By China correspondent Matthew Carney
Chinese President Xi Jinping now has total control over the Party, the state, and the military. (Reuters: Nicolas Asfouri)
Human rights lawyer Yu Wensheng did the unthinkable in Xi Jinping’s China. In an open letter, last October he criticised the President’s “totalitarian rule” and called for immediate political reform and democracy.
The next day, as he was walking his son to school, he was detained by a squad of security police and man-handled into a van. His wife, Xu Yan, hasn’t seen him since.
Yu Wensheng was snatched off the street in broad daylight, while people in China are bracing themselves for another round of repression. (Lateline: Bill Birtles)
“I am very worried about Yu Wensheng, he acted within the laws and did what he thought was right but he lost his freedom,” she said.
“I’ve run around to different departments but no-one can tell me what’s happening. I can’t see any hope for the future.”
From today, the National People’s Congress has handed Mr Xi a powerful new weapon to deal with any dissent or opposition, even before it surfaces.
The National Supervisory Commission will be a law unto itself and has the power to arrest and detain any party or government personnel without charge.
It can overrule the highest courts in the land and is only answerable to the cabinet and, of course, Xi Jinping.
Xi now controls Communist Party
People in China are bracing themselves for another round of repression.
Mr Xi has already targeted human rights lawyers, NGOs, the media, academics and he’s now tipped to go further.
It is not surprising that the Congress will approve a domestic security budget that is a whopping $320 billion — 20 per cent more than the national defence budget.
Mr Xi has put a bigger priority on fighting the enemy within rather than abroad.
The end of the 13th National People’s Congress means Mr Xi’s remaking of the Chinese political system is complete. China now has a much more centralised structure of governance answerable to him, collective leadership with an emphasis on consensus has been discarded.
Mr Xi now has total control over China’s Communist Party, the state, and the Chinese military and dictates policy for the economy, development and foreign affairs.
With power comes confidence
Professor Stein Ringen from Oxford University, author of The Perfect Dictatorship — China in the 21st Century, says the curtain has been pulled aside and Mr Xi has finally revealed his true nature:
“It’s been extraordinary and rapid how he has amassed power. He’s moved from being a cautious leader to a very adventurous one showing off power.
“This is entirely new and the danger is he is falling into a trap of people who hold too much power of becoming careless and overconfident.
“He can launch policies on his own without any process and no safeguards. This is now a system with more instability than it had two to three months ago.”
Professor Ringen says at the same time there’s also been a dramatic shift in how an emboldened Mr Xi is projecting China’s power and influence overseas.
“We are now hearing from Xi Jinping that the Chinese model is one for others, one that they can learn from. This is an entirely new direction. And for many developing nations the model is attractive for its ability to deliver growth while democracy dithers,” he says.
Susan Shirk, a former China advisor to US President Bill Clinton and now a professor at the University of California, says this is a turning point for China and is a direct challenge to America and the democratic world.
“Xi Jinping has thrown down the political gauntlet and is ready to compete. This is something previous Chinese leaders didn’t want to say because it would provoke a major reaction on the part of democratic countries because it reeks of cold war ideological competition,” she says.
“For decades we’ve said the China-US relationship was different from US-Soviet relationship because we don’t compete about political systems, but this is something very new.”
Will Xi’s new eagerness to promote the “Chinese model” further strain US-China relations? (Reuters: Thomas Peter)
65 countries bound to China
Mr Xi’s foreign policy is expected to be much more assertive and exporting the Chinese model could be fast-tracked. Mr Xi’s signature policy, “One Belt One Road”, is the most powerful way to execute this.
It is believed that China is investing a trillion dollars into the massive venture binding more than 65 countries and two thirds of the world’s population to China’s interests.
Professor Ringen says:
“It’s a huge power structure with Beijing at the centre and spreading out across the globe. But the cost of the investment is what makes other countries dependent on China. These investments are not financed by China, they are financed by loans by China and they need to be repaid.”
The biggest threat to Mr Xi’s rule, most experts agree, could be a dramatic economic slow-down or financial crisis.
Most Chinese have bought Mr Xi’s new system because they believe it will continue to provide prosperity and stability.
Take that away and Mr Xi’s autocratic rule will be seriously questioned, and perhaps even toppled.