoil, there is quiet grumbling that his imperious style and authoritarian concentration of powercontributed to the government’s misreading of the scope of discontent in Hong Kong, which is only growing. (snip)

There are hints of divisions in the Chinese leadership and stirrings of discontent about Mr. Xi’s policies.

Trade is finally mentioned, twenty-one paragraphs into the piece:

The tumult in Hong Kong could pose a risk to Mr. Xi, especially if it exacerbates discontent and discord within the Chinese leadership over other issues.

“I think the danger is not that his standing will collapse, but that there is a whole series of slowly unfolding trends that will gradually corrode his position,” said Richard McGregor, a senior fellow at the Lowy Institute in Sydney and author of “Xi Jinping: The Backlash.”

“Hong Kong is one, as the protests look set to carry on despite the concessions,” Mr. McGregor said. “The trade war is adding to the pain,” he added, referring to the current standoff with the United States.

Left unmentioned is that China’s top leadership has vastly enriched itself during the period of economic growth, and there are now many, many billionaires and centimillionaires among them. There are also many children and other relatives of the leaders living or studying overseas, establishing a refuge away from China’s pollution and brutal politics for their families to eventually use. Much of the wealth they siphon out of China goes through Hong Kong, a channel that would close if events there continue to spin out of control, or are harshly repressed.

China has lived with extreme poverty for so many millennia that wealth has an attraction beyond even what we experience in the West. It would be a mistake to conclude that protection of their own personal wealth and escape hatches is not an important fctor in the power struggles within China’s leadership. Long gone are the days of the Long March and ideologically pure motives for political action. The Chinese leadrship are corruptocrats of the first order. And corruptocrats usually have a price.

One of the standard criticisms of President Trump’s trade war with China is that China has the upper hand because it is not a democracy. Meanwhile, President Trump faces voters in 14 months, so therefore it was a mistake to challenge the status quo that allows China to steal intellectual property and pay for its economic and military growth via unending half-trillion-dollars-a-year trade surpluses with the United States. Foolish Trump!

The problem with this view is that it greatly underestimates the vulnerability of Xi Jinping -- or any other Chinese Communist Party head.  The Politburo and its Central Committee can and have deposed previous leaders who lost their confidence. And with serious economic pain and the ongoing rebellion against China’s attempt to step-by-step exert absolute authority over Hong Kong, there is serious discontent in leadership circles of the Chinese Communist Party that may be constraining Xi and could end up rewarding Trump.

DoD photo by Erin A. Kirk-Cuomo

Today, the New York Times finally acknowledges that China’s leadership is being divided and that Xi’s rule may not last forever if pressures continue to build. Of course, being loath to acknowledge any possibility that Trump might be effective in his pressure, the article is almost completely focused on the Hong Kong crisis, but many paragraphs deep into the piece, it does acknowledge that trade issues also are dividing the leadership. If you can get past the paywall, it is worth a read in its entirety. But here are a few highlights within the fair use copyright restrictions. The article is titled, “Is Xi Mishandling Hong Kong Crisis? Hints of Unease in China’s Leadership” and is bylined by Steven Lee MyersChris Buckley and Keith Bradsher.

Mr. Xi himself and his government [are] facing criticism that they are mishandling China’s biggest political crisis in years…. (snip)

And although few in Beijing would dare blame Mr. Xi openly for the government’s handling of the turmoil, there is quiet grumbling that his imperious style and authoritarian concentration of powercontributed to the government’s misreading of the scope of discontent in Hong Kong, which is only growing. (snip)

There are hints of divisions in the Chinese leadership and stirrings of discontent about Mr. Xi’s policies.

Trade is finally mentioned, twenty-one paragraphs into the piece:

The tumult in Hong Kong could pose a risk to Mr. Xi, especially if it exacerbates discontent and discord within the Chinese leadership over other issues.

“I think the danger is not that his standing will collapse, but that there is a whole series of slowly unfolding trends that will gradually corrode his position,” said Richard McGregor, a senior fellow at the Lowy Institute in Sydney and author of “Xi Jinping: The Backlash.”

“Hong Kong is one, as the protests look set to carry on despite the concessions,” Mr. McGregor said. “The trade war is adding to the pain,” he added, referring to the current standoff with the United States.

Left unmentioned is that China’s top leadership has vastly enriched itself during the period of economic growth, and there are now many, many billionaires and centimillionaires among them. There are also many children and other relatives of the leaders living or studying overseas, establishing a refuge away from China’s pollution and brutal politics for their families to eventually use. Much of the wealth they siphon out of China goes through Hong Kong, a channel that would close if events there continue to spin out of control, or are harshly repressed.

China has lived with extreme poverty for so many millennia that wealth has an attraction beyond even what we experience in the West. It would be a mistake to conclude that protection of their own personal wealth and escape hatches is not an important fctor in the power struggles within China’s leadership. Long gone are the days of the Long March and ideologically pure motives for political action. The Chinese leadrship are corruptocrats of the first order. And corruptocrats usually have a price.