China hastily changed its constitution to pave the way for Xi Jinping to rule forever. He could have done this more politely, so why the rush?
“In my opinion, he is under intangible pressure that makes him feel he must implement his plan within this CCP bureaucratic system. To delay this issue until the end of his tenure will not help him remain in power.”
Are Xi and the party as strong as they seem?
“ Unanimous votes cannot be associated with absolute loyalty from the bureaucrats. It only means that Xi has sufficient power. His power is strong enough to ensure zero opposition.”
Trump signed the Taiwan Travel Act at the last minute. What signal is he sending?
“He kind of has a flair for drama. So he likes to do a lot of things at the last minute. The second part of that is, I think, to signal this kind of new phase of our relations with China.”
What will happen to North Korea, South China Sea, Taiwan and the Trade dispute under Mike Pompeo and his counterpart Wang Qishan, Xi Jinping’s closest ally?
“It’ll be interesting to see what the interpersonal dynamics are and how they work. But it’s certainly two assertive guys that are going to be having to deal with each other on a lot of important subjects.”
Welcome to Zooming In, I am Simone Gao. Chinese President Xi Jinping’s second term win was unanimous, and Xi’s closest ally, Wang Qishan, was elected vice president on the same day. It’s widely suspected that Wang Qishan lost his Politburo Standing Committee Member’s seat last October due to the alleged corruption exposed by billionaire Guo Wengui, the self-imposed exile in New York. Guo is complicated. Many suspect he’s an agent for Xi’s longtime rival Jiang Zemin. However, even if that were true, the relationship didn’t end on a high note as Guo had hoped for. Nevertheless, under pressure, Xi conceded by letting Wang go. Five months later, Wang made it back, indicating Xi has since consolidated his power and was able to reward Wang’s loyalty. As vice president, Wang will most likely be responsible for the U.S.-China relations. Xi finally gets to choose his dream cabinet, much like what President Trump is doing in the U.S. But this is only half the story. Behind the staunch loyalty display of the Chinese bureaucracy over Xi’s election and the constitutional amendments, fear, resentment and doubts linger. What is the true dynamic between Xi and the Party, and how will this impact Chinese politics and U.S.- China relations? Let’s explore these questions in this episode of Zooming In.
On March 11, 2018, close to 3,000 Chinese Congressional representatives gathered in the Great Hall of the People in Beijing to cast votes on the proposed Chinese constitutional amendments.
This 1982 version of the Chinese Constitution has undergone four amendments since 1988. This time, however, is different, as it abolished a longstanding Party tradition to limit any President to a maximum of two terms. This literally sent the party back to the Mao era.
The amendments passed with flying colors, 2,958 approval, 2 against and 3 abstentions, the highest approval rating among all four previous amendments. In the same week, the people’s congress unanimously voted for Xi Jinping to be president of China, and his close ally Wang Qishan to be vice president.
幾乎沒有人感到驚訝，每個人都明白它意味者什麼 …… 習近平將一直是中國的最高領導人，在未來相當、相當長的一段時間。其實也沒什麼，因為大多數人幾年前就預見到會這樣了。然而，仍有一個問題：為什麼這麼著急呢？
Nobody seemed to be surprised, and everyone understood its implication – China will likely see Xi Jinping as its supreme leader for a long, long, long time. That is fine since most of them have foreseen its coming in the past few years. However, one question remains: why the rush?
On February 26, the Communist Party’s Central Committee convened its third plenum session, on which amendments to the Chinese constitution were proposed. What’s odd about this is that usually the 3rd plenum session of the Central Committee convenes in the fall, about 6 months after the National Congress convenes. This year, it was moved up half a year. Why?
The third plenum session was moved up 6 months, is this related to Xi’s intention to remove the term limits? He still has 5 years left, why did he have to do it this year? let’s hear from NTD TV senior strategist Wen Zhao.
“The third plenum session convened 6 months early, why? Why did Xi rush to get rid of the term limits?”
“The Third Plenary Session of the 19th CPC Central Committee was held early because during the Second Plenary Session, they had not yet completed their assigned tasks. What that means is, by convention, the Second Plenary Session will release the so-called “List of Party leader recommendations." However, this year’s second plenary session only discussed the amendments of the constitution. So they must arrange another central plenary session before the Two Sessions meeting in order to complete this task. At the same time, Xi Jinping proposed and passed his plan for reforming the party and government organizations during the Two Sessions. Too many things are waiting to be completed, therefore, they must move the meeting forward in order to deal with these tasks first. But why was Xi Jinping so eager to cancel the presidential term limit and make these changes on this year’s constitutional amendment? No one ever stipulates that the Constitution cannot be amended within two, three years of his term. In my opinion, he is under intangible pressure that makes him feel he must implement his plan within this CCP bureaucratic system. To delay this issue until the end of his tenure will not help him remain in power. Anyway, I think he will be in position for a long time. Perhaps the pressure that Xi faces comes from those political elders of the CCP. By cancelling the term limit, the hope of high-level forces restraining him with a successor completely collapses.”
“ If Xi Jinping does not appoint a successor now, does that mean he will never appoint one? If so, how can the Chinese Communist Party get the next top leader?”
“ By far, Xi Jinping’s clear message is he does not want to talk about a successor now. He does not want to talk about his successor when he cannot have total control over the entire situation. He does not want to be slowed down by the problem of a successor. He does not want to appoint a successor under others’ pressure. He does not accept his power being diverted by other high-level leaders using the excuse of a successor. However, this does not mean from the long run he refuses to have a successor. In terms of how he chooses a successor, what kind of system he will create for the power succession, this is relevant to the position he actually holds. As long as his power is steady enough and strong enough, he has numerous ways to choose from. For example, in five years, he could think of resuming the chairmanship of the Communist Party. He takes the chairman position of the Communist Party, of the Central Military Committee, and the Chinese President. Under the Chairman of the Communist Party, he can appoint a vice chairman, or keep the current General Secretary position of the Communist Party, and let his successor take that position. The succession can take a couple of tenures. Overall, in the long run, as long as he holds his power, he can deal with the succession in numerous flexible ways. Right now he just does not want himself be confined by the problem of a successor. ”
Soon after the amendments were approved, the search for immigration online increased ten-fold. Families who can afford to emigrate to another country largely belong to China’s upper middle class. Why are they afraid? Let’s hear from Wen Zhao again.
“ After the amendment was passed, the keyword search ‘immigration‘ increased ten-fold. Families who can afford to emigrate to another country largely belong to China’s upper middle class. Can you speculate on their opinions to the newly passed constitutional amendment?”
“ I surely cannot think for China’s middle class. Instead, let’s take a closer look at the increase in immigration searches. China’s middle class has grown rapidly in the past 20 years. Chinese people have been repeatedly told the following propaganda that China has been making constant progress both politically and economically. It’s just that the political reform has been a step slower than the economic progress. This is because China is unique, with its huge population and complicated politics. Having said that, China is on its way to becoming a developed and democratic country. This is the image that the regime would like to engrave in everyone’s mind. The presidential term limit was a consensus reached in the Deng Xiaoping era. It appears that it has been working well for almost 4 decades, allowing smooth transfer of power from one generation of communist leaders to the next without social unrest. The abolishment of the term limit by amending the constitution, however, shattered the image of a stable society that has been progressing smoothly. The constitutional law that had been in place for decades can be annulled overnight. It means that there’s no institutional systems that cannot be broken, no matter how deeply rooted they may appear. People used to think that the political environment was stable, there was nothing to worry about as long as they were left alone to enjoy life. The false sense of security has been shaken by the unexpected constitutional amendment. ”
Coming up, what is the dynamic between Xi Jinping and the Party? Stay tuned.
Within Chinese territory, politics remain murky. However, in the West, the message Xi sent was loud and clear: Under Xi’s control, China will not morph into a Western-style democracy as its economy grows and competes on an international scale.
While many are fearful of a developing dictator, Fortune’s contributing writer Salvatore Babones understands it better: China has never been a vibrant liberal democracy. It will remain a one-party state. Babones also makes a distinction that many failed to recognize. Babone writes: “Xi isn’t so much solidifying One Man Rule as he is solidifying One Party Rule, with himself at the head of the Party.”
Since Mao’s Civil War era, China has always been controlled by one party, the Chinese Communist Party, without any close rival. People worshipped Mao during that generation. Party identity meant everything to an individual. By Deng Xiaoping’s era, party association was still important, as membership was the way to earn fame and power. In Xi’s era, Chinese wealth grew, so did middle class’s ability to reach wealth and power outside of the Party’s association. That made the Party itself less relevant except for the people who want to pursue a path within government administrative work. Even party members themselves take the party less seriously as they focus on personal gain instead of actual governance. On the other hand, in contrast to those Party dissidents who stood up against the dictators in the Mao and Deng era, party officials today are mostly tamed, because they are afraid of Xi, but more importantly, they simply don’t care enough to fight.
What is the true relationship between Xi Jinping and the Party？ And what does it mean for his rule? Let’s hear from Wen Zhao again.
The amendments to the Constitution were passed with record high approval ratings. President Xi got his second term by unanimous votes. It seems that Xi has become the supreme leader of the Party. What do you think the true relationship is between Xi and the Party? Is the absolute loyalty shown by the Chinese bureaucrats good or bad for governing this country?
“ Xi Jinping’s actions so far seem to be exhausting all means to rescue the Party. He was re-elected as General Secretary at the 19th National Congress meeting. The first thing he did post re-election was revisiting the site of the 1st National Congress meeting with other committee members to take an oath showing loyalty to the Party. Unanimous votes cannot be associated with absolute loyalty from the bureaucrats. It only means that Xi has sufficient power. His power is strong enough to ensure zero opposition. If unanimous votes mean absolute loyalty, then Iraq’s former president Saddam Hussein would have won whole-hearted support of his people. In October 2002, he received unanimous support in the Iraqi referendum. He was re-elected as president for seven years. However, he wasn’t even able to maintain his power for seven months this time. Subsequently, in 2003, the United States sent troops to Iraq; the people who swore allegiance on their lives in the previous year disappeared. In Xi’s rescue mission, some of his actions also sidetracked the Party. For example, he weakened the decision-making body of the Politburo Standing Committee. The current members are not trustworthy. They don’t belong to his loyal clan. Therefore, he weakened the State Council’s rights through a series of measures. The reformed new State Council has played this role. The role of Li Keqiang as a Premier of the State Council was weakened. Meanwhile, Xi Jinping’s trusted vice premier Liu He stood out. He also allowed Wang Qishan to return to decision-making level as a general party member. At the same time, he let his trusted deputy Yang Xiaodu be the director of the National Supervision Committee instead of Zhao Leji, the secretary of the Central Commission for Discipline Inspection. It is obvious who belongs to Xi’s small circle of trusted members. This small group now holds more power to make decisions. This weakens the Politburo Standing Committee. Therefore, this change brought more uncertainty to the CCP’s system.”
Coming up, Trump signed the Taiwan Travel Act. What will this do to U.S.-China relations? Stay tuned.
蕭茗（Host/Simone Gao）：當習近平在中國忙著搞政治運動的時候，川普總統也沒閒著。他在最後一刻簽署了台灣旅行法。幾天之後，他宣布要對價值500 到600 億美元之間的中國進口商品，徵收25%的關稅。他似乎已經忘掉了和習近平之間良好的私人關係，至少現在如此。
While Xi makes waves in the East, President Trump is busy as well. He signed the Taiwan Travel Act at the last minute, and a few days later, he pledged to slap 25% tariffs on $50 to $60 billion of Chinese exports to the U.S. His good relationship with Xi Jinping seems to be forgotten, at least for now.
Just when the U.S. and China were on the verge of a trade war, President Trump signed the Taiwan Travel Act. This act encourages officials at all levels of government to officially meet with their Taiwanese counterparts in Taiwan and vice versa.
This is significant because the U.S. hasn’t recognized Taiwan diplomatically for almost 40 years. In 1979 the U.S. cut formal ties with Taiwan in favor of the People’s Republic of China under its “one China” policy.
Since 1979, Taiwanese officials have occasionally visited the US, and US representatives have traveled to Taiwan, but meetings have been low profile to avoid offending China. Although the U.S. still doesn’t have formal ties with the island, this new legislation symbolically supports Democratic Taiwan, and this has made the Chinese regime very unhappy.
Now who is going to deal with all these changes……
Rex Tillerson被前CIA局長Mike Pompeo代替。後者對中國態度更鷹派。他視中國為美國的直接競爭對手，擔憂中國可能會威脅到美國的國家安全。與此同時，王岐山在中國被選為國家副主席。他是習近平的長期盟友，領導了習近平的反腐運動。他升任國家副主席之後，外界普遍預期他會主導中美外交事務。
Rex Tillerson was replaced by former CIA Director Mike Pompeo who is more hawkish against China. He views China as a direct rival to America and is deeply concerned over security threats brought by the second largest economy. Meanwhile, Wang Qishan was elected as Xi’s vice president. He has been a longstanding ally to Xi and led Xi’s anti-corruption campaign. With his promotion to vice president, industry experts expect him to be the leading diplomat in dealing with the U.S.
蕭茗（Host/Simone Gao）：貿易戰已經開始，台灣旅行法也釋放出強烈信號。川普對中共政府越來越強硬的時候，習近平讓他的最忠實盟友來處理中美關係。這些對美中關係都意味著什麼？來聽一下我對《標準週刊》副編輯Ethan Epston的採訪。
The trade war has started and the Taiwan Travel Act sends a strong signal. Xi Jinping’s most loyal ally will deal with America while President Trump is putting more hawks on his team. What does all this mean for U.S. – China relations? Here is my discussion with Ethan Epstein, Associate editor of the 《Weekly Standard》.
蕭茗（Host/Simone Gao）：「川普總統在最後一刻簽署了台灣旅行法。他在釋放什麼信號？ 他的目的是什麼？」
“President Trump signed the Taiwan Travel Act at the last minute. What signal was he sending, and what does he want to achieve?”
Ethan Epstein（ 《標準週刊》副編輯）：「有幾點要說。第一，他擅長營造戲劇性， 所以往往故意等到最後一刻再公佈決定。比如，他的司法部長開除了FBI副局長Andrew McCabe，McCabe當時只差兩個小時就達到退休條件了。我認為這多少是川普戲劇化性格的表現，他做的很多事都是在吊人胃口。第二， 是釋放信號，顯示美中關係進入了一個新階段。他當總統的第一年，總統試著和習近平搞好關係。他邀請他去Mar-a-Largo莊園，他們相處愉快，然後他自己去了北京。但是今年以來總統似乎要對北京強硬。顯然，中國不喜歡台灣旅行法，但是目前總統對挑戰中國絲毫不懼。」
“Well, a couple things. He kind of has a flair for drama. So he likes to do a lot of things at the last minute. And, for example, his attorney general fired Andrew McCabe at 10 p.m. on the last day he could fire him before his retirement went in. So I think that’s sort of the dramatic persona of Trump. A lot of the timing of the things he does is sort of to heighten the sense of suspense. The second part of that is, I think, to signal this kind of new phase of our relations with China. During his first year in office, the president tried to strike a kind of harmonious tone with Xi Jinping. You know, he invited him to Mar-a-Lago, they had a nice visit, then he went to Beijing himself. But it seems like this year the president has taken a more hard line on China. Obviously, China does not like this law, but the president seems okay at this point with poking his finger in Beijing’s eye.”
“Will the Taiwan Travel Act fundamentally change U.S. – Taiwan relations?”
Ethan Epstein（ 《標準週刊》副編輯）：「我看不出來美台關係會根本改變。我是說，美國明顯還在維持一中政策，這個根本點並沒有變，但是這個法案很明顯會被北京視為挑釁。他們明確表示，對台灣的任何幫助都是對他們主權的侵犯。所以我認為這至少會被視為敵對舉動，甚至是不能容忍的。」
“I don’t know if I would suggest that they would fundamentally change. I mean, the US is obviously maintaining the “one China” policy, etc. So there hasn’t been that kind of shift, but this clearly will be viewed as a provocation by Beijing. They’ve made it clear that any accommodations to Taiwan they view as an attack on their sovereignty. So it will definitely, if not poison things, it will be seen as an act of aggression, I think.”
“So what does Trump want to achieve from this after all? For example, bargaining power in trade?”
Ethan Epstein（ 《標準週刊》副編輯）：「我認為川普想迫使中國做兩件事：一是對平壤強硬，二是在對美貿易上做出讓步，比如停止政府出口補貼，對美開放一直被保護的那部分中國市場。那是他的兩個目標。所以我認為他是通過旁敲側擊來施壓。我認為台灣對他來說並不重要。因此我相信他這麼做，是為了斷絕北韓的貿易渠道。」
“ I think the two big things that Trump wants from China is China to take a harder line on Pyongyang and to make concessions on trade by, for example, stopping subsidies of its industries or perhaps opening its own markets to American companies in a way they haven’t thus far. Those are his two goals. So I think he uses other things to kind of push them in a certain direction. And, yes, I don’t think Taiwan is really a particular personal priority for him. So I do think that he probably took this action to push North Korea (sic) on other topics like trade in North Korea.”
蕭茗（Host/Simone Gao）：「王岐山剛剛當選國家副主席。他一直是習近平的親密夥伴， 普遍估計王會負責對外關係，尤其是中美關係。那麼Mike Pompeo和王岐山的互動會對美中關係有什麼影響？他們會怎麼處理朝鮮危機、南海爭端、台灣問題和貿易糾紛？」
“You know China just elected Wang Qishan to be the vice president. He has been Xi Jinping’s closest ally who helped him consolidate power through the anti-corruption campaign. It is widely suspected that he will be responsible for foreign relations, especially relations with the US. So what will the Mike Pompeo and Wang Qishan dynamic do to US-China relations? How would the North Korea crisis, South China sea tension, Taiwan and trade disputes be handled in their hands? ”
Ethan Epstein（ 《標準週刊》副編輯）：「中美之間未來會出現對抗。 Mike Pompeo更硬派，性格更強勢。明顯的，王先生作為習近平的助手，他在中國的外交政策上採取了強勢態度，表現的咄咄逼人。所以我認為會有激烈的衝突。問題是他們需要找到一種共通語言，讓兩個硬漢能交流並且達成協議；否則就會打得不可開交，然後不歡而散。觀察他們兩人的工作和互動會很有意思。但可以肯定的是，這兩強會在很多重要問題上交手。」
“Well, it’s going to be contentious, I think Mike Pompeo was a more hawkish, a more assertive personality. And, obviously, Mr. Wang has – being attached to Xi Jinping, he was taking a very assertive line on Chinese foreign policy too, has been quite aggressive. So I think sparks will fly. The question is will they be able to find a common language where it’s two tough guys that can understand each other and they can hash out agreements, or will they just end up pulling each other’s hair out and walking away. It’ll be interesting to see what the interpersonal dynamics are and how they work. But it’s certainly two assertive guys that are going to be having to deal with each other on a lot of important subjects.”
For similar questions, let’s hear from Wen Zhao as well.
“ If Mike Pompeo were to become the next Secretary of State, his Chinese counterpart/opponent would be Mr. Wang Qishan. What needs to be dealt with immediately is a potential trade war. Can you speculate on how the trade war would proceed between US and China under Pompeo and Wang?”
“To deal with the trade dispute, I believe there will be contacts between the officials in charge of trade and business from both sides, which means China’s Liu He and Wilbur Ross would reach out to each other. It’s still unclear how and when Wang Qishan would get involved, and what role he would play. Perhaps he may step in to a considerable extent. He may also keep his hands off the negotiations temporarily. Here’s my overall assessment of the trade war — because China has been enjoying a significant trade surplus, consequently, it has more to lose. China’s retaliatory measures are also limited due to the lack of strong hands in this game. China’s top imports from the US are aircrafts, jet engines and accessories, followed by soybeans. It’s hard for China to retaliate in the above two categories because there’s few alternative suppliers. If you won’t buy Boeing, then you have to buy Airbus. However, Airbus’s capacity is also very limited. If your orders have to be expedited, then other orders would have to be delayed. Then you have to pay a higher price. In the meantime, if Airbus reaches its full capacity and can no longer produce airplanes fast enough to meet the demands, other buyers would turn to Boeing. Therefore, such retaliation would also hurt China. The net loss inflicted on the US may not be as great as what China had expected. As a result, China would not add these commodities to the list of trade retaliation right away. Pompeo and Wang’s involvement (in trade war or trade negotiations) would not have much impact on the final outcome, because the frameworks and foundation of trade between the two countries would determine it. I suspect that they may have some influence on the decision-making process. Pompeo’s joining the Trump administration would harden the position of the US government. ”
U.S.-China relations were off to a rough start in 2018. The Taiwan Travel Act, tariffs on steel and aluminum imports, and 25% tariffs on $50-60 billion in Chinese exports. We don’t know what’s next. However, in terms of a trade war, it is not full-blown yet. It will be interesting to see how China reacts to it. So far, China’s retaliation has not matched its counterpart. But, will it stay that way in the future? Stay tuned, Zooming In will follow up on all these important topics of our time. Thanks for watching, I am Simone Gao. See you next time.
撰稿：蕭茗 Michelle Wan Jessica Beatty
剪輯：郭靖 柏妳 凌帆 唐彬
翻譯：張曉峰 韓笑生 唐彬
聽打：Jessica Beatty 張曉峰
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