The letter demanding Chinese President and Communist Party Secretary Xi Jinping to resign, and the aftermath of arrests and detentions, indicate a struggle within the Beijing leadership to homogenize the party around a No. 1 who has proven himself more centralizing than most of his predecessors.
It signals that the public infighting of the Bo Xilai scandal is still there, dormant and ready to flare at any show of weakness. Xi is just as willing to reward loyalists as he is to eliminate rivals, and the impression is that he will try to further consolidate his position.
The letter’s anonymous signatories added to their message some macabre warnings related to the physical safety of Xi and his family, which raises doubts about the veracity of the text. But, to take it at face value, as a letter from angry party factions, the letter blames Xi for three problems: the economic disaster caused by a stock market crash; an overly aggressive foreign policy that provokes the United States into a more dangerous stance (thus abandoning the foreign policy of Deng Xiaoping, which aimed to hide China’s power in the form of a more subtle and accommodating diplomacy); and Xi’s personality cult that could eradicate the “collegial leadership” of the party.
The “loyal party members,” however, seem to wield little power. In previous cross-cutting messages that emerged publicly in China, very few have come from powerful internal pressure groups capable of an ambush or reforms. But moreover, the letter appears full of conservatism and a desire to maintain the status quo. Given the rising path of China, the wishes of those who wrote the letter seem destined to succumb to history.
The more interesting reading of this letter is that it demonstrates the ways that those who oppose the president are able to subvert the dominance of the Chinese information system, which is even more subject to power now than in the past. That they are now arming themselves with alternative tools helps explain the recent intensification of efforts from Beijing to manage consensus.
Xi Jinping recently visited the headquarters of the Chinese news agency, Xinhua, citing the need for “party loyalty” and stressing a more general need for the media to function as a government propaganda tool. In general, most experts and average Chinese already regard the press as a propaganda tool. But the Chinese leader today desires a press that actively supports the regime’s narrative.
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